You and your spouse enjoy a relatively healthy — not perfect — marriage, and you’re both willing to lend a hand to another couple who are a step or two behind you on the marital journey. Now what? Here are three simple steps to becoming a Focus Marriage Mentor.
Enroll in the Marriage Mentoring Academy to be trained as a mentor couple. You'll enjoy this program as Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, pioneers in Marriage Mentoring, help you build a solid foundation to ensure your success as a mentor couple. Each training session is like going on a date with your spouse.
During your training to become mentors, think of a less-experienced couple you know, maybe from your church or neighborhood. Pray that God would guide you in this process. Look for a couple with whom you already share a connection, or sense you could develop one.
Look for opportunities to build your relationship with this less experienced couple and when the time is right invite them into a mentoring relationship with you and your spouse.
We'll be here to help you along the way. With your training you become a member of the Marriage Mentoring Academy and it's chock-full of helpful guides. Plus, we've filled this website with other relevant articles, resources and encouragement. So go ahead, take the plunge - become a Focus Marriage Mentor, and see how God will use you to help another couple thrive!
"This is such good material! The course is done in an easy, relaxed, non-intimidating way. Good job!"- Mark and Lisa Brillon
"We were surprised how easy the lessons are to follow and understand. This is great information. Your program is equipping us not just to enrich other couples’ marriages but also our own."- Robert and Eva Ruiz
"The time is ripe for marriage mentoring and this program is exactly what we need."- Gary Smalley, author of The DNA of Relationships
"Mentoring is about doing life together. It's about bringing hope and encouragement to a couple."- Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley
Q. Are there "red flags" that should prevent a couple from being marriage mentors?
A Yes. Research shows that if either spouse is dealing with serious issues like those listed below, they should forego serving as marriage mentors (at least for the time being) and instead concentrate on addressing their own challenges:
• struggles with addictions
• uncontrollable emotional outbursts
• a recent significant setback (financial, emotional, etc.)
• frequent conflict or lack of stability in the marriage
• deep emotional wounds that still need healing
• significant financial debt
• a lack of meaning or purpose in life
• a general pessimism about marriage
• failure to submit to biblical principles
If you and your spouse are dealing with issues like those listed above and need help, we’d invite you to call our Counseling Department and speak with one of our licensed counselors. They are available Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time at 855-771-HELP (4357).
(Answer adapted from "The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, pp. 39-40.)
Q. What are the most essential skills necessary to be an effective marriage mentor?
A. Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott have identified eleven key qualities or abilities that most effective mentors typically possess. In a nutshell, these are:
• Building rapport — Relationship and connection are essential building blocks to successful marriage mentoring.
• Walking in another couple’s shoes — The ability to view things from their perspective enables you to see them and their struggles through eyes of patience, grace and compassion.
• Working as a team — Understand and highlight your spouse’s unique strengths, empower one another’s voices, and embrace your differences.
• Agreeing on outcomes — At the outset identify with your mentorees what you want to accomplish through this relationship. To arrive at your destination you must first chart a course.
• Asking meaningful questions — Not only does this show genuine interest on your part, but the right questions can reveal helpful insights about the mentorees to their spouse, to you as their mentors, and even sometimes to the one giving the answer.
• Listening aggressively — Trying to gather the meaning and emotion behind the words will greatly increase your understanding of the other couple.
• Fielding any question they throw at you — Here is a failsafe, one-size-fits-all magic answer: “I’m not sure. That’s a good question. Let me get back to you on that.” Then discuss it with your spouse, pray about it, check reputable sites on the Internet or talk to a friend, counselor, pastor or another marriage mentor. Pick up the discussion at your next meeting.
• Telling your stories — Honest personal stories can make a lasting impression. Just remember, though, your story is not really about you, it’s about your mentorees.
• Praying together — Model the importance of this activity in marriage by praying together with and for your mentorees.
• Staying sharp and refreshed—Think of the flight attendant telling you to put on your oxygen mask first: You can’t really help another couple if you’re not tending to your own personal, spiritual and marital health.
• Being yourself and going with the flow—Let them see the real you. Also, be willing to adapt to the needs, learning styles and interests of your mentorees.
(Answer adapted from "The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring", Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, pp. 99-181.)
Q. What are the most common mistakes marriage mentors make?
A. Mistakes are inevitable in almost any human endeavor, so don’t be fearful of making an occasional one as a marriage mentor. Still, here are a few of the more common pitfalls you’ll want to try to avoid:
• trying to solve problems prematurely (listen closely and attempt to understand underlying issues first);
• failure to set clear expectations and limits (don’t assume, discuss);
• fear of silence (sometimes mentorees need time to process and reflect);
• interrogation (make questions inviting, not threatening);
• impatience (expecting too much progress too soon);
• moralizing (don’t sacrifice your convictions, but seek to understand and offer unconditional love).
(Answer adapted from "The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring", Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, pp. 43-50.)
Q. What if our mentoree couple is dealing with serious issues?
A. Some couples experience challenges that require professional help. If that’s the case with a couple you’re mentoring, don’t try to “fix” things on your own. Instead, offer to help them locate competent professional assistance. There are any number of warning signs that may point to this need. For instance, if one or both is exhibiting any of the following:
• acting painfully silent for long periods and withdrawing socially
• quitting a job for no rational reason or making other sudden unexplainable decisions
• an obsession with exercise and diet that may indicate an eating disorder
• excessive fear of a family member, relative or friend
• long periods of feeling worthless, helpless, guilty or lethargic, or showing other signs of depression
• significant anger issues
• suicidal thoughts or a fixation with death
• periods of intense anxiety or panic attacks
As a first step, we invite you to call our toll-free counseling help line at 1-855-771-HELP (4357). We’ll be happy to provide assistance and suggest a qualified Christian counselor in your area that you could recommend to your mentorees.
(Answer adapted from "The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring", Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, pp. 200-201.)
Q. How will marriage mentoring impact my own marriage?
A. Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott talk about the “boomerang effect” of marriage mentoring, that is the common experience of mentors who report feeling that they gain more from the relationship than they give. By helping another couple form and live out their dreams, your own dreams for marriage may well be reawakened and fulfilled. You will also find yourself learning — often in unexpected ways—from your mentorees. On top of all that, you will experience the satisfaction of working together with your spouse on a project of lasting — even eternal — value.
(Answer adapted from "The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring", Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, pp. 51-52.)
Q. How do we find a couple to mentor?
A. If your church does not have a marriage mentoring program, there are still a number of ways to get connected with a less-experienced couple. You might first look around at those God has put in your path at church, in your neighborhood or in your other social circles. Is there a particular couple you have already developed a connection with, or would like to? Invite them for dinner or to a ballgame or play and see if they would be interested in meeting on a regular, intentional basis. You can talk to your pastor to see if he is aware of any couples that could be a potential match. You might also consider attending (or even teaching) a marriage-related Sunday school class if one is offered through your church, as that’s a good place to encounter couples who are committed to strengthening their relationships. If you have grown children, perhaps they are aware of a likely couple in their social network. All the while, of course, pray that God would direct you to a husband and wife who could benefit from your mentoring.
Q. What if we make a mistake?
A. Give yourself some grace, learn from it, and move on. We can’t say it enough: no marriage mentor is perfect. Part of a successful mentoring relationship is being “real” with the other couple. If you need to backtrack, admit your mistake, and even seek forgiveness, do so. It will likely only enhance your credibility in their eyes. And, unless something has happened within your own marriage that needs to be addressed and healed, don’t let this take you away from the opportunity to invest in another couple. If you are continuing to seek to grow in your marriage (remember, health and growth are the goals, not perfection), you are still plenty “qualified” to work with your couple.
Q. Are there common issues we should expect to encounter when mentoring a newlywed or engaged couple?
A. There are some very predictable and important issues that those entering marriage usually have to wrestle with, including: establishing marital roles, managing conflict, handling money, physical intimacy, dealing with in-laws, and celebrating holidays and creating family traditions. If you’re looking for resources to help you, we could recommend a few: The First Five Years of Marriage, written by Focus on the Family’s staff counselors; Countdown for Couples, by Dale and Susan Mathis; and The Most Important Year in a Woman’s/Man’s Life, by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Susan DeVries. The Parrotts’ Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts is another excellent resource.
(Answer partially adapted from "The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring", Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, pp. 59-69.)
Q. How often should we meet?
A. The important thing is to get together on a regular basis — at least once a month — in order to develop consistency, trust, and rapport. Agree up front on the number of meetings or how long you will meet. Many mentoring matches initially commit to somewhere between 6-12 meetings. Of course you can continue to meet beyond that if both couples desire, but having an end date in mind is usually a good idea.
Q. Where should we meet?
A. Opening up your own home is often a great way to get the relationship off on the right foot. Or, it may work better to meet in the home of your mentorees. Some couples get together in a quiet corner or private area of a restaurant or coffee shop. Still others may meet in a comfortable place in their church. Find a place that works best for you and one that is free of distractions (including cell phones). (Answer based on Les Parrott correspondence, 1/17/2013.)
Q. I've heard about three different forms of marriage mentoring: preparing, maximizing and restoring. How will we know which one we are best equipped for?
A. To answer, we’d need to ask you a few questions. Where does your passion lie? What has your marriage experience been like? Have you gone through difficult times with your spouse? Do friends seek your counsel when they’re in crisis? You may well be suited to help marriages in distress. Maybe you find yourself feeling energized and revitalized being around engaged or newly married couples. That can be an important cue. Or perhaps you both have a desire to help couples move “from good to great.” And if you’re not sure, talk to people who know you well — your pastor, close friends, or maybe even your adult children — and get their insights. No matter which you choose, know that your investment in any of these three forms can pay huge dividends in the lives of another couple.
Q. How do we find a marriage mentor couple?
A. We encourage you to look around at the people already in your lives. Is there an experienced couple in your church, neighborhood, or other social circles that both of you admire and would be comfortable meeting with? You might consider participating in a marriage-related Sunday school class or attending a marriage retreat, where you'll meet other couples committed to investing in their marriages, including potential mentors. Talk to your pastor to see if he might be able to recommend a couple. If you don't currently attend a church, check with one or two in your area to see if they offer anything along these lines. All the while, be praying that God would lead you to the right mentoring opportunity.
Q. What should we look for in a mentor couple?
A. For starters, don't go searching for the perfect couple … because you'll never find them! Instead, look for a husband and wife that both of you respect and whose marriage can serve as something of a model for you. Do they reflect character qualities like integrity, wisdom, trustworthiness, and honesty, as well as the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23)? Is their love for one another readily evident? Find a couple that is positive and encouraging, easy to talk to, that cares about you, is willing to invest in you, and has your best at heart. Shared interests (sports, music, outdoor activities, hobbies, etc.) are not necessarily essential, but they can be helpful in establishing a level of connection and comfort — especially for men.
Q. How do we make the most of our time with our mentors?
A. First, talk in advance of each meeting with your spouse: What do you hope to accomplish with this meeting? What areas would you most like to grow in? What aspects of your marriage are creating friction? Are you encountering new challenges? It might be helpful to jot down a few questions you want to ask or issues to address. Consider letting your mentor couple know ahead of time what you'd like to discuss so they can come better prepared.
You'll also want to be real with your mentor couple. Let them get to know you so they can understand how best to come alongside and encourage you. After each meeting, be sure to discuss with your spouse what your "takeaways" were and what your next steps will be to continue growing and strengthening your marriage.
Q. How honest should we be with our mentor couple?
A. To get the most out of your mentoring relationship, you'll want to be fairly transparent. At the same time, always be honoring and supportive of your spouse even when addressing points of contention in your marriage. If you are planning to talk about sensitive issues, make sure you have your spouse's permission first. If an issue is particularly fresh or raw, you may still need time to process or address it with your partner before sharing it with your mentors. In that case, maybe hold off until the next meeting when you both feel in a "safer" place and will be better able to maximize the wisdom and support of your mentors. Many find it helpful to start a mentoring relationship by exploring lighter topics in the first meeting or two and then, as trust and comfort levels increase, delving into weightier issues.
Q. How do I bring up delicate issues in our marriage with our mentoring couple without hurting my spouse?
A. You're on the right track by asking the question. It's important that both spouses check their hearts and motives before exploring potentially difficult areas. Sometimes a spouse will bring up an issue hoping it will pressure their partner to change. Or they may want to get the mentor couple on "their side." Neither of these are healthy approaches. Rather, it's important to see you and your spouse as a team. Keep your own heart open in the process. Freely admit your own faults, and be open to areas where you need to grow and change. That kind of mindset allows you to tackle tough topics in a way that works for the good of your marriage rather than placing blame and driving a wedge between you. Finally, keep in mind the Apostle Paul's formula — "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) — and you'll seldom go wrong.
Q. Are there topics that should be "off limits"?
A. Again, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page here. If it is a particularly delicate subject, you may want to first ask your mentors whether they are comfortable discussing it. In general, your mentor couple is there to help walk you through whatever subject you're dealing with, but remember that they are not experts on every topic. You might want to give your mentor couple a "heads up" about the issue prior to the meeting so they can do some thinking, research and preparation in advance. Keep in mind, too, that potentially damaging relational issues often demand the services of a professional counselor (see Q&A below).
Q. Is looking for a marriage mentor a good idea if we are struggling with a serious issue (adultery, addiction, etc.)?
A. Yes, but first we'd urge you to seek the help of a licensed Christian counselor. Infidelity, abuse, addictions, mental illness, and other serious personal or marital issues usually require the involvement of a trained professional. For an initial counseling consultation or to locate a counselor in your area, contact Focus on the Family at 1-800-A-FAMILY.
In addition to a counselor, you'll also want to make sure you have a strong support system around you — and a mentor couple can be a significant part of that. A mature, "safe" couple can serve as a wonderful outlet for support, encouragement, feedback and honest dialogue as you make progress in your counseling experience. Trusted confidantes like these can also help you overcome the shame, isolation and loneliness that often accompany such struggles. You might want to look for a mentor couple who has some experience or familiarity with the particular issue you're wrestling with. Talk to your counselor or a pastor if you need help finding such a couple.
Q. What are some of the common mistakes mentoree couples make?
A. Confusing marriage mentors with professional counselors is one. Expecting a mentor couple to be perfect or to have all the answers are others. Failing to respect the mentor couple's time is another one — it's important to end meetings at the agreed-upon time. Mentorees occasionally can blur the lines, beginning to view the mentor couple as another set of parents, a babysitter, or as being "on call" for every little crisis. Some mistakenly expect their mentors to "fix" their spouse or all of their problems. Others have to learn there are not always quick solutions or easy answers — many issues in marriage require work to address. However, if you come into the mentoring relationship with healthy boundaries and realistic expectations firmly in place, you can avoid these detours and keep things moving in the right direction.
Q. What if our mentor couple is not a good "fit" or isn't meeting our needs?
A. Your mentor couple is there to be a resource for you. Therefore, it's important that you keep up an open, ongoing dialogue about your relationship with them. Be polite but honest about your needs and expectations, what's working and what isn't, and how they can best help you. Can your mentors make adjustments? Are your expectations realistic? Is it possible part of the problem lies with you — that is, are you investing enough? Are you keeping your heart open?
If it is truly not a good fit, that's okay. Thank the couple for their time and investment, conclude your meetings, and then seek out another mentor couple. You may even want to continue pursuing the friendship you've formed with the couple, just not in an official mentoring capacity.
Q. Are we better off meeting with a mentor couple by ourselves or with other mentoree couples?
A. There are advantages to both, so it depends on what you're looking for. Some couples enjoy forming peer relationships and exploring topics together. They appreciate the synergy and learning from other couples at a similar life stage. Some also find a group setting less intimidating or intense. Others, however, would not feel comfortable sharing about their marriage in a larger group. Many mentoree couples prefer to focus specifically on their own relationship, and they want to develop a deeper connection with their mentors. The key is to determine what set up would best serve you and your spouse — then take the plunge!
Q. What benefits does marriage mentoring offer to us?
A. Many! It is a place to be real, and to be encouraged. It's an opportunity to discover things about your spouse — and yourself. It's a safe place to ask questions, wrestle with challenges and seek feedback. Your mentor couple can serve as a model to aspire to, and a reminder that you and your spouse can also weather the storms and enjoy a thriving, successful, lifelong marriage. You'll also receive objective, honest insights about your relationship from people who are committed to the two of you and want what's best for you. We won't try to tell you it will always be easy, but we will promise it will be worth it!