Premarital workshop, one of many Broene offerings

By Randy Wolthuis, director, Broene Counseling Center

Randy Wolthuis premarital seminarWe just want to know if we’ve covered all the right bases. It seems like such a big step.” These were the words I heard in 2000, my first year at Calvin, uttered by a young woman who was engaged to be married the upcoming summer after her Calvin graduation. She said that she and her fiancé felt prepared for marriage. They had talked about it at length, prayed about it, and talked with others about marriage. Still, she desired to know if there was anything more they could do.

Because one of my strong clinical interests has always been working with dating and married couples, I decided to offer a premarital workshop to any Calvin student who was engaged or contemplating marriage in the near future. Although most Calvin graduates have no imminent plans to marry (despite what the time-honored myth of the “senior scramble” has to say), some do. For them, the premarital workshop has been an attractive offering to help “jump start” their marriage.

The workshop is offered once per semester and occurs over two consecutive Saturday mornings. I cover a diverse number of topics including communication, conflict management, nurturing a relationship, family of origin effects, biblical perspectives on marriage, and much more. Couples also take a standardized premarital inventory and have the opportunity to review that with me at a later date. We even feed them a continental breakfast, which is a very highly rated component of the workshop!

The format for the workshop is a combination of teaching, interaction and couple exercises. Because how couples in conflict communicate is a powerful predictor of marital satisfaction, I introduce couples to a structured method of communicating safely. I then ask them to consider an issue in their relationship where there has been some heated emotion or conflict and use the technique by practicing it during the workshop. Students like this a lot. As one student put it, “We have something now that we can use immediately.”

Last spring a student who attended that semester’s workshop wrote me a note: “My fiancé and I loved the workshop. We were exposed to things we had never thought about or talked about. We feel better prepared now.” It is responses like this that get me excited to keep offering this workshop.