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Discovering the Trouble Spots

with Gary Barnes, Scott Stanley | May 22, 2006

On today's broadcast, Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, and Gary Barnes, associate professor of biblical counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary, tell couples about the benefits of CPREP, or Christian Preparation for Marriage, a Christian program aimed at preventing marital distress.

On today's broadcast, Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, and Gary Barnes, associate professor of biblical counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary, tell couples about the benefits of CPREP, or Christian Preparation for Marriage, a Christian program aimed at preventing marital distress.

Discovering the Trouble Spots

With Gary Barnes, Scott Stanley
|
May 22, 2006
| Download Transcript PDF

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Bob: What if there was a way to spend time with an engaged couple – sit down with them for a while and somehow predict their long-term success as a married couple?  Researcher Scott Stanley says there is a way.  There is a tool called "PREP," and he explains how it works.

Scott: It's based both on a solid biblical model of marriage and scriptural wisdom and insight about relationships in marriage, and it's also built on the best of what we know from marital research about what we can teach couples added insights and add bits of wisdom from research about what will enhance their marriage, strengthen the marriage, and give them a better shot at really fulfilling that promise of living out live 'til death do us part.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 22nd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll talk today about the kinds of things engaged couples ought to think about if they want to live happily ever after.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  We're going to talk today about marriage.  You have five adult children who are married, right?

Dennis: Correct.

Bob: So that means that over the years you've had your kids bring home a prospective, maybe-this-is-the-one kind of person, right?

Dennis: A very delicate way of putting it, yes.  And some have checked out and have passed muster …

Bob: Some – yes.

Dennis: And some didn't, they didn't make the cut.

Bob: And how did you …

Dennis: … very carefully, very carefully.

Bob: I think we've said all we need to say about that.

Dennis: You know, a parent has an important role as their sons and daughters make the selection of a spouse for the rest of their lives, and I think most parents don't engage at a level that they should engage.  I think there's something …

Bob: Well, now, hang on, it's very delicate to engage because you've got a lot of emotion locked up on the other side of the table.

Dennis: Bob, I said it very carefully – I said, "very delicately, very carefully."  But you know what?  I don't think that takes away our responsibility to get involved in our children's lives around this decision.  If you think they're about to make a mistake, you must – I will underline this word – you must step into their lives and fire the silver bullet.  The decision does take faith in a God who does bring two people together.  It also involves mentors and older adults engaging with younger adults to help guide them into this decision.

 We have a couple of friends that join us on FamilyLife Today – Gary Barnes and Scott Stanley join us because these two gentlemen both have more education in their little finger around this subject of marriage preparation than Bob and I do in our total hand.

Bob: I think we have increased the brain power in the room significantly.

Dennis: There is no doubt about it.  Gary, Scott, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Gary: Thank you.

Scott: Thank you.

Dennis: Gary works at my alma mater, Dallas Theological Seminary where he is the director of Counseling and Testing Services, also the Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling in that department.  Scott Stanley is no stranger to our listening audience.  He has been on FamilyLife Today a number of times.  He is the co-director at the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, just a few miles south of where my son lives there on the Front Range in Denver, Colorado.  And these two gentlemen have co-conspired to work on a model of preparation for marriage to help dads like Bob and me as well as single people who want to do a good job to prepare for marriage.  It's called CPREP.  Scott, explain what CPREP stands for and what it's all about.

Scott: CPREP stands for Christian PREP, and PREP stands for the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program.  Christian PREP is a program that has been under construction and being built over the last 25 years based on research about what helps couples do better, what helps couples avoid some of the pitfalls in marriage to be better prepared to do well in marriage, and it's distinctive – Christian PREP, in particular, is distinctive for many things out there because it's based both on a solid biblical model of marriage and scriptural wisdom and insight about relationships in marriage, and it's also built on the best of what we know from marital research about what we can teach couples added insights and added bits of wisdom from research about what will enhance their marriage, strengthen their marriage, and give them a better shot at really fulfilling that promise of living out life 'til death do us part.

Dennis: And so to answer Bob's question that he's asking here, how do you know or how do you help a young person who is getting ready to make this decision, what's really necessary to make a relationship successful?

Scott: Well, you know, Dennis, this is far more than an academic question for me.  I have four kids ages 19 to 24 right now.

Dennis: So you've had to take some of this knowledge that's in your little finger and …

Scott: This June we'll have our first marriage.

Dennis: Of your son or daughter?

Scott: My son will be the first to get us going.

Bob: Gary, is it possible for couples to get some idea ahead of time of how they're going to do as a married couple without signing up and moving in and actually trying it?  I mean, can you predict the success of a marriage?

Gary: Well, you know, there are so many important things that we can draw from to give us a very good look at that afterwards, and I really like what you had to say about the role of other people who know them well in their lives.

 From social science, we have another whole window to look through, and that is what are the predictors, as we've looked, over time, at other couples, over time, to see what is it that makes a difference in couples who end up distressed or not distressed or even divorced or not divorced.  We have some specific answers to those questions.

Dennis: What are some of those predictors?

Gary: You know, our two key outcome variables that we look at are stability and satisfaction.  We would say that it's not so much if you find the perfect mate, if you think, "That's my compatible partner, therefore, I will get a perfect outcome."  It's not how similar or how different you are, it's much more about how you handle the inevitable differences that all couples will have.

Dennis: So you're saying it's more about who you are than who the other person is?

Gary: Well, it's more about choices that each person intentionally makes as they deal with their differences.

Bob: I think I remember this right, Scott – I think the first time I ever heard you speak on this subject I was listening to "Focus on the Family."  In fact, if I remember, I was driving along in Seattle, Washington.  You and I were up there together to speak at a Weekend to Remember conference back a decade ago …

Dennis: … right …

Bob: … and here I was driving along, and you were talking with Dr. Dobson, and I think either you said or somebody said there is one thing that is the predictor of long-term success for a marriage.  And I thought, "Well, I better know what that is because I'm about to do a conference on marriage," and I turned up the radio.

 If I remember right, you said a couple's ability to successfully resolve conflict is the number-one predictor of long-term success.  Do I have that right?

Scott: Absolutely.  Now, there's many things that tell us about whether a couple has got a good chance or not, so there's things in the mix like sharing the same faith is a risk – if people don't have the same faith, they have a greater risk.

Bob: That's a risk factor.

Scott: If people's parents divorce, they're at greater risk of not doing so well in marriage themselves.  So there's lots of things that raise the risk, but the number-one thing that seems to predict the best is how well couples handle conflict, and that speaks to this point that you're all talking about, that you want people to make a wise choice, but the fact is, after they've made the choice, you want them to do the best job possible fulfilling their vows to really do a good job with that choice, and one of the ways that we do the best or not the best in marriage is how we handle the differences and disagreements that, as Gary said, are inevitable.  You know, they're going to happen, and so couples who regularly have conflicts that escalate, or they put each other down, or one kind of consistently pulls away from the other – those tendencies really make it hard for a marriage to work out, over time, and people should be very wary of how much of that tendency is in their relationship and how much of that they can learn to handle differently.

Dennis: You know, as I am listening to us talk about this, though, and, again, I'm picturing my son or daughter coming to me wanting to know about getting married, I'm thinking short of having the young couple standing before you and stomping on their feet and creating a conflict or setting up some kind of false argument of some kind, how are you going to know?  How are you going to help them make that right choice?  How are you going to help them, because the dating scene is so false, you know, I don't recall ever having a conflict with Barbara while I dated.

Bob: You know what he's talking about – you'd sit down with a young couple, and you'd say, "Okay, now, kids" …

Dennis: … stars in their eyes …

Bob: "I heard Dr. Stanley on the radio today, and he said that the ability to resolve conflict is the number-one predictor.  So how do you guys do it, resolving conflict?"  And they go, "We don't have any conflict.  It's obvious that we'll make a wonderful married couple, because we don't have conflict."

Gary: Right.  Well, you know, it's interesting, if we go back to Scripture, and we talk about our key goal is to glorifying God in our relationships, especially in our marriage relationship, and it's to be characterized by oneness.  It's interesting, if you look through Scripture cover to cover, that's a major sub-theme all the way through the Bible, about how we demonstrate oneness and, through that, how we glorify God.

 But, you know, the really interesting thing, if you look at it, that oneness is really never called for in the face of sameness.  It's always called for in the face of difference.  Even at the very beginning in the Garden, intentionally, Adam and Eve, different by design, right?

Scott: Absolutely.

Gary: Okay?  And following all the way through you get to different races – Jew and Gentile in Christ to be one – a wall of hostility pulled down – the body of Christ, diverse members, all different and yet to be characterized in oneness.  Well, of course, any two couples are not going to be the same.  So when we say "compatible," it doesn't mean you're going to have oneness based on our sameness, but we also have the added challenge that we're not living in the Garden or in heaven right now.

Dennis: No doubt about it.

Gary: So there's many, many obstacles that are going to get in the way with those differences.  And so even if couples aren't experiencing the challenge yet, we would like to encourage them to take it on faith.  There will be challenges, and this is a great time for us to learn how to make choices that can still give us an experience of oneness that's in the midst of difference.

Bob: But let's say there's been a couple going together, and they haven't experienced a lot of conflict in their dating relationship, and they want to know how are we going to do at this?  How can they tell?

Scott: Well, let me interject this thought, and this relates to the question in the context of church ministry because if we could get churches not only to do more premarital work more consistently, but to do it for a longer period of time earlier in the process – you know, I’m a Protestant, I'm an evangelical Presbyterian, but I know some Catholic churches in Denver where the people that go there to get married, they know they have no shot of getting married this June if they didn't tell the priest in that parish that they wanted to get married by, say, last September. 

 What I'm getting around to is the question is Christian PREP is a great program for couples prior to marriage.  It's also a really good program when they're in marriage.  A lot of the material is really useful either way.  Having said that, the further back we get a couple working on their relationship and seeing what their potential is when they know they're really pretty darn serious, the more possibilities we have for real prevention.

 So, for example, if I am a couple, and I know I want to get married a year from now, and I start doing some serious premarital work now, I've got a lot better chance of that serious premarital work raising some issues and helping us get some insight about whether we have what it takes.

 However, and here is the tricky part for churches in terms of ministry or just elders as we're giving advice to our children and such – if they've started that work four weeks before a Saturday that they've got the church lined up, they've got the hall lined up and all that kind of stuff, they are not going to go through the humiliation, in all likelihood – they may discover things where we are – "What?  You don't want children?  That's, like, that's a passion that I want to have – I want to have children.  What do you mean, you don't want to have children?"

 Four weeks before the wedding date, they are probably going to go ahead and get married, anyway.  But if it's nine months before the wedding day, and they discover something like that, they may either slow down, which would be wise in and of itself, or decide, "You know, maybe we're not meant for each other."

Bob: We've had couples who have come to our Weekend to Remember conferences and at the end of that – they're engaged couples, or they've at least been thinking about marriage if they're not engaged.  At the end of the time, they break off the engagement.

Scott: It's a wonderful thing.

Bob: It is, and you feel a little bit – you know, it's one of those feelings where you hate to be the instrument of breaking up this happy couple.

Scott: Yeah, you don't say "I'm happy for you."

Bob: Yet.

Scott: But you might be.

Gary: But what you also don't want to do is you don't want to collude with couples living with the illusion that we will have oneness because we do have sameness.

Dennis: You know, I'm glad you said that, Gary, because I think, as parents, this is what we're guilty of.  I think we're guilty of nodding our heads when we see certain things that we, frankly, know better.

Gary: A train wreck is about to happen.

Dennis: We look into the relationship, and we go, "You know what?  Am I willing to burn emotional collateral with this young man who wants to marry my daughter?"  And I going to confront the situation and really put a strain on the relationship from the very beginning.

 And, you know, Barbara and I, with six kids, and having faced different situations where we've had children who didn't marry a young man or a young lady they brought home.  We've been through this, and it is a cost to be counted.  This is a parent's responsibility to step into their lives and speak the truth to both your child and the young adult who wants to marry them and tell them the truth if you see something in that relationship.

 The thing that I would want to say is you have to watch how they have arguments.  That's the takeaway from what Scott and Gary are sharing with us today – notice how they handle conflict when they have it.

Bob: Gary and Scott, I've talked to young couples where they've said, you know, we haven't experienced a lot of conflict in our dating.  I've said, "Well, let me just ask you a couple of other questions," things like, "What have you observed about how your intended treats his parents" or her parents or the waitress at the restaurant or other people?  Because someday however they're treating those people is how they're going to treat you.  You may be valued and esteemed right now, but someday you will have no more equity than the waitress at the restaurant in this equation, and that's the pattern of who this person is, and those are the kinds of things you need to look at.

 So there are some telltale signs that a wise – I don't want to make it out like it's a consumer decision – a wise shopper will look for all of these signs – but there are some telltale things you need to look for in terms of how ready is a person for a healthy relationship?

Gary: That's right, and couples, especially under the influence of strong emotion of attachment, are going to need some good reality checks.

Scott: One of the things that a strong marriage education program – pre-marriage education can do – is it can help you as the parent in that situation to externalize some of the lessons for them.  So you're putting up some cautions, and it sounds like you've done this a number of times.  You're wanting to be clear and strong without being so negative about the partner …

Dennis: … or controlling …

Scott: Yeah, because if you're controlling or negative, they're going to defend that person, as you said, the emotions going.  But if you can get them – one thing I've done with clients, and they can respect this without feeling controlled – what's the rush?  You know, why don't you just put that idea of marriage off nine more months.

 You know, there's research that shows that people who only know their partner a couple of months, three months or so before marriage are just much less likely to do well in marriage, and it's pretty obvious why that would be is you haven't had enough time to really even just see them through the four seasons and see how they handle some things.

 But, I want to say this, if it came down to it, when it gets down to the final thing, if I see my child is about to make what I think is a pretty big mistake, I agree with you, Dennis, you have to hop in, and you have to really …

Bob: … throw your body on the tracks, don't you, yeah?

Scott: A good parent is going to do that in the most sensitive way they can muster at the time.

Dennis: And whether you're a single person about to get married or thinking about marriage, or whether you're a parent looking into a relationship where you're going, "Man, I am not sure about this," there are some things that you can employ to help that decision. 

 First of all, Christian PREP – you can find out more information at our website, FamilyLife.com, about that.  But then, secondly, use the Weekend to Remember.  I still believe, after 29 years now, that the Weekend to Remember is the finest investment an engaged couple can make to start their marriage off in the right direction.  We equip people with the tools around the major issues of the marriage relationship.  And if you're already married, I think it's the best investment a couple can make for their marriage.  So use that.

 But then the third thing – I wouldn't want you to miss this – use the relational component – your relationship as a parent, or if you're a single person, and maybe you don't have a parent who can coach you in this decision, find a godly mentor in your church, maybe it's your pastor, maybe it's an elder in that church, but find a church that does what Scott was talking about here that's committed to good marriage preparation and nestle that relationship under the wing of that mentor for six to nine months prior to the marriage and 12 to 24 months after you get married.  If you do that, that marriage has a great likelihood of success over a lifetime.

Bob: Scott, you took a lot of the principles that are in the Christian PREP material and wrote a book called "A Lasting Promise," that is probably the easiest way for couples to get the information that comes out of the CPREP tool.  We've got it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if ou listeners are interested in getting a copy, they can go to our website, FamilyLife.com.  There's a button in the middle of the screen that says "Go."  You click on that red button, and that will take you right to a page where you'll get more information about Scott's book, "A Lasting Promise." 

There is also information available there about the "Preparing for Marriage" workbooks that we created here at FamilyLife for couples to go through together as a part of their marriage preparation material.  And, of course, there is information on the website as well about the Weekend to Remember conferences we hold all across the country.  And then there's information as well about CPREP.  There's a link to the website that has more details about the instrument we've been talking about today.

Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com.  Click on the red "Go" button in the middle of the screen, and that will take you right to a page where you can get information about any of these resources.  And if you know someone who is getting married in the next six to nine months, this would be a place to either point them or consider getting some of these resources and passing them along to them, maybe even serving as a mentor couple to that younger couple.

Again, the website is FamilyLife.com.  You can also contact us by phone.  The number is 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

I was thinking about the Weekend to Remember conference where you and I spoke not long ago.  We did have hundreds of couples who came out for the event at the Gaylord Texan Resort, and it was a great weekend.  I think what was most exciting about that weekend was to see how the Holy Spirit was at work in the lives of these couples as we, together, went through what the Scriptures have to say about issues like communication and sexual intimacy, a husband's role, a wife's role, a mom's role, a dad's role.  We talked about resolving conflict, leaving a spiritual legacy to your children and about God's purposes and His plan for marriage.

What we did during that weekend is really what we do all the time here at FamilyLife.  We are trying to effectively develop godly marriages and godly families because we believe that's the source of real, cultural transformation.  And we are able to do that because we've had folks who have been very generous with us.  In fact, during the month of May we had some friends who stepped forward and said they wanted to donate $375,000 to us here at FamilyLife, but they put a condition on that donation and said in order for us to receive that full amount, we needed to have our listeners, who would make donations.  And then these folks said that they would match the donations we receive from listeners on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $375,000.

Now, I have not seen the numbers yet this month, but I know we've heard from a lot of our listeners already.  We appreciate those of you who have called to make a donation, and we're hoping that if you haven't called, you'll consider donating to FamilyLife this month.  You can do it over the phone by calling 1-800-FLTODAY.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  You can also donate online, if you'd like, by going to FamilyLife.com and just clicking on "Make a donation."  Thanks again for your prayers and for your financial support.  We appreciate your partnership with us, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Now, tomorrow we're going to continue to talk about the critical success factors that go into a healthy marriage relationship and what couples can do to be prepared for that commitment.  We hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 

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