Marriage Counselling

When I give Marriage Counselling advice to couples or Marriage Counsellors there are a few basics which I always cover. Let me share them with you.

Marriage brings two different people together to establish a working relationship. When the marriage relationship breaks down, people feel hurt, betrayed, unloved, insecure, fearful, angry, bitter, or a range of other emotions. Those emotions not only challenge the marriage but they also tap issues from the background of the couple. Having a sense for this interplay empowers marriage counseling to be more effective.

The Individual

Marriage brings two individuals together for a mutually rewarding relationship. Who they each are, as individuals, affects what they can achieve as a couple. An unstable person will hardly be able to build a stable relationship. A fearful person will not be able to build a trusting relationship. An angry person will not be able to build a loving relationship.

So, before a marriage counselor becomes too distracted with the relationship issues they are wise to consider the individual qualities of the husband and wife. The weaknesses, attitudes, past experience and personal skills of each spouse will impede or assist the building of a strong relationship.

Individual Complexity

People are complex, so the range of personal issues they carry could be quite extensive. A wise counsellor seeks to uncover those things which are most relevant to the person’s ability to enter into and maintain a strong marriage relationship. Issues of trust, forgiveness, correct view of marriage and relationship, willingness to change, flexibility, selfishness and fear might be among the relevant matters to uncover.

People’s behaviour is often crafted by their reactions to past experience. For example, a person who has suffered injustice will tend to be very sensitive about justice issues. A person who has been denied loving acceptance may idolise the input of their spouse and feel let down when the spouse does not meet their idealised expectations. A person who has been spoiled may find it hard to give up their will to fit in with their spouse. I refer to this individual complexity as the “baggage” which the couple brings along on their honeymoon and into their marriage. Most often the person does not know their own baggage, since it seems normal to them. Their spouse is most likely completely oblivious to this baggage.

In time this baggage will trip up the marriage relationship. These hidden things will become obvious, over time, and they will prompt a new set of problems as each spouse reacts to the issues for better or for worse. The joke goes, “Love is blind, but Marriage is an Eye-Opener!” And that’s true. Relationship brings to light the hidden things. How skilled the couple are in dealing with those revelations will impact where their marriage goes.

Relationship Skills

Because marriage is a relationship it is vital that each person has good relationship skills. If one has good skills they can save the marriage from much trouble, but it is better if both work together than that one exploit the strengths of the other.

Relationship skills are not so much ‘skills’ as attitudes. Selfish attitudes are contrary to the spirit of relationship. Inflexibility makes demands on the other party in a relationship. Unforgiveness is a cruelty which violates relationship. Independence is contrary to relationship. Stubbornness is a road-block to relationship. Self assertiveness violates others. Pride is an offence to others. Self-determination is contrary to the spirit of cooperation.

People with the wrong attitudes have the wrong skills. Yet some people need to be trained in the practical expression of good relationship skills. Listening, caring, cooperating, sharing, committing time for each other, fitting in with the other’s plans, negotiating equitably, repenting, forgiving, adapting, standing firm on moral principles and being consistent are practices which may have to be learned and practiced by today’s dysfunctional society.

Proper Modelling

When a couple does not know what they are trying to build they will have less success than they could otherwise have. A clear understanding of the godly model for marriage, as I present in my books, Marriage Horizons and Mending Marriages, empowers a couple to build the most stable and effective kind of relationship. A good counsellor is attentive to the concept of marriage the couple are working with. If it is flawed then the couple needs to be instructed and directed toward the model of marriage that actually works and works most effectively.

God’s Grace

Humans are limited creatures and they don’t have the ability to save themselves. Even the best possible help from the most skilled Marriage Counsellor is not enough. Each person and each couple needs to have the grace of God released into their lives and relationships.

Good Marriage Counseling releases God’s grace into each individual spouse. That’s why Christian Marriage Counselling is so very important in the lives of couples who need help. Secular assistance can give good advice and sound wisdom, but it cannot release God’s divine touch into the lives of the couple.

If a couple cannot access Christian Marriage Counselling then they should find a Bible-believing church where they can get prayer and ministry to release God’s grace into their personal lives and into their marriage relationship.

Teachable Heart

Do you hate being told off? Most of us react when someone is giving us a lecture and pointing out our faults. Some people turn off immediately, run away or even react aggressively when being corrected. How do you take correction? What don’t you like when people are bringing up your weakness, failings or faults? Do you have a teachable heart, or are you one of the stroppy ones who react poorly?

What about your children? Do they take correction? Do they become annoyed and frustrated when you try to instruct them?

King Solomon speaks directly about this common weakness in taking correction. He refers to correction as ‘reproof’. In Proverbs 12:1 Solomon notes that those who love instruction love knowledge, but those who hate reproof are the stupid ones.

There are no accolades for those who react when they are corrected. If you find yourself cringing, tensing, resenting the speaker, blocking the input, or other negative response to reproof you are on dangerous ground.

If you also think that your way is pretty good and you don’t need correction, you are even on worse ground. Hmmmm. Proverbs 12:15 says “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he that receives counsel is wise”. Those voices of correction or reproof are ‘counsel’, and you are wise to receive them. If you are determined that you are right, then you are likely a fool.

Now, I know that there are some people who can turn correction into a toxic substance. That makes it even tougher to receive their words of reproof. What can I say? Those people do exist. They make a compliment into a death sentence. They have the ability to humiliate, denigrate and offend in the very process of giving reproof or correction which is valid.

When those people speak into our life we are doubly challenged. We don’t want to be corrected in the first place, but we also don’t want to be put down, taunted or otherwise offended by the person bringing correction.

To be super-spiritual about it, let me suggest that maybe God has elevated the stakes in your life, by bringing along the offending corrector. The double whammy may be to test your heart even more than normal. By upping the stakes on you God is giving you the chance to press through to greater freedom. Champions don’t train with the primary school squad – they undergo the most rigorous conditions. And so it is with your heart and spiritual growth. By having additional weights put onto the bar you are being given the opportunity to become a champion. The scorning corrector and the toxic rebuke, when received with God’s grace, will give you victories not attainable under the hand of a patient and kind counsellor.

So let’s consider your children again. If they react to your correction and instruction it could be because you are heavy-handed and even toxic in the way you bring correction and instruction. Please search your heart. There is no need for you to make life difficult for your children. If you have sufficient relationship with them, which I hope you do, then you may want to discuss these thoughts with them and encourage them to develop a teachable heart, even when you are not kind in the way you instruct them.

I counsel you to receive counsel. I counsel you to have a teachable heart. I counsel you to receive correction, even when it comes in a nasty package. I counsel you to be of an excellent spirit and to be counted among the wise, not the fools.

Steps To Release

Nearly 40 years ago I journeyed through a process of being set free from a variety of personal problems. Insecurity, fear, pride, immorality, attitudes and other things were brought to my attention and graciously dealt with.

The eventual end result of that process is the Steps to Release which I formulated as my ministry tool for helping others and myself step into personal freedom. What I want to do is share those steps with you, as part of the Christian Counselling material that you can apply to yourself or in helping others.

The Steps to Release are taught in my first book, Family Horizons, available from http://familyhorizons.net/html/shop.html

Several things prompted me to define these steps into a workable process which I can apply widely and share with others. While at Bible College in 1978 I shared my testimony of release and inner restoration with some of the students. Two girls, Janet and Jean, asked me to explain how God had set me free. I was unable to do so. They taunted me with the challenge that I had no right to share about my freedom if I couldn’t also show others how to enter into freedom too.

When I reflected on their challenge I remembered a discussion I had with my older brother. We had both encountered the infilling of the Holy Spirit at about the same time. A year or so later I said to my brother, “You know how God gets inside your life and starts dealing with you once you’ve received the Holy Spirit?” He looked at me and told me he had no idea what I was talking about. I tried to explain myself but he could not relate to my descriptions of having God convict me and reveal things to me. Up to that point I had assumed that everyone who received the Holy Spirit had the identical resultant experience.

So, when those fellow students challenged me to define God’s dealings in my life I went to prayer. I asked God to remind me what it was that He had done in me and how He had done it. I had no clear idea at first. I just took it all for granted and expected that everyone else was on the same journey of transformation which I enjoyed. Now that I knew each of us were on uniquely personal journeys and that my journey had produced some fruit others wanted to sample, I looked to the Lord to remind me how He had done His work in my life. There had been about seven years of various impacts, so I had to revisit that journey.

Piece of piece God began to awaken my memory. I began to remember specific preachers and sermons which were part of God’s work. I recalled various Bible verses which touched me at a deep level. I also remembered my responses to what God seemed to be saying deep within me.

My journey had been a deeply personal one. It touched my fears, pride, selfishness, vulnerabilities, inner pains, insecurities, shame, hurts and more. But as I recalled God’s gracious dealings a clear pattern began to emerge. God had taken me on a journey. It was a profound and personal venture that led me through my own personal quagmires and ruins into the glorious light of a new day in His presence.

There are many anecdotes I could share about the various stages of that journey, and in time I may well use them as illustrations here and there. What I think I should do is give you a summary of the overall journey then take the time to give you a more detailed description of the various steps in future posts. So for now, here is a summary of the landmarks that have become my Steps to Release.

1. The first thing I had to do was admit my need. This did not come easy, but I now see it as an essential element of the journey.

2. The second thing I had to do was identify the real problem, not just the symptoms. In the process I found it extremely valuable to uncover the root cause of the problem, such as an initiating event, if at all possible.

3. Once the problem had been identified I was led to take three important steps to deal with it. So the third thing I had to do was to repent of any part I had in bringing the specific problem into my life.

4. The fourth thing I had to do, and so the fourth step in my Steps to Release, was to forgive all those who were part of the problem. This includes those who caused the problem and those who added to it after the fact.

5. Then the fifth thing I was led to do was to renounce the evil of the situation. This is effectively the legal process of breaking the connection between the problem and me.

6. Having attended to those three steps of responsibility, repentance, forgiveness and renouncing, I could then enter into the spiritual warfare process of resisting the evil. This is the sixth step. I would break the power of the evil associated with the problem.

7. The final, seventh step is to fall at the feet of God. Another way to describe it is to cast my cares on Him, because He cares for me. This is the process of giving to God the ruin of my life and all that remains as a consequence of the problem which existed in my life. God is invited to take charge and to heal, restore and re-invigorate my life for His purposes.

8. If, after going through those steps the issue was not completely resolved I would see two things to do. One is to repeat the process, looking for even greater insight into what the problem is and where it came from. I would also be more diligent in working through the related steps. The other thing to do is to join forces with another Christian of strong faith who would add their faith to mine in working through the issue.

Well, that’s an introduction. I’ll elaborate at some time in the future. Meanwhile there is enough in this summary to empower you to tackle some of your problems. So go to it.

The Un-Charming Prince – “I Kissed the Frog”

Someone who I discussed these recent posts with identified with what I have written and she had a cute way of describing the situation. She said, “I kissed the frog, and he’s STILL a frog!” This is the disappointment many young wives and husbands have about their spouse.

Someone else put it this way. When a man marries a woman he doesn’t want her to change, but she does. When a woman marries a man she wants him to change, but he doesn’t. Either way, both husband and wife find themselves living with a reality that is not their ideal.

One of the traps in the process of marriage is that both the guy and the gal are transformed from one status to another. As boyfriend and girlfriend they live in the reality of being single and full of hope. However, when they become ‘man and wife’ they are both brought through from single-hood to a new personal status of husband or wife. It is almost as if in internal switch is then triggered to readjust them to this new status. Whatever their factory settings are for ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ is what they now being to operate by. So the sweet little ‘girl’ is a ‘girl’ no more. The hopeful boy is a boy no longer. They both switch into the settings which they have been programming since their child-hood, most strongly from the example of their parents and their own responses to that example.

It should never be a surprise that both the bride and groom will change their behaviour once married. So this demands two effective processes at work, for ideal results. Firstly, we should each be aware of our humanity and need to become better people. The most ideal role-model for us all is Jesus Christ and we all need to become more like him, no matter what our religious persuasion. There is no-one in all of human history who is a more worthy example to us all. Each of us should be committed to changing to be more like Jesus all the time. So, when we discover that our internal, automatic settings cause us to behave less like him we should be quick to address that.

The other effective process is for the people affected, especially the spouse, to offer grace and forgiveness to the person who proves to be less lovely than was hoped. An important reason for this grace response is that God will treat us the way we treat others. If we are unforgiving and if we despise our spouse for not being what we want, we are inviting God to refuse to forgive us and to despise who we are. Since we are all imperfect it is very dangerous to engage in despisement of others who are also imperfect.

I counsel couples who are planning to wed, to realise that they may both change in the months following the wedding – if not even in the first week. They both need to be sensitive to this process and to see that they bring themselves to God so that God can teach and heal them, perfecting who they are. They both need to be ready to love and forgive each other, even when the frog stays a frog, or the princess proves to be unworthy of that role.

For those who have chosen to make Jesus Christ their role model there should be no Un-Charming Princes and no tainted Cinderella’s. That is, of course, unless they are still a ‘work in progress’. And I guess, we are all works in progress, eh?

This post is part of a series on the Un-Charming Prince:

http://chrisfieldblog.com/topical/un-charming-prince
http://chrisfieldblog.com/topical/un-charming-prince-thats-me
http://chrisfieldblog.com/topical/i-kissed-the-frog
http://chrisfieldblog.com/topical/un-charming-prince-forgiven