The national divorce rate for first-time marriages is 50 percent. Only 4 percent of couples who have gone through Dr. Byron and Carla Weathersbee’s marriage classes have ended in divorce. They must be doing something right.
Carla and Vice President of Student Life Byron Weathersbee began in 1995 to minister to engaged college students in Waco. They formed a small group and worked through issues that married couples face. They called it marriage preparation.
“If you could picture an oak tree, big roots strong trunks, lots of fruits. We see the family of foliage and the foundation is a strong marriage,” Weathersbee said. “The marriage institution is in need of help.”
Carla is the main force behind the program, which has grown into Legacy Family Ministries. Her experiences have helped paved the route they have taken.
“I think when our son was diagnosed with cancer when he was 2 years old, we saw the value of church and family,” she said. “A strong marriage is for life. Out of that time of struggle we saw the huge need for strong marriage and strong families. Then they can withstand when life comes hard at them …. Families and marriages are struggling. We wanted to do something about that.”
Their son, Bo, successfully battled
childhood cancer through two years of chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries.
The ministry has grown dramatically. More than 1,000 couples have gone through the program they call Counting Down.
Couples can take a six-week class, go on an intensive weekend retreat, or meet one on one with a mentor pastor. The courses are specially oriented toward men because, as Weathersbee said, “most guys get dragged to these things.”
Dustin King has gone through the program. His wife, Ashlie, is an UMHB alumna and was an intern for Dr. Weathersbee.
“This program was a great stepping stone in getting my wife and I communicating — not just about ourselves but things like financial planning, family life, getting into scripture and growing our relationship together in Christ, he said.
“I think that a majority of today’s culture sees marriage as something that can be done but can also easily be undone. I have learned that marriage is something that takes time and commitment to see the fullest potential. There will be times when things are not always the best but in the end the reward of knowing you have someone by your side all the way to the end is the greatest feeling.”
Sessions include discussions on in-laws, sexuality, money and conflict resolution. Carla believes leading the couples has also been beneficial to her relationship with her husband.
“Its hard to lead someone somewhere you’re not at yourself,” she said. “We really need to sharpen our own marriage as well. We can ask ourselves as we discuss issues, are we trying to do this to the best of our ability?”
The Weathersbees and other leaders in their organization stress that marriage is an important decision for the long term.
This belief hasn’t changed even as the culture they lead in has. Weathersbee says that more “good Christian” couples are co-habiting than ever before.
On the positive side, the idea of marriage preparation has become more common in the last decade. One possible explanation, he says, is that couples want to avoid mistakes of their parents or family members.
“Young couples really want their marriages to work,” he said. “They are eager to get a hold of tools that will help them.”
Small group sessions are not as enticing for pre-engaged couples. Couples who are not at a high level of commitment to each other are unlikely to consider meeting in groups about the possibility of getting engaged Weathersbee said. But he noticed that some pairs who entered the engaged classes were not really ready to be engaged.
He and Carla decided to write the book Before Forever for couples who haven’t “put a ring on it.”
“We just wanted to throw out some ideas to think about before they got to ‘will you marry me,’” he said.
Weathersbee interacts with students every day, and many students enter the marriage class. He understands the pressure students face to get married — and in a hurry.
“The average age to get married is about 26 to 28 across the nation. Most students graduate at 22 or 23. I think on a Christian campus, there is the hidden pressure of not only ring by spring, but ring by spring of your freshman or sophomore year,” he said.
“You’ve got to be whole and complete as an individual. And although there are some really smart students on our campus, I’m not so sure they are whole and complete or capable or reliable enough to launch into a marriage. I would almost say don’t get married in or right out of college.”
Carla also warns against this speedy track. Marriage is obviously an extremely important decision.
“Never be afraid to take your time. When a couple is in a rush to get married, that’s a red flag for me,” she said.
Her advice for couples; “Slow down. Take your time, and don’t let yourself be taken away by feelings and intense romance. Take your time and get to know the other person.”