When people ask me about the Christian marriage counseling that I offer couples in my practice, they want to know what works. The truth is that Christian marriage counseling, perhaps more so than individual counseling, needs to work. Of course, all therapy needs to work and needs to be of the same high quality and caliber, but there is nevertheless a difference with marriage counseling. Important as it may be to have highly qualified counseling, the reality is that, aside from a crisis situation, individual counseling has time on its side. By this I mean that in individual counseling the client is an individual person. And people generally tend to live long and relatively stable lives.
Marriage is a Fragile Relationship
Ever since about the third grade (and sometimes before) relationships are experienced as tenuous, mercurial things. One moment there is interest, then you are dating exclusively, and a short time later you have broken up again. And all this has occurred before the recess, without you even talking to each other. This pattern continues forcefully, even after the third grade. As adults, we fall in and out of love. We enter into life-long relationships, only to be told that the “life-long” part is really a 50/50 proposition. In an age of convenience, contracts, pre-nups, and permissive attitudes towards idolizing personal happiness, the brand value of commitment has taken a beating. Add to this the plethora of solicitations for our exclusive marital affections to “diversify,” and it is no wonder that relationships can be downright fragile.
Marriages in Trouble Need Immediate Help
In Christian marriage counseling it is precisely the relationship that requires care. Despite all its benefits, an unfortunate reality of our “can do” individualistic culture is that we take too long to ask for help. This applies to men asking for directions and it also applies to people seeking counseling. As a result, by the time a couple or a marriage reaches our door as therapists, they are frequently already in an advanced stage of distress. Short cuts have probably been attempted, patience has frayed, and an absolutely wonderful couple finds themselves at their wits’ end and more lost than ever. Unlike the situation in individual counseling, this is not the time to engage in a relaxed journey of soul searching, with a helpful and affirming guide to gently redirect your missteps. One of the worst things a novice marriage counselor can do is to take on an affirming and supportive role, as they might do in individual counseling. While this can be wonderfully validating in individual counseling, it can end up producing an imbalance in marriage counseling. A marriage counselor who “joins” with one spouse at the expense of the other risks alienating the other spouse, who is likely to feel that the counselor has taken sides. Quite apart from the balancing issues, asking a helplessly lost and distressed couple to stop and smell the emotional roses is foolish. You may as well ask a patient suffering a life-threatening heart attack, “How does that make you feel?” When a marriage is bleeding out onto the table, introspective pondering can take a backseat for the moment because that marriage needs immediate help.
Marital First Aid Tools
This is why one of the things that I have incorporated into my Christian marriage counseling practice is a sort of “go-to bag” of marital first aid tools. A marriage in distress can almost always benefit from helpful tools in the areas of:
- Conflict Resolution
- Affection (increasing the subjective sense of closeness and love)
If you come in for Christian marriage counseling, this is exactly the kind of help you can receive right away – and by this I mean, day one, first session, right away. We won’t spend a small eternity on paperwork. Nor will I blithely listen while your spouse bad mouths you, nodding my head while agreeing about how awful you are. Instead, we will get right to work, determining your goals and the nature of your challenges, and finding improvements and changes that will yield immediate results. These will be the kind of changes that you can put into practice immediately, either in the session or immediately thereafter, in order to generate some life and hope in your marriage.
This is what I mean by marital first aid.
Christian Counseling for Marriages in Distress
As a Christian counselor, I am aware that this will not fundamentally change everything that needs to be changed. There will still potentially be hours of therapy and some soul searching required. But I will provide you with a lifeline to enable you to climb out of the pit with together, so that you can remember that you are in this together.
I love marriage. I love the oneness that God has designed for a husband and a wife. If you feel your marriage is lost in the wilderness, whether a lot or a little, it would be my honor to help you get back on track fast.
All from Creationswap.com: “Relationships on Paper,” courtesy of Jacob Abshire; “Marriage Ring,” courtesy of Aaron Burden; and “Rays of Roses,” courtesy of Lauren Rees.