June 25, 2005
How to Make a Good Marriage Better
When Mike and JoAnne Ruby
first heard about Marriage Encounter, he was interested but she
was not. Couples who had attended the weekend retreat told them,
"It is a way to make a good marriage better."
What intrigued Mike was the
marriage of one couple. "They seemed to have the type of
marriage, the glow and confidence in their marriage
relationship, that I knew we did not have, and I wanted it,"
Mike recalls. "Our marriage was never in danger of falling
apart. But when I heard it could `make a good marriage, better,'
I wanted that. I did not want to spend the next 45 years in the
same marriage rut that I think we found ourselves in."
JoAnne was the "dragee" to
their first Marriage Encounter. (One spouse is always a dragee.
Usually, it is the man.) She was a shy person, who feared that
she'd have to talk about her marriage in front of a group. Her
fear was groundless. The only public speaking on the weekend is
by three "Team Couples," volunteer leaders who share personal
These are not professional
speakers, but people who read carefully prepared remarks. That
so turned off JoAnne she told Mike, "If it does not get any
better I am leaving at noon Saturday." She had no particular
expectations that her marriage could get better as did Mike.
However, after hearing a
couple share about struggles in their marriage, attendees are
asked to write a "love letter" to their spouse on assigned
topics for ten minutes. The ME leaders said, "Feelings are
neither right nor wrong. They are involuntary and must be
expressed to one another."
That was a "foreign concept"
to Mike, who like many males, was taught to suppress feelings.
They were instructed to use vivid word pictures to describe
Mike recalled he wrote that
weekend in 1976: "Our marriage was like a beautiful Steinway
piano that had been given to us at our wedding, which sat unused
in our living room. After 10 years, I sat down to play it and
found it badly out of tune. Our marriage was not what we had
dreamed about at our wedding."
After writing for 10
minutes, couples return to their motel rooms, exchange
notebooks, read what each had written and then dialogued for 10
minutes. This pattern of the "10 and 10" of writing and
dialoguing, is repeated throughout the ME weekend.
For JoAnne a breakthrough
concept was a phrase on a banner, "God does not make junk." She
had low self-esteem, but as she saw her husband openly pouring
his emotions out to her, she felt, "I AM worthwhile. It had huge
implications for my relationship with Mike."
That became clearer on
Sunday, when asked to write on, "Why do you want to go on
living?" She recalls, "I realized our relationship was the most
important thing in my life. That meant I had to make new
priorities about how to spend my time. We were emotionally
divorced, living on separate tracks, but we had been given a new
communication tool which allowed us to discover one another in a
One key resource they
discovered that weekend was how to make the Lord a third partner
in their marriage. Every evening when they go to bed they pray
together before a Good Night kiss. "It has made all the
difference in the world," said JoAnne.
Mike recalls, "We saw an
immediate improvement. On a scale of 10, our marriage had been
at a 4 or 5. It jumped to a 9 that weekend, and moved to a 6-7
on a daily basis afterward, gradually growing to an 8 or 9 on
every day for the last 29 years," he asserts.
For a decade the couple
served United Marriage Encounter as volunteers. They worked
behind the scenes, as a host couple, serving both leaders and
attendees. Since 1985, they have been full-time staff,
organizing 30-35 weekends a year in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas,
North Carolina, Ohio, etc.
My wife and I attended a
Marriage Encounter in 1976. Our marriage grew so dramatically
that I researched other ways to improve marriage. We also now
work full-time to strengthen marriage.
Mike asks, "Why settle for a
marriage at a 5 when you can move to an 8 or 9, with much more
affection, with an ability to communicate about anything without
To learn more, or to attend
a Marriage Encounter, call the Rubys toll free, (866) 483-8889.