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  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.

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