The rationale for enriching marriages
By Dave Percival
One of Britain's largest computer dating agencies regularly advertises that 96% of its applicants are seeking "one relationship for a lifetime of loving commitment"; such a yearning is perhaps inherent in mankind. Marriage is the accepted way of publicly recognising this commitment. However if marriage becomes merely an institution it risks losing the very dynamic of the relationship, the "loving commitment", that was its raison-d'etre in the first place. "Loving Commitment" implies a dynamic ever changing and growing relationship
A relationship, be it marriage or any other, is constantly subject to changing demands, both from within and from outside. If the relationship is going to fulfill the couples expectation of being a "loving commitment", it needs to be capable of adaptation and change from within so that it can respond flexibly and positively to externally generated pressures. To be able to adapt it needs a vision of where it is headed, and to be equipped with the tools to get there
Enrichment in marriage is the process of helping couples discover their own vision of how they want their marriage to develop, a view of the possibilities and potential that creates the excitement and motivation for them to change and develop. Only with this foundation will they choose to use additional skills and capabilities and persevere with change into new behaviour patterns. Without a positive exciting vision, the best that is left is the concept of "maintaining" the relationship, or even "prevention of breakdown". This becomes a process of constantly trying to maintain the status quo in a relationship subject to external pressures and changes, and inevitably this gradually leads to a ratchetting down of expectations; that is to a relationship in decline
Thus the concept of maintaining a relationship "as it is" is meaningless; it is either positively motivated by an enticing vision (typical of the Romantic phase of a relationship), or it is in Decline, be that slowly or rapidly. Thus whilst many programmes seek to add skills etc to combat the decline, it is only enrichment processes, such as those offered by Marriage Encounter and others, which deal with the fundamentals of vision and beliefs that alone can create lasting change
It is an accepted model of married life that most western marriages go through three main phases. These are well documented by experts in the field (Tournier, Wright, Minirth, Newman and Hemfelt). In the first phase couples have a sense of closeness and romantic love. Over time they become aware of the faults of their partner; disappointed expectations and the stresses of life bring disillusionment, and a sense of "Is this all there is?". This Disillusionment is a crucial phase in marriage. Couples typically then settle into a safe but lonely compromise following their own pathway, but no longer intimate or involved with each other; when pressures arise it is easy to give up and failure of the marriage results. There is an alternative path from disillusionment however, which requires courage to face up to the faults and inadequacies of the partner and, recognising that love is a decision not a feeling, makes the effort to understand and accept the other, warts and all. Marriage enrichment programmes help the couples discover this path, and equip them with the motivation and tools to follow through.