Christian based marriage counseling and secular marriage counseling can definitely have some overlap in respect to content that’s addressed, problems that are worked out, and skills that are taught. What will differ widely between Christian based marriage counseling and all other types of marriage counseling are the incorporation of biblical principles into the work.
Because God intended the Bible to be our instruction book for living an abundant, peaceful, joyful life, it doesn’t get any better than the Living Word as a “go-to” when a marriage is either lacking joy or is anything but peaceful.
Chock full of life transforming information and truth, the Bible provides what’s needed for diagnosing a marriage’s problem(s). Furthermore, it tells us what to do or not to do in order to bring healing and positive change to the marriage. Thus, Christian based marriage counseling seeks to avail itself of all the magnificent life-altering principles the Bible has to offer.
Commonalities Between Christian Based Marriage Counseling and Secular Counseling
Before discussing those approaches often reserved for Christian based marriage counseling, I would like to address some of the commonalities this type of counseling typically shares with secular counseling.
The number one commonality may easily be “improving communication.” Communication problems are often at the heart of marriage issues. For instance, one person misinterprets what the other person communicated, feelings get triggered, and then—well, then it’s as if the horses are off and running!
Another type of communication issue is when spouses don’t feel heard by one another. Enough occurrences of this disappointment or frustration and the spouse who doesn’t feel heard may stop trying to communicate. A “why bother?” attitude sets in.
These two examples just skim the surface of the many different types of communication problems that can exist in a marriage. Whatever the communication problem, your therapist will identify the breakdown in the couple’s communication and then teach them effective communication skills.
Another way that Christian based marriage counseling will most likely overlap with the world of secular counseling is in the area of discovery—specifically, discovering how the “bags” we packed in our family of origin may be negatively impacting the marriage.
It’s been said that when we are growing up in our family of origin that we “pack our bags” and then when we get married, we “unload all our baggage.” The saying is a bit humorous, but when a couple is living out the reality of “baggage,” it can be a far cry from comical. Most therapists will look for any family of origin issues being “unloaded” in the marriage and then take steps to help the couple work through them.
Ways that Christian Based Marriage Counseling Will Most Likely Differ in Approach
As stated earlier in this article, biblical principles are key when it comes to Christian based marriage counseling. Therefore, the application of prayer—both in the therapy sessions and outside the sessions— may be encouraged by the therapist.
Often times the problems that married couples come into therapy with feel like immovable mountains. But prayer, as stated in Scripture, can move mountains! As a Christian therapist, I always begin each session with prayer where the Holy Spirit is invited in to guide, reveal truth, comfort, and heal. I also end the session with a closing prayer.
I strongly believe, skilled therapist or not, marriages require the divine help of our heavenly Father. And He is so eager to help! Check out what Jesus says in Matthew 18:19-20: “Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Christian based marriage counseling may also put a strong emphasis on each spouse putting the other spouse first. In today’s world where there is so much focus on one’s self, i.e. “If I do XYZ, how is that going to make me feel?” this may seem like quite a challenge. But again—it’s something the Lord mandates of His children.
Matthew 22:39 tells us to, “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” The online American Oxford Dictionary defines neighbor as: a person or place in relation to others near or next to it. One can’t really argue that there is no one who qualifies more as a neighbor than the person we’re living with.
It sounds like a tall order to put someone else’s needs and/or desires before our own. Our natural self hates being deprived. But! There is something about putting one’s spouse first that actually works to make the marriage stronger and healthier. Trust me . . . we can’t outsmart God! He knew what He was doing for success when He gave us His instructions.
The last point I will cover in regard to what you might expect in Christian based marriage counseling is the topic of forgiveness. Obviously, the idea of forgiving one’s spouse is not exclusive to Christian counseling, but I want to bring it up because of how paramount the Bible tells us it is towards living a life of freedom.
When we choose not to forgive someone for a trespass they did against us or we choose not to ask for forgiveness when we have hurt someone, we—whether we realize it or not—have just self-inflicted torment on ourselves.
That is why the Bible tells us not to let the sun set on our anger. Anger, which can be akin to unforgiveness, can be like a poison. It behooves us and it behooves our marriages to be people who forgive.
Although a good Christian therapist will be aware that forgiving can be easier said than done, they will gently keep this a focal point of the work, knowing that it’s too crucial to go by the wayside. I like what Ruth Graham once said, “A good marriage is the union of two forgivers.”
In closing, as nice as it sounds to get married and then just “live happily ever after,” that’s not a realistic expectation. Marriages require work—even in the best and healthiest of circumstances. When the work becomes more than just what you as a married couple are able to do on your own, don’t hesitate to see a marriage counselor. They are there to help you.
“Daisies for My Darling”, Courtesy of Artsy Vibes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love Your Neighbor”, Courtesy of Nina Strehl, Unsplash.com, CC0 License;”Reading the Word”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Argument”, Courtesy of Vera Arsic, Pexels.com, CC0 License