We have a red loveseat couch in our office at Hopewell Counseling. Couples who come for marriage counseling typically sit together on the couch while Irv and I sit on chairs facing them. As we counsel with them, we are hopeful that they will gain insight into their situation and that they will learn some new ways of relating to each other and better ways of handling problems and concerns.
During the past four weeks I have been learning some lessons myself – not from the red couch in our office but from our couch at home. I have been spending a lot of time there due to a significant injury to my right shoulder from a fall on Memorial Day. I think it is important not to waste the pain, and I think it is interesting that some of the lessons apply to counseling as well. Here are a few.
- Let go of control.
- When people offer to help, let them and don’t expect them to do it exactly like you would because you are not in control.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Be patient with yourself and others. Healing takes time and … you are not in control.
- Listen to the doctor and follow his or her instructions. You don’t know more than they do because …you are not in control.
- Enjoy some extra time on the couch with the Lord in prayer and reading His Word because He is longing to spend time with you and ….. He IS in control.
When couples come for counseling, control is often present as a hidden issue for one or both people. Hidden issues are typically not being talked about openly and constructively. They often get lost during arguing and conflict. For example, if one partner is feeling controlled by the other, they might not ever address it directly. They might just keep arguing about the surface issues that trigger the conflict. Hidden issues include such things as power and control, caring, recognition, commitment, integrity, and acceptance.
The need to control is often accompanied by a subtle attitude of superiority and pride. These are relationship busters. When we mentally place ourselves above another person, we eliminate the basis for relationship with them. Healthy relationships depend upon valuing others as much as we value ourselves. We need to love them as Christ loves us and them.
Pride blocks insight, growth and healthy change. We are not open to learning, growing, and loving others as long as pride is present. Gentleness and humility are the antidotes for the self-protective stance of superiority and pride. It is helpful for a husband and wife to think in terms of being on the same team. They are not enemies. Satan is the enemy of marriage.
Irv and I typically ask couples to use the Speaker/Listener Technique when communicating. It is a safe and respectful way for a husband and wife to discuss concerns in a productive way. The two take turns being the speaker and listener. The listener’s job is to actively listen, without interruption or debate, while the speaker is speaking. The Speaker holds a square, checkered card which represents “the Floor.” Only the person holding the Floor is the Speaker.
This is a proven technique for safe communication that makes it possible for couples to discuss difficult issues and eventually even address hidden issues. Yet the technique is somewhat awkward at first and clients often reject using it. Without humility, though, and a willingness to let go of control, the relationship will continue to struggle.
I lovingly implore you. Please learn to let go of control. Healthy relationships require it. The only control we are called to have is self-control which is a fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23)