Sometimes I Hate Marital Counseling

There are times when I really hate doing marital counseling. Sometimes it feels like I am watching a gun fight. Other times I feel like a dentist, trying to pull impacted wisdom teeth. Then there is the couple that waits until their marriage is on life support before seeking help.

A female friend once told me about a twenty-something niece of hers who was undecided about accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. They were both Christians. They loved each other and the woman did want to marry him, but she was afraid. She was afraid their marriage would turn out like her parents.

Every Sunday her family would go to church together. When they returned home, her parents resumed living separate lives under the same roof. Whatever were the problems in the relationship, her parents had long ago stopped trying to resolve them, stopped trying to nourish and cherish each other.

Too few Christian couples in trouble seek to become an Ephesians five example of Christ and the church.  Once a woman asked me,“ What does that look like?” I told her to study what Paul said in Ephesians four and the first part of chapter five about how Christians are to live as one body. An Ephesians five marriage looks like a husband and wife trying to jointly “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Eph 4:1) Often when counseling Christian couples I see exactly the opposite of this.

For several years now I’ve used Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Relationship when working with couples in crisis. She has a copy of the “Emotionally Destructive Relationship Test” from the book available on her website that I’ve found very helpful. This test is designed to look at multiple relationships—marriages, parent-child, siblings, friends.

She has also written The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, specifically for wives in controlling, destructive, abusive marriages. As she said in her Introduction, there are many good books about how to be godly wife or how to build a successful and happy marriage. “There aren’t many books written on how to wisely deal with a destructive and abusive marriage.” In my opinion, this is the best.

There is an Emotionally Destructive Marriage Test to help the reader evaluate whether or not she is in an emotionally destructive marriage. She helps wives see their marriage clearly. She challenges them to accept that change begins with them. Building four CORE strengths is the heart of that change, “with God at the center and with his help.” Another helpful assessment tool is “Sixteen Traits of a Healthy Marriage” to see whether a marriage is relatively healthy, even if it is disappointing.

Leslie also suggested to her readers how to initiate change in their marriages. In this section she gave advice on how to Learn to Speak up in Love, to Stand Up Against the Destruction; what to do When There is No Obvious Change. She then described some Necessary Changes for a Marriage to Heal and gave counsel on Restoring the Destructive Marriage. Each of these topics had it’s own chapter.

Her website also has a blog where she gives practical, Biblical advice for women in destructive marriages. There is an active blogging community where these women can “receive prayer, support, encouragement and wisdom” in the midst of their relationship struggles.

There are increasingly times that I really enjoy doing marriage counseling. Sometimes it feels like I am a coach to a dancing couple striving to get their routine just right. These are couples that truly want to become the husband and wife that God has called them to be. Here it is a privilege and a joy to be part of the process. I find that Leslie Vernick’s books and material are an integral part of that process.

Do you know someone who may be in an emotionally destructive marriage?