Soliciting Opinions for a Marriage Sunday School Class

AdamFchurch, education, families, love, marriage, Mormon, sexuality 36 Comments

In the next month or so I will be teaching a six-week Sunday School course based on “Strengthening Marriage: A Resource Guide for Couples” from

Has anyone taught or been in this class (or any class in the church on relationships) before?

What worked? What didn’t? What was interesting? What was boring?

So far I am planning to use the 6 lessons as a framework to bring in a lot of what I have learned about couples during the last few years, and possibly show some video clips to illustrate some concepts, (on that note, is it a bad idea to show clips from non-LDS sources/movies during the block?). The biggest concern I have is not getting too intellectual (read: pedantic) and end up putting a lot of husbands to sleep. Sorry, that was sexist but in my experience husbands just generally are not as interested in learning about marriage. 😉

The 6 lessons are:

Applying Gospel Principles
Communicating with Love
Fostering Equality and Unity
Overcoming Anger
Resolving Conflict
Enriching Marriage

Any notable omissions? There is very little on sex/intimacy in the manual, for example…

What say ye?

Comments 36

  1. Financial issues are usually cited as being the primary reasons behind marriages ending; I’d recommend a chunk of time on the need for complete financial transparency (both parties know exactly where things stand financially) and joint decision making and prioritization (financial, resource, employment).

    Step-parenting issues are usually cited as being the primary reasons behind second (and subsequent) marriages ending; as someone who is in a second marriage, I can tell you that it is indeed a prime source of difficulties (luckily, all our kids are now gone — yea! — so it’s mostly moot). If you have any couples in the class who have kids at home from previous marriages, I would recommend addressing this issue.

    And, yeah, sex and intimacy need to be dealt with; just read through the comments to this post at FMH and you’ll see just how wound up both sides can get while often talking past one another.

    My own observations of successful, trouble, and failed marriages suggests a specific asymmetry between the two sides. In my own experience and from what I can see elsewhere, in a successful marriage wives usually have a profound trust in their husbands, while husbands are profoundly grateful to be married to their wives. Your mileage may vary, but I have seen this pattern (both in the positive and in the negative) time and again.

    Finally — and I just said this today in HP group, during a lesson on love and marriage — love is a daily, conscious choice. If you expect the feelings of love to last due to chemicals, hormones, novelty, or the sterling attributes of your spouse, you may well wake up one morning finding that it’s not there at all. The foundation of marriage (IMHO) is the daily commitment to choose to love your spouse, independent of any particular reasons. That’s what gets you through all the tough times . . . and marriage is one of the toughest things you’ll ever do (particularly if parenthood is involved). ..bruce..

  2. My advice, broken down by class:

    1) Stress APPLYING, and stress the part about growing continually. Give them a practical example of what that means. Most of the other stuff is pretty generic – important, but generic – and can be covered quite quickly.

    2) This is critical. Use practical examples for each section.

    3) Quote from the Proclamation the paragraph about primary responsibilities. Emphasize that the directive to make individual adaptations to personal circumstances is open-ended – that nobody can blame the Church or anyone else if they don’t take responsibility to understand their circumstances and do what works for them.

    4) Same as #2. Lots of practical examples.

    5) Emphasize the part about selecting mutually satisfying solutions – that neither spouse has the right to dictate their own solution.

    6) Speed through most of this lesson and talk about sex and intimacy. There are some important things in this chapter, but they can be covered quickly. There’s nothing about sex and intimacy, and there should be.

    I talk much more openly about sex and intimacy (not in details, but in general) than most people. There still are some horrible, apostate beliefs in the Church that need to be tackled directly if they are to be eradicated. People need to understand at least a little of the psychology of how women and men think of and experience sex differently in order to become truly one. This is the lessons for it.

  3. Adam–

    One way to deal with the uninterested husband, at least in most cases, is to let them know you will call on one of them to give a 3 minute summation at end of each class.

  4. Post

    #1 Bruce – I think I will include finances-especially what money means and how that can play out. E.g. to me it means freedom and to my wife it means security. It is important to at least recognize how that drives financial conflict. Thanks for brining up the step-parenting issue as well. Perhaps I’ll pass around a hat at the beginning so people can anonymously input what they would like to be covered… As for the “wives usually have a profound trust in their husbands” – I think this is right on the money for successful couples. In fact, for EFT (a therapy I am learning), the wife’s faith in the husband’s caring is just about the biggest predictor of a successful outcome, much bigger than initial distress level.

    Ray – Thanks for those tips! What are the “apostate beliefs” that still may exist? I would really like to cover some of those. I think I may also come up with some articles/etc. to pass out on sex that could be helpful… I may also share a few of the comments from the post Bruce linked to, to share that there are a lot of issues here that people are suffering from and no one is talking about.

    I may also talk about when counseling is a good idea.

  5. adam, before I answer that question, here is a comment I wrote on a different FMH post:

    One of the best general summaries I ever heard of the male/female conflict said, essentially, the following:

    In sexual intercourse, speaking strictly biologically, men are the “natural” givers; women are the “natural” receivers. Society conditions men to be the “naturally” aggressive, while society conditions women to be “naturally” passive. Men generally can overcome previous restrictions when married quite easily, since (from a strictly physiological standpoint) they’re just target shooting – and giving in to their programmed aggressive default role. They rarely get hurt physically in the process, and they rarely feel violated or coerced. They also can be fulfilled physically quite quickly, which contributes to a “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” mentality. Finally, what happens occurs outside themselves, so there isn’t as much emotion invested in the whole thing.

    Women, otoh, are forced to move out of their strictly receptive biological framework and passive social conditioning if they are to enjoy sexual activity to its fullest. They need to be able to initiate – to be aggressive – and they risk real physical and emotional hurt and harm when they do so. It often takes much longer to get revved up, and the internal nature of the experience makes it VERY personal and emotional. It’s much easier to sit back and hope the man understands and is patient and waits to learn together – and that happens much less often than most men think.

    Often in a new marriage, both husband and wife are excited about finally being able to have sex, but for the virgin man, the first few times often are quick and uncontrollable (and painless and physically fulfilling) – while for the virgin woman, those same first few times are too quick, too uncontrollable, painful and both physically and emotionally un-fulfilling. This often means the wife, while excited about the possibility of sex, often is not prepared for the experience – largely because the husband doesn’t know enough about sex to “do it right” for her. She ends up feeling “attacked” – and wondering if he really only married her so he could have sex.

    If I were teaching a marriage prep class, I would go over all of this in one of the lessons – with some pretty clear and unambiguous advice about reading some “manuals” before marriage – or, if that would be objectionable to some, abstaining for a week after marriage to get the study done first. It’s worth an extra few days of waiting, imo, to get it right from the beginning – or at least as right as it can be at the beginning.

  6. Jared,

    I think your suggestion will also make the men never return to class–I doubt I’d return if you tried that on me.


    My wife and I dropped in on class #5 – Resolving Conflict. There wasn’t a single practical piece of advice given, and we didn’t return. I really think a professional would be much better to teach this class than lay members. I just don’t think lay members are equipped to handle the tough issues that can arise in marriage. We had no desire to go back.

  7. “In my own experience and from what I can see elsewhere, in a successful marriage wives usually have a profound trust in their husbands, while husbands are profoundly grateful to be married to their wives.”

    WELL SAID!! Women need to feel that they can trust their husbands to protect their relationship, not only by their behaviors, but in their hearts ands minds. Many women have their trust completely shattered when their husbands get involved in pornography. I have watched how difficult that trust can be to recover and if men can learn how devastating it can be on their relationship without learning first hand, all the better. There is a DVD online called “Somebody’s Daughter” that you might be able to show segments of that could be beneficial. It seems almost crazy to not talk about this issue in a marriage class these days.

    In my experience, I know that men do not want to be nagged, criticized or made to feel incompetent. They need to feel appreciated daily and it makes me crazy when I hear women criticizing their husbands in front of others or with other women. John Lund has a great book called “The Art of Giving and Receiving Criticism” and I think it would be beneficial to reference it. He incorporates the gospel and helps spouses learn to communicate respectfully to one another.

    In relation to this comment:

    “People need to understand at least a little of the psychology of how women and men think of and experience sex differently in order to become truly one.”

    AMEN!!! I think a lot of heartache could be avoided if men and women were taught these differences and how to use them to unify themselves to one another rather than seeing them as an impossible barrier that cannot be overcome.

    Marriage is the most rewarding relationship on earth when each partner protects that relationship as they would a precious jewel. Even when there are children involved and tons of stress, it makes it all worth it when you know your best friend is there for you at the end of the day.

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  9. On the contrary, I think the women will be more interested in the intellectual stuff. The men want to know the simple stuff that will get them brownie points. And, are you teaching the class alone? Or are you teaching with your wife?

  10. It seems like every ward I’ve been in, my Mister and I are “assigned” to go to the marriage class. Every time, it’s pretty much reading straight from the manual. The manual may be a good place to base a lesson from, but following the manual leads to some very uninteresting classes.

    I think using the lesson as a base and then bringing in outside information to help people relate to the topic of the lesson is helpful.

    Also in the classes I have been to, no one talks. It would be so much more useful to talk about real problems that people face and how to work through them, maybe using the principles in the lessons.

    I wish I was in your ward, I bet your class will be much more interesting than any I’ve been in before.

  11. Post

    Ray #5 – Thanks for that comment… do you have any source material that I could back it up with?

    MH #6 – That’s lame! Fwiw, I am not a “lay member” in this area, but at the same time I’m not an experienced professional either. I have been studying couples issues for about 3 years, have been to some trainings taught by the masters (John Gottman, and Sue Johnson) and have been doing couples therapy since August of last year. So the class will be a lot more than “reading from the manual” as Allie is wary of. They will all get their own manuals, and I won’t waste their time in class doing what they could to at home.

    Jen #7 – I’ll look into that DVD. I think I will talk about pornography a little–I’m thinking of having part of a lesson be on what “complete fidelity” means, threats to it, and how couples can work together (and individually) to achieve it. Also, including how to know when a relationship with a member of the opposite sex is on dangerous ground, and when to know that one needs help with an addiction.

    Michelle #8 – Agreed. I am teaching alone, but if my wife can make it I am going to include her, especially when doing some demonstrations of problems in conflicts.

    Allie – Hopefully I can get people to talk a little more. Was there anything specific you wish they would have had class discussions about?

  12. #6 MH– Good point. When I have taught classes I have always tried to get everyone to participate. That needs to be done carefully, as you said. One way I’ve dealt with this is to ask for help to teach the class. Generally a useful percentage of the class will volunteer by taking a few minute to summarize or take a topic or question, research it and then present their findings to the class.

  13. I think the biggest challenge you will have is fitting in the information you want to cover in the time period and staying on task. This of course unless all of the class members are in a protagonisty mode.

  14. Adam, The questions you are asking indicates you may not have been given training by LDS Family Services, which is required in order to teach this course. And, it is not a course that is supposed to be taught during any of the Sunday meetings. Your Bishop should consult with Family Services to verify this.

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    former Bishop – Perhaps we will not have as much truthyness if it is taught in Sunday School, but it is not set in stone yet. I am wondering though, what about the course doesn’t work for Sunday School? I will look into the training you speak of, however. Do yo know if it is available in areas outside of Utah? I wouldn’t want to be unauthorized! 😉

  16. #6: I really think a professional would be much better to teach this class than lay members.

    Which is why I’m tickled that our bishop called a retired psychologist to teach the class in our ward. ..bruce..

  17. Adam,

    I’m not sure what part of my comment was “lame.” I will say that I was assigned to take the class in one ward a few years ago, during Sunday School, and attended almost all of the classes. There wasn’t one piece of practical advice given over the 6-8 weeks, and I felt the class was a complete waste of time (but no more wasteful than most GD classes.) Sorry, I know that’s a stinker comment, but some teachers are so ill-prepared, starting off lessons with comments like, “I hate to teach, so let’s have lots of participation”. Maybe everyone else has awesome teachers, and I just always get stuck in lame wards…..

    In my current stake, the class is taught during the week. If the teacher had any training from LDS Family Services, it wasn’t apparent. It was no different than my previous ward as far as content. I attended it just a few weeks ago.

    I will say that one of the most practical pieces of advice I got for child-raising came from my bishop. I was talking about how hard it is to get my kids ready for bed. He said, “have a race to see who can get your pajamas on. I always leave a sock on to lose, but it works pretty well.” That was a wonderful piece of advice. I have been doing it for about 2 years, and it really works for my 6 year old. Child-rearing can be a real source of stress in a marriage, and some practical pieces of advice for questions such as “what’s the best way to handle a child who does …….” can be wonderful.

    Speaking of child raising, I came across a DVD that I believe every brand-new parent should be required to watch. I was walking in the hall the other day at church, and a sister in my ward was struggling with a 7 week old baby. I asked her if I could try some calming techniques, and she said, “be my guest.” Within about 10 seconds, I had the baby calm, and she was shocked. The DVD is called “Happiest Baby on the Block.” It talks about how to calm a crying newborn, and IT WORKS!!! I let the sister borrow my copy. I wish I had known about the DVD for my 6 year old–we had a real struggle with him, and had no idea how to calm him. Of course, the DVD is not produced by the church, so perhaps it is not ok to endorse, but I seriously think that most new parents would greatly benefit from this non-church approved video. It is 100% practical, created by a pediatrician, and never quotes a single scripture, conference talk, or even spiritual guru, yet helps make the family environment liveable. Our first child was a real source of stress in our marriage, because we had no idea how to raise an infant. Few people (including us) want to admit in a church setting that values families that we don’t know how to be a good parent–we’re just supposed to “know” how to raise an infant due to our inherently large LDS families, right?

    A question and answer period where people put forth specific questions, and don’t dance around the issues is helpful. But I haven’t found very many church classes that get into things like that. Usually, it’s a rehash of an old argument the couple had, and then they make up and feel stupid about how petty they were. Great story, but how am I supposed to apply that to my marriage, in the heat of the moment? A Better question is, how do we prevent these sorts of blowups in the first place? I’ve never ever had a satisfactory answer to that question.

  18. Let me expand on my own observation:

    “In my own experience and from what I can see elsewhere, in a successful marriage wives usually have and demonstrate a profound trust in their husbands, while husbands are profoundly grateful to be married to their wives and show it daily.”

    And as per Jen’s comments (#7), let me spell out the implications for the flip side: men need to give their wives every reason to trust them — emotionally, spiritually, physically (particularly sexually), financially — while women need to give their husbands reasons to be grateful to be married to them. Note, men, that trust, once lost, is hard to regain; it is far better to work hard never to lose it in the first place.

    All things considered, the women have an easier job for their side. As one comedienne quipped, “I’d much rather be naked around men than around other women. Women tend to examine, compare and judge; the men are just so grateful.” Sadly, there are men who are truly clueless as to all that their wives do for them, day in and day out. ..bruce..

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  20. In my stake as well – this class is not under Sunday School, but is under LDS Social Services. One of the requirements is that it not even be taught on Sunday – let alone during sunday school. Also, the bishop puts together a group of 5-7 couples for the class, they must commit to always attend (maybe they can miss once). It is always taught by a couple. One of the reasons we teach on Fri or Sat so that the couples go out together on a date after the class – sort of a homework assignment. Also, the couples are required to come up with thier own babysitting arangements – which is good because this is usually one of the excuses for not going out regularly as a couple.
    the training from LDS Social Services is essential, we even have board meetings with LDS social services periodically.
    We have a stake director of this program, with instructors in each of the wards. We are on the East coast – so outside of UT.

  21. Post

    Thanks for the ideas MH, there really is a ton of good stuff that could be included. As for preventing “blowups” — that’s a lot of what I do with couples in therapy, at least in the first few sessions… or rather, it is called “de-escalating conflict.”

    With all these great ideas, and the apparent fact that I may be upsetting the established order of LDS family services (shame!) maybe the class will be a bit different. It’s all up to my Bishop though!

  22. Adam, #5 is constructed purely from memory. My wife and I have been married for over 20 years now, and this was early on in our marriage. It was YEARS ago, and I have moved to three different states since then.

    As I said in a follow-up on FMH, It’s my own wording from memory of something that made a big impact on me at the time. I’ve thought a lot about it since, so I’m not even sure how much is true to what was shared and how much is my own additions after the fact.

  23. Adam, the following is all that is stated on the website where the materials can be downloaded. (and the fact that they can be downloaded and printed by ANYONE mitigates against an exclusionary application [and even the need to charge a fee to cover material costs], frankly.)

    “This course is taught at LDS Family Services’ agencies and by volunteer instructors in wards and stakes under the direction of LDS Family Services, Course instructors are knowledgeable about relationship skills and the challenges faced by couples. When courses are taught by volunteers in a ward, stake or agency a minimal fee is charged, covering only the cost of materials.”

    There is NOTHING in this description that prohibits the classes from being in any particular location and at any particular time or day. I am left to conclude that the “ideal” is that it be taught by an LDS Social Services employee, but that Bishops are free to construct the classes however they choose when that simply isn’t possible.

  24. Post

    Thanks Ray, always a voice of reason. 🙂 I don’t work for the church, but I am knowledgeable about relationship skills and couples, and from what it sounds like, a bit more qualified than some of the instructors people have had. You definitely won’t find me saying, as someone said above, “well, I don’t really like to teach” because I really love this topic and I think it will be a great class. I am still waiting for those “apostate ideas” though Ray. 🙂

  25. #23:

    1) Sex is “dirty”.

    2) Sex is natural and easy to figure out. (Yeah, the basic mechanics aren’t hard to figure out, but really good sex doesn’t happen on its own.)

    2) Couples should have sex whenever either one wants. (and its partner, the woman should do whatever it takes to please her husband)

    3) Anything that could be considered “help” with sex is evil. (That’s a broad statement; there are some things, like what I call “real” pornography [including various tools], that I would never suggest be used in a marriage.)

    4) Ultimately, the man is the boss. (That is no longer supported, as evidenced by the specific wording in the Proclamation – and in the manual, thankfully.)

    5) Women are more spiritual than men.

    I could continue, but I’ll stop now.

  26. IMO,the lesson on fostering equality in marriage is truly groundbreaking in it’s unequivocal embrace of equality as a goal for marriage,as opposed to either a necessary evil or an attack on the fundamental nature of the family.Encouraging a couple to make this a goal of marriage is quite revolutionary,moving us from a fundamentally patriarchal view of the marriage relationship to a companionate one.I can think of many marriages in the church I have seen founder on this rock,and I don’t think anyone has considered what a sea change this represents in how we are conceptualising our families. Were we to really grapple with this stuff I think a more correct understanding of the sexual relationship would follow as night follows day.This would be the heart of the course for me were I to teach it.
    Transparency around our struggles to become one would do much to build unity in the church,and classes like this taught in an open manner would create a spirit of best practise,repentance and problem solving,as opposed to the defensiveness that can creep into relationships and wards,shutting off access to change and progression.In our ward,this has been frustrated by a view of the course as being remedial.I so hope we can get over this and move forward in greater unity.

  27. I must agree with wayfarer–the course is remedial.

    I know it may not be PC to bring in outside experts, but talking about nuts and bolts budgeting, parenting, sex, porn, conflict resolution, etc, is much more likely to produce real results than listening to another scripture or conference talk on these same subjects. While the GC talks and scriptures are nice motivators, the are incredibly weak on specifics. I want specific ways on how to EFFECTIVELY deal with these issues, not more guilt for doing it wrong, and dancing around the subject.

    For example, The church tells us to budget, and stay out of debt. There are multiple successful ways to do this, and no conference talk ever addresses the nuts and bolts because it’s not “spiritual” to talk about. They are spiritual leaders, not financial advisors, after all. As a result, most people end up just feeling guilty, with no idea how to budget in an effective manner.

    I just don’t think another conference talk or sunday school lesson is ever going to really fix the problem if we don’t talk about actual strategies for success. Some people have an envelope system, some have separate checking accts for husband and wife. I’d hate both of these methods, but they work for some. But I think people should be exposed to different ideas and then they can choose the best method for their situation.

  28. Adam,

    LDS Family Services in Denver instructed all the Bishops in this area last year that the instructors (and they recommended couples) are required to be certified by Family Services to teach the Strengthening Marriage class and the Strengthening Family class. These are 2 different courses. I would assume that wherever LDS Family Services has an office, that they have trained instructors to certify Ward or Stake instructors. The certification class is approx 4-6 hours long. You may want to inform your Bishop that both of these classes are not substitutes for the family and marriage classes taught in the past during Sunday School time. Those are still available, but Family Services recommends the newer classes and that they NOT be held during the meeting blocks, but some other time.

  29. Adam,
    The neatest thing I have learned in recent years that applies to marital situations as well as any other challenges in my life is that Buddhist philosophy that we discussed recently. If I can set aside my own expectations in a situation and discern what the real truth is in a temporal sense, I can act positively to help my spouse instead of reacting to some unwanted or unpleasant behavior. Works with husband, kids, employees, vendors, and customers, and probably friends also, but I haven’t had an occasion there since I started using it.

  30. Adam, I would trust your bishop’s direction in asking you to teach this class. Obviously he has some insight and feels a need in your ward. With all due respect to the ‘former bishop’ he is not in a position of making that call, any more than I am as a former bishop. As a footnote to history, let me say Family Services was an incredible resource for me and I have the highest regard and respect for the good things they do. I could not have done my job for 5-1/2 years without them, I am not sure how developed Family Services is in your part of the world. Do they even exist?

  31. It would seem that there is a straying from the materials recommended in the 2009-2012 General Curriculum for the “optional” Sunday School class on Marriage and Family Relations to materials that have been developed for a different purpose. I can’t guess the mind of the Bishop, but using the Strengthening Marriage Resource for Couples guide would be like a Gospel Doctrine instructor using a CES manual for teaching Sunday School rather than the Gospel Doctrine Teachers Manual. It happens, and it may not be a bad thing, but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for it. Good Luck!

  32. Ah, CES. Now that is a group I love. These are the guys who have writen a 45 page hatchet job on Richard Bushman’s “Rough Stome Rolling” and circulate it privately among themsleves and will not allow anyone to respond to it especially Brother Bushman — very honorable!

  33. I’ve been trying to think of specific things I’d like to see addressed in a sunday school/marriage class. I’m having a hard time thinking of specific topics, but like MH said, whatever the topic is, it would be nice to have some real world examples of how to apply the topic, and then maybe have some kind of take-home assignment that we could work on (like the way we communicate with each other or something) and then each couple could report back the next week with how the experiment worked in their marriage.

    My bishop recommended the movie “Fireproof” recently, so we rented it from netflix, and while it was incredibly cheesy- aside from the coffee, tea and giant cross, it could have been an LDS movie, but I liked that it had specific things for the partners to do to improve their relationship.

    I don’t need to hear more about how my relationship could be better, I want to learn things that I can actually DO to make it better.

  34. The “In Praise of Bishops” post reminded me that there is an excellent book by Mort Fertel called Marriage Fitness. I think this is an excellent resource–a used one is available on Amazon for just $4.40. This will give you some actual take-home exercises, and I heartily recommend the book. Check my blog for a couple of reviews.

  35. MH – Thanks for the recommendation–I’ll look into the book. I probably have 10-15 marriage books at home, but not that one! 🙂

    “I don’t need to hear more about how my relationship could be better, I want to learn things that I can actually DO to make it better.”

    Allie – good point. I will try to only briefly cover WHY relationships have problems, just to set the stage, and then focus more on what we can do, keeping in mind that learning things in a class and then attempting to apply them at home can only go so far.

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