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.