“Church Courses Aim to Strengthen Marriage and Family Relationships,” Liahona, January 2009, N1–N3
With shifting societal values undermining the traditional family, the Church is committed to help “maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Liahona, Oct. 2004, 49).
While worldwide divorce rates fell slightly in 2007, a rise in the incidence of cohabitation and unmarried child-raising are demonstrative of society’s failing faith in traditional marriage and family.
In an effort to combat these trends, the Church has three courses and accompanying manuals available to help members understand the doctrines regarding the importance of families that will help them build and maintain enduring family relationships.
Revised in 2000, the Marriage and Family Relations manual gives special emphasis to the proclamation on the family. The manual is divided into two parts: Part A, “Strengthening Marriage,” and Part B, “Parents’ Responsibilities to Strengthen Families.” The course is usually taught during Sunday School, and members may attend one or both parts of the course, depending on individual needs.
More recently, in 2006 LDS Family Services produced two new course manuals—Strengthening Marriage and Strengthening the Family. These courses are being taught in LDS Family Services agencies and in some wards and stakes, though they are taught outside of the Sunday meeting schedule.
The Sunday School and the Family Services courses are similar in that they can help both those who are already married and those who are preparing to wed. The family sections assist parents in learning the importance of their roles in raising children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
There are also some key differences between the manuals. The Marriage and Family Relations manual addresses mainly members, focusing heavily on doctrines and principles found in the scriptures and taught by latter-day prophets and apostles to help members find answers for their own circumstances.
“A person who goes through this course would come away with a better understanding and testimony of the divine principles that are fundamental to happy marriages and family relations,” said David Marsh, manager of Curriculum Development for the Church.
While also centered on gospel principles, the Family Services manuals provide additional insights from professionals such as family counselors and therapists, explain pertinent research findings, and provide training to help participants (members or not) improve relationship skills through role-playing exercises.
The courses are particularly helpful in teaching newlyweds and converts the importance of eternal families and how to fortify families against societal influences.
“We have a lot of families coming into the Church from different cultures, traditions, and backgrounds,” Brother Marsh said. “The Marriage and Family Relations manual helps them learn what the Lord teaches about families.”
The couples in Sergio Navarro’s class in the Puebla Mexico Cholula Stake said the Strengthening Marriage manual gave them a desire to become better husbands and wives, and the role-playing exercises helped them develop skills to solve relationship problems.
Each lesson in the Family Services manuals contains three or more learning activities to help participants set goals and integrate gospel teachings. For example, in the “Communicating with Love” chapter in the Strengthening Marriage manual, the trained instructor helps participants practice responding to a spouse’s accusation without being defensive.
Brother Navarro said he has seen couples on the verge of divorce decide to stay together after learning these important gospel principles related to families. “It has been a wonderful experience to see how these marriages have benefited,” he said.
The relationships of many LDS couples are in less danger from a blowout than they are from relationship burnout. Burnout occurs when the flame of love in a marriage dims because of neglect. The Marriage and Family Relations course teaches the importance of continued dating within a marriage—that is, making time for each other and showing affection in small ways.
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) said, “Love … cannot be expected to last forever unless it is continually fed with portions of love, the manifestation of esteem and admiration, the expressions of gratitude, and the consideration of unselfishness” (“Oneness in Marriage,” Liahona, Oct. 2002, 36).
The Strengthening the Family manual and the parenting section of the Marriage and Family Relations manual build on the marriage lessons by helping spouses to become united in how and what to teach their children. Sister Marta Tilley, a Family Services missionary in the Lakeland Florida (USA) Stake, said differing parenting styles produce a feeling of distrust and discord between parents and lead to chaos in the home.
Both manuals help parents to be united in their efforts and describe positive parenting skills, such as having family home evenings and family meetings. The Strengthening the Family manual specifically helps parents understand children better so problems can be resolved with love and patience.
“These programs give you skills you can implement within the gospel standards and help you become a more successful parent,” Sister Tilley said.
Instructors have found that the real strength of each program comes from the commitment and active involvement of the participants. Each course encourages open discussion and interaction so couples can learn new skills from one another.
Ultimately, participants finish the courses with a better awareness of Heavenly Father’s love for them and how He is involved in every aspect of their lives.