As a millennial, I’m grateful to live in a world of smartphones, YouTube tutorials and how-to blogs. I have vague memories of encyclopedias, library card catalogs and phone calls to a friend (or parent) for information in a time before Google search was commonplace.
Despite all our modern conveniences, some aspects of life require context, back-and-forth conversation and vulnerability to gain significant insight. Marriage is one of those things that benefits from wise counsel and learning by example. However, finding a couple willing to mentor you and your spouse takes time and effort. Here are some practices my husband, Jared, and I have found helpful through the years.
Finding a mentor couple in real life
You can benefit from “distance-based mentoring” — watching someone you admire or reading their public works — but you’re only getting part of the story. While you can learn from public figures, it may be best to find people in your everyday world who not only ask questions but also share how they learn and grow.
Don’t be afraid to go it alone
Ideally, we’re talking about the benefits of finding a mentor couple to guide you both — man to man, woman to woman and couple to couple. But if your spouse isn’t on the same page, don’t drag them into it. Identify someone with characteristics you’d like to emulate in your side of the relationship. You can influence your marriage with your own development. God can accomplish a magnificent work in and through you.
Build a relationship, don’t ask for a commitment
As any romantic comedy teaches, a surefire way to scare off a prospect is to discuss kids or marriage on the first date. Once you identify an individual or couple you’d like to learn from, keep it casual. They’re likely someone you know and admire for their success in various areas of life. This means they’re busy and have existing commitments. Engage in what they’re already doing — perhaps join their volunteer team or Bible study group. Start small. Invite a potential mentor couple out for coffee or a double date before asking for a long-term commitment.
Let the relationship shake itself out and run its course. You may build a lifelong connection with deep conversations or ask the couple to help you through a difficult season of life.
Come prepared for your time and don’t ambush your mentors. Give them a heads-up if there’s a specific topic you’d like to discuss so they don’t think you’re just grabbing a quick lunch when you really need to pour out your heart.
The Bible speaks of mentorship as walking alongside another person. Often Jesus would do things in public ministry and then answer His disciples’ questions in private. Identify proactive ways to learn from and walk alongside mentors in your life:
- If they mention a helpful resource they enjoy (podcast, book, etc.), look into it. That helps build common ground and offers a starting point for subsequent conversations.
- Serve together with the couple or in a way that you can be of service to them.
- Observe and ask questions to understand the beliefs or philosophies behind their actions. Modeling a behavior may achieve a quick win for today but understanding and adopting new, healthy perspectives gains repeated wins over a lifetime.
- Apply what they teach and, when appropriate, update them about how things are going. This shows your mentor(s) that their investment in you is worthwhile.
One-way relationships occur when one person gives and the other takes. Seek to build a mutual relationship where both couples contribute. Perhaps this comes through words of encouragement or acts of care and consideration. You want your coaches to enjoy time with you so they also leave refreshed and invested in, rather than spent.
Find multiple mentors
Scripture tells us about the wisdom gained through a multitude of counselors (see Proverbs 15:22 and Proverbs 11:14). If a mentor wants to be your only or primary adviser, find a new one. Building relationships with couples of different backgrounds — but who hold similar core beliefs — is helpful. You’ll find some mentors who you can confide in and others who are better suited to speak into particular topics. Gaining various perspectives allows you to weigh the counsel and make informed decisions for your family.
Qualities to look for
Far from an exhaustive list, here are some general qualities Jared and I appreciate in mentor couples:
- Married long enough to have experiences to pull from. In tough seasons, we also seek couples who have overcome similar challenges.
- Exhibit characteristics like integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, wisdom, humility and the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5).
- Hold family traits we want to copy, including the relationships they’ve built with their kids.
- Enthusiastic about marriage and each other. If someone is weary of their own relationship, I don’t want them speaking into mine.
- Don’t avoid hard conversations, but during those conversations offer grace and truth in love.
- Listen to God and follow His guidance.
- Cultivate warm, caring relationships. We should enjoy spending time with them and feel comfortable sharing the sensitive details of our lives. Before you share those details, make sure you and your spouse agree about what topics you’ll discuss.
- Offer unbiased, constructive feedback. For this reason, I encourage you to find mentors outside of your family. If you have healthy family relationships, welcome them to speak into your lives but be mindful of what you share and what advice you receive. Your family members love you and may struggle to give impartial feedback. Venting temporary struggles may tarnish their relationship with your spouse for years to come.
Don’t neglect the voice of the Holy Spirit
Don’t let a mentor’s voice diminish your desire or ability to hear from God. A guide should point you to Jesus and help you walk according to His instruction. Thankfully, our perfect God makes space for imperfect human mentors to equip and encourage us. We should turn to Him first and then bring all human insight back to Him for confirmation and direction. He is the greatest counselor, advocate and mentor we’ll ever find.