3 Surprising Discoveries in Christian Marriage Counseling
1) You Discover You Can Survive the Truth
In the film A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character, a witness on the stand in a military court, asserted to the prosecuting attorney played by Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth!” This is something that many people think about themselves. But what people can discover in counseling is that they can indeed handle the truth. As we come into the light as Jesus is in the light, the truth that is exposed by ourselves and others can lead to transformation. We can also discover that the truth of what has happened to us, or what we have chosen, is not the whole truth about ourselves, nor is it our true identity. We all have a “narrative,” a version of our story that involves a combination of facts and interpretation. Christian marriage counseling can be an invitation to be straight and honest – with ourselves, our spouse, and with God. It is an opportunity to learn God’s perspective. Knowing the truth about ourselves and about Jesus, and choosing to live in His ways, leads us to more freedom (John 8:31-32).
Honesty and truth-telling provide the foundation for change, the building of trust, intimacy, healing, and turning back to God and His ways. Those of us who are married owe our spouse the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us, God. Christian marriage counseling supports truth-telling, grace-giving, and God’s overall interpretation. While concealing an addiction or an affair may seem necessary to stave off rejection, and while some marriages do not survive such revelations, Christian counseling affirms that God’s love and power can redeem the worst in us for good. Truth is becoming in Jesus’ followers (Ephesians 4:22-25), and speaking the truth in love is a path to maturity. Ephesians 4:15 tells us that, in so doing, “…we will in all things grow up into the Head, that is Christ.” Whenever we lie, hide, deny, minimize, deflect the truth, blame our spouse, or excuse or justify ourselves, we hinder and delay our own and our spouse’s healing. Christian counseling affirms that it is God’s perspective that is ultimately defining (Jeremiah 17:7).
A Christian marriage counselor can reiterate all that God promises to those who seek to tell the truth, including grace and the promise of redemption. Honestly owning our choices, motivations, and past wounds and struggles is a means by which we are made new, which is what Jesus offers us in friendship with Him. By using Christian counselors who value and incorporate His love, truth, and grace, God can help couples to stop colluding to avoid the truth, to stop bullshitting themselves and one another, and to embrace more of the abundant life He has for them in Jesus. Moreover, Christian counseling points a couple back to God so that they can find His meaning in their suffering. Other approaches to marriage counseling also value truthfulness and self-responsibility. However, the value of Christian marriage counseling lies specifically in speaking truth, owning one’s own choices, and ultimately seeking God’s perspective.
2) You Discover God’s Healing Work in Your Marriage
Struggles in marriage have their roots in the past and in the present. Christian marriage counseling affirms Jesus’ power to redeem sin, reverse evil, work good, and transform lives (Isaiah 61:1). Relief from past trauma is made possible through the healing power of Jesus. This empowers us to begin a new legacy and to break free from past patterns by means of His indwelling Spirit. Reconciliation and forgiveness are at the center of what Jesus has made possible by His death and resurrection. Healing in marriage can be experienced over time, as the wounded parties learn to make peace with each other and to cancel each other’s moral debts. Other approaches to marriage counseling also stress the need for reconciliation and forgiveness. But Christian counseling affirms that the source and model of reconciliation is found in God Himself, who provides us with the power to reconcile and to forgive.
3) You Learn to do Difficult Things that Benefit Your Life Together
Sometimes the most difficult thing we can do is to confront ourselves with our own sin. Regardless of what our spouse does and says, Jesus asks us, “How do you want to live?” Once we are honest about our part, the next step is to enact personal change. Christian marriage counseling can be based on Jesus’ instruction: Do not try to remove the speck in your spouse’s eye until you have extricated the log in your own. Motivated by God’s love and grace, we can confront our own strategies, faulty thinking, and selfishness. We can choose to make sacrifices, to be who we ought to be, and to do the best we can. But we need help as we face our neediness for change and seek to take steps of change. Christian marriage counseling supports the promise that we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. The reality is that we cannot change without the support of others who also affirm their impotence apart from Christ. Other approaches to counseling also emphasize self-confrontation and the support of a recovery community. But Christian counseling emphasizes Jesus as the God who knows our weaknesses and empowers us as we take new steps, both with our spouse and with others.
Christian Counseling Can Heal and Strengthen Your Marriage
Ultimately, Christian marriage counseling affirms that Jesus’ wounds heal us (Isaiah 53:4-5). Since He came to give us abundant life (John 10:10), he intends more for our marriage.
“Love on a Bench,” courtesy of mrhayata, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “couples and ponds,” courtesy of jennie-o, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “cuddling in the rain,” courtesy of “Morgan Sessions, unsplash.com CC0 Public Domain License