We must learn to handle marriage problems that inevitably arise. Following are six marriage counseling tips for healthy, joyful relationships. Our frustrations with our spouse can actually increase as we become more familiar with the Bible! Since the standard set by God’s Word is so high:
- A husband could easily become frustrated that his wife is not more respectful or submissive as God’s Word commands.
- A wife could as easily become frustrated that her husband does not cherish her or provide the spiritual leadership God’s Word commands.
This is illustrated by a situation that took place years ago when I was teaching on marriage. While talking about husbands loving their wives, a woman stood up in front of everyone and criticized her husband for the way he mistreated her. I could have interrupted and said, “Can we pray for you two?” or “Why don’t we talk about this after the study?” Instead, I was caught so off guard that I did the worst thing possible—nothing! I simply stood there with my jaw dropped while the angry wife finished berating her husband. After that I decided it was important to give people encouragement for handling marriage problems…
Watch this message I deliver at Marriage God’s Way Conferences about the marriage problems we experience because of the most common temptations we face…
Marriage Counseling Tip 1: Remember Your Weaknesses
Instead of keeping a mental account of all that your spouse does wrong, remind yourself of your own struggles. Instead of focusing on your spouse’s failures, focus on your own. We all have plenty of weaknesses to work on without obsessing over the weaknesses of our spouses. When we start to feel frustrated toward our spouse, we should think back about the ways we’ve failed. This will humble us and diffuse the frustration we’re feeling.
Marriage Counseling Tip 2: Think of Ways to Help Your Spouse Grow
The Bible is not split into one section for husbands and another for wives. The passages on marriage, such as Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7, contain intertwined exhortations for both spouses. This encourages a husband to be familiar with the instruction for his wife, and a wife to be familiar with the instruction for her husband. If a husband knows what is expected of his wife, and a wife knows what is expected of her husband, they can help each other fulfill their biblical responsibilities. We should ask ourselves:
- How can I help my spouse be a better husband or wife?
- How can I encourage my spouse to fulfill the role God has given him or her?
- Is there anything I can do that will make being married to me easier?
If you cannot think of any answers to the last question, you are not thinking hard enough!
Marriage Counseling Tip 3: Turn Your Frustrations Into Prayer
Take any feelings of hurt, betrayal, or disappointment, and pray that God will help your spouse grow in the area that is upsetting you. Pray also for God to help you be as forgiving and gracious as necessary. When it comes to our spouses, we far more likely to complain, gossip, yell, threaten, pout, or ignore than pray. If we would spend as much time praying for our spouses as we do on these other things, our marriages would be much better. Instead of focusing on:
- What your spouse does wrong
- How you shouldn’t be treated the way you’re being treated
- How you deserve better
Every time you start to feel frustrated, pray for your spouse.
Marriage Counseling Tip 4: Keep the Marriage in the Marriage
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.Ephesians 5:31
In effect, this verse encourages couples to keep the marriage between the husband and wife. Married individuals should cling to their spouses instead of their parents. When couples experience conflict, as all couples will, they should work things out together instead of running to parents for support.
This looks to the reason in-laws can contribute to the difficulties experienced in the marriage relationship, especially with newlyweds. I remember the story of a father who loved his daughter enough to send her back to her husband after the two had an argument. The father made it clear to his daughter that her husband was now the man in her life and thus she could not turn to him when she was upset.
This issue does not arise only with parents. When couples are experiencing conflict, they are tempted to go to others to criticize their spouses or gossip about how badly they are being treated. The obvious reason we want to do this is that we expect those close to us to side with us. Some wives turn to their girlfriends. Some husbands talk to their guy friends. While parents are specifically mentioned in the verse Paul quotes, a more encompassing principle here is that if we should not complain to our parents about our spouses, we should not complain to anyone else either.
Don’t Stoke Your Anger
The dangers here should be equally obvious. Pouring out our anger is simply going to stoke it. This will make us feel justified in responding poorly, as well as feed our belief that we deserve better treatment than we are receiving. It will make an already strained relationship worse.
An even worse scenario is when the offended party shares the grievances with someone of the opposite sex. The result will be:
- A wife’s thinking: “I wish my husband listened to me the way so-and-so listens to me. I bet he would never treat me the way my husband treats me.”
- A husband’s thinking: “I bet so-and-so would show me more respect than my wife shows me. She would appreciate me and all of my hard work.”
Complaining about your spouse to others is sinful and detrimental to the marriage. Ephesians 5:31 teaches us clearly that we are meant to keep our marriage in the marriage.
Abuse and Seeking Godly Counsel Are the Exceptions
In cases of abuse, people should seek help outside the marriage.
Another exception to the rule of not going outside the marriage is when husbands and wives are seeking godly counsel. Couples who are having problems commonly make one of two mistakes:
- They do not want to admit they are having problems and thus pretend everything is okay. They want to believe the problems will go away on their own. They want to keep their struggles a secret. As a result, they do not get help and their marriage worsens. This is one time the marriage should not stay in the marriage. Troubled couples should seek help outside the relationship.
- They act as though they are seeking godly counsel when in fact they are only looking for the opportunity to gossip about their spouses. People committing this sin say, “I am having problems in my marriage and would like some advice.” They then proceed to list everything bad their spouses have ever done without actually receiving counsel. Nor do they take any responsibility themselves. They do not share any of their own weaknesses or failures. They never say: “Please tell me what I did wrong. What do you think I should have done differently? How could I be a better spouse?” These people are not looking for godly advice. They are just looking for an opportunity to complain and slander.
Marriage Counseling Tip 5: Seek People Who Speak Hard Truths
Unfortunately, those who want to badmouth their spouses will not have much trouble finding someone who will listen. Some people are all too eager to hear the denigrating information that should remain private. If you want counsel, do not seek out ungodly, immature friends who are more concerned about maintaining your friendship than helping your marriage. Many of these “friends” will poison a husband or wife against the spouse—and in doing so they are sinning against God. Typical responses from such people sound like:
- “I can’t believe your wife did that. You should be mad!”
- “Your husband doesn’t know what he has in you. You don’t have to put up with that. You deserve so much better than him.”
Instead of speaking to people who will provide counsel such as this, be willing to receive criticism and hear what you need to change. Seek out godly friends who love you and care about your marriage. Desire counsel that might sound like this:
- “Scripture commands you to love your wife. Encourage her and ask for forgiveness for the way you acted.”
- “God says you should respect your husband. Stop talking to him like he is a child.”
If you take the marriage outside the marriage, seek out people who will offer hard truths such as these.
Marriage Counseling Tip 6: Embrace Your Conflicts
Have you ever considered that tension in your relationship can be a good thing? Often God is introducing areas that need to be improved. He wants you to embrace these marriage struggles. The best way to do this is by asking each other tough questions:
- A husband might say, “Outside of the Lord Himself, do you feel like you are taking second place to anything in my life?”
- A wife might ask, “Do you feel like I respect you?”
Then there are right and wrong ways to respond to these questions:
- Imagine a wife answers that she does not feel that she is the supreme relationship in her husband’s life. He should not try to talk her out of the way she feels or persuade her to see things differently. This will make her feel even more misunderstood.
- Imagine a husband answers that his wife makes him feel disrespected. She should not argue with him and try to convince him he is wrong. This will make him feel even more disrespected.
Instead, each spouse should listen to the other, apologize the right way, and try to make the appropriate changes. When couples ask each other these difficult questions, they should expect some painful discussions. That’s great.
A Helpful Way to View Marriage Problems
Some years ago I hurt my lower back. It’s a recurring injury that reminds me I’m getting older, so I returned to the chiropractor. If you have ever been to a chiropractor, you know they can be pretty forceful. There’s pushing, twisting, snapping, and popping. Sometimes you’re left feeling sore, but this is supposed to happen. That is how the chiropractor makes adjustments and straightens things out.
What if you went to the chiropractor and all he did was rub your shoulders, pat your back, and tell you everything looked fine? Maybe after that, he sat next to you and asked how your day was going. How would you react? I know how I would react: “This is not why I came here. I know if you are going to help me, you are going to have to apply some pressure and do some pushing and pulling. There is going to be some tension. There will even be a little soreness afterward.”
Likewise, if we are going to embrace our marriage struggles, there will be some discomfort. There is going to be some struggle and frustration. We should not be alarmed, because this is part of the natural healing and strengthening process as God works in our relationships.
What Is the Alternative to Embracing Marriage Problems?
Be lazy. That’s the simple answer. Choose not to:
- Ask each other the tough questions
- Talk about the tough issues
- Take your marriage seriously
- Improve as a husband, a wife, or a Christian
If you avoid discussing your marriage struggles, it’s true that you won’t have any tough issues with which to wrestle. But you will not grow either, and your marriage will not be strengthened. Even if you avoid the difficult discussions and the discomfort that accompanies your marriage struggles now, you will more than likely experience even tougher, more painful situations later.
So I want to encourage you to embrace your marriage struggles because of what they can produce. Romans 5:3–4 says:
We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope.
Glory in the problems you are having, knowing that they are producing something good as you, your spouse, and your marriage are refined!
Discussion questions for husbands and wives:
- What marriage problems are “recurring injuries” for your and your spouse? In other words, what problems or conflicts do you continue to experience that need to be embraced so they can be “straightened out”?
- Why should you expect discomfort as you and your spouse discuss your marriage struggles? In what ways can this discomfort be beneficial?
- Why do marriage passages, such as Ephesians 5:22–33 and 1 Peter 3:1–7, intertwine instructions for both spouses? In other words, why should husbands and wives be familiar with Scripture’s commands for their spouses?
- After looking at the verses above, what things do you struggle with that are preventing you from fulfilling your role in marriage?
- How can you encourage your spouse to fulfill the role God has given him or her?
- What can you do to make being married to you easier?
- Parenting, finances, timeliness, communication, and intimacy are common areas where spouses experience unity or disunity.
- What are three areas of your marriage experiencing unity?
- What are three areas of your marriage lacking unity?
- Are there friends or relatives you are tempted to run to when upset with your spouse, because you know they will side with you? If so, commit to your spouse not to go to these people when experiencing marriage problems.
- What are the two mistakes couples commonly make when they’re having marriage problems?
- Who are three godly friends you can go to for counsel when you’re having marriage problems?