How is it that one approaches issues of spirituality in marriage counseling sessions? Are these questions not best handled by a minister, priest, or religious elder? Perhaps. Perhaps, when the topic is a theological or doctrinal question.

But my focus develops a communication process for a couple that not only brings clarity, but also a communication style that reflects their stated religious or spiritual beliefs. This is only a first step in a process that the couple will return to periodically during their partnership.

First, I want each individual to share what he/she remembers about their spiritual training as a youngster. What do you remember about what your church, your parents, or your grandparents taught you about religion, or spirituality in your growing up.? What was it that you were taught as a child?

What was your church or synagogue, or temple experience?

How have you modified some of those original beliefs as you have grown and have had new experiences? What part of your original teachings do you still carry or that bring you comfort in difficult times? What experiences and relationships have helped you rethink and reshape your own beliefs? Are there events, specific events that have had a major impact upon shifting your notions of spirituality?

Do you currently have any spiritual or religious practices, either weekly, or daily? How much are your religious or spiritual teachings of part of your daily thought life, or a part of your daily decision-making.?

How easy is it for you to express to your partner what your spiritual or religious views are? What is most central and most important to you?

How well do you believe that you understand your partner views and what is most central to them? What is your understanding as to the differences and the areas of agreement the two of you have on your views of religion or spirituality?

At this early point in the process, I am not stressing agreement or compromises; just a clarity of understanding.

Secondly, I want to know how much the couple’s views overlap, and how much is separate. How much emotion is attached to these differences? How much does each of them desire to find that common ground? Can the each focus on what is the common ground? Or are they fixated on the differences?

Does their approach to this discussion, how each of them conducts themselves, reflect their stated spiritual beliefs? How compassionate can they each be when it comes to tolerating differences?

And, most importantly, how much is the quality of compassion a part of their daily thought life?

Developing this dialogue process, helping each of the partners to describe the nature of their internal beliefs gives the couple a way of connecting during critical crisis moments in the years to come as they face unexpected events or experiences.

That is what makes this issue important part of marriage counseling sessions.

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