As a Christian counsellor, I have told myself I am not fit to venture into marriage counselling until I have been married for at least ten years. If you come to me for advice on marriage, I will sweetly smile at you and refer you to several biblical verses and passages. I may even tell you what I was told at premarital counselling and recommend several books for you to read. But I will do this as a friend and not as a marriage counselor. I say this because many people have ruined marriages through inexperienced marital counselling. I have always wanted to help people going through challenging circumstances hence my decision to pursue Biblical counselling. However, I am not proud of how I handled a particular case few years ago when i had not been formally trained.
A dear friend of mine confided in me about how she was having problems in her marriage of four years. Before the marriage, the guy exhibited anger traits which I cautioned her about. My friend also had a short fuse so I was worried the two of them could have terrible clashes. However, she went ahead and married him because she felt she was not growing younger. I was still happy for her because she seemed very happy with her choice; after all, no one is perfect. The first time she opened up to me, I just gave a listening ear as I did not want to say I told you so. However, I was unhappy she was suffering so much. She told me the only reason why she had not walked out of her marriage was because of the twin boys they had been blessed with.
I was on my way to work one day when I had an SOS call from her. She lamented about how she was unhappy and wanted to get a divorce. She sounded desperate and recounted several instances that justified her stance. As I heard the pain in her voice, I found myself getting angry at her husband. Before I could stop myself, I told her to go ahead with her decision if her husband was making her so unhappy. Thank God, that divorce never saw the light of Day! I was single and inexperienced; I felt I was helping a dear friend. But can you imagine the damage my advice would have caused if she had followed through with it? Today, after being married for sometime, I can boldly say I would have given her better advice. I know better now.
It is easy staying at the other side and giving advice until you step on the same side. I began to realize the issues she was complaining about are very common in marriage. Even though she was my friend, I should have just empathized with her and encouraged her with scripture. I should have pointed out to her in love the fact that she was someone who was easily angered and had to also work on herself. But because I was single and had no practical experience in marriage life; I advised her as though I was advising someone in a premarital relationship. This experience has thought me, what our elders say is true. Experience is indeed the best teacher. Theory is good, but it can never outweigh the knowledge garnered out of experience.
Sometimes we feel insulted when our advice is not taken seriously because we are perceived to be inexperienced. I once felt that way when two colleagues described a marriage scenario that seemed unbelievable. When one of them told me and another single colleague that we would understand when we got married, we felt insulted. In fact I thought they were making fun of those of us in the single ladies’ club. Looking back, I have come to realize they meant no harm. It took me few months in marriage to come to this realization. However, I may never have understood them had I remained single.
Recently, I was so intimidated when my mother told me she would rank herself 50% in her marriage of over 30 years. I was shocked; this is a woman I wouldn’t rank less than 85% in how I have watched her handle her marriage. Her Godly attributes coupled with her resilience and tenacity as well as her ability to handle difficulties, have taught me a lot. I always marvel at her level of endurance and strength which is concealed in her weakness. So imagine how I felt when she told me she would rank herself 50%. According to her, a 75 year old woman she once knew asked her 80 year old husband for a divorce after they had been married for close to 50 years. Even though it sounded funny, she deduced marriage is an unending learning process. It is a school where there are no graduates.
Titus chapter 2: 3- 5 says “teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead they should teach others what is good. They should train the younger women to love their husbands and children; to live wisely and be pure, to do good, to be submissive to their husbands, so they will not bring shame to the word of God.” Today, there are so many people counselling women without experience or the wisdom of age. We can learn from Titus that age and experience is a requirement in counseling married women. But let us note that for these older women to qualify as marriage counselors, they are “to live in a way that honors God, they are not to slander or be heavy drinkers”.
From this verse, we can also learn that the fact that a woman has been married for decades does not qualify her to counsel younger women. If the way she lives does not honor the Lord, her counsel must be received with caution. A remarkable elderly woman who was able to assist a younger woman with her words of wisdom was Naomi as recounted In Ruth 3: 1-5 “3 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.”
As a result of Naomi’s advice to her daughter in law who was much younger, Ruth was able to secure a good husband. She gave birth to Obed who had Jessie; the father of the great King David. From the generation of the great King David came Jesus Christ through whom the world was redeemed. This is what wise counsel can do! Imagine if Naomi had given wrong counsel to the younger Ruth or worse still withheld her advice! Marriage counseling is no joke and must not be taken lightly. One advice is capable of turning a marriage around for the better or for the worse. Thus, the receiver of the counsel must be very cautious in putting to practice whatever has been recommended.
According to proverbs chapter 11: 15 “Where there is no counsel, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. Here, there is an acknowledgement that counseling can be used to avoid pitfalls. However, it also advocates seeking other opinions especially when one is not too comfortable with a particular direction. Thus, we are safer when we do not rush to implement counseling strategies but ponder and pray until we have a peace about it. Prayer is very important because a strategy that worked well for a particular marriage may backfire in another. The fact that Boaz did not reject Ruth does not mean every woman who follows this example will end up with a husband.
Another issue of concern when it comes to marital counselling is when men counsel women. This has been known to lead to the development of wrong emotional attachments from the counsellor, the counsellee or both. Imagine a married woman sitting in a man’s office discussing intimate details of her marriage in the absence of her husband. The man may be a pastor, apostle, bishop or pope, but underneath the important looking demeanor is a man with flesh and blood. Listening to such information and trying to rescue someone’s damsel in distress can lead to an unexpected trap of sexual immorality. No wonder we hear of mighty men of God brought down by sexual scandals. Every human being is prone to temptation and must be careful to run away from it like Joseph did in the house of Potiphar.
Perhaps that is why Titus advocates women counseling women and not men counselling women. This is regardless of how spiritually strong these men are perceived to be. If elderly women seriously take up the role of leading younger women towards the right path, a lot of mistakes will be avoided not only in the counselling room but also in marriage. Problems that seem so overwhelming to young wives will gradually become trivial as we learn from experienced Godly women. Today’s generation is lucky to have so many helpful resources in the form of books written by elderly women of wisdom and other video and audio guides. The word of God is also ever present and serves as a guide by which every counsel can be measured to avoid pitfalls.
Oh and there is also one light-hearted reason why marriage counseling is not for me until my 10th wedding anniversary. I was recently venting out to my husband about how a colleague’s husband was misbehaving. I spoke out my mind about how terribly he was treating her. My husband took me by surprise by asking if that was how I was going to counsel those in marriage distress. It was good to tell him I would not get involved in marriage counselling until we were married for ten years. With this in mind, he can’t reprimand me for knowing better as a Christian counsellor when my imperfections surface occasionally. As they surely will since I am only a sinner saved by grace.