Mentorship in Marriage
A post of the value of mentors to support success in marriage.
Mentors for youth and young adults are highly encouraged. Do you want to be successful? Find a mentor, ask for their advice, listen and check in from time to time. It's an accepted practice in our society with regard to pursuing careers or self-growth. It's a good practice, but I've found that mentorship is not nearly as encouraged to the same extent to aid in the success of personal relationships.
Looking back, I chuckle at my reluctance to let people in and the irony of how my husband, the person not training to be a marriage and family therapist, encouraged us to seek support in our marriage. Considering my interest in working in a profession that stands on the principle of talking about issues, it's amusing that I was resistant, and combative even, about sharing our challenges with anyone. Yet, at a certain point, I had to make a different choice. We had tried communicating, compromising, and conceding but one or both of us left those conversations feeling unheard.
For the record, mentors are not therapists. Mentorship is an informal, supportive, long-term relationship that can cover a wide range of topics. Therapy is formal, supportive, short-term, and sought based on a therapist’s background to help one achieve specific goals. I like to think of mentors as 3-D examples of what is possible and how to get there, with a bonus feature to share what to watch out for along the way. The characteristics we sought out for mentors in marriage were the same as those sought in a professional capacity: experience, integrity, and evidence of success.
Because my husband and I are Christians, it remains important to us to have an example of an older married couple in our lives who lives like they love God. We wanted to have access to the example of a couple whose love for God was clear in how they chose to love their spouse. One doesn’t have to know the intimate details of a person’s relationship to see that love, respect, and happiness live there. We saw that in our mentors.
Not only does their life reflect their love for God and each other, but it's a lifestyle they've been living for a long time. We were looking for a couple who had been through the life stages we are now navigating or hope to be navigating soon (i.e. adjustment to marriage, managing careers, having children). They’ve been married for 25 years, and they can speak to those challenges. But, more importantly, they can speak to conquering those challenges with their marriage intact.
To this end, our mentors were explicit in stating their role to give advice that lines up with the Bible, and to share when applicable honest testimony to encourage us in our marriage. They've served to validate each of our experiences while still pointing out with loving kindness areas of correction needed for us to better love and serve each other (Ephesians 4:15). I appreciate their lack of shyness in laughing with us and being true confidants who help us to feel less alone in the valleys of marriage.
Thus, we've been blessed to have relationships (husband to husband, wife to wife, and couple to couple) that allow us to see who they are. That’s important, and their transparency is a gift that I cherish deeply, for it has illuminated to us that we are not incapable in our marriage. They’ve helped us to understand, with humor and gentility, that thoughts and feelings that appear at odds with a thriving marriage are not alien in nature. Their willingness to share resolutions to past situations in their lives has helped us be better at addressing similar situations in ours.
Finally, the evidence of their commitment to Christ and to each other is clear in every aspect of their lives. They would be the first to admit their imperfection, and I will venture to say that this fact is what helps my husband and me most. Their humility, truthfulness, and kindness have helped to strengthen our trust in them, while also lowering our guard to receive support that strengthens us as a couple.
Truly marriage can be isolating, especially when one conforms to the social nicety of keeping what you’re going through private. Also, issues of pride can both undercut success in marriage and blind couples from the realization that they are not alone. By no means do I encourage you to broadcast the intimate details of your relationship to just anyone, even if they are married. Do your homework. But, a lot of people who suffer silently and unnecessarily do so out of an unwillingness to share. Sometimes the topics of issue held back out of pride or shame are easily remedied if only one chooses to unburden themselves of caring it alone.
With this in mind, I write to encourage you if you’re married, or looking to get married, to seek mentors. The details may differ mightily between what I wrote here and what you're looking for, but it’s most important to have mentors who are trustworthy and who reflect the values you want to live out in your relationship. I can’t think of anything that humans are set up to do successfully alone. Opening up to people who love you and who want to see your marriage thrive will likely increase the chances that it will.