The Marriage is The ClientJun 2nd, 2009 | By Jeff Williams | Category: Family Coaching Center
Married couples are surprised, relieved and inspired when we tell them that their marriage is our client in the Marriage Coaching process. They are surprised because they come expecting a narrow focus on them as individuals. Instead, we elevate the discussion to the level of partnership and team which they find easier and less threatening to talk about. They are relieved because it takes them off the hot seat of individual examination, and because it decreases the potential for the conversation to become adversarial. Instead, the conversation is about how their behavior affects the entity of the marriage partnership. Finally, it is a concept that inspires and motivates couples to give to something bigger than either of them as individuals.
“We aren’t for either of you individually, but for your marriage. Your union and partnership is above and beyond either of you as individuals. It is a sacred entity unto itself, to which you both make contributions. Adversarial relationships belong in the legal domain of life, not in marriage. Therefore, we won’t side with either of you against the other, but we will lean on both of you to grow and change in ways that will be good for your relationship. If we suggest that one of you to start or stop doing something, it will be for the sake of the marriage.”
This entire conversation flows naturally and easily from the first question we ask, “If God wants to give you a Miracle for your marriage, would you be willing to receive it?” We ask this question to all couples, regardless of the level of difficulties they are experiencing to make the point that we don’t view marriage as being primarily about their individual happiness, or their individual desires and to activate the dimension of faith for a vision of the kind of marriage that God wants them to have for His purposes. This is a way of saying, “It’s about Him, not about you.”
Karen said that when she got the point about their marriage being the client that it made all the difference. “Bob and I have been married for twenty years. We have a lot of history together. But most of it has been bad. He’s admittedly been very selfish, and I’ve been the only one trying most of the time. I’m done. There’s nothing left in my tank, but now he wants to try. He’s scared that I’m acting like I don’t care anymore. He’s right. I don’t! And until last week I’ll admit that I haven’t been trying. The skills you’ve given us are terrific, but I haven’t been using them because I haven’t wanted to try for him! But trying for the marriage is something entirely different. It changes everything. While I don’t feel like I love Bob and I’m having a hard time respecting him, I do respect marriage and believe that it is about something bigger than him or me. And so I’m willing to try for our marriage.”
The analogy we made for Karen that helped her to get this concept was the Office of the President of the United States. There have been some Presidents that I would be more excited to meet than others because of my views on issues. But, if invited to the White House, I would be polite and behave courteously out of respect for the Office and position of the President, regardless of who is in that position. The same is true of marriage. It is an entity that we can decide to respect by exhibiting the behavior of love even when we don’t feel like it. This is where restoration of pleasure, the feeling of love has begun for many couples we’ve served. Persistence in loving behavior as an act of respect for marriage is often the beginning of significant purpose and pleasure in marriage.
Think about married couples caring for their children. If a couple is in the middle of conflict when their child presents a need they bite their tongues and set aside their differences in order to cooperate for the child’s best interest. Every couple with children can probably relate to the scenario of being in conflict when a child knocks at the door or enters the room. They stop their conversation not only to protect the child from involvement in “adult matters” but also so that as parents they can switch gears to cooperate on matters of instruction, discipline or to care for their child’s needs in some other way. Parents who love their children find the capacity to do their best for purposes beyond themselves.
The point is that love and respect for entities beyond us can motivate us to reach deeper and try harder than compared to matters of individual interests. Consider Jesus. He didn’t suffer and die for Himself, but for others; the collective “We”, the Ekklesia, The Church which is His Bride.
Math in Marriage
Jesus’ example leads to another facet of the effectiveness of considering the marriage as client.; that the functions and witness of any one marriage is magnified into many lives. As marriage is greater than the sum of its parts (i.e., 1 + 1 = ?), so the effect of any one marriage is exponential. This was said well by an intercessor for our ministry prior to a recent seminar for married couples, “What God brings through you today to heal and possibly save just one marriage will have consequences for many generations, and perhaps eternity.”
Think about the first marriage that comes to your mind. How many lives does that marriage touch? Start counting:
- Their children
- Both sets of in-laws (parents, siblings, nephews and nieces)
- Church members
Now, do the same math for a ministry leadership marriage. It’s pretty astounding, isn’t it?
An Effective Equation
The skill of coaching a marriage is based on the mathematical principle that what is done to one side of an equation must be done to the other side, too. Both sides receive equal attention, and equal treatment. While one partner must begin the process of sharing their honest thoughts, feelings and desires, the other must have equal opportunity to do the same. This requires careful monitoring by the Marriage Coaches so that the ideal of “equal treatment” is a reality experienced in the sessions. What this means practically, is that time is balanced between speaking and listening for partners in the sessions. Initially, this is carefully facilitated by the Marriage Coaches, but later, it is monitored by the couple themselves as they realize the benefit of taking turns, and as they experience the reality that their turn will come and that they don’t have to press or compete to query their partner or to share their thoughts, feelings and desires.
Emotional issues are especially challenging to mediate, but the principle that the marriage is the client holds true, and the process of facilitating shared air-time to speak and listen is still effective.
Couples often ask, “Are we going to get to ____________ (an issue important to them).” “Absolutely”, we respond. “If it’s a problem for you, then it’s a problem for them (their spouse), because it’s a problem for the marriage.” We quickly look to their partner to say the converse, “And if something is problematic or painful for you, then it’s a problem for them, because it’s a problem for the marriage.” Again, the marriage is the client, so issues important to the parties to the marriage are treated as important in the Marriage Coaching process.
Truth is not relative for Christ-followers. There are clear principles and boundaries for the marriage relationship. Submission, love, respect, fidelity are but a few. Thus, the commitment of Marriage Coaching couples to the concept that the marriage is the client should not be understood as relativistic humanism, and should not be used to avoid confrontation or challenge. For instance, if a man has a problem with his wife’s sensitivity to his gawking lasciviously at other women, and brings that as a complaint to negotiate in a Marriage Coaching session, then we will turn the tables on the ungodliness of his thinking and behavior by challenging him. That might feel to him like we are “taking her side” and setting up and adversarial relationship between them, when it is actually fidelity to the godly concept that the marriage is the client, and Biblical instruction about sexual purity.
Another tedious situation is when one partner is furious and fragile. In such instances, we often judge it best to give that party the majority of air-time initially because not doing so risks losing them from the process altogether. This can seem to be a violation for partners who have heard our spiel about the marriage being the client, sharing air-time, balancing both sides of the equation, and honoring both of their perspectives and sensitivities about important issues, but over time it will balance. In such instances, individual sessions provide a private opportunity to vent and to gain reassurance that we remain committed to facilitating them being heard also.
Business as usual in marriage is to treat partners as individuals, to ‘diagnose’ their individual pathology, prescribe treatment and then do the same with their spouse in hopes of creating a better product of the sum of the components of the marriage. In our experience this approach falls short of the effectiveness of strengthening the marriage by calling forth the best efforts of both partners for an entity bigger than themselves.
Marriage Coaching that defines the marriage as the client introduces an inspiring and empowering model for relationship strengthening and healing that is efficient and effective. Ninety percent of couples to whom we describe Marriage Coaching decide to try it, and the majority of those couples (more than 75%) achieve their goals in about three months. Couples that grow their marriage in this way are also effectively prepared by this model to give to other entities that are bigger than the sum of their parts, (e.g., The Church).
Copyright 2009 Jeffrey J. Williams | Grace & Truth Relationship Education | Germantown | MD | 20876 301.515.1218, Jeff.GTRE@gmail.com
 Karen and Bob are composite characters. Any resemblance to a real people is completely accidental
 Matthew 20:28 – The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
 Yes, we really have heard this as a complaint that a man wanted to have negotiated in marriage coaching
 I Thessalonians 4 – there should be among you not even a hint of sexual immorality