Enjoy connecting with other married couples and gleaning from their experiences? If so, marriage mentoring may be for you!

Marriage mentors are couples who have been together years longer than you and your spouse and can share life experiences and offer listening ears in a casual, non-threatening atmosphere.

"Mentors can help [younger couples] adjust to their course, navigate more intelligently and avoid disaster ahead," says counsellor Dr. Minnie Claiborne, host of Let’s Talk About It and author of Prayer Therapy: Stop Hurting.

Mentors are increasingly in demand amongst married couples. According to research by marriage experts Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, more than 80 per cent of surveyed spouses said they would like the ongoing support of a mentor couple.

We chatted with several experts to show you the benefits of marriage mentoring, how to find a mentor couple and how to discern whether or not mentoring suits your marital needs.

Why marriage mentoring?

Marriage mentors share how they learned to navigate their own relationship, and you can glean from their experiences. Whether you meet formally in an office or casually over dinner, this relationship will continue to grow over time as your mentors gain a better understanding of your marriage.

"A trust or bond is formed between these couples, creating an atmosphere where the mentorees feel comfortable to ask question, and the mentors are free to share their life experiences in marriage where there is no fear of judging one another or that confidentiality will be broken," say marriage experts Dr. Daniel and Penny Loosenort, authors of We Promise: 18 Foundational Stones for an Unshakeable Marriage. "The older couple has weathered many storms, thereby becoming a source of encouragement and comfort to the couple in need of help and a marital role model."

From this bond, your own marital struggles may become normalized by hearing that another couple has experienced similar situations. No marriage is perfect, but you can take comfort knowing that you’re able to work through your unique circumstances in a way that best suits your relationship.

"Many times, we do not really know what is possible in a marriage, how the work can be divided or how to differ constructively," says Dr. Don Nations, a professional consultant and ordained minister. "Exposure to a healthy marriage can help us find a new ‘normal’ which works better for our relationship."

How is marriage mentoring different from counselling?

Dr. Nations suggests marriage mentoring as an attractive alternative for couples who desire consistent education but cannot afford professional counselling. As well, this option works well if you’re uncomfortable telling others that you’re seeing a counsellor.

"There is [sometimes] a stigma associated with, ‘We are in marriage counselling,’" he explains, "but it is not attached to, ‘We’re meeting with friends’ – that is, your marriage mentors."

Marriage mentoring also allows for each spouse to have their perspective heard by the mentor of their respective gender, making it possible each gender to hear a similar outlook from both the mentor and the mentored.

"In traditional counselling, counselees may have trouble relating to just a male or female counsellor," the Loosenorts observe.

How do you pick a marriage mentor?

Want to start strengthening your relationship today? Find a marriage mentor – it’s easier than you might think!

Rest assured: You don’t have to go to another couple and immediately disclose your deepest marital issues. Start out by getting acquainted with couples who have been married several years longer than you and your spouse.

"Make friends with a number of couples and see if there are one or two with whom you seem to connect," Dr. Nations says. "It is worth paying for their dinner just to be around them."

While your mentors’ marriage may set a positive example, keep in mind that no marriage is perfect.

"Remember that the mentor couple is human," Dr. Nations adds. "They do not have everything together and will not always get it right."

Do you need more than mentoring?

While mentors can offer wisdom and insight, marriage counsellors are skilled professionals who are able to offer more sound guidance than can a mentor couple.

"The marriage mentor is not a professional counsellor and should not be expected to give professional counsel," the Loosenorts clarify. "They are simply sharing life experience as an older, wiser couple who have successfully navigated their marital journey thus far."

The Loosenorts advise couples to seek professional counselling if one or both spouses are unable to overcome habits or behaviours which are destructive to the relationship. This includes, but is not limited to, if you or your spouse:

  • Don’t seem able to successfully resolve conflict;
  • Constantly argue and insult each other – especially in public;
  • Make major and abrupt decisions (e.g., quitting a job) without consulting your spouse;
  • Or suddenly show interest in a hobby or activity that consistently takes you away from home and your spouse.

If you need assistance finding a licensed professional Christian counsellor in your region, Focus on the Family Canada has a listing of therapists who have been thoroughly screened; you may also ask for a one-time complimentary consultation with one of our trained and qualified staff counsellors. You can contact them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

Todd Foley is on staff with Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2012 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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