Last week I explained the context behind seeing a marriage counselor. For married couples who struggle to see one, I have nothing but empathy. It feels humiliating. You're not only admitting that your marriage has issues, but you're also admitting that you have no idea how to fix these issues.
My situation felt particularly embarrassing. After all, I was a Christian and we're not supposed to have "bad marriages." Not only that, but I was a pastor - and pastors are meant to be the shining example on how marriage works. Even worse, I was a pastor who gave seminars on dating and relationships because, as a pastor, you're supposed to be the expert.
So imagine the humiliation of doing something that only "messed up couples" are supposed to do: seeing a marriage counselor.
Some of you may be curious how marriage counseling works. From my experience, the most challenging part is finding the right counselor - someone you feel can actually help you guys. I think the best way to do this is not by searching on google but to instead get references from trusted friends.
Actually going to counseling is interesting. You usually drive together with your spouse to a building and wait your turn. It's funny because during this waiting period, you sometimes run into other married couples and those moments are always awkward. You'll look at each other and think, "Huh? You too?" Of course we don't say this out loud, but that's what we're thinking.
When it comes to the counseling itself, I don't remember specifics. I just remember days where I was angry, days where I was sad, and days where I felt hopeless. But we talked through all this together. What was helpful about the counselor was not his skill-set per se; rather it was nice having a neutral party giving unbiased observations.
For example, if my wife told me that I'm too harsh, I'd say she's being sensitive. But when the counselor said I was too harsh, I amazingly nodded my head and concluded that I'm probably too harsh. After all, what can I say to him? He has no partiality in this.
What I Learned
Back when I was in college I used to believe so long as two people were in love, their marriage will be fine. As I got older though, I realized this just isn't true because this presumes married couples stay in love with each other. In reality though, married couples are always falling in and out of love. To say love can sustain a marriage overestimates our ability to love (as seen in divorce rates).
When I later became a Christian I felt that as long as you're a Christian, you could make any marriage work. However I soon saw a lot of Christian marriages were more messed up than non-Christian ones (including my own). The problem though is that this presumes there's something within a Christian that makes a marriage work. But again this overestimates ourselves.
After seeing marriage counseling for over nine months, I have a new conclusion: The only way people have a healthy marriage is by the grace of God. In other words, there's no magic method that fixes a marriage. Couples don't divorce because they're "worse Christians" and couples don't stay together because they're great people. We simply need His grace.
Receiving Grace In Marriage
How do we receive this grace? I think it begins when we humble ourselves and admit we have no idea what we're doing. It's when we stop justifying ourselves and blaming our spouses. It's when we admit our marriage is a wreck because we're a wreck. I believe it's only when we come to a place like this that we'll find the grace of God.
And I blog on this because I believe there are so many couples who need God's grace in their marriages. I'm sure there are a lot of miserable wives who feel silenced by their angry husbands or frustrated by their passive ones. I'm sure there are a lot of apathetic husbands who feel emasculated by their critical wives or discouraged by her silence.
I'm not saying seeing a counselor will fix these marriages. But I believe even the act of seeking counsel takes you a step closer towards humility. It's a step closer towards admitting you don't know what you're doing. And it's when our hearts have a posture like this that God tends to speak most clearly.
Right now I could honestly say that things are pretty good between me and my wife. Sure we still fight and have our issues. But it's quite amazing to see where we're at now.
And I don't think it's because we're great and have all these new methods. Rather I think we see God's grace just working in our marriage i.e. He's doing something and we have no clue how. But what we do know is it all started when we admitted we needed help.
There's no shame seeing a marriage counselor. You're just admitting that you don't have a great marriage. But praise God we have a great Savior who uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.