A group of college students was having a conversation about their relationships and dating lives. Among the discussion of boundaries and how to decide whether the person someone is dating is “the one,” Alex spoke up. “It’s a challenge to go out and ask married couples for dating advice,” he said. “It’s like asking for advice from your parents.”
There’s a lot of hesitation in young adults to ask for relationship advice from older couples. Concerns of not being understood, being judged or being talked down to make mentorship seem unappealing. While some newlyweds and people preparing for marriage may understand that seeking wise counsel is important (Proverbs 13:20), talking to older couples about relationships and marriage seems — at the very least — an uncomfortable experience for many of them.
First Peter 5:1-2 encourages those in authority to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” As a married couple, this includes coming alongside others to help them in their relationships. Before you take on the role of mentoring a younger couple, it can be helpful to understand their thinking and attitudes to best serve the people you’re trying to help.
Anyone can be a marriage mentor
Mya and her fiance, Tanner, have been able to glean marriage advice from relatives who have been married to each other for just over a year. “They’ve been able to give us good advice about our first year of marriage,” Mya says. She explains that talking to a couple who aren’t too far ahead of them in their relationship helps them know what they need to prepare for.
One misconception surrounding marriage mentorship is that only people who have been married for decades can give solid advice. While a couple who has been married for 50 years will be able to give time-tested advice, younger couples also have good insights. Those who are closer in age to their mentee can understand more about what he or she is going through and relate in a time-relevant way.
Whether you’ve been married since the ‘60s or haven’t yet taken the “just married” sign off the back of your car, you still can come alongside and learn how to mentor couples younger than you in their relationships. Your willingness to walk with and set an example for a couple married a shorter time than you is reason enough to be a mentor.
A trusting relationship is essential
Just as you wouldn’t want a stranger approaching you and calling out your flaws, your mentees don’t want someone to walk up unprompted and tell them they’re doing something incorrectly in their relationship. There should first be an established relationship between you and them. Otherwise, you run the risk of your advice being dismissed as nothing more than criticism.
You can begin by building your friendship as you would any other relationship. For example, you might invite your mentees out for coffee to get to know them. You could ask them to tell you about all aspects of their lives, not just their relationship.
You should be willing to bear your mentees’ burdens. The best approach is to get to know them on a personal level and allow them to get to learn about you personally as well. Once the foundation of the relationship is formed, you will have a much easier time pouring into the lives and relationship of your younger friends, and they will be more open to following your advice.
There’s a difference between advice and control
A significant concern among some younger people is that their mentors will try to control their relationships. While you may feel like you know what’s best because you’ve been married longer than your younger friends — and you might be right — trying to control their relationships will only cause a rift between you and them.
Young couples are looking for mentors who are willing to take a hands-off approach in certain situations. While some issues, such as cohabitation, need to be addressed, others don’t need constant input, such as whether going to a movie is a good date idea.
Mentees will make mistakes and (with guidance) learn from those experiences. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give advice when asked. The best approach is to let your mentees know that you’re available if they need anything or want to talk, but you won’t jump in unless they want you to.
If an issue needs to be addressed, consider how to approach it with care and loving concern instead of preaching. Of course, supporting your thoughts with Scripture will validate your point of view.
Kennedy is recently engaged and believes that mentors should emphasize explanations more than simple dictations. “There’s a lot of emphasis on boundaries,” he says. “Everyone knows you don’t have sex before marriage, but no one explains why.” With open communication and honest explanations, you can approach the issues you see and allow the Holy Spirit to work through you.
Understand generational differences
With constant changes in the relationship world, it’s important to be aware of your mentees’ current attitudes toward relationships and marriage. This doesn’t mean that you need to do in-depth research into which dating app is best or what “ghosting” is to learn how to mentor. But be aware that not everything that worked for you and your spouse will work today. Have conversations with your mentees about what having a relationship looks like in their lives.
Your younger friends don’t expect you to be perfect. They want someone to be honest and humble, to be willing to pour into their relationships and admit when they don’t know it all. “If you think you’re always right, no one is going to want to listen to you,” Kennedy says. If you expect your mentees to be willing to take your advice and be humble when you call out their wrongdoings, you have to be willing to do the same.