• Intimate Marriage Counseling

    Posted on June 30th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Counseling and Abuse in Marriage

    Part 5: Intimate Marriage Counseling


    Summary: Marital abuse is one of the most traumatic issues an individual, couple, family, and church can face. Discussing it raises hotly defended convictions. How should God’s people respond to “abuse in marriage”?


    The Extremes


    Since I began this series nearly a week ago, the reactions have been all across the spectrum. I’ve had extremes from:


    *“Counsel the couple? Are you kidding! If my husband abused me there would be a one-word counsel: ‘leave!’”


    *“Claiming abuse is just an angry, petty, immature woman’s response to a firm but loving husband. My counsel to her would be two words, ‘grow up!’”


    Hmm. That could make biblical marriage counseling for abuse quick: “Leave!” “Grow up!”


    Let’s avoid these extremes, and let’s examine how to truly help a couple involved with abuse in their marriage.


    Remembering the Basic Principles


    In Part 1 (http://tinyurl.com/mcr26y), we highlighted “safety first.” Use the resources of the Body of Christ and the civil authorities to protect the abused spouse.


    In Part 2 (http://tinyurl.com/qhrvhw), we introduced the following principles of biblical marriage counseling:


    *Infuse Hope


    *Be for the Marriage, Not on Either Spouse’s “Side”


    *Be for God’s Glory


    *Focus on Win/Win


    *At Times Win/Offend: Confront One Partner, Comfort the Other Partner


    *Help Spouses to Understand Maleness and Femaleness


    *Help Spouses to Understand Biblical Roles of Husbands and Wives


    In Part 3 (http://tinyurl.com/mgdz6b), we discussed basic principles of biblical counseling with an abusive spouse. By now the abusive spouse is repentant, and is empowered to stop the abuse.


    In Part 4 (http://tinyurl.com/lnakln), we equipped you with an overview approach to counseling someone being victimized (sinned against) by spousal abuse. By now you have helped the victimized spouse to practice bold love. You have helped this spouse to begin to grant forgiveness, while still holding the abusing spouse accountable for changed behavior.


    Now in Part 5, we return to the issue of counseling the couple together. Remember, prayerfully, safety has been reestablished, the abusive spouse is repentant, maturing, and changing, and the abused spouse is practicing bold love. Both want to make their marriage work. Both want to be in counseling.


    You’ve set the ground for effective biblical marriage counseling for abuse. Which means, to the surprise of some, that you work on the marriage! In other words, you don’t only work on the abusive spouse. You don’t only focus on the abusive spouse. The three of you work together on and for the marriage.


    Have the Couple Relate to Each Other in Your Presence


    Many counselors seem ill-equipped for marriage counseling. They simply make it “individual counseling in front of each other.” They counsel the husband while the wife watches. Then they counsel the wife while the husband watches.


    Yes, in marriage counseling there are brief times when the focus will be on one spouse or the other. However, to make this the totality of marriage counseling loses the power of joint counseling.


    Instead, get the couple talking to each other. Have them interact. Have them relate in front of you.


    As they relate intimately and intensely, the real person will come out. The real relationship will unfold before you. In intimacy, you can’t hide. You can’t fake it for long.


    Notice that you are not simply having them talk about their marriage. That simply becomes “he said, she said.” You are having them talk to each other.


    As they do, the layers come off. The real person is exposed. Their patterns of relating become clear. Now you have plenty of “material” to deal with.


    The husband may have been telling you what a wonderful, godly husband he is and how his wife is at fault. Then, right before you, you see him trying to intimidate her. Or you witness him being weak and childish.


    The wife may have been telling you what the perfect Proverbs 31 wife she is and that her husband is always at fault. Then, right before you, you see her emotionally abusing her husband. Or you witness her playing the mother or the little girl.


    Getting them relating to each other is like being a fly on the wall.


    No more, “he said, she said.” Now it’s, “they are doing.”


    Expose Their Sinful Relational Styles and the Idols behind Them


    James 4:1-8 asks and answers the greatest marital counseling question: “What causes the fights and quarrels among you?” Picture yourself seeing these fights and quarrels right now as you counsel the couple as they relate in your presence.


    (Of course, you have already exposed the sinfulness of the emotionally abusive wife or the mentally abusive husband. And you are continually working with that wife or that husband on their victory over those sins.)


    Now is the time to expose their sinful failure to love and respect one another. Now is the time to expose their sinful failure to live out their godly maleness and femaleness. Now is the time to expose how together they are failing to live out God’s relational calling and pattern for their marriage.


    Additionally, as James explains, now is also the time to expose the sinful idols behind their sinful behaviors. James says that the cause of our sin in our homes is sin in our hearts. I sin against my spouse when I demand that my spouse meet my needs. I demand that my spouse meet my needs when I refuse to humbly go to God. I sin against God by replacing Him with my spouse. Since no human being can replace God, my spouse lets me down. I then manipulate my spouse. I then retaliate against my spouse. The vicious cycle of sin has replaced the victorious cycle of growth.


    Infuse Repentance, Grace, Forgiveness, and Christ’s Resurrection Power


    Now you help the couple to repent together before and to God. Now you help the couple to see their absolute need together for God’s grace. Now you help the couple to ask and to give forgiveness to one another for their behavioral sins against God and each other and for their heart sins against God and against one another. And now you help them to put off their old sinful patterns and to put on their new resurrection power in Christ.


    There’s so much more we could say here. In our seminary program, we spend 75 hours of graduate training in the how to of biblical marriage counseling. But these principles from these first five blogs should at least start the helping process.


    Where Do We Go from Here?


    Of course, some will be saying, “But should they even be in counseling? Isn’t abuse grounds for divorce? Therefore, instead of seeing a counselor, shouldn’t they be seeing a lawyer?”


    We address the controversial issue of abuse and divorce in our next post.





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