Start Smart Builds Lasting Marriages

engagementValentine’s Day is an extremely popular day for proposals. A study conducted in 2013 found that 6 million couples nationwide were planning or expecting to get engaged on February 14. Unfortunately many of these couples will spend more time planning their wedding ceremony than preparing for a lasting marriage. When it comes to your most valuable relationships, however, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Research shows that couples who go through pre-marital training can reduce the risk of divorce by 30 percent. And getting the training you need is easier than you may think.

It begins with a simple online assessment couples take independently through a program called Start Smart. This premarital inventory is driven by current research that provides a comprehensive, unique profile of each premarital couple and measures their strengths and growth areas in 13 critical categories needed for a successful marriage. The inventory costs only $25 per couple and includes a free 56-page Start Smart workbook packed with innovative exercises and meaningful content regarding expectations, finances, personalities and perspectives, sexuality and intimacy, communication and conflict resolution.

Assessing your strengths and weaknesses as a couple is a terrific starting point, but the real benefit of the program comes from five optional mentoring sessions with trained marriage coaches.  These coaches – couples who have already walked through years of marriage themselves – use the Inventory Report as an outline for facilitating discussion tailored to the individual couple’s needs while also providing follow-up questions, coaching tips based on research, and specific communication and conflict resolution skills crucial to healthy marriage. Start Smart also helps you discover how different personality types and perspectives impact a relationship.

Many young couples’ expectations of marriage revolve around the false belief that love will get them through rough times. While love is important, it won’t be enough if you do not have the basic knowledge and skills for a successful marriage. Lasting marriages require partners who respect one another, have gained knowledge about what makes marriage work, and have developed skills that will help the relationship go the distance. That’s what Start Smart is all about.


Start SmartMarriage Mentors

Marriage Coaches Fred and Karla Gushue have been married for 25 years and been through all kinds of struggles in their own marriage, but it was that real life training that helped prepared them, gave them a heart for young couples and fostered a desire to invest in marriages.

They start by using the pre-marital questionnaire, which often highlights areas couples need to talk about and gives research-based metrics on how these factors may impact a couple’s marriage in the future.

For example, the survey indicates that “Children from divorced homes should be particularly mindful when selecting a marriage partner. They have a higher risk of divorce when they marry, and higher still if the person they marry also comes from a divorced home.”

If this is a factor for the engaged couples, the mentors may say, “I see your parents were divorced. Let’s talk about this.”

Fred points out, “Everyone has stuff in their closets and that brings anxiety, but it transitions into peace as they talk about it. Most issues don’t have to be solved. They just have to be talked about and heard. When someone is isolated with a problem and can’t communicate it or be heard, it becomes a monster, but as someone gets to talk through the issue, they come up with conclusions all on their own and there is grace,” he said.

“The pre-marital survey is critical for the sessions because that tells us what to zone in on. If they will be a blended family, we may focus on that. They might not need financial help, but if they are living together, they may have to talk about that before marriage. And we are there to walk alongside them and help them make wise choices,” said Karla.

According to the Start Smart material, a major study released in 2006 by Cornell University found that one-half of all cohabitating unions end within a year and 90 percent end within five years.”

Knowing this information, gives couples the opportunity to discuss their commitment to one another. Karla said, there is also an opportunity for them to sign a marriage commitment pledge in which they promise to stay married for life and are accountable to one another for the quality of their relationship. They vow to seek counseling when trouble arises and agree to post the pledge publicly on a website.


Valuable Skills for Marriage

Most couples face their most serious challenges during the first five years of marriage. Through active marriage preparation, many of these problems can be avoided, or at least minimized, so they don’t become toxic to an early marriage.

Karla said couples learn to take a Daily Temperature Reading, which is a simple way for them to practice daily communication. They may also practice more in-depth communication by utilizing a Dialogue Guide, which involves active listening.

“It pushes you out of your comfort zone so you learn to thoroughly communicate,” said Karla.

Additional topics covered in the program include:

  • Myths of marriage
  • Communication and problem solving
  • Finances and developing a budget
  • Sex & intimacy in marriage
  • Understanding power struggles
  • The role of a husband and wife
  • Keeping in-laws from becoming outlaws
  • How to avoid the “4 Horsemen of Divorce”
  • Marriage covenant vs. contract
  • False expectations


The Gushes said they have been to a lot of marriage retreats and couple’s Bible studies over the years, which can be good, but what’s unique about Start Smart is that it zones in on each couple’s areas where they may have obstacles and gives practical tools to help them build a lasting marriage.

“So many couples wrestle and give up, but having an advocate changes everything,” said Fred. “It is in our weakness that God breathes life into an area…We’ve grown through adversity and every marriage I know has also.”

Fred said he sees marriage as a love story about Jesus leaving heaven and coming down. “Couples who will take the time to learn ahead of time will live a love story with deeper levels of being known and of intimacy that only God can reveal to you.”

To find out about Start Smart and other marriage programs offered by Live the Life, visit

For more articles by Shelly Pond, please visit

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