Churches across Florida begin marriage mentoring programs to lower local divorce rates.
When Billy Graham was asked his secret for being married to the same person for more than five decades, he described his marriage to Ruth as “happily incompatible.”
Liz and Jerry Hablitzel of Boynton Beach understand that thousands of married couples can relate to the “incompatible” part of that statement. And many readers will agree that the happily-ever-after love fest portrayed by Cinderella and Prince Charming is not the case in every castle. <!–break–> Yet, the Hablitzels, certified marriage mentors, have found a way to help couples attain more meaningful and enjoyable marriages by mentoring couples – both married and engaged.
“We’ve always loved the idea of small groups and meeting with couples,” says Liz. “It’s a great way to build faith and relationships.” br>
Jerry adds, “We believe that’s where people grow in intimacy and depth. Marriage mentors can help a couple to mend fences, build bridges and restore their marriages.”
The Hablitzels began mentoring engaged couples after Christ Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach adopted Palm Beach County’s Healthy Marriage Initiative – a multi-church effort to reduce the 62 percent divorce rate in Palm Beach County.
“We have over 50 churches on board,” says Tim Popadic, pastor of marriage and families at Christ Fellowship. “Our goal is to have 100 churches in Palm Beach County raise up 10 couples to be trained as marriage mentors to enrich marriages and lessen the number of divorces.”
Going to the chapel “We find when we meet with couples who are preparing to be married, the female is most concerned with her dress and details of the wedding. The male is most concerned with the budget,” says Liz.
Yet a study at Florida State University says couples should concentrate their concerns in another area. The report says that engaged couples who work with mentor couples are more likely to have a smooth transition into married life. They are more realistic about their expectations and more aware of personal differences that may affect their relationship.
The Hablitzels agree – and encourage those preparing for marriage to prepare with mentors.
But Jerry and Liz also spend a lot of time meeting with married couples who need a refresher course. Couples who come to them for help normally are ready for positive change.
“They’re motivated to work on the marriage and make it really great,” Jerry says. “Most often we find the couples just need discipling,” he says.
Liz explains, “There’s a misunderstanding in most marriages. Couples think it’s about resolving issues in the marriage or changing the spouse’s behavior. It’s more about becoming responsible for our own behavior, learning boundaries and learning to be a secure, centered person no matter how the other person acts.”
Liz says that many of the phrases used in Alcoholics Anonymous can apply to marriage.
One of her favorites is: “You don’t have to go to every fight you’re invited to.”
Besides engaging in useless fighting, Liz also says that a common threat to marriage is the badgering wife and the defensive husband.
“Wives say phrases like ‘You need to,’ ‘You should’ or ‘Why aren’t you?’ This talk beats a man down and they withdraw,” she explains. “When they withdraw, the wife gets obsessive about what she wants, and the badgering continues and makes things worse.”
But wives aren’t the only ones to blame. The couple says that men often get defensive rather than truly listening to their wives. Jerry explains: “The man responds negatively. All of the badgering sounds like a personal attack on him.”
The nuts and bolts of mentoring When a couple comes in for marriage mentoring, Liz and Jerry start by taking an assessment of their relationship.
<!–pagebreak–> “[It] gives us a picture of the relationship and shows where work is needed and areas of growth,” Jerry says.
After the initial assessment, the Hablitzels meet with the couple approximately six times. They go over a variety of issues, including hot-button items that challenge most marriages such as expectations and financial issues.
Liz says that these meetings enable the couple to see what’s really going on inside each other.
“To get a peek into your spouse’s soul is one of the most intimate things that can happen in a marriage,” she explains.
Of all the couples that Liz and Jerry have mentored, one in particular stands out.
“They were experiencing financial issues and parenting issues – all the things that most couples face,” Jerry explains.
But this couple was in a really bad place. They were headed towards separation when they first met with the Hablitzels.
“The wife was pursuing positive activities like going to small groups, reading marriage books, and the husband was working hard to provide for the family when a financial setback hurt him deeply,” Jerry said.
Liz adds, “For a man, his job and the family finances shape the core of his identity. Then, when there are financial setbacks, it can really affect the man, their outlook and their marriage.”
The couple was mentored for several weeks, and they were able to get that rare glimpse into one another’s soul that is so important. More importantly, their relationship started to change.
“It was remarkable to see this couple change through communication and prayer,” Jerry says. “They developed a deep affection for each other.”
But the story didn’t end there. Sadly, one of them was diagnosed with a serious illness, and is now fighting to stay alive.
But because they fought for their love and won, their marriage is stronger than ever – and they are better prepared for this medical struggle.
“They are more joyful than ever. It’s an amazing thing,” says Jerry.
If you and your spouse would like to find a mentor, to become mentors or to get your church involved with the Healthy Marriages Initiative, visit www.SouthFloridaMarriage.net.