Marriage Enrichment: Can you be a marital ‘first responder’?

A new program in the diocese will help sustain marriages by tapping into the power of support networks

by Marian Christiana

The Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment is introducing what we think is an exciting new training program called “Marital First Responders.” This program is developed by The Doherty Relationship Institute in Minnesota, and we hope that you will consider getting involved.

Marital First Responders training is a breakthrough way to help sustain marriages by tapping into the power of their support networks already in place. In other words, by tapping into the people who care the most about those married couples. Chances are high that you are already involved in the work of being a marital first responder because your friends, family, and/or coworkers have opened up to you about their marriage. They have done this because they feel that you are trustworthy and safe.

Research from The Doherty Relationship Institute shows that 73 percent of adults have been confidants to someone’s marriage or long-term committed relationship at some point in their lives. The goal of this diocesan-wide training is to arm all of these natural confidants with the skills necessary to be more effective and feel more confident in dealing with the married people in their lives who naturally open up to them about marital problems or complaints. Once trained, the first responders will be better able to be intentional in their support of the marriages around them, and it is hoped help decrease the number of divorces one marriage at a time.

Let’s face it, we can all be better listeners and advocates for marriage. I remember when I was in my 20s, my older sister called me to complain about my brother-in-law. They had been married for 10 years at that point. Let’s just say that he had done something to seriously hurt my sister’s feelings. I love my sister and I was outraged! I called him a jerk! I told her to leave him! I said that I didn’t want to see him again. Guess what? My sister did not follow my wonderful advice, and they stayed married for another 13 years. Sadly, they did eventually divorce but not for the reason that I was so indignant about all those years ago.

As a result of my immature response to my sister’s complaint, she never truly confided in me again. As I was sitting through the Marital First Responders training I kept replaying that story in my mind and wishing that I had known then what I was learning now. Thankfully it is never too late to learn how to be a marital first responder!

Pope St. John Paul II said that “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” The people of the Diocese of Knoxville can help stem the tide of broken marriages and hurting families by becoming a diocese full of trained marital first responders. Like it or not, we all have the power to help or hurt our friends and the marriages in which they might be struggling. Most of us are not professional counselors, and this training is not a replacement for that type of intervention. The Marital First Responders training focuses on the gifts that natural confidants already have: empathy and personal perspective. Pair those two characteristics with the ability to lovingly advise and share resources, and you have a recipe for a successful first responder.

Each responder will be taught to be more intentional in conversations and to be more useful to the person who may be struggling in his or her marriage. Responders will learn to define, understand, and defend their personal boundaries. Defining and defending one’s own boundaries is a very important part of being a successful first responder. By maintaining personal boundaries, the responder will be able to remove himself or herself from the middle of someone else’s marriage and feel more confident when steering someone toward professional help when they are stuck in a crisis that is beyond the confidant’s ability to help. This training is not about professional, paid conversations but the everyday, real conversations people are already having with each other. This training is a way to intentionally harness the power of those relationships already in place among friends and family for the benefit of struggling marriages.

The training is fun as well as useful. Wouldn’t you like to be prepared to effectively enter into a conversation with a friend or family member who opens up to you about a tricky scenario that married couples sometimes find themselves in? Would you know what to say if your brother-in-law confides in you something negative about his marriage to your sister? Do you have a helpful answer ready when your adult child shares with you that he or she is thinking about getting a divorce? These are difficult and oftentimes troubling questions, but questions that need a response none the less.

If you think that you may not have the best answers to deal with these types of scenarios, then this type of training is for you. Together we will share interesting conversations about the inner workings of married life and how to best address problems when they arise. The training sessions will be offered in 2018 throughout the diocese, so be on the lookout for dates and locations on the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment website and in your parish bulletin.

Join us in a marital first responder training, and we can build an entire diocese of marital first responders. As the old saying goes, if we aren’t part of the solution then we are part of the problem.

Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.

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