You probably know a person that after a health scare, began to focus on exercise, quit smoking or lost weight. Being faced with one’s mortality is a tremendous motivator for lifestyle change.
It seems to me that we treat our marriages in much the same way. As long as nothing hurts or is in distress, couples just keep plodding along assuming everything is just fine. If over time, the relationship degrades to the point of being intolerable (e.g. facing the death of the marriage), couples either decide to reach out for help or decide to let it die.
In our culture, we have built a support system around this lifestyle. Marriage counselors exist primarily to deal with crisis management. I once talked to a counselor about receiving services for my wife and I. His first question was to find out how long we’d been in an intolerable situation. I told him that we had a solid marriage, we just wanted to come in for a tune-up of sorts, proactively seeking to find areas where we could improve. He stared at me with a look ofbewilderment. “I don’t think I can help you”, he replied. In fact, he suggested that we not pursue this notion, because in his mind it would just dig up problems that don’t really need to be dealt with.
I started looking at local churches, just curious to see what they offered in terms of proactive marriage ministries. To my surprise, I didn’t see many resources that were dedicated to this area. Several offered groups for divorce care (and other life crises). Some offered Family Ministries, but when I dug in to see what these consisted of, the emphasis seemed to be on parenting.
I looked online. There are a variety of weekend marriage retreats that are offered around the country throughout the year. While these encourage participation by couples in any situation, they are quick to suggest that no marriage is too far gone to benefit. Many others are clearly marketed as a last ditch effort to save a marriage. “You think this retreat is expensive? Just think what a divorce will cost you” seems to be their message.
Think about an athlete at the top of their game. They practice hours a week with a dedicated coach. No matter how good they are, they are always trying to get better. I’m not suggesting this is practical for an average couple. Time and money would prohibit most of us from such a level of dedication. But many do find the time to go to the gym a few times a week. While not training like a top athlete, they know that they feel better and stay healthier when they exercise.
Strong marriages build strong families. Strong families help build healthy churches. Healthy churches create great communities. Maybe its time we begin to shift our focus away from emergency marriage care and place it on marriage gyms.