Please Note: This dialogue represents an all-too-typical pastor’s marriage. Following the case verbatim is a counseling plan to reverse this situation.
Jon: Charles, for us to come to you is about the most difficult thing we have ever done. You hold a denominational office, but you are also my peer. We have the same educational background and we have been equally successful in the ministry. What made me willing to come is that we have seen something in your marriage (Mary and I agree) which we have not had for years and (tears run down his cheeks) we both desperately desire.
Charles: Jon, it took a lot of courage for you to come for counseling but exercising that courage also gives hope to you. One of the most difficult barriers to correction has been achieved–the physical step of admission.
Jon: The courage you speak of I relate to my congregation and other peers finding out that we have come for counseling. As for coming to you, that meant putting aside my pride. And for me, that was a big step.
Charles: Sounds like you’ve taken two steps toward correction. Mary, how do you feel about coming here?
Mary: I’ve wanted to come for a couple of years, but only recently pressed the issue.
Charles: Let me ask you a couple of specific questions, please.
1) When would you say that genuine companionship began to wane in your relationship?
2) Jon, can you give me an accurate honest average work schedule? (Make allowances for denominational committee work, Belhaven College Board, and the semester course you teach bi-annually).
3) When was the last family vacation you have taken? When was the last couple’s fun retreat you took?
4) When was the last time your mate did:
a) a fun thing for you or with you
b) gave you a gift without cause
c) was playful when you wanted to work and the attitude was able to convince you to be playful
d) suggested you shower or sit in the tub together
e) suggested you do for, or get for, the house something you have wanted?
5) How long has it been since “feeling loved” has been the characteristic of your relationship?
6) How much pressure are you under from financial considerations.
This is a truncated case study to introduce what I call a Zingless marriage. This ministry couple has lost their passion. They have lost their enjoyment of each other. They still choose to live together peaceably (and “arrange the furniture together”), but there is little feeling (passion) of love. While many couples experience this malady, I find it all too common among ministry servants. On one occasion my wife kept statistics on cases we saw while working in St Louis. She determined that 40% of the case load during that year was comprised of various ministry couples.
I have followed the instructions that Jesus gave to the church at Ephesus for revitalization of that church to foster rejuvenation in these marriages (Rev 2).
Remember what you have lost. We spend some considerable time working through their dating; engagement and early marriage determining what it was they did that generated passion for and towards one another.
Repent over what you have done that you should not have done [like making ministry priority over mate] or not done that you should have done [like planning and executing special events]. In this second step I have them sit down together and recount individually their responsibility for allowing these activities and relationship dynamics to deteriorate and then to ask forgiveness from the Lord and one another.
Revive what you did at first. Now I have them make a written plan to retrieve these loss dynamics over the next year of their lives. I include in these activities the reading of a book on the marriage (sometimes specific to their situation), attend a marriage seminar weekend and plan two three day fun weekends (one fall, one spring).
In addition upon dismissing them from regular counseling, I schedule a three or four month checkup and a one year checkup. This added accountability encourages the year long follow through.