By: Brigid Curtis Ayer
Noblesville, IN—Making a marriage work in modern times requires a novel approach. “It’s not a ‘her way’ or ‘his way’ approach that works,” says Dan Farrell, St. Maria Goretti parishioner, but rather a “third option” exists for couples who choose to activate a relationship-building way of life in their marriage.
The Third Option (TTO), a marriage ministry sponsored by the Carmel Deanery, allows couples build these skills through courses offered every Thursday evening at Guerin Catholic High School, in Noblesville. Third Option offers programs across the United States. To find a local Third Option group, go to the National Third Option Website.
- Not a “One Shot Deal”
“It’s not a one shot deal either,” says Farrell, but The Third Option provides an on-going series of relationship building skills to assist couples in their vocation of marriage. Farrell describes the ministry as a cross between a Marriage Encounter, enrichment weekend and a Retrouvaille, restorative program for troubled marriages ministry. While both of these marriage ministries are effective and worthwhile, Farrell believes TTO serves a niche for married couples not offered elsewhere. “Third Option offers training and support from other Catholic couples who are also working to improve their marriage,” said Farrell.
“If you stop to think about it, people get married without any real training to be successful at it,” said Farrell, who serves with his wife Kathy as a sponsor couple on TTO ministry team. The Farrell’s learned from participating in the program that marriage works best when couples apply basic relationship building skills.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel pastor, Father Richard Doerr, who acted as an instrumental agent in initiating TTO ministry said, “We looked at the rate of divorce in our country and the Carmel Deanery that are sadly very high. It was the desire of the priests of the deanery to minister in a special way to those experiencing marital difficulty,” said Father Doerr. “When we looked at the various programs that we could start, we chose TTO because it is ongoing.”
3. On-going Sessions Offered
Father Doerr explained that there are 14 sessions that repeat so that people can plug in immediately when a crisis occurs and continue coming when they can. “Many times couples with go through two complete rotations of the program. We liked the methodical nature of the program, stepping through all the issues of marital communication,” said Father Doerr. “We also wanted to tap into the marvelous examples of marriage in our parishes and TTO includes witness talks from married couples.”
Doerr said that the program has been working “marvelously”, for the attendees as well as the team of presenters. “It is also very inexpensive for the participants and we try to provide childcare.
“As a pastor I am so pleased that we’re able to provide a program that directly assists couples in need,” Doerr said. “I’ve heard such positive things about the program and how marriages have been saved.”
Mr. Farrell said, “Kathy and I have faced challenges in our marriage and overcome them with God’s help and counseling. We sought opportunities to work in ministry together and this seemed like a good opportunity to share the lessons we learned, the hard way, and God’s enduring love.”
Mrs. Farrell said, “We have benefitted ourselves as much, if not more than the couples we serve. We learn something new each week we attend to help out from the topics as well as from the other couples present.”
Mr. Farrell said, “There is a constancy with Third Option. Fourteen skills over 14 weeks. We only take about three weeks off between sessions. The program is ever-present to anyone who needs it, no need to wait for the next weekend program,” he said.
5. Learning To Have Success
Mrs. Farrell said, “I think the fact that it is a continuous giving and learning experience is key to the success of the program. The topics continually remind us of the ways to deal with challenges in our relationships. The weekly meetings keep us accountable to each other and the experiences of others help us to know we are not alone in our good and bad times. The other couples’ stories also encourage us in our marriages and give hope to those who are really struggling.”
Keith and Lorie Ingram, who serve as the Carmel Coordinators of TTO, didn’t realize they had any significant marital issues until they were invited to help launch the program. “Every couple has issues that they need to work through,” said Mr. Ingram. “For me, the area that I needed healing was in the area of my childhood.
“There were issues in our marriage that would come up that would really set me off,” said Mr. Ingram. “They had nothing to do with my wife Lorie, but had to do with unresolved issues during my childhood. The TTO helped heal those areas I brought into the marriage, and our marriage has only gotten better.”
As a team couple and coordinators for the program, the Ingram’s agree they have seen miracles happen in others’ and their own marriage.
Mr. Ingram said couples come to the Third Option for a variety of reasons. “Many come for marriage enrichment, other couples have already filed for divorce,” said Mr. Ingram. “Sometimes, only one of the spouses attends. And after a couple of weeks, we see the other spouse show up because of they are so impressed with how their spouse is changing for the better,” said Mrs. Ingram.
7. A Better Way To Live
Ingram explains that couples have choices. Married couples can 1) stay in a struggling marriage; 2) get divorced, or 3) reconcile and heal the marriage through The Third Option program, and in doing so gain lifelong skills for a happy, healthy, successful marriage.
Mr. Ingram stressed that the program offers couples confidentiality. “No one is going to be called on to share. We only know each other by first names, and attendees can remain completely silent if they want to,” he said.
Joe and Christine Hasto, who also work as a team couple, believe the program is an “incredible resource” for all married couples. “Real people, with real experience who have walked in similar shoes–that’s what couples will find when they come to Third Option,” said Mr. Hasto. “All married couples have issues, Third Option has taught us how to work through those and we have better, more fulfilling marriages as a result,” said Mrs. Hasto.
Deacon Mike Mescall, who assisted in the launch & supervision program, said his initial role was to develop long term sustainability and Catholic identity of the program.
Mescall believes the program’s success is three-fold. “First, we help couples see that change has to happen with the individual first, and can only happen with God’s help. Secondly, we help couples develop positive interpersonal skills and behaviors which leads to self-discovery and healing. Thirdly, the Christ-centered approach of the program brings God back into the relationship.”
Mescall said what has struck him the most about working with the program over the past year is seeing the “lightbulbs” of awareness going on with the participants. “Even when only one of the spouses attends, it can and often does draw the other spouse into a positive behavior change, and an interest in the program, based on the impact the program has on the one spouse who has been attending.”
9. Recognize Stages of Marriage
Mescall said each relationship goes through three stages: 1) Romantic phase, 2) Disillusionment, and 3) Mature Love Phase. “Typically couples are prompted to begin The Third Option when they hit stage two,” said Mescall. “Even though some couples may arrive in the disillusionment stage, couples that complete the program leave spiritually renewed both personally and in their marriage, and they are equipped to continue in a spirit of peace and joy on their marriage journey,” he said. “It has been truly amazing to witness.”
For more information including a schedule and meeting topics for The Third Option ministry go to www.carmelthirdption.com
To locate a Third Option group near you go to the Third Option National Website
Bill of Rights for Married Couples
As adult human beings in relationships we all have a Right
- To space and privacy
- To be different
- To disagree
- To be heard
- To be taken seriously
- To be given the benefit of the doubt
- To be told the truth
- To be consulted
- To be imperfect and make mistakes
- To courteous treatment
To hear the Podcast on The Third Option with facilitator couple participant Mike Ingram on Catholic Radio Indy. Click Here to Listen.