An overview of a pre-marital counseling group in Shanghai



In this paper I will provide a group counseling process targeting at young Christian couples in Shanghai. There are three major objectives for this counseling process:

  1. After the counseling process, the couples would know the Biblical doctrines and teachings regarding marriage and family life;
  2. After the counseling process, the couples would better understand each other and their relationship;
  3. After the counseling process, the couples would setup their marriage expectations correctly.

The target audience of the premarital counseling group designed in this paper is young Christian couple in Shanghai. They are the people that my wife and I have served in the past ten years. Below is a description of the persona:

Daniel and Amy are typical young professional Christians in the city of Shanghai. They are graduated from one of the best universities in the East China region, and find a job in Shanghai after graduation. They came to faith three years ago through their Christian colleagues in a Christmas evangelical event hosted by a House Church. They have monthly income of about $2000 adding together. It can give them a not-so-bad life in Shanghai but an apartment in downtown is still not affordable. Their parents are not believers and do not live in Shanghai. They live with their colleagues or classmates in rented apartments not far from each other in downtown. They came to know each other in the church and they have dated 1.5 years before the marriage decision. They are the members of the same site in a multi-sites house church.

The format of the counseling procedure is group counseling. In group counseling, we involve 5 couples at most to work in a small-group setting and focus on various significant aspects of their relationships.[1] Why we use group counseling? Here is a list of reasons:

  1. Chinese Christians are more used to a teaching style than a counseling style. They expect to be taught about the truth and skills in marriage. They expect to get “right answers” instead of “suggestions” or “sharing” from their counseling experience.
  2. There are only 2~3 couples in my church that can do pre-marital counseling but there are more than 10 couples get married every year. Group counseling is the most effective method to prevent the counseling couple from getting exhausted.
  3. Through group counseling, we can encourage the new couples to establish relationships and act as watchkeepers for each other. In the future, they can continue to remind each other and help each other using the things learned from the premarital counseling.

Preparation and logistics

We will invite at most 5 couples to join our group counseling. To invite, we will send advertisement of the counseling to the leader of each site and ask them to print and bring it to the couples who plan to get married within next 12 months. We also would like to ask if there’s any married couple who are willing to learn how to lead premarital counseling to join us as volunteer couple. But including the volunteer couple, we can accommodate at most five couples, which mean 12 people including us in the group.

We will use the workbook titled “Preparing for Marriage”, edited by Dennis Rainey. We ask every counselee to buy it from local bookstore. This is the only published Christian premarital counseling workbook in mainland China. Unfortunately, all prayers and the important chapter of Christ-centered family life are removed from the book due to government censorship. Thus we need to copy those deleted sheets from Singapore edition and distribute them as handouts during the session.

The counseling is free of charge as part of church ministry. But in order to encourage the counselees to participate in all sessions, we will prepare a sheet of “Agreement of Commitment” for every counselee and ask them to sign before joining the first session. The Agreement contains the logistic details, schedule, requirements and responsibilities of each couple. At every session, we will ask one couple to prepare snacks while another couple to lead worship and devotion. We will do it in turns. By this they are not just come to be served but also learn to serve others together.

The group will meet every other week and in most cases we will meet in Saturday morning. The frequency would allow the counselees to have enough time finishing their assignments and communicate with the another half. It also gives us time to visit a couple face to face if we found something special and need a private talk. We would invite the counselees to meet at my home, which is close to several subway stations. And the group meeting in a home would make the conversation environment more relax than meeting in the church. Each session will take about 2 hours.

Before the first session, I will email the Agreement of Commitment to every counselee and ask them to read carefully, buy the workbook and sign the Agreement. I will have phone conversation with every couple to confirm if they have any concerns or questions regarding the overall process, and encourage them to finish the assignment before the due date.

After the last session, the whole group will take a picture together and the photo will be made into the graduation certificate. We encourage the students to use what they have learned in their future family life and also help other couples.

Counseling structure

As described above, we meet every other week and there are totally seven sessions plus a bonus session. The overall structure of the counseling will look like the table below:

Session #


Assignment Due


· Introduction: Meet and get to know each other

· Share Relationship History based on assignments

Worksheet 1 and 2


· Chapter 1: Why Marriage?

· Chapter 2: God’s Equation for Marriage

Read/finish Chapter 1 & 2


· Chapter 3: Evaluating Your Relationship

Read/finish Chapter 3


· Chapter 4: A Decision-Making Guide

Read/finish Chapter 4


· Chapter 5: Authentic Communication

Read/finish Chapter 5


· Chapter 6: Roles and Responsibilities

Read/finish Chapter 6


· Chapter 7: Money, Money, Money

· Chapter 8: Sexual Communication in Marriage

Read/finish Chapter 7 & 8


· Counselor Couple Interview


* For couples who accomplished bonus session and bonus assignment, they will receive a special gift from the counselor couple.

** There’s also a bonus assignment to go through “Parental Wisdom Questionnaire” with the parents, based on the Appendix A of the workbook.

Session Details

Session 1: Introduction

The main purpose of the first session is to help counselees get familiar with each other so that they can share openly and deeply in following sessions. In this session, I will first confirm that they know they will need to finish the assignment before the session. And each couple must share their assignment within themselves, e.g. everyone should share and discuss the assignment with another half before the session begins.

In the first session, each couple will need to introduce themselves and their romantic stories. It can start with the counselor couple if no one wants to start first. After one couple’s sharing, other couples and the counselor couple can ask questions. Counselor will briefly introduce dyadic questioning and encourage asking dyadic questions.

After the sharing of the relationship history, the counselor will briefly introduce the concept of personal history in Worksheet 1 and ask each couple to share the surprises they learned from each other while doing the personal history and marriage expectations together.

Session 2: Chapter 1 & 2

This session is more close to teaching style that we will focus on some important Biblical teachings on marriage. We would use Genesis 2:18-22 to discuss God’s original design for the marriage. We will ask each couple what’s the gap between God’s design and their expectation, and whether there’s any difference for them to step from own position into God’s perfect design.

There might be hot discussions on the section of “Leave Your Parents” due to Chinese family culture. We need to pay special attention to this and prepare case study for it.

Session 3: Chapter 3

This session is designed to help couples to step back and evaluate whether they continue their marriage plan. We will ask each couple to share the differences they have found from the assignment. We will ask them to share how they are going to deal with the differences. We will discuss the “red flags” in couple relationship in details.

Session 4: Chapter 4

We will ask how they answered the questions in the workbook, and depend on each couple’s answer, challenge some of them to be a Christian (if not) or establish spiritual practices that can help them grow together. The Couple’s project in the workbook can guide the couple through a decision-making process. Walk through it with the counselees and share counselor couple’s practice.

Note: During session 3 and session 4, we should be able to notice couples that have difficulties among themselves. Individual appointments might needed afterwards with those couples and challenge them to think sincerely “Is God really lead us into marriage?”

Session 5: Chapter 5

This session will give couples a few basics in communication and conflict resolution to help them avoid the war in marriage. Couples will discuss their own history (and their parents’ history) of resolving conflicts and examine how they’ve worked out conflicts to this point. We will also put emphasis on forgiveness and learn through some samples.

Session 6: Chapter 6

This session will discuss the expectations each side have against the other side. We will review the traditional and biblical view from the workbook, and share our expectation and how our parents’ model shaped us. Hot discussion might rise regarding wife’s career path. Counselor can share our struggles and encourage each couple to seek the solution together.

Session 7: Chapter 7 & 8

These two chapters cover both money and sex in future family life. The new couple’s project in the workbook is straightforward and self-explanatory. We will invite some couples to share their assignments on the money issue. And the counselor couple can share their money handling skills. Regarding sex related issues, Chinese are not used to discuss it openly. We will separate into two groups: male and female and review the content in the workbook separately and answer questions. Counselor will recommend one or two books for the counselees.

Bonus: Counselor Couple Interview

The Bonus session will require the counselee finish the bonus assignment in Appendix A before the interview. The interview will focus on Family of Origin and listen to their feedback on the completed sessions. We will use family genogram to understand the family influences to their expectations of marriage. After wrap-up of FOE, we will focus on the questions listed in the Appendix B.


If we have volunteer couple that join us and prepare themselves to be the counselor couple in the future, we can ask them to lead one or two sessions during the process.

This counseling process is designed for couples that similar to persona described at the beginning of the paper. If there’s any couple that has special issues in their life, e.g. divorce, poverty, they might need additional sessions, or they need to be redirected to other counselors.

[1] Stahmann, Robert F. and Hiebert, William J. Premarital and Remarital Counseling: The Professional’s Handbook. (San Francisco: Josey-Bass 1997), 152