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May 6, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
With discussions on everything from in-laws to sex and birth control, Michael Burt, lead pastor at the nondenominational Grace Bible Church, helps engaged couples talk about important (and awkward) issues (imagine being asked about your fiancé’s use of STD creams) before they tie the knot.
How many counseling sessions do you have with couples before the big day?
I have at least three one-hour meetings and then a fourth meeting that looks at the ceremony itself. You can’t tell a young couple everything they’re going to face, but you can bring up some topics.
One of the exercises I have them do is list all the things they think the role of the husband and wife will be — not a traditional one, but what it’s going to be for them. Who’s going to take out the trash?
How do you incorporate the topic of sex into counseling?
In limited ways. The first day there are five things I cover: change, communication, sex, in-laws and money. As far as intimacy goes, I make sure that they understand that this is not the core, the purpose or the base of marriage. But biblically, good intimacy is the result of a good relationship.
Do you ask the couple if they’re already having sex?
Normally, I don’t have to. Body language is pretty evident. Sometimes it’s verbal, sometimes it’s posture, sometimes it’s gestures. For example, where somebody might rest a hand. Every now and then I’ve even asked, “Are you guys already living together?” I’m usually right. If so, I want to move up the date. What are you waiting for? If you’ve already committed to live together, then let’s do it. I’ve asked couples to move apart until the wedding. There is a biblical standard of purity, and if I’m going to get up and use those words on the wedding day, I would expect them to live up to them.
How do you deal with a couple in which one of the partners has cheated?
Sometimes it’s obvious. If somebody walks in still using STD creams or things like that, you can’t deny it. I need to create the venue for the person who has made some bad life choices to put those on the table and convince this prospective spouse that there’s not just a change in feeling but that “My mind has changed, and I would never do that again.”
What other sex-related issues do you discuss?
I ask about birth control. I’ve got to make sure that this is a topic that they have talked about. Not planning is not good planning. I would favor some sort of birth control, even if it’s totally natural. I don’t think that’s very effective, but you have to have some method.
How do you get couples to open up?
I’ve done it enough that I try to be disarming. And you learn to listen to what wasn’t said. I know right where to go back and ask. If I’ve been listening, it’s like a piece of Swiss cheese. I can see where the holes are.
Have you ever refused to counsel a couple?
Now, that’s a rarity, and I think it’s only happened one time in my 25 years here that I said, “I’m not going to be a part of this.” For the record, the marriage didn’t work out.