Group Study Guide for

Lasting Marriage

[Cover of Harvey Yoder's Lasting Marriage]

The Owner's Manual

by Harvey Yoder

This Study Guide is also available for download as a Word document or in PDF Acrobat format.

See also Lasting Marriage in the MennoMedia online catalog.

Introduction, Chapters 1 - 8 Chapters 9 - 18

SESSION 10: Chapter 9
Leader: This is a review of material in chapter 2, and another reminder of the single most important thing an individual can do to improve a relationship. Note that the PPA is where each individual has 100% responsibility to bring about positive changes, whereas he or she has no real ability, and therefore no direct responsibility, for changing the other person (SPA). We do have a full 50% responsibility for what happens in the top and bottom diamonds in the diagram.
Scripture texts: Read and review Appendix H (I Corinthians 13).
Opener: Have group members share “one-word prayers” based on their reflections on the inventory in Appendix H (each simply states a single word or short phrase as an expression of need or desire for God’s help and grace). Then discuss the inventory and personal issues it raises.

  1. Have someone read aloud the first three paragraphs in the text, then discuss.
  2. Steven Covey, in Seven habits of Highly Effective People, states that we should never let other people be our problem, and that to the extent they do, that becomes the problem (This isn’t to say that others don’t have problems, but that those belong to them, and our problem is about how we cope with, deal with or respond to their challenges). How might that be a freeing position to take? What are the disadvantages of being highly focused on our spouse’s problems instead of our own?
  3. How would you respond to Rabbi Telushkin’s question on page 63, and how do you feel about his answer?
  4. As homework for the next session, suggest that each person spend an increased amount of time simply listening to their partner in the coming week.

SESSION 11: Chapter 10
Leader: This session focusses on an easily overlooked part of good communication, being in an attentive, listening mode at least half of the time, providing support to another person as they talk sense to themselves rather than just trying to talk sense into them.
Scripture texts: Reflect on James 1:19-20, 26 and 3:1-2 as it applies to today’s topic.
Opener: Have two people seated in front of the group, one designated as the listener, another as someone sharing some real life problem or concern of theirs for several minutes. The listener will say nothing, but be as attentive as she or he can. Discuss whether the time involved (when the listener was silent) seemed too long, what nonverbal signs of concern were shown, and how some attentive silence might actually be more helpful than responding too quickly with advice.

  1. Invite people to share their efforts at doing the assigned homework for this session. Discuss the statement, “Information is the solution only to the extent that ignorance is the problem.” What besides information is often most needed, or needed first, when another person has a problem?
  2. Invite participants to share their experiences of when listening, and being listened to, have been most helpful. Reflect on the three R’s of good listening, and on what good listening is not.
  3. Discuss ways of withdrawing from arguments, and why heated arguments are usually a waste of time and energy, and do more harm than good.
  4. Suggest that couples try having a couples meeting in preparation for the next session, following at least the first four items listed on the “Agenda” in Appendix I.

SESSION 12: Chapter 11
Leader: This session offers practical help for couples engaging in productive problem-solving and thus gaining more problem-free time as a result.
Scripture texts: I Corinthians 1:10, II Corinthians 13:11, Phillipians 4:2-3 and other texts encourage fellow church members to work out their differences, and show us how couples need to learn to live peaceably together.
Opener: Have a couple describe what they have learned about making decisions and resolving differences, and what process they use to move from a problem to a plan both can feel good about.

  1. Discuss the two questions in the second paragraph of chapter 11, as well as some of the responses on page 70.
  2. Rather than starting with our respective positions in the MPA, the text encourages us to start with our interests. Identify a typical couple problem or conflict, then discuss what might be some of the similar or overlapping interests each person might have that shape their positions? How might those be the basis for generating a variety of new positions that take into account as many of these interests as possible?
  3. What might be the advantage of having regularly scheduled couples’ meetings rather than having problems come up repeatedly and at random and without benefit of forethought? And what might be the advantage of writing down agreements rather than just trusting our memories (doesn’t mean an agreement is set in concrete, but that it does remain in place until revisited and/or revised).
  4. No one plan or approach will work best for every couple, but for those who think the idea of occasional or regularly planned couples’ meetings sounds too far out or too awkward, invite suggestions for alternative ways to go about addressing problems in a mature and helpful way rather than engaging in arguments and power struggles--or simply avoiding issues.
  5. Encourage couples to regularly practice homework in all areas of the marriage maintenance diagram as outlined in Appendix L.

SESSION 13: Chapter 12
Leader: How can the church offer help to couples in serious marital trouble? This is an important session to focus on maintenance and care when normal kinds of marital first aid aren’t enough.
Scripture texts: Discuss I Corinthians 12:21-27, especially 26, as it applies to stressed relationships.
Opener: Have a couple describe a particularly difficult time in their marriage, and how they got whatever help they needed to salvage their relationship.

  1. What factors keep couples from seeking help early on, before things have deteriorated to the point where they seem hopeless? How can we encourage people to be more free in admitting a need for help?
  2. Discuss some of the reasons why separation and divorce may do more to add to peoples’ problems than to end them, especially in light some of the points made in the second paragraph on page 77. Do you agree with the inevitability of divorce when there are ongoing patterns of adultery, abuse, addiction and abandonment? How do we provide help for spouses in those instances?
  3. Discuss, and add to, some of the signs that a couple might need professional help (pp. 78-79), and discuss the criteria for a good marriage counselor as described in Appendix J.

SESSION 14: Chapter 13
Leader: A strong case can be made that “It takes a whole congregation to maintain a whole and healthy marriage and family.” This session focuses on how the church family and the biological family need to support each other rather than to compete for time and involvement.
Scripture texts: Reflect on what the church in Acts 2:42- 47 might have been like for families with children, and on Hebrews 10:23-25, which may suggest that we not only meet regularly for worship, but that we also not neglect interacting frequently at other times and in other ways.
Opener: Invite participants to share ways individuals in the church and neighborhoods in which they grew up influenced them in choosing a life of faith and of faithfulness to God.

  1. Note points made in the first two paragraphs of the text, and discuss ways having children adds to marital stress and to the need for couples to have a strong network of support.
  2. Note Tom Sine’s critique of the church on page 82. What needs to change about church life to make it less competitive for a family’s time and attention and more complementary to the interests of both the biological and the spiritual family?
  3. Note Yoder’s description of the affect his extended family and church family had on his growing up years. Might it be true that our most effective means of encouraging our children choose a life of faith might not be through programs or institutions that cost lots of money, like special youth ministries, church camps, church schools and colleges, etc. (as helpful as some of these might be), but through investment in things that may take few dollars but lots of time and commitment--as in spending quality time with our church’s children and youth as mentors and family friends?
  4. What would you add to a list of helpful things to do (pp. 84-85) to encourage children to grow up choosing a strong commitment to Christ and the church?

SESSION 15: Chapter 14
Leader: When under stress, we typically feel we are in a less statured and empowered position, and so find ourselves behaving more desperately and less effectively as spouses and as co-parents. Being able to operate from a position of abundance and strength rather than from a feeling of emotional scarcity and inadequacy can make a profound difference in all our relationships.
Scripture texts: Note references to how believers can experience a healthy, Christlike power and a sense of full stature in passages like Ephesians 1:17-24; 2:4-10; 3:14 -21; 4:11 -15.
Opener: Have a couple share their own stick figure drawings of how they have seen themselves and each other at various stages and situations in their relationship. Compare to cartoon drawing on page 91!

  1. In the world of nature, it is often the creature that feels most afraid and threatened that is the most dangerous, e.g., an elephant tends to be less aggressive than a Rottweiler whose territory you might be entering. In light of that, discuss the opening statement, “The more empowered and secure we feel, the more gently and effectively we can behave”?
  2. Someone has observed that while we reach a chronological “coming of age” at 18 or 21, our psychological coming of age may not feel like a secure reality until we are in our forties or even later. Invite persons to share how they have come to experience a comfortable sense of being equal (not identical, and not superior) to other adults, including their parents--or especially their parents.
  3. Ephesians 6:10-17 promises a kind of spiritual protection that helps us avoid feeling defeated and diminished when we feel we are under spiritual stress or attack. How can we feel protected when others’ hurtful or destructive behaviors create “bad weather” for us, negatively affecting our sense of confidence and well-being?  

SESSION 16: Chapter 15
Leader: At every stage of our life we are creating a reservoir of positive or negative memories. The more regularly we invest time and creativity in practices that celebrate kingdom blessings and values, the stronger our influence in promoting faith in our homes and families.
Scripture texts: Read and reflect on Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and what it has to say about rituals for passing on faith and values to our children and grandchildren.
Opener: Invite several participants prepared to share memorable faith and relationship building experiences from their childhood.

  1. Have a time of open sharing of past family rituals and traditions. Which were meaningful and positive, and which were not, and why?
  2. What are some of your current couple and family rituals and traditions? What are some you would like to add (see p. 96)?
  3. What are some activities we may need to subtract from our busy lives? How does our constant exposure to media messages--through television, Ipods, video games, the Internet, and DVD players--get in the way of our creating and maintaining good connections as couples and families? What happens when watching “Friends” replaces our spending time with real friends, when the TV Guide structures much of our free time, when Hollywood becomes the chief story teller for our children and youth, and when we regularly invite entertainers into our homes (via media) that we would not otherwise welcome having around us and our children?

SESSION 17: Chapter 16
Leader: Gerald and Marlene Kaufman and their daughters have written a book called Freedom Fences: How to Set Limits That Free You to Enjoy Your Marriage and Family (Herald Press, 1999). Maintaining good behavior boundaries is an absolute must if we want to avoid serious marital distresses and disasters--and experience the security and trust good relationships need.
Scripture texts: Ephesians 5:1-16 is a clear statement about the kinds of clear lines that need to be drawn if we are to walk in the kind of agape love relationships thrive on (v. 2), walk in the light of good openness and accountability (v. 8), and “walk circumspectly” (v. 15, KJV) or wisely.
Opener: Have several couples or individuals describe some of the unwritten behavior rules they live by in their practice of fidelity and sexual sobriety in all aspects of their lives.

  1. Would it be helpful for congregations to develop more behavior guidelines for its members? Note the example given of Calvary Community (Mennonite) Church, a large urban congregation. How can we provide provide safe and sensible boundaries without resorting to legalism?
  2. What are some everyday examples besides those governing highway safety (p. 99) of how good “rules” can be beneficial? How might we celebrate God’s relationship-enhancing and life-giving commands as the Bible repeatedly does, especially in Psalm 119 (“O how I love Thy law!”)?
  3. Review “defensive driving rules” beginning on page 99. Have the group discuss and add to these. Do we need “defensive dating rules” for teens and young adults, or other “defensive living rules” for all of us? What may be some of the negative and tragic results if we fail to do this?

SESSION 18: Chapter 17
Leader: Anger is one of the common emotions people experience when they feel strongly about issues and relationships important to them. Becoming upset is really a sign that at a very basic level another person and /or another’s behavior really matter to us. Otherwise we could simply be apathetic or indifferent, and could just withdraw from the person or problem. How can we use anger as form of emotional energy for good instead of harm?
Scripture texts: Reflect on Ephesians 4:25-32 and Matthew 5:21-26. These texts address the sin of harboring anger and resentment against others while recognizing that anger, as a normal human emotion, may not be sinful in and of itself. However, it can easily lead to sin, just as strong sexual arousal may not be evil, but can easily lead to sins with serious negative consequences.
Opener: Invite people to share their own experiences of dealing with emotions that are in the anger family, ranging from mild irritation to outright rage.

  1. Discuss the popular notion that anger is some kind of stored poison that needs to be vented, no matter what or how. The alternative is seeing anger as feelings of arousal we regularly generate due to our unreasonable expectations, our misinterpretations of other’s behaviors, our underlying fears and anxieties about perceived threats, and/or our recycling and reliving of past hurts and grievances. How might our feelings of powerlessness and our sense of inadequate stature and protection (chapter 14) contribute to our having anger outbursts?
  2. Review brain illustrations on pages 18, 35,and 122 and discuss the role of intense arousal in emergency situations versus operating from that kind of overheated arousal when there are simply ordinary problems to deal with.
  3. Review and discuss steps in dealing with anger on page 104. Do these guidelines seem unreasonable or impossible for ordinary humans like ourselves? How do you feel about Rabbi Telushkin’s statement preceding that section? And how are we prone to blame others for our anger, and our anger-driven reactions, as in the cartoon on page 105?

SESSION 19: Chapter 18
Leader: In this wrap-up session we reflect on what is at the heart of good relationships--the consistent practice of respect, empathy and acceptance, the avoidance of doing repeated acts of harm (through a lack of self-control and of other fruit of the Spirit), and the practice of positive behaviors that enhance warm feelings of companionship and friendship.
Scripture texts: Reflect on some of the blessing statements in scriptures like I Thessalonians 3:12-13; 5:23-24; II Thessalonians 1:2, 11-12; 2: 16-17; 3:5, 16, 18; and II Corinthians 13:11-14 (NRSV). How can we become spouses and parents who impart blessings instead of “curses” (discouraging, blaming, reacting, put-down statements) to each other and to our children?
Opener: Have participants give examples of how in their relationship they have found joy in “Our friendship never ended” (p. 108).

  1. Discuss the relationship pyramid on page 109. What would you add, or underscore, as being of vital importance in maintaining a balanced, healthy and lasting marriage? Invite examples of how these various assets might look--and the difference they might make--in real life relationships.
  2. Gerald and Marlene Kaufman’s book, Monday Marriage: Celebrating the Ordinary (Herald Press, 2005), has two sections, the first being “Expecting Less” and the second, “Giving More.” How are the modest expectations expressed in the piece “Settling In” different from couples simply taking their relationship for granted, or “settling” for something less than the best?
  3. The section “If I Had Forty More Years of Marriage” is a summary of themes in the book, and can be used to invite couples to share what they have gained from the study and/or want to especially apply to the next season of their lives. Emphasize that simply gaining new insights seldom brings about lasting change, only developing new habits through the repeated practice of new behaviors--until those behaviors become new life habits that replace the not-so-healthy ones.
  4. Close with a blessing like the one on page 113, or with the words on the “warranty” in back of the book.
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