On course for a happier marriage
Even the blissfully bonded can perk up their partnership, finds Katie Tait
It’s 7pm on a rainy Tuesday and my husband and I are heading to a marriage course. To say that Alex isn’t keen is a mild understatement. Not only has he had to rush home from work, but he hasn’t had a drink yet, he’s very happy with our marriage and, worst of all, the whole thing’s being held in a church, somewhere he only goes on Christmas Day.
To try to assuage his fears, I’m reading to him from The Marriage Course Newsletter. This tells us that there are more than 600 marriage courses being run in Britain and 40,000 couples have completed one. The eightweek course “is designed to help any married couple build a healthy marriage that lasts a lifetime”. While the courses are organised through the London church that started the Alpha course, only half of those who attend are churchgoers.
The courses have grown from word of mouth recommendation. Friends of ours, Christine and Magnus, completed one last year. They have two children (aged five and seven) and highly successful careers. “We had become so wrapped up in running our lives that we had stopped communicating,” explains Christine. “We’d put our relationship on hold and all our ‘niceness’ was going to the children.”
After initial misgivings, they started looking forward to the weekly sessions. As Christine says: “We’d turn up and have this lovely meal cooked for us. It felt very nurturing.”
This evening’s event is being run by Jenny and Tony Eastwood, who themselves did the course and were so impressed they volunteered to run one. They’re not paid to be here (the course costs £47 per couple, which covers the booklets and the food), but do it simply because they believe in what it achieves. “We get amazing feedback afterwards from couples who have been really helped by the process,” says Tony.
The Eastwoods have laid out six separate tables for the six couples here tonight, with two chairs at each. The lighting is low and each table is scattered with rose petals. What would be toe-curling in a restaurant is rather endearing here. After a short introduction, we are served homemade chicken pie and salad and then left to chat.
Tonight we are looking at “marriage time”, a concept that is key to the course. In later weeks will come “communication”, “parents and in-laws” and finally “good sex”.
Meal over, we watch a DVD presented by Nicky and Sila Lee, the couple who started the whole concept. This feels slightly like a party political broadcast. They are filmed talking to a congregation of young, good-looking couples who stare up adoringly. After hearing about how important it is to put aside time for each other every week, the presentation ends and we tackle exercises in our booklets. The Eastwoods bring around warm chocolate brownies and Al and I realise we are enjoying ourselves. We bicker contentedly over his scoring me low over not listening to him properly and me scoring him low for not ever saying sorry.
The Eastwoods are not there to give counselling. They are there to give couples the space they need to communicate, while the DVD gives tips and ideas. Christine feels she and Magnus were most helped by the section on communication. “Magnus is from Norway and tends to put things bluntly, which I can take as a criticism. He’s now learnt not to say: ‘Why haven’t you phoned the builders?’ Rather: ‘Did you manage to phone the builders?’ It sounds so small, but things like that have really changed our relationship.”
Taking your marriage seriously is a key Lee tenet. “There’s an awful lot available if your marriage is in trouble, but nothing to help you keep your marriage strong before that point,” says Nicky. But there is a stigma attached to marriage courses. “We need a change in our culture so that it becomes as normal as going to parenting classes,” he says.
Alex and I finally leave at 10pm and, to my amazement, I hear him saying we’ll be back next week. He tells me that it’s only because of the brownies. I think it’s because next week is all about listening – and he’s got quite a bit to say.
Further information: 0845 644 7544; www. themarriagecourse.org.
Petal power: flowers and candles for Katie Tait and husband Alex