Finding a husband eager to participate in marriage enrichment might be as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth, and especially if his marriage has hit a rocky patch. The idea of sitting down with strangers to talk about feelings and spill personal secrets makes many men’s skin crawl.
Leave it to the proper, polite Brits to create marriage material without that obstacle. The Marriage Course, developed at HTB in London, England, is the same church that gave us Alpha, the 10-week exploration of faith that is offered world-wide, includes, “no counseling, no airing of dirty linen in public, no group therapy – and it seems to work.”
It works so well that The Marriage Course, created by The Marriage Course Leads Nicky and Sila Lee, has run in 4,500 churches in 127 different countries and has been translated into 40 different languages over its 30-year history, inspiring more than 1 million couples. Alpha USA brought the course to the United States in 2007.
Alpha itself offers material that helps people find answers to questions about life, faith and God. Both Alpha and The Marriage Course structure sessions to include food, thoughts from an expert and conversation.
The Marriage Course was traditionally offered over seven weeks through a sponsoring church or organization that would coordinate the logistics of providing the opening meal, as well as facilitating the written and video content. Prior to the pandemic prohibiting public gathering, the Alpha team had already undertaken the task of remaking all course material for a digital format. In fact, Nicky and Sila spent three months in Canada in 2019 in production, taping interviews with relationship experts and “sofa couples,” as the examples are called. The digital format, including new information addressing online pornography use and screen time boundaries, providentially debuted in January of 2020 and now reaches a global audience. All material is available on the website, https://alphausa.org/the-marriage-courses, and has been translated into Spanish.
Now anyone can access the resource from the convenience and privacy of their own home. Due to the gift of a generous benefactor, there’s no charge for any of the content. Results have been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, 100% of the men completing the post-course survey in the diocese of Juliet, Ill., said they would choose to take it online again rather than in person. “There’s a feeling of safety to be able to participate from your own home,” said Margene Vessel, Alpha USA Head of Products and Coaching.
Some churches or small groups have found creative ways to encourage people to participate together virtually, even distributing kick-off goody baskets to set the stage and providing the course on Zoom using screen share so people could watch as a couple yet collectively. Although couples still watch from their home, they know others are online at the dedicated time (in the case of small groups, they can fellowship via zoom before and after the 90-minute program) and that their church marriage ministry supports their efforts to invest in their relationship and build a strong marriage. Couples at home are encouraged to start each session with a romantic meal to set the mood.
“The whole premise is to create a special, intimate space,” Margene said. “Even when the meal was served in a church, each candlelit table was set for two with enough space between so conversations are not overheard. We want it to feel like a date night.”
Some couples take The Marriage Course to intentionally invest in their relationship, others are looking to address more specific challenges. Either way, the curriculum offers essential tools and practical ideas to help build the marriage. Topics include: Strengthening Connection, The Art of Communication, Resolving Conflict, The Power of Forgiveness, The Impact of Family, Good Sex, Love in Action.
Relationship experts like Henry Cloud, John Kirby, and Gary Chapman present their best practices and more than 30 “sofa couples,” share their example stories. Each session offers pauses between segments to allow couples time to share their thoughts with each other.
“The presentations set you up for a conversation you wouldn’t just happen upon yourself,” Margene said. “You’ll gently go to some deep places. We’ll give you skills and tools and hold your hand. Couples in a tough space find healing. There’s compassion and tenderness when they touch areas that are vulnerable. The work is gentle but thorough and done privately.”
The Marriage Course is based on Christian principles, but it does not demand Christian answers, Margene said. Anyone regardless of faith or church background will find it relevant. “People will feel really welcome wherever they are in their faith journey. In week three, Nicky encourages couples to pray. If someone is not comfortable, he suggests thinking a kind thought or saying a kind word.”
Results of The Marriage Course are impressive. Recently the Archdiocese of Chicago elected to provide the curriculum for the tens of thousands of parishioners within its boundaries. Well over 100,000 people have accessed the digital version of Marriage Course from April –December 2020. Margene said they hope more churches will consider ways to incorporate it, whether in person or virtually, as restrictions ease.
“There’s something about the shared experience,” she said. “When you are accountable to a group, there’s a higher level of commitment.”
Margene knows of what she speaks. She and her husband virtually hosted four other couples through the course last March.
“This is the time. It is a felt need,” Margene said. “Investing early in Covid to have these principles awakened served us for the better. Our relationship thrived during Covid. As a couple, we’ve been really strong.” Margene found hosting the course was, “not complicated, easy to run and free. It is best to purchase the journals for each guest, but in a pinch, even the leader’s guide and journals can be found right on the webpage. To learn more about how to host a course online, go to https://alphausa.org/tmc-online.
Accessing quality, tested, successful marriage resources has never been easier. Now you and your spouse can work together to improve your marriage — privately and safely.