Selling Couples on Marriage - 12/27/06

Smartmarriages smartmarriages at
Thu Dec 28 14:38:06 EST 2006

Selling couples on marriage
By Jon Ward 
December 27, 2006

(Correction: Nisa Muhammad wants to point out that the $1.3 million is going
to the East Capitol Center for Change that is the sponsor of the couples
groups described in this article.  The $1.3 million is NOT going to Wedded
Bliss, Muhammad's program.)
The lesson would be how to keep "the fire burning," Nisa Muhammad told nine
couples at her Tuesday night marriage class in the District.

"I need this session," said Rossalyn Parks, whose boyfriend had yet to
arrive or call with an explanation. She was on fire, all right.

All nine couples were black, and most live in low-income neighborhoods in
the District or Prince George's County.

Mrs. Muhammad's "Wedded Bliss" program, which will receive $1.3 million in
federal money over the next four years, is aimed at helping black couples.

"We've kind of bought into the hype that marriage doesn't matter ... in the
culture, the music, the movie, on TV," said Mrs. Muhammad, a 49-year-old
mother of five who was divorced after 12 years and remarried last year.

Mrs. Muhammad said that TV provides an unrealistic portrayal of single
parents and that life is "very different if you're ... Tamika in Southeast

In this series, The Washington Times examines the changing views of marriage
and what institutions -- such as religious groups, government and businesses
-- are doing to preserve it.

Mrs. Muhammad's program is one of many that churches and religious groups
are using to strengthen marriages and foster new ones. Wedded Bliss is an
eight-week class that encourages couples to marry by helping them build
intimacy and teaching communication skills.

Airing grievances

At the Tuesday night meeting, Mrs. Muhammad -- who converted to Islam in
1980 and writes for the Nation of Islam's national newspaper, the "Final
Call" -- gave a short talk to the couples.

She then asked each woman to share her "vision" of their husband or

Ms. Parks' cousin, Deidra Arnold, a 40-year-old divorced U.S. postal worker,
said her boyfriend, Donald Aikens, a 45-year-old construction worker and
lifelong bachelor, loves to serve others.

"We can go to the store, Home Depot or whatever, and he helps everybody,"
said Ms. Arnold, who got married when she was 21 and has a 21-year-old

The atmosphere in the room softened. The other couples, seated at tables
arranged in a horseshoe, thought about what they would say.

"Great," said Mrs. Muhammad, wearing a dark green suit and a matching head
scarf. "Rossalyn?"

Ms. Parks, 40, hesitated. She and William Thompson, 40, also a postal
worker, began dating in August.

"I'm going to be honest with y'all. I am kind of angry with William, so I
don't even have a vision," she said.

Jamil Muhammad, a national spokesman for the Nation of Islam who helps Mrs.
Muhammad facilitate the class, jumped in.

"You're angry on the basis of sight," he told Ms. Parks. "You've got to look
into the future on the basis of vision."

Ms. Parks sighed.

"It's kind of hard to say," she said before opening up about Mr. Thompson's
work ethic.

"He wants to be at work every day. He'll probably have 1,500 hours of sick
leave, ready to sell some vacation time," Ms. Parks said, pausing for
several moments. "But I don't see him committing to a marriage by then."

"Ooh," whispered Mr. Muhammad, as if he'd been stung by a bee.

Mrs. Muhammad didn't blink.

"OK, well, we've got some work to do," she said. "Thank you, Rossalyn."

Then she was on to the next couple.

Later, Mrs. Muhammad said she has seen growth in Ms. Parks and Mr. Thompson,
who arrived at her class "with no sense of vision."

"We're trying to change the hearts and minds of people who look at marriage
in a negative way and say, 'You know, we have something to celebrate,' " she

Remembering religion

Churches and religious groups have always played a crucial role in
sanctioning marriages, encouraging them and providing couples counseling.
Marriage is an essential part of the three Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism,
Christianity and Islam.

But modern culture continues to question the definition and validity of

"Increasingly, it is not obvious to our young people, the singles, the
twentysomethings, why they should go ahead and get married," said Michael
Lawrence, associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in the District.
"That case has to be made."

Peter Murphy, family life director for the Archdiocese of Washington,

"The images of marriage are very negative," he said. "Couples think it's
going to restrict their freedom. ... There is fear of commitment to
something long term in a culture that is so short term and noncommittal."

In response, some churches are teaching more often and more robustly about
marriage and challenging teens and singles on their attitudes about

"We try to show that marriage is actually freeing and will bring life," Mr.
Murphy said.

Churches also are creating small groups for newly married couples, led by
older couples, and adapting counseling to meet challenges unique to second

Marriage, Christians believe, is primarily a way to imitate the Triune God.
Husbands are to love and lead their wives sacrificially, in the same way
that Jesus Christ died to save His church. Wives, equal in value but with
different roles, are to support their husbands.

"Marriage is a picture of the Gospel," Mr. Lawrence said. "Marriage was
created by God to help us understand that he loves us in Jesus Christ."

Marriage is also a "crucible" in which each person's weakness and sinfulness
is exposed, leading to repentance and change by God's power.

"God puts us with another person that is sometimes very different because it
forces us to put aside selfishness and pride," said Pastor Paul Petry, who
oversees family ministries at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. "If we fix our
eyes on Christ and make it a goal to love that other person in a sacrificial
way, there is something mysterious that happens, and that marriage becomes a
wonderful thing."

Judaism views marriage as "a relationship that is set apart from all
others," said Rabbi Jack Moline of the Agudas Achim Congregation in

"It is uniquely intimate and exclusive, and as such, it is a reflection of
the nature of the relationship between the Jewish people and God," he said.

For Mr. Moline and other rabbis, a Jewish wedding can be performed only if
the bride and groom are Jewish.

"All of the things that define marriage are matters of Jewish law, and
Jewish law posits that it applies only to Jews, and not to non-Jews," he

Many Christian pastors counsel against marrying non-Christians as well.

Muslims also see marriage as a fundamental part of practicing their faith.

"Marriage is the most important aspect of a Muslim life," said Imam Mohamed
Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, one of the largest mosques in
the area.

"The whole Koran talks a lot about marriage and the relationship between
husband and wife and the family," he said. "There is so much emphasis in the
Koran on teaching about this issue."

Mr. Magid said he began offering six-session, premarital-counseling courses
to couples a few years ago, when he saw a study showing that 33 percent of
Muslim marriages ended in divorce. But, he said, there are few mosques in
the United States that offer such counseling.

"The extended family in the countries of the immigrant [Muslims] creates a
very strong support network for young couples," Mr. Magid said. "Here in
America, there is no extended family. The wisdom has to come through a
structured counseling that tells them about communication, conflict
resolution, decision-making ... and also to talk about the issue of

Saving marriage

Michael J. McManus thinks churches are not only doing too little for
marriages, but in many cases, they are part of the divorce problem.

"Most churches are wedding factories today," said Mr. McManus, who created a
Marriage Savers program in 1986. "They have good intentions, but their
marriage preparation is not that helpful."

About 10,000 pastors and rabbis in 215 cities across the country have signed
an agreement to uphold higher standards for premarital counseling. Marriage
Savers focuses on marriage preparation, enrichment, restoration,
reconciliation of separated couples and counseling for stepfamilies.

Mr. McManus said his program has proven results. In cities where religious
leaders have signed "community marriage policies," divorce rates and
cohabitation rates are decreasing and marriage rates are increasing, he

"The churches need to do this work, but we need to do a better job," said
Mr. McManus, a nationally syndicated ethics and religion columnist who
attends Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda. "The disintegration of
marriage is the most important domestic problem of our time. It lies behind
so many other problems."

Ted and Peg Kupelian of Rockville have mentored 20 couples through the
Marriage Savers program

"I saw a lot of divorces at work," said Mr. Kupelian, 60, a public-affairs
specialist in the federal government. "This was one thing we could do
together to really make a difference."

Tim and Kristen Bibo of Baltimore had never met the Kupelians but traveled
to their home for eight weeks before getting married Oct. 28

"When you have people you're friends with ... there are certain barriers,"
said Mr. Bibo, 28, an analyst with the state government. "Meeting new people
that you develop a new relationship with, and you start it off with this
openness, is something you really can't do with people that you know."

Mr. Bibo said the Kupelians, who have been married 26 years, "really
challenged [us] about things that are going to be challenges."

The Kupelians took the Bibos through a 156-question inventory, going over
the answers to questions about all aspects of their life.

"We're trying to open their eyes so they know exactly what to expect, to
minimize surprises once they get married," said Mrs. Kupelian, who stayed at
home with the couple's two daughters and now volunteers at Bible studies and
in Montgomery County public schools.

The couples talked about how the Bibos would handle the demands of extended
family during the holidays and helped them work on a budget

"We want the trouble in our kitchen rather than in their bedroom or their
kitchen," Mrs. Kupelian said. "We don't want people to be afraid to have

Mr. McManus said most marriages fall apart because people "don't know how to
argue." Mrs. Kupelian said they teach young couples to "attack the problem,
not each other."

Mrs. Bibo, 31, who works in philanthropy, said she appreciated the

"It's a lot about being really intentional and having the space to do it,"
she said. "I loved the space of talking about marriage in its seriousness
and its difficulty. That gives you a sense of security, that it's OK if you
are fighting."

Out of the 20 couples mentored by the Kupelians, one has divorced, and one
is struggling. Three of the couples they mentored decided not to get

"I don't see that as failure," Mr. Kupelian said. "I see that as one less

Meeting in the middle

Ms. Parks married at 24. She and her high-school sweetheart divorced after
12 years, and she now has a 12-year old daughter.

Mr. Thompson has never married.

Despite her pessimistic comments at Mrs. Muhammad's meeting, days later Ms.
Parks said the program had "enhanced" her relationship with Mr. Thompson and
she is hopeful about the relationship.

Specifically, she said, the class helped Ms. Parks and her daughter, Angel,
to adapt to Mr. Thompson's three nieces and nephews, ages 20, 18 and 2, who
live with him and are often visiting.

"My daughter was used to going in the refrigerator, getting what she wants,
doing her laundry when she wants to," Ms. Park said. "They were teaching us
that we now are sharing our lives with others, and we can't be selfish."

Ms. Parks took notes during the eight-week class in a journal given to her
by Mrs. Muhammad. Mr. Thompson could not read it until the end of the class.

The journal -- and the conversations between her and Mr. Thompson during the
classes -- helped them grow much closer, she said.

"Now we're better equipped to communicate," Ms. Parks said. "I don't just
stay angry. We talk about it and we get through it. It's also good to know
that people are going through the same problems."

Ms. Parks estimates her chances of marrying Mr. Thompson are about 70

"I'm not saying we have to get married tomorrow, but you have to be open to
that idea," she said. "I don't feel like I'm running out of time, but I
don't feel like I have time to be wasting on a relationship that's not going

"I don't see him wasting my time, and I don't see him hurting me," Ms. Parks
said. "I do think he'll commit. My problem is, when?"

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