Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pastoral Counseling--Marital

In the last post about pastoral counseling I talked about identifying the core sin in the life of the person who has come in for counseling, and how important it was to identify it quickly.  Again, I am certainly not holding myself out as an expert on marital counseling, but the same approach should be used in marital counseling as well.  However, in most cases, when counseling about marital issues-which are really relationship issues-you will find two sins that tend to be the core sins in most instances.  They are selfishness and unforgiveness, and they seem to be at the root of most of the marital/relationship issues that I have encountered.

Let's face it, we are all selfish pigs to one degree or another, or in one area or another.  You have your area(s) and I have mine.  We have all brought our areas of selfishness and selfish attitudes into our marriage relationships, and when selfishness exists and is not dealt with or given up, then conflicts are a natural result.  Selfishness is a relationship inhibitor, and extreme selfishness is a relationship destroyer.  James speaks to the origin and destructive power of selfishness in 3:13-4:3 of his epistle.  What I have found during the years is that selfishness is at the root of most marital conflicts.  Whenever you come across the-"I want my way!"-"I want what I want when I want it!" attitude during the counseling sessions, then understand you are staring selfishness in the face; but realize that it is also expressed in much subtler ways; and when you uncover the selfishness you may also discover that the ways that were used as a child to get what was wanted accompany the selfishness into the relationship. 

How do you deal with selfishness when you find it during the counseling sessions?

1. Identify it, and point it out.  Many times the people you are counseling are so used to being selfish, they won't realize their own selfishness unless someone points it out.

2.  Call it what it is...sin, and get them to acknowledge that it is sin.  Use the verses in James to show where it comes from and its destructive effects.

3.  Go to Philippians 2:3-7 to show them selfishness has no place in the life of the believer, and that we are commanded not to be selfish.

4.  Take them to I Corinthians does not seek its show them that selfishness is an expression of a lack of love, and that love is the higher way.

5. Use II Corinthians 8:9, Romans 15:2-3, Philippians 2:3-5 to show them the attitude that Christ had, and as such it is to be our attitude.

Will following these steps automatically solve the conflict?  No, because selfishness is so ingrained in us that it is hard to root out; but if the people you are counseling want to be more like Christ, want to grow in their faith, and truly want the conflict(s) resolved, this will start them down the right path.

Unforgiveness is the other sin that causes much damage in marital relationships.  Who of us has not been wounded in one way or the other by words, actions, inactions, or attitudes of our spouse?  Who of us has not wounded our spouse by our words, actions, inactions, or attitudes?  What brings healing to these situations?  Confession and forgiveness; and ultimately it is not the confession that brings the healing, but the forgiveness by the one offended, regardless of whether the offending party has confessed and apologized or not.  Unforgiveness is the root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15) and just as the verse points out, it defiles many as bitterness leads to wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice (Ephesians 4:30), which are always destructive forces in a relationship.

How do you deal with unforgiveness?  Actually, this one is usually easier to spot and point out as most people know when they are being unforgiving.

1. Just as in steps one and two above, unforgivness must be identified and called for what it is...a sin.

2. Take them to Matthew 6:12-15 and Matthew 18:21-35 to show them God's view toward their unforgiveness, His command to forgive, and their personal consequences (in addition to the marital conflict) of being unforgiving.

3. Take them to Hebrews 12:15 and Ephesians 4:30-31 to show how unforgiveness not only grieves the the Holy Spirit of God, but how it will poison and defile them and others.

4. Show them in Ephesians 4:30 and Colossians 3:12-13 that we are expected to be as forgiving towards others as Christ was/is toward us.

5. Use I Peter 4:8 and I Corinthians 13:5 to show the power of love over unforgiveness, and again that love is the higher way, and since we have the immeasurable love of God already in our heart (Romans 5:5), we have God's love and therefore God's capacity to forgive.

Are there other issues surrounding and connected with selfishness and unforgiveness?  Sure there are, but until you uncover and point out these two issues, you cannot begin to deal with the other issues connected with them; and dealing with these first will make unraveling the other issues easier.

Additionally, we should always watch our attitude and demeanor when counseling.  Remember, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), not in self righteousness, not in a condemning way, not to put them down, but to correct them and reprove them for the benefit of their marriage and their relationship with the Lord; and if you can't say it in love, maybe it shouldn't be said until you can.  Truth is confrontational and cuts to the quick, so speaking the truth in love both wounds and heals; and when the people you are counseling know that you love them and have their best at heart, they will be much more willing to receive what you have to say.   Remember, your counseling them is ultimately to further their growing up in all aspects into Him.

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