God created man and woman to come together as one flesh in marriage and the Bible provides the blueprint for it, with Ephesians Chapter Five laying out the instruction for wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord; and for husbands, in turn, to love their wives, just as Christ loved the church.
This all sounds simple enough in pre-marriage counseling, but it doesn’t take long for a newly married couple to realize that one sinner marrying another sinner is not going to make for an easy happily ever after. An example of a solid and successful marriage has rarely resulted from years of conflict-free living, but rather from a commitment to learning how to overcome obstacles on an ongoing basis.
Christians have the unique, powerful influence of the Holy Spirit actively working in their marriage, giving them the ability to manage the relationship in a healthy and productive way (Malachi 2:15). However, that does not mean to say those marriage problems may not arise that would benefit from external marriage help. This is where Christian marriage counseling can play an important role.
Problems big and small
Marital problems vary in shape and size and in how long they have persisted; as well as in how each spouse perceives them. An issue could have arisen through lack of communication, and, if both partners realize this and act on it in a short time frame – perhaps by reading a marriage book or attending a seminar together – this minor problem could be resolved.
Serious problems such as ongoing fighting or withdrawal, and a realization that the marriage would not survive without a change, could send a couple to counseling to learn how to break destructive habits over time. An example of a marriage in crisis would be an extra-marital affair that has led a spouse to threaten divorce considering whether the marriage can be saved.
A common sense indicator of whether your marriage is struggling would be to compare it to how it used to be. If practices that were once commonplace, such as spending time together, serving one another, and communicating well are no longer there, chances are you could benefit from marriage help.
Other problems can stem from specific issues, emotional or sexual problems, or addictions. Abuse of any kind – physical or emotional – is never justified or normal, and getting to a safe place, away from where you are likely to be hurt again, is imperative.
How can Christian marriage counseling help?
Acknowledging that there is an issue in your marriage that is preventing you from growing together in love and maturity is an important step and realizing that there are professional help available marks a positive turning point. When seeking out a counselor, make sure that they are licensed by the state in which they practice and that they are appropriately accredited.
It is vital to assess how active their faith is, and you could perhaps request a reference from the church community that they are a part of. In most instances, a personal recommendation is extremely useful, but may not be possible if you prefer to keep the matter of marital problems confidential.
It’s also critical to have the right “chemistry” with your counselor; naturally, it takes a while for the rapport to develop, but both spouses should agree that the possibility for a good connection exists from the outset.
What can you expect from Christian Marriage Counseling?
If you’ve been battling marriage problems for a while, you’ve likely both lost and never really had, clarityabout what is causing the distress. Simply recounting your history, and how tensions have developed, to a third party can be useful in gaining some perspective.
An experienced counselor will be able to probe to bring out underlying issues as it may be that the core problem is something completely different from what arguments suggest. Once you have a clear diagnosis of what is wrong, you can begin to work together on a resolution.
Expect to be challenged to be honest in marriage counseling, with truth being the basis for growth, change, healing, trust, intimacy, and character transformation. If you have taken the bold step towards counseling, it makes sense to embrace the opportunity to be vulnerable, which will make the counseling process quicker and more effective.
Honestly assessing responsibility for our own sin without pointing out blame can be a big shift for many marriages. This takes courage, and a Christian marriage counselor should display care and compassion during this process.
Next is the move towards a course of action, although the role of the counselor is not to dictate solutions, but rather gently nudge couples towards their own resolution. Prayer and Scripture should be the basis of each session, as it is the application of God’s word which will ultimately restore and redeem a struggling marriage.
Meditating on these types of Bible verses, against the supportive backdrop of regular counseling, can transform even the most broken of marriages, particularly if both members are aligned in their commitment to bring about change:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
This passage sounds pretty and poetic when read out at weddings, but rather it is a call to wage war against the flesh! We may be able to present ourselves as kind and other-person centered to the outside world, but our spouse will not fail to see the sin which rises up so naturally, when our way is threatened, in matters both big and small.
As we reflect on the freedom that Christ has bought us through His death on the cross, we see that we do not have to conform to these selfish patterns, but can rather delight in the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming our character. If we could achieve all of these virtues, would we struggle as much as we currently do, in our marriages?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23
Again, while we cannot manufacture these feelings towards our spouse, particularly in times of marital struggle, we can ask God to bless us with an increased overflow of the fruits of the Spirit, and reflect and confess on where our attitude towards our spouse has fallen short of these characteristics.
Even if one spouse refuses to attend counseling, it can be of benefit for the other partner to attend alone. If they can work through their grievances and come to a point where they do not harbor resentment towards the other, the marriage will likely improve, and perhaps set in motion the wheels for positive change.
In a marriage, it is very rarely the case that one partner is 100% to blame for marital problems, and the other completely blameless, but rather a split based on attitude and desire to change.
Ultimately, focusing on one’s relationship with the Lord and ensuring that that all-important vertical relationship is strong, will have a positive impact on all horizontal relationships, including one’s marriage.
Christian marriage counseling will also help you to honestly assess where you are at in this regard and encourage you to grow closer to God through daily time in the Bible and prayer. A praying spouse is the best weapon against division and the best source of relationship help around – prayer can move mountains and it can certainly take your marriage to a higher place!
“Wedding Bands”, Courtesy of Sandy Millar, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Just Married”, Courtesy of Progressive Insurance, hUnsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Ryan Franco, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of James Orr, Unsplash.com, CC0 License