Working Upriver (Image Vol 12 No 4 – July/Aug 1996

By Matt Dabbs

By Joe Beam

“Six out of ten,” he stated emphatically watching carefully for my reaction. I surprised him by giving a casual nod of assent.

“You accept that figure?”

“Yes, Dr. Harley. I don’t own three counseling clinics and have never done empirical studies like you have, but the stories I hear as I travel the nation back up your statistics.”

Dr. Willard Harley, author of best-selling His-Needs, Her Needs, was explaining to me how he came to write the book. He began his explanation with the question, “Joe, do you know how many marriages are affected by affairs?” Without waiting for my reply, he continued, “Six out of ten.” Later he added, “It’s not just people in the world who are affected. Experience in our clinics tells us that six out of ten Christian marriages will at some point involve a third person.”

Before you discount that, ask yourself how many Christian marriages you can name where a mate became involved in with another person. And those are just the ones we know about! It happens. But it doesn’t have to. Here are three thoughts to help you prevent these affairs from occurring in your church.

It Can Happen to Anyone

All of us are sinners (Rom. 3:10). Put in the right place at the right time with the right circumstances, any of us may do the wrong thing.

I vividly recall the elder who scowled that he would never understand how anyone could commit adultery. Three years later he sighed helplessly, “If I have to go to hell to have her, I will pay that price.”

Being an elder, minister, deacon, elder’s wife, minister’s wife, Bible class teacher, Christian college president, or internationally known evangelist doesn’t preclude a person from this or any other sin. I’ve personally helped churches across America make decisions and take actions to help them through the crisis when some church leader’s adultery took them by surprise. If it happens among our leaders, you know it happens among the membership! It shocks me that elderships are so shocked when they discover major marital discord in the marriages of their members.

Rather than despairing at these sad revelations, we should acknowledge Satan’s attack on marriages and proactively work to strengthen every marriage in our congregations! Quit thinking it can’t happen in your church. Buying that lie leads a church to inaction, giving Satanic forces time to carefully plan their seductions. Starting with our own marriages, church leaders should do what needs to be done to strengthen every Christian’s home.

Couples Need a Good Marriage System

Dr. Harley discovered that the divorce rates for couples who came for counseling in hi clinics and couples who never sought help at all were the same. “We finally admitted that the things they taught us in graduate school just didn’t work in saving marriages. That led me to find a system that does work – a system where each fulfills the other’s most important emotional needs. Getting couples to do that revolutionized our success in strengthening and saving marriages.

While courting, a couple will spend as much as fifteen hours together each week. With that much interaction, they inadvertently fulfill each other’s emotional needs. Since most married couples don’t pend that many hours with just each other they don’t inadvertently fulfill their mate’s needs. In marriage, fulfilling each other’s most important emotional needs take conscientious effort.

In the last year, over 1,500 couples completed the eight-week course I developed around Dr. Harley’s three books, His Needs, Her Needs; Love Busters; and 5 Steps to Romantic Love. These couples proved Harley right about four key points.

  1. Most couples aren’t fulfilling each other’s most important emotional needs, thus providing Satanic forces the crack in the spiritual armor they need to introduce powerful temptations. Satan’s strategy for destroying marriage usually keys on this lack of fulfillment.
  2. Most people don’t know or understand their spouses’ most important emotional needs. They simply don’t know how to fulfill each other.
  3. Unfulfilled spouses feel frustration because they can’t make their mate understand what they need emotionally. Frustration escalates into conflict. When that conflict has no satisfactory solution it often leads to the unfilfilled mate to emotionally withdraw from his or her spouse. Satan targets spouses who are emotionally withdrawn for temptation to adultery or divorce.
  4. When couples understand each other’s emotional needs and conscientiously fulfill them, their marriages reach new and wonderful levels of intimacy.

What do these four things tell a church?

These findings alert churches to the very real dangers that threaten couples who don’t understand each other’s needs and affirm that there is hope for crumbling marriages and that there are solutions through understanding each other’s emotional needs.

Teaching expository classes or preaching sermons on the sin of adultery will not solve the problem. People have to learn how to love each other at home (Titus 2:4), and that requires more than lectures. While Christian counseling is essential, it shouldn’t be the primary tool your church uses to bless families. Dr. Carl Breechen says that counseling couples already in trouble is “under-the-waterfall work.” It’s hard to save someone by trying to catch them as they come over the waterfall. We need to start before one or both mates go into withdrawal. We have to work upriver.

You can begin by training couples to fulfill each other. Teach them with classes led by older men and women whose marriages prove their understanding of what it takes to make a marriage work. Make sure these older Christians do more than just lecture. Through interaction and personal attention, they should guide couples into actively fulfilling each other. Powerful tools exist to help them do this.

Teach couples through family ministers, Christian counselors, or therapists. Teach them through motivated couples you send for training so they can come back and train others.

Just as a couple must make conscious efforts to make their marriage work, churches must make conscious efforts to train people for success in Christian marriage.

Weekend Seminars are not the Answer

Dr. Harley decided to work with Family Dynamics in strengthening families because of our time-lapse approach to working with couples. Weekend seminars that rely primarily on lectures give a lot of information and temporary motivation, but they have little lasting effect on marriages. Weekend marriage seminars that use a great deal of interaction and introspection open the door to many sensitive areas and then blithely send the couples home to work it out by themselves. Rather than getting better, their marriages often deteriorate from their increased frustration.

Churches should learn from that. Relationships aren’t built in a weekend, neither are they repaired in a weekend. Quit hoping for the quick cure, and take time in your church to do the work that needs to be done to bless and strengthen marriages.

We have great speakers in our brotherhood who say powerful things to propel couples into wanting to work on their marriages. The next time you have such a speaker in, have trained couples ready to begin classes immediately. Prepare interactive classes that last several weeks and that guide and adequately support couples as they learn to love and fulfill each other.

We who are shepherds in the Lord’s body must make it a top priority to do what needs to be done to save marriages.

Family Dynamics Institute is a nonprofit organization with much success in “upriver work,” and we’re willing to help. Call 1-800-650-9995.

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of


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