Why should we go to marriage counseling? Why should we get pre-marital counseling? These are the wrong questions. The question is, why shouldn't you? I think the word "counseling" has been too broadly applied in many regards, but especially in marriage and relationships. Counseling sounds a lot like therapy. It sounds a lot like someone is sick and needs to be fixed. No one likes someone trying to fix them.
Here's the deal. While there is a time and a place for "counseling" as it is commonly understood, it isn't always necessary. Here are a few things to think about.
1. Counseling is the process of getting counsel. Why look to the dictionary for the definition of the word counseling when it is simply the participle form of the word counsel? Let's look at the definition for "counsel" first. Put simply, counsel means advice. You get it from your doctor. You get it from your lawyer (although hopefully not your family lawyer). You get it from your accountant, investment advisor, chiropractor, life coach, job consultant, and your friends who may or may not have a lot of wisdom to share. If you ask the question, "what do you think I should do?" you are getting counsel. Counseling then is the process of getting counsel and advice.
Getting counsel is wise. Where bettor to go but the book of Proverbs to know what is wise. The Bible says, "Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory." (Proverbs 11:14). So let's ask some questions of this text - what do you want victory in? Marriage? In the abundance of counselors there is victory in marriage. What happens when there is no counsel? The people fail. Plain and simple.
The Bible also says, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel." (Proverbs 12:15). Let's ask some questions of this text too - what is wise? Listening to counsel. In what? Anything! Marriage, parenting, fashion sense - the wise man listens to counsel in all of these areas! What kind of person is he who does not listen to counsel but goes on his own way without it? He is a fool!
We could do this all day. ""Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed." (Proverbs 15:22). Should you plan on a great marriage? Absolutely! What happens when plans are made without consultation? They are frustrated! What happens when plans are bounced off an advisor? They succeed!
So what's so bad about counseling?
2. We're all sick and need to be fixed. There are a lot of people who don't want to go to "counseling" because of a stigma that the only people who go get "counseling" are those who are sick, can't get their stuff together, and are flawed in some way and in need of fixing. Let's first address this with a few rhetorical questions: a) Is your marriage 100% healthy right now? b) Would you say every detail of your marital relationship is in order? c) Is there anything that isn't flawed in your marriage? If you answered no to any of these questions, you are lying and you could use a little counsel. Perhaps you don't need "counseling" where a psychologist peers into your psyche and tries to explain why the death of your goldfish at the age of 8 has caused emotional scaring that explains the distance you keep in marriage, but surely you could get some counsel on things you could do to make your marriage better, right?
It really boils down to this: "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Romans 6:23). You are a sinner. Your spouse is a sinner. Your marriage is made up of two imperfect people who are going to mess up sometimes. The Bible says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8). Don't do that. Have a little courage and acknowledge that you are to blame for at least some of every problem in your marriage. The Bible also says, "Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22). So when Proverbs says it is wise to seek counsel, seek counsel! Otherwise, you are just a hearer and you deceive yourself, and in the context of what James was talking about, that is a dangerous deception with eternal ramifications. So who cares if counseling seems like being "fixed" - we're all broken in need of fixing by the Holy Spirit.
3. A pastor helping you build your marriage on Christ is not "counseling" as it is commonly understood. You may feel like "counseling" isn't for you, and you are probably right. There are a lot of marriages in a rough spot right now that don't need in depth psychological or psychiatric intervention. Many of these marriages need someone to come along side the couple and encourage them. Many of them just need some help understanding the best biblical way out of a situation. Many of them just need to learn or relearn some of the relational skills that Scripture teaches like forgiveness, communication, conflict resolution, and so forth. This isn't "counseling" as the psychological community has led you to understand it. This is pastoral counsel - biblical advice from a trained professional who has devoted their lives to helping people learn from and follow the God of the Bible. This is discipleship - the process of learning and applying spiritual things to our lives. It is "counseling" only insofar as it is the process of getting counsel.
Be wise. Be humble. Seek counsel. You owe it to your marriage and to Him who created it.
I follow Christ. I have a beautiful wife Megan and three wonderful children, Harrisen, Rebekah, and Carter. I am a candidate for a Ph.D. in ethics from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have an M.Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a JD from the University of Arkansas, am licensed to practice law in several state and federal courts, and live in Rogers, Arkansas. I write a blog and produce a podcast. And I do it all that others may know Christ.