By Rachel Baker, Crosswalk.com
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22
Few of us enter into the commitment of marriage thinking about the adversity our relationship may face. Often times couples, especially young couples, approach their wedding day starry-eyed and dreamy. We spend so much time, energy and money preparing for the big day, and perhaps do not use enough of our resources preparing for the challenges marriage can bring.
Whether you’re engaged, a newlywed or have been married for decades the value of taking the advice of Proverbs 19:20 to heart can impact your relationship for years to come: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”
My husband and I were unprepared for marriage as we approached our wedding day. We spent a little time in pre-marital counseling, which was required by our officiant, but failed to vision-cast, set goals or boundaries, and prepare for married life in general.
We barely made it past the honeymoon. Five days of wedded “bliss” and we were already at each other’s throats. We fought over just about everything; we were going to need some serious help if we were going to make it.
Finding marriage counselors who coached us and set us on a path towards Jesus and each other gave us the footing we desperately needed to survive and thrive as a couple. If you find yourself struggling in your marriage, as we were, perhaps it’s time to seek counseling. Here are a few indications that it’s time to get help.
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1. Harboring Feelings of Resentment
Our first two years of marriage were rough. While we did have some genuinely sweet moments, much of our marriage was stricken with miscommunication and an overall failure to connect as a couple.
We both feared the worst, we were destined for divorce. When we finally sat down with our third set of marriage counselors—yes it took us three different sets of counselors before things improved, so stick with it—it became apparent that we were living in resentment with each other.
Resentment is defined as bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.
We were entrenched in unfair treatment and beyond bitter indignation. I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. We were dangerously on the brink of indifference; the root of the issue was resentment. We couldn’t let little things go. We weren’t truly forgiving each other after conflicts.
We were internalizing our frustrations and fears. Our fights failed to be fair or productive. We became so frustrated that we avoided each other and began to sweep issues under the rug. Soon we sort of stopped caring whether or not our marriage survived. We were in dangerous territory indeed.
Perhaps you’re struggling with similar problems. Little things are adding up, you and your spouse are failing to communicate and resolve issues, big and small. Rather than waiting for things to resolve or fade into memory, perhaps the most proactive step you can take in healing your relationship is to check in with a marriage counselor.
Don’t allow resentment to build, take some time to process what is happening in your marriage with a neutral party. A good counselor cannot solve every issue in a marriage, but with two willing participants they can certainly help guide you back to one another.
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2. Struggling over Financial Issues
Devising a financial plan as a couple can go a long way in reducing marital stress and strife.
When my husband and I married we brought debt into our relationship. We had car payments and credit cards, student loan debt, and of course the basic cost of living, rent, cell phone bills, insurance and so on. We had been talking about money throughout our engagement and had a vision of our plans as a couple, but just months before our wedding day I was laid off from my job.
In a moment everything we had planned for changed. I was blindsided, unemployment was not something we had anticipated. The stress of entering a marriage without a steady job strained us both. We started having disagreements, which led to fights.
Money can be an incredibly charged subject. Even discussing budgets, income and spending can lead to disagreements and fighting. We’ve experienced it, as have many of our friends. Statistically, a high rate of marriages that end in divorce site financial issues as the reason.
Rather than being surprised by the unexpected, like we were, being proactive about finances can help strengthen your marriage. When it comes to most marital challenges, financial challenges included, talking about it is the first step to resolution.
There are fantastic resources out there to help start the conversation. Often these types of tools are available in local churches.
But, sometimes, underneath financial issues, there is a deeper root issue. People's attitudes towards money can be indicative of unhealed wounds, like shopping addictions or an overly strict budget. A wise counselor can often decipher the source of those issues and help set your relationship on a path of longevity.
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3. Dealing with Loss of Trust
Trust is the foundation of any good relationship. Without trust a healthy marriage is impossible. So, what are we to do when trust is broken in our marriages?
Loss of trust can stem from multiple different issues. They can go back to the issues addressed earlier in this article: Loss of trust over money, miscommunication or even a failure to meet a spouse’s expectation.
More often than not, however, there are deeper issues at play. These issues can completely destroy a marriage. For example, infidelity is a colossal break of trust in any marriage, and it can be perceived as a final straw or the ultimate marriage ender.
In ministry, my husband and I have met with several couples who have walked through an infidelity. I was surprised to hear that many of them wanted to do the incredibly hard work of reconciling and healing what was broken in their relationship.
There are other ways to majorly breach the trust a couple shares. Learning something about their spouse’s past that changes their view of them, changing one’s mind over a previously agreed upon big decision, or the slow burn of feeling like you have to explain yourself and your feelings to your spouse all the time.
Every one of these events, though, can be overcome by Christ’s love.
This worthy work cannot be done alone. A Christian marriage counselor can help lay the foundation for a new and transformed marriage. Tackling issues of trust often cannot be navigated alone; a neutral party (licensed Christian marriage counselor/therapist) outside of your marriage is pivotal in laying a new framework, navigating forgiveness, and developing a strategy to safeguard your marriage for the future.
Additionally, it may be helpful for you and your spouse to independently meet with a counselor as you do the work of healing and rebuilding.
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4. Navigating Major Life Changes
As we continue walking out our married lives each of us, individually and as couples, will experience life changes. The changes can be as normal as relocation or change of career, birth of a child/children, empty nesting, and retirement. As we experience life changes, no matter how steady our marriage is, seeking counseling can be a helpful tool to help navigate each shift and transition.
Marriage counseling doesn’t need to have a negative connotation. We can treat meeting with a marriage counselor as a tool that helps keep a marriage healthy and thriving. Having a healthy marriage is not only a blessing to you and to your spouse but also to your family, friends and people who may be looking up to you.
We owe it to ourselves and our spouse to honor and uphold the vows we took. As Hebrews 13:4 prompts us, “Let marriage be held in honor among all…”
Additionally, marriage counseling is a useful tool when grappling with grief, tragedy, loss, and mental illness. There are some things in our lives that are just too heavy to carry on our own. In relationships where a spouse experiences mental illness meeting with a counselor to devise a healthy and proactive game plan can be extremely beneficial.
While we can’t be our partner's therapist, being equipped with tools through marriage counseling can help us as spouses to meet our partner where they are. Thankfully we aren’t alone; seeking wise counsel is now more accessible than ever.
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How to Seek Help
Eleven years ago when my husband and I embarked on the adventure of marriage we wanted to build a marriage that would last a lifetime. We wanted our marriage to thrive and to ultimately be an example of Christ’s love and redemption. We’ve come through a lot and still have a long way to go, but we are deeply committed to building beauty in our marriage.
The foundations we laid while meeting with our counselors have helped us fight fair and withstand circumstances that could have destroyed our relationship. I urge you, don’t wait until things look bleak before you seek help. If you’re not sure where to start inquire within your local church, many churches have marriage ministries on-site, if they do not they may be able to refer out to a local LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist).
If finances are a road block from seeking counseling ask your potential therapist if they accept payment on a sliding scale. Additionally, there are several online resources that can help reset your relationship. I highly recommend Forever Families Ministries.
Finally, if you’re struggling in your marriage and want to seek counseling but your spouse refuses to go, please do not let that stop you from pursuing the support and tools you need to seek health in your relationship and life. Doing individual work towards wholeness will not only impact you, but it has the strong possibility of overflowing into your marriage.
Do not lose heart, do not give up. We can do hard things, God goes before us, and He is with us. (Joshua 1:9)
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