In Part 1 of this article series, I shared three ways Christian counselors turn marriages around. Here in Part 2, I will examine four more ways in which Christian couples counseling can help couples grow toward wholeness.
4) Communicating: Speaking Truth in Love
In Scripture we find the Apostle Paul asking believers to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). To get a full grasp of the meaning of this often quoted and misquoted verse, we need to study its context:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. — Ephesians 4:14-16
One of the Apostle Paul’s favorite analogies is physical human development. Here we see a picture of letting go of infancy and living into a mature body with Christ as our head. Indeed, speaking “truth in love” often results in our spiritual growth and the ability to live into spiritual maturity through Christ.
The marital covenant is one where we are called into oneness that includes growth. Marriage is the unique, intimate relationship God has created to uniquely complement your spouse. It is complementary in many ways like the heart complements the lungs.
The image of building each other up is very important. As a child grows up, the ligaments form to support the larger structure of the body. Growth together in marriage is key because He has unbelievably large plans for us that we need to grow into spiritual maturity to meet. The Lord uses our most human intimate relationship so we can be more effective for His Kingdom.
Contrast Paul’s image of being built up like a body in growth to this picture of division and attack expressed in Galatians 5:15, which reads, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
Couples who think of ways to get the upper hand or keep playing the “I am better than you” game will inevitably destroy each other. It may feel good to win a battle momentarily or feel a surge of power when you have the upper hand, but ultimately it is behavior that destroys the spirit of the marriage.
The spirit of a Godly marriage revolves around serving one another and building each other up toward spiritual maturity (Galatians 5:13-14). This spiritual maturity then sustains and pays dividends in glorifying God through acts of love, care, and service.
Practically, to communicate “truth in love” means we remember to act with a spirit of love, gentleness, and kindness, and therefore, honoring our marital vows. This does not mean we do not share truths but we do so with a spirit of love, kindness, and gentleness.
Do this with regard to building up your spouse in the full measure of Christ. Communicate and stay strong toward righteous convictions, but be open to seeing a different perspective from your spouse, also. As Christians, I may say, we are willing to err on the side of love.
1 Peter 4:8 states that “love covers a multitude of sins.” We are to acknowledge, recognize, and confess our sins to God and our most intimate partner, but we are to live in grace and forgiveness.
We trust love to transform the pain of sin toward an opportunity for new growth and understanding. When we sin we acknowledge our need of help from God and from our spouse. It really is an invitation for them to speak into our lives. This is the true power of vulnerability.
5) Setting Boundaries
Christian counselors love helping couples set healthy boundaries. Boundaries often define where a person begins and ends. Boundaries are designed to protect us and distinguish you from another. Boundaries can be defined as a limit. Boundaries help us to know our own limits and understand where and when our spouse needs to step in to help us with the burdens in our lives.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). The word burden here alludes to something we cannot bear on our own. These are the matters in life that cause the most anxiety and worry. We need boundaries in our marriage to recognize our limits so we can delegate or seek help with life issues that are weighing us down.
The same passage also states “each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load” (Galatians 6:4-5).
The loads we are called to carry are things in life that we can bear responsibility for and carry. As Christians, we are to assess and evaluate the fruit of the talents the Lord has given us. We are to be accountable to ourselves, the body of Christ, and the triune God in the time, resources, and relationships He has entrusted us with.
To set boundaries, one needs self-discipline/control. Providentially, self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Thus, every Christ follower has a measure of it in their lives and needs to continue to live into self-control each day. The importance of self-control in our lives cannot be understated.
I do believe that setting boundaries compromises dismissing fear and exercising our key strengths in Christ of power, love, and self-discipline: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Setting boundaries empowers a spouse to not enable bad thoughts and behaviors in the marriage. It means standing up to an abusive spouse and perhaps even creating separation so that our spouse can hit rock bottom and come to their senses (Matthew 18:17-18; I Corinthians 5:11-13).
The Lord never wants us to condone or put up with evil in our marriages. Just as the Lord seeks to redeem us from our sins, so our mission as believers is to redeem our marriages from sinful actions which ultimately destroys what God has intended for marriage.
Start setting boundaries in your marriage. Decide to set limits both internally (within yourself) and externally (within the marriage). The internal limits will thrust you into a deeper relationship with the Lord. These limits may include tapering destructive inclinations.
Examples include overeating for comfort, manipulating your spouse to meet selfish needs, and not employing the talents/resources/time God has given you to increase marital oneness and collaboration.
Externally, it is important to practice setting boundaries together in limiting exposure to bad behavior and people of poor influence so that it will not destroy the love that both of you cherish together.
Examples include assessing the merits of secular teaching against Scripture together and rejecting false teaching from your lives, being okay to tell your spouse to stop thinking and acting a certain way that is contrary to God’s decrees, and saying “no” to seeking approval just from your spouse alone rather than giving honor to the Lord in all things.
6) Employ a Strengths-Based Approach
What are strengths? My definition strengths are consistent practices that edify our marriage, family, community, and the world. These strengths need to be applied dependably time after time to achieve tangible results within the Kingdom of God. Strengths in our work and calling produce alignment with God’s Spirit and will.
The Lord gives every Christian at least one spiritual gift and often times many more than one spiritual gift. It is important to use our strengths and gifts to overcome the many marital challenges we face. To discover your gifts and talents, spouses can ask each other what the Lord is calling their marital union towards? What purpose and mission is fulfilled through Christ that is better done together than apart?
This might be a calling toward a special mission or outreach to the poor in your neighborhood. It might be setting up a fund to help missionaries come to the U.S. It could be to practice and share the joy and togetherness of a Christian marriage to other couples in your sphere of influence.
Each married couple has a unique calling. Often God calls a couple to use their gifting in a powerful way that is tailored to the situation He has called you both towards.
Social scientists Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton (2001) speak about three things to hone your strengths in your marriage. The first principle is to continue to practice your strength faithfully throughout your marriage. This will give life to your marriage.
This principle reminds me of spiritual parallel:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.— Philippians 4:8
The Lord wants us to “sharpen our saw” in marriage. The Lord desires that not only our actions are consistent in living our strengths, but also our thoughts. I believe the intertwining of thoughts and actions to bolster goodness in our marriages is aided by the power of the Holy Spirit when couples are open to His voice each day.
The second principle is that a couple need not have strength in every aspect to undertake the Lord’s purposes. This is where the marital union is such a blessing. If there are areas you both are weak, then this is a blessed opportunity to invite others to fill in those gaps.
In marriage, learn to complement each other in your roles and areas of expertise. Use the diversity of expertise to your advantage to open up new frontiers in your relationship with each other. Learning about each other is such an exciting, ongoing journey.
The third principle is that couples will only excel in relationship when they hone their strengths, never by fixing weaknesses. Instead, as couples reflect on Christ together, they should be asking, “How do we manage around our weaknesses so that they are not getting in the way of effective ministry to each other and the world?”
Are you prioritizing times together? Is your time spent working on endless To Do lists and projects? The Lord did not ask the marital union to be about endless tasks; rather, it is about creating space and time to be with each and love each other.
Learn to delegate tasks that are taking away precious intimate time from the relationship. We certainly cannot minister together to others if we cannot do it in our own marriages. Continue to work toward being one in mind, spirit, soul, and strength as you move closer to Christ.
7) Meet Each Other’s Needs
The Lord made men and women as two distinct beings. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
There are certainly many similarities between men and women, as well, since the Lord made woman from the rib of the first man (Genesis 2:21). It is not unusual, then, that often times men and women have different needs.
An example of a man’s need is his need to have his wife spend time with him doing something fun shoulder to shoulder. Depending on the man, recreation can range from going for a bike ride together to watching football together.
Start the conversation regarding doing an activity your husband enjoys. This will meet a core need he has for playing together. This will pay dividends in marital engagement and satisfaction from him.
One of the core needs a wife has is for affection. This includes hugs, kisses, a hand over the shoulder, or any other displays of affection. The wife can also receive affection when the husband communicates to her through her love language.
If a wife appreciates words of affirmation, a husband can show affection through words of affirmation and encouragement. A husband being affectionate with his wife will meet one of her core needs. It will build up her resources in the marriage. Building up her resources in marriage will lead to an increase in martial engagement and satisfaction from her.
Make a list of needs that are important separately. Compare your lists and decide to work on items on the lists that are being neglected in the marriage. For women, these areas may include affection, deep talks, feeling your husband is trustworthy, fiscal management, and dedication to the family unit.
For men, these areas may include physical intimacy, recreating together, attractiveness, peace and quiet in the household, and the need for unconditional respect. My prayer is for couples to look to meet each other’s needs so that marriages can be built on the foundation of seeking to serve each other in love as Christ encourages us to do.
As you reflect on my words think about these items in your prayer life and speak with your spouse about these things as much as possible. Also, prayerfully consider Christian couples counseling. A professional counselor is equipped to help you in these areas and provide objective feedback to help you gain increased marital satisfaction so you can be a blessing to each other and the world.
Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. O. (2001). Now, discover your strengths. New York, NY: The Free Press.
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