Keisha didn't think she'd be dating at this age. The 38-year-old was married for eleven years. Even when her marriage ended two years ago, she figured she and her now ex-husband would pull themselves together and eventually get back together. But that hasn't happened.
So Keisha started dating. She didn't really want a relationship at first, but instead sought men for the physical intimacy she missed from her married years. But that approach wasn't making her happy.
When a friend told her about the Family Bridges' workshop on "How to Avoid Marrying Jerk or Jerkette," she decided to attend, hoping it would help her navigate this new dating season.
“I realized I was the jerk in my relationships,” Keisha said. She realized she’d been demanding and selfish with men. “It was hard to realize, but at least it’ll help me if I get in another relationship because I won’t behave the same way.”
The class taught Keisha the need for compromise, the importance of listening, and the right pace for a healthy, lasting relationship. Keisha now realizes that having sex too soon sets the relationship up for failure.
Thanks to the class, Keisha says she's better able to weed out guys who aren't healthy for her-and to do so quicker.
Today Keisha enjoys better conversations with men, as well as improved communication in all her relationships. "We learned the art of just dealing with people," she says. That knowledge will serve her well no matter who she meets in the future.
Tracy knew she has a great husband; she didn't need the Family Bridges workshop to tell her that. But she was hoping for help in creating a united front with Joe, her husband of 32 years, when dealing with their children. Lately their two kids had been disrespecting Tracy, and she wanted more back up from Joe. These interactions were creating stress in their relationship.
So when they saw the ad for the couple's workshop, they decided to sign up.
At the workshops, Joe and Tracy learned good communication skills, such as the importance of not interrupting each other, of respecting one another's opinions, and of sometimes simply agreeing to disagree.
Through the workshops, Tracy and Joe learned a lot about each other. "I learned my husband trusts me and is grateful I'm loyal to him," Tracy says. She said it was great to hear specific things he appreciates about her. And she enjoyed the chance to thank him for his thoughtfulness.
“The opportunity to affirm each other made us feel even more confident of our relationship,” Tracy said. Tracy also feels that Joe supports her more now with the children. “It’s not just me anymore. He’s taking a more active role with the kids now too.”
Overall Joe and Tracy think the workshops provided several helpful marriage tools. "Even if you don't have a lot of issues in your relationship, a class like this can be a really helpful thing," Tracy says.
Anthony and Paula met through mutual friends. After dating for a while, they lived together for three years. It wasn't an easy relationship. Paula worked two shifts, Anthony was insecure and jealous, and neither of them were very responsible.
Tired of the conflict and wanting more freedom, Paula left Anthony. She eventually came back, and after three more years together Paula became pregnant. At that point, Anthony and Paula decided to get married.
After the wedding, their problems continued. Due to domestic violence, Paula left again. She sought help at a Family Bridges. Four months later, Anthony and Paula started attending the workshops.
Through these classes, Anthony and Paula got motivated to rebuild their marriage, and they gained the tools to do so. Today they have better communication and more agreement. They make time for each other and make their decisions together.
They've seen a tremendous transformation in their relationship. Not only have they created a better quality of life for themselves, they've done so for their children as well.
Anthony and Paula realize they need to continue this healing process, but they know these classes are the beginning of their restoration. Their advice for other couples in conflict? "You need commitment to attend the classes and perseverance to change. It takes time." They're grateful they decided to take that time in these Family Bridges programs.
After 27 years of marriage, Angela thought she knew all there was to know about her husband, Ted. She certainly knew he'd never agree to attend a marriage conference.
So when Ted agreed to attend a Family Bridges' workshop the night before it started, Angela was shocked. And delighted.
Once they were at the workshop, she also became surprised by all the things they learned about each other. They realized how often they misinterpret what the other is saying. Angela learned about things in Ted's past she'd never known about before.
The couple also learned tips for resolving conflict. In the past when something bothered her, Angela often avoided Ted. Now she knows how to communicate her concern in a neutral way. Ted, who can sometimes be hot-tempered, learned ways to keep a disagreement from escalating out of control.
Angela and Ted had desired this kind of change for years. Neither of them had good role models when it came to marriage. They're both children of divorce and pledged they wouldn't put their own children through what they endured. Though they stayed together, they admit they hadn't been happy for years.
“There were times when I wasn’t even sure that Ted still wanted to be married to me,” Angela said. “I was insecure in my marriage, but I left that conference secure in our relationship and our love for each other. I know now that we’re striving for the same goal: a happier marriage.”
Kevin and Andrea moved to the United States four years ago to start a new life together. They were newlyweds who had met and married when they were grad students in Mexico. They settled in Chicago right after the wedding-excited, in love, and completely unprepared for all the changes they were facing.
Kevin had lived in the U.S. before, and he had family who lived here. Because neither of these things was true for Andrea, she had a more difficult time adapting. The couple struggled with managing finances, adapting to the culture, communicating effectively, and making decisions. Both Kevin and Andrea consider themselves perfectionists, and they both wanted to be the leader in their relationship, which created conflict.
For all these reasons, they argued a lot, grew less tolerant of each other, and began to lose trust in each other. The unresolved baggage they both brought into the relationship only exacerbated the problems.
When Kevin and Andrea realized they needed help with their relationship, they contacted Family Bridges. The couple started attending marriage workshops, and noticed improvement in their relationship immediately.
The program has taught Kevin and Andrea how to communicate effectively by establishing dialogue, expressing clearly what they want, and negotiating with each other. Besides communication tools, they also learned about money management.
Though Kevin and Andrea are busy working and attending school, they consider the relationship classes a top priority. They're still working on their relationship, but say that thanks to the Family Bridges workshops, their marriage is now 1,000 times better.
Oscar and Susana got involved in Iglesia Evangelica Kildare for the sake of others. They agreed to attend the first workshop to appease Susana’s parents. They brought other couples who might benefit from the class, and also to the additional workshops they attended. The program inspired Oscar and Susana to start a couples’ ministry at the church they pastor together.
But the blessings to their own marriage came as a surprise to Oscar and Susana.
The program took them back to when they were dating, reminding them of how and why they fell in love with each other. The workshops rekindled their shared dreams and their desire to be with each other all the time. Oscar and Susana felt they were given the tools to fall in love again, and the result was a fresh beginning for their marriage.
As the couple learned techniques for better listening and talking, they found their communication with their children also improved. They learned to listen better to each other’s needs and wants—and to those of their children as well.
In the marriage ministry they launched at their church, Oscar and Susana share the techniques they learned at the workshops, seeking to motivate couples to make time for each other and to work toward a healthier and happier relationship.
Oscar and Susana are very thankful for the tools the workshops provided for their own family and for other families in their congregation and neighborhood.
Janeace, a 45-year-old single mom, wanted to make sure she was on the right track. She’d been seeing her boyfriend, Mark, for about a year and they’d begun discussing marriage. But they also argued a lot. Was marriage a wise decision for them?
So when a friend of Janeace’s invited her to a four-week class at Life Center Church, entitled How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk or Jerkette (part of Family Bridges’ Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge, or P.I.C.K., programming), she agreed to attend. So did her boyfriend, Mark. They saw the class as a form of pre-engagement counseling. And they welcomed the insight this workshop would hopefully bring.
Both Janeace and Mark found the class really helpful as it sparked conversations about topics such as communication and values and decision-making. They had tried to talk about these important relationship issues in the past, but the conversations always seemed to turn into an argument when one of them brought up the topic. But in the workshop, with their teacher introducing these issues and guiding them through the conversation, the discussions were much more productive and fruitful.
“It really improved our communication,” Janeace says.
The couple also learned about the stages of a healthy relationship—how it’s important to get to know someone, then start to trust that person, then begin to rely on the person before getting to the stage of physical touch and intimacy. They learned that introducing intimacy too soon can throw everything off balance.
“We learned we didn’t start in the right order of that relationship building,” Janeace says. “So we tried to backtrack a little and focus on getting to know each other more than we had before. We really tried to listen and understand one another more.”
The class also discussed the need for balance in many key areas of the relationship. For example, if one person is really controlling or really submissive, that creates an imbalance. Using a diagram of a wheel with spokes, the teacher spoke to the fact that anything at the end of the spokes (which represents extreme personality or behavior in some area) creates a lopsided and ineffective wheel. Instead, she encouraged students to move toward the hub, or the middle ground, where there are fewer extremes, less imbalance, and where a healthier relationship is more feasible.
Janeace says she and Mark identified a couple areas of imbalance in their relationship and talked about ways they need to change or compromise to create a healthier relationship.
As a result of the workshop, Janeace and Mark have slowed their relationship down a bit. They’ve chosen to take the time to get to know one another well, knowing that’s the foundation of a healthy relationship.
Mark is trying to get some of the teenagers he interacts with as an outreach worker to attend a future workshop on How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk or Jerkette. Mark and Janeace also encouraged their teacher to develop a follow-up class.
Whatever the future holds, they know their relationship is stronger now, and that they have better skills and tools for building a healthy relationship.
Even though they had been married for 27 years, Antonio and Regina were often fighting. So when they heard about Family Bridges, they decided to give it a try, hoping it would improve their relationship.
The program helped the couple tremendously with their communication. Antonio now recognizes that he didn't know how to talk to his wife. Before, he was demanding and argumentative; now he's polite, always saying "please" and "thank you."
Regina says she understands her husband better now, and even gets along better with their sons. Antonio and Regina, who are originally from Peru, say the program gave them a deep respect for the differences between men and women-in values, characteristics, and communication styles.
The couple has been involved with the program for three years now, and it has given them tools for better communication. They learned negotiation skills, techniques for communicating what they mean, and the importance of listening.
The program also challenged Antonio to examine his priorities. In the past he was only focused on his job. But the workshops taught him to have balance, to take time for his family, and to reexamine his values and foundation. He says the program has been a blessing to both him and his family.
All this learning has enabled the couple to help other people, including their three children and five grandchildren. Antonio and Regina say the results of Family Bridges programming in their life have been incredible.
Raul and Elianna came to St. Pius for help navigating their divorce. Specifically, they wanted help preparing their children. At that point, divorce was about the only thing Raul and Elianna agreed upon.
Due to generational problems in his family, Raul never learned to express his feelings. His past suffering made him seem strong, but his troubled family still had a strong influence on him.
Raul and Elianna felt very different from one another. Raul was permissive with their kids, and Elianna was strict. The entire family was frustrated, and Elianna wanted to leave. Raul didn't believe in counseling, so help was out of the question. Then, 15 years into their marriage, the couple was rocked by infidelity. Divorce seemed inevitable.
But the teachers at St. Pius sent the couple to a year of classes about domestic violence, the differences between men and women, and effective communication. Their children attended some classes too.
At the classes, Raul and Elianna learned alternatives to their negative patterns. As their hearts softened, they started to change. Eventually they forgave each other and started falling in love again.
Then Raul and Elianna began attending a Family Bridges' couples class, where they learned effective communication as well as the ingredients they consider key to their marriage's restoration: perseverance, love, seeing the good in the other person, determination, knowledge, and recognition of individual mistakes.
Today Raul and Elianna mentor other couples. And two years ago they renewed their marriage covenant-in the very church where they sought help for the divorce they're glad they never got.
Thirteen years into their marriage, Patrick and Sophia were about to call it quits. Their relationship was plagued by bitter fights and domestic violence. In a last attempt at change, they began attending St. Pius Church, where they were referred to the Family Bridges' couples workshops.
Patrick was impressed with the workshops. Everything the instructor said applied to his life. The teachers challenged him to change and gave him tools for more peaceful and productive communication.
Sophia was also encouraged by the workshops. Through the classes, she learned to better understand men, especially the "machismo" mindset. She met other women with similar struggles in their marriages, and they were able to encourage and learn from one another.
With all of this training and guidance, Patrick and Sophia experienced improved communication and restored trust. They even started going on dates again. As their bond with each other strengthened, Patrick and Sophia were also able to restore their entire family. They asked their daughters for forgiveness for their old behavior patterns, and a new healing work began in their family.
Now, four years later, Patrick and Sophia are being trained to work with other couples to offer them the healing and hope they've experienced in their own marriage.
“Before, I was completely unhappy,” Patrick said. “Now I am happy.” Sophia added “Before, I lived in darkness. Now I have light and a safe way to the future.”
To say that her work as a Family Bridges class facilitator has taken Sally Hale out of her comfort zone would be a bit of an understatement. In recent years Sally, a white woman from a small Nebraska town, has spent many hours in all-Black high schools throughout Chicago teaching girls the Family Bridges’ Love U 2 curriculum.
And while the work hasn’t always been easy, Sally says it’s definitely been rewarding.
The quarter- or semester-long classes equip students to make wise choices in romantic relationships. While Sally, a counselor at Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago, teaches the girls, a male facilitator teaches the boys.
At the outset of the class, Sally discusses good goals for the trajectory of the students’ lives: graduating from high school first, then going to college or getting a job, then getting married, and then having a baby. In these difficult neighborhoods, this life order is often a fresh concept.
“In many of the classes I’ve taught, about half of the girls have already had babies,” Sally says. “I’ll say, ‘But that doesn’t mean you can’t wait to have your second or third child until you’ve done these other things first.’” And she applauds that many of the girls who have babies have purposely come back to school to get their degree.
To help build on this positive decision, the Love U 2 curriculum challenges the girls to make healthy life goals, surround themselves with positive peers, and avoid guys who will only pull them down. In the process, they discuss tough topics like dating abuse, abortion, sex, and STDs.
At first most of the girls show resistance to the material. “But typically toward the middle to the end of our time together, there are a few girls who I can tell have made a connection—either with me or the material.” Some linger after class to ask a question or to tell Sally about some difficult reality in their life. In the latter case, Sally connects the students with a guidance counselor or other resource person.
Sally’s favorite success story occurred a couple years ago when an incident of dating violence was in the news between celebrities the students idolize—singers Chris Brown and Rihanna. “I didn’t even know who Chris Brown and Rihanna were; I had to look them up on the Internet,” Sally says with a laugh. “But once we started talking about their situation, many of the girls shared openly about violence in their own relationships, in their friends’ relationships, or in their families.”
Unfortunately, domestic or dating violence is so prevalent in many of these communities that most of the girls didn’t realize it’s wrong, that they can demand a relationship free of physical or emotional abuse, controlling behavior, or pressure to have sex or skip school. Armed with this new wisdom about healthy relationships, many of the girls broke up with their boyfriends.
Sally says Cornerstone’s affiliation with Family Bridges has provided ways for their center to get out into the community. “The heart of our mission is to serve the underserved, and we realize we can’t do that if we just stay in our offices. We can’t get these populations as easily to come through our doors. Family Bridges has provided additional ways for us to reach these underserved populations and has provided funding for us to do so. We’re really grateful.”