Titus 3:9 jumped out at me this morning during my bible reading time. It says “But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” Wise advice when reading blogs. So many controversies and quarrels about the law! I rarely comment directly, not wanting to get mixed up in the quarrels. But sometimes I do like to take a topic in an entirely different direction.
Yesterday I was reading a blog and comments about whether and under what conditions divorce should be allowed among Christians. It got pretty heated, and I have no desire to weigh in on that, other than to say that when members of the body are suffering, we are supposed to compassionately bind their wounds, not attack them. But one comment struck me as something that has merit. The observation was made that the divorce rate within the churches is similar to the rest of society. One commenter said something to the effect that, since most churches require some sort of classes prior to marriage, which appear to be ineffective, perhaps we should examine what we are teaching on the subject. Amen!
Personally, I must admit, I hardly remember what was covered in those classes and I’m sure it varies somewhat from church to church. So it is a wonderful idea, and perhaps the Barna group or someone can do some sort of comparison of what is the most effective program available. Programs are not my thing anyway. I want to talk around the edges of that, about what sorts of messages we give our young people, how it would be helpful to have cross-generational interactions and what makes for successful marriages in the first place.
I’ve blogged before about how we mishandle those in our congregations who are single, some of which may come into play here. That was focused more on those who remain single for some years. My focus here is a bit younger. Not being involved in youth groups, beyond dropping off my kids, I’m not sure what is being said now about how to choose a spouse wisely, but I suspect it hasn’t changed all that much. Most of what I remember had to do with just making sure they were a believer, which is important, but I think we could do a lot better with the advice we give. Just because I am interested, I have read things where they have looked at what makes for a successful marriage and what are red flags. Successful marriages usually come from folks who have similar backgrounds, shared values and goals, often complementary personality types. The last leads to the need for the skills necessary to maintain a relationship, which I will get to presently. Red flags, besides non-believers, are a lack of impulse control (ex. really bad temper, or someone who spends like crazy), addictions and signs of serious mental illness.
Don’t jump all over me for the last one, I have dealt with depression for much of my life. But I’ve also seen a friend abandoned, her bank accounts cleaned out by a bipolar husband who went off the deep end, while she was at home with their kids, recovering from major surgery. Another friend, a man this time, was forced to file for divorce after his mentally unstable wife took off to another state with the kids. He would have preferred to remain faithful, despite all the challenges, but it was the only way he could get visitation at the very least. Whenever I hear stories like that, I wonder if there were not some indications early on, that something was not right. You cannot save a spouse from their own brain chemistry.
I’m sure others could do a better job than I can warning about the signs of abusers. All I know is the friend who married someone who put his fist through walls when he was angry, soon learned the error of her ways. Which leads me to the idea that we need some communication across the generations. Those in their twenties would do well to seek out those in their 40s and 50s and hear their stories of both successes and failures in relationships. Ask what they wished they had known before getting married. You may be surprised what you find out. For instance, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone, whose marriage failed or was very difficult, say that they thought this person was the only one who would have them. That is not a good reason to get married! Trust me, long term singleness is not worse than a bad marriage.
Of course, those who had no good example of a solid marriage would do well to find a couple willing to mentor them, if possible. Some churches actually do this intentionally. But the other thing that would help is for churches to teach relationship skills. I’m pretty sure the pre-marriage classes cover communication to some extent, but it would be helpful on many levels to teach conflict resolution skills to your young people. I recall having a retreat, many years before I was married, where we learned some techniques to enhance listening, and how to disagree without getting personal. Personally, the repeating back what one another said drove me batty. But I was able to implement the conflict part immediately. It was very helpful with pushy siblings. It was a simple sentence: When you_______, I feel ________.
That sentence has worked for me as a way to start discussion in any number of situations. I even used it with my kids when they were fighting. It’s how you say something without anger or blaming the other. Try it, I think you’ll like it!