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.

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