Marriage counseling is the most common kind of counseling that I do. The reason for this is because marriages are the most common, long-term relationship between two people. Children typically leave home after a couple of decades. Siblings tend to separate from each other as they seek marriage partners.
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Married couples are different; they are in it for the long haul–at least until death separates them. Marriage is an expected 50+ year context where two sinners come together for better or worse. As Gary Thomas said,
If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there’s no question—stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you’re going to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you’d never have to consider otherwise.
If you put two sinners in a room (home) for an extended period with no plan for escape, you can expect problems. There may be a lot of love and other satisfying things happening in their home, but there will also be problems. It’s unavoidable.
The dating couple can break-up and go on to the next relationship. Vocational relationships are similar. If you don’t like your boss or the environment in which you work, you can move on to the next thing.
It’s easy and even fun to get into, but there was never an intended escape route, other than death (Matthew 19:8). Sadly, too many couples do create another kind of escape route. It’s called divorce.
Below is an infographic with explanatory notes of the most common dating to divorce chronology that I have encountered during my counseling career.
Dick meets Jane.
Dick likes Jane.
Dick and Jane begin to date.
Dick and Jane fall in love.
Dick asks Jane to marry him.
Jane says, “Yes!”
Dick and Jane plan a wonderful life together.
Jane gets mad at Dick. Dick gets mad at Jane. The road gets bumpy.
Jane gets pregnant.
Dick starts working extended hours because it’s hard to live with Jane.
Dick figures being a provider is better than nothing.
Dick becomes a “superstar” at his work. Everybody loves Dick.
Dick flirts with a woman at his job.
Jane continues to be angry with Dick.
Number Three, Continued
Jane becomes consumed with her children because it’s hard to live with Dick.
Dick and Jane become preoccupied with life.
Dick and Jane appear to be the model Christian couple.
Dick and Jane’s children become teenagers, more independent, and spend less time around the house.
Dick and Jane are “forced” to spend more time together in their “emptying nest.”
Dick and Jane still do not like each other. They become even more snippy and unrepentant.
Dick and Jane get a divorce after 29 years of marriage. Their local church is shocked. People don’t understand.
The Artificial Season
One of the most significant problems in this type of marriage is that the couple acts as if their relationship began the day they first met, while not fully considering the kind of people they have always been before marriage. Every person enters into their dating relationship broken:
- Broken due to the fall of Adam.
- Broken due to the shaping influences of others and other things.
- Broken due to the choices that they have made.
By the time a person enters into a dating relationship, he (or she) comes into that relationship with baggage. We all have baggage: fallen shaping influences given to us by Adam, others, and ourselves. Then after you mix your bags with the baggage of your spouse, there is no way to avoid combustion in the home.
Dick and Jane had preexisting baggage before they met. Lots of it. While they were dating, they sat their luggage aside and put their best foot forward. While dating, they were determined to be on their best behavior. It’s like holding your breath for as long as you can.
This idea is not a mandate from Scripture, but it is usually wise to date at least a year before you pop the question. A year gives you time to see the other person in more real ways. You can only hold your breath for so long.
Dick would hold the car door open for Jane. He would send her flowers. Dick was always kind, sensitive, patient, and he loved attending their local church meetings. I’m not saying he was a total fake, but I am implying that he was not revealing the totality of who he was.
I have called the dating season the artificial season where two people fake each other out as much as they can–until after they are married.
As you have probably surmised, Dick and Jane are sinners. They not only came from their respective mother’s wombs speaking lies, but they created a whole lot of baggage before they met each other. Some of their baggage was their own doing, while the rest of it other heaped upon them. Either way, they both had un-dealt with baggage.
They did not perceive or resolve many of their issues during their dating relationship. Their pre-marriage counseling was inadequate. They had no one with courage, grace, wisdom, or competence to speak into their lives. And they were “in love,” so there was very little anyone could tell them anyway.
Dick and Jane left their baggage at the dating door and didn’t pick it up again until they were six months into their marriage. By then, it was too late–at least for them because they were too proud to let anyone in on their mutual marriage disappointment.
An Aside – Most of my marriage counseling is either with couples who have been married five years or less or fifteen years or more. That is not an absolute rule, but a general one.
If the couple is wise and humble, they will seek help early in their marriage. These spouses will not be like Dick and Jane. They will realize there is something not quite right and they are not quite sure the best course of action, so they reach out to their church for help.
Then there are those who are married for more than a decade, and they cannot keep it under wraps any longer. Their marriage problems begin to escape their ability to keep it quiet. They start to empty nest, as the children become more independent. The couple is without a sin plan, and they are less distracted by their children. This reality leaves them with four options:
- Find help.
- Get a divorce.
- Find other distractions like ministry, hobbies, or grandchildren.
- Coexist in a house that is not a home until one of them dies.
Call to Action
My appeal to any couple in trouble, regardless of the length of your marriage, is to get help. God’s grace is more powerful than your problems, no matter how involved you think your issues are. The Bible has a lot to say about working through conflict. There is a plan for sin, and it begins with the gospel.
The only requirement is humility (James 4:6).
Though you may have begun on the wrong foot, it does not mean you have to stay that way. God came to redeem and restore that which we can’t fix. Fixing broken things is at the heart of the gospel. I appeal to you to get help today!
- If you need a counselor, go here.
- If you need some “coaching” direction, go here.
- If we can help you in some other way, go here.
Also published on Medium.