In the 22 years it has worked with couples in the United States, countless thousands of people have had their lives changed through the Friends Marriage Encounter program (FME). For Dixie Murray and her husband, John, it didn’t just change their life – it gave them life.
With a marriage of 13 years and all the friends, cars and things they wanted, the Murrays thought they had it all; and all without setting foot in a church since the day they said, “I do.” Dixie explained that at the time, the early 80s, people would put FME stickers in car windows. These intrigued her and in 1980 she talked to a friend who had a sticker, eventually getting a brochure on the program.
“We weren’t offended by the ‘Christ-centered’ claim in the brochure…we believed in God, so it wasn’t offensive,” she recalled. “It was the Holy Spirit starting to work.”
Figuring it would do them good, they registered and attended what would turn out to be, “…the most incredible weekend we had ever had.”
By the last day, they were reluctant to leave, as they had focused so much on each other that Dixie said, “We fell in love all over again and rekindled our marriage and intimacy.”
Dixie left wanting to know more about what the couples leading the weekend had that they didn’t, so she and John began regular attendance at the church the group had encouraged them to try.
“It was the people who exampled unconditional love and acceptance that caught my attention,” she explained. “It was so powerful. We really wanted to have what they had.”
Soon after, with couples following up on their progress, they sought a personal relationship with God and gave their lives to the Lord. Approximately one year later, they were asked if they were interested in getting involved in FME, which they were. Now they sponsor and help lead the weekends the same as the couples they had admired so greatly did 18 years earlier.
Cathy Johnson, who, along with her husband Victor, handles Southern California FME registration, has worked with FME for 10 years and attests that the Murrays have the respect from other staff and participants to make them very effective.
“They are wonderful people – just so neat,” she praised. “They give so much. Dixie…this woman has wings. She is such a pure example of unconditional love.”
Since the time that the Murrays went through FME, society has gone through many changes. But, said Dixie, the program hasn’t.
“There have been hardly any changes in what we share…Like God’s Word, they are the same concepts yesterday, today and forever,” she said. “The people, however, are a lot more hurting. There are a lot who come reluctantly and many need something to happen or the marriage will be over.”
Johnson agreed, saying, “Satan’s number one agenda seems to be breaking up marriages. When it started, it (FME) was about enrichment. Now, it is often a last-ditch effort for struggling couples.”
But they have both seen miracle after miracle happen in the lives of those attending.
Said Dixie, “Countless couples have been reconciled, but we also see many people come to Christ…It happens a lot where people realize that they have been walking the fence and never really given their life to God, and even more recommit their lives to Christ.”
Held at a hotel for three days, an average of 35 couples attend each program where they cannot discuss kids, finances, or work – nothing except themselves and their relationship.
Dixie explained that the program aims to make marriages stronger through deepening and strengthening communication and gives the couples “tools” designed to encourage and facilitate the process both during and after the weekend. It works by giving the couples private time for intimacy to talk about things like what they brought into the marriage and how they felt at the beginning of the relationship. The couples do a lot of writing, too, which Dixie said, allows people to say things that may be more difficult to verbalize.
“We need to share our feelings, and this is a good way to do it,” she explained. “Many men have a hard time even identifying their feelings, so it is exciting to see them open up and share with their wives.” There is no involuntary group dialogue or sharing of what is happening, but most couples, at least at some time, share and consequently bond with the leaders. Even though, at times, the sharing can be very difficult for couples, Dixie described how going through the trials is important since, “…the other side is where the healing happens.”
The FME staff believes that everyone deserves to beon a FME weekend, and demonstrates their firm belief in this by only charging couples $20 for the program. With expenditures running $8,000 to $10,000 per weekend, the group continually trusts God for their finances.
“Last year,” recalled Dixie, “we were $3,000 in the red. We didn’t know what to do except pray, and when we finished the next weekend, through donations, we had covered the cost of the weekend plus $3,000!”
Geared for married couples willing to share and work on their relationship, the weekends attract all ages with relationships from one to over 50 years old.
Dixie said that it is difficult for her to watch couples come not wanting to try – thinking that they can’t make it – and give up.
“It really comes down to selfishness,” she said. “People look at themselves rather than at their spouse.”
Johnson added that she sees many confrontations arising regarding the issue of finances.
But for those who earnestly seek improvement, FME has left a long list of couples who have had their relationships – some that seemed to be ideal – improved, including Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. He sent a letter to the group saying that while he and his wife attended for professional reasons, while there, they, “…experienced the most dramatic and emotional interchange of the past 20 years.”
Those interested in deepening and strengthening their marriage through what Dixie calls, “A little piece of heaven” can contact Friends Marriage Encounter through John or Dixie Murray at (760) 436-5767 or Vic and Cathy Johnson at (909) 694-5450.