Some Problems In Your Marriage Are Here To Stay

Some Problems In Your Marriage Are Here To Stay - Michelle Peterson on #staymarriedEvery couple has their perpetual problems. These are the problems that you fight and argue about, but nothing seems to change. You plead your case, you hear their side of it, you may even reach some kind of agreement or compromise, and then, before too long, you are arguing about it all over again. Perpetual.

Early in your marriage, you may argue and disagree about a number of things. I mean, you should. You’re still figuring each other out and navigating what it’s like to live together. Your expectations and dreams are confronted with reality and those things never line up completely.

In our first year, we argued about Tony leaving wet towels on the bed or which of my piles of clothes were clean and which were dirty and why I never put the dirty ones in the hamper… What if I can get one more wear out of those jeans before I do laundry? Little things, no biggie… That is what that first year is about – discovery. We didn’t know then that some of the things we argued and disagreed about, some of the things that hurt, would become the things that we still can’t come to terms with eight years into our marriage.

On our 8th Anniversary date, over tapas, we discussed our perpetual problem. Continue reading “Some Problems In Your Marriage Are Here To Stay”

When Couples Counseling is the Wrong Answer…

Years ago, I worked for a non-profit organization that was part of a national research study. The study was trying to determine if providing couples with healthy communication skills and techniques in the early stages of parenthood – a very stressful time in all relationships – would improve their chances of staying intact as a family. The work was both inspiring and brutal.

When Couples Counseling Is The Wrong Answer - #staymarriedPart of my particular role in the study was to interview the couples and put them through a random selection process. I knew every time there was a fifty-fifty chance they would be accepted into the program or not. Except, the reality is that the chances were not exactly fifty-fifty. You see, the couples first had to qualify and it was part of my job to determine whether or not they did.

During the first part of the interview the couple sat together and answered questions. During the second part, the couple was separated into two rooms. One person was set up with a packet and pen to answer more questions on their own, and the other was in a room with me answering more of my scripted questions. In this private room, I did what I was trained to do: ask questions to determine if there was domestic violence occurring in the relationship.

Most of the time there was no sign of domestic violence. Phew! We could move on to the rest of the interview and allow them to participate in the random selection. Because, if I found that there was domestic violence happening, I had to automatically (and discreetly) disqualify the couple from receiving our services.

I remember the face of each of the women who were disqualified for this reason. I remember them because they looked like me. They looked like my friends. They looked like my mom. Continue reading “When Couples Counseling is the Wrong Answer…”

How to Find a Great Therapist

How to Find a Great Therapist - a #staymarried blog for couples“Have you thought about counseling?”

I knew I was struggling with depression, but I also thought I could push past it on my own. I would go back and forth from rage to silence over things that would normally be manageable, every-day responsibilities, like dirty dishes. I had begun to shut myself away from most of the people I knew. Aside from my husband, I had one friend who constantly and gently inserted herself into my life. When she asked me if I’d thought about counseling, at first I was embarrassed. I must be really bad if she’s asking. At the same time, I knew she cared about me and about my family. I also knew that she herself had seen the benefits of counseling over the years in her own life. She wasn’t telling me that anything was inherently wrong with me. She was simply encouraging me to get the help I needed.

It was clear that I needed outside help and I dreaded it. I’d been in counseling before when I was in college, and while I still carried with me some of the tools I’d learned, my memory of the process of divulging my deepest heartaches was incredibly painful. After months of patient nudging, as Tony shared about in his post Living with My Partner’s Baggage, I finally began the process of searching for a counselor, deciding on one, and attending therapy sessions.

I am working through the pain of my past and learning to be healthier, not just for my own sake but for my marriage and my children. Now that I’ve found my counselor, I can’t believe I waited so long to begin my therapeutic relationship. With each session, though the process can still be painful, I leave encouraged and full of hope.

Whether you, like me, need individual therapy or you believe that your marriage might benefit from couples counseling like Carl and Katie, beginning the process can be daunting. I have been so fortunate in my search that I thought it would be great for you to hear from my own therapist about how to know whether therapy might be the right next step for you and how to go about finding a great counselor. I’m pleased to introduce you to Mary Beth Woll. Mary Beth is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been working with Meier Clinics in Bothell, Washington since 2005. Here she is to share her steps to finding a great therapist.

How to Find a Great Therapist

Mary Beth Woll, MA, L.M.H.C.“Wait a second! Find a therapist?!? Do I need therapy? Do we really need it as a couple? With a little willpower, we could handle this on our own, right?”

The truth is, everybody needs counsel, at one time or another, from loved ones, trusted family and friends, pastors, mentors, and professionals. Taking this important step could save a person’s life or marriage and potentially change the course of many generations to come!

Before beginning the search for a therapist, it is good to clearly define the need.

♦ What are my symptoms?

♦ Is there an immediate threat to someone’s safety?

♦ Is there a desire to include spirituality in therapy?

♦ Will it be individual, marriage, or family therapy?

♦ Is there a need for a specialist in treating such cases as Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and others?

♦ How will I pay for it? Can I use my insurance? (Currently, children are covered under their parent’s insurance until age 26, even if married.) Do they offer a sliding scale?

♦ Would a support group or peer counseling provide what I need or do I need a professional who specializes in my situation?

With all these questions, is it any wonder that many people never make it to the therapist’s door? There are good answers to all these questions, but even before answering them, there are often other roadblocks that need to be addressed, like how does one even know when it’s time to see a professional?

How can I determine if I need therapy?

Consider when a person catches a cold. If they are sensible, they will drink more fluids and get more rest. If the cold persists, they may take vitamins or over-the-counter cold remedies. If the cold develops into bronchitis or pneumonia, it’s time to see a doctor! In such cases, it would be unwise and potentially life-threatening, to continue to self-treat or self-medicate.

In the same way, it is important to recognize when emotional, behavioral, or soul needs are too much for one’s personal support system. That’s when it’s time to stop “white-knuckling it” and get professional help!

As a Christian, shouldn’t I just rely on my church and my faith instead of a counselor?

Sometimes a person’s faith background or the religious tradition they were brought up with can be a roadblock towards counseling. Many have been taught that if their faith is strong enough, they need not rely on outside counseling. Some wonder, “Is it even O.K. for a Christian to go to therapy? If I were a “better Christian,” I wouldn’t need therapy, right? Shouldn’t I just read my Bible and pray more?”  This kind of thinking can prolong a person’s pain and unnecessarily add to the shame they may already be experiencing. Especially if someone is dealing with past trauma or abuse, some kind of addiction, or any number of other mental health challenges, a trained counselor can be an incredible tool and ally. In these cases, telling them, “You don’t need counseling. Just become a better, stronger Christian,” or “Just read the Bible and pray more,” can condemn them to more years of symptoms, hiding, and unhealthy coping strategies instead of being helpful. In a loving community of faith, we really should be encouraging each other to seek out the help we need, and receiving help from a trained counselor is a wonderful and healthy avenue.

What about medication?

Sometimes, there is a very real and legitimate need for medication in treatment for depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, among others. This must not be minimized, any more than one would advise a diabetic not to take their insulin! Often people struggle with the idea of starting on medication, thinking that it makes them seem weak or even “crazy.” The reality is that the brain is an organ like any other part of the body, which can become sick. In some cases, the brain is formed a little different, from birth, and needs medical support.

Many Christians, and particularly those who have overcome drug addiction, struggle with medication issues, thinking that a “better Christian” would not need an antidepressant or mood stabilizer. This misconception can keep many people away from much-needed treatment. Of course, it is true that God still heals, but apparently, He also chooses to use medicine, and does not condemn us for it. Jesus confirmed this when He said in Matthew 9:12, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” Praying for the sick is a vital ministry of the church, but it is just as dangerous for the church to advise against medicine as it would be for pastors and church members to line up and write out prescriptions for each other on Sunday mornings! This calls for a mental health professional.

Although therapists do not prescribe medicine, they can diagnose and refer for proper medical treatment, which is most effective in conjunction with therapy.

Is my past affecting my current life and relationships?

Some people experience childhood sexual abuse or other trauma that is terrifying or impossible for a child to understand. Memories of such horror don’t go away. They are so threatening that the mind protects the person by locking these memories away in the subconscious for years while they carry on with the business of growing up. Later, these memories can present as unexplained behavioral symptoms or big blank blocks of time in their childhood memories. When these symptoms begin to emerge in adult years, the person may need someone who can help them articulate and resolve what was previously unspeakable.

When they are ready to face the pain of the past, though friends and family can play a part in the healing process, it is not safe or appropriate to talk to just anyone. It is important that they seek out someone who is trained and skilled in such work, otherwise it is possible for the unequipped helper to inflict more damage in the process.

How can counseling help my marriage and other relationships?

How to Find a Great Therapist - a #staymarried blog for couplesIn addition to depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic symptoms, relationships or marriages may become so conflicted or distant that a third party’s perspective and input is needed. Such situations can be overwhelming to a couple’s support system of friends and family. Once again, professional help is in order. Seeking counseling, in such cases, is actually the responsible thing to do in order to continue to function well in the family and on the job.

What type of therapist is best for me?

Some of the confusion in finding a great therapist can be found in the titles alone.

Psychiatrists will usually be identified as “Dr.” with “MD” following their name. These medical doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or psychiatric illnesses. They are trained in counseling, but typically use the client’s report of symptoms to prescribe appropriate medications and refer clients to therapists for counseling. While it is true that family practice doctors prescribe the overwhelming proportion of antidepressants in the United States, I prefer to recommend a psychiatrist when medication is needed, because, as specialists, they can often catch a subtle need that can make a big difference in prescribing the right medication.

Psychologists (PhD or PsyD) have a doctoral degree in Psychology. They are specialists in various methods of therapy, as well as psychological testing. Psychologists do not prescribe medications but can refer to a psychiatrist, if necessary.

Licensed Mental Health Counselors (MA, LMHC) have a Master’s Degree in Psychology, plus 3,000 hours of post-master’s experience in order to be licensed. They are therapists who can diagnose and treat a wide range of problems including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, sexual abuse, ADD/ADHD, grief, suicidal impulses, addiction and substance abuse, stress management, self-esteem issues, emotional health and family, parenting and marital issues. In addition to individuals, they can treat couples and families. They do not prescribe but can refer to a psychiatrist.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, (MS, LMFT) are therapists with a Master’s Degree in Psychology and post-master’s experience (similar to the Licensed Mental Health Counselor) but with more specialized training in issues regarding marriage and family. They can, also, treat all the issues listed above.

Licensed Social Workers (MSW, LICSW) also have a Master’s Degree in Social Work and post-master’s experience. They specialize in providing services to help their clients’ psychological and social functioning. Social workers can also treat the above therapy issues. In addition, they are specially trained to provide counseling and resources to help a person better function in their environment and relationships.

Pastoral Counselors (Rev., M Div, Pastor) are usually licensed or ordained ministers who also have training in counseling. Their emphasis tends to focus on biblical principles, spiritual formation and direction, and improving relationships. It is important to note that, depending on how or where the Pastor was ordained, they may not have been required to have any training in counseling at all. It is dangerous to assume that just because someone is a Pastor, they are equipped to counsel you in areas of mental health.

How can I determine I’ve found the right therapist for me?

In an effort to answer some of these concerns, I will share how I found my own therapist. Yes, therapists need therapists, too! We all have injuries in life. The better healed I am, the better therapist I will be. Experiencing the process also gives me empathy for my clients who are undergoing this process.

Here are the things that were important to me as I looked for a therapist:

Covered – She was listed on my insurance information.

Competence – She went to a respected university and has a good work history.

Conviction – There are certain moral principles which are non-negotiable for me. I didn’t want to wrestle with these issues during therapy, but needed someone who shared this baseline with me so that they would be better able to advise me. Since my faith informs my decisions, choosing a therapist who was also a Christian was THE most important aspect for me.

Compassion – I found that she is a very caring individual.This is also critical for me. If I felt that the therapist didn’t really care, I would go elsewhere.

Connection – She and I “hit it off.” This makes therapy so much more pleasant.

Consistency – She is dependable and reliable. I know what to expect when I go to therapy.

Convenience – Her office is within about a half hour commute. I was willing to travel this distance for a great therapist.

Finding a great therapist has been a huge benefit in my own life. Hopefully, these thoughts will also help you navigate the maze of finding a therapist who is a good fit for you. As a counselor, I know that I have the opportunity to change lives, daily! Sometimes, like braces, it is slow and incremental. Other times, like heart surgery, it is critical and immediate. Still for others it is like physical therapy – just plain hard work, long-term, and endurance-building.

It takes courage to begin the counseling process. Often, we will experience resistance from within ourselves and from others. This is normal and to be expected. But the rewards are well worth the risk as these life changes can be deep, permanent, and enriching not only for you, but for your loved ones and your marriage. And even one changed life can change the course of events for generations yet to come!

~ Mary Beth Woll, MA, L.M.H.C.
Clinical Therapist for Meier Clinics
http://www.meierclinics.com/Woll

We want to thank Mary Beth for her insight. Once you determine your symptoms and need for a therapist, I’d encourage you to come up with a list of your own, like Mary Beth did, of the important characteristics a therapist should have to be a good match for you. I’ve had friends share with me that they needed their therapist to be more direct and less compassionate, or that they planned to pay with cash so insurance wasn’t a consideration. Whatever you decide is important to you, use this as a checklist to sort through your options. Maybe even consider your first visit as more of an interview and less of a problem solving session. Once you meet them in person, ask yourself, “Is this counselor right for me? Can I see myself coming consistently and being honest with this person?” It is as much in the interest of the counselor to make sure you are well suited for each other as it is in yours, so don’t feel badly if you decide they aren’t a fit.

We’ve gathered some resources for you to look through as you begin your search. Click here to check out a few different lists and databases of licensed and recommended counselors in your area. When your life or your marriage hits a rough spot, which usually is a matter of “when” and not “if,” having a great therapist by your side can be just the thing you need to navigate through it and encourage you not to throw in the towel, but instead, to #staymarried.

Recovering from Infidelity

Though Tony and I have known Carl and Katie for years, and they even participated in our #staymarried group last fall, we didn’t really know everything. Sitting in church one Sunday morning, we were stunned to learn that their beautiful marriage had been shaken by pornography and infidelity. Please take the next seven minutes to watch their story. Though painfully honest, it is full of hope.

Carl & Katie from EastLake Community Church Media on Vimeo.

As we’ve been tackling the subjects of pornography and infidelity, and one of the goals of the #staymarried blog is to offer hope, we wanted you to hear from this beautiful couple about just how they are rebuilding trust in their marriage even after, as Katie put it, her line in the sand had been crossed.

 

Carl & Katie’s Story

Part 1: The Fallout

<Katie> The days and weeks after my husband’s full disclosure of the affairs were a blur to me. I went through the motions of life, barely. We had both started seeing separate counselors a few months prior when the first of my husband’s porn addiction became a reality. As all the books and therapists say, “disclosures” sometimes trickle in. I didn’t believe that would happen with us, but I was wrong. My counselor recommended that I request that he take a lie detector test as a part of the recovery. Though I stalled on asking Carl to take one, I had to admit to myself that I didn’t trust him anymore and that I needed to know that there weren’t any more secrets.  It took three months of counseling, and finally my request for the lie detector test, before everything was all out and on the table. My husband had been with someone else.

You can get a lot of advice in times like these. I had only a few close friends that I trusted with this information in the aftermath. I knew my emotions were fragile and I didn’t want other people’s words or emotions to overly influence what I did or how I felt about my husband.

Recovering from Infidelity - a real couple's story on the #staymarried blogMy therapist suggested that I not make any decisions about what I was going to do in my marriage for at least a year. I needed to allow time for my emotions to settle and she said, “What could it hurt? You need to heal yourself first anyway, even if you do decide to leave in the end.”  Despite my hurt, I couldn’t imagine a life without Carl and without our party of five together. I was scared. I hoped that I could get beyond it and I hoped that Carl could too. I knew if he didn’t change, I had to be done.

 <Carl> The first part of our marriage recovery on my end was for me to figure out the entirety of this sexual addiction problem. The repercussions it had on my marriage were clear, but I needed to determine what caused me to act out in this way. I basically needed to understand what was messed up with me before my marriage could be fully repaired. For me, this meant seeking out professional counselors that specifically dealt with this problem and group counseling with other guys going through their own battles of sexual addiction. I think Katie saw me do the work necessary to unravel this mess, and as I learned more about the core of my issues, these insights were permeating into the marriage recovery.

<Katie> In the months that followed, I spent a lot of time in my therapist’s office. I talked through things on my morning runs with a close friend. I read lots of books on marriage, some specific to sexual addictions and affairs. I even went to a few recovery groups, which I wasn’t crazy about, but I know I learned through them and I was around people, some my own age, going through the same thing I was.

I definitely worked through all the stages of grief. When I got to the anger stage, I scared myself because I began to think I might stay there and never get through it. I learned that in order to work through the pain, you actually have to go right through the middle of it where it hurts the most. Otherwise, you go around the outside and you think you’re better, but years later, it’s a problem. My anger stage lasted a few months. I was not a very nice person to be around during those months.

I was traveling for work a lot during this year. Looking back, this was undeniably something God designed. It gave me the opportunity to get away from life, and even though I was working, I had a lot of time to think and pray and read. It was on one of these trips that I finished a marriage book, Intimate Allies, that had a huge impact on my marriage and where we are today. I came home and I felt like I was ready to commit. I had seen Carl working through his therapy and emotions and getting to the root of his problem. I saw him treating me differently. I saw him never lash out or get mad at me when I was working through my anger and said things and accused him. I knew deep down that this addiction, this affair, this horrible problem wasn’t the man he was. He loved me and he loved our family. This was a nasty sin that had taken hold of him and that takes hold of too many men and women in our society.

 

Part 2: Rebuilding Trust

 <Carl> Rebuilding trust has been an ongoing process that I constantly need to remind myself of. I spent most of my life hiding the sexual sin in my life, so obviously the number one key to regaining the trust that had been lost was for me to be open and honest about everything. That was sometimes easier said than done since hiding stuff and even lying just to avoid any confrontation had been pretty natural for me to do over the years. The lying and hiding parts are the easier ones to identify and not do, but openly communicating about everything is still hard. I don’t always remember to share the details with Katie when they seem unimportant to me.

Being fully honest seems like an obvious part of rebuilding trust, but I realized there was much more to it. I had to drop my defensiveness about any accusation, even if there seemed like no reason for it. That idea was much easier for me right after I’d fully confessed, but even a couple of years later I see how important it still is. I know that if she asks what I was doing on my cell phone to just immediately tell her and hand her my phone if she wants to verify, even if I was just checking my fantasy football team. I have to constantly remind myself that I have spent a lot of years being dishonest with Katie, so I need to allow her to have moments of mistrust. Over the last year, those moments are less frequent, especially when I am communicating with her. When I fail to communicate and connect, those are the moments when I give her reason to not trust.

 <Katie> Forgiving Carl was a choice. At first I thought it would just happen, I’d wake up one day and realize I didn’t hurt anymore and I’d forgiven Carl. It doesn’t work that way, at least it didn’t for me. I planned a weekend away for Carl and I to talk about what had happened one last time. I had an opportunity to ask any more questions that I needed answers to. He had the opportunity to do the same. Then, in a very dramatic fashion, I ripped up his initial disclosure letter, the one he had written in therapy. We prayed about it together and from that point, we moved forward. I chose to forgive him for the past and start from that point. This took a choice and a sacrifice on my part. The pain was still there, but sometimes one person has to absorb the pain in order to move forward with forgiveness. Even as I write this, I am crying thinking about that time in our life. I cherish where we are today, and I know it could have gone a different way. I am so thankful for my marriage and my children.

There have and continue to be hiccups in our marriage. Now it’s more of the everyday marriage stuff that we have to work through. I honestly don’t know if trust is ever fully rebuilt, because I don’t think I am there yet. I hope it is, but in the end, I trust Jesus and I know I am being faithful to Him in this and He will be faithful to us. We have checks and balances in place today that weren’t there a few years ago. We are much more conscious of our communication. It doesn’t take much for me to start to worry if I feel like Carl is not being clear in his communication with me. We set clear expectations for each other when we’re in certain environments. Some things are just going to be different for us, but we’re working on it. There was a verse from the Bible that I’d written down when we were in the worst of it, and it’s something that still comforts me today:

2 Corinthians 4:16 from Recovering from Infidelity - a real couple's story on the #staymarried blog

 <Carl> This has been the most difficult yet best couple of years of our marriage. There are still a lot of times where I could be a better husband to my wife. The difference now is that I want to be that better husband and I have the right tools in hand because of the counseling and recovery process I am going through. I have a much clearer idea now of what I need to do. Katie is an amazing wife and mom, and she is worth every ounce of me giving her the best of me.

We were really lost for a long time, not sure what to do or where to turn. If you are working on recovering from the effects of infidelity and porn in your own marriage, we’ve put together a list of things that have been helping us in our journey…

8 Tools to Recover from Infidelity

1. Get Counseling

It was important for us not only to find a Christian counselor, but one that specializes in sex addiction. Through our past experience, we really noticed a difference between counselors that specialize in sex addiction and those that don’t. We also recommend, from our experience, each spouse having their own counselors. We spent a lot of money on this, but it’s cheaper than a divorce and highly effective for recovery.

2. Communicate Openly

This one is harder to remember to do, but it’s important that I (Carl) talk to Katie about what is going on and offer information even if she doesn’t ask. I try to share what my day has been like, who I’m working with, and what I might be struggling with.

3. Drop the Defensiveness

Even a couple of years after everything happened, there are still times when I’ll be asked a question that I think has no basis. It doesn’t matter. How I respond to my wife, especially after the trust has been broken, is what really counts. If I respond defensively, I am building up a wall between us. If I respond calmly and openly, it helps my wife to trust me and together we are building a bridge back to each other.

4. Get Accountable

It has been essential for us to have accountability software on all media outlets, phones, computers, iPads, etc. If you travel for work, create a travel plan that details everything you are doing and when you will check in with your spouse. I also have a group of friends that hold me accountable by checking in weekly, whether by phone or in person. A certified sex counselor also has resources for accountability therapy groups; I (Carl) participated one of these for over a year.

5. Avoid Triggers

Check movie/TV ratings, even if it’s PG-13, and avoid anything that is sexual. We also censor the magazines that we allow in our house, which pretty much means none. At the very beginning of our discovery, we did a media blackout for a period of time. Carl went off Facebook and we got rid of cable. It’s also been important for us to avoid or limit alcohol, especially in a setting that we will be without each other.

6. Date Again

Damage was done and your spouse needs to see you make an effort to date again. Make plans, find a sitter, work it into the calendar and the budget. Call your wife and pursue her, like you did when you were dating. It doesn’t always need to be a five-star date, but spending time together intentionally has really helped us rebuild our love for each other.

7. Participate in Maintenance Counseling

I (Katie) was released from counseling earlier than Carl.  He attended weekly group therapy sessions and individual counseling for over a year before he was released.  You can talk with your counselor about how often you should participate in maintenance counseling or you can decide with your spouse when you’d like to do this. A maintenance counseling session mainly serves as a check-in for both of us. This is a session that can be done individually or as a couple. We prefer to go as a couple. Writing this post for #staymarried reminded Carl and I that we needed to schedule a maintenance counseling session, so we got an appointment on the books. We love counseling and can’t say enough good things about it

8. Extend Grace

There will be bumps in the road; it’s okay. This recovery is a process, which means it can take a long time to be fully recovered. We know we aren’t there yet, we still make mistakes that bring up old hurts. Extend grace to each other and practice forgiving regularly.

Recovering from Infidelity - a real couple's story on the #staymarried blog

We want to thank Carl and Katie for their vulnerability in sharing their story. Exploring the dark topics of infidelity, pornography, forgiveness, and healing have been tough for Tony and I in these last few weeks. Still, we continue to have hope that couples can work through the dark stuff of life and marriage and be able to receive all that marriage has to offer when they see healing and wholeness on the other side like Carl and Katie have. We hope their story was as encouraging to you as it has been to us as we fight to #staymarried.

 

P.S. You are reading Recovering from Infidelity, as part of a #staymarried series on infidelity, pornography, and forgiveness.  If you missed the other installments, 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity, or Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross, you might want to check them out. If you want to read more about safeguarding your marriage, you may also like Five Trust Building Boundaries.

If you feel like this story could be helpful to someone else in their marriage, please consider sharing. Thanks for reading!

~Tony and Michelle

Lost in the Fog: Guest Post by Carmen Meeks

Last week, in “If Mama Ain’t Happy,” we discussed how our moods affect everyone around us. I touched briefly on my own experience with depression, and this week we want to explore that a little bit further. According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. suffer from depression. This means that, even if you are not personally struggling through it, there is a great chance that someone you care very much about is suffering. They may even be suffering in silence because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues like depression, bipolar, and anxiety.

This has always been a blog about marriage, not mental health, so you may wonder why we are diving into these rough waters. The simple truth is that we always want to be open about things that affect marriages, and people who suffer from depression have a higher likelihood of getting divorced than people who don’t, especially when the depression is untreated. We know, however, that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

When I began to think about the devastating connection between depression and broken marriages, and my own risk for divorce, my mind went to a couple I know who has been married thirty years longer than Tony and I. This couple is full of fun and wisdom, they are generous, and living life with a purpose. They have also battled depression and are beating the odds and staying married.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Carmen Meeks and allow her to share her own story today.

 

Lost in the Fog

When Michelle asked me if I would be willing to write about my experience with depression, I immediately said yes. If I can offer a few words of hope to someone who is currently feeling hopeless, I want to do so. I am living proof that there is hope and healing available for those who struggle with the debilitating disease that is depression.

My season of depression came on slowly. It crept over me like a Seattle fog.  Slowly, steadily, almost imperceptibly. I really had no idea what was happening to me until I was in the thick of it and couldn’t see my way out. At the time, I didn’t know the symptoms of depression, I just felt them: fuzzy thinking, irritability, fatigue, extreme sadness, hopelessness. Physically, I felt heavy– like I was sinking. Mentally, I felt clouded– like I had lost the capacity to make a decision.  Emotionally, I felt nothing– I was flat-lined.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

Unfortunately, my husband became the victim of my depression. I blamed him for how I was feeling. Wasn’t he supposed to make me happy? My two dysfunctional coping mechanisms were anger and withdrawal. Attack and retreat. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must have been for him, but somehow he stuck with me. And I can’t imagine how hard this must have been on my two children. There was a period of time during their young adult years when their mom was physically present, but emotionally absent.

I came face-to-face with my illness when I was driving down a wet road on a rainy day and saw a car swerve toward me. I had already experienced times when my heartbeat would accelerate over small events, but this time it skyrocketed in reaction to the perceived danger. It was beating so fast that I could literally hear it in my ears and feel my mind shutting down. The other car corrected their trajectory and no collision occurred, but I was already a mess. I pulled over to the side of the road and burst into tears. I was afraid to try to drive home. I knew something was wrong with me, but had no idea what it was or what to do about it.

A few days later, my husband and I got into our car to head to a friend’s home for dinner. That’s when I exploded. I told him I was unhappy with our life and our marriage and something had to change. It was ugly and messy, but it was also the first step toward healing. Rather than running for the hills, my husband helped us locate a competent Christian counselor. We went there together.

My healing did not happen overnight. It did not happen in weeks. It did not happen in months. I walked out of my depression, one day at a time, over a period of two years. Though our budget was tight, we paid for professional therapy month after month. I tried several different medications until I found one that worked for me. We stayed connected with close friends who encouraged us in our journey. I not only needed physical and emotional help, we needed to reinvent our marriage— and we did. We listened to our counselor and changed bad patterns in our relationship.  It was hard, but it was good.

Almost twenty years have passed since I found myself crying on the side of the road. I still live with a tendency toward depression and always will. My dad struggled with it, as did his dad. But now I know how to recognize when the fog is creeping in and how to take action. I am vigilant and self-aware. I no longer expect my husband to be responsible for my happiness. I know how to take responsibility for my own feelings. I’m not perfect, but I am better.

The symptoms of depression are available at our fingertips. Simply Google “depression” and you will access a wealth of information. But knowing the symptoms is not enough. If you are lost in the fog, you probably need help to take your first steps toward healing.

Here are some of those steps:

Tell a wise, trusted, action-oriented friend.

In the midst of my fog, I had neither the wisdom, nor the desire, nor the capacity to take action to help myself. I thank God that my husband took my hand and joined me on my journey toward healing.

Find a wise, competent psychiatrist.

For me, it was also important that this psychiatrist was Christ-centered. I needed holistic healing– body, soul and spirit. That included a full medical workup and medication for the treatment of depression. I also needed the grace and wisdom and practical advice found in the Bible to give me hope as well as practical life skills that I continue to implement in my relationships today.

Be patient with the process, and never stop growing.

You won’t conquer your problems overnight. I am still a work in progress, but I am much more self-aware and able to own my issues rather than blame others for my struggles. I know my moods, my physical weaknesses, and my points of vulnerability. I know where to go for help. I know what makes me happy:  spending time with my family, a long walk on the beach, quiet time at home, a hike in the woods, sharing a good meal with great friends, traveling to discover new places on this amazing planet.

Most importantly, ask Jesus to help you.

I put my faith in Jesus as a teenager. I still remember the weight I felt lifted from my heart when I asked him to forgive my sins and lead my life. Later, as a twenty-something, I stood in front of my pastor and promised to love my husband “for better or for worse.” The worst time of my life was my season of depression. Even though I cried out to Jesus during this struggle, he did not heal me instantly. But he did heal me eventually– with help from skilled professionals and therapeutic medicines and with the support of my husband. I see God’s handprint in all of these details.

This psalm is a reflection of my journey.  I pray it is an encouragement to you.

Psalm 40 - Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

Carmen and her husband Mike have been married for 36 years. They pastor EastLake Church in Chula Vista, California, where everyone is welcome regardless of their stories, questions, doubts, or struggles. They have two grown children, Heather and Ryan, as well as 7 grandchildren. Mike and Carmen, along with Tony and I, have committed to living transparently, especially when it comes to the issue of depression, so that others might find the hope and healing they need to conquer this otherwise silent destroyer of lives and marriages. The odds may be against us, but there is hope for each and every one of us, no matter what we face, to #staymarried.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

P.S. We’ve shared about our experience with depression in Tony’s post, Living with My Partner’s Baggage. As we mentioned before, even if you are not personally struggling with depression, there is a 1 in 10 chance that someone you know is. Please consider sharing this post and help us fight the stigma and silent suffering of this crippling disease by bringing it out into the open for discussion.

If you’re new here, welcome! You may want to check out my first post to get a little background as well as our about page. Thanks for reading and sharing!
~ Michelle

Photo Credit: Seattle | Fog in the Morning by Stephanie Williams Photography

Living With My Partner’s Baggage

We all bring something into our relationships… “Baggage” is the popular term for it. My baggage includes a couple of past relationships, one sexual and one very long-term (10 years)… as well as lust, pride, and financial struggles. But these shy in comparison to what my wife has endured in her lifetime, as she shared last week here on the blog. It’s not a competition of ‘who has the most hurt and dirt in their past,’ so I’m not trying to compare myself to her, but the fact is, I was not subject to molestation and rape from ages 4 to 10 and don’t think I can ever fathom what a dark place that is for a child. Michelle has asked me to write a follow-up to last week’s post to share what it’s like from a partner’s perspective– being in a relationship with someone who has dealt with sexual abuse. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to share my insight, perhaps because I don’t feel I have any. But because she asked, I will try.

Living With My Partner's Baggage - Coping with Depression in Marriage - a #staymarried blog

Here’s how it goes…
I have heard Michelle’s story many times, and each time I hear it, it sounds almost exactly like the first time she told me. Very disconnected. Very factual and stale. Not emotional like you’d expect from someone who’s been deeply wounded – never a tear, or tremble, or pause in her voice. She never uses the word “rape,” and even though that’s what it was, she seems to speak of the unspeakable as though she’s talking about a mediocre restaurant she visited. Honestly, it’s a little disjointed to hear it delivered this way (like Ben Stein giving a eulogy) but I think I get it. Not only is she trying to spare the feelings and pity of the listener, but if she were going to allow herself to internally or mentally relive those moments every time she shared her past, she might never stop carrying that baggage.

In contrast to popular opinion, my wife is actually an introvert. She is very private and really only shares details of her life and feelings to very close friends. So when I heard that she was going to share her story with the world, I was so proud of her, because I knew it was way outside of her comfort zone. The video in her “Baggage Handling” post was shot in 2009 when we lived in Wisconsin, and it was intended to be used for the (at the time) small church of about 500 people we helped plant. We saw then how being open and transparent could be helpful to others who’d had similar experiences. It seems that while so many are affected, there is still a huge tendency for people to feel alone. It’s a colossal understatement to say that I’m a big fan of Michelle Peterson.

But back to the effect it has on our marriage. For me, her baggage helps me remember that God is good. I know, I know. You all just thought, “oh geez, Mr. Christian just pulled out the cliché one-liner I was expecting”… but before you roll your eyes and stop reading, hear me out: The results of studies concerning adults who were sexually abused as children have shown that the odds are against Michelle, and she should be in a self-destructive situation– in an abusive relationship, addicted, selling her body, living with cripplingly low self-esteem, or admitted to a mental hospital– but she has overcome and spat in the face of those studies. I cannot look at the scientifically observed results of an abused childhood, put them next to who I know my wife to be, and find the contrast anything less than a miracle.

To put it differently, it has been no more than a small thorn in our sides. Her past has surfaced for me to experience a small number of times. This doesn’t mean that it’s all lollipops and kittens, though. One specific example of how her past has had an effect on our marriage is Michelle’s experience with depression.

Depression at Home

It is extremely common for victims of childhood abuse to suffer from depression and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There is no time when this has been more apparent than after the birth of each of our girls. After Claire was born, Michelle seemed fine for a couple weeks, but then she began to appear distant or lost in thought. Then she turned irritable, bitter, pessimistic, and communication was like pulling teeth, most of the time ending up in tears. Talking about it together (when we’re not in the depths of living in it), she’s revealed to me some pretty dark thoughts she struggles with. Out of shame we never sought professional help, but this season eventually faded and life became easier again.

After learning that we were going to have another baby, I gave little thought of how we would handle postpartum. I think I just thought “it takes going through it once to know how to handle it the next time” and assumed that Michelle would be watchful of symptoms, and it would be better this time. I was wrong. After Nora was born, it was worse than before. She was completely non-communicative, simple things that were easy for her to navigate before now caused her to be stressed and overwhelmed. Again, I hoped in silence that it would just go away, but after a month I was doubtful. I ended up calling a hotline to find out what I could do for my wife and they were helpful, up until they told me that Michelle would have to call them directly so that she could receive assistance. I was torn. I wanted help, but I feared in my wife’s hyper defensive state that she might feel betrayed that I made the phone call in the first place.

Our youngest was four or five months old when Michelle seemed to come alive again. We could talk and even joke and I thought we’d come through the worst of it. Then, just a few months ago, she seemed to break down once more. Michelle not only felt the emotional struggle like before, but it was physically debilitating this time. I was nervous to go to work, fearing that parenting our girls was too much for her. Once I came home from work a little early only to find her sobbing in the bathroom. She was trying to put makeup on and could not stop crying. I asked her what had happened, and she told me plainly that she had no reason to cry except that she just felt hopeless and worthless. It was brutal to watch my sweet wife feel so awful. She wanted to shake it off, but these horrible feelings were just not going away. I kept telling her how much I loved her and how much she meant to our family, but it seemed that any attempt I made at encouraging her was futile.

Soon common household responsibilities seemed like impossible tasks. There were Fridays when I’d get home from work and I would only hear our bedroom door shut as I walked through the front door and knew she was retiring to sleep, leaving Dad to “figure it out” for the remainder of the weekend. It was a dark time, one of the hardest I can remember. This time, however, I called and made an appointment with our primary care doctor. I was still nervous, but when I told Michelle, she seemed relieved. Michelle has been on antidepressant medication now for a couple of months, and that has made a huge difference. We have talked and know that the next step is to seek counseling. That may seem like a simple phone call to most people, but after living with this for some time now, I realize what a hurdle that is for my wife. Still, she is determined to be healthy. I think that’s the difference of being a victim and a survivor.

I don’t even think Michelle really realizes she is a victim of sexual abuse. Take any horrible situation, and the victim is the innocent person hurt by the situation, helpless and waiting for the hero to come and rescue them. Sometimes the hero doesn’t come. But a survivor is what a victim becomes when they endure, outlast, or take matters into their own hands to find a way out of a bad situation… not for justice or to make fair or right, but for survival. Michelle is a survivor – strong and courageous.

How We Deal

So there you sit, reading my inadequate words to describe how I live with my amazing wife who brings past abuse into life with me. This isn’t a post to give you the 5-happy-hops-to-living-with-abuse, and I’m sorry if that’s what you’re hoping for. We do know that seeing a physician and starting medication has been a game-changer. Michelle is no longer plagued by the hopeless and worthless feelings she struggled through so heavily. She is alive to us and not distant the way she was and we are so thankful. As for me as her husband, I realize I have responsibility to her and to our family to continue to work through this. If you are a partner trying to cope with your spouse’s baggage, all I can offer is what I think works for us…

Coping with Depression in Marriage - a #staymarried blog

I’m sure some of this comes as a shock. I think most people read Michelle’s words and think about how encouraging she is. Some may even think we’ve overcome a lot of hurdles and are now sitting happily on the other side, ready to bestow all our learnings to everyone else who’s hurting. Nope. We’re in it too. You might be tripping over that boundaries hurdle right now, but we’re hitting that one over and over and are always stumbling over the comparison trap. We have decided not to let baggage or depression or anything else we may face tear us apart. We definitely don’t have this marriage thing in the bag, but we want to keep at it and #staymarried.

 

If you related with this post or think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and Michelle’s first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~Tony

Portrait Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

Baggage Handling

I was emailing with a friend of mine recently and she said something I haven’t been able to get out of my head. She is a young single mother, drawing boundaries in her dating life, hoping to be happily married someday. She said, “It seems like a lot of guys want to “test the ride” before they buy it. But for me, I want a large truck and a GPS for a husband. I want a man that I know will protect my son and I, have room for some ‘baggage,’ and guide us where we need to be.” I told her she wasn’t alone. I mean, isn’t that what a lot of women want?

4 Ways To Unpack Your Baggage - a #staymarried blog for couplesAs a bride, I was alone when I walked down the aisle to meet my groom. It was symbolic. I did not have a father to give me away. I came alone to give myself away. In retrospect, I should have been lugging a huge suitcase down the aisle. I mean, as long as I was being symbolic, I should have given Tony a better picture of the baggage he was about to commit himself to.

Baggage is anything that you bring into the relationship that has nothing to do with the other person but can cause tension, damage, and strife between the two of you. Addictions, ex-lovers, past abuse, mother issues, psychological disorders, debt, insecurities… baggage in a relationship can include any number of things. Often they are issues that have gone on unresolved, but even personal history that seems under control can show up unexpectedly in the heat of a discussion or argument.

Granted, my husband-to-be could have been waiting at the end of the altar with his own suitcase, and I would have imagined he had adventurous dreams tucked away inside of it. I wanted to be married to him, and everything in me hoped I could handle my own baggage or keep some of it hidden from him. I knew it was there, I had shared some of the stories with him, but I didn’t want to bring it into our marriage. Except, I did bring it with me. Here is a story that was filmed a few years ago of just some of my baggage.

Michelle’s Baggage

It’s been four years since I told that story for the first time. A lot has happened in those four years. Tony and I moved back to our home in Western Washington. We no longer work in full-time ministry. I have started to face the reality that, no matter how many of them I pluck, my gray hair is growing in more abundantly.  Most importantly, we now have children.

4 Ways To Unpack Your Baggage - a #staymarried blog for couples

A New Layer of Baggage

Our little daughters, while blessings in every way, have revealed a whole new layer of baggage since their arrival. It turns out, I am terrified that something horrible will happen to them. It is my worst nightmare that they would ever experience anything even close to what I went through in my childhood. I am so stressed about it that I actually cried in the locker room the first four times I took my children and dropped them off at the childcare of the gym. This is the sort of thing that I know deserves to be unpacked and confronted, and truthfully I don’t want to do it.

Still, for the sake of my family and my marriage, it is important to work through the baggage. Hiding it or pretending it isn’t there is not only dishonest, it’s burdensome. When we carry around unresolved issues, it has a way of seeping out into our everyday interactions with our family and they ultimately bear more of the burden than we realize. So, here are some things we have learned about baggage in our relationship.

4 Ways To Unpack Your Baggage - a #staymarried blog for couples

Unpack Your Baggage

1. Name It

Whether it’s child abuse, over-bearing parents, neglectful parents, addiction, debt, or dashed dreams, it’s important to name the things dragging you down. Acknowledge that this is the part of your life that causes you pain. Our baggage, after all, is a part of our story as a whole. Even when it’s painful, it shapes who we become. Often what I’ve done over the years is try very hard to hide my baggage, claiming that “I’m just a private person.” The reality is that I feel ashamed about what happened to me and even more ashamed of the decisions I made on my own as I grew up. However, I have found that as I share with people who are safe (trusted friends, counselors, my husband) that the power of shame dissipates, and the blame I lay on myself rises off of my shoulders. Have you named your baggage? Have you shared your story?

2. Take Responsibility

Whatever your baggage, it’s important to take responsibility for your current behavior. In my case, it was important for me to address the bitterness and un-forgiveness I’d been carrying around for years. The man that abused me eventually did acknowledge it, though he has never apologized. Regardless, I’ve forgiven him and have to practice forgiving him when I feel fear or bitterness rising up in me again. Not because what happened to me was my fault. It wasn’t  But we take responsibility because we all need to move forward, and that is not possible if we are still laying blame and pointing fingers. So, what part of your baggage do you own?

3. Ask for Patience

If you are married, or in a relationship, it is important to bring your spouse into this process. Ask for patience from them as you push through the hard work of confronting your baggage. Be patient with them as they may have a hard time understanding what you are going through. It’s important to remember that your spouse is not the initial cause of your baggage so that you don’t project your insecurity, trust issues, or frustrations onto them. Have you asked for patience?

4. Seek Healing

Whether it’s individual counseling that you need or just a good solid mentor, get the help that you need. Unpacking your baggage can be a slow and painful process and I am continuing to learn how important it is not to attempt to do it alone in the dark. Have you begun to seek healing?

Everyone has baggage of some sort. Even though you may feel like it, you aren’t the only one. It’s impossible to find someone without any past issues. In a loving relationship, we have the opportunity to help each other unpack safely so that we can move forward a little lighter every day. Start unpacking so you can #staymarried.

P.S. If you need to be pointed in the direction of a good counselor, I have contacts and would love to help. You can contact me here. Anything you share will be kept in the strictest of confidence. Sometimes just sharing your story can be the start of this healing process.

 

If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Wedding Portrait Credit: Jeremy Leffel
Family Portrait Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography
Michelle’s Story Video Production: Petersonspace.com

Becoming a Marriage Mentor

As I mentioned in my last post, having mentors early in our marriage proved to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Tony and I  have so valued Barabara and Rich Butler in our lives that I thought it would be great if the rest of you could hear from them directly. Here’s their take on the mentoring side of our relationship…

We met Tony and Michelle Peterson at church. We didn’t really know them when Michelle approached us. And, yes, we did indeed wait for at least a month to respond to Michelle’s request to mentor her and Tony in their marriage. We waited a month AND we waited for them to ask us again. And during that month we may have slightly panicked and even laughed a little. Us…marriage mentors?? Who were they kidding? We might look all cute and happy on Sundays at church, but truth be told, we get into some awesome fights, our finances are kinda messy, and our intimate connections can be quite sporadic. We’ve even mentioned the D word to each other during our almost 28 years of marriage {insert audible gasp}.

But wait….we get into some awesome fights, and we get back out of them. Our finances are messy, but we do work through them. And we work on our sex life (now there’s an awkward conversation to start with people you don’t know very well). And that D word? Well, we’ve talked about it and agreed how very much we want to work on avoiding it. Ok. Maybe there was something to this. Yes, we could share our struggles, things we’ve learned along the way, and our willingness to keep growing together. We agreed to be an open book for the Petersons to read. We were feeling apprehensive, but we moved forward.

And then, something wonderful and unexpected happened: we grew more in love with each other and with our marriage each time we met with Tony and Michelle. It was a win-WIN. Talking about our marriage and some truths about marriage on a regular basis and working through some issues with another couple proved to be quite therapeutic and comforting, and even healing. We felt invigorated and joyful at times, reminiscing about our early years as a couple. We had time to re-work some of our arguing techniques (there is such a thing as a fair fight, you know) and we were given the gift of spending time with newly-weds. There’s something so sweet about people who are freshly in love– something sweet and contagious.

We enjoyed the experience so much that we agreed to lead other couples who were preparing for marriage in a small group format at church.  We used Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott’s book, Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts, and constructed our meetings around the 7 principles that are outlined in the book.  Working with 5 or 6 couples at a time was quite different than working with just one couple.  It was more like a class (we’re both teachers), and the couples tended to be guarded about their responses.  There was not enough time to explore responses that “touched a nerve” or uncovered a difference of values.  We realized that real marriage “mentoring” required time, focus, and vulnerability. It required the need to stop and really talk about something that we saw could be trouble for a young couple, time to stop and share our own complicated and painful story of how we worked through something.  Meeting with just one couple at a time really seemed to be more effective for everyone involved.

So, what is our take away from these amazing experiences we’ve had with these younger couples? Everyone with a few years of  stable marriage under their belts should be doing it! If your marriage feels a little stale and you want to liven things up, don’t wait for something to happen. Go find a couple to mentor. Go find a younger couple to share life with. Get a book to work through together and be vulnerable. It could be the magic your marriage needs right now.

If you’re still not convinced…

 The Top Five Reasons You Should Mentor a Couple.

1. You get to tell the story of how you met your spouse.

2. You experience the joy and passion of young love again (without all of the stomach aches).

3. You can use your own mistakes to save another couple from the same disaster.

4. You discover hidden gems of wisdom that can help your own marriage.

5. It’s practically free counseling for BOTH couples.

If you think you’re ready, or maybe just willing, to take on a mentoring role…

Here are guidelines and some helpful hints we have used when we mentor a couple:

1. At the first meeting, establish boundaries and rules.

These are ours:
a. Commit to the process.  Make all the meetings and do the readings.
b. Responses can be honest, more honest, or most honest depending on how vulnerable the speaker wants to be.
c. Everything shared is confidential unless the person sharing gives permission.
d. No “blindsiding.”  If you are going to share something potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable about your partner, you must get permission from them BEFORE the meeting.

2. Don’t unpack what you can’t re-pack.

I, Rich, first heard this advice from a professional therapist who was speaking at my school (yes, teachers do a LOT of therapy!). He was using the analogy of unpacking and re-packing a suitcase to describe what to do when a student shares feelings about a difficult event in their lives – divorce, abuse, suicide attempts. The therapist’s advice? Don’t let the student share more than you, the teacher, can help them with… which is usually not much. The idea is to help them “re-pack” the feelings they are having and take them to a professional, a counselor. When a couple reveals a deeply traumatic event – and it is obvious that they have not processed it, understood their feelings about it and the consequences of it – it is better to just listen to them, help them “re-pack” their feelings, and then suggest that this is something to speak with a professional about. We are not professionally trained counselors, and it is not our place to try and heal a broken psyche. We have often advised couples to seek professional help, explaining that we also have benefited from counseling.

3. Ask  probing questions.

Mentors cannot shy away from asking the hard, penetrating questions. The most common is “How did that make you feel?”  Young couples tend to be unaware of their deeper feelings, or they flat out hide them so as not to shatter the euphoria they are experiencing.  Yet hurtful things are said and need to be addressed.  Values and beliefs are revealed and need to be faced.

4. Eat.

Our best times with young couples have always been over food.  Perhaps it is the wine that loosens the tongues a bit, or perhaps it is the warmth of a well-lit table and the feeling of family. The conversations just seem to be better, the trust deeper.

5. Pray.

We believe that God brings couples together, and that he has a plan for them.  We will sometimes look at a couple and say to each other, “Those two?  Really?”  But God sees the deeper hearts, and He has a plan.  We ask couples to allow us to pray for them and over them, for “God, the best maker of all marriages” knows better than we what is needed.

6. Use other people’s stuff.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or design a curriculum. Beg, borrow, and steal from the experts! These are books and websites we have used or recommended:

a.  Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.  There is a book and 2 workbooks, one for the guys and one for the girls.

b.  Sheet Music  by Dr. Kevin Leman is a great book on sexual intimacy.

c.  Dr. John Trent’s Personality Styles – see strong families.com.  We love Dr. Trent’s use of the “Lion, Otter, Beaver, Retriever” personality descriptions.  We can understand and use them.

d.  The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a must for any couple.

e.  Preparing for Marriage by Boehl, Nelson, Schulte, and Shadrach takes a deeper spiritual look at preparing for marriage.

f.  51 Creative Ideas for Marriage Mentors by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.  Our son- in-law gave us this book (no, we did not mentor them), and it has wonderful ideas to spice up your meeting times.


We are glad the Petersons asked us, and asked us again, to mentor them. We never could have imagined how good it would be for our own marriage to partner with a young couple just starting out and wanting so much to #staymarried.