We spend a lot of time thinking about our weddings. We think about the flowers, the dress, the invitations, the food and even the favors (and rightfully so!), but how much thought do we give to our marriage? The whole “till death do us part” or “as long as we both shall live” part of the experience? After all, a wedding is one day, but a marriage is a lifetime. I am the first to say that a wedding day is incredibly important, but with an astounding 86% divorce rate in Spokane, it’s obvious that what engaged couples need more than anything, is preparation for the lifelong commitment they are about to make. To break it down that means that for every 100 marriage certificates, there were a whopping 86 divorces. I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer here, but that stat is scary. I know every couple is different, but no matter who we are or where we find ourselves in our relationships, we should all take heed of a number like that. Not so it can predict our doom, but so it can help us be on guard.
Photo by Connie Riggio Photography
There are many pre-marriage courses in the Spokane area, but one of the more unique programs is Prepare-Enrich at Mosaic Church in Spokane. In this program, couples are paired with married couples to help them assess their relationship and get ready. I interviewed Pastor John Repsold of Mosaic Church to get his thoughts on the struggles facing couples, ways to prevent them and the terrifying 86% divorce rate.
What is the divorce rate in the Spokane area?
“According to the County Clerk and the local Superior Court, in 2009 there were 2,416 marriage licenses granted in Spokane County and 2,074 divorce decrees. That’s a “divorce rate” of 86% on a year-to-year basis.”
1.) What is/are the purpose(s)/reasons of/for marriage? What does marriage provide that simply living together doesn’t.
2.) Expectations…. about a host of things–from in-laws to money to sex.
3.) Finances: values, attitudes, budgeting, debt, etc. This is one of the top 3 reasons couples divorce.
4.) Communication: how to “fight fair,” levels of communication, best practices of communication, etc.
5.) Conflict resolution
Where do I begin?
- A no-to-low-commitment culture that affects how hard couples are willing to work when (not “if”) they encounter marital challenges.
- Idealized and romanticized expectations in the culture about what marriage can deliver and is meant to do. I’m the first to say marriage is the greatest thing in the world (next to God), but it is also one of the most difficult and growth-inducing things you can ever do.
- Relational and emotional closeness/distance. There are more things than ever pulling at couples to fragment their time and energies away from their marriage. Lots of couples are simply drifting apart because they are giving so much time, energy, money, etc. to everything but their marriage.
- Really learning to love–to do what is in the best interest of your partner, especially when it costs you personally. This often requires that you put your pride aside, live selflessly, postpone your preference or desire in order to give to them what they need (not always the same as “want”).
Honestly, I don’t try and keep couples from struggles. I try and make them aware of the resources that exist for WHEN they have challenges. A marriage with no challenges is like someone who never exercises–they are usually overweight, don’t take care of themselves, flabby and in poor health. It’s exercise (resistance) that makes us healthier. In marriage it is challenges that grow us up and make us better people, better spouses. So struggles aren’t bad in my book. It’s all about how you respond to them and what you do with them. Secondly, we need to get rid of this idea that a good marriage is a trouble/struggle-free marriage.
It is realistic to say, “It’s not a matter of IF you will have big marital challenges but WHEN. Have a plan of what you will do, who you will talk with, where you will go for counsel and advice WHEN your marriage gets hard. Conflict is neither good nor bad, it just is. What we do with it can be good or bad.
That said, here are a few things every couple, pre-marital or in marriage should be doing:
- Make marriage-building a regular priority for them. Set aside regular time each day or week to communicate face-to-face without other interruptions. Spend a little money each month on your marriage. After all, we spend hundreds of dollars on our cars every month (gas, maintenance, upkeep, insurance, parking fees, etc.). Marriages are far more important than anything like a car…even a Lamborghini! Most marriages spend less on their marriage than they do on an oil change.
- Don’t try and “go it alone.” There are tremendous marriage resources out there in good books, seminars, conferences, groups, churches, etc. Just because you can’t figure a marriage issue out doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer for you somewhere. Too many people just give up too soon rather than run out of resources.
- Do the hard work of making marriage work. That means that couples must approach marriage as a dance in which they are going to learn new moves and steps all the way along. That requires change…which requires that each person change (hopefully for the better).
Marriage was never intended to be simply a duet; it was meant to be a trio…between a husband, a wife and God. (You might expect that answer from a pastor, right? ) But having counseled hundreds of couples and worked with dozens of about-to-be-married couples, I really believe this. Even the sociological data backs this up. Couples who pray together, go to church together and share a relationship with God in common have a much higher rate of marital satisfaction and lower rate of divorce. I believe that is because if each spouse in a marriage feels responsible to God for their life and behavior, it changes and shapes the way they relate with each other. It also gives them a source of support and help they would not otherwise have. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of great marriages where neither partner has a God-relationship. But people tend to become like the gods they serve. If your god is money, you will become cold, hard, greedy, etc. But if the god you serve is loving, self-sacrificing, patient, kind, generous, etc., you will tend to become that yourself. That is also why I believe a genuinely Christ-centered marriage has the greatest potential to be a great marriage. Marriage was God’s idea in the first place. He knows what makes it work best. Why not consult Him about how to make it successful?
What is Prepare Enrich?
Prepare/Enrich is a relationship inventory that is put out by an organization called Life Innovations. Life Innovations began in 1980 as a result of several research projects at the University of Minnesota in which Dr. David Olson developed a set of inventories for couples. Because of the demand for the inventories, Dr. Olson formed PREPARE/ENRICH (now called Life Innovations) to provide these helpful tools to counselors, clergy members, mentors and other marriage educators. They have trained over 100,000 PREPARE/ENRICH Facilitators in the U.S., and have international offices around the world. Over 3 million couples have completed one of the couple inventories world-wide. If you want more information, go to their web site at www.prepare-enrich.com.
Prepare/Enrich is actually not so much a program as a relationship inventory that takes sort of a “snap-shot” of a couple’s relationship. It measures their relationship in a number of different areas and ways. For me as a marriage mentor, it helps me spot the areas that need more attention in a host of different issues about their relationship. It provides me the info needed not to waste their time or mine looking for the possible weaknesses or conflict areas in their relationship. It enables me to hone in on things that will hopefully be of most value to couples as they start this new chapter of life in marriage. It is definitely a personalized approach to each couple.
A couple other pre-marriage courses or classes which were recommended to me are:
Know of another one? Leave a comment and let us know!