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Resources from Marriage Savers: Articles

Better the Broken Engagement

A few weeks ago, Mike and I had the privilege of making a presentation on behalf of Marriage Savers to a group of singles. This particular group was very unique in several ways. They not only were single, but they were older singles, mid to late thirties through early sixties. Also, they were never- married singles. And lastly, they all had a strong desire to marry. We shared with them that our statistics of premarital mentoring, using an inventory, revealed that approximately 18% of those couples attending marriage prep at our church broke off their relationships. These couples included both the engaged and seriously dating.

An alarmed woman in the audience exclaimed, "You are engagement wreckers!" I quickly replied, "No, we’re Marriage Savers." Another concerned woman added, "We work so hard to get people in this group engaged, and then you break them apart!"

Sadly, this attitude of focusing on getting married at all costs is not confined to older singles. Even when couples are well aware that half of all marriages end in divorce, they still put themselves at risk by not recognizing that engagement is an opportunity to explore their relationship, not solely a time to plan the wedding. As Marriage Encounter so aptly states it, "A wedding is but a day, but a marriage is for a lifetime."

Over the past eight years as the Lead Mentor Couple of marriage prep at our home church, Mike and I have discovered that if a Mentor Couple administers the inventory to the premarital couple, devoting a minimum of six sessions to talk through each and every one of the questions, the likelihood that a couple will discover, on their own, whether or they are suited for each other is greatly enhanced. Simply adding the component of the Mentor Couple to the inventory helps a couple talk through serious issues.

In no way, as we told the singles group, does the Mentor Couple ever instruct the engaged couples to get married or break their engagement. That is their decision, and their decision alone. The pastor might well refuse to marry a couple he believes is not ready, well matched or unequally yoked. However, that is beyond the role of the Mentor Couple who is simply a facilitator. We do not tell couples what to do, although we can testify to our own marriages and tell them about our mistakes and our victories. If the Mentor Couple perceives that their mentorees have serious issues that remain unresolved, they are trained only to encourage them to consider delaying the wedding date, allowing them ample time to solve those problems.

According to Dr. David Olson,  fully 10% of couples who take the PREPARE inventory break their engagement! Further, studies show that their scores are the same as those couples who marry and later divorce. Thus, these couples are avoiding a bad marriage before it begins! The rest are helped to build a lifelong marriage. Since 1992, Mentor Couples in our church have worked with almost 300 couples who contemplated marriage. Though nearly 50 of them decided not to marry, of the nearly 250 couples who did marry, we know of only six divorces in eight years.

Recently, an older couple went through our prep program. Neither individual had been previously married. The wedding date was set. However, the premarital inventory results revealed serious relational problems. Scores in key areas were low. Also, in the course of talking through their survey responses with their Mentor Couple, worrisome issues of jealousy, insecurity and lack of commitment surfaced. Wedding guests, many from foreign countries, had already booked airline flights. The self-imposed pressure on the couple to proceed with the wedding to avoid embarrassment was great. Yet, two weeks before the ceremony, the bride-to-be courageously canceled the wedding.

That is a success; not a failure! Better the canceled wedding than the failed marriage! We are certain that apart from avoiding being incompatibly paired, the couple is wiser for the process. Going through a preparation course, even if the relationship ultimately dissolves, is maturing. Each partner leaves the program knowing themselves on a deeper level. Now those two individuals, who have chosen to go separate ways, are better equipped to pursue someone else in the future that is more suited for them. The failure would be the failure to take a premarital course that stretched them, forcing them to grow and come to their own conclusions about whether to get married.

Some individuals who have walked away from their partner prior to a wedding date have cycled back through the course with a different potential spouse (and a different Mentor Couple). Such a step speaks to the success of their experience with the premarital process. Those individuals returned with a partner far better suited for them. However, they still desired the wisdom and insight that only a mentoring couple using an inventory could give them.

Premarital mentoring is a win-win step for any couple considering marriage!