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.

Marriage Defined

Your working definition for marriage will impact what you are building and how you deal with it. The way you see something impacts how you understand it, value it and treat it. Consequently definitions are very important.

In my book, Mending Marriages, I take a good look at people’s working definitions for marriage. The reason some people need their marriage mended is because they have built the wrong thing on the wrong definition in the first place.

Casual observers see marriage as a ‘relationship’. That’s probably the universal starting point. However the nature of that relationship is where marriages come unglued.

To some people the marriage relationship is a special and life-long bond. Others have a much more casual definition of that relationship, seeing it as a temporary linking which will be broken when better or different alternatives come along.

A good working definition of marriage must bring clarity about the nature of the ‘relationship’.

The next key consideration is the functional aspect of the relationship. How are the couple to maintain their life together? What is the nature of their cooperation? While this is an aspect of the definition of the relationship it bears specific attention as it gives the practical expression of that relationship.

As an initial definition we can thus say that marriage is “a special relationship that fits special structural requirements”.

And that’s where the fun begins. What is the ‘special relationship’ and what are the ‘special structural requirements’? Around the world and through history many variations of both those aspects have been explored. Currently there is a push to move away from the history-long model of a man and a woman in a unique relationship. While alternative relationships have existed they have not been recognised as ‘marriage’, which status is seen as Holy Grail by some people.

Throughout history the ubiquitous model of marriage has placed the main responsibility for the relationship and its maintenance with the man. While modern sensibilities try to demean this reality it remains the most enshrined working model for marriage. Historically, all around the world, the vast majority of marriages have been established on the responsibility of the male, who creates a place of nurture for his wife and children. The wife is thus able to concentrate on her nurture of the children and her husband, while the man deals with the outside world and brings provision for his family.

In view of that long tested model it could be argued that the best way to destroy marriage is to demean men, taking their leadership from them. This will break up the family unit, bring uncertainty and insecurity and rob the home of the stabilising nurture of the mother.

Sadly we see much of that outcome already at work in many western families. While the western family home was a model of mutual benefit for the majority just a century ago, it is now an empty place, devoid of much that is needed to grace the human soul.

The most eminently qualified person to provide a powerful working definition for marriage is God. God created marriage and gave it as a gift to mankind. So God knows how it was designed to work. God knows what both husband and wife must do in order to fulfil the marriage relationship and build an effective family unit.

The Bible gives the most valuable and comprehensive insights into how marriage was designed and what we must to do enjoy its fullest benefits. The marriage relationship is best defined as that bond between a man and a woman which unites them in the relationship which God created for them.

Through the pages of the Bible we discover many things which impact the definition of marriage. We discover that it is God’s creation, not man’s creation. It is a holy union, not a relationship of convenience. Its purposes are divine, not human. Its roles are prescribed by God, not dictated by the power players in any given culture.

The bond is created by God, not the couple. A couple cannot pronounce themselves to be ‘married’. God joins the couple together. It is therefore a ‘holy estate’, not a social construct. And since God joins them together man and woman do not have the power to revoke it. God makes it and man cannot ‘un-make’ it.

God has prescribed specific and unique responsibilities to the man and the woman in marriage. These are not a matter of negotiation by the couple. They are prescribed by God and we will each be judged by God on how well we fulfil His demands, despite what we or our spouse think of the arrangements we have come to between each other.

The ‘relationship’ that is created, therefore, is a moral bond, established by God. It is not principally a social union, but a moral one. Each marriage union is a unique bond, excluding all others. It has the quality of a legal bond, since all who violate it are breaking God’s law.

The marriage union allows the couple to enter a unique moral connection where intimacy between them is made perfectly legitimate and holy. It confers on the couple exclusive sexual privileges.

Altogether, then, marriage is an amazing and awesome divine gift to humanity. Sadly many people do not understand what it is and so they enter into it lightly and without respect for their responsibilities or the accountability they have before God for their handling of His created union.

That’s why I bring the subject up along the way, in various forms. People need their eyes opened to this amazing moral union and its implications. That’s not just for their own sake, but for the sake of their spouse, their descendents and the culture in which they live. When God’s Kingdom comes it must impact the domestic home as much as the global environment or governmental circles.

Now, having given you this lengthy explanation, have a look at the definition of marriage which I present in Mending Marriages.

“Marriage is a unique, irrevocable, legal and moral bond created by God between a man and a woman who commit themselves to each other for life-long union, conferring on them exclusive sexual privileges and offering them loving relationship, mutual co-operation and personal investment in each other, in a divinely ordained structure and process in which both fulfil their unique, divinely created responsibilities, which they are to follow in the fear of God, with God’s gracious endowment and for God’s glory, conferring on them God’s personal blessings through each other as they create an effective and meaningful social unit with unique, multi-generational significance.”

May this very relationship be yours.