What makes marriage teaching healthy?

I want to write a quick, more newsy post today with three things that I’m hoping I can tie up in a pretty bow as if they go together.

1. Do you know the 3 most important marriage skills?

I listened to an interesting TED talk recently about the 3 core skills for successful romantic relationships. I’m going to do a podcast on this soon, but they are: insight; mutuality; and emotional regulation (basically self-control). When I wrote my post on what makes a good marriage I think everything that I mentioned boiled down to mutuality, with a large dose of humility tied in. But I think humility can really be equated with her idea of insight. You’re not afraid to look at what’s really going on.

That theme–mutuality–comes up again and again in talks about healthy relationships. You need two people willing to invest. Two people thinking of each other. Two people putting the other first. That’s the biblical model found in Ephesians 5:21-33 (which starts with: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”)

That’s why I found this TED Talk so interesting. What’s also cool is that it’s about emotional skills we should possess before we even start dating. They explain:

Instruction about healthy relationships exists in the form of couples therapy or premarital counseling, which means either when a marriage is foundering or before it’s even begun. Those are both too late, says Davila. Wait a second — how is premarital counseling too late? “Because people have already selected the person they want to commit their life to,” she explains. “What if they selected poorly? No amount of premarital education can make up for a bad partner choice.”

In an effort to address this gap, Davila and her colleagues are studying what they call “romantic competence.” Romantic competence is, as she puts it, “the ability to function adaptively across all areas or all aspects of the relationship process [including] … figuring out what you need, finding the right person, building a healthy relationship, [and] getting out of relationships that are unhealthy.”

According to Davila and her colleagues, there are three core skills behind romantic competence: insight, mutuality and emotion regulation. “Let me say that we didn’t just make these up out of the blue,” she explains. “We identified the skills based on a thorough review of theory and research. The skills really represent the commonalities across the major theories and research findings on healthy relationships. Because they represent the commonalities, we think they really can help people with all the different parts of the relationship process, and with all different people – whether they’re in a relationship or not.”

Read the whole thing.

Joane Davila

The 3 Core Skills that Every Person Needs for Healthy Romantic Relationships

2. I speak at FamilyLife CANADA marriage conferences, not at FamilyLife U.S. marriage conferences

We’re just back from speaking last weekend in Whistler, British Columbia! Keith and I have been speaking for FamilyLife Canada for over 15 years now, doing at least 50 conferences.

FamilyLife Conference - Healthy Marriage Teaching Always Involves the Word "Mutual"

I do need to clear up some confusion, though.

I’ve had some people write to me after attending a FamilyLife U.S. conference that they signed up for because they had thought that if I spoke at these conferences, and they liked my blog, then the conference must be good! Unfortunately, they found the U.S. conferences were very different from my blog. I feel as if I must make a public statement on this, because there is confusion, and I don’t want to be seen as endorsing something that I’m not part of.

Before I start, I want to stress that this is coming from me. I am not writing on behalf of FamilyLife Canada. 

While FamilyLife US and FamilyLife Canada are in a cooperative relationship, they are two very separate organizations. The Canadian directors, Neil and Sharol Josephson, have created awesome marriage conference material from scratch. It truly is a unique conference. And if you live in Canada or in a border state, you should take advantage and come to Canada for a conference sometime! My staff attended a weekend getaway last year near Ottawa, and here’s their list of 10 things they learned at a marriage conference.

On the other hand, I have never been to a FamilyLife U.S. marriage conference, and I don’t know any of the speakers. I don’t know what they teach, and I don’t know what their conferences are like. I do know that while Canada has been having two couples speak–that is husband and wife speaking side by side–at all their conferences for over 20 years, FamilyLife U.S. still mainly uses men speaking, with the occasional couple or a wife talking to the women.

When I get emails from couples disappointed after attending a FamilyLife US event, the common thread seems to be that the conferences are very husband-centered, a feeling they get largely because of the predominantly male speakers, but also from the materials.

There is a new director for FamilyLife in the U.S., who may very well overhaul the conferences soon. Again, though, I have no firsthand knowledge of any of this.

I just don’t want people to assume that I’m endorsing FamilyLife U.S. when I actually know very little about them.

Before you sign up for any conference (wherever in the world you are, and whoever is putting on the conference!), just ask some good questions about who will be speaking, and about whether the emphasis is on mutuality.

3. Can you help us improve marriage curriculum overall?

To quote my emailer: “the lack of good curriculum on this subject is appalling.”

I’m trying to change that!  Debates over what builds a good marriage often focus on doctrines and interpretations of Scripture; I’d like to add evidence to the mix. If we have numbers behind what helps and what hurts, then hopefully those putting on marriage teaching will have to listen.

So can you help us by filling out our survey? We’ve got almost 15,000 respondents now, but we’d love to keep increasing that! As you’re enjoying a long Thanksgiving weekend, take some time and take the survey. And invite your female family members to take, too!

Thank you! And I hope all my American readers had a great Thanksgiving, and I wish you all a great weekend!

(I’m heading to Ottawa to see my grandbaby again!)