While doing a hospital visitation, I overheard a conversation in an elevator between three nurses.  One of the nurses was getting married and she was talking about her excitement in getting married, she made the comment, “I am not going to move everything I own to the house, just in case this doesn’t work.”  It occurred to me, she was not planning for the marriage to succeed.  In fact, quite the contrary, she was planning for the marriage to fail.  This seems to be the attitude of most today.  We have prenuptial agreements and contingency plans in case of failures and all of this is to make it easier to end the marriage.  In his classic book, “Communication: Key to Your Marriage”, H. Norman Wright states: “That once permanent bastion of security and ‘til death do us part’ commitment has become for too many an impermanent gamble lasting ‘til divorce seems convenient.’”1

Attending marital counseling tends to be, for the most part, an exercise in futility.  Most couples have made up their minds before they even begin the counseling process.  Most counselors/pastors find this attitude frustrating and tend to give up on the couple.   Perhaps a counselor/pastor would never say he gives up, but in reality, he does not try as hard or put the effort into seeing the marriage reconciled.  If marriage is as sacred as the Bible says it is, (and it is), then we who are involved in marital counseling should never give up, knowing that God can mend any relationship.  As a counselor/pastor, we need to get couples to understand the T.R.U.T.H. concerning marriage.

Timing is extremely important to reconciling a marriage.  Most couples wait too long before they recognize they have a problem.  In some cases, by the time counseling is sought, the lawyers have already been contacted and divorce papers have been filed.  If you see a warning light on the dash of your car, you would not ignore it; you would seek to find the cause.  Some couples see the warning light, but choose to ignore it until it is too late and residual damage has been done.  It is imperative to recognize a problem in the marriage early so help, if necessary, can be sought and the marriage can be salvaged.  I remember counseling with a particular couple in my church.  I was meeting with the man alone to get his “take” on things.  After about the fourth meeting, he informed me that the court hearing was in two months.  He had already filed for divorce.  We need to communicate to couples the need to talk to a pastor and/or a counselor early, when the warning light first begins to shine.

Responsibilities within a marriage are important to understand.  One responsibility is that each spouse must know his/her own function within the marriage.  There are two extremes.  The man is the master of his home and makes all decisions, irregardless of what his wife thinks.  The other extreme is that the man can’t make any decisions and his wife is left “running” the home.   Both of these are unbiblical.  While the Bible does command the man to be the head of his home, he is also required to love his wife, as Christ loves the Church (Eph. 4:25).  This means he is to make decisions based upon the welfare of his wife and family, not just what is good for him.  The wife in turn is to submit to her husband as unto the Lord (Eph. 4:22), knowing that her husband has her welfare in mind.  Although it is not always easy to fulfill these God-given roles, we must remind the couple that they have a responsibility to honor God in their marriage.  As a counselor/pastor, we must teach these responsibilities to our couples.  They must understand that being the head and submitting work hand-in-hand.  When the husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church, the wife will find it easy to submit, while on the other hand, if the wife submits as unto the Lord, the husband will find it easy to provide loving leadership.  They work in conjunction with each, and are not separate functions.

Another responsibility we find in the marriage is in the area of communication.   A lot of conflicts are primarily due to poor communication skills.  The reality is, most couples have not learned how to communicate properly.  There is a cycle of communication that is important for every couple to learn.  It begins with one doing the talking while the other is listening.  But, for the cycle to be complete there must be a response from the hearer.  Then and only then will communication have taken place.  It is wise to teach our couples to listen and to learn to ask the right questions of their spouse.  By asking questions, it is demonstrated that what was said has actually been what was heard.  This tends to add clarification and in most cases, de-fuses an otherwise argumentative situation.

Unselfish attitude on the part of each one in the relationship can also prevent major conflicts in the marriage.  Our society, for the most part, is self-centered and self-serving.  If what I am doing does not benefit me then it is not worth doing.2  In the marriage, couples that are selfish, tend to be the couples who require more attention.  I would have to say that in my twenty-four years of the pastorate, this has been the number one problem I have faced while counseling couples.   Sure, there have been communication problems, kid problems, money problems and the list goes on, but the one common denominator has been that of a selfish attitude.   Both have to have it their own way, or it is the highway.  There is little if any compromise but this is one time when compromise is good.  No one likes to lose because losing an argument appears to be a sign of weakness, then stubbornness sets in.   It is the role of the counselor/pastor to recognize when one or the other is being selfish.  He must be able to distinguish between genuine need and a selfish need.  I remember with one couple, I initially thought the woman was being unusually mean and non-supportive of her husband, but after several counseling sessions, it became apparent that the man was putting demands upon his wife that were unwarranted.  When she would not meet those demands, he accused her of not caring and having no concern for his welfare.  He was being selfish and was causing undue stress in the marriage.  Once this was dealt with, the conflicts in the marriage became far and few between.

Trust is another big issue in marriage.  The attitude of our culture seems to be a lack of trust among people.  With all the CEO’s, and the heads of churches and religious organizations falling into sin, people are fearful of putting their trust in anyone.  This has found its way into our marriages.  Many a marriage has ended due to a lack of trust.  The attitude that he/she is “out to get me” seems to be prevalent.  In my years of counseling, I remember one couple where the wife thought that everything the husband did was to “get even” or to “hurt her.”  She had zero trust in this man.  It did not matter what he did, from standing on the other side of the room talking to someone else and assuming they were talking about her, or being late coming home from work and thinking he had made a secret rendezvous with another woman.   This lack of trust for the most part comes from their background.  Many couples have no example to follow from their childhood days.   Their parents did not provide the security to help them develop trust and in most cases, their parents were divorced and they were shuffled from one home to another.  This then plays a major role in the development of trust.  As a counselor/pastor, it is imperative that we help our struggling couples develop trust in each other.3

Holiness is the key to solving most, if not all problems in the marriage.  None of the above is possible without the practice of personal holiness by each spouse.  When the counselor/pastor first meets with a couple, their personal relationship with Jesus Christ should be examined immediately out of the starting blocks.  Without the power of the Holy Spirit, most efforts will be done in the flesh and nothing good can come from the flesh.   The Conciliation Committee of IFCA International has developed an excellent workbook on how to respond to conflicts Biblically.  In this workbook, the section entitled, “Understanding Conflict and Our Responses to It” addresses the source of every conflict, which is the heart. The same is true in the marriage.  The reason why Christians are getting more divorces is reflected in the condition of the heart.  In the marriage ceremony, we establish the fact that marriage is a sacred institute established by our Lord and is therefore not to be entered into lightly but soberly.  If the goal is to glorify Christ in the marriage, and both are living holy, pure lives4, then there is no conflict that can not be resolved.

Marital conflicts can be resolved.  A counselor/pastor should never give up on any couple; after all, Christ never gives up on us.  But he should remember to help the struggling couple to learn the T.R.U.T.H.  Timing, Responsibilities, Unselfishness, Trust and Holiness must be understood to make a marriage honorable to our Lord.  It is the role of the counselor/pastor to assist our couples to know this T.R.U.T.H.   May God be glorified in our marriages!

END NOTES

1.    Wright, Norman H., Communication: Key to Your Marriage, G/L Publications, 1974

2.   We are seeing this selfish attitude played out in our churches by the way we worship.  Hedonism, the need to have pleasure, has played a major role in formulating worship services, and if it does not satisfy, then it must be wrong.   There is no wonder this attitude has found its way into our marriages, it permeates all we do in many of our churches.

3.     Developing this trust must begin with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is understood that if trust is an issue within a marriage, it is due to a poor understanding of their relationship with Christ.  The counselor/pastor must begin with Christ and move forward to discuss the marriage.

4.   See 1 Peter 1:13-16