In a previous blog, I offered a list of four blessings to be found through couples counseling other couples. This blog provides tips on how to make team counseling operate smoothly. If only we could ask Priscilla and Aquila for their advice! They are known for laboring together for Christ. But because we can’t ask them for tips, here are four suggestions based on years of co-counseling with my husband.[1]

1. Develop Your Teamwork Skills

Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” When co-counseling with your spouse or a staff member at your church, you want to take full advantage of the ideas and wisdom of that other person. First, involve them before meeting with the couple. Planning ahead leads to success (Prov. 21:5). This could include having a counselor’s meeting if she has previously been meeting alone with the wife of the other couple. You want to learn her insights and discover what material/verses have been covered in previous sessions. During the counseling session, become skilled at noticing the signals sent by the other counselor that indicate she has additional comments. Those could be: a slight motion to alert the speaker; an intake of breath before jumping in to talk; a Bible opened, ready to interject a verse. The co-counselors should not interrupt each other or over-talk (Prov. 18:2, 13). The speaker will learn how their partner communicates. After the counseling session, plan time to “debrief.” Find out what the other counselor noticed during the meeting. Ask about her impressions of the effectiveness of the counseling, her observations of the couple’s nonverbal communication, suggestions for the future, and if other verses should be covered in future meetings. Over time, your skills at working with each other will improve.

2. Encourage Your Reluctant Spouse to Help You When You Counsel Couples

Often only one-half of a ministry couple is involved in counseling others. Your spouse may need some prompting to join you. The Bible presents many verses to motivate us to counsel. One is Romans 15:14, which says, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Paul lists the qualifications needed in order to instruct someone else: plenty of goodness, which means the fruit of the Spirit is noticeable, and lots of knowledge, which means they have something to share with others. A spouse may not have extensive training or experience, but if they are spiritual and knowledgeable, they are “able to admonish.” Of course, more training is desirable, but believers have been helping others for centuries before specialized training was offered. We are called to bear one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:2. The quiet spouse of a counselor can bear burdens by offering sympathy and warm attention. The woman in Proverbs 31 “open[ed] her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness [was] on her tongue” (v. 26). She can share that wisdom and teaching with others. The presence of such a person enriches counseling sessions.

3. Work Out Any Conflict between Yourselves before Meeting with Another Couple

Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Because counseling is a ministry before the Lord, the counselor bears the responsibility to make sure there are no major unresolved issues with his or her spouse. It is hypocritical to tell others to obey the Lord while ignoring the same advice in your marriage. For that very reason, my husband and I discovered that couples counseling has helped us deal with our conflicts quickly (Eph. 4:26). Our need to reconcile before we meet with a couple has often been used by the Lord. More than once, our experience of working out a disagreement has helped a couple with a similar conflict. We walk them through the steps we took as an example of how the Lord can use His Word to work repentance, humility, and reconciliation.

4. Don’t Allow Team Counseling to Negatively Impact Your Marriage

Mark 6:34 says that Jesus had compassion on the people who followed Him “because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” The counseling couple can easily feel the need of so many hurting people. They can over-extend themselves and forget their need for rest. In the passage above, Jesus recognized that reality. After the apostles returned from ministry, “he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves” (Mark 6:30-32). Couples sometimes have the dynamic of a strong leader who pushes the spouse to do more and more ministry. It is easy to allow the mission to overwhelm the marriage. Counseling is emotionally and physically exhausting. Even if you have the capacity to carry a heavier load, don’t assume that your spouse can do the same. It is a good practice to periodically evaluate the priority of your marriage compared to your ministry. Plan times of rest and replenishment. This is a good habit anyway but is even more essential when including your spouse as a co-counselor.

It is a blessing to work in ministry alongside a spouse. We have the example of Priscilla and Aquila, who shared ministry and traveled together for the sake of the gospel. They both understood the Scriptures and were used as a couple to explain “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). These two took risks for Paul’s life and even hosted church meetings in their house (Rom. 16:3-5). Couples in our churches should be encouraged to work as a counseling team, where the Lord can greatly use them to fulfill their calling to serve the body of Christ.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How can you incorporate these ideas to include another person when you counsel couples?
  2. If you have a spouse who could help in your counseling ministry, how can you include them in the future?
  3. What areas need improvement in your marriage before you can include your spouse in counseling sessions?