Seeking out some wisdom and advice about healthy and successful marriages is good common sense, regardless of whether a couple is interfaith or not. Even if a couple rarely has disagreements or fights, marriage is such a big life decision that everyone planning a wedding can benefit from some pre-marital counseling, whether with a clergy person or a therapist.
Clergy tend to draw on their experiences working with couples and families at every stage of life, and they look to the core values of their traditions when they advise couples. Therapists tend to approach pre-marital counseling based on their training in psychology and family dynamics, as well as their experiences working with couples and families navigating different challenging situations.
Some of the questions couples typically explore in pre-marital counseling include:
How do you communicate, especially about sensitive or difficult topics? If either of you felt your marriage was in crisis, what would you do? Would you agree to go to couples’ counseling in the future if either of you thought that was important?
How do you feel about having and raising children? What values do you want to teach them, and what religious choices do you want to make in raising them? If you face infertility, how do you feel about adoption? Are you aware of the importance of genetic testing for interfaith couples? (An easy way to get tested is with JScreen.) If either of you already have kids, how are you planning to co-parent them?
How do you both work through issues relating to finances, sex and tidiness in the home? These are areas that many couples find challenging at times.
What are your life goals? Where do they overlap and where might they be in tension?
How do each of you relate to your respective families, and what do you need to prepare for in that regard?
For further reading, Meg Keene has a great article on how she and her husband benefited from pre-marital counseling with her rabbi.
For interfaith couples, pre-marital counseling is an opportunity to take the time to talk in depth about how you both feel about religion, spirituality, family and rituals. Discovering what you each think about these issues is important, but so is learning how you process these issues together. It takes practice to learn the communication and negotiation skills that are important for any successful marriage.
If you’re having a rabbi or other clergy person officiate your wedding, hopefully they will seek to involve you in some meaningful pre-marital counseling. If that’s not a part of what they do in preparing for a wedding, finding another option for this important work is a good idea.
InterfaithFamily offers a Love and Religion workshop for seriously dating or engaged couples. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Many local Jewish Federations and Jewish Community Centers offer excellent pre-marital workshops and resources for interfaith couples.
A final thought: One graduate of a recent Love and Religion class told an interviewer, “My grandfather used to have a saying: ‘If we spent half as much time planning our marriages as we do planning our weddings, there’d be a lot less divorce.’” We agree, and wish you good fortune, wisdom and insight as you plan for your marriage as well as your wedding!