Lasting love

"Lasting love" Continued...

Issue: "Iraq: Unity in adversity," Feb. 12, 2005

They don't recommend it.

But American culture does. A booming marriage-therapy industry encourages warring partners to seek first their individual happiness. Hollywood tries to normalize divorce, populating casts with characters who've split or are splitting. Even bumper stickers celebrate divorce with slogans like "I miss my ex, but my aim is improving."

"The societal model today is if you're not happy, well, just dump them, move on, and find someone else," said Ellen Purcell, administrative director and master teacher for the PAIRS Foundation, a marriage-education group in Reston, Va. Increasingly, PAIRS and other marriage-education and mentoring programs are battling against society's divorce-as-antidote message.

For example, Marriage Savers, a Bible-centered program, has trained mentor couples in 10,000 churches to coach other couples through troubled times. Meanwhile, more than 70,000 brink-of-divorce couples have attended Retrouvaille, a free, weekend program at which attendees learn from other couples who swerved to avoid divorce and rebuilt happy marriages. Eighty percent of couples that attend Retrouvaille decide to stayed married.

Divorce didn't cure Anthony and Mitchie Stewart. They remained on cordial terms as they shared custody of Jamal. By 2003, both were even engaged to marry someone else. But as their new nuptials approached, each wrestled privately with God.

One night after dropping off Jamal at Mitchie's house, Mr. Stewart went home, lay down on his bed, and cried. "I prayed and told God, 'Here I am about to marry [another] young lady, and I still seem to have feelings for Mitchie. I don't want to make a mistake. Show me what to do.'" He realized then that Mitchie was his wife, the woman he had made a covenant with.

Mr. Stewart didn't know it, but Mitchie had already had the same change of heart and had broken off her own engagement. And when Jamal, then 10, learned that his father wasn't going to marry the new lady, he told his mother: "Mama, my prayers have been answered."

Last year, the Stewarts made a very big deal out of Valentine's Day: They got married again at their home church, Bethel AME in Tallahassee. But not before attending a PAIRS class to learn how to work through struggles that once tore them apart.

PAIRS helped the Stewarts learn to communicate without the extremes of cold wars or fireworks. "It helped me learn to listen and not just hear, to really listen and take in what he's saying," Mrs. Stewart said. Her husband agrees: "We learned to try to come to a mutual agreement, and not just shut down. Now, if I have to take one step back to go forward, I say let's do that. I've learned to work toward the middle ground."

The Stewarts' advice to couples considering divorce? "Don't give up," Mrs. Stewart said. "You may not like that person right now, but you have to keep working at it. You just can't give up. It's not worth it."

Lynn Vincent
Lynn Vincent

Lynn is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and the best-selling author of 10 non-fiction books.


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