- "If you do not have a number of married couples in your life who can be a witness of the ups and downs and ins and outs of marriage, then the idea of a happy, lifelong marriage feels unattainable." Tweet This
- "Having a trusted mentor couple to lean on when marriage is difficult—when you have a miscarriage, or lose a job, or when you are sick—changes everything" Tweet This
- "The reality is that marriage is both difficult and beautiful, a light in the darkness and never a path to be taken in isolation." Tweet This
In a world where many newlywed couples begin their marriage journey with few if any examples of lasting marriages in their immediate families and find themselves floundering in their attempts to build a healthier union, older married couples who have gone the distance can provide a much-needed lifeline of support and encouragement. One faith-based program that is working to connect younger couples with wise married mentors is Witness to Love. The program was founded by Ryan and Mary Rose Verret, the parents of five beautiful children, who spent several years interviewing hundreds of couples in their church community, including divorced couples, to find out what was missing from faith-based marriage prep programs. Through this process, they realized that the marriage preparation process needed to be revamped to become more “relational” and include the entire church community and especially mentorship from other married couples the young couples already admire. Recently, I interviewed Ryan and Mary Rose about their important work to bring younger and more seasoned married couples together to strengthen families, churches, and entire communities.
Alysse Elhage: I’m curious to learn more about both of your family backgrounds and whether what you saw in your own parents’ marriages growing up had a big influence in inspiring you to found Witness to Love?
Ryan: I think we would both agree that our childhood, teenage, and young-adult years had a significant impact on the vision behind Witness to Love. I have parents who have been married nearly 50 years at this point. Mary Rose did not have that privilege (she will explain more about that, later). But we both grew up seeing and understanding firsthand the hard work, sacrifice, and bond that is needed to live out a marriage that not only survives but thrives. Neither one of us was sheltered from the challenges that couples face in life. On the other hand, we were not sheltered from the beautiful plan and enduring presence of God within a marriage and family that is founded upon forgiveness, sacramental grace, and virtuous generosity. Looking back to our childhood, I think we recognized, both in our own individual ways, a vision for marriage and family that can be possible even for those whose backgrounds appear to “fall short.” By the grace of God and within the context of many beautiful families and priests dedicated to healing and strengthening family life, we were introduced and welcomed into a place where we really felt at home and felt we belonged…
Alysse ElHage: Often, when we think of marriage preparation, particularly in a faith-based setting, we think of a few pre-wedding classes with a priest or pastor, but you incorporate much more into your programming. Give us some examples of the marriage enrichment programs you’ve launched as part of this ministry.
Ryan and Mary Rose: At the heart of all things, Witness to Love is the essential element of friendship. For example, since the early days, we saw that the entire success of the engaged couples’ experience flows out of the generosity and kindness of the mentors who “freely choose” to walk with them, not just to their wedding day but for the years to come. Through Witness to Love’s marriage enrichment initiative, “Be Light,” we are not only providing content for married couples but forming them to become individuals and couples who witness to the beautiful gift of marriage within their communities. “Be Light,” currently structured primarily due to Covid-19, is in the form of our virtual date night series, where almost 4,000 couples in 24 countries and 45 U.S. states are journeying together in small groups (virtually or in person) closer to Christ and closer to each other.
Ultimately, the mentor couples and the newly married couples become the beautiful and stronger fabric that their churches, communities, and our world needs.
Alysse ElHage: The way you incorporate mentor couples into your programs really jumped out at me as someone who comes from a divorced family. So many couples who marry today are doing so without much of a healthy family roadmap to follow because their parents are divorced. Why are mentor couples so central to your programming, and why is it important that the engaged or young married couples choose their mentor couple?
Mary Rose: Growing-up, I experienced firsthand the impact parental divorce can have on the young person's outlook on life and marriage. There is a relational and spiritual cynicism that sets in, and if you do not have in your life a number of married couples who can be a witness to you of the ups and downs and ins and outs of marriage, then the idea of a happy, lifelong marriage [feels] unattainable. It is the theme of movies and novels but not possible in real life. The reality is that marriage is both difficult and beautiful, a light in the darkness and never a path to be taken in isolation. When a couple becomes part of a community with other couples who have been married for a longer period of time, then they begin to see what marriage is really like. One of the unique things about Witness to Love is that they choose another couple whose marriage they admire. If they do not know anyone whose marriage they admire, then they choose from a group of couples that their church offers. The choice is so important for the longevity of the relationship. We say that in every successful mentor relationship, there should be an attraction, relationship, and trust. All three of these are vital ingredients for the relationship to be fruitful.
Alysse ElHage: Isolation is a problem in our culture and especially in many marriages today. And certainly this isolation is something that has worsened during COVID, with so many of us staying home and not going to worship in person. Why is community life in a church so important to helping couples have healthy marriages that can go the distance? Why does having that community support matter?
Ryan and Mary Rose: We love this question. It really gets to the heart of what we feel Witness to Love is offering, not only to the engaged, but to all of the church communities that we serve. Witness to Love is committed to serving the church as a tool of renewal that uses authentic, trusted relationships to accomplish this goal. We say often, in the training of clergy or church leaders, that human beings grow first and foremost within relationships. Additionally, feedback and full participation from all involved (engaged, mentor, or clergy) is like oxygen to these relationships. We were not designed only for rules but also for virtuous friendships to accompany and journey with us through our lives.
Alysse ElHage: What impact has Witness to Love had on the engaged or young married couples who’ve been involved? And how have the mentor couples been affected?
Ryan and Mary Rose: The consistent feedback that we’ve received is that the engaged couples are so closely bonded to their mentor couples that they now have people in their lives that they can lean on as they've never had before. Having a trusted couple to lean on when marriage is difficult, when you have a miscarriage, when you lose a job, when you are sick, etc. changes everything. We have heard story upon story where the mentor couples stepped in and helped their newly married couple when they had their first child, stories where five or more years after the wedding day they are still going to church together and sitting together, and stories where the mentor couple helps with the newly married couple’s children at church.
The mentor couples have shared that their first response to being chosen brought tears. Their own adult children had never said that they wanted a marriage like theirs or that they admired their marriage. Often, the mentor couple’s adult children do not go to church, and yet now they have this young newly married couple going to church and sharing meals with them. The mentor couple’s marriage takes on a whole new level of witness and involvement in the church community. There is positive pressure on them to strengthen and share their marriage. Every church has told us that the most incredible thing is that these mentor couples’ marriages are set on fire to become a light to their community like they've never seen before. Ultimately, these mentor couples and these newly married couples become the beautiful and stronger fabric that their churches, communities, and our world needs.