Like a house, a marriage needs a solid foundation, says counsellor Jean MacKenzie.


Like a house, a marriage needs a solid foundation, says counsellor Jean MacKenzie.

November 3, 2014

Jean MacKenzie believes marriage is like a house. If the house's foundation is weak, the house will eventually crumble.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association of Canada (CPAC), MacKenzie said for couples to have a good marriage, the marriage needs a good foundation.

"To help people have strong marriages you must help people understand the elements necessary for a strong foundation," MacKenzie told marriage counsellors, psychologists, mental health therapists, nurses and social workers from several parts of Canada.

The association gathered at Newman Theological College in Edmonton for its Oct. 24-25 conference.

MacKenzie, a marriage and relationship counsellor from Nova Scotia and co-author of the marriage enrichment book To Know, Love and Serve: A Path to Marital Fulfillment, was one of six speakers to address the conference.

"If we are to say that the family is the foundation for our society, then it follows that there must be a blueprint to follow," she said. "People enter into marriage all the time, but many put more thought into planning the perfect wedding rather than planning for a lasting marriage."

In order to help couples have strong marriages, psychotherapists must help them understand the elements necessary for a strong foundation, MacKenzie said.

"The Church knows that society benefits from stable marriages but how do we convince the rest of the world? The world needs to know the reason why marriage matters."

People need to know marriage is important. "Marriage is not just for religious people; there is research documenting the significance of marriage."

However, even if people are convinced that marriage is a necessary element for a stable society, it doesn't mean they know how to fix it, MacKenzie observed.

"Couples need to know that even if their current relationship seems wrecked, they still can have a relationship that contributes to the foundation of our society."

As the theme of the conference was Strengthening the Family Foundation through Faith and Psychotherapy, MacKenzie gave participants some tips to help their clients.

Most people would never build a house without a proper blueprint, yet many enter marriage without considering God's design, she said.

"Our faith tells us that God provides the perfect blueprint for marriage," she said. "Marriage is a partnership for the whole of life, which is ordered for the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring."


Quoting research documents, MacKenzie said children are most likely to thrive economically, socially and psychologically in marriage.

"How do we practise being Catholic psychotherapists? One way is to present our clients with truth backed up with solid research," she said.

"When we build a house, we don't water down the material because that makes the material susceptible to cracking. Likewise, married couples are unaware of the ingredients for a strong marriage."

Quoting from 1 Corinthians, she said love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not irritable or resentful. "Love bears all things, believes all things and endures all things. Love never ends."

Six predictors of a successful marriage cited by MacKenzie are a high level of friendship, respect, affection, humour, charity and forgiveness. Couples must respect each other's needs, likes and dislikes, she said.

People need to know what kind of work marriage entails, she said. "Couples need to be educated about what it takes to make a marriage work."


The couple must learn to know each other well, their values, their changing views, and their definitions of a situation, in order to see each other clearly. "You can't love what you don't know," MacKenzie said.

"There always will be things that we disagree on, but love requires the ability to see things from the other person's perspective."

MacKenzie said couples must be in constant communication, bringing up their issues before the other rather than simply withdrawing. Communication is not only the art of knowing when to talk, but also of knowing when to listen or keep quiet.

"Conscientious homeowners take the time to inspect their foundation on a regular basis. Marriages need to be protected in the same way by checking in regularly with each other and establishing boundaries and setting goals for growth as individuals and as a couple," MacKenzie said.

"Couples who take the time to have intentional discussions on how the marriage is going are more likely to have a successful marriage."