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July17, 2004
Column #1,194

                                       "10 Great Dates"
During the Senate debate on the Federal Marriage Amendment, one Senator noted that when No Fault Divorce spiked America's divorce rates, no one expressed concern. Indeed, there have been 3 million divorces since 9/11. Each was the destruction of a small civilization.

Compared to the 9/11 attack that killed 3,000 people, the demolition of those 3 million civilizations is almost 1,000 times more heinous because they ripped apart the lives of 3 million children. Yet most churches do nothing to enrich the marriages in their churches.

It is a stunning oversight. Yet I have good news.

It is possible for churches to help couples fall back in love for less than $100 per church!

My favorite suggestion is to schedule "10 Great Dates" on 10 consecutive Saturday nights at the church. It is a fun video series created by David and Claudia Arp, who suggest concrete ways "to revitalize your marriage."

In Sioux Falls several years ago, five churches pooled their efforts and pledged to provide free babysitting to the first 80 couples who signed up. Some 120 couples showed up, creating the wonderful problem of having to find more widows and teenagers to help. It went so well that the next winter, 15 churches in Sioux Falls pledged to provide free baby-sitting for 200 couples and 200 showed up. For the next two years, another round of 200 couples per year participated.

On the first date, the Arps suggest that couples "walk down memory lane." "Do you remember when you first met?" asks David. "I remember meeting you when I was 12 years old and you pushed me in the pool with all my clothes on!" replies Claudia sparking laughter. "Yes, and she married me anyway," he muses.

"Do you remember what you did on your first date? How about your wedding day?" he asks. Claudia was so nervous she hardly slept and was stunned that Dave took a nap before the ceremony. He replies, "Well my father is a military man. I knew he would get me there in time. Besides, I wanted to be relaxed and I knew I was marrying the right person!" he grins. Couples moan and laugh.

There is a Facilitator's Guide with concrete suggestions for running an evening, with such Ground Rules as "Stay positive. Have a future focus. Talk about marital growth. If you get on a negative track, skip it. The key is to have a positive experience." A map is handed out with suggestions on where to go for 90 minutes for their date to talk and have fun.

When the video is turned off, attending couples are asked to take their own "walk down memory lane" as the first step in "choosing a high priority marriage." Each week they are encouraged to read the chapter of a paperback, "10 Great Dates," and fill out a simple exercise with memories of their first date, and others on first kiss, favorite date, wedding day, first home, most romantic moments, happiest memories.

They write down three positive things about their marriage, two things that are fine but could be better, and "one thing I personally could do to make our marriage better." Then they share their memories and reflections on how they are choosing to make a high priority marriage.

Date Two is more challenging: Learning How to Talk. The Arps describe three ways couples communicate. Nonverbal communication accounts for 55 percent of what goes on between couples, tone of voice is 38 percent and the words spoken only communicate 7 percent of the message. Couples are asked to make a contract not to attack their mate or defend themselves.

In a recent seminar, the Arps said that for the first two dates, the husband is a "dragee," reluctantly attending to please his wife. But by Date Three it is the man who says, "Come on. It is our Date Night."

Each spouse is not only rediscovering the wonderful person they married, but are learning skills to make the marriage happier, and it is packaged around 10 nights of conversation and fun that regenerate old sparks.

Other date themes: Resolving Honest Conflict, Be an Encourager, Sharing Responsibility.

The Arps have created a second "program out of a box" called "The Second Half of Marriage," which is designed for couples who are now "empty nesters." Like the first package, there is a paperback to be read by the couple, videotape discussion starters and a leader's guide.

Either can be ordered for $95 by calling (301) 469-5873.

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