Les and Leslie Parrott: Saving Marriage—Part 2

When you write about the issue of communication, you frame it with the question, “Can you say what you mean and understand what you hear?”

Les: If a couple is not communicating well, nothing is going well for them. We’re not trying to give them a long list of things to do and not do, but to focus on two fundamentals—and that is to clarify content and then to reflect feeling. To clarify content means making sure you accurately under-stand what your spouse is saying. To reflect feelings is to listen with the third ear, to listen to the emotions underneath the message and then hand those emotions back to your spouse. When you do that, it opens up their spirit like few other things. Those two skills are enough to work on the rest of your days in marriage.

You discuss bridging the gender gap. What does that look like?

Leslie: It can be such a puzzle because so often what our spouse needs is counterintuitive for us. I mean, we don’t need the same things, and it’s outside of our understanding that they might have that need. We don’t stereotype the genders, but we point to what some of the classic studies have revealed. We know for instance, for men, the need for autonomy is just a huge thing and most women don’t experience it at that level.

For women, the need to be cherished, and all the expressions around that, is such a deep need. That’s not one that men relate to very much, in fact, they often don’t even understand what it means. It’s just not a need that’s been hardwired into them either individually or culturally.

So we unpack several of those findings, so that these needs that may be counterintuitive don’t end up creating distance in the relationship.

It stands to reason that in a book like this you would have to tell us how to fight constructively.

Les: Some of the most groundbreaking research on marriage in the last 30 years has been done on the area of conflict, by John Gottman right here at the University of Washington. His research has shown you can predict with a 94 percent accuracy rate whether a couple will succeed or fail in their marriage based solely on how they fight. That’s not whether they fight—it’s not even how often they fight—but how they fight.

So we paint a picture of the things to avoid in conflict and some things that you can do proactively to manage conflict and keep it to a minimum. The bottom line is, if you have the tools, if you know how to fight a good fight, conflict is the price we pay for deeper intimacy in marriage.

These six areas lead logically to your seventh issue, “Are you and your partner soul mates?” What do you mean by that, other than the kind of fluffy picture the words conjure up?

Leslie: And I love that approach because this is the par-adoxical opposite of fluffy. This is the heart of the marriage. This is the part that has to do with your spiritual connection and your sense of not just existing to make each other happy, but your relationship has meaning that reaches beyond the two of you. Together, as you serve others, and together, as you have a shared sense of purpose and meaning, your relationship becomes something bigger than just the two of you. It’s about our connection with God; it’s about how we share spiritual intimacy; it’s about how we grow together; and it’s about what our relationship means beyond just the two of us—the legacy we want to leave in the word.

Les: There’s a hunger, there’s a thirst, in the soul of eve-ry marriage. It doesn’t matter how great the relationship skills are. You can do all these other things, conflict management, communication, bridging the gender gap, under-standing the myths of marriage and all the rest. But there will always be a restlessness in the soul of your marriage until the two of you learn to walk together with God in a way that’s meaningful. Oh, it’s important that you pray together, that you attend church or that you tithe or whatever it is, but we’re talking about really understanding how each of you feels closest to God so you can do this in an authentic way.

We wrote a devotional book years ago that we’re updating for release this year. It’s 52 meditations on marriage, but the cool part of it is we had 52 real life couples write a one-pager on how the two of them walk together with God in a way that’s meaningful. What we discovered is, every couple does this uniquely. It’s not like there are the three magical steps for doing that, but they each found their own unique pathway as a couple.

We could wish that churches would do more to prepare couples for marriage, to save it before it starts. A great deal of our ministry energy must go into failed marriages and the heartbreak of what could have been and the fatiguing quest for forgiveness and the energy to begin again. What word of encouragement do you have for pastors facing the challenge of giving hope to people who may have succumbed to hopeless?

Leslie: Well, first of all, we know how hard they’re working. And they are champions for doing that—we get how overwhelming that is. In fact, it’s what drove us to focus more on preparation and prevention. We were in counseling offices with couples who were heartbroken and had passed the point of no return and their hearts had hardened and there wasn’t a willingness, at least on one side. We thought, if we could only have caught them a few years earlier. So we have a passion with that pastor to transform the culture of how marriage works in their church by help-ing couples prepare well and wisely. And there is so much hope because the research is so clear: Just some fundamental skills make all the difference.

Les: Once we had SYMBIS up and going in our own community and we were doing an annual seminar for churches in our own region, I remember sitting back one day and thinking, I wonder if it really sticks? Does this matter five years from now for these couples? It was out of that we came up with an idea that we call marriage mentoring, where you take a seasoned, experienced cou-ple and link them with a less experienced couple. We took our faculty and staff and linked them with these newlywed couples and when we outgrew that we went to the local churches. Eventually, we built a video kit. Well, today that’s all online and we call it the Marriage Mentoring Academy and we’ve trained a quarter of a million couples to be marriage mentors.

I bring that up because it’s been an encouragement to many pastors because it’s empowering laypeople. Pastors don’t have to carry the entire load.

Parting thought?

Les: Some people who read this may wonder, does it even matter? Does premarriage ministry really work or are we just doing this because we think we’re supposed to? The research makes it really clear. Couples that go through some form of premarital education reduce their chances of divorce by 31 per-cent. And not only do they reduce their level of divorce, but they significantly increase their level of contentment and happiness in their marriage by at least a third.

“Together, as you serve others, and together, as you have a shared sense of purpose and meaning, your relationship becomes something bigger than just the two of you.”

James P. Long
James P. Longhttp://JamesPLong.com

James P. Long is the editor of Outreach magazine and is the author of a number of books, including Why Is God Silent When We Need Him the Most?