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I Need Help Counseling a Stubborn Couple

Every discipler knows that they cannot change anyone. This worldview becomes acute when you’re trying to help someone transform. Though you cooperate with the Lord in the “change process,” only He can grant repentance. This case study presents this dilemma with an angry, stubborn couple.

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Hey Rick, I am feeling much more confident in my approach to marriage problems as I listen to Drive-By Marriage (DBM) myself, but I have a question when using it with couples.

My couple will not stop arguing when I have them together, and it’s hard to accomplish much, so I’m going to counsel them alone for a few sessions. It could take a while to get through the whole DBM set while having them listen and fill in the notes on the discussion guide printouts.

Would it ever be a good idea to have them listen through DBM without filling in the answers in the discussion guide, then come back and do one lecture with the notes while filling in the answers more slowly?

Also, will they get just as much benefit if doing it on their own for now? They turn everything into an argument or something to use against each other. Will you help me process through this?

You’re welcome to use the Drive-By Marriage series and workbook in any way that you believe is best. There is “a” way of doing things and “the” way of doing something, so when it comes to your question, you want to use purposeful freedom because we’re not talking about “the” way. All disciplers must be pneumatic, which is my way of saying you follow the Spirit’s illuminations, as you subjectively perceive them.

A Stubborn Couple

A primary key for you to remember is that repentance is God’s work, so you don’t want to over-think your methods. You don’t want to be sloppy, but you must relax because only God can change them (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

The couple that you are describing does not want to change more than they want to argue with each other. Part of your approach with them is to “wait them out” until the Lord grants repentance, assuming that He will do this. You could describe yourself as a “waiter-outer” because there is nothing you can do since change is not dependent on you but on the Lord and the folks that you are counseling.

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Luke 15-11-17 Prodigal

There is an element of mystery here, and you must be comfortable with this aspect of discipleship (Deuteronomy 29:29). You’re a “side-component” as you wait for change to happen, which implies that you want to “stretch out the counseling” as long as you possibly can while pleading with God to change them. There is little else you can do when two stubborn people refuse to humble themselves before God and each other.

When I was a pastor, we used to say, “keep them in the building,” as a way of accepting the fact that transformation is in God’s hands, and our goal is to appeal to them to participate in all the contexts that the church provides. Sometimes in a counseling situation like this, I ask, “How many times can I walk around this block, saying the same things in different ways, while hoping the couple will decide to stop railing on each other and change?”

You have one thing to say to them: “Will you both repent?” So, you have to discern how many different ways you can call them to repentance while praying that they will eventually listen and change. Unfortunately, this couple is not mature enough to receive counseling together (conjointly), so you have to “divide and hopefully conquer,” which is called concurrent counseling.

It is not the best way to counsel two people, but you have no choice. The best way is for them to be together (conjoint). But you will have to do this the hard way, which puts off the inevitable—for them to come together for counseling, with a commitment to change and reconcile.

A Diverse Game Plan

Give them their assignments separately. Let them go through DBM as many times and as many ways as you can think of presenting that material to them. Going through it at one time is one of the ways we read our Bibles or other books.

The goal with any assignment, whether reading the Bible, an article, or listening to a podcast, is not to complete the material, but mastering the material. Nobody learns anything the first time through it.

The mistake a lot of folks make when reading books is they complete it and move on to the next thing, but the material is not mastering them. The Christian life is not about seeing how much content you can consume, but by how the content is managing you. Thus, we read the Bible over and over again, not just once.

I’m sorry it has to be this way for you and them, but I understand stubbornness and a refusal to repent since I have done the same thing too many times. May the Lord Jesus give you the persevering grace you need, while motivating this couple to stay in the process until the light of His glorious gospel breaks into their hearts.

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Be Patient with Everyone

A Few Other Things

Be sure to share other content on our website, not just Drive-By Marriage. It may be better for this couple to read my book, Change Me. You don’t want to “force fit” your idea of how the process should be onto the husband or wife. Maybe the man had rather listen than read, or he’s not into a writing assignment. Perhaps his wife would instead read a book.

Also, take a look at this graphic about “body to body ministry.” Think broadly about how to incorporate their local church into what you hope to accomplish in their lives.

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Body to Body Ministry

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