Monday, November 12, 2007

The Marriage Course

Many years ago, we went to a CARE marriage event held at our church, designed to help couples grow in their relationship. It would be a gross exaggeration to say that it 'saved our marriage', it didn't as I am confident that we would still be here if it hadn't been. It did, however, mark a significant turning point and a milestone in our marriage as some of the relational skills we gained that day were the answer to some of our tension-causing blind spots.

And here is a tragic irony. We left our kids that day with a good friend who agreed to babysit so that we could go to the marriage event. As we dropped the kids off she told us that she was in more need of the course than us. Several years later her marriage ended.

We developed a growing conviction that as a church our effort was wasted when we only pronounced about the importance of marriage; and better spent actually supporting marriages! So we began to think and pray about how we might do that, when we came across "The Marriage Course". We did the course ourselves with some friends, and found it really helpful, on an emotional, practical and spiritual level. It contains all the things that we found so useful on that CARE course so many years ago, and loads more in depth stuff. So we asked the church leadership if they would like us to run it in the church - to which they agreed, and so we went down to London to the leaders training conference.

So six years after this process began, we have just completed hosting our first course and had the chance to review what we learnt the first time round.

Hosting the course was a tiring labour of love. It was great to have our place full of people every week, chatting laughing, eating, drinking, watching, talking and maybe praying. Thursday nights will seem very dull now that the course has finished!

Reviewing the course ourselves was hugely encouraging! On a marriage-course evening, although we watch the video together (which contains talks on subjects such as 'communication' of 'conflict resolution' etc) couples work through exercises together on the topic in complete privacy. So we reviewed what we had written in our course manuals a year ago, and were amazed at what a profound difference the course had made to us in a year!

There are I think five myths about The Marriage Course that we need to overcome in order to see it more successfully used in the church:

1) That it is for couples whose marriages are in difficulty. When we said that we were doing the marriage course, a common reaction was an uncomfortable look followed by, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that you're having problems". One professional marriage counsellor wrote to the people that run the marriage course saying to them that the course contains everything that a couple needed to know, five years before they end up coming for crisis marriage counselling! This is not primarily a marriage-rescue course, but a course designed for people who want to see their marriages thrive and grow. Research demonstrates that a generation ago how marriages fared was based largely upon how well the spouses fulfilled prescribed social roles. Now however, in a society in flux, the relational skills with which to manage change are a key element. The course is really for any married couple.

2) That it is a marriage-preparation course. No, it's not that either! The Marriage Course is designed for couples who are already married. There is a separate marriage-prep course that exists.

3) It is mostly for newly-weds. On the course we have just finished the youngest folk had been married a year, and the oldest almost four decades! We've met people who have done it in their retirement and really enjoyed it too.

4) That it is only for committed Christians. There is a Christian content to the course, and it is based upon underlying Christian principles and assumptions, however many non-Christian people have done the course and benefited from it. For instance there is a section on praying-together, but before couples split up for that part of the evening the introduction says, "but if for any reason you are not comfortable with that...... " and gives an alternative.

5) That there is group discussion and that you are compelled or invited to tell anyone else anything about your own marriage. This is absolutely not the case, but probably the hardest thing to convince people of! For some reason, people picture the marriage course as a group discussion-event in which there is an open-forum for airing your problems or triumphs in front of others; or worse still other people wanting to discuss their sex-lives in front of you! There is no group discussion, there is total privacy at all times, and there is neither the compulsion nor even the invitation to tell anyone else, anything at all! This is very hard to convince people of though!

Well, it looks as though we'll be running it again next year. However first of all we need to review what we have done, how we could improve it. One thing that has been great so far has been that when we said we were going to run it, some couples offered to help us with the logistics and prayer-support (without us even asking) and someone else has now offered to help us with the cooking next time!

The course seems to us intrinsically worthwhile. That it fills our house with all kinds of wonderful people, takes us a step closer to the sense of community that we aspire to, and the support we get from the church-fellowship, does the same. For us two, the fact that we work on it together as a couple as a joint project is in itself a new and much welcome part of our worship of God.

Other comment here.


doonhamer geordie said...

Mrs D and I did the marriage course a couple of years ago at one of the Newcastle churches - as you say - one of the best spent 6 evenings of our lives so far... no exaggeration.

Having finished, we felt we should run it at our church, but have never got round to it. I think we'll make the effort now - thanks for reminding us of just how worthwhile it is.

That Hideous Man said...


In which case, make a bee-line for the next training event for leaders in March 2008 in London.

We found it invaluable.

His Girl Friday said...

good to see the support of marriage anywhere, anytime!! :)

lynn said...

oooh I posted a long comment the day this post came out and I appeared to have not managed to actually post it (google-challenged that I am, probably got the letters mixed up)

Should I try again or have I missed the moment?

That Hideous Man said...

Hi Lynn,

Sorry I missed your comments - they didn't ever arrive here!

I'm sorry to hear that a 'long' post was missed b/c they take ages to re-type! If you have time I'd be interested to read your thoughts.

lynn said...

Hello again THM

I wrote in support of your post. I too went on the marriage course when my second bundle of joy was only 4 weeks old - and he got a lot out of it too :-)

Seriously, I now promote the course avidly in my current role as part of what I like to call "joined up church" where ministry/outreach/service to children and families compliments and builds and bolts on to other areas of ministry rather than competing for time and attendance. For example - we are fortunate to have a Christian preschool nursery but also a toddler group and a parenting course - I oversee or am involved in each one of these so I can publicise marriage course and then ultimately offer an alpha course in a daytime or teatime context to make things as accessible as possible for families to attend.

The final point I wanted to make - particularly valid for postmodern Britain! - is that you don't have to be married to go on the Marriage Course. At HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton, in London) many people come on the course who are in a long term relationship, perhaps raising children together. The principles shared on the course and the discussions that you have with your partner are helpful and fuitful whether you are actually married or not. No-one says on the course "you must be married" - and I feel this is a strength of the marriage course.
People come on it thinking Christians are going to judge them - and we don't. We have just loved welcoming people into the building to get the best out of their relationship and to accept people for who they are!

I love people, me!

That Hideous Man said...

Thanks, Lynn!

Anonymous said...

The course sounds fascinating. But I feel a bit crazy going to it... my husband and I have been married for 45 years!! I wanted to do the course long ago but he would not hear of it. He has mellowed with time, but really will people think we are mad. Is it possible for two people beginning retirement to get anything out of it?

That Hideous Man said...

Hi Anon! Thanks for your interesting comment and question. I can't answer it from personal experience (yet!), what I can say is that we have had retired couples come on the course with us here - and they have been some of the most enthusiastic promoters of it to their friends and contempories. They seemed to really enjoy it and really appreciated the privacy of the course and the total absence of group-discussion of any kind, ever.

In terms of course content, it is specifically written with all ages and stages of marriage in mind. The authors of the course (Nicky & Sila Lee) are grandparents now, and they include contributors on the DVDs from across the age-spectrum. The other thing to note is that some of the course content is of benefit to everyone, (stuff like learning to be a better listener, the importance of forgiveness etc), regardless of age/length of marriage; these are just good things to focus on. If anyone thinks you are mad - that's possibly their issue, not yours! The more people who do course like this, the more normal it becomes, and the more people can be encouraged.