In our seventh year of marriage, we were at a difficult spot. Several different stressors came together in work, school and family. We were mad at each other and unhappy with God. In addition to fragility and frustration in our own marriage, several of our closest friends and family members were choosing divorce.
In God’s providence, we were asked by my boss and friend Sam Shellhamer to co-lead with him and his wife a small group seminar for engaged couples. It helped us breathe life into our marriage. As a result, for the past 30+ years we have led small groups for engaged couples and marriage enrichment retreats for young married couples. We hope these have helped others – we know they have been vital for our marriage.
Last weekend we led a marriage retreat for Bethel alumni who have graduated in the past 15 years. We do this because we are passionate about it. One of the most wounding things for ministry, leadership, mental health, and spiritual joy is divorce. If we can help make a difference in the lives of Bethel alumni, we rejoice in the privilege.
One of the most persistent rumors about Bethel is that we have an unusually high divorce rate among our alumni. In fact, just the opposite is true. A recent comprehensive survey of College of Arts & Sciences alumni showed that the divorce rate for 5 year alumni is 3.9% and for 10 year alumni is 3.4%. Compared to what is reported in the rumor mill or predicted by what is normal in the culture, these numbers are quite low.
At the retreat we focus on the seasons of marriage. As we talk about seasons, they are not chronological. They describe the events, opportunities and challenges that occur at different times in a marriage. Winter is a time when things are difficult and growth is hard, much like our 7th year. Spring and summer are times in marriage when you are planting and investing in growth. A retreat like this is a spring-summer activity. Fall is the time to harvest good things and to build up strength to get through winter whenever it strikes.
Our retreat is interactive and has several assignments to be done during the retreat as well as some homework to do after the retreat. There is honest conversation as we share our journey as an encouragement to others. Our prayer is that God will use these retreats and the engaged couples groups to build strong marriages, enhancing leadership, ministry, and joy in our alumni.