The best things in life are rarely the easy things, are they? The best things in life tend to require the most commitment, the most effort, and the most sacrifice. By that measure, marriage is one of the best things we can experience. Marriage brings such joy, but the joy comes only through the dedication and the work.
Aileen and I have been married for almost eighteen years now, and every now and again we start to think that we’re beginning to figure it out. One thing we always agree on, though, is that we would have benefitted from some good pre-marriage counseling. We were Christians when we got married and deeply involved in a church, but somehow were never offered any significant pre-marriage counseling. I just don’t think it was part of our church’s tradition. In fact, the only pre-marriage counsel I remember receiving was from a friend who was married a few weeks before us. The sum total of his counsel was this: “You probably want to lower your expectations for sex on your honeymoon…” That was helpful, I suppose, but hardly sufficient.
We could have used a book like Rob Green’s Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong and Lasting Marriage. Even better, we could have used a book like this and a mature married couple to go through it with us. “The purpose of this book, says Green, “is to help you prepare for a lifelong, strong, and lasting marriage.” He does that by showing first how Jesus needs to be at the center of everything. The opening chapter calls the reader to ensure that he or she is truly following Jesus. Not only that, but the reader must also be convinced that his or her future spouse is truly following Jesus. The second chapter deals with love, elevating love from culture’s trite description to the Bible’s deep and compelling example best displayed at the cross. From there Green dedicates a chapter to each of problem solving, roles and expectations, communication, finances, church community, and sexual intimacy. In other words, he offers wise, biblical counsel on the joys of marriage and also on the most common challenges.
There is much to appreciate in Green’s book. Here are a few of its strengths.
The book is practical. Tying the Knot is meant to be practical and succeeds well. Every chapter concludes with homework discussion questions that are actually engaging and helpful. They are meant to be completed individually, then shared with the fiancé(e), and finally shared with a marriage mentor. There are also advanced homework assignments for those who want to do a little more.
The book is appropriate. The chapter on sexual intimacy is discreet and appropriate. It is meant to provide the framework for sexual intimacy, but not to go too deep into the details. (It may be wise to supplement with Intended for Pleasure or another book that can help couples who are struggling with issues related to sexual intimacy and pleasure.) Green gives lots of biblical counsel in the areas of sex and money management, but rarely gives specific counsel that goes beyond the general truths Scripture offers.
The book is timely. I have long noticed that pre-marriage counseling books do not always age well. For example, some of the books I have looked at recently demand the envelope system of money management, rather difficult in an age where cash is being replaced by electronic transactions. Some of the books never mention the importance of discussing pornography or other issues unique and crucial to a twenty-first century context. Tying the Knot is up-to-date, discussing issues that are important today.
The book discusses the issue of local church commitment. It is surprisingly rare to find a pre-marriage book that discusses the importance of a serious commitment to a local church. Even Christian books seem to miss this important component of a healthy marriage. But this one does not and I was glad to see Green give it an entire chapter.
Tying the Knot comes endorsed by a long list of trusted leaders and deservedly so. Looking through the blurbs, I think I most appreciate Andy Naselli’s words: “I would have loved to read this book with my wife while we were engaged. So practical, so wise. Engaged couples, listen carefully to Rob Green.” The ultimate tests of a book like this are whether or not I would have wanted to use it for my own pre-marriage counseling and whether I would use it today in counseling an engaged couple as they prepare for marriage. In both cases my answer is that I absolutely would. For those reasons I gladly commend it to engaged couples as they prepare for marriage and for pastors as they look for a pre-marriage resource to recommend to others.