Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Spiritual Direction in Marital Counseling

I have no extensive training as a marriage counselor though I've tried to help couples who've come to me. I have meant well, but not sure that what I've done has helped much.

I think the problem has been that I took an analytical/behavioral approach . . . which all the relationship/marriage books seem to employ. You know . . . endlessly examine what he does and what she does, try to foster self-understanding, see how the other person views it, attempt to substitute new behaviors, suggest alternative techniques, and underlay it all with some godly teaching. Sound good? For the most part, it has been a failure as far as seeing real improvement goes. Maybe I should have used more shame and guilt . . . just kidding.

On the other hand, I can think of three couples who have told me that I have helped their marriages . . . and I have done absolutely "zero" marriage counseling with them! Does everything have to be ironic?

The difference was that they benefited and experienced transformation in their marriage because of fresh understandings of Jesus, of God's grace, of what it means to be Christian . . . not through addressing the specifics of their married life together, but the foundations of how they relate to God. Our spiritually formative journey has brought healing and new blessing to their marriage relationships.

The obvious lesson I am drawing from this is to no longer search for behavioral techniques to substitute for current behavior (can't you say something positive in the morning instead of criticizing him/her?) but to focus on spiritual formation and disciplines.

I am coming to believe that there is great wisdom in the Catholic concept of the confessional. Sometimes we just need to hear someone tell us we are forgiven as we expose our sins, and then we need to be told to pray. I won't go into how I believe the practice has been panned by Protestants (perhaps, in some cases, rightfully so). To confess, to hear we're forgiven, and then to be told what to pray or do, not to pay for the sin, but to discipline oneself against falling prey to the sin again, seems profoundly formative.

Last week a man I met at the alcohol and drug treatment center asked if I would do some counseling with he and his wife. My response: yes, but I won't talk about what you're both doing and how to change it. Instead, we'll talk about becoming like God through prayer, meditation, scripture, and action. I feel like this is a good, theologically sound change in how I respond to those seeking help with their marriages.


Fajita said...

Good direction for helping. Sometimes counseling is like trying to lose weight. Bad weight loss programs get you to focus on food and I suppose bad counseling gets you to focus on problems.

I think you're on to something here.

Greg Newton said...


The Hebrew writer mentions keeping our focus on Christ while the sin which entangles us falls away. Focus on sin keeps me bound to it.

Ken Haynes said...

I guess it is the ultimate in reductionism to approach a "dimension" of our humanity/relationships. Mainline Protestants would think you naive to not pursue a more "behavior modification" oriented approach.....evangelicals would probably use the same behavior modification approach but cloak it in footnotes of scripture to make it look real "God Centered" and "spiritual".

Steve Duer said...

Becoming like God will cure a great deal of what causes hurt in our relationships. Great thougths.

Paula Duncan said...

Based on our discussion of last night in class regarding worrying about things and seeking the Kingdom first, it stands to reason that relationships would fall under that category as well. If we are truly focusing on what God values (as Betsy put it), then we will be seeking to meet the needs of the other partner first -- which, in turn, will bring more closeness. So totally against the grain of our culture, but so right in God's eyes.