Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Test Driving Your Marriage

I am reading part of this article for my Sunday teaching April 29, so I am posting this so you can red the whole thing. To hear the teaching on "Test Driving Your Marriage" go to www.thecreeksidechurch.org .

The Living Together Myth by Michael J. McManus

Why was Jennifer Wilbanks a runaway bride? Some hypothesize that she was under stress due to her elaborate wedding with 14 bridesmaids and 600 guests. I believe the issue goes much deeper.She bought the myth that it is smart to live together before marrying.

But she was deeply troubled about the prospective marriage, and did not know how to stop the train of events. Few brides hop a bus to flee across country to escape the wedding. But of 5 million couples currently living together, 2.25 million will break up short of the wedding.The conventional wisdom is "Try on the shoe before you buy it."

Bad analogy. A shoe has no feelings if it is rejected. But the person who is cast aside in a "premarital divorce" suffers agony similar to a spouse who endures an unsought real divorce.Yet those who buy the living together myth have soared from 430,000 in 1960 to 5 million today. Cohabitation is the dominant way male-female unions are formed - not marriage.

Only 2.2 million marry in a whole year.In fact, if the same percentage of people married today as in 1970, there would be a million more marriages a year. The myth of living together as a step toward marriage has diverted tens of millions from even marrying. There were 21 million never married adults in 1970, but 52 million in 2003.

Of those aged 30-44 in 1970, only 13.4 percent were unmarried. That figure that has more than tripled to 44.2 percent.Another living together myth is that it will produce more stable marriages.In fact, couples who lived together before marriage are profoundly more unhappy, fight more, commit more adultery and are 50 percent more likely to divorce than those who never cohabited.

A new study reports that even a month of cohabitation hurts a future marriage.This is secular evidence that Scripture is correct: "Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed be kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral."Yet have you ever heard a sermon on living together?

I bet not. Why not? Pastors are flummoxed by this issue. They do not know what to say. Fortunately, there is an answer, suggested by Paul's letter to the Thessalonians: "Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil."

Couples who live together to test the relationship are embracing evil. A better way to test the relationship is to take a premarital inventory which asks the man and the woman to indicate whether they agree or disagree with 150+ statements:"My future spouse sometimes puts me down. My family approves of my future spouse."

A tenth of those who take a premarital inventory, decide not to marry. Their scores are equal to those who marry and later divorce. They have avoided a bad marriage before it began.It is ideal if the couple discusses the issues on the questionnaire with a mature couple in a vibrant marriage than with a pastor. A trained mentor couple can devote 5-6 sessions discussing all of the inventory items while a pastor might give only an hour for feedback.

In my home church my wife and I trained mentor couples to administer an inventory and to teach skills to improve the premarital couple's ability to resolve conflict.

Reactions?"The inventory helped us in ways we did not expect. Issues came to the surface that are relevant/critical to our relationship," wrote one woman on an evaluation form. A man said the inventory "was extremely important because it allowed me to see things that may become an issue later in marriage.

We have a lot of differences to discuss."The mentoring? "Our mentoring experience was wonderful! Our mentors demonstrated tremendous patience and wisdom in sharing with us and in helping us talk through the issues in our relationship.

We learned a lot from them."Of 288 couples prepared from 1992 through 2000, 21 couples dropped out, mostly to break up. Another 34 couples completed marriage preparation but decided not to marry.

Thus, 18 percent of couples didn't marry. Of those who married, there have been only seven divorces or separations. That is a three percent failure rate over a decade or a 97 percent success rate.Compare that with 100 couples who live together: 45 break up short of marriage. Ten continue to cohabit. Of the 45 who marry, 33 will divorce, leaving only 12 couples still married.

Those numbers explode the living together myth.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Picture of a Lasting Marriage

As we start our "Headlock or Wedlock" marriage series next, I thought the following story was appropriate. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

On the 21st of the month, one of the best man I know will do what he always does on the 21st of the month. He'll sit down and pen a love letter to his best girl. He'll say how much he misses her and loves her and can't wait to see her again.Then he'll fold it once, slide it in a little envelope and walk into his bedroom.

He'll go to the stack of love letters sitting there on her pillow, untie the yellow ribbon, place the new one on top and tie the ribbon again. The stack will be 180 letters high then, because the 21st will be 15 years to the day since Nellie, his beloved wife of 53 years, died.

In her memory, he sleeps only on his half of the bed, only on his pillow, only on top of the sheets, never between; with just the old bedspread they shared to keep him warm.There's never been a finer man in American sports than John Wooden, or a finer coach. He won 10 NCAA basketball championships at UCLA, the last in 1975.

Nobody has ever come within six of him.He won 88 straight games between January 30, 1971, and January 17, 1974. Nobody has come within 42 since.So, sometimes, when the Basketball Madness gets to be too much -- too many players trying to make Sports Center, too few players trying to make assists, too few coaches willing to be mentors, too many freshmen with out-of-wedlock kids, too few freshmen who will stay in school long enough to become men -- I like to go see Coach Wooden.

I visit him in his little condo in Encino, 20 minutes northwest of Los Angeles, and hear him say things like "Gracious sakes alive!" and tell stories about teaching "Lewis" the hook shot. Lewis Alcindor, that is...who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.There has never been another coach like Wooden, quiet as an April snow and square as a game of checkers; loyal to one woman, one school, and one way; walking around campus in his sensible shoes and Jimmy Stewart morals.

He'd spend a half hour the first day of practice teaching his men how to put on a sock. "Wrinkles can lead to blisters," he'd warn. These huge players would sneak looks at one another and roll their eyes. Eventually, they'd do it right. "Good," he'd say. "And now for the other foot."Of the 180 players who played for him, Wooden knows the whereabouts of 172.

Of course, it's not hard when most of them call, checking on his health, secretly hoping to hear some of his simple life lessons so that they can write them on the lunch bags of their kids, who will roll their eyes."Discipline yourself, and others won't need to," Coach would say. "Never lie, never cheat, never steal," and "Earn the right to be proud and confident."If you played for him, you played by his rules: Never score without acknowledging a teammate. One word of profanity and you're done for the day. Treat your opponent with respect.

He believed in hopelessly out-of-date stuff that never did anything but win championships. No dribbling behind the back or through the legs. "There's no need," he'd say.No UCLA basketball number was retired under his watch. "What about the fellows who wore that number before? Didn't they contribute to the team?" he'd say.No long hair, no facial hair. "They take too long to dry, and you could catch cold leaving the gym," he'd say. That one drove his players bonkers.

One day, All-America center Bill Walton showed up with a full beard. "It's my right," he insisted. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly. Walton said he did. "That's good, Bill," Coach said. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do. We're going to miss you." Walton shaved it right then and there.

Now Walton calls once a week to tell Coach he loves him.It's always too soon when you have to leave the condo and go back out into the real world, where the rules are so much grayer and the teams so much worse.As Wooden shows you to the door, you take one last look around. The framed report cards of his great-grandkids, the boxes of jellybeans peeking out from under the favorite wooden chair, the dozens of pictures of Nellie.

He's almost 91 now. You think a little more hunched over than last time. He steps a little smaller. You hope it's not the last time you see him. He smiles. "I'm not afraid to die," he says. "Death is my only chance to be with her again."

Problem is we still need him here."There is only one kind of a life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere. Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters." So says John Wooden.