Crowning in Marriage

Methods that enrich marriage and marriage preparation

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It is that time of the year again when weddings seem to happen every Saturday in our churches. During this time of year, I think back about how marriage is viewed between the East and the West, and how that plays out in our liturgies.

The most profound difference between the East and the West is the moment of marriage within the two rites. In the West, this is, of course, the moment the vows are said. In the East, it is the moment when the priest places the crowns on the heads of the couple and proclaims, “Crown them with glory and honor.” This is a great difference, and the moment of crowning is supposed to represent the glory of marriage and the glory that marriage can bring into the world.

On the other hand, there is a moment in the Eastern liturgy where the couple is processed around the Book of the Gospels while the choir chants the “troparion to the martyrs.” The symbolism here is that the crowns are also one of martyrdom, that marriage makes you die to your own will and yourself. This is not the most romantic way of looking at marriage, but it is certainly a realistic one.

As a couples counselor, I have worked with couples in almost every situation. Without fail, I ask them what their marriage prep was like and whether it was worthwhile. There have been a few couples who have described it as helpful, but the vast majority of them tell me that it was a waste of time. Often, I hear that it was “all spiritual and not practical at all.”

There are a few things that can be very helpful. Talking about the martyrdom of marriage is a good start. Talking about how difficult things can be, and about how many couples are starry-eyed when considering the problems that come into relationships, are also a great place to start.

One of the most difficult statistics around marriage is that couples tend to wait six years after issues begin to arise within marriage before they seek couples counseling. After six years, these couples tend to have significant resentment and frustration. Another important thing to tell couples from the very start is that they should be ready to go to couples counseling to work on their marriage when issues begin to present themselves. It is a great wonder to me when I hear couples say that they were told that they “didn’t need to go to couples counseling” by their priest or deacon. Please let a qualified therapist make the determination.

Prepare/Enrich Couples Assessment. There are few things I’ve found more effective as a minister in helping couples prepare for marriage than the Prepare/Enrich Couples Assessment. It is often used by ministers rather than other assessments like the FOCCUS inventory. Prepare/Enrich does a deep dive into how couples communicate, how family dynamics might affect their relationship, stress levels and more. While it does take some training to learn it, I have found that it is by far the most effective assessment and provides couples the most valuable information about their relationship and its dynamics.

The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work. The Gottman Method for couples counseling boasts one of the most effective and researched modalities available for couples. The Gottman approach can predict with 91% accuracy whether a couple will be together in seven years or not. While this is impressive, the more impressive thing is that a couple knows what to do with the information so that they can work on those things that lead to divorce.

The Gottman Modality distilled much of the research into a weekend workshop called the Seven Principles Workshop based on the book “The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work” (Harmony, $17.99). These workshops are offered by practices like Mount Tabor Counseling all around the country and online every few weeks, and I would strongly recommend that you take a look at them first for yourself, but then also refer couples to them.

Readiness to Refer. Last, deacons must be ready to refer to couples counselors when the time comes. There are great databases of therapists such as at But before you simply start sending people to a counselor, I recommend you call them and get to know the counselor. Ask what sort of training they have, what sort of experience, and how they stay current with mental health research. You might not know what they are talking about, but it does give you a good assessment if they can answer.

This is how we can help couples be crowned with glory and honor.

FATHER DEACON BASIL RYAN BALKE is a Byzantine deacon, licensed professional counselor, director of Mount Tabor Counseling,; one of the hosts of the Catholic Psyche Podcast,; and director of custom solutions for the Center for InMinistry Development, He serves as a deacon of the Eparchy of Phoenix.

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