Marriage Memo: July

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July: What Works… and What Doesn’t

One thing I have learned about working with married, cohabiting and engaged couples is that every one of them is unique. No couple is exactly like any other because no two people are exactly alike. Nevertheless, after spending thousands of hours with hundreds of couples, you can’t help but recognize some basic patterns repeating themselves. While I would be hard pressed to define a specific formula for relationship success, there are some definite tendencies associated with particular attitudes and behaviors. What follows is a general outline of what seems to work (i.e. tends toward healthy marriages) and what doesn’t (tends toward more marital distress and lower satisfaction in marriage). And by the way, most of this is backed up by scientific research in addition to my own experience.

In general, healthy couples
• Have known each other for a long time (2, 3, or more years) before getting married.
• Did not live together or have sex before marriage.
• Were healthy and mature individuals themselves before marrying each other.
• Have the blessing of their parents and friends on the marriage.
• Show an obvious affection for each other in the way they talk and act with their spouse.
• Seek wise counsel and make careful, deliberate, joint decisions on important life choices.
• Have total transparency and share everything (including joint accounts, passwords, etc.)

In contrast, couples who have more problems and difficulties tend to
• Move too fast in the relationship (sex, living together, having children, etc.)
• Have unresolved problems in their own past or in the relationship
• Make unwise life choices (e.g. education, career, health) and often “slide” into situations without actually making a thoughtful decision.
• “Keep score” in the relationship, being more concerned with their own satisfaction than with meeting their partner’s needs.
• Lack a full, no-holds-barred, 100%, do-or-die commitment to their spouse and the marriage, and may threaten (or at least consider) divorce during a conflict or difficult situation.

These are just a few of the common trends that stand out, and of course there are exceptions to every rule. Marriages are complex, and can’t be boiled down to a simple list of do’s and don’ts, but I think if you take time to look closely at relationships around you, as well as your own, you will see similar patterns emerging. If you see them in your own marriage, know that you can learn to do marriage better. It may be too late to change the past, but it’s never too late to change the future. If you need help in making a change, please contact us:

Phone: (434) 455-2117

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director

Above image courtesy of photostock at

Marriage Memo: June

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June: Building Your Story Together

I want to begin this article with a quote from Steven D. Greydanus, a contributor to the Catholic website, On May 1, 2015, in a review of the 1937 classic film, Make Way For Tomorrow, Greydanus wrote:

Our lives appear to us as a story: a story that we tell ourselves about our past, act out in the present, and script for ourselves into the future. To share one’s life with someone, then, is to embark on a daring creative venture in shared storytelling. To marry is to say: Let us make of our two lives one story, a story that I will tell to you and you will tell to me. Telling and retelling that story — reminiscing about shared experiences, especially the happy or funny ones — is one of the secrets of happy couples, studies tell us.

There is a lot of truth in that comment. When we say “the two shall become one,” there is a sense in which we take the individual strands of our separate pasts and begin to weave them together with a new strand from God, forming a “three-stranded cord” that is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4.12). The telling and retelling of our story tightens that braid and makes it even stronger.

Have you ever noticed that one of the most fun things about getting together with friends is talking about the stuff you have seen and done together? It’s the best part of family gatherings and class reunions. And the older we get, the more material we have to work with! Even remembering the tough times, the struggles we’ve shared and the obstacles we’ve overcome, can build relationships.

Too often in our fast-paced world, we get caught up in the here-and-now, the current issues and what’s coming up tomorrow. We need to step back occasionally and take the long view – in both directions, past and future – to get a better perspective on the present. This is especially true in marriage. We should use birthdays, anniversaries and other events not just as a time to celebrate and give gifts, but to talk together about our story. Passing that story on to the younger members of the family can also help to build bridges over the so-called generation gap, and give them a new outlook on who they are as well.

Build your story as you build your lives together, and enjoy the retelling as it strengthens your marriage.

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director

Above image courtesy of photostock at

Monthly Marriage Memo: May

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May: “Windows on the Inside, Walls on the Outside”

If you’ve been looking at modern homes lately, or even ogling the homes on HGTV, you’ve probably noticed a trend toward more open spaces indoors. The crew of the show always seems to be tearing out a wall or partition to “open up the space” for a dining area, an entertainment space, or whatever. Apparently we want more openness inside our homes. But I notice most of those homes still have pretty solid walls on the outside to protect them from the elements and other possible dangers.

The title of this article is a favorite expression of mine when talking with couples about how to preserve the integrity and safety of their marriage. It describes an image of your marriage as a house, with no walls – only windows – on the inside (i.e. total transparency between the two of you), but solid walls (boundaries you both agree to) on the outside.

Like the HGTV crew, we need to tear down any separations between a husband and wife that represent closely-held secrets, unexpressed longings or pent-up grievances. I truly believe that a healthy marriage is one in which spouses have joint bank accounts (for which there are a number of practical reasons as well), know each other’s computer passwords, and have access (if needed or desired) to phones, online accounts, etc. I’m not talking here about hiding a birthday present in the back closet. I’m talking about the trust factor involved in being totally open with your spouse. That’s why we need “windows on the inside.”
On the other hand, just as walls protect us from the weather and intruders, boundaries form an appropriate separation between your marriage and things like:

• Well-meaning (but sometimes intrusive) family and friends.
• Work, church, and social obligations that may infringe on family time.
• Culture and peer pressure (from pornography to keeping up with the Jones’).
• Technology (phones, computers, Facebook, etc.).

This doesn’t mean you are cut off completely from these people or activities, just that you establish some reasonable limits. Boundaries must be mutually agreed upon, and both of you should be committed to respecting them. When the two of you have agreed on a boundary, it protects you both from unnecessary and potentially destructive interference from the outside. It can also protect you in other ways, such as being pressured into something prematurely. (“I’m sorry, but I have to ask my wife/husband about that, because we’ve agreed not to spend that much without talking about it first.”)

With openness and communication on the inside, and protective barriers on the outside, your marriage will have a place where the two of you can develop and grow your relationship safely and pursue true intimacy.
Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of ddpavumba at

Monthly Marriage Memo: April

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April: The Importance of Friends

When Barbara and I were first married, we had the incredible blessing of falling in with a group of other young couples in our church. It began as one of those multi-week evening home Bible study programs (which in itself was very enlightening), but when the allotted time was up, we decided we wanted to keep meeting together. Thus began the “Tuesday Night Bible Study” group.
We met almost every week for many years. Some of us were newlyweds, some had young children. We prayed together, we laughed (a lot!) and we sometimes grieved with each other. But mostly we grew: spiritually, socially, and in our marriages. The group morphed some, with a few couples coming in, and others having to move away, but the core group was pretty steady. Although we now live in many different places, we still count those couples as good friends. And as far as we know, only one couple out of the whole group has divorced.
Make no mistake: friends are important to a marriage. And I don’t mean Facebook “friends.” When you are surrounded, on a regular basis, by other couples who have healthy marriages and with whom you can be open and honest and have fun, it has a positive impact on your relationship. On the other hand, if you are isolated from other couples, or worse yet, are hanging around with people who are negative about life in general and down on marriage in particular, it can have the opposite effect.
Not that your friends all have to have perfect marriages. There is no such thing, and even if there were, you’d probably feel out of place, right? No, we’re talking about surrounding yourselves with healthy marriages – those marked by commitment, communication and common values. Where couples can be honest about their mistakes and fears, but not shackled by them. Where inappropriate attitudes or behaviors are called out, but grace and forgiveness are abundant. Where people care and share, rather than try to compete and outdo one another.

“Make new friends, and keep the old – the former are silver, the latter are gold.” Good couple friends can be the protective cocoon that helps transform your relationship into the butterfly of healthy, lifelong marriage.

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Image courtesy of Master isolated images at

Monthly Marriage Memo: March

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March: Tips for the Unmarried

                This column is usually written to married folks, but this time I want to address those who are not yet married. This includes both young people who have never been married, and those who have been but are divorced or widowed. I have worked with almost 200 couples (many along with Barbara’s help), and I’d like to share some of what we’ve seen and learned from their composite experience. Here are some tips for things you can do NOW to strengthen your future marriage:

  1. Know yourself. Self-awareness and a realistic self-image are critical to a healthy relationship – for both parties. But you can only do that for yourself. Take time to think through your values, your goals, and your non-negotiables. What makes you feel energized? What wears you out? What are your true priorities, and would a stranger be able to deduce them from your calendar, your checkbook, and your lifestyle? A healthy marriage starts with two healthy people, and your level of emotional intelligence is a key component of the equation.
  2. Listen, observe, and think critically. We are surrounded by examples of relationships – the good, the bad, and the ugly! Talk to people about their successes and their mistakes. Learn to discern – be able to recognize healthy relationships and avoid the toxic ones.
  3. Slow down. One of the most common mistakes we see is people rushing into marriage too quickly. Whether you are 20 or 40, whether you have been married before or not, it takes TIME to really get to know someone well. The research indicates that it takes at least two years for us to “let our guard down” with someone we care for. Not that we are being deceptive, but we want to make a good impression on the one we like/love, so we unconsciously or subconsciously tend to be on our best behavior. Take time to get to know the real person, in as many different contexts as you can, because people sometimes act or think differently in different situations.
  4. Limit your sexual involvement. Because of all the psychological and physiological complications it brings on, sex really does cloud one’s judgment. Establish boundaries for your own behavior and thought life, and stick to them. Defend them against intrusion by other people, the culture and the media. Be a person of integrity. That is a person whose actions and convictions are integrated into a complete whole.

Whether marriage for you is way down the road or right around the corner, following these suggestions will help ensure that you make a wise choice and a solid start for the relationship of a lifetime. And as soon as you think you know that he or she is “the one,” get some comprehensive pre-engagement or premarital preparation. It’s a great way to be absolutely confident about your decision.

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director

Above image courtesy of photostock at

Monthly Marriage Memo: February

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February: Is This Romance?

Around this time of year you see it everywhere: hearts, flowers, candy… red, pink and white. Santa Claus has retreated from the scene and Cupid is the man of the hour. Underlying the obvious commercialization of love by the retail industry, there is a not-so-subtle suggestion that this is what love is really all about – the giddy, heart-throbbing excitement of two people who can’t take their eyes (and sometimes their hands) off each other. It’s a sweet sensation of bliss, and everyone wants to feel it.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m as “romantic” as the next guy (although, for some guys, that might not be saying much… but I digress). And there is certainly a place for such expressions of intimate emotion. But we must not be blinded by all the sparkle and fluff and miss the solid reality behind it. The fact is that true love can be summed up in one word: sacrifice.

Sacrifice is not a word that marketers use very often. It doesn’t sell like sex does. But in the real world, two people who truly give their lives to each other, sacrificing their own needs and desires for the sake of the other, are the very picture of romance. To be sure, we sometimes see a shadow of this in film or literature, but even there it tends to be a dramatic, intense and momentary action, rather than the persistent daily giving over of one’s “rights” in order to serve one’s spouse. The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13.4-7 spells out the day-to-day requirements of sacrificial love.

If this makes romance sound dull or boring, or even painful, it needn’t be. Aside from the joy in giving to someone you love, true sacrifice is seldom one-way. As I give to my wife, she gives in return – perhaps out of gratitude, but also out of her pure love for me. We both enjoy the benefits, and our lives become increasingly grace-full and satisfying. This is a love that will last – “until death parts us.”

So go ahead – enjoy the flowers and the candy (or for guys, the engraved pocket knife?). But remember that the gold standard in expressing love is through sacrifice.

“One of the most important facets I’ve learned about love is unselfishness, which is characterized in the Bible as a willingness to sacrifice one’s own wishes for those of others. I’ve learned that true love will always adapt and adjust to the needs and desires of other people.” – Joyce Meyer

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director

Welcome to Compass!

The Marriage Alliance of Central Virginia is now Compass Marriage and Relationship Services! It’s a new name and a new logo, but the same passion for healthy marriages and families that has always been our driving force. Please be patient as we build our new and improved website -and tell us what you think!

Compass Marriage & Relationship Services is an independent nonprofit organization that helps couples form and sustain lasting, healthy marriages. We provide training and resources in premarital preparation, marriage enrichment, and relationship skills. We want to help you improve the quality of your relationships – especially marriage! Whatever stage of relationship you are in, you’ll find plenty of resources here!

CHECK OUT OUR VIDEO! (Bear in mind that this video was made back when we were the Marriage Alliance of Central Virginia, but the content is still very worthwhile.)
MEMBERSHIPS – We are members of the National Association of Relationship and Marriage Educators. Find out more at We are also members of the American Association of Christian Counselors. (