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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.