Guides for the Marriage Journey

smiling husband and wife
Ocean Photography / Veer

"If you could give just one sentence of marital advice to these 200 students before you leave, what would it be?" That's the closing question we pose to the guest couple we briefly interview each Monday evening in our Marriage 101 class at Seattle Pacific University. The husband and wife always leave our students with a pearl of wisdom.

My wife, Leslie, and I have been teaching together for nearly two decades, and even after 28 years of marriage, we're just as curious as our students to hear what these couples will say. Here's a sample of their responses:

  • "If you don't learn how to forgive, you won't learn how to stay married."
  • "Marriage doesn't make you happy; you make your marriage happy."
  • "What is now, will be then, only more so."
  • "When you argue — and you will — make sure you know what the fight is about."

Our students write down what our guests say, and by the end of the semester, they have a treasure trove of marital wisdom. And so do we. We know we will never be too seasoned to learn from the experience of others.

Our story

We'd recently moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to start graduate school. Leslie and I had been married less than a year when Dennis and Lucy Guernsey, married for a couple of decades, invited us to their home. They must have seen the uncertainty in our eyes as we tried to navigate the uncharted waters of our new marriage. We later learned that Dennis and Lucy had mentored plenty of couples before we came along. And we couldn't have been more grateful.

"One night I got so mad at Dennis," Lucy told us while the four of us sat in Adirondack chairs in their backyard, "that I took my wedding band off and threw it at him." Wow! We didn't see that coming. Dennis laughed as they recounted the story. "She drove off in our little Volkswagen and left me looking around to find the ring." They told us it was their first fight and that nobody ever taught them how to fight right.

Their vulnerability and authenticity — as well as their obvious love for each other — immediately drew us to them. So much so that Dennis and Lucy mentored us through our first 10 years of marriage, until Dennis passed away at age 56.

Why marriage mentoring

The Guernseys gave Leslie and me more than a wealth of marital wisdom. They gave us a vision to help other couples discover the amazing gift of marriage mentoring. Drawing from our own experience, we began linking other faculty and staff couples at our university with students who were engaged or newly wed. It didn't take long until we were running out of mentor couples on campus, so we started recruiting from area churches. We wrote a little booklet called "The Marriage Mentor Manual," and soon we were leading training events on marriage mentoring in churches around the country. We launched the online Marriage Mentoring Academy, making it easier than ever to be trained as a marriage mentoring couple, and to date we've trained a quarter million couples — and we're just getting started.

Marriage mentoring is the most effective means we've found to slow the staggering divorce rate and help couples enjoy lifelong love. By equipping marriage mentors, we are waking up the sleeping giant in the church — couples, like you, who have so much to offer less-experienced couples. Consider these facts from a survey of more than 3,000 couples:

  • Eighty-four percent of church-going couples want a marriage mentor couple.
  • Only 22 percent of couples say they have a marriage mentor couple.

Imagine what could happen in your church if a band of couples decided to mentor other couples who are preparing for lifelong love, who are repairing a love that has lost its way or who just want to move from good to great. Actually, we don't have to imagine because it's already happening in churches across North America, and couples are enjoying the positive difference it makes.

Any age or stage

Every marriage needs mentors — a couple who knows the road and can point out the potholes and sharp turns, as well as the scenic vistas and best stops.

Meet Brandon and Stephanie. Married for five years with two young children (this is Stephanie's second marriage), they're trying to blend a family and are doing a decent job. But when they met Scott and Brenda, married 18 years, they realized they had a lot to learn. The two couples met during a barbecue with their Sunday school class, and they've been meeting ever since. It started as an organic relationship, but now it's intentional. They meet routinely to talk about everything from coping with ex-spouses to disciplining the children.

"Scott and Brenda are like our travel guides," Stephanie says. "They don't tell us what to do, but when they make a suggestion, we pay attention because they have the experience that we don't."

Brandon and Stephanie are also mentoring an engaged couple who are in the same situation they were just five years ago. "We realized that we have experience that can probably benefit this new couple," Brandon says. Marriage mentoring is like that. We're usually a step ahead and a step behind other couples, so we can be mentored and be a mentor at the same time — regardless of our age or stage in life.

The boomerang of blessing

When a more experienced couple comes alongside a less experienced couple and allows them to learn from both their successes and their challenges, the tide rises for both couples. Mentoring not only enlightens the newer couples, but it rekindles intimacy for the mentors, too. We call it the boomerang of blessing. In one of our last mentor meetings with Dennis and Lucy, before Dennis' illness took over, we told them how deeply we appreciated their investment in us.

"Oh, you kids have no idea what we get out of doing this," Dennis said. "We get more out of this than you'll ever know."

Maybe he was right. But one thing is certain: We'd be foolish not to learn from the experience of a wise couple. In fact, we interviewed Dennis and Lucy on a Monday evening in our Marriage 101 class many years ago, and when we posed our usual closing question, Dennis may have given the wisest counsel of all: "Find a relatively healthy and happy couple who will walk alongside you for a season and serve as your mentors."

Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott are New York Times best-selling authors and the founders of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. Their books include The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring.


 

Find a Marriage Mentor

If you'd like to be mentored by a more experienced couple, start by identifying a married couple you know who exemplify marriage in a way you want to emulate. Then ask if you could meet with them over a cup of coffee or invite them to join you for dinner. Share your desire to find a couple who might mentor the two of you, and ask if they could see this friendship growing into an intentional mentoring relationship. Let them know you don't need an answer immediately. If they're willing but don't feel equipped to be mentors, invite them to explore FocusOnTheFamily.com/MarriageMentors. If they decide mentoring is not for them, graciously thank them for taking time to consider your invitation, then ask another couple.

 

Become a Marriage Mentor

Whether you've been married a few years or several decades, your marriage experience equips you with plenty to offer a less experienced couple. And intentionally connecting with another couple doesn't have to be complicated: Buy them coffee after church or offer to help with a home renovation project. If you're willing to be a role model, an encourager and an imparter of wisdom, you're well on your way to mentoring. For tools to enhance your mentoring relationship, visit FocusOnTheFamily.com/MarriageMentors to check out our online training program, which includes eight 25-minute sessions. We're confident there's a blessing to be had when you're willing to mentor, so connect with another couple and encourage them just by being who you are.

This article first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Focus on the Family's Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled " Show Us the Way."
Copyright © 2013 by Drs. Les Parrott and Leslie Parrott. Used by permission. From the Focus on the Family website at FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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