Nobody becomes an expert on their own. Everyone from professional football players to professional chefs will tell you of several examples of people who inspired them, people who went before them and showed them, by the way they succeeded, that it was possible in the first place. The most successful professionals in any field will tell you without skipping a beat who their mentor is. Married people, if we’re going to succeed, if we’re going to stay married, we need to see real life examples of how it’s done. We need mentors, too.
When Tony and I were engaged, our pastor and friend recommended we go to premarital counseling before we got married. I’m thankful he did. It’s certainly something I think all engaged couples can benefit from. But, we dropped out. We were scheduled for 10 sessions and we dropped out after just 4. The counselor’s office was an hour drive, it was expensive, and after four sessions we never left one with any “Aha moments” (Thank you, Oprah, for elevating our expectations). So, we quit with only 6 weeks until our wedding day.
Once we got through the big day, we came up with another idea. We wanted the coaching of a therapist, but we also couldn’t afford the $100+ per hour that it would cost. We decided to get creative. We began thinking of the married couples we were surrounded by, looking up to them, and wondering how they were all making it work ten, fifteen, and twenty-five years later. The plan became to simply ask one of these couples to walk along-side us at the beginning of our marriage – to mentor us. That commitment to the foundation of our marriage has been one of our best decisions to date!
After talking a bit, we decided to target a couple from our church, Rich & Barb. All we knew about them was that they looked happy, they both volunteered in the church’s kids’ ministry, and their own three kids, who were in middle school and high school at the time, were fun to be around and seemed to really enjoy each other. We didn’t know much else. But, simply judging a tree by its fruit, we hoped our lives would have similar fruit after we’d been married as long as they had. Now, we just had to come up with the courage to ask them.
I decided to hunt Barb down at church one morning. I pulled her aside for the usual small talk and then said, “Hey, would you and Rich ever be interested in mentoring Tony and I? We are pre-marital counseling drop outs, but we are hoping to be mentored by a couple with a few years under their belt. Not totally sure what it would look like, but wanted to find out if you two would even be interested.” … Cue the awkward silence. She smiled and sort of shrugged it off. She didn’t say “No,” but she also didn’t say “Yes.” Then, she didn’t talk to me for more than a month. (Someday I may let her tell her side of the story). Ultimately, just short of stalking, I re-asked if she and Rich had thought about it. They agreed and then it was time to figure out how this mentor-mentee relationship would work.
We were only married a few months when we started on this journey. We all agreed that meeting twice a month, or every other week, was plenty for all of our busy schedules. We also decided to switch between our home and theirs, so that one couple made dinner for the other couple alternating each time we met. They chose a book for us to go through, vital for spring boarding discussion topics, and away we went. Once we finished the book, we had a celebratory dinner downtown. By that time, we had been so raw and honest with one another that we knew we had close friends for life.
If you think you could benefit from the wisdom of another couple, which I think you can…
Here are our 4 tips to finding a Marriage Mentor:
1. Judge the book by its cover.
I know, don’t tell your mother I told you to do that. But, seriously, look for a couple of wrinkles or maybe a gray hair or two. (Rich and Barb, we chose you even though we didn’t see any wrinkles or gray hair). If they have kids, are they new parents or are their kids middle school age and beyond? If you have kids, are their kids older than yours? When you see them around, do they look happy to be together?
2. Do a little digging.
Casually ask a couple that you think you’d like to spend time with the following questions:
How long have you been married?
How old are your kids?
What’s one of your favorite things to do on a date night?
The first question is the most important. Tony and I wanted to be mentored by a couple that had at least 20 years under their belt. We have long term vision for our marriage and wanted to be around people that had been standing together through a significant amount of time. The next couple of questions were a little less significant, but helped us know them a teeny bit before making the big ask.
3. Once you’ve identified a couple you hope will mentor you, ASK THEM!
If you’re nervous that it will be like a proposal, it will. Tony and I made sure we asked as specifically and casually as we could. In other words, he made me do it. I really think asking in person is better than over email, Facebook, or especially text. But, however you ask, make it personal.
4. Make a plan.
Think about a format that works for both couples and work it out together. Choose a book or workbook to guide your discussions. Make sure to have a start and end to your timeline so that you all know you’re not committing to something for the rest of your lives. Honor each other’s families and other time commitments, leaving room for rescheduling and changing locations when you need to.
We didn’t see our dear mentors for the three years we lived in Wisconsin. Nowadays, five years into our marriage, we only see them every few months or so for a little dinner wrapped around time with our two little girls. These dinners typically contain very brief and highly interrupted conversations about what we’ve been reading lately, whether or not we’ve had a date in a while, what challenges and blessings we’re experiencing as parents, and what life is like for them as they are nearing a new stage as empty-nesters. We no longer follow a formal format or scheduled meetings. We really don’t need to. Because they invested so heavily in us in the beginning of our marriage, Tony and I feel safe and confident that there are people in our corner. We know just who we would turn to in a rough patch, and they know us well enough to help us navigate whatever comes our way. They are some of our very best friends and our marriage would not be the same without their wisdom ringing in our heads and hearts. They have a huge hand in helping us #staymarried.