Tag Archives: Counseling

Before or After the Wedding?

Couples-Counseling

As many of you know Nan and I have been teaching pre-married/pre-engaged classes twice a year at our church since 1997 and I suspect that many that are reading our blog have probably been through the class. As we contemplate each new class coming up we spend time discussing what we should add or subtract from the class. We ask questions like: “Is it too basic or too complicated?” “Are we covering the right subjects?” “Is there too much content and not enough process?” “Should the class time be longer or should we add more sessions?”

All of these are good questions of course, and we will continue to ask them of ourselves, but one question just came up that had me thinking. Is the timing of the class in a couple’s relationship optimal? For the subjects that we deal with in the class I think the answer is probably “Yes.”  The basics are important.

But perhaps for private couples’ counseling the answer to that question might be more complicated.

  • You’ve taken the class but you are still trying to decide whether this is the right person for you?
  • There are some unresolved issues that are hard to talk about together?
  • The wedding preparation is complicated because of family?

These are good reasons to seek counseling before marriage. But perhaps there are some good reasons to either delay individual couples’ counseling until later, or expect to add some sessions as a post wedding follow-up.

Singles have been given various messages about the first year of marriage:

“The first year of marriage is bliss!” 

“The first year of marriage is horrible!” 

“Enjoy it while you can.”

The truth is that the first year of marriage is usually the adjustment year. As one of my newly married friends said:

“I wake up and there is a man in my bed.”

This first year is when the reality hits that you can no longer go home to get some emotional distance from your partner when needed, and where you have to resolve issues in “real time”. It is the time when you become more aware of how different you really are, and as a result new problems begin to crop up, sometimes with intensity. And this is when a couple needs to hear that what they are facing is normal and that they did not marry the wrong person.

So we are thinking that perhaps six months after the wedding is a great time to get into couples’ counseling.

There are a lot of changes that happen during the first year – we probably move into a new house or apartment, see less of our family, and we may begin to spend more time with couple friends and less with our single ones. These changes, although good, can cause us some stress as we learn to adapt to the new normal.

Working on a marriage while it is brand new is probably the best time. The motivation is high and our spirits are open and hopeful. We can develop good habits and avoid having to go back and do serious repair work down the line.

Any thoughts from those who have been there and are looking back?

Hearing the Truth in Counseling

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I am not always a fan of hearing the truth. Example: my doctor tells me I have low energy because I don’t exercise enough – not because there is something wrong with me medically. I just wanted to hear that there is a quick fix – a pill or something. This news requires that I make an effort to take action. It will alter my lifestyle and schedule and take away a certain comfort I have gotten used to over the years.

It’s the same in counseling. Most people want to hear that someone else is to blame for their problems. They want to shift the responsibility of having to change on to someone else. It might be a spouse or other family member or a co-worker or a friend – anyone besides the person looking at them in the mirror each morning.

I have a lot of compassion for these people. It’s not easy to embrace truth when we have spent a lot of energy building fortresses around our false beliefs. Pulling down these walls requires embracing the grief process which begins with breaking the denial of what is really true – that the problem lies within me.

“I have a problem.” 

With those words there is real hope of things getting better. It may bring sadness at first, especially if the realization is the result of a crisis, a serious rejection or significant loss.

  • My wife left me because of my drinking
  • My boyfriend broke it off because I was too clingy and controlling
  • I lost my job because of my anger
  • I didn’t speak up and someone else got chosen
  • I allow myself to get distracted and I don’t accurately hear what people say

Do you get upset and angry when people point out your shortcomings? Do you beat up on yourself and feel defeated? Or instead do you reflect on their words and try to use them to grow?

A counselor always holds your positive growth as their goal for you – never condemnation. Can you receive it that way even when the truth is painful? I (Dave) was in counseling for three years. Some of those sessions with my counselor were not easy – and others were downright perplexing – but I always knew that he was for me.

God is also intensely for us and corrects us because of His love for us – but we must be willing to receive it for it to benefit us. Any thoughts?

Sex and Guilt

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“The great tragedy is not masturbation or fornication or pornography. The tragedy is that Satan uses guilt from these failures to strip you of every radical dream you ever had or might have. In their place, he gives you a happy, safe, secure, American life of superficial pleasures, until you die in your lakeside rocking chair.” John Piper – October 19, 2007 Christianity Today

I was struck by this quote on a week where I have been thinking about sex and guilt and how it is a bigger problem than people might think. I was particularly concerned because of the shame and guilt that many pre-married couples feel as they prepare to join their lives together permanently.

In the privacy of the counseling room both men and women will express regrets at having crossed over boundaries that they knew to be against their values. However, not surprisingly it is women who seem to carry a bigger burden in this area. Premarital sex and extramarital affairs seem to reach deeper into a woman’s heart. I would want this message to be especially heeded by men because they might not understand how significant “casual sex” can be for a woman.

I am not implying that women alone carry this. Many men have expressed deep sadness at the damage they have done to themselves and others. They feel unworthy in relationships and disqualified from taking an active part in ministry and leadership.

It was during our teens, twenties and thirties that the “sexual revolution” flourished (from mid 1960’s to mid 1980’s) until the emergence of AIDS slowed it down considerably. During this time, the availability of new birth control, (the pill especially) changed the sexual landscape forever. With the possibility of pregnancy greatly diminished, the old sexual taboos and restraints were largely abandoned.

I would expect that my generation, being the transitional one, would carry guilt deeper than current ones, but that does not seem to be true. The younger generations may engage in sex outside of marriage at a greater rate because of changed societal values, but the percentages of associated guilt appear to remain steady, at least within the church body.

Is Guilt Bad? 

  • It isn’t when it becomes a positive change agent in our lives. It motivates us to make course corrections when we are headed in the wrong direction.
  • It isn’t when it allows us to feel empathy or compassion for others.
  • It is if it drives us away from God instead of towards Him.
  • It is if it keeps us stuck in shame patterns that are toxic.
  • It is if, as the opening quote states, it kills our dreams of doing anything significant because we think we are disqualified as a result of our sexual behavior.

I am always encouraged when a weekend sermon coincides with a blog post I had been working on, like this week’s. It validates the subject for me.

The sermon reminded me that God has a plan for us when we have sinned against Him and others with our sexuality. We do not have to carry the guilt, but through confession and repentance can be forgiven and restored. We are then free to move on with our radical dreams.