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Marital First Responders Help Provide 'First Aid' To Couples

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Wedding season is here and one piece of advice many newlyweds will hear is that a marriage takes work. Couples deal with everything from those little annoyances, like taking out the garbage, to more serious issues, like finances.

Often times, we turn to friends or family to talk out the problem. Relationship experts call these people marital first responders and what they say can influence the course of a relationship.

For Jeff and Marisa Lee, warm afternoons are spent poolside with their two children. The routine was set into motion nearly 10 years ago when the loving couple pledged to spend their lives together.

"It was a great day, beautiful wedding," Marisa said.

She and her husband Jeff have been married for 10 years.

"If I can pick one person I want to do something with, it's her," Jeff said.

Over the years, Marisa and Jeff have discovered even healthy marriages have little frustrations and, sometimes, the Lees open up to others about their relationship.

"We don't really share our big things with others. I mean, I think it's definitely the smaller stuff we talk about," Marisa said.

It's a scenario that plays out in many marriages. It's so common that relationship experts call those friends, family and co-workers, marital first responders.

"There's good research showing that for every day marital concerns, a good friend can be very good can be very, very helpful and give you perspective," said Dr. Bill Doherty, of the University of Minnesota.

Through his research Doherty, a relationship expert at the U, saw the need to offer guidance to those he calls "natural confidants."

"So, they're the front line, like first aid. We're doing first aid for marriages," he said.

Through the Marital First Responders Program, he helps to navigate a sometimes uncomfortable conversation.

"They don't have to be afraid of it if somebody brings a marital concern," Doherty said.

Corey Yeager, who attended a recent workshop, was among the dozens who know that insecurity of offering advice for someone else's relationship.

"If you take my advice, and take it back into your marriage or your long-term relationship, and something doesn't work out, then we have an issue in our relationship," Yeager said.

During his training sessions, Doherty points out common mistakes like offering too much advice or criticizing.

"We have lots of stories and examples of people who were helped or not helped, hurt by what somebody says at these key moments," he said.

The emphasis for the workshop is to define the role of marital first responders, which is to listen, empathize, affirm and offer perspective.

"The big thing is, these people aren't trained to say, 'let me talk to you with your marriage,'" Doherty said.

While the Lee family hasn't participated in the workshop themselves, they still see its value.

"We're big about keeping marriage the focal point," Jeff said.

Communication both in and out of the marriage leading to a lifetime of wedded bliss.

Doherty said there are times when a marital first responder needs to do more than just listen. He said when someone is in a dangerous situation, like abuse, the friend, family, or co-worker should encourage them to get help.

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