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Counseling A Couple: Saving A Marriage

Category Articles
Date March 18, 2004

Love Is A Duty

We had been counselling with them for three months, meeting every other week, praying and conversing with them, giving them homework to do together. Baruch was doing the counselling, with Sasha sitting in as an intern and learning from what he saw. The husband was the one who initiated the process: “I want to save our marriage”. He had taken every opportunity to show goodwill and point out to us his wife’s uncooperative spirit. He had turned for advice to others, and often shared his pain, sorrow, disappointment and frustration with them. They would counsel, comfort and than contact us to convey the information. Both partners to the marriage came from a difficult personal background that ill-equipped them to share their lives with another, and they are both relatively new Christians with a less-than-ideal church background. Now they were with us and needed help.

Three months had passed, without much progress. We were concerned and frustrated, but determined to do all in our God-given abilities to help this couple through the difficulty and establish a stable, happy and godly marriage. Then the husband called Sasha: “I must speak with you urgently. My wife does not know, but this is very important. Please can we meet?”. We have a policy that we take care to establish at the commencement of every marital counselling series: There are no private interviews except in cases of emergency. If one such is requested, the other side must know that it has been requested, and there is an understanding that whatever is said in such interviews must ultimately be divulged to the other side. Sasha forgot all of that and agreed to meet.

What he heard was very disquieting. He assured the husband that he and I would meet with them both on the coming Friday as usual, and that we would deal with the issue. He spoke of the importance of prayer, sacrifice and forgiveness. Then he called Baruch and shared the information.

A few days later we met with the couple. “Well, brother, you met with Sasha two days ago. Did your wife know about your request to meet?”


“Were those the terms we agreed upon when we commenced our meetings with you both? Was there anything urgent in what you told Sasha?”

“I suppose not. I was just hurting and needed to speak with someone.”

“That’s why you have a wife. You’re supposed to speak with her. We really must insist that everyone abide by the terms of our agreement. We are not prepared to be used by either of you against the other and, if we agree to meet without the other side knowing, we help destroy the trust that is so important for the success of our efforts together. Do you understand that?” He did and assured us that he did. So did his wife.

“Fine. You both must understand that we are very serious about what we told you at the commencement of this counselling process: we are unreservedly committed to preserving your marriage, to doing all in our power to assist you to learn to live together in a godly fashion, honouring him and serving him and his people. Now, dear brother, please repeat in the presence of your wife what you told Sasha in private. It took some time before he spurted everything out. His wife was shocked by the fact that he had turned to Sasha behind her back and by some of what he had said.

“I do not think that my husband really wants to preserve our marriage,” she said once he was finished. “He told me that the only reason he does not seek a divorce is because he knows that the church will not allow it. He has never really meant it when he apologised and he has used every opportunity to blacken my name before others to whom he ostensibly turned for help to save our marriage. What is the point of continuing this charade?”

“Friend and brother, is that true? Is it true that the only reason you are not seeking a divorce is because you can’t?” An embarrassed silence followed.

“I don’t know how to answer that question truthfully at this stage.”

“OK. But until you can, there is no point in our continuing this discussion. How can you expect your wife to invest in a marriage to which it is not clear that you are committed?”

“But, but… – she has never forgiven me!”

“Did you ever really mean it when you asked her forgiveness? Are you really working with us to establish your marriage on biblical grounds, to fill it with love for God and each other?” Silence. “Brother, dear brother, ask yourself: have I been trying to get out of this marriage? Have I been trying to use Sasha and Baruch to get what I am after? How honest have I been with them before God – and with my wife?

”Meanwhile, ask yourself yet another question. Ask yourself whether you are willing to fulfil your duty and to love your wife as God commands you in his word. Ask yourself if you are really willing to work on this marriage, to change it – at any cost. Tell your wife what you have decided. Then tell us. Make up your mind whether you are in this marriage because there is no way out, or because you are serious about living according to God’s word.”

We sent them home and returned to our tasks with prayerful and anxious hearts. Two weeks later we met with them again. After prayer we turned to the husband:

“Well, brother?”

“I love my wife and want to learn to love her better. I have not treated her as I ought. I have not loved her as Christ loved the church and I have not given myself for her. I’m sorry. I’m ashamed of myself. I’ve asked my wife to forgive me and I am committed to making our marriage a holy, happy relationship.”

His wife added: “Let me tell you a story. Last night we both wanted to do something. We spent a good part of the evening, each trying to do for the other what we thought would be appreciated. Then we fell into each others arms, laughing and in Love.”

I’ve been a Pastor since 1976. I’ve seen many-a-family in crisis, and many restored. But I’ve never been prepared for these acts of God when they occur. Sasha and I wept for joy with the couple and will now be working with them over the little that yet needs to be done in order to help them clear the decks of the rubbish accumulated between them over the last few years and set their feet solidly on the path in which they are now happily walking together. God be praised.


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