It’s striking that more guidance is required when taking a whitewater rafting trip than the journey of marriage.

Here are some comments from couples who have had marriage mentors:

“The marriage mentoring program has been incredibly helpful to us because our mentors have been through a lot of the things we are going through now. We benefit from what they have learned.”

“Because of the guidance we have received from our marriage mentor couple, we feel that we have an advantage that will help us have a life-long marriage.”

Have you ever been whitewater rafting? Imagine arriving at the trip site and being informed that this stretch of the river is a Class IV or V ride. That means that you will likely encounter big waves and strong currents. There will be multiple obstacles to maneuver around. The conditions and obstructions in the water could snag the raft or even upend it. You are then asked if you would like to take the trip alone or have an experienced guide go along with you. What would you choose? Not having much experience with this type of course, you are relieved to discover that a trained guide is actually a required part of the experience. Someone who has been down this course before and knows the best direction to take and the obstacles to avoid is a welcome sight.

But what about guides for marriage? Some say that marriage is the riskiest venture most people undertake in their lives. It has its own set of obstacles, strong currents, and obstructions ?.including the risk that the relationship might capsize. For example, under current trends, young people marrying for the first time face a 40-50% risk of divorce in their lifetime.  However, many begin this exciting, yet risky journey on their own. Increasingly, churches are developing marriage mentoring programs in an effort to provide younger couples with experienced guides to help them on their marital journey.

What are some of the specific obstacles that marriage mentors can help younger couples navigate around or avoid altogether?

Limited Models and Tools Unfortunately, many young couples enter marriage without the benefit of good role models. Hence, they have not developed constructive relationship skills for communicating, resolving problems, or affirming each other. Marriage mentors with healthy, stable relationships provide positive role models for these young couples.

Isolation In the process of pursuing educational and career goals, many young couples find themselves separated from their previous support system. They often find it difficult to connect with other couples who will support and encourage them in their marriages. Marriage mentors become important stakeholders in the young couple’s relationship. All of us benefit from having people in our lives who care about our marriages.

Challenges of the Early Years of Marriage. In one study, 49% of couples indicated they were experiencing serious problems in the first year of marriage. Of those who divorce, 40% do so in the first three to four years of marriage. Mentors become important sounding boards as young couples face the inevitable challenges of marriage during these early years before the problems become deeply entrenched.

Disillusionment Most couples enter marriage with high ideals and aspirations for their relationship. At some point, disillusionment will result when reality does not match their ideals. Unfortunately, some then give up on the relationship assuming they made a mistake.

Mentors can help couples see that these periods of disillusionment are a common part of maturing relationships rather than a sign of a failed marriage.

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Pessimism About Marital Success Research indicates that young people, being acutely aware of a number of failed marriages, are skeptical about the viability of marriage over time. Mentor couples provide hope that the creation of a satisfying, long-term relationship is possible.

Churches are in the best possible position to establish a marriage mentor program. Besides supporting younger couples, mentor couples find that their marriages are strengthened as well. If you are a young couple interested in a mentor couple or an established couple with a heart to strengthen marriage, why not suggest the development of this vital ministry in your congregation?

Questions for Reflection

1. What can be learned from these Biblical mentoring
relationships (Parrott & Parrott, 1997)?

a) Eli & Samuel (1 Sam 1-3), b) Elijah & Elisha (I Kings 19), c) Naomi & Ruth (Ruth 1), d) Paul & Barnabas (Acts 13-15), e) Elizabeth & Mary (Luke 1), f) Paul & Timothy (Acts 16, 1 Tim 4&6).

2. Have you even experienced a mentor relationship — formal or informal? What are the qualities and characteristics of an effective mentor?

3. Think of a time in your marriage when you would have benefited from a mentor couple. In what ways would a mentor couple have been helpful at that time?

4. If you would be interested in having a mentor couple, what would you most hope to get out of that relationship?

5. If you are a happily married couple (though not perfect), what are some of the strengths you could offer a younger couple?


Copyright © 2004 Dr. Dennis Lowe. Used with permission. Originally seen at First Years and Forever, the e-newsletter published by the Family Ministries Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Dr. Dennis Lowe is the Director of the Center for the Family at Pepperdine University. He is also an administrator and professor in a graduate program designed to train marriage and family therapists. Married 26 years with two children, Dennis and his wife, Dr. Emily Scott-Lowe, conduct marriage seminars, including marriage mentor trainings, throughout the U.S.