More Than Friends: A Marriage Preparation and Relationship Deepening Resource
By Rev. Dr. Linda Yates, Project Team Leader
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up the other;
but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.
Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?
And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.
A threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NRSV)
The good news is that Canadians are still getting married and many remain so, despite the dire predictions of sociologists in the 1990’s. According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, 46.6% of the Canadian population over the age of fifteen were in a marriage and about one in five people in their late fifties were divorced or separated (21.6% of women and 18.9% of men), the highest among the age groups.[i]
When couples choose to get married, many of them still seek to be married within a church building or by a church official at another venue. Many couples, whether young or old, seek to be married in their “home” church, yet live far from their communities of origin, necessitating distance or Skype-type avenues of marriage preparation.
While the interpretation of the church’s role within the civil act of marriage has changed throughout the millennia, the church has always had a deep interest in strengthening the spiritual bonds between couples. A strong, healthy marriage provides an excellent foundation within which to raise children. Research would seem to indicate that marriage is also good for the mental, physical and financial health of married people.[ii]
Faith communities, through their volunteers and paid, accountable staff, endeavor to support couples as they begin this new journey in their lives. How this is provided varies widely in practice among churches and among ministry personnel.
For some faith communities, a couple of informal meetings with the minister is all that is required. For others, immersion in a multiple-week marriage preparation course is compulsory. Other communities may not require anything at all. Yet, current research would seem to indicate that marriage preparation courses are beneficial and contribute to longevity of marriages.
Well-constructed premarital education programs can have a significant effect on behaviors related to marital satisfaction (Carroll & Doherty, 2003; Reardon-Anderson, Stagner, Macomber, & Murray, 2005). A random survey of 3,000 households in Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, and Texas (Stanley, Amato, Johnson, & Markman, 2006) found that couples with premarital education experienced a 30% decline in the likelihood of divorce over five years.[iii]
In terms of a “well constructed” program, the resources available to United Church leaders are extremely limited. Many resources are heterosexual-assumptive and are at best, unsuitable, and, at worst, hurtful.
Several resources of a religious nature embody a conservative theology that will not have resonance in many churches. Many courses totally avoid the two areas that prove to be quicksand for marriages: sex and money. Although there is value in attending any preparatory course, almost all courses have a pedagogy that is not well supported by research. They tend, therefore, to focus on conflict management and communication techniques. As John Gottman reports, these are rarely helpful in terms of strengthening marriages or predicting which ones will succeed. [iv]
The 2003 UCC resource Passion and Freedom[v] made a valiant attempt at creating a resource that was relationship enhancing. However, the broad nature of the resource, which was meant to encompass all stages of a relationship (covenanted or not) from beginning to divorce/death, made it unwieldy and sometimes non-specific, to use as a marriage preparation resource.
Additionally, much research has been done in the intervening twelve years on what enhances married relationships. These need to be incorporated into a new resource.
Finally, it needs to be acknowledged that modern couples have little time or (increasingly) the attentiveness to work through heavy, print resources. Studies show that couples who did organized marriage preparation rated classes combined with self-directed learning most highly.[vi]
An inexpensive, flexible, adaptable, multiple-media-mode, engaging (and sometimes fun!), research-supported resource needs to be created that can assist couples and faith communities in this important work of marriage preparation. And it is important to design a format that could be deliverable with one couple, a dozen, in a church setting or via Skype.
We are pleased to offer More Than Friends.
[ii] Tara Parker-Pope. “Is Marriage Good for Your Health.” New York Times Magazine. April 14, 2010.
[iii] David Fornier and Joe D. Wilmoth. “Barriers to providing marriage preparation.” The Journal of Family and Community Ministries. 22, no. 4 (2009): 31.
[iv] John Gottman and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Harmon Books, 2015.
[v] The United Church Publishing House. Passion and Freedom: A Resource for Ministers and Lay Leaders, Toronto: 2003.
[vi] Stephen F. Duncan*, Geniel R. Childs andJeffry H. Larson. “Perceived Helpfulness of Four Different Types of Marriage Preparation.” Family Relations. Volume 59, Issue 5 (2010): 623-636.