Premarital counselling: We are okay with each others can of worms

Winnie Muchela and Aston Muchela

Advocates Winnie Muchela (left) and her husband Aston Muchela during a past family vacation. 

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Premarital counselling is often snubbed by lovebirds who see no need to ruin their happily-ever-after- with uncomfortable truths.
  • Aston Muchela and his wife Winnie took the risk to dig a bit deeper into each other’s past and future expectations before saying “ I do”.

On September 22, 2012, Aston Muchela, corporate lawyer, was all set to walk down the aisle with the love of his wife, Winnie. Their wedding coincided with his 30th birthday, a fact that was both exciting and nerve-wracking for him.

He couldn’t help thinking about the jokes he had hear from his peers concerning marriage.

“Once you get married bro, forget about freedom.”

Aston was not the only one enduring a cocktail of emotions. His bride, Winnie, has happy to be marrying her friend yet a tinge of worry refused to go away when she thought of some horror stories she’d heard about marriage.

“Being an advocate, I had come across many stories of women being battered by their husbands. Another nightmare was the issue of cheating. I was so afraid of getting hurt and having my trust betrayed. Looking at the stories I had come across made me worry about the marriage succeeding.”

Although Aston and Winnie had a lot of support and counsel from friends and families, most of their fears simply refused to fade away.

“I was advised to consider signing up for pre-marital counselling. Winnie agreed to this and settled for the program offered at our church.”

With great enthusiasm, Winnie and Aston began their counselling sessions hoping to have their fears allayed once and for all. A few sessions in, they realised their expectations barely scratched the surface.

“We covered major topics such as family finances, handling third parties, roles and expectation in marriage, sexual intimacy and honeymoon, parenting and children and health issues. I particularly found the topic on biblical foundations of marriages to be quite enlightening. We were given a spiritual angle of marriage. I discovered that marriage was beyond my decision to marry – there is a higher power who instituted and is governs the unit,” says Aston.

For Winnie, the sessions were a game changer that has seen her triumph marital challenges over the past 10 years.

“My biggest take-away was on how to treat each other regardless of our professional or financial status. I learned the importance of recognising the husband as the head home. I must admit it was quite humbling since we are both lawyers...”

Lessons on cultural and traditional differences were also surprising to Winnie. Coming from the same tribe as her husband, she thought they would not deal with culture related issues but she learned that traditions can also be formed at the family level and when two people get married, they have to work through their different approaches to life and form a neutral culture that works for their new family.

Differences may be in the seemingly minor things such as how to raise children, who cleans the dishes, who buys supper in the evening or whether to put the toilet lid down or leave it up. It’s these little things that cause conflict.

The pre-marital counselling was a combination of simple and complex lessons that would later help the Muchelas navigate marriage for a decade and still counting. They however, explain that marriage in itself is a bigger unit and pre-marital counselling in like an orientation that equips couples with a formula to deal with issues that come up. The lessons are theoretical and when it comes to practicality, one has to figure out how to apply the lessons.

“The counselling is just a foundation you can build on as you move along. There isn’t enough time to cover everything, but it opens up your mind. It gives you the formulae to apply in the future. When issues come up do you find solutions rather than turning them into an argument,” says Winnie.

The sessions were accompanied by an emphasis on prayer, even over the seemingly small issues.

She gives an example of how they disagreed on naming their first child. Culture demanded the first son be named after the paternal grandfather. However, Winnie lost her dad shortly after the wedding and felt it would be a good idea to honour his memory by naming the child after him.

“We prayed about it. When my mother in-law came to visit, she informed us that after consulting Aston’s dad, they had agreed the child be named after my father. We had not discussed the issue with her and this came as a surprise,” shares Winnie.

Winnie Muchela and Aston Muchela

Advocates Winnie Muchela (right) and her husband Aston Muchela (left) went through premarital counselling before walking down the aisle.

Photo credit: Pool

According to the couple, although they had different expectations of what the pre-counselling program would be like, they are grateful how it turned out in the end. It was the missing piece they needed to embark on their journey. Winnie says the counselling gave them a formula for conflict resolution and without it, any marriage would be trial and error.

She adds that there is need to emphasize on the importance of pre-marital counselling and couples who’ve had experience should consider empowering those who are just getting started on the marriage journey.

“Things don’t go wrong in marriage, things start wrong. Our idea of marriage is what we see on TV or with friends and relatives. Counselling helped me understand my personal marriage.”

Aston concurs, proposing that pre-marital counselling should be expanded to not only cover engaged couples but singles who are searching or dating.

“Singles can learn how to package themselves to attract the right people and how to identify spouses they are compatible with. People say I’m looking for a good partner but are you good for that person you’ve looking for.

Do you deserve that good partner?” he poses

For centuries, the church has been at the forefront of officiating marriages and providing marital counselling. A conversation on pre-marital counselling without voices from those at the centre of it, would be incomplete.

For more than 20 years, Reverend Dr. Stanley Mungathia a senior pastor from Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM) has officiated countless weddings. He currently heads the family docket at CITAM, which has several departments and pre-marital counselling is one of them.

“A strong family produces a strong church and a strong church produces a strong nation,” he says hence the family docket at church. In fact, pre-marital counselling is a compulsory requirement for any church member who wishes to have a white church wedding at CITAM.

“The pre-marital training is done with both partners in a group set-up. Trainers are pastors or married couples who are church members and they cover topics such as finances, communication, conflict resolution, biblical foundations of marriage and how to relate with in-laws among others,” he explains.

On why pre-marital counselling is important to couples, Reverend Edwin Njue, also a pastor at CITAM and a pre-marital counsellor says that people tend to have unrealistic expectations of marriage. They could also be excited or scared of the union.

Others imagine it is a walk in the park and its important to address these misconceptions first before saying “I do”. Premarital counselling brings couples to the same page by helping them understand each other as well as the institution of marriage. 

During the five years he has facilitated pre-marital counselling, Njue has learned that people form misconceptions based on how they were nurtured or their personal beliefs. Money issues, for instance are the most contentious.

People have different ideas on how financial roles should be assigned in a marriage. With so many sources of information, from family to friends, traditional beliefs, books, social media and celebrity influencers, people are bound to form clashing views of such critical issues. Church-based counselling provides lessons based on scriptures which give couples some context and a strong foundation for their marriage.

But when asked whether marriage can be taught in a classroom for 10 weeks, both minsters agree that pre-marital counselling can only cover the basics.

“I tend to think we cannot handle everything in pre-marital classes because people are diverse and their contexts are different. But we don’t stop at pre-marital counselling, we have other programs to help couples after they are married and they include frequent marriage seminars, we have also trained pastors who can handle case by case scenarios,” says Njue

Dr Mungathia echoes this adding that marriage is a gradual journey, hence the elaborate family docket which seeks to help couples in different situations. For instance, once couples are married, they are grouped into units of 10 couples to help each other grow. They also share experiences to alleviate the sense of aloneness that comes with marital challenges.

And while pre-marital counselling may not teach marriage fully, both Dr. Mungathia and Njue have witnessed a very high success rate in the countless marriages they have officiated so far. In Njue’s case, out of 14 weddings within the last 6 years, 13 are still going strong.

Winnie Muchela and Aston Muchela

Advocates Winnie Muchela (right) and her husband Aston Muchela.

Photo credit: Pool

Despite the high success rate, pre-marital counselling still presents a number of challenges. For starters, counsellors cannot establish whether couples are fully compatible. If the couple attend pre-marital training during the honeymoon phase (the first two years of a relationship), it is likely everything will appear blissful but as time goes by reality strikes in and things change.

People can also be pretentious, especially if they are desperate to get married. For instance, Njue says “In church, we believe that couples should not have sex before marriage- but there is no way to tell whether they actually believe or practice the things we teach. Besides, we cannot police couples to ensure they follow the lessons.”

Pre-marital counsellors also have to deal with a changing society as Dr. Mungathia notes. What was acceptable 20 years ago may be perceived as outdated by younger couples. Then there is the fear of the unknown which makes is difficult for some couples face their challenges despite the training.

“There are times when we’ve had cases where couples do not complete the class- because they uncovered irreconcilable differences. Other times people complete pre-marital counselling but do not proceed to wed. But it is a good thing when you sense danger beforehand. It is better to break a relationship than divorce,” says Dr. Mungathia.

Conclusively, pre-marital counselling is a great tool to improve the quality of marriages and families in Kenya. It will however work if coupled with a change in the way we approach marriages. We have to be cognisant of the ever-increasing divorce rates. As from 2020 (during curfews and lockdowns), the country witnessed more divorce cases being filed.

While many things could lead to high divorce rates, Njue notes, “There is a lot of casualness in our approach to marriage and we are destroying the idea of what a marriage is about. People get into cohabiting and casual come- we- stay relationships-sometimes at a very young age due to economic struggles. In the end there are regrets, hurt, feelings of betrayal and being used”.

He adds that “children need to be grounded and the right values instilled. You can’t do all manner of things in your youthful days and try to do things the ‘right way’ briefly when you decide to get married. Let’s be proactive rather than reactive”

Mungathia closes the conversation by saying, “We have to be deliberate and intentional in saving marriages- through pre-marital and marital programs, engaging in family related activities, sharing challenges and encouraging each other.”

“Marriage is like money in an ATM-The more you deposit, they more your account grows. Marriage is founded on love, if you do not deposit love, you are withdrawing and eventually the relationship dries up because it is devoid of every ingredient of a successful marriage.”