"Churches do a very good job of preparing people for marriage, but they don't do a good job of preparing them for married life," said Kevin Anderson, a Toledo-area psychologist and author.
It pains him to read the newspaper's "casualty report," as he calls the list of divorces and dissolutions granted by the courts.
For the last 10 years, Mr. Anderson said he has felt driven to do whatever he can to help save marriages and believes that spirituality is an essential and often overlooked element .
His latest effort is "The Gift of Marriage Project," in which he is donating copies of his new book, The Seven Spiritual Practices of Marriage (CLP Press, $16.95), to churches of all denominations that will give his teachings a try.
"We have to re-imagine the task of marriage," Mr. Anderson said. "It's not just about counting on 'love made in heaven.' People say they're in love, but it's just the opiate receptors in the brain. There are spiritual aspects to walking with someone deeper through daily life."
A licensed psychologist since 1991, Mr. Anderson has counseled thousands of couples and believes it's usually not the husband's or wife's fault that their marriage is falling apart.
"Anything you want to get good at, you need to invest in," he said. "Whether it's golf or playing piano or painting, people will take lessons and spend time learning. But not marriage. It's unhealthful. People start out with great dreams, and then love drifts away with the pressures and conflicts of modern life."
In his 14 years of clinical experience, Mr. Anderson said he's found that marriages that fail have one thing in common: "The couple does not maintain a daily commitment to treat one another in a kind, loving, honoring way."
When people begin seeing marriage as "a graced and sacred way to live," he said, they begin honoring their spouse and seeing God in every aspect of life.
God isn't present just at church on Sunday, but in everyday events both big and small, from sharing meals to resolving conflicts, Mr. Anderson said. His new marriage book is Christian-based, but said it is applicable to people of all faiths.
Grasping the spiritual nature of life and marriage is not an easy task for some people unless they have training and make a commitment, he added.
To illustrate his point, in his marriage workshops Mr. Anderson sometimes asks for a volunteer who has never played guitar. Then he hands the volunteer a guitar and asks him or her to play a song. Obviously it will sound awful, and Mr. Anderson makes a point to insult the volunteer and encourage other workshop participants to boo and hiss.
"It's like a marriage," he explained. "They throw you out there with no training, no lessons, no experience, and yet they expect you to do something that's difficult - and boo you when you don't do a good job."
His studies and experience inspired him to break down the key components of a successful marriage into seven areas, as described in his book: creating a shared vision; making a daily connection with one's spouse; bringing honor to conflict; giving up the
search for the "perfect lover"; working on the "i" in marriage; making love a gift, and walking a spiritual path.
The Seven Spiritual Practices of Marriage addresses each practice in a separate chapter with a summary, a detailed explanation, and practical tips for putting the recommended steps into effect in daily life.
He also sprinkles in relevant quotes and observations from leading psychologists, famous historical figures, and scriptures of different religious groups.
Mr. Anderson, 44, and his wife, Claudia, have been married 20 years and have five children. The couple hold a one-hour meeting at 7 a.m. every weekday in which they review a "vision statement" they drew up for their marriage, discussing any observations, hopes, thoughts, dreams, or criticisms.
"At first, it was a little difficult, but now it's my favorite time of the day. I look forward to spending that hour with Claudia every morning and investing in our marriage," Mr. Anderson said.
"The return on investment is huge," he said, and he wants to share his knowledge and experience - both personally and professionally - with others.
"This has been a calling. It has come after me for at least 10 years. I can't get away from it. I see that 'casualty list' in the paper and I think I can help with this."
Churches interested in receiving a free copy of "The Seven Spiritual Practices of Marriage" can call The Gift of Marriage Project, 419-861-2269, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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