Alpha: The Marriage Course

Jan. 23, 2020 – The Marriage Course is a seven-session study for couples designed to help married couples strengthen their relationship. Full of practical advice, it covers: understanding each other’s needs, resolving conflict, discovering your spouse’s “love language,” recovering from past hurts, developing sexual intimacy, and improving relationships with others.

We will begin on Thursday, January 23rd at 6:30pm with dinner. The “discussion” part of the evening is done privately with one’s spouse—not as a group. Register below so we can plan dinner.

Weekly themes will include:

  1. Jan. 23: Building Strong Foundations
  2. Jan. 30: The Art of Communication
  3. Feb. 6: Resolving Conflict
  4. Feb. 13: The Power of Forgiveness
  5. Feb. 20: The Impact of Family
  6. Feb. 27: Good Sex
  7. Mar. 5: Love in Action

Early in 2006, Peter Drysdale decided that his 26-year marriage to Gill was over. “I guess the crisis was precipitated by the kids’ empty nesting,” says Peter, 57. “They’d settled and weren’t coming back. That left Gill and I to face each other.”

When they did, neither was surprised to find the connection was no longer there. They hadn’t resolved their marital differences along the way, just buried them. Money was a key problem area (Peter was a spender, Gill a saver). Their communication styles were another (Peter shouted, Gill withdrew). They had survived by carving out separate spaces. For chunks of the marriage, Peter had worked long hours while Gill brought up the children in their home.

The Drysdales looked destined to join the long line of couples who make January “divorce month”. (Divorce websites point to it as their busiest time, a combination of couples deciding to get through Christmas before making a clean break for New Year and others discovering during the enforced family holiday that they can’t take it, or fake it, any longer.)

Then some friends announced they were going on a “marriage course” that spring and invited Gill and Peter along. It involved seven weekly sessions at a church. “I was gobsmacked because their relationship was great – but they said the course was for anyone, however long you’ve been married and whether you’re happy or not,” says Peter. “We weren’t churchgoers and I didn’t want to be preached at. I didn’t like the idea of airing dirty linen in public either. I wasn‘t keen—but Gill wanted to give it a go. I thought, I’ll go and prove it’s over.”

The course began in 2006 at the Holy Trinity Brompton, the church that is also home to the Alpha course. It was devised by Nicky and Sila Lee, largely as a resource for church members, but its appeal widened as word spread.

When Nicky joined Holy Trinity in 1985, part of his work involved speaking to couples about to get married. He and Sila then devised a marriage preparation course that took off. “The content was a combination of our own experience, what we’d found helpful, and advice we’d picked up from older married couples,” says Nicky. “It was wonderful; we loved it. But having a room full of engaged couples who were in love and hopeful was one thing. We wanted to reach those a little further on, when the rose-tinted glasses had come off. That’s how the marriage course came about.”

There’s no airing of dirty linen. It’s set up as a kind of date night, one evening a week for seven weeks. You sit in a room full of other people, but you eat dinner and talk between just the two of you.

Afterwards, you listen to presentations, issues are raised, then you and your partner discuss and complete the exercises at your table. “Privacy has always been important, there’s no group sharing,” says Sila.

There is a separate theme each week. The first is building strong foundations—that’s prioritizing one another, having special time together. Next is the art of communication, which focuses on learning to listen, followed by resolving conflict—how to argue effectively. Session four is the power of forgiveness, and the fifth explores the impact of family, past and present to understand how one other’s backgrounds and extended family shape who and how they are.

Good sex is sixth. “We leave that second to last because people think that if they get the sex sorted out, everything will be fine,” says Sila. “Actually, all the other issues need to be in place.”

The last session is love in action. The premise here is that we all tend to have different “love languages”—we show love in different ways, so don’t always recognize it when our partner shows it to us. It could be through words, time, gifts, touch, or putting up a shelf.

So what happened with Peter and Gill?
Gill found the impact of the family sessions helpful. “We’d come from very different families,” she says. “I was from a family who weren’t particularly good at talking. We tended to bury things. Peter’s family shouted at each other a lot, but no one listened. The more we talked, the more all our differences made sense—and when we understood all that, suddenly they didn’t have to be a problem. We can compliment one another. Peter could encourage me to use money, to enjoy it. I could help him save it.”

“One of the tasks was to write down some times we’d felt loved by our partners,” says Peter. “I nearly ended up in tears. When I’d started the course, all I could see were our problems, the bad stuff. I realized there were times Gill had made me feel amazing – and some of them weren’t even that long ago. That’s when hope began.”

”Week by week, things were improving, we were getting closer, finding out about one another when, for years, we’d made assumptions about what the other was thinking and feeling,” says Peter.

”We started date nights – jazz clubs, stuff we’d not done before. When I’d met Gill, she was a folk singer in a band—that had all been forgotten along the way. Now we’re in a choir together. We have fun.”

Gill agrees. ”It’s totally different between us,” she says. “I can’t imagine being separate. If we’d divorced, we’d have taken all our problems with us wherever we went next.”

Excerpts taken from

Join us!

The Marriage Course will be offered at St. Jane’s beginning on January 23rd. Sign up below.