Mathew and Cathy Neville attended The Marriage Course for the first time 16 years ago, we caught up to see the long-term impact it had on their relationship.
Cathy: We met when we were teenagers, we went to the same school. We also became parents when we were still teenagers and married very quickly after our first son, Jack, was born. Sadly, our second son, Michael, had a very complex heart condition, which meant that we had 18 months of him in and out of Great Ormond Street Hospital and having heart surgery.
Mathew: That was an extremely difficult time for us. Sadly, Michael died when he was 18 months old.
C: We had our third child, Rosie, and life looked quite normal for a little while. We then went on to have our fourth child, Harry, and we found out that he also had the same heart condition, which was a total shock.
To go through that with another child was traumatic. Thankfully Harry did really well and is now going on 16 years old.
M: He’s a perfectly healthy teenager now. But looking back we would say we didn’t understand pressures that those years, those events,
had put on us as individuals
and on our marriage. We’d
gone in two separate directions.
I dived into a career, which gave me something I was looking for, whilst Cathy created stability at home that had given her something that she was looking for.
C: I think I realised our marriage was not the best it could be – it was not in a good place.
M: Something needed to change, significantly. Either, us being married, or the way we were married. We were just trying to understand how to get from where we were to this idea of whatever a healthy marriage was.
C: We knew we wanted a good marriage, but we didn’t know what that looked like or how to get there. We tried to make changes, but old habits die hard and we quickly slipped back into what we were doing before.
M: Things really changed for us when a friend invited us to try The Marriage Course at their local church. I think one of the things The Marriage Course does so effectively is: It’s real. It deals with the things that you know you have been arguing about and says everyone argues about these things. Money, sex,
relationships. Plus, it gives you
a framework of how to talk about those things. It also gives you practical ways to just live in a marriage; have a date night once a week, never argue late at night. All those kinds of sensible things that really help.
C: It transformed our marriage. It made us realise that we didn’t just want to be in a marriage, that we wanted to have a thriving marriage. We wanted
to have a happy marriage.
The idea of a date night was life-changing, we actually put a date in our diaries every week and we have prioritised that ever since.
M: Around the same time that we did The Marriage Course, we started to attend church and they were going through the book of Ecclesiastes. It felt so relevant to me. ‘God has placed eternity in the human heart, yet no-one can fathom what He has done from beginning to end.’ I knew then that I’d always known that there was an eternity and that there was a God, I just hadn’t been able to fathom that before. That was the turning point in our lives.
C: We both became Christians and I don’t think we have ever looked back on that. We were both 100% ‘in’ from the very beginning and we prioritised praying together. It was a huge shift in our family.
M: Over the 16 years since attending the course, it has been a continual process of trying to make sure that my priorities are in order. For me, work always wants to be first so I have to watch out for that and Cathy is good at reminding me if I have got things off balance. I’ve spent half my life now in the commercial sector and a half in Christian ministry. There is undoubtedly huge amounts of pressure in both. The particular pressure, I think, on marriage in ministry work, is the difficulty in saying “no”.
Doing The Marriage Course was so significant for us in giving us the tools for a healthy marriage and for us, it has been an essential part of being a leader.