Love's Cradle
Mary Ortwein, MS

Learn how shared love for a child plus simplified Relationship Enhancement/MML
skills can build trust and commitment and nurture permanent bonds in low-income
couples. $100 spouse discount.

Love's Cradle was developed as part of an Administration for Children and Families (ACF) initiative to teach marriage and relationship skills to low income, low education, unmarried couples with children.   In 2004, ACF launched the daring Building Strong Families project to see if teaching marriage and relationship skills to vulnerable couples/unmarried "fragile families" could equip them to, quite simply, Build Strong Families - strong, stable, and lasting.  Maybe, even, to gain the skills and confidence to get – and stay – married. ACF selected three highly-regarded, research-validated marriage education programs (historically delivered to married or engaged, middle-class couples) to be reformatted at a 5th grade level – to be made more accessible, easy to learn and easy to teach.  Relationship Enhancement (RE), the classic marriage education program created by Bernard Guerney, was one of three programs selected and Mary Ortwein was selected to transform RE into what became Love’s Cradle.


Love’s Cradle has since been presented to 9,000 low-income couples in 28 federal Healthy Marriage, Head Start, and Fatherhood Initiatives!


The core 16-hour program combines Bernard Guerney's 10 Relationship Enhancement skills with 8 high-interest, experiential activities. Ten boosters sessions provide 10 additional activities and skills review. The program is also available in Spanish and is rated to be highly compatible with Latino culture. Cost is only $9 per couple when materials are purchased in quantity. Video and teaching aids are available.

The program is focused on teaching couples – most of whom did not spend their childhoods in two-parent, happily married homes – how to build the kind of families they would like to provide for their children and the kind of relationships they, themselves, would want to stay in, forever. The couples love the class. They report that they use what they have learned, strengthen their relationships, come back for more, and recommend the class to their friends.  And, they say things like, "I never thought real love and marriage were possible for me. I didn't even want to be married. Now I see loving my baby's father is the best way to love my baby."

Who should attend?

  • Anyone who works with low-income couples and families: Headstart staff, Fatherhood programs, health departments, home visitor programs, preschool counselors, social workers, child abuse staff, family life educators, volunteers and lay educators in congregation or agency settings – anyone with a passion for ministering to young, struggling (and, often unmarried) couples.
  • Those who provide parenting classes or other services to low income families with young children, but who do not yet include relationship/marriage education. Love’s Cradle, focused on building a family around a couple's shared love for their children, is a great program to start with.
  • MML (Mastering the Mysteries of Love) program leaders who would like to expand to low income couples
  • Therapists who work as part of Family Preservation programs or in agencies that serve at-risk families.  
  • Administrators, policy makers, and grant writers who want to include family-building programs in future agency projects.

What will I be authorized to do when I complete the Institute?
You will be authorized to teach the 16 hour Love's Cradle program, the 10 booster sessions, and to order Love's Cradle materials. You can advertise yourself as an authorized Love's Cradle instructor and you can list yourself for free as a Love's Cradle Instructor on the IDEALS website:  You will also be able to add Ready for Love (our parallel program for singles/individuals) without any additional training expense through free teleconference/bridgeline trainings offered by IDEALS.

A Trainer-of-Trainers track is also available by which you can become certified to train Love's Cradle instructors in your community. See <>  for information.

What are the prerequisites for attending this training?
There are no prerequisites for attending the Institute.  

What materials are included?
All attendees will receive the Love's Cradle Leader’s Guide for both the core Love's Cradle program and booster sessions, a Participant's book, masters (with permission to copy) for the Experiential Activities, and a set of Expression Skill Practice Cards.  Videos, powerpoints, and other teaching aids are available for purchase.  You will be eligible to participate in a variety of free support activities from IDEALS, including Marketing materials, client newsletters, and follow-up bridgeline discussions with others who use Love's Cradle.

What have participants said about this training?
"I loved the variety of training methods: lecture, demonstrations, practice, experiential activities. I never got bored. There was always something new and fun to do."

"I enjoyed Mary's stories. These are real solutions for real couples I work with."

"This is practical stuff. I can take it home and use it."

"I had already reviewed the program, but in the live training, Mary gave new meaning to the lessons.The demonstrations of the activities were invaluable. All of the abstract concepts were simplified. Our clients will be able to use these skills in their daily lives."

"It was great to learn a program that meets the needs of families I work with – presented by someone who knows and loves families like my families. There is such a deep respect for the couples in this program – no talking down, but rather a joy at being with."

What’s the difference in Love's Cradle and Mastering the Mysteries of Love?
The Mastering the Mysteries of Love program also grew out of the ACF/BSF project – each has been reformatted by Mary Ortwein to teach Bernard Guerney's Relationship Enhancement in simple language, with engaging activities.  The difference is on focus and pacing.

Love's Cradle begins with, banks on, a couple’s shared love for their infant or preschool child and builds on it - expands their shared love for their child to include the two of them and their relationship. It teaches basic speaking and listening skills. It adds activities that target the development of good problem solving skills – especially those to look at an issue from more than one perspective and to follow through once agreements are reached. It teaches how bonding feels (good) and how commitment behaves (reliably) by focusing on building trust, seeing themselves as a couple, parenting together, talking about money, and working with ex's, parents, and social support networks. In teaching the course, we're also finding that the learning of core interpersonal skills generalizes to participant's lives: helps them break the multiple-partner pattern, get and keep jobs, stay out of court, etc.
Love's Cradle is activity-based – experiential learning for a population that is more about action than words. Couples do something different every 20 minutes.

Mastering the Mysteries of Love (MML) assumes more understanding of bonding and commitment and greater competency in basic communication and takes those skills to new heights and depths.

Spanish and African-American Couples
Love's Cradle is being used across the country with both Hispanic and African-American families.  Our research project in Texas works with both immigrant and second-generation Hispanic families. Projects in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, and California use Love's Cradle successfully with African-American, Hispanic, Native American, and Caucasian couples. Videos feature African-American, Hispanic, and Caucasian couples.  All participant (and almost all leader) materials are available in Spanish, including the videos.  Hispanic and African-American trainers and consultants are available on the IDEALS website. 

About Mary Ortwein
Mary Ortwein, MS, LMFT, is Executive Director of IDEALS of Kentucky and co-author with Dr. Bernard Guerney of the MML Series of RE materials, including Mastering the Mysteries of Love, Love’s Cradle, Ready for Love, Mastering the Mysteries of Stepfamilies, Mastering the Mysteries of Sacramental Love, the Happy Hometown Marriage Education Kit, and Mastering the Magic of Play. A licensed marriage and family therapist, she is also the mother of two grown sons, and a grandmother. Mary has a BA from Transylvania University in elementary education and a MS from the University of Kentucky in Family Studies. She is a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) and a Marriage and Family Therapy supervisor in training. Before coming to IDEALS of Kentucky, Mary taught elementary school seven years, was a full-time wife and mother when her children were small, directed several federal pregnancy, homeless, and VISTA programs, founded SIMON House, was Family Ministry Coordinator for the Catholic Diocese of Lexington, and worked as an in-home therapist, a case manager, and supervisor of mentor and in-home programs for the IMPACT and IMPACT Plus programs in Lexington, Kentucky. IDEALS was founded by Bernard Guerney, PhD, the creator of the Relationship Enhancement program, the foundational program of Love's Cradle, MML, etc. 

For additional information about Love's Cradle or Love's Cradle training visit the IDEALS website:

Mary Ortwein, Executive Director
Institute for Development of Emotional and Life Skills
Work:  502-227-0055
C: 859-806-4484

This institute is part of the week-long Smart Marriages conference.

Register for the Institute and the Conference: Click for Information on Conference Details, to download a conference brochure, REGISTER ONLINE, hotel & travel information & discounts, etc.

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