Help for Marriages

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Something is happening this summer, something that I’m very excited about. In an effort to better support and encourage vibrant, healthy marriages, our church is launching a Marriage Support ministry, built around the idea that good marriages don’t just happen, but benefit from having the right tools, working hard, and leaning on the strength and wisdom of others.

The centerpiece of this fledgling ministry will be marriage support groups, small groups of four or five couples that will meet together monthly to discuss marriage-related topics and to get counsel and encouragement for struggles they are experiencing. My hope is that members of these groups, over time, will grow closer to each other through this sharing, providing a safe and therapeutic atmosphere in which each couple can feel comfortable not only reaching out for help before problems balloon into crises, but offering up their own experiences for the benefit of other couples facing obstacles that they have already conquered.

I got the idea from a Gary Smalley book, Making Love Last Forever, in which he described a small group of reliable, lifelong friends to which he and his wife would turn for a listening ear and godly advice when a problem cropped up in their marriage that was too big for them to work out on their own. “What if”, I wondered, “everyone had such a resource available to them?”

In the Bible, we’re told over and over again to lean on each other, to teach each other, to encourage each other. It says we are to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received” and “carry each other’s burdens.” Doesn’t this also apply to our marriages? At some point, we all need to ask for help. Instead, most couples experiencing difficulties in their marriages react in just the opposite way: they circle the wagons; they pull away from intimate friends; they turn inward, putting up a mask that says “everything’s hunky dory, thanks very much,” while inside their private world, fortresses are collapsing, bombs are exploding, and the bond that holds them together is eroding a little more every day. Finally, the last cord breaks and their divorce is announced, shocking everyone around them and causing a waterfall of comments like “They seemed so happy together!” and “I didn’t know anything was wrong.”

We live in a mind-your-own-business culture, but we are designed to live in relationship with one another.

So why bring this up on my blog? Well, I could use your help in a couple of ways. First, please pray for the effectiveness of this ministry, and for those who are involved to have open hearts. This isn’t just a place for those whose marriages are already on the rocks. Every marriage goes through peaks and valleys, and every couple has something to teach as well as something to learn. Second, I would love to hear your ideas. If you were going to be a part of a group like this, what topics would you want to cover?

The groups will be discussion-oriented, and I’m in the process of writing discussion guides that will serve as a loose structure for meetings. Here are the topics we’ve already come up with. What would you add?:

*The God-Centered Marriage—How to Be True Spiritual Partners

*Fighting Fair—Healthy Handling of Conflict

*Are You Listening?—Clear Communication Skills

*B.F.F.—Maintaining Friendship in Marriage

*Beyond Flowers and Candy—Keeping Romance Alive

*Mutual Submission—What Does It Look Like?

*Bliss in the Bedroom—God’s Purposes for Sex

*You and No Other—Affair-Proofing Your Marriage

*Healing the Wounds—Forgiveness and Restoration After Past Hurts

*Looking Ahead—Creating a Family Mission Statement

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18 responses »

  1. From experience, something on dealing with depression in marriage would be my recommendation. It can kill a relationship faster than just about anything else, and cause problems in allot of the areas you’re already discussing. After allot of heartache, reaching out for medical help can be a huge blessing – there’s nothing wrong with medicine when it’s necessary. But, so many times we think we can conquer our demons ourselves and get too prideful to seek the professional help we need! Michael & I have lots of experience in this area…it was almost the end of us!

    God bless your new adventure and may the enemy stay far, far away from you guys! I’ll definitely be praying 🙂

  2. How about a session on handling disease and death and grief? These are tough issues that impact everyone eventually and that are better handled if there’s been some conversation between spouses before the crisis.

  3. Two of the things that couples fight about the most are finances and raising children. These topics might be good to discuss. (Although the topic of raising children could be a class on it’s own.)

  4. Siver Valley Girl is off in Washington, D.C. with her daugther for the history competition. She will be a great source for you. I will drop her an email. It sounds like a good idea. At our church we used The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

  5. Sounds like a great project. You should check out Al Turtle’s blog (linked off DFO’s as Al Turtle’s Wisdom). I think a lot of the information on there is very helpful in marriage or any relationships. Especially the info on the Lizard and the icebergs.

  6. These are great suggestions! Thank you! It’s so helpful to draw on others’ experiences, since each marriage is different and faces unique obstacles in unique ways.

    Inland Empire Girl–I love that book! Paul and I learned a lot from it, and it will definitely be source material for the topics of communication and romance. We’re developing a pretty extensive library of relationship-related books for couples to use in addition to the groups.

  7. I love this idea, Katrina. And it’s so very true. I could sure use a support group right about now, but on the topic of divorce (specifically a gay ex) but that’s a whole ‘nother post! (and a book, I’m sure.)

    It does seem as though we don’t really talk about what REALLY matters to us, don’t we? I mean, my sister is my best friend, but I rarely if ever discuss marital anything with her. When I was leaving my husband, I know that I wasn’t able to even articulate to my family WHY for a very long time. They all thought I was crazy.

    It’s great that you’re doing this. It will be helpful to so many people. Keep us posted on it!

  8. A topic that should also be discussed is sex. I know..a taboo to discuss outside the bedroom. Women and men need to know that there is more than the missionary out there and that bringing in a little extra (toys and what not) is not bad!

    Another side of the topic is lack of desire. Some moms and maybe even dads are so tired and stressed that the desire levels go down. This creates a huge problem for many people…I’m one of them!

    A website that was pointed out to me recently is http://www.themarriagebed.com/ Very clean and safe. Discusses many topics.

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone by this comment.

    ~Amy Lu

  9. Katrina, what a fabulous idea! I was going to recommend the finances idea, but someone beat me to it.

    I hadn’t thought about how people tend to put on that face and pretend everything’s fine. So true. My family and I grew up having to do that to hide how my mom was.

    Maybe you can do a session on children — and how you shouldn’t fight around them. My mother always used words as weapons. She was a yeller, which meant my brother and I heard them and were hurt by them too. I saw once on Dr. Phil that after you say the word “divorce” in your marriage, it’s never the same. I can believe that. My mom threw that word around with my dad every time they fought.

    I’ve told K I don’t ever want to say that to each other. I’ve heard other couples joke about breaking off their engagement (“Give me back that ring!”), and it’s clear it’s a joke, but I don’t even want that to become acceptable with us.

    Maybe that’s a topic there … And maybe you could have classes geared toward younger couples who are just starting off.

    But really great idea.

  10. An excellent idea!!

    I second (third?) the finances idea. Couples can be intimate on a million different levels but then they hide their finances from each other. It just doesn’t make sense! I know money is a touchy subject, but if you’re not comfortable discussing it with the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with, then who CAN you be comfortable discussing it with?

    Also, I always think it’s really important to discuss expectations. This wouldn’t necessarily be a topic on it’s own – but could be discussed in every session. I think far too often, we tend to have expectations of our partner that we never communicate. Then, when they fail to meet those expectations we feel hurt or dissapointed. Communication is key!

  11. I love all the ideas. What a wonderful gift this will be to your commmunity!!

    And since it’s my own little soap box, I’ll add mine: how to be a couple and reach out to singles.

    As a single woman, I have at least three married women who are able to balance their families and a friendship with me: me who doesn’t have a husband to talk to their husband, who doesn’t have children to play with theirs, who understands little of the sacrifice of marriage. We stumble at giving each other advice, since they have never been single at 35 and I have never been married at 35.

    I am forever grateful to these women, and hope that if/when I’m on the other side of the ring, I can pass it on.

    on a completely diffrent note, who writes these vws? mine is at least as long as the alphabet itself…

  12. How to not lose yourself while giving of yourself to your spouse and children.

    How to support one another’s continued spiritual journey. It is a journey that never ends but requires love and understanding because it isn’t always a smooth path to follow.

    LOVE the idea. And it would be wonderful if you could bring these teachings to your wonderful web of friends 🙂

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You all are just a treasure chest of thoughtful insights! I will definitely be adding these ideas to the discussion guides; I only wish more of you lived close and could come lend your experience and thoughts to our groups.

    Amy–We do also have a divorce care ministry that meets regularly, and I know those women and men are a great help to each other. You’re right–the most important things we have to share often go unsaid!

    Amy Lu–That is a great site! Thanks for sharing the link. Sex is wonderful and I definitely think we don’t talk about it enough. After all, God invented it, and it’s a gift, valuable for far more than simply producing little people. 🙂

    Brilliant–You’re so right; the “D word” changes everything, and Paul and I share your resolve never to let it darken our doorway. I’m hoping that lots of those “just starting out” couples will join our groups. My vision is that each group will have not only newlyweds, but couples who have been married for thirty or forty or more years and couples like us who are in between. I think there’s so much we can all learn from each other.

    Courtney–Expectations! You’ve put your finger on a huge issue. Unspoken expectations can do a lot of damage; I applaud your determination to get those out there in the open!

    Sarah Louise–Thanks for the view from your soapbox…lol! I wholeheartedly agree. Friendships with those who aren’t in our exact same life situation can be so enriching and valuable. I see that with my sister, who is one of the most fun and amazing people I know. She helps me get my head out of the wife and mommy cloud sometimes and just enjoy who I am underneath all that.

    Jenn–Great points! It IS really hard to balance “becoming one” with being uniquely yourself. And being spiritual partners requires a great degree of flexibility and understanding, because you won’t always be on the same part of the path at the same time, even when you’re moving in the same direction. Thanks for your thoughts!

  14. I would recommend 1) pornography, 2) leaving and cleaving, and 3) personalities (look up author Tim LaHaye). Also study the five different love languages.

  15. Thanks, Anon! I think those are all very pertinent subjects. The men in our congregation are actually just beginning a whole class series on pornography, and I think we’re only just starting to scratch the surface as we investigate the harm it causes to marriages and individuals. It seems like I’ve read something by Tim LaHaye before–I’ll have to do some digging and see what he might have written that would be good for our resource library! Thanks!

  16. i loved your post. great ideas. my husband and i have been married for 1 1/2 yrs. before we were married our pastor suggested we meet with married couples, have dinner, and ask them the hard questions. it was a great time for us- he suggested we cont. to do that throughout our marrigage (biblical community).

    also a great book we read was “sacred marriage.” thanks for what you are doing in north idaho.

  17. While “finances” can be vague. I highly recommend a discussion that includes why it’s important to “combine” the incomes – a process that is very rare in this society and one that talks about having common goals – that have been discussed and agreed on by both husband and wife – reference Dave Ramsey if looking for a biblical teacher on this topic.

  18. Katrina,

    Did you ever do a post on your topic of Mutual Submission? You have such wonderful insight and I wondered if you’d ever discussed this one on your blog. Let me know.

    Hi, Amy! No, our group hasn’t done mutual submission yet, but I’m sure it will be coming up in the next few months. Our most recent meeting was about cultivating a Spirit-filled family life. 🙂

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