Ringing the wedding bells: How Calvin students are preparing for marriage


Photo courtesy of Michelle Merritt

In spite of scrutiny, couples are putting in the work to make their marriages last.

The rhetoric around getting a “ring by spring” has an influence on 14% of Christian collegiate marriages, according to a study by Facebook. Students across the country are putting in the work to ensure that their marriages are successful, and Calvin students take advantage of a variety of resources to do so.

It’s important to consider what is right for your individual relationship. I don’t think there’s one right or wrong answer about what time of life to get married.

— Michelle Merritt

Our general supports related to mental health treatment, coping skills and communication strategies are useful for application in all relationships, including for students who are engaged or married,” said Irene Kraegel, director of the Center for Counseling and Wellness, in an email to Chimes. “This includes the self-help educational resources available through Therapy Assistance Online, which has extensive information on healthy relationship skills. When students are seeking more specific premarital or couples counseling, we refer to providers in the community with this specialty.” 

According to Kraegel, recommendations for premarital counseling are available on Calvin’s ThrivingCampus page as well as the CCW’s resource page on the Calvin website under the premarital counseling tab. 

If a couple at Calvin is looking for a premarital counselor, they may be able to find one right on campus — and sometimes, they find a person they might not expect.

“The younger you are to get married, the less experience you have, the more important it is I think for marriage counseling to kind of flush out and give you some insights from people that have been through that and have some understanding of what marriage really is,” said John Britton. When Britton isn’t serving students as the associate dean of campus involvement and leadership, he provides premarital counseling alongside his wife to current and former Calvin students who are both planning their weddings and preparing for the reality of marriage. 

Though Britton has only counseled three couples and is starting counseling for his fourth, he has grown to appreciate his couples’ willingness to get mentorship before walking down the aisle. “In my cases, students came to me and were asking for mentoring slash counseling. And they were fairly self motivated … it was something that they wanted, they were seeking. I always found with that kind of posture that they were open to feedback and ideas.”

Michelle Merritt, a senior who got engaged in December 2021, plans to have a long engagement with her fiancé, Shin Han, but is already pursuing counseling in order to be ready for her marriage. “We have started premarital counseling while I am still in school, and both feel that leaving lots of time for counseling and thoughtful preparation is a healthy step in the process of marriage,” said Merritt. 

However, counseling isn’t the only way Calvin couples prepare for marriage. Senior Jonah Foster, who married his wife Sarah as a student, not only sought premarital counseling, but also relied on marriage literature and conversations with loved ones.

“We read a couple of books about marriage including ‘The Meaning of Marriage’ by Tim Keller as well as premarital counseling and talking with our parents,” said Foster. 

Merritt and Foster both credit various aspects of their Calvin experience with preparing them for marriage. Merritt, who is in an intercultural relationship, attributes her relationship’s success to learning about cross-cultural and foreign language competency at Calvin, while Foster attributes his to meaningful friendships made at Calvin.

“Calvin prepared me for marriage by putting the right people in my life and I don’t just mean my wife. The friends that I have made at Calvin have helped support me and I don’t think I would have gotten married without them,” said Foster.

“Personally I think couples should get premarital counseling before they get engaged,” said Britton. ”There’s so much pressure when you’re engaged where ‘we gotta make this work because people know’ and so I think counseling prior to engagement makes a lot more sense than actually waiting till a couple months before you get married.”

Prior to getting engaged, Merritt and Foster discussed marriage with their significant others. Though Foster did not talk to his then-girlfriend about marriage in college in depth, their conversations laid out a platform for the future: “We talked a little bit about being married in relation to college before getting engaged but we mostly talked about our relationship in general and if we wanted to get engaged,” he said.

Engagement and marriage isn’t for everyone, however, and Merritt encourages couples to do what is best for them: “It’s important to consider what is right for your individual relationship. I don’t think there’s one right or wrong answer about what time of life to get married. I do think it’s important to surround yourself with a community of friends and mentors that can help you make decisions like that and can provide support and advice throughout the journey, whether it’s in college or beyond.”