Question: "When should a Christian couple seek marriage counseling?"
Answer: Any couple struggling in their marriage should seek counseling sooner rather than later. Every marriage includes bumps and turns that if not handled correctly can create chasms too wide to bridge. Often, either from pride or shame, a couple does not seek help with issues early enough to save the marriage. They wait until so much damage has been inflicted that the marriage is already dead and the counselor has little to work with. Proverbs 11:14 says, "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety" (ESV). When we face battles too great to wage alone, wise people seek wise counsel.
Recurring issues in a marriage are like road signs warning of danger to come. Some of these road signs are:
1. Inability to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
2. One partner dominating the relationship so that the needs of the other are not met.
3. Inability to compromise.
4. Either partner stepping outside the marriage to "fix" the problems.
5. Breakdown in communication.
6. Confusion about the roles of each spouse in the marriage.
9. Disagreement about parenting styles.
When a couple recognizes any of these warning signs, it is wise to seek godly counsel. However, not all counsel that presents itself as "Christian" is based on the truth of God's Word. Friends and family may mean well, but can offer unscriptural solutions that only confuse and make the problem worse. A counselor should be chosen based upon his or her philosophy and adherence to Scripture as the foundation for emotional health. Many horror stories have come from people who sought counsel from those they trusted, only to find "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matthew 7:15) who have excused sin and instructed the wronged spouse to "get over it."
A few questions in the initial interview can eliminate some of those "wolves" before time and money are wasted on them. Couples investigating counselors should consider the following:
1. Is this counselor affiliated with one of the national organizations for Christian counselors, such as AACC (American Association of Christian Counselors), the NCCA (National Christian Counselors Association), or the NANC (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors)?
2. Where did the counselor receive training or licensing? The likelihood is greater that you will receive biblically based therapy if the counselor has been trained through a Christian counseling program rather than a secular organization or university. A state license does not ensure you will receive better counsel. Excellent scriptural counseling can be found through local pastors, lay counselors, and support groups.
3. Is this counselor experienced in dealing with the particular issues involved? A few key questions such as, "What is your approach on pornography addiction?" will help you decide whether or not you agree with this counselor's perspective.
4. Do you agree with this counselor's philosophy and/or religious affiliation? There are sects and denominations that carry the banner of "Christian" but may be too far outside a couple's belief system for them to benefit from counseling. Choosing a counselor from within a couple's own religious framework may make the counseling more effective.
There is nothing that can promise a perfect outcome, but considering those questions may help narrow the field. God is for marriage; He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). The first step a couple should take is to ask God to guide them to the right counselor. It may take a bit of scouting, but finding a counselor who can bring godly wisdom to a troubled marriage is worth any effort.