Because our relationship with our spouse is a reflection of our relationship with Christ, our marriage “problems” are really only symptoms. The actual problems are in our relationship with Christ. In my own marriage, for example, there have been times when the “problem” looked like I didn’t have enough time for my wife and children, but that was only a symptom. The problem was that I would not listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompt to meet my family’s needs, and I was allowing the ministry to take priority to my family.
This is why any biblical marriage counseling must address the couple’s relationship with the Lord. Couples I counsel are often confused when they share a problem they are experiencing and I respond by asking, “So what does your time in God’s Word look like? How is your prayer life? What about your involvement in the church?” A wife will say, “I just told you my husband yells at me. Why are you talking about his time in the Word?” Because the hope is that as a husband reads God’s Word he will become convicted of his sin and repent. He will become a more patient and loving man. I do not have the power to change a husband’s heart (and apparently neither does a wife or there would be no need for counseling). A husband can only become a new man through a relationship with Christ.
Likewise, a husband will respond, “I just told you how my wife humiliates me in front of our friends. Why would you mention joining a small group?” Because other believers can provide accountability, vulnerability, and transparency; you can learn from others and be challenged by their examples. When you are not involved in the Body of Christ, you will not receive the encouragement and exhortation God wants you to have. You will feel alone, as though you are the only couple having these problems. You will not have anyone in your life through whom God can regularly speak to you. We are made to have fellowship with other believers, and when we do not have it, that lack manifests itself in other areas, including our marriages.
Here are two situations I have witnessed a number of times. A husband and wife are having marriage problems. They submit to Christ, and soon their marriage improves. Why? Did their difficulties simply disappear? No, those difficulties had been symptoms of the real problem—Christ was not supreme in their lives. When they put Christ first, their marriage improved.
Similarly, I have seen a couple plugged into church. The husband and wife pray and read the Word together. They are doing well spiritually, and their marriage is healthy. Then, for various reasons, they get distracted from the Lord and their priorities shift. They start wavering in church attendance and spiritual disciplines. They fall out of fellowship. Soon their marriage suffers. So remember: Marriage “problems” are really only symptoms—or negative consequences—of not having Christ as the focal point in the marital relationship. If couples want a strong, healthy marriage, they need a strong, healthy relationship with Christ. When a couple’s relationship with Christ is weak and unhealthy, the marriage will be weak and unhealthy.