I don’t do marriage counseling very often these days. I have a master’s in counseling and spent a few years almost exclusively doing counseling, but the size of the church and my role leading and developing the staff takes more of my time now. As a pastor, knowing that my opportunity is limited in offering on-going counseling, I have learned that it is important to assess the health of the marriage early in the counseling process if I have any hopes of making progress.
Here is one method I found helpful. I ask each spouse to answer this short questionnaire separately:
- On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, what is the health of your marriage right now?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, how well do you communicate as a couple?
- How long ago…in weeks…months…years…did you sense there may be problems in your marriage?
- What is the # 1 problem in your marriage right now, in your opinion?
- What do you like best about your spouse?
These questions are difficult and hard-hitting questions, but their answers are invaluable to assessing the state of the marriage. From these questions I can make some quick observations. I have often seen couples answer these and realize they aren’t as far apart as they thought and a healthy discussion began. Other times I saw the marriage was clearly in need of extensive help. I could show it to the couple on paper from their own assessment and it made them more willing to accept a referral for professional counseling. At the least, I could see how far apart the couple was in understanding their current situation and gave me a starting point for discussion.
Pastors, what tips do you have when starting a discussion with a couple expressing problems in their marriage?
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For those brave enough, feel free to try this exercise at home.