“If I get married, I want to be very married.” – Audrey Hepburn
So you’ve decided to pursue a better marriage through counseling? Bravo! Marriage is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, but it is also a monumental challenge to our sinful, selfish hearts.
As Tim Keller writes in his book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, “While marriage is many things, it is anything but sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears; humbling defeats and exhausting victories.”
Step One: Admit Defeat
Acknowledging that you and your spouse could use some support (from a professional marriage counselor and ultimately from the Spirit of God) is the first step toward positive change. After all, you’ve tried to improve your relationship on your own, and your efforts only got you so far. As anyone who has attended twelve-step program meetings can remind you, “Your best thinking got you here.”Or perhaps you and your spouse are unsatisfied with an “average” marriage and are longing for something richer and deeper, a truly blessed and flourishing intimacy. Recognizing your shortcomings in attaining the harmony you’d hoped for on your own is a crucial step before the healing journey of counseling can begin.
In fact, there is a very good chance that God has an even higher and more glorious vision of what your marriage can be than either of you! As Paul Tripp writes in his book, What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage:
“None of us gets our dream in the way that we dreamt it, because none of us is writing our own story. God, in his love, writes a better story than we could ever write for ourselves. He has a better dream than the one we conceive. He knows much better than we do what is best for us. He will take us places that we never intended to go because, in doing so, we become more of what he re-created us in Christ to be.” – Paul David Tripp
Tripp’s insight is as true for your marriage as it is for you as an individual. Just as I encourage those struggling with individual problems such as depression not to give up on life, I encourage you who are married not to forfeit the life of your marriage in the face of adversity. The possibility of what could be is worth saving.
Once you finally let go of the myth that you should be able to solve all your own marital problems, you are ready to begin the process of change. Maybe you have realized that the same fundamental problems plague you again and again and that you and your spouse never seem to be able to gain footing on them, much less overcome them. You feel that the two of you have “irreconcilable differences,” and wonder if you married the right person.
Let me offer you a word of encouragement: you are normal! Marital distress and conflict are the common experiences of all married couples. In other words, there is a one hundred percent chance that other couples have faced and are facing similar challenges and discouragement.Far from being a sign that you should seek a new partner, the contrast between the two of you was likely designed by the Almighty Artist. Tripp writes, “One way God establishes beauty is by putting things that are different next to each other.”
One of the biggest mistakes you could make is to assume there is something uniquely wrong with your marriage and to conceal or avoid your problems out of shame. This fear-based strategy is all too common among Christians, who often hide out of the false assumption that the church is full of happy, perfect couples who never struggle. This is a lie of the enemy meant to produce complacency and isolation, both of which can be death sentences to intimate connection.
Reaching out for a hand up in your time of need is the best course of action you could take. This requires a great deal of courage, along with a belief that your marriage is worth the investment. Remember that marriage was created and ordained by God, and that it is worth every ounce of your strength and devotion. The divorce courts are full of people who tried to pull their marriage up by its own bootstraps. As the writer of Proverbs admonishes,
Without counsel, plans fail, but with many advisers, they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22
Good news: there is help available to those willing to reach out! Knowledgeable, compassionate professionals await the opportunity to struggle with you through the weeds to find clarity, hope, and a way forward toward a deeper bond in your marriage. There is a beautiful future on the horizon for those who seek it.
However, once you reach the point of seeking professional guidance, the next challenge that awaits you is finding a marriage counselor both of you trust and feel comfortable working with. This can be a daunting task! There may be anywhere from dozens to hundreds of professional counselors in your area who work with couples, and you will likely have trouble sifting through them all and narrowing down your choice
In this article, I want to offer some guidance on how best to successfully identify and connect with a marriage counselor who can bring glory to God by helping you and your spouse through the marital problems you are facing with wisdom and grace.
Word of Mouth
The single greatest way to find a good marriage counselor is by personal recommendation. You may have seen a sign in the office of a healthcare professional reading something like “Your referral is the greatest compliment we can receive.” While referrals are highly desirable to business owners (for obvious financial reasons), I believe they can also be enormously helpful to people just like you who are looking for help and don’t know where to start.
A personal recommendation for a marriage counselor from a trusted friend, colleague, or family member is like a golden ticket to a successful counseling experience. While it is not a guarantee of any particular outcome, the likelihood of meeting with a quality marriage counselor is astronomically increased if someone you trust has gone before you and benefited from this counselor’s expertise and care.
Think about it, no one is forced to recommend a counselor to anyone, so it is especially meaningful when they do so. It means that they want you to find the support, compassion, and wise counsel that they enjoyed. When you have an outstanding experience with a particular business or service, there is a unique type of joy in sharing it by recommending it to someone you care about.
In an article written for the Focus on the Family website called, “How Do I Find a Good Marriage Counselor?” Dr. Robert Burbee urges, “Talk to someone you know who has gone for counseling or psychotherapy. In many cases, the best suggestions about who is good in your community are from trusted friends and family who have been in the same situation themselves of trying to find a good counselor or therapist. These individuals can give first hand observation about a professional and what to expect. And, they are giving a client’s perspective which may be the most important.”
Writing for the Psychology Today website, clinical social worker and writer Michele Weiner-Davis agrees, pointing out that “the best way to find a good therapist is word-of-mouth. Satisfied customers say a lot about the kind of therapy you will receive. Although you might feel embarrassed to ask friends or family for a referral, you should consider doing it anyway. It increases the odds you’ll find a therapist who will really help you and your spouse.”
Know Thyself (and Thy Counselor)
Just like any meaningful project, marriage counseling will benefit from some preliminary reflection. You have likely faced the ongoing problems that led you to eventually seek counseling for quite some time, so there is no need to rush frantically in to meet with the first marriage counselor you discover online. You may feel an urgency because of the distress in your marriage, but counseling will go better if you go into it as thoughtfully as possible.
Just like in any relationship, it will help to know and reflect on yourself (your hopes, fears, values, etc.) before reaching out to connect with a marriage counselor. A therapeutic relationship is a professional relationship with clear boundaries, but it is a more complex and intimate professional connection than that with a dentist or an accountant.
Take the time to think about your shared goals and core values as a couple, and consider the type of marriage counselor you’d work well with. Exploring these topics together will also help you and your spouse get on the same page about your goals for counseling even before the first session.
Marriage counseling will not be effective if you and your spouse are working at cross purposes or with different goals. A counselor isn’t a genie who can grant everyone’s individual wishes. By committing to participating in counseling, you are declaring that as a couple you have a common objective and are willing to work together toward that end.
Also, keep in mind that there are different types of counselors who hold different licenses and have different specializations. Without going into all the particulars here, I recommend taking time to ask the counselor you plan to meet with about his or her training, specialization, and license.
For example, I was trained as a Marriage and Family Therapist, which means that I pay special attention to relationships and what makes them tick, even when working with individuals.
As the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy professional website puts it, “Marriage and Family Therapists broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual to attend to the nature and role of individuals in primary relationship networks such as marriage and the family. MFTs take a holistic perspective to health care; they are concerned with the overall, long-term well-being of individuals and their families.”
Many counselors offer a free phone consultation before meeting to get better acquainted and see if the relationship will be a good fit. All of the counselors with Tacoma Christian Counseling offer a risk-free initial consultation, which allows you the freedom to make sure you feel comfortable working with your counselor before committing to ongoing sessions.
Use this opportunity to ask questions about your potential counselor. This is your chance to learn about his or her values, perspective on relationships, approach to change, experience and training in marriage counseling, etc.
As Dr. Burbee urges, “Prepare a list of questions before you talk with them related to your concerns. Ask questions that will help you feel more at ease about going in for a visit. Ask if they are a Christian and how their faith influences the way they do counseling or psychotherapy.” This is vitally important because the positive outcome you are hoping for in counseling has a lot to do with the relationship you form with your marriage counselor.
Trust Your Intuition
Have you ever met with someone and just had a certain feeling about them? That’s your intuition, trust it! What we often call the “gut instinct” is a gift from God to help us navigate life. While we should avoid “rushing to judgment” about someone’s character, that little voice inside is a valuable tool if you listen to it.
As you speak with a marriage counselor over the phone or meet with him or her in person, ask yourself whether you feel heard, whether the counselor seems interested in your problems and you hopes, whether he or she seems to care enough to want to help you in this moment of need, and whether he or she projects confidence and hope about making progress toward change through the process of counseling.
The counselors on this website are diverse in many ways, but we are united by a strong commitment to do our part to help people like you participate in the healing, redemptive work that God is doing in your heart and relationships.
Marriage is not easy. We could all use some help at times. If your marriage could do with some support, the counselors on this site would be honored to devote their knowledge and passion to providing you with the best possible care.
ReferencesAAMFT (2018). About Marriage and Family Therapists. Retrieved from: https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx
Burbee, R. (2014). How do you find a good marriage counselor? Retrieved from: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce-and-infidelity/your-spouse-is-not-the-enemy/how-do-you-find-a-good-marriage-counselor
Keller, T., & Keller, K. (2011). The meaning of marriage: facing the complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God. New York: Dutton.
Tripp, P.D. (2010). What did you expect? Redeeming the realities of marriage. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Weiner-Davis, M. (2009). How to choose a good marital therapist. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/divorce-busting/200910/how-choose-good-marital-therapist
“Counseling Office”, Courtesy of Dan Gold, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Embracing”, Courtesy of Andrew Welch, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Couch” Courtesy of Sidekix Media, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Watching the Sunset”, Courtesy of Jose Chomali, Unsplash.com, CC0 License