The traditional institution of marriage in America is in trouble.
The marriage-failure rate is 50 percent for those who attend church and consider themselves Christians as well as for those who profess no religious affiliation, according to research by marriage counselors M. Mike McNair and his wife, Linda McNair, who have created the Show Your Love Marriage and Relationship Ministry.
The McNairs, who have been married for three decades, however, believe that marriage still works and remains the backbone of our community. They have a passion for marriage ministry and for each other. They are both pursuing doctoral degrees in pastoral and community counseling.
They conducted a workshop for the marriage ministry at Rising Star Baptist Church in Youngstown, and my wife, Cherrie, and I were among the 16 couples who attended their weekend presentation at the beautiful Bertram Inn & Convention Center in Aurora. In our group, one couple had been married 45 years. And we had three couples who have been married less than two years. Cherrie and I celebrate our 28th anniversary in July.
The McNairs gave a down-to-earth, practical and comedic presentation about the challenges facing marriage, why marriages fail and the ways marriages can be enhanced.
Mike, who is associate pastor of Metro Assembly of God Church in Youngstown, pointed out that there is a 65 percent failure rate for second marriages and a 75 percent failure rate for third or later marriages.
He added that many marriages go through what he called the “power struggle stage.” The average marriage in distress, he said, lasts five to seven years before the couple decides to come in for counseling.
Mike pointed out that 95 percent of couples are still married by a preacher, and on average, those who are married and are connected by their faith have a longer marriage and longer life span.
He also said something that stuck with me: “Love has labor to it,” he said. “No labor, no love.” In other words, you have to work on your marriage every day.
The McNairs believe in the power of agreement that is available when two people are on one accord. That power, however, is often forfeited because of selfish ambition, unkindness and a word that many people don’t like to use anymore in the 21st century — sin.
They began their presentation Friday with a skit in which they depicted some of the expectations spouses bring into their marriage. One of the things they discussed was that couples believe they will be able to change their spouse to meet their expectations.
“Marriage is like two bodies of water coming together,” said Linda, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “There are rapids, and twists and turns. But if you ride out those rapids, and work together to navigate those twists and turns, the body of water is wider, deeper and smoother.”
She added that marriage is a living organism, and like all living things, it must by nurtured and lovingly cared for by husband and wife.
They gave us assignments for Friday evening that resulted in intimate, eye-opening conversations and several beautiful poems and songs about our marriages that were shared Saturday.
The McNairs also provided several useful handouts on things and ways to make a big difference in your marriage. They emphasized that taking care of the little things together can stave off big problems in the marriage down the road.
One handout came from the Coalition for Marriage and Couples Education (www.smartmarriages.com). Here are some of the little things you can do that can have a big payoff for your marriage:
Give your spouse a compliment, and brag about your spouse to others when your spouse is within earshot.
Find something to laugh about.
Have a shared activity both of you can enjoy.
Take time to touch.
Be willing to compromise.
Treat your spouse the way you want to be treated.
Smile at each other.
Discuss the things that bother you.
Take time to talk and listen to each other. Without communication, any team is in trouble.
Chart a course that establishes a shared vision for your marriage.
On Saturday, the McNairs split the group, with Linda leading the women in frank discussions about marriage apart from their husbands, who went to a similar session with Mike.
The Bible teaches that God instituted marriage thousands of years ago as a way to repopulate the Earth and establish a global society that would honor him. Sin, of course, changed that plan. But that doesn’t mean marriages have to continue to break down or end in divorce.
The McNairs believe the abundant life God promised in the Scriptures includes a passionate, purposeful marriage.
The weekend ended at Rising Star on Sunday, where the couples who participated in the workshop, as well as those who attended the morning worship service, renewed their wedding vows. The day ended with dinner at Johnny’s in Boardman.
I believe in marriage and that it truly is the foundation for our community. I also believe the chaos we see in our society today is due to the breakdown of the family, beginning with failed marriages.
I implore all married couples, and singles contemplating marriage, to attend workshops such as those conducted by the McNairs and others who are concerned about maintaining and improving marriage. Check out the McNairs at their website, www.sylmarriage.com.
Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.