Many are the motivations for seeking counseling, but for a couple seeking counseling this usually means that they have tried to make things work on their own without lasting effects. Whether counseling is a last resort or an early option in addressing a problem, choosing to seek professional help requires courage and faith. It takes courage to face hard realities. And it takes faith – in God, in the process, in the relationship, and in something beyond oneself – to consider counseling. In this article, I discuss three benefits of couples counseling that I have observed in my work with my clients, and that may not be immediately apparent.
1) Couples Counseling is an Invitation to Confront Yourself
Couples counseling is not about changing your spouse. Many of us think that we already know what there is to know about our spouse, our marriage, and ourselves. We think, “If he would just change, we’d be fine. If she would stop _______we’d have no problems.” Blaming one’s spouse is an ancient tactic that has been proven to postpone and hinder personal and relational growth. Being willing to process and to wrestle with the truth in the hard messages that one hears from a spouse is one of the most rare, difficult, and potentially powerful decisions a person can make in marriage. Being curious and willing to learn more about one’s own impact on one’s spouse is a choice that can be enhanced through counseling. Couples counseling can provide the setting in which the choice to confront oneself can have a positive impact on a struggling marriage. When the question of what I am willing to be and do in order to make this marriage move forward is answered, good things can result with the guidance of a counselor and the support of others.
2) Couples Counseling Can be the Best Setting for Personal Growth
Chronic struggles, intensity, and repetition are all characteristics of the relational problems that can discourage and eventually derail a marriage. Gaining clarity and understanding about the wounds, needs, and reactions we bring into a marriage from our childhood can help us to make conscious and intentional choices with our spouse, whereas a lack of awareness often leads to reactivity and escalation. Our characteristic life strategies and patterns have been formed from childhood and our most intense reactions to our spouse can be traced to our past. Coming to understand how this has impacted both of us can lead to a resolution of our struggles in marriage. When we can separate our spouse from our past, we can take responsibility to address our past wounds while being open to addressing conflict in the present without misdirected intensity.
An axiom that I have found to be true is that we were once wounded in relationship and we are only healed in relationship. A marriage is an opportunity to learn to confront ourselves, adjust to another, and grow together. This is why David Schnarch calls marriage a “crucible,” for it is the container in which reactive chemicals combine to yield a purer compound.
3) Couples Counseling Opens New Possibilities
Couples counseling can help both parties to find “meaning” and “purpose” in their personal suffering and sacrifice in marriage. Put another way, counseling can help spouses to discern whether choosing to do what is right in their relationship is worth the sacrifice, even if it is unrequited. In my own marriage, I have found that choosing to be the person I ought to be, regardless of what my spouse does, provides a pathway to personal growth, deeper intimacy, and partnership. This is also true for many of the couples with whom I have worked and is what author Dan Tocchini describes as the difference between being a consumer and being a servant in marriage. Consumers are conditional in their responses to their spouse. They will be what they promise to be, and what they ought to be, only if their spouse is what he or she ought to be. However, someone who has surrendered their life to Christ is free to love and serve a spouse at all times, irrespective of whether their spouse lives up to his or her promises or not.
As a couple grows in insight, gains skills, and grows in endurance, they find a new freedom to love and serve each other. Doing the hard work of marriage in God’s way often results in seeing how God is able to redeem our poor choices. Moreover, God can use what we have learned and experienced for the good of others. A new passion for your spouse, and a new vision for how your marriage can be used of God for others, can emerge from couples counseling.
Christian Counseling for Growth in Marriage
As a Christian counselor, I have been privileged to see how couples counseling has blessed my clients’ marriages.
“Grim Up North,” courtesy of Stephen Bowler, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “When harsh lighting . . .,” Courtesy of Fro-Dol-Foe, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Park in Prague,” courtesy of Harald Groven, FCC (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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