How to Strengthen Your Marriage When Your Spouse is Incarcerated

DSC00765I struggled with a title that would do justice in describing my experience volunteering as a relationship coach at a marriage seminar for 30+ couples in Lockhart’s Women’s Prison. What words could I share that would capture your attention to read and embrace the incredible impact that Greg and Melissa Alvis have every month on the couples who spend a full day in prison with the intent of strengthening their marriage.

Statistics show that the likelihood of a couple divorcing increases by 32% per year for every year that one spouse is incarcerated. With an average divorce rate already nearing 50%, you can safely assume that most marriages never survive through a spouse’s incarceration. Prison truly tests the strengthen of a marriage, and Greg and Melissa are slowing down that divorce rate to keep families not only surviving but thriving.

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The Ministry

Greg and Melissa travel the state of Texas with their self-created marriage strengthening seminar–knocking on prison doors and selflessly offering their personal testimony, program, and time. Spouses are invited to spend a Saturday with their incarcerated partner as the Alvis team and volunteers lead the couples through powerful material delivered in the form of lectures, exercises, and small group discussions. Oh, and the seminar ends with the couples renewing their vows! Wow, you can’t help but shed a few tears of joy.

DSC00786Greg and Melissa relate to these couples, because they are the heroes and authors of their own marriage story. The defied the marriages statistics. Greg was incarcerated for over 20 years, entering prison at the age of 26. Without a doubt, they struggled to keep their marriage alive, but their marriage survived 22 years of incarceration. They now have a powerful marriage testimony to share with other couples, who can travel their own path but end up in the same position as Greg and Melissa. Under the ministry of Ephesians 521, they taken their powerful learnings on the road, and the feedback is both emotionally moving and priceless.

The Ministry Impact

I could share my thoughts, impressions, and the words shared with husband, Darin, and me, but I’ll let the couples own words, in the form of direct quotes from the evaluation forms, sing praises for the program and its impact on their lives.

What was your favorite part of the day?

  • Spending time with my husband, incorporating God, being given healthy tools to meet our needs moving forward, and the volunteers’ perspective. Learning to love my partner the way he needs.
  • Tools on how to make my marriage better while incarcerated, because I was in fear of losing my husband.
  • I enjoyed the small groups, because we were able to learn more about each other’s needs.
  • Besides seeing my wife for a full day, receiving the training we both know will help us and the encouraging stories.
  • Renewing our wedding vows. I think it is exactly what we needed.
  • The renewal of our vows, because it was what we needed to move forward in our lives.
  • Looking into my husband’s eyes and holding his hands as we re-affirmed our love and commitment for one another.
  • Group discussions. I loved watching and listening to my husband talk about his opinions and feelings about our relationship, and it opened up our communication.
  • Spending time with my wife made us realize how important family is to stay together.
  • Enjoying my husband and renewing our vows and learning more about our needs and where we stand.
  • Eating lunch with my wife.
  • The gathering in small groups and finding out about others’ experiences.
  • The renewing of vows. I believe I have a new beginning in my life and my marriage.
  • Identifying personality types and traits. It seems helpful for day-to-day living.
  • Holding and touching my wife.
  • Spending the day bonding with my husband. We needed to have the physical touch.

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What is one thing you can take from the day that will help you move forward?

  • All that we have been through has made us stronger. Now we get to go from this with a stronger relationship and faith in one another…
  • I am not alone, and I have tools!
  • We’re not alone in our struggles.
  • Knowing how we still feel about each other in our relationship and what we have to look forward to.
  • Knowing we are not alone, and it’s only going to get better.
  • That my husband was committed to our marriage so much so that he put everything on hold in his life to be here with me, for us, for an entire day.
  • Listening to his feelings and working on his relational needs.
  • The book Growing Together as One. Learning about it and taking this advice home and practicing it towards our life.
  • Not lose faith in my spouse and enjoy life and the love we have for each other.
  • The actual real stories they spoke encouraged us.
  • To keep believing and staying together through it all–iron sharpens iron.
  • Knowing that I can move forward in faith and work with my husband and have a new relationship.
  • What my wife requires to feel loved.
  • Five love languages—learning to love him the way he needs.
  • Our commitment.
  • Recommitting and learning my husband’s feelings and our future is growing stronger.

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Importance of Marriage Support in Prison

Supporting any marriage is important, because so many relationships are at stake. If the marriage is strong, the family is strong. If the family is strong, the children are strong. If the children are strong, there is a greater chance the children will continue the legacy of a strong family. Keeping families together in a healthy marriage helps with mental health, financial security, and general well-being.

DSC00864AAs a marriage coach (www.shinecrossingsministry.com), I have a passion for strengthening marriages. As an executive volunteer with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (www.pep.org), I have a mind to invest in felons who will eventually be released and need a hand up. As a marriage volunteer (www.ephesians521.org), I have a heart to help prison inmates take what is surely a first big step in investing in their marriages.

The Future

If I had to boil it down to its core, what Greg and Melissa bring to prison for the incarcerated and their spouses is hope–hope that their marriage can not only survive but thrive. They are the walking testimony of this fact. Go back and re-read the messages from the couples. They primarily speak of hope for a better future in their marriages.

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There aren’t many ministries that have this magnitude of impact in just one day. If you are as moved as I am on what Greg and Melissa are doing in the local mission field, I encourage you to visit their website (www.ephesians521.org) and make a donation of any amount. They are funding these seminars, primarily from their own resources and could use your encouragement in both word and donations.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in premarital/marriage, finances, ministry, and leadership. She coaches individuals and couples to be the best versions of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

 

 

Use Your Strengths to Strengthen Your Marriage

Sandra Dillon: December 2, 2017


Marriage strongThere’s no such thing as a perfect marriage, but everyone can have a great marriage. Some struggling spouses may respond: “I don’t see how; my wife is the opposite of me” or “I just don’t understand how my husband thinks.” Hope lies in the fact that awareness and appreciation of individual strengths in the marriage can narrow any divide.  Who knows?  Maybe you will create a marriage that will be a shining light for others.

As a leadership coach, I help clients identify and drive on their personal strengths.  The CliftonStrengths Assessment (https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/) can identify and force-rank 34 potential strengths.  Your top 5 become your Signature Theme and can provide insight into what brings you the greatest fulfillment (Evans & Kelsey, 2016).  Your Signature Theme also becomes the basis of your worldview—the lens by which you evaluate and judge people, their actions, and the happiness of your relationships.

People who are like you tend to “get you.” We typically gravitate to people who share similar worldviews except in those instances were feelings of love, newness, excitement, and romance can cause us to choose someone who is different than us. In these cases, when the “love chemicals” dissipate, it is not uncommon that spouses question how they chose their mate.

Hope is just around the corner! Differences in individual strengths can help explain the emotional distancing, but knowledge of Signature Themes can also be the bridge-builder to greater harmony and closeness. There are no perfect marriages, because there are no perfect people.  However, couples who understand their own and spouse’s strengths can work as a team in bringing together the powerhouse of all their gifts.

How do you get started on this journey? Take the CliftonStrengths Assessment and get to know yourself. Share your top strengths with your spouse and learn theirs.  The more dissimilarity in your strengths rankings, the more likely you will have different priorities, perspectives, and skills.  Awareness building around strengths should increase patience with your partner, because you realize your partner is not stubborn, uninformed, or unreasonable.  Your spouse is only filtering the information through their own lens.

The next step is to brainstorm how each spouse can use his or her strengths for the benefit of the marriage. My husband and I only share the “activator” strength in our top 5, which means we are impatient with pause and want to lead and make things happen. We are focused on performance.  When we partner on a project, watch out world.  Many people probably feel left in our dust.

My remaining four top strengths are classified as either strategic or executing: (1) futuristic, (2) learner, (3) strategic, and (4) achiever.  All of Darin’s remaining strengths fall into either influencing or relationship-building categories: (1) communication, (2) woo, (3) connectedness, and (4) individuation.  Yes, “woo” is a strength.

When you look at how we apply our strengths, I’m the business leader, and he’s the sales leader.  When Darin and I disagree on a customer approach, I typically defer to Darin, because I know he has a greater strength to understand and connect with customers than I do.  When it comes to business strategy, I will usually seek Darin’s input, but he defers to me as that is my strength.  When we disagree, it doesn’t divide us.  We are instead grateful that we have so much talent spread across our marriage.

Take the CliftonStrengths survey!  Find out your strengths and share your top 5 with your spouse over a date night.

Reference

Evans, J., & Kelsey, A. (2016). Strengths Based Marriage: Build a Stronger Relationship by Understanding Each Other’s Gifts. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional leadership coach with an extensive background in premarital and marriage coaching, education, and mentoring. She coaches individuals, and couples, as well as facilitates relationship workshops.  She has a passion to help people experience outstanding marriages and relationships.  You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her website www.shinecrossings.com

What’s Your Favorite Marriage Tradition?

Sandra Dillon: November 26, 2017


How-To-Plan-A-Successful-Couples-Road-TripWhen asked, “What is your most important relationship?” many spouses respond, “My marriage.” When husband and wife agree and act consistently on that answer, I would expect them to have a solid foundation upon which to build a happy marriage.  The second question, “How are you investing in your marriage to strengthen it?” does leave some spouses wondering how to answer.  If you paused to think about your answer, you’re not alone.

Your pause doesn’t mean that you’re not investing in your marriage but perhaps signals that you’re not as intentional as you could be. If you asked my husband or me the latter question, we would answer, “Our annual Thanksgiving road trip!” With our children grown, we decided that Thanksgiving week would be reserved for our marriage strengthening.  No other family—just us!  Mapping out an itinerary taking us thousands of miles across several states, we start from home base or fly into a new city and drive in a big loop to eventually return home on Sunday following Turkey Day.

Our family knows that Thanksgiving week is reserved for strengthening our marriage with the Christmas holiday our designated time to spend with family and friends.  If road-tripping around the country during Thanksgiving week is not your ideal adventure, I would encourage you to get creative and think of a tradition or two that speaks to your likes.  If you currently have a tradition or think of one that excites you, please leave a comment.  You may inspire other couples.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional leadership coach with an extensive background in premarital and marriage coaching, education, and mentoring. She coaches individuals, and couples, as well as facilitates relationship workshops.  She has a passion to help people experience outstanding marriages and relationships.  You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her website www.shinecrossings.com