Most of our important experiences in life involve relationships. God wants to have a personal relationship with us. People need healthy relationships in order to enjoy life. Relationships offer one of the greatest areas of potential for healthy change. They are also the source of most of our emotional pain. Healthy people can edify and strengthen others. Hurting people tend to take out their emotional pain on others. Marriages and friendships can be heaven on earth or hell on earth. Relationship problems are the subject of the large majority of counseling sessions. Whole areas of counseling such as marriage and family counseling, abuse recovery, domestic violence, and codependency focus on relationship problems.
1. God wants to have a personal relationship with us. Building such a relationship takes faith and time with God. This is a wonderful opportunity to develop relationship skills with someone Who knows everything, understands us perfectly, and loves us completely as we are.
Isa 41:8 But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.
James 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
2. God wants us to seek a relationship with Him with all of our hearts.
De 4:29 But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
Jeremiah 29:13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
3. Friends are those who have our best interests in mind and show it by their actions.
Pr 18:24 A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
Lu 15:6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
Pr 27:17 Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
4. Building friendships or relationships takes time, communication, and sacrifice.
Jo 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
5. When someone does not have our best interests in mind, we see them as enemies.
La 1:2 She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.
Jas 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
Php 3:18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
6. Even though it is hard, God wants us to even love and do good to our enemies. If we please God in this way, He can even make our enemies be at peace with us.
Pr 25:21 If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
Mt 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Pr 16:7 When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
7. God desires that we all come into unity and love for each other in the same way that God loves us.
Jo 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
Jo 17:21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
8. In marriage, the closest of relationships, we are to become one flesh, not one identity. Becoming one identity, or loosing one’s identity in a relationship with another, is a characteristic of codependency.
Mt 19:5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
9. The ultimate healthy relationship is modeled by the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost have separate identities, yet they cooperate and work together in perfect unity. In marriage, the husband, wife, and God are to form a team similar to that of the Trinity. It is God’s job in this relationship to meet the needs in the marriage that the mate cannot or will not meet.
1 Jo 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
Mt 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
10. The wife is to cooperate with the husband’s leadership as if she was submitting to God Himself, as long as he submits to the direction of God. This is known as spiritual authority. The wife is not obligated to follow directions from the husband that violate the direction of his higher authority, God.
Eph 5:21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. 22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
11. The husband is to be responsible to ensure that his wife and children reach their fullest potential, just as Christ was responsible for the development of the church.
Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
12. Husbands are to love their wives and be willing to sacrifice and die for them if necessary.
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
13. They are to ensure that the family is sanctified through training in the Word of God.
Eph 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
14. Men should have the best interests of the family in mind at least as much as they look out for themselves.
Eph 5:28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
15. Families are to have good boundaries which will protect them from the undue influence of their relatives, so that they can form a strong team.
Eph 5:31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
16. Men are to love their wives as much as they love themselves; and women are to honor, respect, and appreciate their husbands. This is the theme of the new book, Love and Respect (2004), by Eggerichs.
Eph 5:33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
17. Children are to obey and honor their parents, since a good relationship with their parents is a key to a successful life.
Numerous problems in later years result from unresolved conflicts with our parents.
Eph 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. 2 Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) 3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
18. Fathers need to be careful to control their anger, to effectively discipline, and to teach their children about God.
Eph 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
19. Marriage is a permanent institution of God and is not to be broken except in situations where one mate is involved in ongoing fornication or adultery, or if an unbelieving mate chooses to divorce the believer.
Matt 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
1 Corinthians 7:10. And unto the married I command, [yet] not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from [her] husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases]: but God hath called us to peace.
20. After a divorce, remarriage is permitted only when the divorce was based on Biblical grounds, or the divorced spouse has died or remarried.
Otherwise, by remarrying, the couple is committing adultery. God wants everyone to do everything possible to reconcile because He knows the damage and the emotional pain of divorce. A spouse is free to remarry if their previous spouse remarries or has sex with someone else, because by doing so that spouse has committed adultery. Consequently, the grounds for a Biblical divorce have been fulfilled.
Matthew 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
Counseling Methods and Techniques
1. We can do a quick relationship analysis with four questions. The first question I ask is, “Does the spouse believe that the other person “has their best interest in mind?” This question determines whether they perceive their spouse’s actions as being for them or against them. If they believe that the other is for them they will act as friends and if they believe they are against them, they will act like enemies. Secondly, I ask if the wife feels that she is loved. This question has to do more with emotional support and affection, than actions. A woman will do almost anything for a man if she feels loved. I ask the husband if he feels respected and appreciated. A man will do almost anything for a woman if he feels respected and appreciated. (This difference in questions for the husband and wife reflects Ephesians Chapter 5.) Finally, I ask them to rate their marriage and their “love life” or sexual relationship on a scale form one (the worst marriage or sexual relationship they know) to 10 (the best marriage or sexual relationship they know). I particularly ask the question about the physical relationship, because this area many times mirrors other problems in the relationship or deep unresolved issues. At other times, their physical relationship may be the strongest part of the marriage.
2. We can evaluate intimacy using the five types of love. Conducting an intimacy analysis is very useful in helping a person investigate his or her love relationship. Because the word love in the English language can mean anything from having a taste for ice cream to a sexual relationship, we must clarify exactly how love is defined. Many times one spouse will say that they love their spouse but they are not “in love” with them. This usually means that they have lost the romantic feeling of love for the spouse. I use five Biblical, Greek, or Hebrew words and their English counterparts to evaluate the levels of intimacy experienced by the couple. I ask the clients to rate on a scale of one to ten how strong each type of love is in their relationship.
a. Agape (Biblical Greek) which is the unconditional commitment in the relationship. This may or may not include strong feelings of caring. This is “having the other’s best interest in mind.”
b. Phileo (Biblical Greek) which is the friendship or companionship in the relationship. This usually reflects whether they are friends and like to spend time and do things together.
c. Eros (Greek) which is the romantic love in the relationship. These are the connection or feelings
of affection, excitement, and pleasure expressed in the relationship.
d. Theleo (Greek) which is spiritual love including beliefs, goals, and worldview. This question
tells me how united the couple is in their vision and direction for life.
e. Yada` (Hebrew) which means “to know” or have physical love with someone.
Because men and women are so different in this area, many conflicts from other areas of their relationship are manifested in the couples “love life.”
3. Use intersecting circles to diagram healthy and unhealthy relationships. In order to explain what dysfunctional and ideal relationships or marriages looks like, I use circles to represent each of the persons involved. In marriage, we are not to become one identity or two circles on top of each other (codependent dependence) or two separate circles where there is not relationship (codependent independence). Not even the two intersecting circles that describes a healthy worldly relationship are ultimate, but three intersecting circles identical to the Trinity which consist of ourselves, our spouse, and God. I point out that these circles represent seven different relationships that must remain sound to have a healthy marriage. Note that this relationship consists of three whole persons. God’s place in the marriage is to direct it and to meet the needs that our mate cannot meet or fails to meet.
4. The marriage blood covenant emphasizes the seriousness of marriage. Because marriage is taken so lightly in our society, I show clients that marriages are blood covenants, the most binding and irrevocable type of agreement on earth. I usually start by telling them the story of Stanley’s search for Dr. Livingstone told in The Blood Covenant by Kenyon (1969). The blood covenant at that time required the shedding of blood, the drinking of wine, curses or oaths before God, gifts, and a witness. I show them that God made a covenant with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and us. In fact, the division of the Bible, between the Old and New Testament, is really the old and new blood covenant. Jesus clearly stated that the last supper was a covenant supper and that the blood He was to shed was the blood of the new covenant of salvation that He made with us. I then show them that their marriage vows were the oath, the rings they exchanged were the gifts, the grape juice they drank was the wine of the covenant and when the women’s hymen was broken as they consummated the marriage, the blood was shed. The final point I make is that it was the witness’ job to insure that the vows of the covenant were kept and to punish any violation of the covenant. I then have them turn to the book of Malachi and read Malachi 2:14. “Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.” It is, therefore, clearly God’s job to punish any violation of our marriage vows. In ancient days, the penalty for violation of a blood covenant was death.
5. We can use analogies to emphasis the need for teamwork. I try to get those in any relationship to realize that it is in all of their interests to work together as a team instead of competing or attacking each other. I use three analogies.
a. The football team analogy. If they seem to be competing and not working together in their marriage, I suggest that it is like they are on a football team; and they have just lost the last game because they have been tackling each other and have been helping the other team. I ask what they would do if they were on such a team? The answer, of course, is that they need to quit competing and make some plans of how they can work together to win the game. I suggest that mutual boundary agreements are like plays and their marriage agreement is like their team contract. They are committed until the end of the season (life) so that they might as well start working together to win the Super Bowl.
b. The sinking ship analogy. If the couple is in a major power struggle or a “love fight,” I suggest that it is like they are on a sinking ship. They are complaining that the other is not bailing water fast enough while they are drilling holes in the bottom of the boat. If they do not start working together as a crew, they are both going to drown; and their entire family is going down with them!
c. The rats in the cage analogy. If they are constantly verbally attacking each other, I suggest they are just like two rats in a cage. The cage is outfitted with an electric shock pad on the bottom that can be turned off if one of the rats pushes a button. The experimenter has turned off the button so that no matter how hard they try they cannot stop the shocks. I ask them what they think the rats did in actual experiments? The answer is that the rats attacked each other! This analogy is like marriage. In a marriage, they expect that their mate will at least attempt to shield them from the problems or shocks of life. They are okay as long as they are able to cope effectively with the stress in their lives, but when they are no longer able to stop the shocks, the clients, just like the rats, are attacking each other. Problems, circumstances, and possibly Satan have conspired to try to split up their marriage and make them fight each other. So far Satan seems to be winning. At least one rat could climb on the back of the other and take turns so only one would be shocked at a time, or they could try to work together to escape the cage at the next feeding. Attacking each other makes no sense and gains nothing.
6. We can use tennis as an example of healthy relationships. When discussing how to build a healthy relationship, especially with somebody who is codependent, I will say that “you must learn to play tennis.” The analogy is this. In a healthy relationship, one person initiates and waits for the other to respond. If the other chooses not to respond, they go on their way and may try again another day. Because a codependent is so desperate for a relationship, they will keep initiating until they drive the other person away. It is almost as if they are a tennis serving machine and the other person thinks they are “shooting” tennis balls at them. Trying to demand attention or manipulate someone into a relationship never works for long.
7. A chariot race analogy can teach healthy dating relationships. The goal of this chariot race is to keep all of the horses abreast of each other and to have both chariots finish the race together. Each chariot has five horses representing the five types of love discussed above. If some of the horses, pulling one of the chariots, get way ahead of the others, the chariot will be upset. For example, if physical love gets way ahead of commitment as is sometimes the case, the woman may feel used; or if spiritual love gets way ahead of romantic love, the relationship will feel dry. Of course, it is also a problem if one member of the dating couple gets way ahead of the other and is ready to marry, while the other is still not ready to commit to the relationship. The point is that any horses that are getting ahead need to be reigned in until the remaining horses can get caught up, or an unbalanced, unstable relationship will develop. Solid relationships take time and require a foundation in all five areas of intimacy.
8. God expects us to be under submission to His spiritual authority. This means we ultimately work for Him, but we do so by cooperating with those He has set over us. This is analogous to the situation in the United States Armed Forces where a senior master sergeant salutes and works for the brand new second lieutenant, not because he believes the new lieutenant knows more; but because he respects the authority of those above him; and ultimately he works for his country. He also feels protected since he is not expected to follow his superiors orders if they violate the directions of those having authority above them. As an example, a wife can more easily follow her husband, even if she disagrees with him, knowing that she is following and serving Christ. This submission is much easier when she understands that she is not expected to follow any directions that violate either God’s specific direction or the Bible. This is called spiritual authority. (For more information read Spiritual Authority (1972) by Watchman Nee.)
9. All marriage problems can be eventually resolved using consistent, effective boundaries. Because of the strict Biblical limits on divorce and remarriage, sometimes one of the members of a difficult marriage may feel trapped; but there is an effective way out. Especially in marriages where one spouse is saved and has not committed adultery, yet still is abusive or addicted, the other spouse might feel they have no choice but to violate Biblical principles and divorce. In my experience, this is not ever necessary. Although the Bible does not recommend separation, it is sometimes necessary when abuse or addictions are involved. If the non-offending spouses will choose to deal with their own problems, get healthy themselves, and learn to set effective boundaries, eventually their spouses will either have to deal with their own problems, will crash and have to get help, or will divorce them to marry somebody else. According to Biblical principles, if the offending spouse remarries, they have committed adultery, thus providing the grounds for a Biblical divorce. In this case, the spouse is free. In my own experience, this type of resolution has occurred in every case, but sometimes, it has taken as long as two years to complete. The length of time involved is usually dependent on how long it takes for the non-offending spouse to recover themselves and start exercising loving, healthy boundaries.
10. A decrease in sexual intimacy may result from the “cycle of sexuality.” A significant decrease or the cessation of sexual intimacy is not uncommon in many marriages. Although many factors may be involved, this problem is many times due to what I call the “cycle of sex.” Women and men function sexually as mirror images. Women need affection and emotional support in order to feel sexual, while men need sex to feel affectionate and emotionally supporting. Consequently, if a man becomes busy and does not give his wife affection or emotional support, over a period of time she will not be as interested in sex and he the frequency of love making will decrease. Because he has not been sexual, he will not feel as affectionate and emotionally supportive, etc. and the sexual relationship will wind down. Of course, the opposite is true. If he will again become affectionate, she will feel more sexually responsive; he will get more sex and will, therefore, feel more affectionate toward his wife, etc.
11. Men build relationships primarily by working together. Consequently, while women tend to use communication, songs, and worship to develop their relationship with God, men can develop intimacy with God by working for and with Him. The book Experiencing God (1990) provides principles for building a strong relationship with God through action. Whatever works in human relationships also works in building relationships with God and what works in building a relationship with God also works with men.
12. Feelings depend on our perceptions of how others meet our needs. Dr. Harley’s Love Bank Theory suggests that the more we perceive another person as meeting our need, the more we fall in love with them; and the more we perceive them as against us, the more we hate them. (See His Needs, Her Needs and Love Busters.) As long as we are insecure, we will be limited to loving those who love us and hating those who we perceive are against us. This is the natural state of affairs for those who see themselves as needy. It will not change until we have a revelation of God’s love and care for us, without our works.
13. Emotional problems in relationships are usually the result of attachment wounds. Attachment wounds occur when we feel our attachment needs threatened. Often, when we try to address them, the attachment figure is defensive, insensitive, or rejecting. We, as counselors, need to help those involved address these wounds in a more sensitive way. Can we help each of them to see these wounds as attachment alarms and coping mechanisms, and help them to understand the deep hurt that they have caused? The counseling of attachment alarms goes well beyond forgiveness and usually requires the training of each spouse to do a better, more sensitive job in handling emotional issues. (For steps to heal attachment wounds see Chapter 9 of Safe Haven Marriage (Hart, 2003))