How we began

The idea of The Third Option grew, not out of my professional work but my personal experience with a close friend. The seeds were planted in our many conversations over a period of several years.

In the early 1980s I had a dear friend in the midst of a marriage crisis. Although I was well aware of the divorce statistics, and in fact I knew many divorced and divorcing couples, now it had a personal impact. Besides, both were intelligent, caring, well-educated people of faith. Why couldn’t they “get it together”?

I could tell they were searching for something they couldn’t find. They wanted their marriage to be permanent but didn’t know how to make it work. My friend kept asking, “Where is the church when you need it?”

Hearing their story, I believed their marriage was in serious but not irreconcilable trouble. But they eventually lost hope and divorced. I found myself asking: Why couldn’t they make it work? What could their church have done to help? What was it that they needed, they never found?

I then recalled something else my friend had said. As it became known that she and her husband were having problems, acquaintances would come up to her and say, “I just want you to know that my spouse and I had troubles too and worked them out. We are praying for you.”

Eventually the answer began to take shape: what hurting couples need most is HOPE. For too long they –we all– have heard the bad news. For too long we have been told that if you are having serious problems, get a divorce. It’s quick and easy…and inevitable. Some go to counselors but give up quickly. Some go to counselors who tell them to quit. What couples need most, is a belief in the enduring value of marriage. They need to hear from others who have been through difficult times and made it. They need to know it is possible to work it out. Stories from “sharing” couples can give them insight and hope. Such couples can give them the GOOD NEWS.

Finally, one day I sat down and wrote a proposal. It talked about the fact that we are inundated with the bad news and need to stop saying that if you are separated, divorce is inevitable. We need to tell them there are three options: enduring a painful marriage, divorce and WORKING IT OUT. We needed to put out a large net and catch people in crisis and draw them away from lawyers and into support.

The proposal called for a support group with “sharing” couples. But eventually, I sensed there was still a piece missing. We had to give couples more than hope. We had to give them HELP, too. Most couples simply don’t know the skills needed to have a good marriage. So, I added 14 skill-building workshops.

And so, The Third Option was born. It took nearly 4 years from the proposal to the group but it is now growing around the country and elsewhere!

We are heartened by our progress and delighted to be able to offer this program to your church.


Patricia Ennis, MSW