Mary K. can sometimes join me when I do pastoral marriage counseling. It seems to be harder to do these days, as her life is full with her different callings, but it is marvelous when it can happen. I find the insights she brings to be highly valuable and timely, as she supplies important things I lack. And we have developed a verbal dance in how we relate to the couple, a dance that is renewing for us and demonstrates health for those sitting down with us.
Of course, it is not all fun and games. If people are getting marriage counseling, it is because they are unhappy. They have serious problems that are not getting addressed. They have hard difficulties that feel overwhelming, or disagreements that seem insurmountable. Maybe there is infidelity, or a pattern of abuse (even sometimes in both directions), or severe differences or crushing disappointments. They may be problems that Mary K. and I have not had, though we may have experienced something like them.
What this means is that marriage counseling with my wife is a journey for us as well. It can be an exploration into unknown territory. When that is the case, something happens between us.
It is hard to describe what happens, but it is usually after the session when the two of us are alone again. I find that we take their problem into ourselves and contend about it. We sometimes get mad at each other, as we insist on our points of view. And we end up having the argument they need to have.
It feels kind of like how that guy in the 1999 Stephen King movie, The Green Mile, healed people by taking the disease into himself first. Or in another movie from that same year (The Matrix, 1999), how Neo dove into Agent Smith in order to explode him from the inside. We take the dissension on in our own marriage. Then we must handle it, hopefully in a healthy way.
Some of these internalizings leave us exhausted, but none so far have broken us. We have been able to overcome them. They broaden and strengthen us. We then have a much better shot at helping the other couples’ marriage, as it has helped ours.
That is why I like marriage counseling with my wife, and nearly always insist on it for engagement counseling. Together, we are able to bear others’ burden for them and our asymmetry enables us to do it.
Are you and your spouse able to form a partnership, maybe in a different way, that adds up to much more?