I hope that in the first post about marriage counseling, we came to see that marriage is, for want of a better expression, a flesh grinder. By that, I mean that your flesh—your old nature, your selfish pride—is ground into a pulp by the Lord. A married person will either climb out of that divine grinder and admit defeat (get a divorce, leave, commit a crime of violence, etc.) or remain in it so that his or her flesh is, well, smashed, to a significant extent. Pride will never disappear entirely; we just learn more quickly how to notice its ugly head rising and back off from the fight. That God-ordained pulverizing process moves us to admit that we’re not always right, that we don’t know everything, and that, yes, we really probably are jerks. We acknowledge that our hearts are hard, like Jesus said they were.

We confess that our sinful passions are at war within us, like James said they were. This is difficult, this admission of how sinful we are. Many years ago, a friend humorously told me that after he’d messed up (again) in his marriage, he told his wife, “I’m a sewer. I’m a cesspool.” I’ve used that line many times since. Sometimes that little bit of humor has helped me admit I’m wrong, move past my defense mechanisms, and put to rest the altercation, alleviating the tension.

Thus, after we have admitted that our hearts are hard and our sinful passions are at war within us, we can move on to the verses below, which pretty much sum up the New Testament’s advice on being married:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:22–33).

I’ve spent a lot of time in counseling rooms with troubled and angry couples, trying to help them reasonably work out their conflicts. I’ve concluded that much of what I did was mostly worthless. The primary problem in marriages is addressed in the verses above, and in one, overarching truth: It is the responsibility of both spouses to walk in a sacrificial life with Jesus. The man must go before the Lord, repent, and ask for help to love his wife, whether she deserves it or not from his point of view. The woman must go before the Lord, repent, and ask for help to respect her husband, whether he deserves it or not from her point of view. Both must forgive. It is impossible for a Christian to remove him/herself from that godly requirement. Both must put away anger (Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8), which Paul lists as a work of the flesh, along with several other odious sins, in Galatians 5:19-21.

I’ve learned that marriage counseling is about much more than solving marital problems or saving a marriage on the brink of disaster. It is about the individuals involved sacrificially giving up their lives to and for Jesus Christ. I am extremely grateful that the Lord has caused me to circle around to the simplicity of where my spiritual life began—with Him. I always thought that’s the way it should have been, but I mistakenly allowed myself to be swept up in a multitude of books and a wave of evangelical counselling techniques. Yes, there are tips and helps—learn how to “fight nice,” don’t use “You’re just like your Mom/Dad” statements, avoid using the words “always” and “never,” and, of course, the famous “I’m a sewer. I’m a cesspool” technique, among others—but the greatest truth is dying to your pride, selfishness, and anger, and asking for help in obeying the Lord’s truths that we must forgive, love, and respect. In the process, our sinful nature will take a hit, and we will become more mature believers.