by Shane Fookes, MA LPC Intern
Successful marriage relationships involve navigating a delicate balance. Marriage is full of joy…and sorrow. It is wonderful…but difficult. It is beautiful…and messy. Research has shown that marriages that survive and thrive share common factors. Yet, they also remain unpredictable. How two people engage in marriage, especially when it is painful, reveals both the strength of the relationship and the maturity of each individual.
The late Dr. David Schnarch importantly referred to marriage as a “crucible.” In other words, the very nature of marriage provides an environment for the persons involved to develop and mature. Most couples who seek Christian marriage counseling say they want to work on their marriage, and that is good and necessary. What they often don’t understand or appreciate is that their marriage is already working on them! Dr. Schnarch’s conception of a crucible marriage hinges on what he referred to as The 4 Points of Balance. This 5-part blog post series both summarizes and expands on Dr. Schnarch’s work.
Christian Marriage Counseling Helps You Find Balance
When people seek Christian couples therapy, they often want skills to rescue or improve their relationship. While skill building is certainly important, difficulties in marriage usually have less to do with the mechanics of relating and much more to do with each individual’s inability to maintain themselves emotionally in the relationship. They experience difficult emotions like anger, fear, disgust, despair, and shame and they don’t know what to do with them. They try to anticipate what the other will do so that they can stay in control of situations and avoid getting hurt. But no matter how hard they try, they get emotionally overwhelmed and end up saying things and doing things they never intended to say or do. Because of their heightened emotional state, they misinterpret each other’s words and actions and experience rejection. And they end up feeling disappointed and alone.
That’s why effective Christian marriage counseling focuses on how to BE in the relationship more so than what to DO in the relationship. In other words, the counselor helps each person understand “how to be me in a relationship with you.” Good marriages necessarily involve maintaining both individuality and connectedness. Keeping marriage in balance involves managing the tension between separateness and closeness. This tension never fully goes away. Mature people in mature relationships are simply good at working the tension.
Individuality vs Connectedness & Where They Meet
Two basic relational energies fill the space between individuality and connectedness: fear and love. In mature relationships, the movement toward or away from each other is mostly fueled by love. As wonderfully described in the Bible, love
“is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way, it is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
When love is the dominant energy in a marriage, the relationship stays in balance with two persons free to be themselves while also staying connected relationally.
In immature relationships, the movement toward or away from each other is dominated by fear. When fear dominates, the relationship becomes insecure. When that happens, one or both persons push toward an extreme in one direction (connectedness) or the other (individuality) in an attempt to resolve the insecurity:
- In one direction, one or both become emotionally entangled. When this happens, they become overly dependent on the other for their emotional regulation, and/or they experience the other as emotionally demanding, even suffocating. This can either be active entanglement in the form of coercion or manipulation or passive in the form of capitulation.
- In the other direction, one or both become emotionally distant. When this happens, they become rigid and controlling toward the other and/or experience the other as emotionally unavailable. This can either be active distancing in the form of willful opposition (emotional stonewalling) or passive in the form of evasion.
In good marriages, partners develop “response-ability” toward each other. I like this play on words because husbands and wives often wonder, “What’s my responsibility in this relationship,” especially when it is difficult. Well, simply put, their responsibility is to develop the ability to maturely and wisely respond with love!
In mature marriages, each person takes full responsibility for managing their own love while pursuing a connection with the other. If one person turns their love off toward the other, they accept 100% responsibility for their choice, no matter what the other may have done. In other words, they refuse to blame the other for their own choices.
In the next four posts, I’ll introduce each of Dr. Schnarch’s 4 Points of Balance as the means for developing response ability in marriage.
Find Balance With Christian Marriage Counseling in Hillsboro, OR
Our Hillsboro-based counselors are excited to work with you, wherever you are in Oregon. Your relationships can thrive again with a balance of connectedness and individuality. We can help you get back on track in a way that aligns with your faith and values. When you are ready to start Christian marriage counseling and couples therapy at Life Discovery Counseling, follow these simple steps:
- Learn about our therapy team in Beaverton and our caring counselors in Clackamas
- Schedule an appointment with your preferred therapist, or contact us with questions
- Feel more connected to the important people in your life
Other Mental Health Services at Life Discovery Counseling in Oregon
If you are in Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus, Hillsboro, or Beaverton, we can help you in person at one of our comfortable therapy clinics. Not only do we see adults, but children in counseling too. We also work with depression treatment, anxiety therapy, trauma therapy and PTSD treatment, codependency issues, and postpartum counseling. Get mental health support with online therapy in Oregon.
About the Author
Shane Fookes is a graduate of Western Seminary’s Counseling program and a Licensed Professional Counseling Intern. He was previously a pastor and is still involved in churches, and writes about building strong and healthy boundaries in marriage and how to address relationship struggles.