Recently there have been a number of marriages that ended in divorce in my church. Some of the couples asked for help, but really far too late.
My question is, how do we help couples build their marriage before the problems take them out? How do we get couples to build in good marriage habits now? What kind of resources would entice y’all to take a class or read a book?
I think you hit the nail on the head in that it is much harder to get a couple back on the right path after problems, bitterness and pain have taken root.
There are multiple problems going on in my opinion that cause trouble for Christian marriages, not necessarily in any order:
#1 – They are doing marriage by the world’s ideas instead of God’s ideas, but the problem is that the world’s ideas don’t work. Many wives see themselves as being wholly independent from their husband and that does not draw them close to their husband, but rather gives them a different path, one that often goes away from their husband. How many times do we hear that they grew apart? Another way to look at that is that she went a different way than her husband. I’m not saying that a wife can’t have things she is into and does, she can, but those things should never be more important than her core job of being her husband’s help meet. There is something about a wife being loved that is critical and also something about a husband being respected that is critical. Any alteration of the order and roles that God says He wishes marriages to operate under puts a marriage at risk in my opinion. It may not expose itself at first, but life has a way of testing or wearing us down and exposing our weaknesses. It is tough for many couples so consumed with the worlds idea’s of equality to accept and live this, but I firmly that Christians should do marriage the Christian way. There is blessing and strength by honoring God to do it His way.
#2 – Sex. It needs to be happening, happening often, and happening freely. A couple needs to make a commitment to obey 1 Cor 7. Let this wane and all sorts of weaknesses open up in the marriage armor. The couple is literally not connected any more and it affects the physical, emotional, and spiritual. Let this become a bargaining chip or power play and it destroys what God meant to bind. The damage, risk, and weakness of not having a strong marriage bed is a killer of marriages.
#3 – They enter into marriage with the selfish idea that marriage is all about them getting everything they want. The idea that they need to put effort out for their spouse is maybe there, but certainly not the focus and much less important. Marriage requires thinking outside of ourselves and it requires being obedient to Him to guard against selfishness.
#4 – Often I think there is hardship transitioning from dating to engagement to marriage and that expectations are quite a bit different than reality. They both tried harder during the dating and engagement because the other might break it off, but then once married, they act differently because of less or no accountability. It is often at this early stage where there are trouble spots that boil over into serious problems, sin, and divorce later. This is one reason I think they should be consistent in the relationship during these 3 stages.
#5 – They don’t have divorce taken off the table. This isn’t to say that there are horrible situations where divorce is the only option, there are, but a couple should operate under the idea that they will be obedient to God and are fully committed to doing right with each other so that divorce is not an option for them.
#6 – Apathy and laziness. We just become creatures of habit and if we have bad lazy undisciplined habits, they solidify. Marriage is an investment, it is a commitment to doing what God says we should do. The bible even says it will not be easy! We should teach people it will take effort and not be easy!
I am not saying marriage enrichment isn’t a good thing, but I believe it’s easy to miss the heart of what’s truly life giving and life changing. It becomes too easy to slip into our own works and efforts.
If churches/believers would actually focus on Jesus and discipling others in His ways, His truth, His life, that’s what will change hearts and lives. That opens the door for the Holy Spirit to come in and convict. Not only will marriages find benefit and be changed, but so will individuals, families, cities and nations.
If a man or woman understands who they are in Christ and what Christ can and will do through them, they will be better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters in the family of God. And they will be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Yes, teach about what Scripture says about marriage, but it needs to be in the context of our relationship to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I think not enough couples are transparent… they (we) want everyone to think it’s all great at home while it’s actually falling apart. that’s the world and it’s pride. I think there aren’t enough older couples mentoring younger couples and I don’t think the topic of marriage comes from the pulpit enough, encouraging everything I just said.
For myself/our marriage, I would have loved some decent premarital counseling. Than, to have an older couple who we were both comfortable with, to be able to ask questions, etc.
How much to tell single folks before they are married, I don’t know. At that age, it seems its not all being absorbed anyway. We can prepare them, but if I think of us in our first several years, we wouldn’t have thought we needed any help!
Personally, we likely wouldn’t want a small group setting, unless we were super comfortablewith each one. I am all for having older couples mentor younger ones.
I have long felt that the foundation (whether solid or shaky) of marriages are planted at middle school age, right when kids are beginning to think about the opposite sex. Those first “cute” little puppy love relationships that everyone assumes will only last a week or two establish a pattern in a person’s life which just repeats and becomes more and more ingrained until they believe there is no other way. Often relationships begin on the assumption that it’s “just dating” but they somehow stay together and just keep staying together until suddenly it’s “time” to fish or cut bait and the kids know they are not right for each other, but they feel like they have invested too much to break up and start all over and so they get married when they shouldn’t…and history repeats itself.
I was given some good advice at about that age: never date anyone you wouldn’t marry.
As far as specific programs, it so happened that the year before we married, our church brought in Betty Charles from Abundant Living Ministries (based in PA) for a weekend marriage event. (Two days of talks and group exercise.) It was great and we learned a lot, not only from Betty but from the older members of the church who where there with their own experiences. It was very, very valuable for our marriage.
ETA: Sadly, Betty has since passed away, but Charles’ and her son John and his wife Sharon run the ministry now and maintain the same high caliber of ministry.
DW and I are wrestling with this very thing and we believe that God is leading us into this area for the last third of life and ministry. We’re looking at taking some formal and informal educational steps to better serve in counseling and coaching over the next 5 yrs and a partial transition out of my current role at some at some point. We have been blessed with people who we can vent and do life with…who’ve traveled this blended family road before us and our calling to serve is sure…but we also recognize that while we dated and got married rather quickly (12 months). Our dating process included a lot of premarital questions (a dating “game” I made up) and pre-engagement counseling BEFORE we got engaged and went any farther down that road.
Lori, I see these problems too. sds595 stated many of the problems and those plus some others are added with blended families. I believe there can & should be a multifaceted approach which should include: pulpit…premarital (inc. preengagement) counseling…small groups & special events centered around finances, sex, parenting, marriage, etc…formal & informal mentoring. The problems aren’t going away, they’re only gonna get messier as our culture continues its accelerated descent into sin.
We are in conversations with my lead pastor and fellow staff members about these issues and where God is leading. We also feel that we’ve got to start with special events to begin having some conversations and vision casting about what people would like and dream for in their marriage so they can see and admit the gap between dreams and reality so they’ll start looking/asking for help. There are some topics that are more difficult to talked about from the pulpit…ie-getting very specific on marital SEX. We talk about it through some Scriptures & God’s design but not like you’re gonna hear on SMR or THE NAKED MARRIAGE podcasts. That’s why I believe special events & groups can help bridge the gap till we figure out the how/when from the pulpit. We did a “family” series last Fall and one of the days was on healthy boundaries in relationships and we inserted 3 clips from Henry Cloud into the message time. It was incredible the how they spoke life and healing to parents, children and spouses.
Sounds like we are talking about a change in church culture. We need to hear about it from the pulpit. We need older couples to reach out to younger couples. We need to be more intentional about promoting gatherings that are marriage-friendly and build our spiritual walk.
And, certainly, we need to have premarital counseling available.
Does anyone know of a group or church that is doing this well?
I think one thing that can be done, is asking some of the more mature couples to present a testimony about their own marriage from time to time. No glossing over, or sugar coating, but baring everything. I think if people can see that they are not alone in their struggles, that the people they look up to have faced similar ones and overcome, that it can give courage and hope where it is lacking.
So many of the “experts” telling everyone how to do life, are actually quite young, and even I have been guilty of looking at them with a bit of skepticism. It doesn’t mean I discredit them entirely, just that I ask myself if what they profess would stand up to a real difficulty.
Small groups are another amazing resource, but they need to develop naturally. The church I attend tries to “connect” people, but I think they miss the simple truth that there needs to be a time of building, where the group grows close and learns to trust. The group I belong to is fairly small by the standards set, but we truly do life together. We share a meal as a habit almost weekly, and often eat holiday meals together. Everyone also keeps an eye out for others to bring into our group, and many have come for a while, and then drift off. The point is that we are family and share in each others joys, and burdens. Mostly, we just encourage each other in everything. We have invited a few troubled couples into our circle as well.
There are any number of approaches that might help, but the ones that do the most good involve being invested in the wellbeing of another enough to be vulnerable about your own struggles.