As I’ve transitioned over the past few months to a part time position at Cross Point and full time at RefineUs, we are spending a lot of time around married couples and marriage problems. Trish and I counsel a lot of couples and I refer a lot of couples to counseling. What we’ve noticed are two common and devastating mistakes we see couples making when it comes to marriage counseling. One of the mistakes we made for years. The other we were tempted to make.
1. Not going to marriage counseling is a huge mistake.
When people hear our story, the affair gets most of the attention. It is the bomb that drops. It punches people in the gut. But the affair wasn’t our biggest problem. It was the most damaging. But it was a symptom of much deeper issues in our marriage that we lived with for years.
In 2001, our marriage was in a dark place. I was struggling with depression over my job. Our middle son had all kinds of medical issues. We lived far away from family and a support system. Trish was stretched thin and stressed out. We were hurting. One night after a lengthly argument, Trish was crying and simply asked, “Justin, can we please go to counseling? We need help figuring this out. We can’t do this on our own.”
Counseling? What? Go to counseling and admit we don’t have it all together? I’m a pastor, I do counseling, I don’t go to counseling. And the rest is history.
There is no doubt I regret the affair. But I can’t help but wonder if I could have saved my wife, my family, my church and myself so much pain had I simply asked for help.
Going to counseling isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of wisdom and humility. No matter how long we’ve been married, we don’t have all the answers. It can be marriage saving to have an outside perspective speak health into your heart and marriage.
2. Most couples that go to counseling stop going too soon.
Over and over again I hear from couples that start counseling and go to one or two sessions and then they stop because “we’re good now.”
Years of arguments; total meltdowns over sexual intimacy or financial pressure or problems with in-laws are all solved in two 55 minute counseling sessions.
Most couples go to counseling just long enough to medicate their pain but stop just short of identifying their illness. When our goal in marriage becomes pain-avoidance we will short circuit the healing process God longs to bring to our hearts and marriage.
A minimum recommendation from my perspective is at least four sessions. There is very little healing that can take place with anything less than that. You might think, “I can’t afford four sessions of counseling.” Let me assure you, divorce is much more expensive than counseling…not just financially.
All counselors aren’t good counselors. Be wise as you look for a counselor. You don’t want to pick a counselor that will just tell you want you want to hear, but you want to find one that understands both you and your spouse and can speak life and hope into both of you.
It is worth the search. It is worth the commitment.
What is your opinion of marriage counseling? Good experience or bad experience?