May 20, 2014 // Local

The Third Option builds better marriages

FORT WAYNE — Four Fort Wayne parishes — Our Lady of Good Hope, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Jude and St. Vincent de Paul — have combined efforts to offer a ministry of hope, healing and help for married couples. And those married from other area parishes are invited to participate as well.

“The goal of The Third Option is to build better marriages by promoting growth and reconciliation,” said Natalie Kohrman, the coordinator of The Third Option and member of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish.

“Each 14-session cycle,” she said, “covers a comprehensive set of tools that couples can use to develop better levels of understanding, conflict-resolution, and trust while also learning more effective communication skills.”

Kohrman works with Scott and Cathy McLeish of St. Vincent de Paul Parish as a trained couple at the meetings.

The sessions are held at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne on Monday evenings from 7-9 p.m. and attendees enter through Door No. 1, the main office.

“While this is not a counseling program, it does provide a peer-to-peer ministry in which couples can learn from other couples who have overcome marital difficulties,” Kohrman said.

Kohrman told Today’s Catholic the program is intended to help married couples whether they have been married a few years or many; whether both are Catholic or not; whether they are looking to build on a strong foundation or are in crisis.

“We are often asked if couples who are engaged or couples living together but not married can attend,” she noted. “Unfortunately, out of respect for the sanctity of Marriage and the spirit in which the ministry was created, this ministry is available only to those who are married.”

In explaining what happens at a meeting, Kohrman began with the second hour of the meeting. “During this time, a 25-minute workshop on one of 14 topics is given by trained volunteers,” she said.

The workshop offers tools and suggestions for how to deal with the common problems encountered in marriage. In addition, a trained couple also gives a witness on the same topic. The witness aims to connect with people on an emotional level. People can see themselves in the situations that the couples describe and may think, “Wow, if they can get through that, then maybe we can work through this.”

Kohrman said the witness provides hope — a glimpse of what it looks like on the other side of a marital struggle. “At the end of this hour, those in attendance are challenged to set a goal that they can work on in the two weeks between meetings,” she said.

“This is the heart of the ministry — offering people a chance to focus in on their marriage by putting it first and really working at it,” Kohrman said. “Goal-setting is always geared toward self-change which is one of the main premises of the program.”

Kohrman said the first hour of the meeting depends on whether it’s an attendee’s first meeting or not. Any newcomers are welcomed by volunteers and provided with a 50-minute orientation, which covers the basic premises of the program such as confidentiality and self-change. At the same time, those who have attended a meeting before quickly review the previous meeting’s topic in another room.

“Although no one is ever forced to speak, this is an opportunity  for  the  group  to  share

their struggles, realizations and progress,” Kohrman said.

Cathy McLeish described this first hour as “an opportunity to grow and learn by the sharing of struggles and victories of the other members of the group who are just beginning to use The Third Option tools. It is a time to talk or just listen, but most importantly to understand that we are not unique or alone. Every couple struggles with issues big and small, just like we do. The realization that others are with us and support us nurtures an atmosphere of hope.”

The Catholic faith is incorporated into the meetings. McLeish said, “Invariably when we, as a trained couple, share our witness, we never come out on the other side of our struggles without incorporating some aspect of our faith. With us, it has always come down to letting God help us in areas where our own efforts have gotten us nowhere. He has a great vision for married life as portrayed in the union of His Son and (His bride) the Church.”

“Inevitably when we are sharing our experience of small successes,” McLeish added, “we are directing people back to embracing the principles of their faith, which are foundational for finding the true happiness and purpose marriage was designed to bring about. In addition, the information given to and reviewed by the presenters has a section called ‘The Catholic Perspective.’ They are able to use in their presentation of the topics, that incorporates Scripture, the catechism and the teachings of the magisterium.”

McLeish told Today’s Catholic, “Scott and I are just an ordinary ‘learn by our mistakes’ couple that has continued to get back up again when everyday married life knocks us off of our feet. We have worked through blended family issues, serious financial crisis, extended family issues, addiction and recovery, raising teenagers and more. In our marriage, we have had standoffs dealing with control, parenting issues, boundaries, sex, the Internet, anger, you name it.”

McLeish said. “The Third Option continually provides us with insight and tools that allow the issues to become the enemy rather than each other. Life is difficult; and society with all its pressures does not often help us with that. Learning to listen better, show respect, accept responsibility and appreciate each other’s differences are just a few of the tools that have helped us to work as a team when problems arise.”

“Focusing on self-change, a foundational principle of The Third Option has us moving to the solution of problems rather than blaming each other or shoving things under the rug,” McLeish added. “The success we have found in implementing new ideas has relieved stress in our home, drawn us closer together as husband and wife and increased our faith in God’s perfect plan for the sacrament of Marriage.”

The meetings are open to any married person who believes that God’s grace is essential for building-up and healing his or her marriage. Attendees can come with a spouse or alone, can start anytime in the cycle and attend as many sessions as their schedule allows.

The sessions include or have included the following topics:

• May 5 — Building a climate of respect

• May 19 — Ending the blame game

• June 2 — Understanding expectations

• June 16 — Redefining the power struggle

• June 30 — Coping with control issues

• July 14 — Listening beyond the words

• July 28 — Appreciating personality differences

• Aug. 11 — Recognizing childhood/emotional baggage

• Aug. 25 — Handling anger constructively

• Sept. 8 — Speaking the truth in love

• Sept. 22 — Learning to fight fair

• Oct. 6 — Breaking the hurt cycle

• Oct. 20 — Practicing forgiveness and repair

• Nov. 3 — Rebuilding trust

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.