Programs help couples face the future - Premarital counseling

May 17, 1997

Premarital counseling


Staff Writer

Justin Harbert says he was a little apprehensive about having to go to class to get married.

But now that the Hagerstown man and his fiancee, Susanne Jardinier, have participated in a marriage preparation program, he would recommend the program to others.

Harbert, 22, a Lutheran, says his fiancee's parents, Lucille and John Jardinier, previously led the Catholic program for the local area. He says that took a little of the edge off.


The experience definitely was worthwhile; the classes made the couple think about issues they hadn't considered, Harbert says.

There's a lot of preparation involved in planning a wedding - choosing a gown, flowers, music and food for the reception.

But how much do any of these details have to do with the realities of married life?

Rev. Torben Aarsand, pastor of Haven Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, says he believes it is his God-given responsibility to help bind a couple planning to marry, especially when so many marriages are in trouble and ending in divorce.

"You don't have to have matchbooks and mints with your name on them. That won't matter a hill of beans in 10 years," he says.

Catholic church law always has required preparation for the sacrament of marriage, says the Rev. Edward W. Manalis, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Hagerstown. The present-day format is a team of couples working with a priest.

"Communication is the basis of the program," says Lucille Jardinier, who with her husband John Jardinier, led the Catholic marriage preparation classes in Hagerstown for 15 years.

Hagerstown residents John and Sally Miller, who went through their marriage preparation with the Jardiniers, now lead the program and do so not just for the benefit of other couples.

"We feel like we are giving back to the church," Sally Miller says. "We felt it helped our marriage. It makes us not take things for granted."

Aarsand, who came to Haven Lutheran in March, says he asked his church council to require premarital counseling. Couples complete a personal inventory, "Prepare/Enrich." It includes questions that deal with personalities, roles and issues, including communication, conflict resolution, sexuality and parenting. Aarsand scores the responses, and he and the couple discuss them, usually in about six meetings.

Aarsand also advises couples to contact him early - when they are on the verge of making a commitment and sharing the news with family and friends. Waiting until just before the wedding is not soon enough to make the counseling a valuable experience.

Setting "shalom bayat" - peace in the house - is part of the preparation for a wedding at Congregation B'Nai Abraham in Hagerstown, according to Rabbi Charles Rabinowitz.

He says that premarital counseling in the Jewish faith is very individual, depending on the rabbi's take on the couple.

In his congregation, it usually takes place in two or three sessions. It is part of his responsibility to outline the concepts of Jewish obligations for a husband and a wife, forming a life partnership and building respect. These are reviewed during the wedding service, and Rabinowitz underlines them by giving the couple a written copy to review when the excitement of the ceremony has faded.

The Catholic marriage preparation classes meet at different homes. Married couples share their challenges and struggles, as well as their resources and gifts, to help engaged couples, according to Manalis. The process helps to make them aware that problems in the first years of marriage are normal.

" `The honeymoon is over' joke is more than just humor," says Manalis.

Half of first marriages end in divorce. Percentages are higher for subsequent marriages - 62 percent if even one partner has been previously married, jumping to 68 percent if either partner has children, according to Jean Anne Finan, coordinator of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Statistics like these highlight new issues - or old issues - brought to the marriage preparation table. Couples often are dealing with unresolved anger, guilt or pain from a previous marriage, or the problems of stepchildren and blending families, Manalis says.

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