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Better Marriages Down Under

by Gerlinde and Ian Spencer
Sydney, Australia


History of Marriage Enrichment in Australia
In 1980 and 1981, David and Vera Mace, founders of Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment – ACME (re-branded Better Marriages) traveled all the way to Australia at the invitation of John Robson. Their goal was to establish Marriage Enrichment in this country. John was the CEO of the Family Life Movement of NSW at that time, an organization devoted to the welfare of families; offering sex education programs in schools, pre-marriage education and marriage counseling, as well as professional training programs for people working in the field.
David was no stranger to this country having previously visited from England to advise the Australian Government in how to set up and financially support marriage guidance (as it was then called) throughout the whole country. David and Vera had previously pioneered couple centred marriage guidance as a new discipline, establishing the Marriage Guidance Council in Britain.
Training for Working with Couples
For us at that time the opportunity of training with the Maces meant just yet another workshop to attend, being already heavily involved in training in Gestalt techniques, Transactional Analysis and the constantly evolving of Marriage Counseling skills. Also for us it meant that we had to desert our three children for yet another weekend and try this latest thing to please our boss. But what actually happened was that in a magic four days our lives were transformed as a couple. Together with five other carefully selected couples we received the keys to deepening and “fire proofing” our relationship. We were thrilled with the increased freedom in our relating and fascinated by the unique group process where sixteen people could become a group of eight.
Stage 2 Training followed in 1981 and with around 20 couples representing four out of five major States we decided to become Couples for Marriage Enrichment Australia (CMEA), an off shoot of ACME (now Better Marriages) in the U.S. CMEA is rather a mouthful but the roadrunner cartoons were in great favor at that time and we could not afford the ridicule, especially at the outset (one reason ACME became Better Marriages!).
The two of us threw ourselves into running Weekend and Mini Retreats whenever our jobs would allow, John and Irene Robson moved to Queensland and we eventually took on their mantle as NSW Trainer Couple. To our joy others made the long and expensive trip from the U.S. to Australia as key note presenters at our conferences giving CMEA and us personally a wonderful boost, David and Sarah Catron and Bobby and Britten Woods in particular. We managed to attend and present at the International Marriage Enrichment Conference in Kansas City and Charlotte, thoroughly strengthening our friendships in person rather than through the annual Christmas letter. We stayed in touch by receiving the Marriage Enrichment Newsletter (subscribe to the free e-newsletter here) as well as the Leaders Forum (subscribe here) and more recently a quick email or two to Nancy in the office.
Better Marriages Conference 2013
To receive our invitation to attend the Better Marriages Conference 2013 in Raleigh, NC as guests of Better Marriages came as a complete and very pleasant surprise. We did wonder whether we could afford the fares but before we could tot up our frequent flyer points accumulated with our grocery bills, the board of INTERRELATE, Family Life’s new name, offered to pay for business class fares to the Conference. What a wonderful double gift! Not only could we attend the Conference but we could travel in comfort – a boon when we had turned 77 and 80 this year. The final surprise was revealed by Priscilla Hunt on the last day, however, when we were presented with the Mace Medal by Jim and Lana Wheatley, President of the Better Marriages Board of Directors. The Mace Medal is given in honor of David and Vera Mace. This highest award is granted to a person or couple for distinguished service to marriage enrichment at a national or international level.
So complete was the surprise – neither the Better Marriages couples in the know nor the three couples who had come from Australia gave the faintest whisper of what was to come – that we felt our thank you speech left a lot unsaid. We really want to give thanks and credit to David and Vera for all that they had done for us in our own relationship and to recognize some of the others who have worked in Marriage Education and Enrichment in Australia.
It was wonderful to experience yet another Conference. The highlights for us include: the excellent workshop on massage where we learned some ways of giving real pleasure and relief to each other without working too hard; to meet Ron and Catherine Tijerina, founders of the Ridge Project, and get to know something of their work with couples who are separated by incarceration; and then finally to receive the prestigious Mace Medal. Of course, it was also wonderful to connect again with the people we had come to know and love (we talked to Sarah Catron on the phone) – these connections are even more important as we get older. Now we look forward to more visits to Oz in the next few years by new friends from Better Marriages. So we end with a big and heartfelt THANK YOU!