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October 20, 2001
Column #1051

(Third of a 5-part series)

Couple Mentoring: How To Save Nine of Ten Troubled Marriages

     More than 1.1 million marriages fail each year in America. For the one million children involved, the experience is absolutely shattering, whose effects often last well into adulthood. 

     The reason most marriages fail is selfishness. The reason the best marriages thrive is selflessness. The central issue facing American families is this: How can selfish couples be inspired to become selfless? 

     Arguably, that is the job of organized religion. Or it should be. Jesus summed up the basic message of Christianity in five words, ''Love your neighbor as yourself.'' What neighbor is closer than a spouse? As St. Paul put it, husbands should ''love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself'' (Eph 5:28). Sadly, few clergy preach this sermon.

     No wonder Barna Polls reveal the divorce rate of active Christians is about the same as the unchurched. In fact, Barna reports the divorce rate is even higher among Baptists and non-denominational Christians than unbelievers!

     The problem is not so much a lack of sermons as it is a failure by pastors to realize that there are couples in their pews who've learned to move from selfishness to selflessness. Those couples have not been identified and trained to tell their inspiring stories of recovery to those whose marriages are drowning.

One church that did so is First Assembly of God of Rockford, Ill. Dan Qualls, Associate Pastor, asked this question, that any pastor could ask, ''Are there any couples whose marriages were once on the rocks, but are now in a state of healing? If so meet with me after the service.'' 

     Fifteen couples met with him, 14 of whom became Mentor Couples. Over five years they worked with about 150 couples headed toward divorce, losing ''only a handful to divorce, not more than 10,'' says Mary Cotner, who leads the Marriage Ministry with her husband, Bob. 

     Her marriage nearly failed because Bob was an alcoholic. When he drank, he became abusive. She threatened to leave with four kids unless he changed. He made the right choice, with the help of his faith. He recalls, ''I believed that Jesus could deliver me from that evil, and He did.''

     When they meet with couples for whom alcohol is an issue, he can say with authority, ''I have learned to ''trust the Lord with my whole heart and lean not to my own understanding.(Pr. 3:5) In the past, I allowed myself to deceive myself and I was successfully destroying my marriage. I was violating Mary. However, Jesus delivered me.'' He not had a drink in decades.

     Such a couple is a treasure to Pastor Qualls: ''They provide tremendous relief for the pastoral staff,'' he says. ''They are like a pit bull dog, who will stick with a couple through thick and thin. I can hear them in an office near mine meeting with a couple for two-three hours. They pour their heart and soul out, an enormous time investment. 

     ''Couples relate better to the Marriage Saver Couple than to a pastor or a professional counselor. There is a greater level of honesty and rapport. They can share their story which gives hope. These couples have been in trouble themselves. They have learned to trust the grace of God, and have an unswerving commitment, and genuinely love these people.''

     Another key ingredient was that ''we had a woman's point of view and a man's point of view,'' says Lisa, whose marriage was saved by meeting with Raymond and Robin Talon. Her issue was that Tommy went out drinking with his buddies, and then would lie or cover up his escapades. When she discovered the truth, her trust in him eroded. 

     Raymond told Tommy, ''Your marriage is more important than having a beer with friends.  If you get sick, who will be in the room with you, your wife or the guy you drink beer with?'' By contrast, Robin advised Lisa, ''You can not change him. You can only change yourself. Let the Lord change him.'' In fact, as she stopped showing distrust, Tommy sharply cut back his evenings with the guys, while retaining the right to do so once in a while.

     First Assembly is one of dozens of churches in which in which back-from-the brink couples are trained to share their stories of recovery with couples in crisis. They save nine out of ten troubled marriages! Other churches will be trained to do so Nov. 30- Dec. 1. To learn more see http://www.marriagesavers.org.

     Changed lives, change lives.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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