Monthly blog: May 2016

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May 2016: Truth and Consequences

One of my favorite parts of this job is getting to speak to high school youth about dating, sex and marriage. Over the past few years I’ve talked to hundreds of kids in classrooms, youth groups and other venues. It gives me an opportunity to let them hear – perhaps for the first time – the truth about romantic relationships and the consequences of the choices they are making now and will be making in the near future.

Although there may be some kids who dismiss me as an old fuddy-duddy, seriously out of touch with the “modern” world, I think most of them respect the fact that everything I teach them is based on solid empirical research. And even though most of my content flies in the face of everything the culture is trying to feed them, I see in their faces a look of curiosity and wonder, as if they recognize the shadow of something they once knew, but have long since forgotten. It’s the shadow of innocence, and for some of them that glimpse seems to provide hope that all may not be lost in the fast-moving, high pressure, peer-dominated techno-world in which they live. For a few, it almost elicits a sigh of relief: Wow, so I’m not crazy, or weird, just because I haven’t had sex yet. Maybe it’s okay if I want to wait…

The time is always too limited. Forty-five minutes or an hour just isn’t enough to counteract the hundreds of hours of television, facebook, videos and texts that hammer home the message that sex is what life’s all about:  Get it now, while you’re young… you can’t wait… it can’t be bad if it feels good… Lies, dressed up with all the glitter and excitement that Hollywood and the internet can create, but lies under it all. And our children are losing their childhoods to this demonic plague of self-indulgent rubbish.

I love the looks of surprise – even astonishment – when I tell students that the best sex possible is in a lifelong, monogamous marriage. They shake their heads in disbelief when I share research that shows less than a 5% divorce rate for married couples that have never had sex with anyone but their spouse. They are incredulous when I tell them that sex doesn’t stop at age 30, but can continue to be enjoyed into one’s 60s, 70s or beyond. They pay close attention as I explain the negative consequences of having multiple sexual partners, and recoil in disgust when I “do the math” on STDs and show how each additional partner doubles their potential exposure to disease: By the time you have sex with 12 partners, you could actually be exposed to over 4,000 people! They are stunned when I explain that there is no clear scientific evidence that living together before marriage has any positive impact, and that in fact there are many studies that document the downside of cohabitation.

I know that in every group there are some who have already made poor choices. I always assure them that, although it may be too late to change the past, it is never too late to change the future. As I look around the room, I can’t help but wonder if something I’ve shared has sunk in, if maybe one young person will find the courage to say “no” to premarital sex or cohabitation. Regardless, I have to continue telling the truth, because the consequences are so grave. I’ll never forget the serious-looking football player who, when I asked for questions at the end of the class, said, “Yeah, I’ve got one. Why hasn’t anyone told us this stuff before?” Why, indeed.

If you would like Larry to come speak to your class, youth group, or club, call Compass at 434-455-2117 or send him an email: larry@betterlove.org.

 

 

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monthly blog: April 2016

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April 2016: First Aid for Relationship Pain

It’s unfortunate, but I see a fair number of couples who are experiencing pain in their relationship. Whether it’s from a breakdown in trust, a crisis of some kind, or just a lack of vitality in the relationship, it’s real. When I see these couples, the first thing I want to say to them is: don’t give up hope! Marriages and relationships can be healed. But it takes intention, effort, and time.  It may also require outside help, whether from a relationship coach or a couple therapist (see #6 below).

But sometimes, you need to do something right now; some kind of “first aid” for hurting hearts. Following are some suggestions that you can implement immediately to “stop the bleeding” until you can get the help you need. Some of these may seem counter-intuitive at first, but remember these are just temporary stop-gap measures, so go ahead and try them:

  1. Talk Less.

The majority of couple problems involve poor communication. Eventually, of course, when you have learned how to communicate positively with each other, you will need to talk more. But for right now, it’s likely that the more you talk, the more trouble you will get into. So temporarily keep all conversation to a minimum. Concentrate on being civil and polite, treating your partner like a guest or a visiting dignitary (in other words, with respect). Live by your mother’s advice: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

  1. Think more about yourself, and less about your partner.

When relationships get into trouble, we have a tendency to focus all our energy and attention on our partner and what they have done wrong. But for the moment, forget about your partner – stop thinking about what he or she did or said.  Instead, think about yourself. How are you reacting to the situation? How might your behavior be contributing to the conflict or tension? It’s easy to blame it all on the other person, but deep down we all know we have some faults. Start thinking about what you can do to become a better person. Start a “makeover” list for yourself (lose weight, stop smoking, dress better, start a hobby, go back to school, etc.) and begin making changes that will have a positive effect in your life no matter what happens in the relationship.

  1. Begin a “Relationship Journal.”

Get a notebook or journal and begin recording only positive things about your mate and your relationship.  It might include good memories, traits of your spouse that you fell in love with originally, or little things that he or she occasionally does right. DO NOT use this for any kind of sarcasm, criticism or complaining. Make a note of anything you observe that could possibly considered a positive thing, for example:

“He smiled at me over breakfast.  I love his smile.”

“She made my favorite dish again tonight.  She’s a great cook.”

“We didn’t argue much today.  And we kept our cool about the car thing.”

“Watched him play with the kids.  He’s really a pretty good dad.”

Get the idea?  Anything positive, nothing negative.  Try for at least 2-3 entries a day.

  1. Avoid making major life-changing decisions.

Unless you or your children are in physical danger, this is generally not a good time to pack up and move to Wisconsin, quit your job, start an affair, or get a tattoo. When we are anxious, angry or upset, we often do not use our best judgment. So put off, as much as possible, doing anything that will have a long-lasting impact on you, your mate, or your relationship. Note: if you or your children ARE in physical danger, call the Domestic Violence Hotline IMMEDIATELY: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or call 911.

  1. Pray for your mate – and yourself.

Even if you don’t believe in God, just do it anyway, as a mental exercise. (God hears you whether you believe in him or not, so go ahead – it couldn’t hurt!) God believes in you. He also loves you and your mate, and wants the best for both of you. Ask for healing, for patience, for tenderness and self-control. Be sure to thank him, while you’re at it, for all the good stuff (the things you’re writing in your Relationship Journal).

  1. Get help.

First aid is just that – it’s what you do first. It is damage control. But don’t stop there! Get the help you need. Make an appointment with a relationship coach or a counselor. Go to a marriage workshop or a weekend retreat. Talk to your pastor or spiritual advisor. Read a good marriage book – together. One thing is sure: you have to do something that involves change.  “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” Building a healthy marriage takes commitment, effort, and time. But it is well worth the investment.  Start now.

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR HELP, CONTACT US!

 

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monthly blog: March 2016

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March 2016: A Time to Retreat

When Barbara and I got married, we were deeply in love – and a little nervous. We both agreed that this was going to be forever. Divorce was out of the question. But some of the marriages we were familiar with – even those of thirty-plus years’ duration – did not look all that happy. We had no idea how to “do marriage right.” What if our marriage turned out like these others after a couple of decades? Neither of us wanted to spend our lives locked in a miserable relationship, or living like unattached roommates. There had to be a better way.

Unfortunately, like many couples in our day, we had minimal premarital preparation. We spent an hour or so in our pastor’s office, where he smiled kindly and talked about the wonders and delights of marriage. But in terms of actual preparation for a life joined as one, we didn’t hear much. But the wedding was fast upon us, and we figured we would find a way.

That’s why, six months into our marriage, we responded to an invitation from our church to attend a Marriage Encounter weekend. It was our first marriage retreat, where we learned about communication, managing conflict, and other aspects of marriage from couples who had “been there, done that.” Away from the pressures and complexity of our jobs and daily, we had time to think about our relationship and just enjoy one another. The weekend was a game-changer for our marriage.

What we learned at that retreat was two-fold: (a) marriage is not a matter of luck or chance, but a matter of skills – mostly in communication and honest sharing, and (b) those skills were learnable by almost anyone. They are not rocket science! But they also don’t come naturally. And they are seldom taught in schools and, sadly, in most churches. But we practiced what we had learned, and we got better at them, and got better at “doing marriage right.” Ten years later, we went to another weekend for a refresher, and solidified those skills even more.

Shortly after that second weekend we felt called to help other couples learn what we had learned, and we received training in PREPARE-ENRICH, a marriage-strengthening tool that we could use to mentor other couples. That ultimately led to our involvement in The Marriage Alliance of Central Virginia, which is now Compass Marriage & Relationship Services. Today, our passion for helping couples form and sustain healthy, lifelong marriages is our life ministry.

A little time away from the ordinary routine of life, spent learning skills that helped us communicate better and resolve issues safely, made a huge difference in the direction of our marriage. Today we have 37 years of marriage behind us, and we are more in love than ever. One thing we earnestly believe is that good marriages are intentional – they don’t just happen. Taking some time off to improve your marriage can pay back huge rewards in the form of a healthier, happier marriage.

Your opportunity is here now: there are still a few openings left at our “Marriage Remastered” retreat on March 11 & 12, 2016. This fun, interactive overnight experience could be just what you need to enliven your marriage or take it to the next level. See the webpage above for more information, or go to www.hatcreekcamps.org/event/marriage-retreat-2/ to register. Make this “day away” one that will change your marriage for the better – forever!

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monthly Blog: February 2016

Marriage Remastered

Check out our Events Page for more information or go to http://www.hatcreekcamps.org/event/marriage-retreat-2/ to register now!

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February: National Marriage Week – February 7-14, 2016

Amidst all the candy-and-flowers celebration of Valentine’s Day (which I heartily support), there is something else even deeper worth celebrating. It is the very quintessence of human love: marriage. In a world where the very idea of a monogamous, healthy, lifelong marriage apparently seems quaintly nostalgic to some, there is good news about this old “tradition.” Allow me to quote from a press release published by NationalMarriageWeekUSA.org:

“Marriage works,” says NMWUSA executive director Sheila Weber. “Research shows that marriage makes people happier, live longer, and build more economic security. Children with married parents perform better in school. There are proven ways to repair and restore marriages—but most folks don’t know where to go to get the help they need.”

That’s the driving motivation behind National Marriage Week, which is February 7-14 each year. Weber again: “The goal is to elevate attention on the need to strengthen marriage and ways to do it, and initiate new efforts to reduce the divorce rate and build stronger marriage, which in turn helps curtail poverty and benefits children.”

Now celebrated around the world (it has long been an organized celebration in the UK, Germany, Ireland, Australia, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere internationally), National Marriage Week provides an opportunity for churches, organizations and governments to find and promote ways to strengthen marriages. But you don’t have to make a big public splash. There are many ways you can strengthen marriages within your own sphere of influence – your family, your friends, your church and your neighborhood, and of course, your own marriage.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Establish a regular “date night” with your spouse, and encourage other couples to do the same. Share ideas with them!
  • Form or join a couples’ club. It doesn’t have to be anything formal, just a time of fun and fellowship with other couples who enjoy and believe in marriage. (Our “2×2:The Noah Project” is an example. For more information, contact us.)
  • Talk positively about marriage, and brag about your spouse. That’s not being prideful, it’s just bearing witness to the blessings that God has brought you in your partner!
  • Make anniversaries a special event, especially the “big” ones (although every year you stay together is cause for celebration). Let your parents and grandparents know that you respect them for staying together for 40, 50 or 60 years. Let your children see that you value that kind of longevity in marriage.
  • Renew your vows. That can be done in a special public ceremony, or in a quiet moment with just the two of you. Either way, it’s a reminder of the promise that you made in front of God and others.
  • Read a good book about marriage together. Talk about it, and find ways to incorporate the good ideas into your relationship. (If you want some suggestions, contact us!)

Valentine’s Day is fun, and I hope you enjoy it with the person you love. But whether you are married or not, there is much you can do to support marriage. Our country needs it. National Marriage Week is a good time to start.

For more about National Marriage Week, go to www.NationalMarriageWeekUSA.org.

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of Just2shutter at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monthly blog

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January: New Year Marriage Maintenance

“This year it’s going to be different…” Such is our thinking every January. It’s prime time for thinking about what we want – or need – to change in our life. It can be a time of starting over, trying something new, or going back to basics. So what’s on your list for change in 2016? New job? Lose weight? Go back to school? Or how about improving your marriage?

No marriage is perfect, and every marriage, no matter how good or bad, can be improved. There are lots of ways to do that: books, videos, marriage workshops and retreats. Marriage, like anything else of value, has to be maintained. It needs to be “tuned up” on a regular basis, or it will likely fall into disrepair. The signs are sometimes obvious, sometimes not: more conflict, less fun, higher levels of stress at home, or just a vague aching for the relationship to be better than it is. It can be. Get intentional about your marriage!

The basic ingredients for a stable, healthy marriage are commitment, communication, and common values. Which of these three needs the most shoring up in your relationship?

  • Commitment. Commitment has been defined as “a big decision that is supported and lived out through many little decisions.” The vows you made at your wedding were just a starting point. Our motto at Compass is, “love is a direction, not a destination.” The daily decisions you make, how you think, what you say, and how you treat your mate are taking you towards more love and intimacy or in the other direction. Find ways this year to forge and strengthen your commitment to each other and to your marriage.
  • Communication. “If we can’t talk, we can’t grow.” That’s a true statement for couples. Why not make this the year you learn how to talk about the things that really matter? A friend of mine says, “talk when it’s fun – really talk when it’s not fun!” There’s wisdom in that. To deal with the important issues of life, we have to be able to communicate with our spouses. And that is something we can learn. Take a workshop, go on a marriage retreat, or read a book on the subject, but do something. (For more resources, visit www.betterlove.org.)
  • Common Values. As you learn to communicate, it will become easier to share the things you have in common – your goals, your dreams, your hopes, and your memories. What are God’s purposes for you as a couple? Why did he bring the two of you together? These are questions worth discussing with your spouse. Different stages of life bring different values into focus – doing some kind of ministry, raising healthy kids, leaving a legacy – each of these has its time and place. Share your expectations about them with each other.

It’s a new year, and we don’t know what it will bring. But it can be a time of growth and personal improvement if we plan for it. Take your marriage to the next level in 2016. It will be the best resolution you ever kept.

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Monthly Marriage Memo: September

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September: Kiss and… Forgive!

In case you missed it, August 25th was “National Kiss and Make Up Day.” It sounds so nice, so easy, doesn’t it? It works in the movies, sure, but what about real life? Well, maybe for small things – a snippy answer, or a little misunderstanding. By all means, kiss and make up. But sometimes the wound is more than just a scratch. No one is perfect. We have all made mistakes, and we will continue to make them. Even those who love us (perhaps especially those who love us) will hurt us sometimes. If intimacy means openness and vulnerability, that includes the danger of being hurt. That’s when the ability to forgive comes into play, and it’s critical for a healthy relationship.

When we are hurt, there is a conscious or subconscious desire to “balance the scales of justice,” i.e. to hurt back, to get “even.” Revenge. Payback. This is at the root of most violent behavior, even if it is directed (incredibly) toward an innocent third party. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t even make you feel better in the long run. Keeping it to yourself doesn’t work either. Holding a grudge against someone else is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick!
What’s needed is forgiveness – real forgiveness. Some things can’t be ignored, and shouldn’t be swept under the rug. But what is real forgiveness? Let’s start by talking about what it is NOT:

Forgiveness is NOT…

…Forgetting (that’s a sign of brain malfunction). With true forgiveness, the memory of the injury may fade over time, but it will never disappear completely.

…Pretending that unacceptable behavior is acceptable. Saying that an injury or breach of trust is “okay” doesn’t make it so. Unacceptable behavior needs to be identified as such, and the person held accountable for it.

…Release from consequences. Behaviors have consequences, and forgiveness does not reverse the natural (or civil) laws that come into play. I can forgive you for breaking the dish, but it doesn’t put the dish back together again.

…Immediate reconciliation or restoration of trust. Ideally, that will happen eventually, but it will take time. As the offender continues to demonstrate trustworthiness through his or her behavior, the offended party may choose to risk trusting him or her again, but it is a process.

…Denial of pain or grief. Forgiveness is a choice to let go, and to go forward, but the hurt will not disappear immediately, and there is a sense in which one may continue to grieve over the injury or loss. But by choosing to forgive, a person is choosing to not let that grief control his or her behavior or attitude toward the offender.

So what is forgiveness? Real forgiveness is giving up your perceived “right” to get even. It is recognizing that the relationship is more important than the argument or injury. It is choosing to treat the offender with grace, and to give up all thoughts of retaliation. Honest discussion, consequences, grief, and reconciliation all need to be considered and handled with loving care as you work to repair the damage to the relationship. Then, and only then, can you truly “kiss and make up.”


Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director

Above image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Marriage Memo: August

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August: Does Your Marriage Rock?

They say it pays to advertise, and I guess it works. Walk down any street in America, and look at the clothes people are wearing. A large majority of them, I’ll wager, are advertising something. If not a brand name product (including the manufacturer of the clothing itself), it’s a sports team, a video game, a television show, perhaps a place they’ve visited. We are walking billboards much of the time. And the funny part is, we probably paid to wear that shirt or hat that advertises someone else’s business!

Then again, there are those that wear something to promote a good cause (think pink ribbons). That’s probably a good thing, since many of those organizations (like ours) don’t have the media advertising budget of the big corporations. Sometimes, too, it’s a great way to raise social awareness of an issue that needs attention. For example, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (of which Compass is a member) is getting ready to make some shirts that encourage people to speak up about intimate partner violence. “Break the silence – End the violence” is one suggested slogan for the shirts.

So, to paraphrase a recent ad campaign, let me ask you: what’s on your back? What messages are you spreading with your wardrobe? One message that I believe needs more exposure is the message that marriage is a good thing, and it works if you work at it. We hear a lot about divorce and marital distress, both in the media and in private conversations, but there are many good marriages out there that are worthy of some advertising! Most marriages, in fact, are doing well. None is perfect – because there are no perfect people to make a perfect marriage. But there are many marriages that rock! By that I mean that the couple is generally happy, they get along reasonably well, and they are committed to each other for the long haul. It doesn’t mean they don’t have problems, but they don’t let the problems define their relationship.

Why “advertise” your healthy and strong marriage? Because people — especially other couples — need the encouragement. Young people in particular need to see that some marriages do go well, because they are exposed to so many that don’t. A recent survey showed that a high percentage of high school seniors still want a lifelong marriage, but a much lower percentage believes that it is possible. I encourage couples – especially older ones – to walk hand in hand, sit with their arm around their mate, and even show some occasional PDA. The world needs to be reminded that married love is wonderful!

In case you’re interested, there is an online store that deals exclusively in this kind of apparel: Union28 Marriage Apparel. Take a look at what they have, and order some for yourself and your spouse. Also, if you email me (larry@betterlove.org) I will send you a bumper sticker that says “Our marriage ROCKS!” And yes, it has the Compass name and website on it. After all, it pays to advertise.

Our marriage ROCKS bumper sticker (2) 


Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director

Above image courtesy of Union28 Marriage Apparel’s Facebook page.