Newlyweds Tap Mentors

Daily News, Los Angeles; June 22, 1997

by Carol Bidwell

By early next year, many newlywed couples will have guides to help lead them through the mistake-prone first year of marriage, courtesy of Pepperdine University and 15 Southern California churches.

The Malibu university's Center for the Family will sponsor a Marriage Mentors program that will pair a couple, happily married for several years, with each couple that gets married at each of the 15 churches. The object: to show the newlyweds where the marriage minefields are, said Dennis Lowe, the center's director.

"The 'veterans' will sort of walk alongside the newly married couple for a period of time," Lowe said. "We hope the long-marrieds can give the newlyweds a perspective on many of the situations they'll face and help them through."

More happy marriages and fewer separations and divorces should result as newlywed couples learn the art of compromise and how to argue without disastrous results, resolve money-managing techniques and cope with myriad other problems that face the newly married, he said.

The program, pioneered in Seattle, has resulted there in what appears to be a "significant" but as-yet-unmeasured dip in the divorce rate among young couples, Lowe said. It's also helped further cement the marriages of the mentor couples, he said.

Each of the local churches participating in the Pepperdine program has been asked to find among their congregations a number of volunteer couples equal to the number of weddings pastors expect to perform in the next year. The goal is to find at least 30 volunteer couples who, beginning in September, will undergo a short course in peer and marriage counseling. By January 1998, newlyweds can be assured of veteran shoulders to cry on over marital woes as well as a been-there, done-that attitude toward problems ranging from sex to money and everything in between.

"A lot of couples go into marriage with the assumption it'll be a happily-ever-after kind of thing," Lowe said. "That's not the case. And they're at a loss about what to do when problems occur. We hope the mentoring program will show them a way to handle those problems."

Even with the best mentors, though, there's no guarantee of having a lasting marriage, Lowe said. But here are some things that seem to work:

--Go into marriage with a strong love and a strong sense of commitment. Don't think, "Well, if it doesn't work out, I can always get divorced." If that's your attitude, you might as well call a lawyer right after you call the florist and book the church.

--Pack you sense of humor along with your trousseau. Be prepared to overlook you spouse's foibles or laugh them off.

--Compromise. Voice your complaints, but don't be sarcastic or hurtful. Respond to your partner's complaints, likes and dislikes to find a common ground.

--Develop shared interests. It's the things you do together that result in companionship that lasts for decades.

--Don't let babies, jobs and in-laws take up all you time. Reconnect with each other, emotionally as well as physically. Keep the romance alive, even if you have to hire a baby sitter and "date" one night a week.