Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grace Filled Marriage

Q. I saw the last two articles on love and respect in marriage. I really want my spouse and myself to try marriage counseling, but we just cannot seem to budge on some issues. Is there any hope for us? Can you give us some ideas of what we could do to create some movement toward healing?

A. Your plight is not uncommon from what I hear daily from couples in my office. Oftentimes, couples come to counseling after their issues are deeply entrenched and resentment has started to set in. However, as a counselor, when I see these couples in my office, I do have hope for them. I believe that God can truly transform a marriage through the power of GRACE. Grace is loosely defined as giving or receiving a good thing that is unmerited.

With the power of relational grace in marriage, so many couples can finally start to make movement toward healing from issues. But if two individuals refuse to be the first one to make changes or to let go of hurt, they will continue to be deeply entrenched. Relational grace can really loosen the soil for forgiveness and change to take place. Scripture says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph 4:32, ESV). When I can get couples to begin to live out this verse in their marriage, wonderful things begin to happen. Relational grace creates a vulnerability and opens the other spouse up to want to be different and change his or her behavior.

One of my favorite books for counselors on this subject is Counseling Couples in Conflict by James Sells and Mark Yarhouse. In their book, they talk about how marriage counseling is not intended to just put out fires, but to grow grace in marriages. They use the analogy of a garden to describe growing grace. They say, "Gardens don't naturally grow in the aftermath of a fire; weeds do. Gardens are planned. Gardeners are selective as to the particular foliage that is cultivated and will be permitted to flower. Grace and justice are the plants to be grown to replace the use of defenses in the presence of pain. Counselors don't just put out fires, they teach the couples how to grow gardens." (pg. 123)** These are gardens of relational grace.

So, my encouragement to you is to look at the level of grace you give in your marriage. Do you allow room for difference between you and your spouse? Do you expect them to do things or handle things the way you do? Do you allow for mistakes or do you expect perfection? Examine for yourself if you are embodying Eph. 4:32 as a spouse. You might just be surprised at how being the first one to offer relational grace and room for errors can really help make that movement toward healing.

If you don't feel like this is something you can accomplish on your own, feel free to contact a professional counselor or your pastor. Sometimes we need an outside 'gardener' to come in and help us 'weed' out the criticism and hurt before we can have healthy 'plants' of relational grace.

**Excerpt taken from Counseling Couples in Conflict by James Sells and Mark Yarhouse, Intervarsity Press, 2011.

Jim Sells will be at Pathways Professional Counseling in Birmingham, AL Sept. 27th presenting on this topic for counselors and pastors. For more information, click here.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Love and Respect: Part 2

Q. I saw last week's article about how wives can show respect to their husbands based on Ephesians 5:33. I am feeling very disconnected from my wife just like last week's reader was from her husband. Can you tell me how best to love my wife? I feel like we speak two different languages.

A. What a profound statement! "I feel like we speak two different languages" is a very true, valid feeling. Men and women do 'communicate' very differently. Ephesians 5:33 says, "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." We are told here to show affection for our spouse in two different ways. Husbands are to love their wives, and wives are to respect their husbands. What a perfect illustration of how we speak two different languages. Even Scripture points that out to us!

So how can we help you speak your wife's language? If you want to love your wi
fe in the best way possible, you have to show her love in very practical ways. Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, author of Love and Respect, does a fantastic job of outlining how to show your wife love. He uses six categories of ways to speak your wife's language, based on the acronym COUPLE: Closeness, Openness, Understanding, Peacemaking, Loyalty, and Esteem.** These categories are expanded below:

Closeness - Your wife wants face to face contact and to feel connected to you. (Go for a walk together; hold
hands; try focusing on what your wife is actually saying.)
Openness - Open up to your wife emotionally about what is going on with you. (Tell her about your day; pray with her; ask her how she is feeling.)
Understanding - Take time to listen to what she has to say instead of coming up with solutions. (If you see something that needs to be done, just do it; listen and repeat what she says to you; and don't make her justify what she is feeling.)
Peacemaking - Tension and sin will exist in marriage. Be willing to say, "I'm sorry." (Admit when you are
wrong; meet her halfway in a compromise; reassure her after a hurtful time that you are not angry any more.)

Loyalty - Reassure her that you love her and are in this for the long haul. (Compliment her in front of others; keep your commitments you make; avoid looking at or talking lustfully about other women.)
Esteem -
Show her that you honor her and treasure her. (Open the door for her; give her encouragement and praise
; talk about how you are proud of her and that you see the hard work she does.)**

If you do something in these six areas each day, your wife is bound to respond. Scripture says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, (Luke 6:31)". To begin showing your wife love - regardless of her actions - is to fulfill what Scripture calls all Christian men and women to do. Once you start to break the negative cycle of miscommunication and lack of connectedness in your marriage, your wife will most likely respond. Give it a try. Don't give up too easily either. It may take a little time for your wife to recognize you are now speaking her language and to come around.

If you do try something in all these areas and your marriage is still not where you want it to be, give a professional counselor a call. Don't wait too long to work on your marriage. It is better to resolve issues early before a great deal of resentment enters the marriage. You can show your wife you love her by taking the issues in your marriage seriously and recommending the two of you seek out professional help.
Remember, God will honor your hard work!!!

For last week's article for wives on how to show respect, click here.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

**Excerpts are taken from Eggerichs, Emerson. Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs. Thomas Nelson: 2004.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Love and Respect (Part 1)

Q. I feel like my marriage is not enjoyable any more. All my husband and I do is fight and avoid each other. I have asked him to go to counseling with me, but he refuses. Is there any benefit to me coming alone? (For Part 2, click here)

A. I wish I could tell you how often I hear this from callers seeking counseling. It is a sad event when one spouse wants to reach out for help, but the other spouse does not. It can be a very desperate and lonely feeling.

Let me express to you though, there is hope. There is a benefit to coming to marriage counseling, even if your spouse refuses. There are many things we can do to possibly make your marriage better. Just think of all the commands given to us as husbands and wives. These commands are not contingent upon whether or not your spouse is fulfilling their commands or not. We are still commanded to obey God's word. An example of this might be Prov. 27:15 "A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike." This proverb gives you something to begin working on right now that you have control over!

One of my favorite resources in this area is the book Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs**. Dr. Eggerichs does a fantastic job of expressing Ephesians 5:33 and how it is applicable to your marriage. The verse says, "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (ESV). What a powerful verse for marriage.

Now you may be asking, "What does this have to do with me?" Well, the reality is that you can fulfill your biblical obligation of respecting your husband regardless of his actions. Scripture does not tell us that we only are to respect our husband if he is deserving of that respect, but rather it just says to do it. (Disclaimer - I would never tell a spouse to put themselves in any physical danger. This applies to safe situations.) Your husband has a need for respect. He needs to know that you value him and will treat him with that respect. This is a basic need for most men. When he starts to see your respect for him, he is more likely to want to change himself. When one part of the marital duo starts to change, it usually creates change in the entire marriage.

So what does this look like? You can practice this respect model even today:

1. Tell your husband what you respect about him, like how hard he works for the family, for the little things he has done around the house, for getting the bills paid, etc.

2. Show him you respect him by running ideas and plans past him, rather than making them all on your own. Say, "I wanted to get your opinion on this before I decided ... .

3. Encourage him with your words.

4. Build him up in front of others. The next time you are at a social gathering, talk about the wonderful side of your husband and the good things about him.

5. Build him up in secret too. The next time you're with your girl friends, make it a point to say positive things about your husband.

6. Do something nice and out of the ordinary for your husband. Buy him a treat, make sure his favorite shorts are washed, or schedule a date night for the two of you.

The hope is that by employing these ideas in your marriage your husband will begin to see a change in you and want to change himself. You can remind him that you want your marriage to be better and you are willing to take the first step. If you do not feel like your marriage is improving at the rate or pace you would like, seek out your pastor, trusted mentor or professional counselor. All of these people may be able to help you gain perspective or figure out what else you can do to improve your marriage. Just don't stop trying. Marriage is a sacred covenant and deserves to be honored with your hard work. God will honor your work.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

**Some excerpts are taken from Eggerichs, Emerson. Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs. Thomas Nelson: 2004.