History of Better Marriages
The Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment is one expression of a movement that began in the 1960s but had its roots earlier. In the 1940s and 1950s those in the helping professions began to view persons not just as individuals but as people living in family systems. Another contributing factor to what is now called “marriage enrichment” was the shift from “intervention to prevention.” This change emphasized the importance of dealing with personal and interpersonal challenges by providing skills and experiential learning for individuals and families before they get into serious difficulty. Numerous events were taking place in the early 1960s, resulting in three basic models in the emerging field of marriage enrichment.
David and Vera Mace
In 1962, David and Vera Mace conducted their first marriage enrichment retreat in Kirkridge, Pennsylvania. They were searching for ways to prevent marital difficulties by working with couples who were not in crisis but wanted to learn skills for living in harmony. Certain components of the Maces’ approach seemed to enhance the learning experience of the participants. These components included a husband/wife leadership team, limited structure, agenda building by the participants, group sharing and couple dialogue. The leader couple were full participants in this process.
Father Gabriel Calvo
In 1962, unaware of the work of David and Vera Mace in the USA, Father Gabriel Calvo began meeting with couples in Barcelona, Spain, for the purpose of strengthening marriages and families. Father Calvo used the term “marriage encounter” for his program. With its roots in the Roman Catholic Church, marriage encounter was transplanted to the USA in 1967 by the Christian Family Movement. In its present form, Marriage Encounter has emerged with a highly structured format using no group interaction. Couple leaders present a series of lectures, to which participating couples respond in private. Privately, couples write and share letters with each other. A priest is in attendance for counsel and guidance.
In 1962, Leon Smith was appointed by the United Methodist Church in the USA to develop a ministry in marriage: preparation for marriage, marriage education, and marriage counseling. In 1964, Leon and his wife, Antoinette, presented the Marriage Communication Labs (MCL), a four-day structured program which included experiential and educational components. Communication skills and couple dialogue were emphasized.
The Maces, the Smiths and Father Calvo are acknowledged pioneers in the field of marriage enrichment. Since 1962, various religious and private groups have combined and adapted different aspects of these three basic models.
Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment
In 1973 David and Vera founded the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment with the slogan, “To work for better marriages, beginning with our own.” According to David Mace:
“Our hope was that it might be quite natural (with no direct religious, political or professional connections of any kind) and might, therefore, become a coordinating agency for other organizations that were developing programs in this new field; that it might undertake the task of setting standards for leadership; that it might encourage the development of local chapters which could promote in their communities the cause of better marriage.” (Mace, Close Companions, 1982).
The Maces have emphasized the importance of what they called a “primary coping system,” a tool-kit for couples to use as they carry out the adventure of “growing a marriage.” These essentials are:
1. A Commitment to Growth
The companionship marriage depends for its effectiveness on the growth process, in order to bring about changes that are essential if the couples are to adapt flexibly to each other in a shared life . . . Only by working patiently and persistently on the task of smoothing out the rough areas of their relationship can they reach the level of interaction that they desire . . .
Unless the couples have made a clear commitment to each other that they intend to work for ongoing growth in their relationship, the strong likelihood is that they will do nothing about it, or that they will make a few half-hearted efforts and then give up (Mace, Close Companions, 1982).
2. An Effectively Functioning Communication System
Couples must have a mutually agreed upon system of talking with and listening to each other. Since all communication is learned, what is not helpful can be unlearned and new skills substituted for those that hinder the relationship.
3. The Ability to Make Creative Use of Conflict
Using conflict creatively to gain more intimacy rather than allowing conflict to tear down the relationship is the third essential for a growing marriage. In order to do this, couples need to understand the normal dynamics of anger, when it is apt to occur in their relationship, and how they can use an anger situation to learn more about themselves and their partner.
Change of Organizational Name
Over a 2-year period beginning in 2008, the Better Marriages National Board of Directors entered into an intense strategic planning period. The end result was a unanimous decision in 2010 to re-brand the organization as Better Marriages. The new brand gained exposure through press releases, a new website and social media.