Servant Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2011; $14.99.
“Whatever you’ve been through, we have probably done even worse things to each other,” Greg and Julie Alexander tell readers of “Marriage 911.”
The book’s very title suggests that the authors intend to connect with readers who think their marriage “is in need of attention,” much like the Alexanders’ own marriage some years ago. Of course, they also welcome readers who will spend time with this small volume simply because they “want to hear our story” or “want to know more about what we do.”
The Alexanders’ story is about a marriage that surely must have seemed fine – and prosperous – to outsiders. But the couple grew more and more distant to each other over time. After affairs on each of their parts, they found themselves on the verge of divorce.
Today, though, the Alexanders speak of being “more in love with each other” than ever before. “You really can have hope, regardless of what you’re going through right now,” they advise couples.
The Alexanders founded The Alexander House apostolate, dedicated to marriage and family-life education and enrichment. They frequently address marriage conferences and seminars, and they are trained marriage coaches.
“Marriage 911” differs in a happy way from some books by husband-wife teams because each of the Alexanders truly serves as its co-author. The couple’s shared story is told from each of their perspectives. One knows at any given point which of them is speaking.
The book’s approach is autobiographical in large part. The authors share the story of meeting and dating during their college years and how their relationship took form in that context. Their storytelling holds the reader’s attention as they recall moving toward marriage, their early years as parents and their outward success in the workplace.
Too Busy for Marriage and Family?
One chapter about an earlier time in their marriage is titled “Making a Ton of Money.” During this period, with each of them extremely busy career-wise, they shortchanged their marriage. Julie writes of recognizing a similar pattern in the lives of many couples she works with today.
These couples “don’t know each other anymore, because they’re just too busy,” and “they hardly realize that they’ve defined marriage and family as unimportant,” she comments.
The Alexanders now have worked “with hundreds of couples” who reached the stage in their marriage of not wanting “to talk to each other anymore,” Greg notes.
Looking back today, the Alexanders feel they had little understanding during their earlier years together of what marriage is meant to be. Greg believes they looked at marriage in “exactly the wrong way, asking, ‘What is the marriage going to do for me? What is my spouse doing for me right now?’”
Julie says of that period, “We were taking what we could get from the other and stripping each other of dignity and worth.”
The Alexanders attribute the transformation and rejuvenation of their marriage to faith and God’s presence. Greg explains that earlier they “had no idea that there was a divine plan for marriage. We thought a marriage was all about us and what we wanted. What did God have to do with it?”
Rediscovering God–and Their Marriage
All of that changed when their marriage hit rock bottom. They were Catholics, but the conversion they now experienced seems to have been all consuming and energizing. So much of what they discovered in faith and in the teachings of the church on marriage, sexuality and Christian living was new to them and welcomed by them.
The couple came to realize, Greg says, that “when God is not number one in the marriage, we tend to make each other a god.” Then, if “the other fails you,” which will happen, “where do you turn?”
One of the couple’s “most important discoveries” was that “if God is at the center of our relationship, then our relationship with God has to be good before our relationship with each other can be good.”
The Alexanders are the parents of seven children. They posed a question for parents near the end of their book that I found thought-provoking: “Do [your children] think that marriage is one of God’s best inventions?”
Many readers will conclude, I am sure, that the Alexanders today are not at all the people they were when they first met. The Alexanders do not mean to suggest, however, that the process of moving, with faith, beyond the rock-bottom point that many marriages reach is easy. Their book’s Foreword by Curtis and Michaelann Martin drives this point home rather well.
“You would think that with God’s design for marriage clear in our minds it would make marriage easy. It doesn’t — it merely makes marriage possible,” the Martins write. They add, “You may think your marriage is hopeless, or even dead, but we have a God who has risen from the dead, and he lives to share his life with you.”