When dealing with a couple in marital difficulty, our goal is always to uncover the heart level problems that brought them to counseling. It is helpful for us to attempt to see the situation from their viewpoint.
I typically ask many questions of both people to get their perspective and opinion on issues. I may ask:
What do you think the cause is for problems in your marriage?
Each person has their own ideas on this and this question can be the catalyst for uncovering the whole smelly mess. I sure don’t want to initiate the blame game, so if you are going to try this you must talk only about yourself and not your spouse. Don’t get stuck in the “he said she said business,” and by all means, don’t make personal attacks on each other, but just state facts.
What episode was the last straw? Are you dealing with long standing issues or something new?
And what I want to know from both people I counsel is: What is your responsibility in this situation? Even if you don’t think you bear any responsibility, you do. Here is a way to approach this:
Draw a circle on a piece of paper that represents the total of the problems in your marriage. Then draw your percentage of responsibility for the problems in your marriage. Is it 20%, 40%, 80%? I find most people are reasonable; they are fairly split close to reality. I have had a few cases where one party was unwilling to accept little to no responsibility for the mess their marriage was in.
This circle exercise will give you a pretty clear idea on Matt 7, and how big the logs and specks issue is in both of you. Try making a list of your own “logs” rather than digging at the specs in your husband’s eye! As “helpful” as we want to make that whole issue of picking specs out of the eye of the man we love that is not our job. We women must stop playing Holy Spirit in the lives of our husbands and focus our attention at the sequoia trees floating down our own personal stream of life.
If you have a reasonable understanding of your responsibility then you can move on to correcting the issues you have.
If you have wrong ideas or understanding about things then the obvious solution is to correct them with Biblical truth. It is imperative that the Bible be your standard for responsibility, not personal experience or how either of you feels about it. There has to be an absolute standard that is unchangeable and the only one of its kind is the Bible. The Bible addresses all the problems of life and marriage and that is where you need to take them to discover the answers and correct error. To try and correct your marital issues based on feelings, or current societal trends will not give you long term solutions, but will instead being like applying a band-aid to a cancerous sore. It may look better, and feel better, but the underlying problems remain and will only grow worse with time. To simply modify your behavior, or grit your teeth and determine to just bear his wrongs or your misery is also no solution. If you truly wish to have a marriage that glorifies God and is full of rejoicing and wonder you will have to learn and apply biblical principles to your heart and life. I must also say a word about the case of a person who knows right from wrong and is unwilling to change. How can such a person be helped if they are involved in willful sin? The truth is, all of us are involved in willful sin of one kind or another. The Christian has no legitimate excuse because we have been enabled not to sin by the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the blessing of grace and mercy in the life of a believer. God uses even our sinful actions and attitudes to change us into the image of Christ. However, as Paul says in Romans 6: 1-2 that we are not to keep on sinning that grace may abound.
Part of our transformation is to be in the process of putting off those old actions and attitudes of the heart (Eph. 4: 22-24) and put on the ones that reveal the Christ-likeness within us.
In the case where one person in a marriage knows what is right but refuses to change the willful sin must be addressed. Matthew 18 is the passage for correction and the results of refusing to repent and change from sin. The goal of Matt. 18 is always restoration not punishment. I personally find this heart-wrenching when there is one person in the marriage who wants to work hard at changing things and the other who says they do with their mouth but there is no actual willingness to make changes in long standing patterns.