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Supporting Member – I am looking for some helpful thoughts on how to counsel couples together. I am not looking for content but method. There is lots of material on various topics that couples often need counseling for but little about the way in which to counsel couples together. Proverbs 18:17 is clear that it is best to counsel couples together when possible but what are some suggestions on how to do that?
- What are some common issues that come up?
- What are the best ways to handle those problems?
- Are there any online articles or books that address couple counseling methodology?
Thank you for the questions. They are intriguing. My immediate response to how to do couple counseling is you just do it. Personally, I don’t give it much thought; I just meet with whoever wants to come together and we talk. From there, it’s a pneumatic thing (Spirit-led), and we go from there.
I rarely prep for a meeting because I don’t know what to prep for since I have not talked to the couple. I never use pre-forms (intake) because they are too limiting and never entirely accurate. Any questions I want to know, I ask when I’m sitting in front of the person. I have found prayer to be incredibly useful in knowing what to do or how to proceed with someone. I take Jesus’ words (don’t worry about what to say; I’ll give you words at that moment) to be most helpful.
That does not mean I’m lazy. I’m not. My life is my prep. I prep every day and have been for decades. I do this through study, prayer, personal practice/application, and getting my “reps” in by counseling folks. Most of my mental space and activity is spent thinking about people. I’ve trained myself to do this. I don’t give much space to politics, current events, sports, or “fill in the blank”.
When there is nothing to think about, I think about people, problems, and solutions, mostly for my sanctification but the by-product of that is how to care for others. I cannot over-emphasize this kind of personal training.
Thus, I don’t give a meeting with a person much thought. I just do it. I think it’s important you have this foundation for discipleship. If you do not spend your time thinking about people, problems, and solutions, you will not be good a discipler. You will also look for cookie-cutter tips and tricks, which is counseling by rote rather than pneumatically.
Lazy disciplers look for books, best practices, tips, and so forth. They mostly regurgitate the latest thing they heard or read. Adept disciplers are always processing people, problems, and solutions. They “pray without ceasing,” always expecting God to give them what they need at the moment rather than “pulling Baby Steps off the shelf” because that is his only move.
With that said, you don’t want to throw the methodology out with the bathwater. Let me give you ten things you can pneumatically apply to couple’s counseling. These things are in no particular order.
#1 – I do not recommend counseling a couple separately. It’s almost always a waste of time while not honoring to the person out of the room because of how easy it is to slander him (or her). And the other person will always have a different perspective.
#2 – Whatever conflict goes on in the office is multiplied by 10 (arbitrary number) in their home. People put their best foot forward in the counseling office while being more real at home. Always do this “mental math” in your head because it will tell you what’s going on in the home.
#3 – Note how the couple interacts with each other, look at each other, respond to each other. This kind of data is wonderfully instructive, which is one reason you want to meet with the couple together. E.g., eye contact, hand-holding, facial expressions, words, and tone.
#4 – I’m careful about how I talk to the husband because I want to “teach” the wife how to honor him. If I’m unkind or demeaning to the man, I could enable the woman to be unkind to him. She needs to see what honoring looks like toward a man hard to respect.
#5 – Sometimes I direct my counsel to one person, but I’m counseling both of them. I do this because the other person is not open to what I need to say. It’s not possible to be as direct to her, so I’m indirect.
#6 – Tied to this idea, I find great satisfaction knowing I’m not the Counselor. It is releasing. Whatever I say (that is good), I know the Spirit (the real Counselor) will take it and make it applicable to the person who needs it. Resting in the Counselor removes the temptation for man-centered manipulations.
#7 – At other times I will “counsel one person hard” (husband) to show the wife that I’m for her. If he has abused her, my goal is to let her know I’m not going to gain up on her. I’m not unkind to the husband, but I am direct, and will not be intimidated. I must be firm and protective of the wife. She needs an ally.
#8 – I guard against giving spouses ammunition they take home to attack each other. Couples can be too immature to steward the things discussed in counseling. There is tension here because you want to drill down, but sometimes the drilling down reveals things that an unforgiving spouse will use against the other spouse.
#9 – I try to give the couple homework to do together. Too many couples spend distracted time together as opposed to “face to face” time. Distracted time is like going to a movie. My goal, if the couple is at this maturity level, is to give them face to face things to do like prayer, hand-holding, reading the Bible together, and my articles. My books and articles are always part of my homework that I ask them to read and talk together. The primary aim is for them to be talking to each other.
#10 – One of the best methods is to have a competent friend you can talk to about the folks you are discipling. This idea is my “every Timothy needs a Paul” theory. We all need a “Paul” in our lives. Talking to someone about others is not gossip if your motive is their redemptive care. You can read my article on confidentiality for a clearer understanding on how to confide in someone for the care of others.