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June 25, 2005

Column #1,243


                      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 stories.


     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 their emotions.


     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 new way."


     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 a blowup?" 


     To learn more, or to attend a Marriage Encounter, call the Rubys toll free, (866) 483-8889.

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