Help For Marriages Under Stress

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January is typically the peak month for divorce applications in English-speaking countries. Having made the decision to divorce, many couples agree to postpone the application for one last Christmas together as a family. The parents hope that by delaying the devastating news until after Christmas, the children will be able to enjoy the day and then have a few weeks to adjust before school returns.  

When Father Bob called us, it was late January and the third family in the past two weeks had just left his office, having informed him that they were getting divorced. He was urgent to do something to bring resilience and hope to the couples in his parish. We worked with him to run a SmartLoving marriage seminar, and a number of parishioners attended along with a dozen or more from elsewhere.  

That was more than ten years ago. In the following years the calls to our office from desperate spouses continued. Their stories were similar: things were bad at home, but their spouse was refusing to participate in counselling or an enrichment course. Or they’d tried counselling but it didn’t work. Or they couldn’t find the right kind of counsellor, etc. It was heartbreaking. 

This gave birth to BreakThrough – a radically different approach to supporting marriages under stress. We began with the concerns of the spouses themselves and designed an experience that honoured their limitations and fears. Limitations around their ability to attend prolonged sessions.  Fears around group and couple sharing.  

The BreakThrough workshop was first piloted in 2014 for around 40 participants in Western Sydney. Although most attendees did come with their spouse, there were no couple activities and no group sharing. We worked (and prayed) to create an atmosphere of hope and respect for the sacred work each participant was undertaking.  

And attendees came from all over and from all backgrounds. One couple drove up from Wagga (about six hours). Another couple who had been separated for nineteen years attended with the urging of their newly ordained son. One lady was recently divorced. A local couple were both in their second marriages and motivated to avoid a second divorce. A counsellor attended to check out what we were doing. And then there were the parish ladies who prepared the afternoon tea and listened in from the kitchen. 

A key part of the workshop was a forgiveness process. Here we set them up to not just intellectually forgive their spouse, but to move their heart into the space of forgiveness.  

This was accomplished through a written process that allowed participants to dialogue with the emotional wound as it pushed back against the will to forgive. We were careful to maintain the distinction between forgiveness (an individual process) and reconciliation (a couple process). 

The feedback and visible impact of the workshop was outstanding… It was obviously a needed and effective offering. 

Later that year, we created a short film to be used just prior to the forgiveness activity. We engaged professional actors to present a story-line based on the many testimonials we had heard over the years. The resulting video was a powerful motivator and it is not uncommon for viewers to be moved to tears.  

Workshops that we ran continued to attract people from distant fields and the feedback was very encouraging. But we had trouble convincing locals to attend. It seemed that the stigma associated with seeking help from a local service was dissuading them and having recently created the first of our online courses (The Marriage Kit), we wondered whether an online option would be able to get around this issue.  

We subsequently created films for the entire workshop and built an online course. The films are high quality, using professional actors and narrators with animated slides and original footage. Being online, it is available at any time and from any place on the globe. 

In addition, we’ve frequently adapted the forgiveness unit for other events including women’s retreats, marriage events and more. We’ve also been teaching professionals how to use the forgiveness process in their pastoral work including clergy, counsellors and marriage educators.  

And here’s the thing: we all need to forgive somebody. It doesn’t matter how amazing our spouse is, or how delightful our children are, or how extraordinary our parents, siblings, friends or work colleagues are: if we have a heartbeat, we will have an emotional injury and someone to forgive.  

Forgiveness is not just for spouses in distress. The project that began as a response to spouses in desperate situations, has become something that stretches wide to enrich everyone who engages with it: clergy, educators, counsellors, singles, religious etc. 

So much love has been poured into this project, it is our delight to offer BreakThrough Online to the community. We hope that it will form a useful contribution to all those who seek healing in their relationships and freedom in their spiritual life. For ultimately, that is what drives division in any relationship: the spiritual bondage due to unresolved resentment and shame. 

We have discounted the price to zero until St Valentine’s Day. If you haven’t already signed up, do so now. Check it out for yourself and share it. Share it with your clients, colleagues, family and friends. Let us work together to bring healing to our soul and unity to our relationships.  

Register FREE for BreakThrough

Francine & Byron Pirola

Francine & Byron Pirola are the founders and principal authors of the SmartLoving series. They are passionate about living Catholic marriage to the full and helping couples reach their marital potential. They have been married since 1988 and have five children. Their articles may be reproduced for non commercial purposes with appropriate acknowledgement and back links. For Media Enquiries Please Contact us here

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