When my husband and I were first married, we had no idea what we were doing. I had just graduated from college, and we were both navigating the world of working full-time. We had dated for 4.5 years – much of which had been long distance – and this marriage thing was a whole new experience. And as it turns out, marriage was slightly harder than I anticipated as a 21 year old engaged girl.

Somehow, we have survived 13 years and we’re still married.

There are plenty of things that have benefited us in our marriage and helped us to stay married. I shared about some of those reasons a few years ago. However, one thing – and it’s not what I would have expected 13 years ago – stands out to me as a big reason why we are still married: COMMUNITY.

Shortly after getting married, we were invited to join a group of other married couples from our church that met for a weekly small group. All of these couples had been married longer than us, and therefore had more experience and could offer us support and encouragement.

Over time, some of these couples moved away or circumstances changed, but we always remained involved in a group of other people that included married couples. We have consistently spent time with these other couples, many of whom are slightly older and/or have been married longer.

Even though these groups have not been specifically about marriage, they have provided us with the guidance and HOPE our marriage has needed.

From these other couples, we learned about a marriage retreat which we attended almost every year since then. And last year, we ended up developing our own retreat which we could offer to other couples in our church, based on the retreat we’d been attending for several years.

All of these groups and retreats have given us the chance to live out our marriage in the context of community. When we have had challenges, we have always had a few couples that we could turn to for help. We have consistently been able to ask for prayer and/or meet with these close friends to discuss issues and concerns we have had.

One thing that is quite amazing looking back is that none of these couples that we have been in small groups with have ended up divorced. We hear so much about the divorce rate – and that the rate is just as high within churches – but I’m here to say that it doesn’t have to be this way. Marriages CAN work, and couples CAN stay together.

What I have realized in looking back is this: marriage is better when it’s done in community.

When we are surrounded by other couples who can relate to the challenges that we face in our marriages, we don’t have to feel like we are the only ones experiencing those issues. And if you are having problems or concerns in your marriage, the worst possible thing you can do is isolate yourselves.

Maybe you are saying, But I don’t have a group of good friends who are married couples. If you are not surrounded by a few other couples with a bit more experience – seek them out! Don’t wait for them to come to you – go to a couple that you respect, and ask if they’d be willing to have dinner sometime.

Most couples who have been married a little while are more than happy to share their tips & advice. And most will likely admit that they have had their hard times, too.

How about you – what has helped you stay married? What tips would you have for an engaged or newly married couple?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!