Should we find marriage mentors?
We can all agree that when marriage is done well couples experience the wonderful intimacy of emotional and physical oneness, along with a deeper, even more profound, spiritual connection. And while each couple may experience it differently, there is little doubt that there is more to marriage than meets the eye. God gives us this great and eternally significant gift as part of His design and purpose for marriage.
Being closely connected to and affectionate with a life-long mate brings us the gifts of contentment, companionship, passion, purpose, joy and at times, profound happiness and bliss. These pleasures and this connectedness are characterized by a high sense of well-being, meaning and belonging to something bigger in life.
When marriage is done well, it also reflects the oneness we see in The Trinity – God in perfect relationship with Himself. And He often uses the analogy of marriage to symbolize His own relationship with us as believers (e.g. Song of Solomon, Hosea, Ephesians 5:31-32, Rev. 19:7-9.)
Pastor and author John Piper put it this way:
“God created marriage to be a metaphor of Christ’s relationship to the church… It is no accident that human marriage provides language to explain Christ’s relation to the church (2 Cor. 11:2). For human marriage is the copy, not the original.”
And when marriage is done well, it can serve as a platform of credibility, an anomaly that stands out from the world and draws the attention of a hurting, broken world to the reconciling, redeeming love of God through Jesus. Other people will notice that you actually live out Philippians 2:1-5: you are tender and compassionate with your spouse; you are not selfish; you actually put your spouse’s interests ahead of your own. Like 1 Corinthians 13 you are patient and kind to your spouse; you don’t demand your own way; you are not irritable and you don’t keep a record of being wrong.
This is not the way of the world.
This kind of amazing relationship is only possible by the power of God’s Holy Spirit living in us because Christ died for us. When marriage is done well, it points directly to the cross of Christ and His redeeming, reconciling work on our behalf. This means our marriages are meant to be a living, breathing, authentic testimony of the power of the gospel to transform lives in a practical, relevant way. Thanks be to God for this incredible gift!
So this, then, is the ultimate purpose and meaning of marriage – it is God’s gift to us, designed to bring us joy and Him glory.
Unfortunately, there are times that we all experience dry spells in marriage. These can last a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years. We hit a rough patch and feel disconnected and distant from each other. We seem to have more conflict, and we are no longer “on the same page.” Little things begin to irritate and annoy us. Our feelings get hurt more easily. It gets easier to see the bad in our spouse rather than the good.
We’ve all been there. Maybe you are there right now.
If so, it may be helpful to seek out the help of another married couple who has walked that road before. Such a couple can begin to walk alongside you, offering encouragement and support. A couple that shares their life experiences while modeling grace, forgiveness and hope. We call this kind of couple a mentor couple.
In a study* completed by researchers associated with a marriage preparation program (PREPARE), 86 percent of participants agreed that meeting with a mentor couple was valuable and effective for their marriage. And when couples take proactive steps to grow in their relationship by seeking out a mentor couple, they most often find their own marriages moving from striving to thriving.
Who should we ask to mentor us?
Marriage mentors are not (necessarily) licensed marital therapists, professional counselors or even pastors. (But if the need arises, they can usually refer you to one.) Dr. Edward Gray, Marriage Mentoring – 12 Conversations, believes that “marriage mentoring can be as simple as finding a couple you respect and hearing their stories of married life. A neighbor, a family member or a church could be a great source for a mentor couple.”
Before getting started, carefully consider those you would invite to speak into your marriage. Here is a list of qualities you should look for in a married couple before asking them to mentor you:
Characteristics of a mentor couple**
- Appropriate humorous
- Emotionally Intelligent
- A good listener
- Spiritually mature
- Passionate for helping couples
The key, according to Meg Wilson, author of Hope After Betrayal, is to ask God to reveal one couple you can count on for support. “Watch for a mentor or someone who is farther on in their life’s journey. Pray for someone who will encourage spiritual growth. Always be looking for people who have character qualities you admire. Then pray for God to open a door for the relationship to go forwards.”
A mentoring relationship can be as casual as getting coffee and catching up on your marriage or more formal with regularly scheduled meetings, using a marriage mentoring workbook***. Both have benefits whether you’re a newlywed couple just starting out or you’ve been married for 30 years.
The goal is to find another couple to walk alongside with, to encourage you, support you, share their life experiences with you, and exhort you with sound relationship advice coupled with Biblical wisdom.
Marriage mentoring done well can be the beginning of a new friendship with your mentor couple. It can also be an effective means to help you grow as a couple and move you from striving to thriving. And by taking this important initiative, you should soon experience God’s incredible gift – His design and purpose for your marriage – a living testimony that brings you joy and Him glory.
*Wages, S. Anderson Darling, C.A. (2004) Evaluation of a marriage preparation program (PREPARE) using marriage mentors. Marriage and Family Journal 7(2), 103-121
**Adapted from Brad Johnson, Johnson, W.B. (2002) The Intentional Mentor: Strategies and Guidelines for the Practice of Mentoring. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 33, No.1, 88-96
***Our recently published Marriage Mentoring Facilitator Workbook and Participant Workbook will be available for purchase at our Marriage Mentoring Conference on Apr. 16, 2016. Following the conference, they will be available for purchase online. Register for the Marriage Mentoring Conference today!
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.
Alisa Grace ('92) serves as the co-director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships where she also co-teaches a class called "Christian Perspectives on Marriage and Relationships." While she speaks and blogs regularly on topics such as dating relationships, marriage, and love, she also loves mentoring younger women and newly married couples, speaking at retreats and providing premarital counseling. Alisa and her husband, Chris, have been married over 30 years and have three wonderful children: Drew and his wife Julia, Natalie and her husband Neil, and their youngest blessing, Caroline.