Early January is infamously known as the beginning of divorce season, according to Carl Caton, founder of the San Antonio Marriage Initiative (SAMI). The first day children go back to school after winter break is the busiest day of the year for divorce filings, he says. Many couples have remained together to get through the holidays, but the stress of the season pushes a shaky marriage over the breaking point.
“There are 400,000 marriages in Bexar County,” Carl continues. “Research shows one-fifth of those are struggling. That translates to 80,000 marriages that need help. Of that number, 9,000 will actually divorce, costing millions in social and economic collateral damage.”
Carl formed SAMI in 2009 to serve the needs of church-based marriage ministry leaders, mostly devoted lay couples, but also pastors, church staff, and counselors.
Couples who suspect their relationship is headed in the wrong direction may opt for counseling, but often a one-hour-a-week session is just not enough to turn things around. This was the experience of Jon R. Anderson, founder and president of Growing Love Network, one of the non-profit ministries offering hope for marriages in San Antonio.
Jon opened a private counseling practice after earning his master’s degree from Abilene Christian University in the mid 1990s. He also ran the Counseling Services department at San Antonio College but realized his heart was drawn to helping couples move their marriages out of conflict. He was discouraged that despite his best efforts, many couples with marital difficulty were unable to turn the corner and move forward into healthy relationship.
He began teaching a 3-day marriage intensive course backed by a national marriage ministry and noticed an immediate change in outcomes in the marriages of couples who participated. A marriage intensive provides focused, concentrated time, instruction and structure to really address the issues that have become obstacles in a marriage, he says.
Jon likes to use a medical analogy to explain why a marriage intensive is more effective than traditional retreats, books or even mentoring.
“If a person is critically wounded and bleeding, you wouldn’t take them to a doctor’s office. They don’t need a diet and exercise plan, they need emergency attention to stop the bleeding,” Jon says. “Likewise, a once-a-week visit to a counselor is not adequate to be lifesaving to a marriage that is heading toward divorce. In both cases, immediate, specialized treatment is needed to be effective.”
One of the resources Growing Love Network offers is their marriage intensive weekend, Love Reboot, which Jon leads almost every month. Churches often provide the space needed; Oak Hills Church has been a frequent host, he says. Meeting in churches keeps the cost of Love Reboot low. Growing Love Ministries also offers scholarships and financial assistance to ensure cost is not a barrier to any couple who wishes to attend.
In Love Reboot, Jon helps couples break down barriers and get the relationship stabilized so subsequent therapy can begin at a more effective place and growth can start to happen, he says. The goal is transformation – where mindsets are changed so thoughts, attitudes and behaviors start to look different.
The marriage intensive model has proven very effective, even for couples whose marriage might be defined as hopeless. Two different groups of graduate students studied the work and results of Love Reboot and found that an average of 75 percent of couples who worked through the intensive were still married seven years later – and these were marriages identified as on the brink of separation.
In fact, Love Reboot has even rekindled affection in couples who have already divorced. Jon recounts the situation of one such couple that was inspired by their young daughter to attend the intensive to learn some skills to improve family communication. After Love Reboot, they joined Jon’s follow-up Growing Love course, and half way through, announced their plans to remarry. And theirs is not an isolated example. As word of the positive results of Love Reboot has spread, Jon has been receiving referrals from a most unlikely source – divorce lawyers.
Carl credits changing the hearts and minds of family law attorneys as one of SAMI’s biggest recent accomplishments – a powerful needle shift in terms of moving people out of a very dark place into a place of hope. He intentionally pursued a group of Christian lawyers to inspire them to identify couples whose marriages had a chance of being saved.
“Our counselors met them and treated them with respect and honor, and it broke down some incredible walls,” he says. “Now they are identifying couples in their practice they think have hope and referring them to Jon.”
Jon suggested some questions a couple or referral party might consider to indicate a situation that could benefit from Love Reboot.
If either spouse has mentioned or is considering divorce or separation.
If there has been a recent affair.
If the marriage seems to be getting worse rather than better.
If the couple have been going to counseling or therapy and not making much progress.
“We try to prepare people for marriage, support people to develop healthy vibrant marriages and step in when marriages are falling apart,” Jon says.
You can find or more information about Love Reboot or Growing Love Network at www.growinglovenetwork.org