When Jerry and Olivia Dugan got married, they pledged lifelong commitment to one another. After all, they each knew firsthand how divorce rips families apart. They had individually vowed, “I will never do that to my children.”
When Jerry was 11 years old, his Army father secured housing for the family in Germany. Jerry remembers eating breakfast in a little trailer park in Southern California when his mother said she wasn’t following her husband overseas.
He initially believed his mother, but then his brother started to cry—he had seen the man their mother was having an affair with.
Jerry says his parents’ divorce left a hole in his heart.
Olivia was just 7 years old when her mother announced that her father had to move out of their home. “We were at my house; it was late in the evening. I can still see it … I cried.”
After her parents’ divorce, her mother remarried. Olivia was not able to see her father as much as she wanted to. “My stepdad didn’t treat me like my daddy.”
Olivia promised herself that she would never divorce. “I knew that I wanted to be married forever.”
Like Olivia, Jerry wanted a lifelong marriage. He listened carefully to the vows that couples made at weddings. He wondered, Why did my parents break their vows? If commitment is so important, why is it okay to break it?
They didn’t know how
When Jerry and Olivia were married, each of them had the desire to keep their commitment. But something was missing: They didn’t know how. A few years into their marriage, they began to drift apart. “There were paths that we were starting on,” Jerry says. “By year 14 or 15 we might have ended up like our parents.”
Instead of continuing on their path toward isolation, the Dugans went to a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. That’s when they heard about God’s design for marriage. They learned what it would take for their relationship to last a lifetime.
A few weeks after that weekend, the Dugans had what Jerry describes as “some really heavy fights.” He says that the communication skills they learned allowed them not only to get through those arguments, but also helped them grow closer together.
Many of their arguments centered around money, and the getaway had taught them how to “fight fair.” Olivia says that she had a tendency to say hurtful words to her husband when things got heated. Now she asks herself: Do I want to say something mean and hurtful or can I say something constructive and get this conflict resolved?
“It feels good to see change”
Olivia and Jerry have seen from their own marriage how easy it is for couples to drift apart. They don’t want other families to experience what they did as kids of divorced parents. That’s why they became Weekend to Remember group coordinators at their church, Bay Area Fellowship in Corpus Christi, Texas. They are grateful that God is working through them to make a difference.
Two years ago, 22 couples from their church attended a Weekend to Remember, and the following year 20 more couples attended. Those who registered as part of a group received 50 percent off the regular registration rate. And as group coordinators, the Dugans earned one free registration (for one couple) for each completed group of five couples.
Jerry and Olivia wondered, Who should receive the free registrations? They asked their pastors, “Who have you been counseling every week that needs to go to this?”
The couples who were chosen not only expressed their appreciation to the Dugans, but also told their friends about the marriage getaway. “It feels good to see the change,” Jerry says, “couples going in [to the getaway] hurting and struggling and coming out renewed.”
Today many of those same couples are leading small groups and Bible studies. “After the Weekend to Remember they were one unit going forward for Christ and that blows me away,” says Jerry.
Investing in families
Olivia is a part-time preschool teacher and Jerry is in real estate. Despite their busy schedules and their responsibilities raising two children, they think it’s important to intentionally invest in other families.
Olivia says that the media portrays a laissez faire attitude about divorce—as though it doesn’t really matter. “But it is a big deal,” she says. “It tears kids up and their families!”
Jerry says that he and Olivia are passionate about sharing God’s blueprints for marriage not only in their church, but also throughout their hometown of Corpus Christi.
“We want our town to realize divorce is not an option. Kids should expect to have one mom and one dad. Period.”
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