Christians Need Couples Counseling

Business Insider ran a story last week about a guy named Nate Bagley who wanted to find out what made great relationships, well, great. He apparently interviewed a breathtaking range of couples — gay, straight, rich, poor, old, young, religious, atheistic, those in arranged marriages and polygamous marriages and those who married for love. He then codified the relationship advice he received. You can read the fairly superficial BI story here:

From this link you can also find the Reddit thread where he took to discussing his findings.

I found the piece mildly interesting from a Christian perspective because, in the evangelical churches I grew up in, self-love was verboten, the epitome of selfishness. Downright Sinful. To wit, we would mock Whitney Houston’s wildly popular 1985 cover of Greatest Love Of All as being case-closed evidence at how sinful our generation was, how destined for relational failure our secular peers were who believed such nonsense. How ironic, then, to discover that self-love would appear to be among the top qualities for successful interpersonal relationships; it makes me wonder what might happen if, instead of the usual hand-wringing over the prevalence of divorce within the Church, we taught believers more forthrightly how to have healthy boundaries in marriage and how to stave off codependence.

But yet again, I digress.

Friends, it took me years of therapy to undo the damage of self-annihilation I learned to perfect at church and instead to embrace myself as having profound value as one of God’s image bearers. I am a far better and much happier wife (I think David would agree!) when I practice robust self-love and self-care in addition to loving and caring for my family, friends and community.


So there’s that.

But then I got to the part in the article about conflict resolution and I had a minor epiphany: the ecumenical Church needs couples counseling. We need help with the basic tools of conflict resolution, in particular the second quality that Bagley identifies:

“Seek to Understand: If you’re having a hard time playing on the same team, stop fighting and instead try to understand why your partner is upset. Typically what’s being talked about isn’t the real issue. People are inherently bad at being vulnerable, especially in threatening situations. Be willing to ask sincere questions. Let the answers sink in…” [Note: the exemplar gets a little smarmy at this point IMO so proceed at your own risk).

Christians, we are terrible at this. Just terrible. If you have any doubts, peruse via the Web any of these currently thriving, knock-down drag-out fistfights …

  • creation | evolution
  • biblical gender roles
  • the inerrancy of Scripture
  • ordination of women
  • theological fine-tuning on issues such as justification (Piper | N.T.Wright)
  • this list could go on and on … and on … ad nauseam.

… and you’ll see our egregious failure here immediately. Maybe we are terrible at conflict resolution because too many of us were schooled in apologetics at the expense of compassion. Maybe we are scared of the world as it changes around us, scared of our eroding influence and the world our children are going to inherit. Maybe we genuinely feel we are holding sacred ground from an advancing enemy.

I’m sure there are many other reasons, and I am not suggesting that we ought never to disagree, even passionately. But we need to listen. First. To hear each other not for the purpose of winning an argument or maintaining our theological vantage point but instead to honor the image of God in the Other, in those who see | think | feel | live | faith | question differently than us.  

Their point of view might not change our own, but it ought to expand it. Our discourse ought to school us not in apologetics but in humility, to the point where we can genuinely assert that perhaps there is more than one legitimate point of view, more than one legitimate interpretation of Scripture. Perhaps we can practice making our disagreements the least important thing among us, and our love — first for Jesus and then for each other — the most important thing. Perhaps we can remind ourselves that we all of us see through a mirror dimly. We are all of us wrong about all sorts of things, important things, things about which we are absolutely sure we are right. 

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” — The Message

“Love extravagantly.”  I like that.

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