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The Horrible, Horrible Marriage Counseling Session

April 3, 2014

We have zoned in on Paul’s letters to the Corinthians this week.  Wow, what a mess at the outset.  The early church needed a lot of shoring up:  divisiveness in chapter 1, perversity in chapter 5, lawsuits in chapter 6, disruption of communion in chapter 11, confusion about tongues in chapter 12.  Paul’s working at it, though – he’s not going to give up on these believers.  In his letter he reaches into the heart of the matter and lays out the Godly behavior for all actions of the believer in the very next chapter.

Chaper 13 is known universally as the Love Chapter, which is an example of Christ’s love for us.  What a great passage!  “Agape love is all over this chapter,” I said, gesturing to the Power Point screen. “Among all of the Koine Greek words for ‘love’, this tops the charts.”

McKenna raised her hand.  “What’s the difference between phileo love and agape1bbb love?”

Phileo love is a powerful love, for sure – it’s a deep friendship, a loyal love,” I replied.  “But agape love, now that’s absolutely nuclear in its power.  It’s a love that goes beyond emotion.  It’s a love of commitment, of sacrifice.”

“Like between husband and wife?” asked Lauren.  Like in marriage vows?”

I nodded.  “Yes, ma’am, good example.  A groom and bride give vows of commitment – a good example of how agape love should be followed.”

“Yet,” said Riley, “numerous couples break those vows. So they didn’t have agape love to begin with?”

“That’s not for me to say, Riley,” I answered.  “I don’t know their attitude and their affection at the time of the wedding.  Perhaps they really meant those vows with all of their heart.  Somehow, somewhere along the line they just gave up on fulfilling that lifelong commitment.”

“You’re ordained, Dr. Zockoll,” said Jeremiah.  “Have you ever given marriage counseling?  I don’t mean pre-marital counseling, but the kind where a couple has had problems.  You know, like you were helping them out?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Over the years I have had counseling sessions for folks who were having difficulties.”

“Well,” said Jeremiah, leaning forward.  “What was the worst situation you were ever involved in?”

I breathed in and sighed.  It wasn’t hard at all for me to recall the worst.

“It was about fifteen or sixteen years ago,” I said.  “A couple in their mid-twenties – I’ll call them Rick and Tina.  I received a phone call from them when I was in a local church ministry, and they were asking if they could come over to my office and let me counsel them.  They both claimed to be Christians, but they were at the breaking point in their relationship. Both admitted on the phone that they were at their limit – in fact, they were already separated, for at least a month now.”

The students shook their heads.

“Even worse,” I said, “was that they had two little children.”

I moved to the center of the room and continued.

“Rick and Tina came into my office, pushed their chairs as far away from each other as they could and went at it, loud and emotional.  Not screaming, but getting pretty close to it at times. I listened, gave counsel, and even refereed at times.  This went on for at least ninety minutes, with the session ranging between quiet discourse and bitter accusations – but nothing really had substance, no matter how I tried to bring the problem to the light.”

“Tina would shake her head and tell me ‘He’s not an idiot.  He almost made it in professional baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers.  He was one step away from them, playing in minor league ball.  He’s smart, and he’s alert.  But this…’ Her voice trailed off.”

“I looked at Tina. ‘Do you love him?’ I asked.  ‘Yes,’ she answered immediately.

‘Do you want to go back home?’ I asked.  She didn’t hesitate.  ‘Yes, I do.’

“I turned to Rick.  ‘Do you love her?’ I asked.  He nodded.  ‘Yes, I do.’

‘Do you want her back?’ I asked.  He nodded again.

‘Then what is the problem?’ I asked.  ‘The main thing, now, Rick.  The main thing. What is the very thing that is splitting this up, sir?’

He leaned forward and set his jaw.  Glancing at her, he gestured.

‘Every night, Brad, after we have dinner, there are the dirty plates, you know? We finish dinner, and those plates are all over the dinner table.’

He pointed at her.  ‘She’ll pick them up and put them in the sink.’

He looked at me for five seconds with out speaking.

‘And you know?  She’ll let them sit there.  Won’t wash them right away.  She’ll let them sit there, sometimes for an hour!  I’ve told her that she’s got to wash them right away, because there’s dirty food on those plates.  Will she do it?  No!  She’ll let them sit, sometimes for an hour!” He nodded at sat back.

I blinked.

I was waiting for something else.

There was nothing else. He sat back, triumphantly.

‘You mean to tell me,’ I said slowly. ‘That this break-up is mainly because you cannot stand dirty dishes in the sink?’

Both of them nodded.

I sat for a moment, collecting my thoughts.

‘Now you said you loved her, right, Rick?’ I asked,  He nodded and glanced her way.

‘And you said you loved him and you were willing to come back. Right, Tina?’  She nodded.

‘Well then, Rick,’ I said carefully, ‘let me ask you a simple question that might bring this whole afternoon to a conclusion:  For the sake of bringing Tina back home and being a wife to you and a mother to your children, don’t you think you could put up with a few dirty dishes in the sink for an hour?’

The room grew quiet.

For ten seconds he didn’t give an answer.  Then he replied.

‘No,’ he said as he shook his head.

‘No, I couldn’t.’

Tina looked at the floor and slowly got up.  She walked to the door and opened it without ever looking back.  She closed the door and left.

I sat there stunned, looking at him.

He shrugged.  ‘That’s just the way I am.’

I never saw Tina again.  They were divorced within the next month.”


“And that,” I said to the stunned students, “was – and still is – the worst marital counseling session of my whole ministry.”


Love does not keep a record of wrongs. 

Love never fails.



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  1. Tell the idiot to wash the dishes himself!!

    • Mary, I think I was working toward that when Tina walked out. After he realized she left, everything fell apart.

    • Becky P. permalink

      I have to admit that “wash them yourself, guy” was my immediate reaction to his objection to dirty dishes in the sink. If dirty dishes in the sink evoked such a reaction by him, I’d be pretty sure that there would be other issues unless she was as equally OCD as he apparently was. Since he didn’t offer to wash the dishes himself I think probably didn’t really love her as much as he claimed to–at least not as much the Bible tells the husband to love the wife–“as he loves himself.”

      I read one blog where the guy wanted his wife to bleach down the kitchen every night before heading to bed. !!! They got divorced–the daily bleaching of the kitchen showed just a tiny bit of his personality. She couldn’t handle it.

      • Becky, you are right. If these couples would apply agape love, we wouldn’t see such odd issues as this.

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