Focus on the Family

Mentoring 101

by Focus on the Family

Just as an athlete performs his best in front of enthusiastic fans, your marriage can be its best when surrounded by folks who want to see you succeed.

At Focus on the Family, we encourage couples to cultivate a community of support to cheer them on in their marriage. Such a supportive "community" can be found in strong family relationships, in friendships and even in formal counseling settings. Mentoring — or more specifically, marriage mentoring — is another excellent way to strengthen your marriage through community.

Whether you're interested in finding a mentor or becoming one yourself, this collection of articles is for you.


Marriage Mentoring

Make the most of your marital journey by gleaning wisdom from others who've been down the road you're on.

by Les Parrott, Leslie Parrott

Tom and Wendy were the typical newly married couple. In their mid-20s, they had dated for nearly two years before getting engaged. They had the blessing of their parents, attended premarital counseling, and were on their way to living happily ever after -- or so everyone thought.

But marriage for Tom and Wendy, like the majority of newlyweds, wasn't all they hoped for. Each of them, for different reasons, felt let down. Unlike the majority of couples, however, Tom and Wendy talked openly about their feelings. Their expectations of marriage were not being met, and they were determined to do something about it.

So on a cold January day four months after their wedding, Tom and Wendy asked for help. Bundled up against the cold, they came into our office and began to shed their coats. As Wendy sipped hot coffee to thaw out, she said, "We have talked to friends and family about what is going on, but we both decided we need more objectivity."

Tom joined in: "Yeah, everybody who knows us just says 'Give it time' or something like that." Tom went on to say that their marriage was not on the rocks and no major overhaul was needed. "I just think we need a little realignment," he said.

We met with him and Wendy for nearly an hour, listening to their experiences. We gave them several exercises to help them explore their misconceptions of marriage and then recommended a few resources. Then we introduced the idea of linking up with a marriage mentor couple.

"What's that?" Wendy asked.

We told them how meeting from time to time with a seasoned married couple could give them a sounding board and a safe place to explore some of their questions about marriage. Like most newly married couples we talked to, Tom and Wendy were very eager to find such a couple. After a bit of discussion, they suggested a married couple in their church.

Neither of them knew this other couple very well, but they respected their marriage from afar and thought they would fit the bill. After a few phone calls and a little more exploration, we made the connection for Tom and Wendy. Over the course of several months, they met three times with their mentors, Nate and Sharon.

Tom and Wendy have been married for more than five years now. They are madly in love and happier than they ever imagined. Here is a portion of a letter they recently sent us:

Dear Les and Leslie,

How can we ever thank you for helping us find a marriage mentor couple? Our mentoring relationship with Nate and Sharon ended up being the most important thing we have ever done to build up our marriage. It was nice to have another couple know what we were going through and remain objective at the same time.

Someday we hope to give back the gift that Nate and Sharon gave to us by mentoring some newly married couples. We think every couple just starting out should have a mentor.

That's not a bad idea. Throughout human history mentoring has been the primary means of passing on knowledge and skills. In the Greek epic The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus had an elderly friend and adviser named Mentor. Before Odysseus went to fight in the Trojan War, he made Mentor the guardian of his son, Telemachus. The Bible is also filled with examples of mentoring (Eli and Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua, Naomi and Ruth, Elizabeth and Mary, Barnabas and Paul, Paul and Timothy).

Today, we have a dream that a network of mentors will rise up to become guardians of the next generation of marriages.

Become a trained mentor couple

But mentoring is in short supply these days. In our modern age, the learning process has shifted. It now relies primarily on computers, classrooms, books and videos. In most cases today the relational connection between the knowledgeable and experienced giver and the receiver of that wisdom has weakened or is nonexistent — especially in the early years of marriage.

What Is a Marriage Mentor?

"What I need is someone to talk to who has walked down the path I'm just beginning," said Lisa a few weeks into her new marriage. "Whenever I go to my mom or dad with a situation, they end up being a parent or teaching me something I don't really need to learn."

While a mother and father can certainly serve a helpful function in the life of a new bride or groom, they usually cannot offer the distance and objectivity that a mentor gives. For this reason, it is important first to realize exactly what a mentor is not:

In addition, the relationship between a mentor couple and newlyweds has a natural cycle of its own, which is not always predictable. Each mentoring relationship takes on its own style and personality. The amount of time couples spend together and the content they discuss can rarely be prescribed. However, we recommend a minimum of three meetings throughout the newlyweds' first year together: at three months, seven months, and one year after the wedding. These times provide the basic structure upon which additional meetings, meals and phone calls can rest.

The Boomerang Effect

An interesting aspect about marriage mentoring is that it can actually help the mentor couple.

"I don't know how much we helped Doug and Sarah," Joan told us, "but we sure got a lot out of it." Joan laughed as she was telling us about being a marriage mentor couple along with Larry, her husband of 18 years.

"Helping a young couple seemed to spark a lot of things in our own marriage that we had neglected," Larry added.

Something wonderful happens when a more mature couple reaches out to a new couple. We call it the boomerang effect. By helping another couple form and live out their dreams, one's own dreams for marriage are reawakened and fulfilled.

Once you take the time to listen to a questioning couple, your own "answers" become clearer. You will also be refreshed by this relationship. Almost by osmosis, the vim and vigor for marriage that a new couple enjoys will begin to rub off on you. Simply being around their energetic spirits will revive and rejuvenate your marriage. There is also an overwhelming sense of having done good, of helping a new couple build a love that will last a lifetime.

How to Launch a Marriage Mentoring Ministry

  1. Prayerfully consider becoming a mentor couple.
  2. Become trained in the "12 Essential Skills of Marriage Mentoring" using the Marriage Mentoring Academy.
  3. Recruit other mentor couples in your congregation.
  4. With your pastor's blessing, announce to the congregation that you are launching a marriage mentoring ministry and invite couples who would like to be mentored to sign up.
  5. Train all your new couples using the Marriage Mentoring Academy and the resources designed specifically for launching your ministry.
  6. Pray that God would direct and bless the couples in your care and others who get involved in this lay ministry.

Pre-marital training helps couples stay together. In fact, couples who participate in premarital programs experience a 30% increase in marital success over those who do not participate. Focus on the Family has been able to provide this article because of the support of great partners like you.



Five Misconceptions About Mentoring

Maybe you've heard about mentoring but don't really know what it is. Let's clear up five of the most common misconceptions.

by Bobb Biehl

Misconception number one: Mentors are at least 83 years old.

One of the most common misconceptions about mentoring involves age. Many people assume that in order to be wise enough and mature enough to be a mentor, you have to be at least 83 years old. They assume the only appropriate protégés are 16-year-olds receiving their tutelage on a stuffed leather bench at a grand piano. This is simply not the case.

I'd advise you to ignore age when selecting a mentor. Just look for a person whom you respect and like a lot, and from whom you want to learn.

Younger protégés look at mentors as "older," but mentors look at protégés over 30 simply as "adult." As a protégé, you may be constantly aware of the age difference. If you are over 30, your mentor probably sees you as a young adult friend. The relationship is adult to adult, not adult to child.

Misconception number two: Mentors must be perfect!

This misconception causes qualified people to hesitate about becoming mentors. The fact is, protégés don't expect a mentor to be perfect.

I once spoke at a conference where I asked how many of the attendees expected their mentors to be perfect. Not one hand went up. Then I asked, "How many of you have procrastinated about becoming a mentor because you assumed that you had to be perfect as a mentor?" Probably 95 percent of the hands in the room went up. The bottom line is, mentors are not perfect, and they don't need to be.

Misconception number three: Mentors have all the answers.

This misconception is obviously related to the one before it. The same logic applies. Mentors are human. They do not have all the answers. They never will have all the answers. Their role is sometimes to be the answer, sometimes to have the answer, but most of the time to know where to find the answer.

Fundamentally, a mentor connects a protégé to resources: his personal network, appropriate seminars, libraries, helpful videos, audio tapes and books, and even support groups. The mentor is never required to have all the answers or all the resources. S/he is simply a connector to many resources that the protégé needs during the growth process.

As a mentor, your attitude should be, "I'm here to help you, and I'll do what I can."

Misconception number four: The mentoring process involves a curriculum the mentor needs to teach a protégé.

Believe me, no such curriculum exists. The mentoring process is unique to each protégé. Learning is based on the protégé's agenda, priorities, questions, and needs — not on the mentor's preset program.

Within a trust relationship, protégés are able to ask questions they would never feel comfortable asking most people. They learn best when their need to know is greatest. Therefore, the single most teachable moment of any protégé's life is the few seconds immediately following a sincere question. No curriculum, checklist or theory could replace a mentor's life experience and compassion in such a teachable moment.

Misconception number five: A mentor's focus is holding a protégé accountable.

My observation is that many people focus on accountability for one of two reasons: they enjoy holding other people accountable but do not particularly want to be held accountable, or they lack self-control and try to put that responsibility in someone else's hands. Obviously, both of these motivations are unhealthy and would be detrimental to a mentoring relationship. Accountability should not be the focus of the mentoring relationship. The focus should be supporting, strengthening, and encouraging.

Of course, in the natural process of helping the protégés grow to maturity, you will use an element of accountability. For instance, you can hold your protégé accountable for following through on something if a little accountability support helps to form a new habit, reach a new goal, or resist some temptation. But do not feel that, as a mentor, you are supposed to hold your protégés accountable every step of the way. Their accountability needs to be developed in terms of responsibility to god, government and other legitimate authorities, not to you.


What to Look for in a Mentor

Every good mentor — or mentor couple — should have these three qualities.

by Bobb Biehl

The following checklist is a rather detailed, point-by-point academic exercise to help you find the ideal mentor for you. This checklist is only an attempt to help bring clarity in defining the kind of person for whom you are looking.

But even before you start reading this checklist, let me suggest that what you're really looking for is a person that you know cares for you, believes in you, and naturally encourages you. A good mentor is a person you enjoy being with, who has more experience than you have, and who would be happy to help you win in life. If you already have that person in mind, this checklist will only confirm your intuitive guess that this person would make a great mentor.

The checklist is also helpful if you have two or three mentors to consider, but cannot determine which one you will ask. The mentoring checklist can bring out a few fine points that may help you make your final decision.

Before you choose a mentor, check to see if s/he has these qualities:

Your Ideal Mentor Is…

  1. Honest With You

    For example, one of my male protégés was very much a man but he had effeminate gestures. When the time was right, after several hours of talking about a wide variety of topics, I decided the time had come to be dangerously candid. I actually had to teach this friend how to use his hands and his head. That's an example of raw honesty that was objective enough to help the protégé see clearly his potential and also the roadblocks keeping him from that potential. It's a little like being a loving uncle or aunt, someone who will take you aside on occasion and tell you things you need to hear but frankly don't necessarily want to hear.

  2. A Model for You

    Thomas Carlyle's words are worth repeating: "Be what you would have your pupils to be." When I take my associate team along for client consultations I ask them, "What did you learn by watching me as well as by listening to me?" Part of your mentor's role is teaching you by letting you watch her/him, in addition to telling you things.

  3. Deeply Committed to You

    It may be a little difficult to see a mentor or a protégé as family. The Apostle Paul, when writing to his young protégé, Timothy, captures this thought when he said, "Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity" (1 Timothy 5;1). Even though they are probably not blood relatives, see both your mentor and your protégé with a family level of commitment.

  4. Open and Transparent

    Cheryl, my wife, often encourages me, "Your associate team only hears about your successes. Let them hear also about your failures." I have to watch very carefully that I tell my associate team not only when I have won, but also when I have lost and feel like a failure. For example, my associates often get the false impression that I am always "feeling like I'm on top of the world" because I am typically "up" when I'm with them. When they learned I have several days a year when I am deeply discouraged and feel depressed, they realized that being a consultant wasn't only for "super positive" people, but regular human beings.

    Every mentor has struggles that the protégé never sees. The protégé might say with some hesitation, "My mentor can do this, but I don't know if I'll ever make it because I have problems with discipline (or doubt, or self-worth, or fatigue)." Ask your mentor to share her/his struggles, along with the success stories they re trying to teach.

  5. A Teacher

    Many people do things well, but don't know how to tell another person how they did it. At one time they learned how to do a given exercise (an accounting practice, a writing style, a trick of the trade) but have long since forgotten how they do it. Look for a mentor who can tell you how and why s/he did, or didn't, do something.

  6. One Who Believes in Your Potential

    My father-in-law, Joe Kimbel, is one of my life mentors. Once he introduced me to his friends by saying, "I'd like to have you meet my son-in-law, Bobb Biehl." Then he added, "Some day they'll say, 'I'd like to have you meet Joe Kimbel, Bobb Biehl's father-in-law.'" That very thing happened 20 years later in Orlando, Fla., and I was humbled when I recalled his gracious prediction.

    Your ideal mentor needs to be the kind of person who looks at you and says, "Yes, I think this person has tremendous potential. I think if I invest some of my life in this person, she/he has what it takes to make a real difference." Surprisingly, most Christian leaders with whom I have worked say they have never had a single person say to them, "You are a leader!"

  7. One Who Can Help You Define Your Dream and a Plan to Turn Your Dream into Reality

    Ideally, you are looking for a mentor who can help you clarify things that are in your head and in your heart. The mentor helps you answer the "dream question": "How can I make the most significant difference for God in my lifetime?"

    Once clear, the ideal mentor can help you decide which of these dreams seem realistic and which do not.

    Note: Just because your mentor says you can or cannot achieve something doesn't necessarily make it so. Your mentor is simply a human being trying her/his best to help you. Take their input seriously. The final decision, and responsibility, of the direction of your life obviously rests with you. Mentors are just there to help.

    Once the realism factor has been established, she/he can help you develop a plan to move from where you are to where you ultimately dream of being.

  8. Successful in Your Eyes

    You must feel that your mentor is the kind of person you would like to be like some day, in some ways.

  9. Open to Learning From You, As Well As Teaching You

    This might sound odd as a prerequisite for being a good mentor because it seems like the mentor's job is to teach and the protégé's job is to learn. But I have found that if I remain teachable, then I am modeling the teachability that I want my protégé to have. You can learn from everyone. What's more, I have found that as a mentor pours himself into a person and gives and gives and gives, sooner or later that person in whom he has invested so much will want to give something back.

    Let's say I, as your mentor, have a whole sack of oranges. You're thirsty and I give you some of my oranges. Sooner or later you'll want to give something back to me. You might say, "How about a tangerine from me?" If I say "No, thank you," that makes it seem as though what I give is valuable but what you give is not. It shuts off the chemistry. If I the mentor can learn from you, then suddenly mentoring becomes a two-way street. You think to yourself, "Hey, my mentor respects me" (and vice versa).

  10. Willing to Stay Primarily on Your Agenda, Not Her/His Own

    This is part of the definition of the mentoring relationship.

Bottom Line

In all of your analysis, be careful not to forget the simple truth that what you're really looking for is a person who you know cares for you, believes in you, and encourages you. A good mentor is a person who you naturally enjoy being with, who has more experience than you have, who would be happy to help you win in life, to help you grow in sensitive areas most other friends simply "put up with" on a day to day basis. If you have found this person you have found a mentor.


The Nuts and Bolts of Double Dating

Looking for ideas to use when getting to know another couple? Take a look at these double date tips.

by Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley

Double dating is an easy, exciting and fun way to invest in another couple — and strengthen your own marriage in the process. You can get together with longtime acquaintances or a couple you've just met, maybe from your neighborhood, church, school, or work. The four of you might simply enjoy a quiet meal together or you may want to try out a new adventure, all the while sharing your stories, your experiences, and your lives. And you don't have to commit to anything beyond one date, though you may have such a great time you end up wanting to get together again and again.

It's not just about hanging out with couples who are in the same stage of life as you, either. In fact, there are three distinct categories of couples to consider as you double date:

Younger Couples

Even if you've only got two or three years of marriage under your belt, there's likely a just-married couple nearby — in your church, at work, or even an extended family member — who would enjoy spending time with a couple just a few years into their marital journey. They can learn from your experience while at the same time feeling like they're on equal footing with you.

Peer Couples

Peer couples are those in the same general stage of life as you. This could include close friends as well as casual acquaintances from church, small group, work, the neighborhood, or your kids' school. There should be no shortage of conversation topics for your double date: the challenges of career, the joys and frustrations of raising kids, common interests, or shared spiritual beliefs.

Older Couples

Whether it's a couple that has been married just a few years longer than you, or one who long ago celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, you might be surprised at how many older couples would relish the opportunity to hang out with young whippersnappers like you! It can be both fun and rewarding to interact with someone who has stood where you now stand. And the older couple can learn from you, as well.

Double Date Activities

Once you've identified some potential couples, it's time to make your double date happen! Use your creativity to identify interesting, interactive and new activities for your double dates. And don't forget that the other couple likely has thoughts to contribute. So put your heads together and have fun! Here are some ideas to get you started:

 

Baseball Game — A warm summer evening at a baseball game might be the perfect double date activity. There's enough going on down on the field that you don't have to feel pressure to fill the entire evening with conversation. At the same time, if you and the other couple do have a lot to talk about, it's perfectly acceptable to ignore the game altogether and just chat. You won't be disturbing your fellow patrons in the same way you would be if you started talking in the middle of a movie or a ballet.

Miniature Golf — Play couple-against-couple or guys-against-girls, or just have a good old-fashioned four-way competition. You can employ the same approach with bowling, darts, and other low-impact sports.

Cooking — This activity comes in handy when your babysitter falls through. Stay home (or go to the other couple's house), set the kids up in the basement with an assortment of toys and games, and spend the evening working as a team to create a culinary masterpiece.

Service Project — Look for volunteer opportunities in your community, and then turn one of them into a double date. This is a great way for couples to give each other a window into the things they feel passionate about (mercy ministry, homeless outreach missions, etc.).

Sharing Hobbies — Do you and your spouse like museums? Do you enjoy hiking? Invite another couple to enjoy that activity with you, and then be prepared to engage in an activity that they enjoy. Have fun expanding one another's horizons.

Tour Group — You'd be surprised at how many people in Colorado Springs have never visited the top of Pike's Peak! Touring local attractions with another couple is a great way to build friendship while experiencing the wonders of the world around you.

Camping — This requires more of a time commitment, and may also necessitate the involvement of your kids. And it's probably not something you'd want to attempt with a couple you barely know. However, under the right conditions, camping can be a great way to deepen your friendship with another couple, only without the time constraints of a two-hour date.

Double Date Discussion

The topics of conversation on your double dates will depend on a number of factors, including how well you know the other couple, and what stage of life each couple is in. Here's a brief list of potential subjects you might explore:

Introductory Information — The usual "conversation starter" topics work well for first-time double-daters. "What do you do for a living?" "Where do you work?" "Describe a typical day in your life." "Tell me about your kids." "What are some of your hobbies and interests?"

Digging Deeper — Take turns telling your love story: how and where your met, what your courtship was like, funny anecdotes from your wedding and honeymoon, and so on. Additional questions might include: "What were your childhoods like?" "Tell us about your families of origin."

Spiritual — If the couple you're double dating shares your faith, then you already have a bond that goes deeper than friendship. Share your personal testimonies. Talk about what God is doing in your lives. Discuss your church experiences (but stay positive!). Ask, "How can we pray for you?"

Giving and Receiving Advice — Perhaps you're struggling with an issue at work that you could discuss with the other couple. Or maybe the other couple is experiencing in-law troubles, and you can offer a friendly word of caution based on your own experience. This doesn't mean your dates should turn into negative venting sessions. But there's nothing wrong with broaching serious subjects.

Parenting — For couples immersed in the childrearing years, it can be tempting to fill every conversation with talk about kids. If you allow this to happen, you'll likely find your dates to be less fulfilling and enriching. But there's certainly nothing wrong with sharing stories, anecdotes and advice about childrearing when appropriate.

Ok, you've got some date night ideas. You've got some conversation topics. So what are you waiting for? Get started by identifying just one couple, at any age or stage of life, and ask them out. As you begin to enjoy the benefits of double dating, you may identify other couples in other life stages. But start with one. Muster your courage, walk up to them, and say, "Do you have any plans on Friday night?" It's as simple as that!


Marriage Mentoring Discussion Guide

At Focus on the Family, we’re here to assist you by creating this discussion guide to serve as a springboard to help you enter into candid marriage-building conversations with your mentoree couple. This guide explores twelve characteristics that we’ve identified as essential ingredients in creating lasting, thriving unions.

by Focus on the Family

Traits of a Thriving Marriage

Chances are you have turned to this guide because you’re about to enter a mentoring relationship with another couple.  Good for you!  As marriage mentors you have a unique opportunity to support and strengthen this couple in their love for and commitment to one another.  At Focus on the Family, we’re here to assist you in doing just that.  Along those lines, we’ve created this discussion guide to serve as a springboard to help you enter into candid marriage-building conversations with your mentoree couple.   

This guide explores twelve characteristics that we’ve identified as essential ingredients in creating lasting, thriving unions.  These traits all have their origin in Scripture, so it is not surprising that research demonstrates that a genuinely thriving marriage is the result of practical progress in these key areas of marital life.  Lifelong commitment, shared spiritual intimacy, cherishing one another, healthy conflict management and the rest are among the non-negotiables in building and sustaining a vibrant marriage.

How to Use the Guide

We’ve designed this guide as a helpful tool, not a rigid program.  It’s intended to kick-start conversations and shine a spotlight on key facets of marriage, but we encourage you to make it work for you and your mentoree couple.  You may want to address each question, or pick and choose, or add questions of your own.  It’s also important to remain flexible—if your mentoree couple wants to explore a different subject instead, we’d encourage you to set aside the scheduled topic and go with the flow.  And all along the way, ask good questions, actively listen, and share from your own experience.

The guide is ideal for use in twelve sessions.  We recommend tackling a single topic per meeting, as you’ll want to facilitate relaxed, in-depth conversations.  If you know in advance you will be meeting less than twelve times, we’d suggest asking your mentoree couple which topics are of greatest interest to them and then proceeding accordingly.

Again, thank you for making this investment in another marriage.  We’re confident your mentoree couple will benefit from your encouragement and insight, and you may be surprised how much it enhances your own marriage in the process. May God bless each of you as you embark on this exciting and important journey together!   

1.  Lifelong Commitment 

Couples who stick together understand that marriage is a sacred and solemn mystery in the eyes of God.  As a result, they enter the relationship with the attitude that divorce is not an option.  They understand that marriage is a lifelong adventure, filled with triumphs and defeats.  Like Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2), they press on toward the goal in both good times and bad. 

Questions:

  1. If you had to define “marriage,” what words would you use?  What makes marriage unique and different from any other human relationship? 
  2. How would you describe your “long view” of your relationship?  Where do you see yourselves in five years?  Ten years?  Twenty?  
  3. When you run into obstacles, road-blocks, or conflicts in your marriage, what’s your “default” reaction?  Do you get angry?  Run home to mother?  Blame one another?  Or do you look for ways to solve the problem and move forward?
  4. Did you see lifelong commitment modeled in your family of origin? How has your experience affected your view of this concept?  In the Marine Corps they say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Does this maxim apply to marriage?  If so, how?Would you describe your marriage as “an adventure”?  Would you like to make it more “adventurous”?  If so, how?
  5. The Bible says, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  What do you think it means to be “one flesh”?  

2. S hared Spiritual Intimacy

Thriving couples have a deep, shared faith.  They consciously regard Christ as the foundation of their relationship (Ephesians 2:20) and understand that a genuinely Christ-centered marriage is a marriage in which both partners actively acknowledge the presence and the authority of God, and where Jesus makes an observable difference in daily life. 

Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to have a “Christ-centered” marriage? 
  2. Would you say that your relationship is solidly grounded on the foundation of your faith in Jesus Christ?  Why or why not?
  3. What are some practical ways you can acknowledge God’s authority in your home? How does the belief that He is present shape your interactions with one another?
  4. What do you do differently as a couple because of your Christian faith?Do you pray together as a couple?  Study the Bible?  Meet with other believers? Do you think that activities of this kind have an important impact on the quality of your relationship?
  5. Have you shared with your spouse how you came to know the Lord?  Do you regularly talk with each other about the things you are learning on your spiritual journey?
  6. What does the term “walking with Christ” mean to each of you?  How do you differ from one another in the way you approach your faith?  In what ways are you similar?  

3. P ositive Communication 

Communication is the heart and soul of any vibrant relationship.  Successful husbands and wives understand this.  They prioritize communication and approach it as a process involving openness, empathy, and a deep heart-connection.  They are quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19).  They ask questions and try to enter into one another’s thoughts and feelings.

Questions:

  1. How often do you sit down as a couple simply to talk to one another?  Do you set time aside specifically for this purpose?  Why or why not?  
  2. What do you need and expect from each other in terms of openness and depth of communication?  How do your needs and expectations differ?
  3. Do you feel that you understand each other?  If not, what can you do to improve the situation?
  4. Males and females often have different communication styles. Have you found this true in your marriage? How do you work through the challenges this can bring?    
  5. If you had three minutes to “explain yourself” to your spouse, what would you say?  Is there anything about your partner that you want to understand more clearly?
  6. Do you find it easy or difficult to be together for any length of time without talking? 
  7. Has your spouse changed significantly since the two of you were married?  How does your current relationship differ from the relationship you shared before the wedding?         

4.  Healthy Conflict Management 

Couples who go the distance recognize that spousal conflict is inevitable.  They know that the secret of their success lies in the way they handle this conflict, and they embrace the concept that God uses this bumping and jarring to cause them to grow (Proverbs 27:17).  They keep short accounts and never let the sun go down on their anger (Ephesians 4:26).  

Questions:

  1. Do you welcome conflict or view it as a threat?
  2. As a couple, do you have a conscious strategy or game plan for resolving your differences?  If not, have you ever stopped to analyze the way you handle conflict?  Do you simply “get by” on “knee-jerk reactions”? 
  3. What does it mean to “fight fair”?  Are you comfortable with this concept, or do you tend to feel that any kind of fighting is wrong in marriage?
  4. How are you both different?  How have your differences shaped and impacted your relationship ­– whether for better or for worse?
  5. Is forgiveness the same as forgetfulness?  Why or why not?  Can you forgive and not forget?  What does it take for you to move beyond conflicts and get on with life?   
  6. Have you ever had a conflict that eventually led to deeper intimacy and understanding?  If so, how did that work?  

5.  Spending Enjoyable Time Together 

Thriving couples are intentional about spending enjoyable time together (Philippians 1:8).  They build their relationship upon a foundation of shared values, interests, and goals.  They schedule regular date nights and outings and develop meaningful traditions and family rituals.  They also know how to maintain a healthy balance between togetherness and independence. 

Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel that you’re simply too busy to share enjoyable and meaningful time together?  If so, are you satisfied with the status quo, or are you motivated to “fight back”?
  2. Is your spouse fun to be with?  Are you?  What can you do to foster more spontaneity and laughter in your relationship?
  3. What would it take to enable you to spend enjoyable time together on a more regular basis?  Babysitters?  Schedule readjustments?  A different approach to balancing work and family life?
  4. What one thing can your commit yourself to do this week in an effort to free up more time to spend with your spouse?
  5. Do you have regular date nights?  If so, what can you do to keep them from becoming “routine” and “boring”?  If not, why not? 
  6. What are your most passionate interests as individuals?  What do you enjoy doing most?  How would your spouse answer these questions?  How can you use this knowledge to plan more meaningful times together?
  7. What do each of you do or where do you go when you need time to yourself?        

6.  Cherish 

Successful marriages are made up of two people who intentionally treasure and honor one another.  They do this by keeping a conscious account of the things they value about each other.  Just as Jesus established the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of His redeeming work on the cross (Luke 22:19), they commemorate the blessings of their relationship in a tangible, physical way—with gifts, celebrations, and meaningful mementos of significant occasions. 
Questions:

  1. Why were you attracted to one another in the first place?  What do you like and admire most about each other?  Make a list and share it with your mate.    
  2. As a couple, what are some of your most important traditions, rituals, and celebrations?  How do you use these traditions to strengthen the tie that binds you to each other? 
  3. Which of your shared memories are most meaningful to you?  What are you doing to keep them alive?
  4. Can you honestly say that you regard your spouse as a “treasure”?  How do you express your feelings of mutual appreciation? 
  5. How do you respond when romantic feelings ebb and flow?  What do you do to fan the flames of romance and keep them burning?
  6. How do you talk about each other around other people? In social settings do you feel valued and appreciated by the other?

7.  Nourish 

Nourishing is a matter of discovering your mate’s “love language” and learning how to speak it.  It’s about building each other up in active, practical ways and “encouraging one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).  It involves nurturing your spouse’s strengths and supplementing his or her weaknesses.  This implies a significant investment of time and energy, but it’s an investment that pays off in a relationship capable of weathering any storm.  
Questions:

  1. What energizes and encourages you?  Take some time to think about it.  Then write down your answers and go over them together.
  2. Do you think you have a good understanding of your spouse’s strengths, weaknesses, desires, and aspirations?  If not, what can you do to find out more about these aspects of his or her character and personality?
  3. Is there anything you can do to help your spouse achieve his or her goals and become the person God wants him or her to be?
  4. When you really want to tell your spouse, “I love you,” what do you say or do?  What expressions of love do you find most meaningful?
  5. What are your greatest strengths?  Where are your flaws and weaknesses?  List them and share them with your spouse.  Then talk about ways you can help highlight one another’s strong points, complement one another’s weaknesses, and help each other become the people God has designed you to be.           

8.  Shared Responsibility 

Couples with vibrant relationships find ways to resolve the issue of male and female roles between themselves with Scripture as their guide.  They talk openly about their expectations and personal preferences and hammer out a God-honoring plan that preserves fairness and equity in the way it divides household tasks and responsibilities.  Their goal is to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and function as a team
Questions:

  1. Are you happy with the way you’ve divided up household chores and responsibilities between yourselves?
  2. How did your parents approach the question of male and female roles in marriage?  How has the example of the older generation shaped your own attitudes towards this sometimes sensitive aspect of the marital relationship?
  3. What is your understanding of what the Bible has to say about the roles of husbands and wives?  Is that reflected in your marriage?
  4. What kind of household tasks do you enjoy most?  What are you best at—in other words, where do your personal gifts and talents lie?  How do you think you can you best serve your spouse? 
  5. What do you expect your spouse to do for you?  Wash your clothes?  Maintain the car?  Cook your dinner?  Bring you the newspaper or breakfast in bed?  What are your assumptions about your own role in the marriage and your own contribution to the relationship?  Write down your answers to these questions and share them with one another.
  6. Have you taken the time to discuss, organize, and codify these expectations and assumptions?  Maybe you want to draw up a plan, make a chart detailing each partner’s chores, and post it on your refrigerator.
  7. When it comes to sharing the load of household chores and responsibilities, are you on the same page, or is this a bone of contention in your marriage?  If it’s a source of conflict, what can you do to smooth the waters?              

9.  Mutually Satisfying Physical Intimacy 

Thriving couples regularly celebrate their marriage with passionate sexual intimacy.  They don’t regard sex as a “chore” or “obligation,” but as a delightful “dance” in which each spouse puts the other’s needs and interests ahead of his or her own (Philippians 2:4).  At the same time, they never lose sight of the fact that sex is not the only element of a vibrant marital relationship.  They understand that satisfying physical intimacy also includes plenty of affection, tenderness, warmth, and physical touch as well.

Note to mentors: Some couples will feel comfortable sharing freely around this topic, others will not.  We suggest checking with your mentoree couple at the outset to determine whether it would be an appropriate subject for discussion.  If they would prefer to skip this one, simply move on to the next topic.  

Questions:

  1. Do you regularly talk with one another about the physical aspect of your relationship? 
  2. Are you both mostly “on the same page” when it comes to sexual intimacy, or is this a point of tension or conflict?
  3. How do you express affection for one another outside the bedroom?  Are you both comfortable and happy with this aspect of your relationship?
  4. What are your individual assumptions and expectations with regard to the sexual side of marriage?  How do they compare with your spouse’s?  If you differ, what are you doing to resolve the issue(s)?
  5. What would you say are the five most important elements of a marriage relationship?  If you had to rank these elements, where on the list would you place sex?  Can you explain the reasoning behind your ranking? 
  6. Have you been aware of shifting “seasons” in your sexual relationship?  How would you identify the causal factors behind the ebb and flow of sexual desire?  Is this a source of conflict in your marriage?  How might you both achieve greater mutual understanding in this area?

10.  Coping With Change, Stress, and Crises 

Successful couples don’t consider it strange when external trials and pressures come upon them (1 Peter 4:12).  Instead, they prepare for hard times and make provisions for seeking outside help when it’s needed.  In all kinds of adversity, they take pains to anchor their marriage to the Solid Rock of faith in Jesus Christ. 
Questions:

  1. Where do you turn when trouble comes your way?  Do difficulties throw you into turmoil, or do you take them in stride?
  2. As a couple, have you ever taken time out to discuss how you expect the pressures of the different stages of marriage—for example, childbirth, parenting, the empty nest, physical separations, financial setbacks, retirement, illness, and aging—are likely to impact your relationship?  Do you have a plan or strategy to help you cope with such eventualities?
  3. Is your house built upon sand or rock?  What practical steps can you take together to strengthen the foundation of your marriage?
  4. We’ve said that conflict, when handled appropriately, can actually strengthen a relationship.  Would you say the same thing about adversity and external pressures—for example, the loss of a job or the death of a close family member?  Have you ever experienced what it is like to grow closer to one another as the result of weathering a storm together?
  5. Do you have a strong support system—friends, family members, or mentors to whom you can look for help in a difficult situation?  List the names of the people you’d feel most comfortable turning to for assistance in times of trial.
  6. Have you ever engaged the assistance of a trained marriage counselor?  If so, do you think the experience was beneficial to your marriage?  Why or why not?

11.  Community Minded 

Healthy husbands and wives realize that they need other people and other people need them.  They are intentional about connecting regularly with other like-minded couples.  They stay engaged with nurturing communities of all kinds and make a special point of maintaining an active involvement in the local church, where they have many opportunities to give and receive spiritual support (Galatians 6:10).    

Questions:

  1. Would you say you are significantly involved in your church and that you are “connected” to other church members? Do you agree that such fellowship is an important part of every Christian’s life, or do you have differing views on that aspect of your faith?
  2. What are you doing as a couple to give of yourselves to friends, extended family, neighbors, and other members of the larger community? Are there others less-fortunate or in challenging situations—a single mom, a struggling couple, a fatherless child—that you are investing in together?
  3. How would each of you describe yourself—as a “people person” or as more of a private individual?  Are you alike in this regard, or do you have contrasting personalities when it comes to social interaction?  How do you work together as a team when interacting with other people?
  4. Do you have other couples you both enjoy spending time with? 
  5. Have you as a couple ever found yourselves leaning on the church or on a group of neighbors and friends for practical support?  Has anyone ever come to your rescue?  How do you feel about that experience?  How has it shaped your attitude towards others?
  6. Have you been helped and encouraged by the input of other marriage mentors (official or unofficial)?  Would you ever be willing to mentor a younger or less-experienced couple?

12. H ealthy Individuals 

A thriving marriage is made up of two thriving individuals.  It can only be as strong as its component parts—namely, husband and wife.  It’s a blending, not a cloning, of two distinct personalities. Common sense itself suggests that healthy relationships emerge when healthy people come together in a healthy, positive way.  This means that there’s a place for appropriate self-care and self-improvement in any marital relationship (Galatians 6:4, 5).

Questions: 

  1. What are each of your most cherished dreams and goals?  What are you doing to achieve them?  Does your spouse approve or disapprove? 
  2. Are you both comfortable with the idea of taking time out of your schedule for the express purpose of nurturing and caring for yourself?  Why or why not? 
  3. Do each of you have a strong devotional life?  What do you think it means to “spend time with God”?  What steps are you taking to help yourself grow as a Christian? 
  4. Is lifelong learning and education—whether formal or informal—important to you?  What interests, hobbies, or activities are you pursuing outside of your marriage, your job, and your life at home?  What do you like best to do with your “spare time”?
  5. What are you doing to stay physically healthy? Are you exercising, eating right, and getting sufficient sleep?
  6. How are you encouraging your spouse to pursue personal and spiritual self-development?  Is there anything practical you can do to create more space and freedom for your mate?   
  7. To what extent do you look to your spouse to meet your needs, fulfill your expectations, or bring significance and meaning to your life?  Do you think this is healthy or unhealthy?

Twenty More Ways to Invest in Another Couple's Marriage

A mentor is someone you can turn to for wisdom and support — and someone who can help you make the most of your marriage.

by Focus on the Family
Twenty More Ways You Can Invest in Marriage

Meeting regularly with another couple in a mentoring relationship is a great way to invest in building marriages. But there are a host of other ways you can encourage couples around you as well. Some are simple gestures, others will involve a little effort. Scan the list below for some creative ideas of how you and your spouse can help create stronger marriages in your church, neighborhood and community.


Ten Ways to Help a Friend's Struggling Marriage

It's common to know someone whose marriage is in trouble and to be unsure how to help. These 10 practical tips will help you get started helping others.

by Mitch Temple

Do you wonder how you can help friends and family members who are struggling in marriage? Here are some time-tested tips and resources to move them away from divorce court and toward reconciliation.

  1. Pray for them by name. Ask God to intervene in their marriage. Ask God to give you and others wisdom to know how to help. Pray in their presence as well as when alone. Send emails and note cards of encouragement.
  2. Listen. Listening doesn't mean simply hearing. It involves empathizing, seeking to understand and expressing genuine interest.
  3. Don't give advice. Your main job is listening. Leave the advice giving to a pastor, counselor or mentor.
  4. Don't make the problem worse. Don't allow your support to be seen as an encouragement to give up or get a divorce. Your job is to help steer them toward the proper help and reconciliation (If addiction or abuse is involved, make sure they get the professional help they need and are safe).
  5. Help them think outside the divorce box. Booklets such as When Your Marriage Needs Help, Should I Get a Divorce, and Marriage and Conflict can give couples both research and practical advice to help them consider the facts about divorce and how to get the help they need for their marriage.
  6. Help them find the right help. Locate a good, licensed Christian counselor in their area. Ask your pastor or Christian M.D. for a referral. Focus on the Family offers a free counseling consult as well as a free referral service to a Focus-screened marriage therapist.
  7. Connect them with a mentor couple. If you are not qualified to help, call your pastor to recommend an older couple who is willing to mentor a younger couple.
  8. Refer them to helpful Web sites. Web sites such as Pure Intimacy and FocusOnTheFamily.com offer hundreds of articles, practical advice and resource recommendations on various marriage issues.
  9. Encourage them to work on their problems and not simply expect them to be solved on their own. Focus offers an online Marriage Checkup which measures over 18 major areas of marriage -- identifying both strengths and weaknesses. This is a good place for a couple to start in addition to working with a professional counselor.
  10. Refer them to solid Christian-based books and seminars. Visit our Family Store for marriage books, broadcast CDs and resources to strengthen a couple's faith through a difficult time. Key resources like Yes, Your Marriage Can Be Saved, Love and Respect, Love Must Be Tough, First Five Years of Marriage, Help! We are Drifting Apart, Breaking the Cycle of Divorce, Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage and others can provide needed encouragement and direction.

How to Help Couples in Marital Distress

Sometimes even the best of intentions can lead to more problems.

by Bette Nordberg

"I know you were trying to help," she said, her voice trembling. "But you didn't. In fact, you made things much worse. Trying to save a marriage is hard enough without having to battle the church leadership committee at the same time." The woman sitting before us could not stem the tide of tears streaming down her face. Neither could we.

When we agreed to serve a term on the church leadership committee, none of us suspected we would have to sit through meetings like this. Ordinary people composed our group – a contractor, a housewife, an investment strategist – all baby boomers like myself. We expected nothing more difficult than planning Pastor Appreciation Sunday.

Eighteen months before, this woman had moved away from her husband. After 17 years of marriage, she said she needed space to work on the overwhelming anger she felt toward her spouse. Her husband, a doctor, readily admitted to being a classic workaholic, spending more than 70 hours a week on his business. He refused to change his work habits. Their conflict had been brewing for years, finally boiling to the crisis point.

They worked with a well-respected and highly trained Christian counselor. Both worked hard to grow as individuals and continued their participation in small groups. Both were actively involved in church ministry. In the face of their deteriorating relationship, they did all the right things. Neither partner had an interest in another person. They seemed to want healing.

But when months passed without apparent resolution, and members of our congregation expressed concern, we took matters into our own hands. With our pastor's help, we did our best. We asked them to meet with our committee. What began as an effort to inquire about their progress digressed into a tearful four-hour counseling session. The net effect was that of a Senate inquiry. Our members offered "helpful suggestions" that we were not qualified to give. She told us she felt singled out and humiliated, having 12 strangers listen while her husband complained publicly about her performance as a wife.

The separation continued.

Our next strategy was to ask them to pray weekly with a couple on the committee. This wife refused. "My husband doesn't need another excuse to stay away from home." We threatened to remove them from ministry. As a keyboard player, she reminded us that ministry was her most important connection to the body of Christ. Did we really want to sever her closes relationships? In all, she viewed our efforts as both judgmental and malicious, effectively turning them against each other and away from the very support systems they needed. We nearly drove them from our church.

As leadership, we gave in to the pressure of outward appearance. When this couple was doing the best they could, we pushed them harder. While they concentrated on healing, we added another burden, sapping vital energy needed for the work they faced.

In spite of our clumsy efforts to "help," the woman eventually returned home. Remarkably, she had the courage to meet with our committee again. She told us what she'd been through. And she did more. She handed each of us a copy of a list she'd carefully prepared under the headline, "Helping Couples in Trouble."

Her suggestions made sense. One of our members said, "I wish I'd had this list while you were hurting. I wanted to help, I just didn't know how." Perhaps your church and even you could benefit from the simple suggestions she offered:

Her list made a great deal of sense to us. After all, when a brother or sister faces illness or injury we remember to do the practical things. Why shouldn't we do as much for those in emotional difficulty as well? I agree with my other committee member; I wish I'd had the list. But now that I do, I have tools to help couples struggling through a painful season in their marriage. Rather than hope for the best, I'm going to do what I can to help them through and refrain from that which I'm not qualified for.


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