I attended training last week with Dr. John Van Epp, director of LifeChangers and author of How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk. The training I attended certified me to teach Life Changers’ P.I.C.K.-A-Partner course for singles. P.I.C.K. stands for “Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge.” The training is based on Van Epp’s “Relationship Attachment Model” (or R.A.M.). Everything has to have an acronym these days. Despite the cutesy acronyms and folksy titles, I liked Dr. Van Epp’s model and thought it was well founded and useful.
I attended training last week with Dr. John Van Epp, director of LifeChangers and author of How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk. The training I attended certified me to teach Life Changers’ P.I.C.K.-A-Partner course for singles. P.I.C.K. stands for “Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge.” The training is based on Van Epp’s “Relationship Attachment Model” (or R.A.M.). Everything has to have an acronym these days. Despite the cutesy acronyms and folksy titles, I liked Dr. Van Epp’s model and thought it was useful.
One of the things that Dr. Van Epp wants to do is to push marriage education “up stream.” He doesn’t believe that “premarital counseling” works very well by itself. By the time that a couple appears at the pastor’s office asking to be married, there’s very little change that normally takes place in the relationship – and forget trying to talk them out of it. They are “in luuuv.” The part of the brain that thinks clearly and acts rationally is not in charge at the moment. Their emotions are in charge.
Van Epp doesn’t want to do away with the emotional component of relationships. In fact, the R.A.M. is a model of the factors that produce (or destroy) feelings of love, closeness and intimacy.
In some ways, then, Dr. Van Epp attempts to describe the same phenomenon as Willard Harley’s “Love Bank” in His Needs, Her Needs,except that the R.A.M. is broader in scope than Harley’s model. The R.A.M. looks at a relationship if five component areas: know – trust – rely – commit – touch (in that order). “Need fulfillment” forms only one slice of one component of Van Epp’s R.A.M. Overall, I think the R.A.M. is a more holistic model of bonding and attachment than Harley offers.
A safe romantic relationship in which you trust someone no more than your knowledge of them warrants, you rely on someone no more than your trust of them warrants, and so forth. Problems arise when the components of the model get out of synch.
P.I.C.K doesn’t minimize the emotional component of relationships, but it does emphasize that “love thinks.” Dr. Van Epp wants to engage the head as well as the heart. To do that, he believes, we must teach people to engage their brains earlier in the development of the relationship. Instead of trying to impact marriages at the point of pre-wedding counseling, Dr. Van Epp believes we should exert our influence before couples reach the point of contemplating marriage. This makes a lot of sense to me; I do not have much confidence in the power of pre-wedding counseling.
In the Army, we say we fight as we train. Dr. Van Epp says that we marry as we date. The modern approach to dating, courtship and premarital relationships sets couples up for failure, he believes. These failures, in turn, have a devastating effect on society and the children of the next generation. The social cost of dysfunctional family relationships is all too obvious.
Dr. Van Epp says that modern Western society practices dysfunctional mate selection processes, and he traces the dysfunction to several changes that have taken place over the last century – and some that have taken place over the last few decades. Young people in western cultures select life partners today in a way unprecedented in human history. Families no longer exert much influence on their children’s choice of a marriage partner. It is no longer self-evident to those looking for marriage partners that marriage unites two families, not just two individuals. In addition, we no longer live in a society segmented along ethnic and cultural lines. While this is a positive development, we’ve also lost some of the “built in compatibility” that came with marrying within one’s own cultural family. Not only can gender roles and responsibilities no longer taken for granted, there are a host of other marital expectations that couples must explore on their own now. Finally, society’s growing individualism and subjectivity also reduce the common expectations in marriage.
Dr. Van Epp doesn’t say that we can or should roll back these changes in society, but he does say that we need to change the way we select mates in this new social reality. Rather, these changes have left young people with both more responsibility and less knowledge when it comes to selecting their husbands and wives. The reduced influence of family expectations and social norms leaves young people without guidance or positive role models. We’ve destroyed an important source of family compatibility and stability and not replaced it with a model that works. Van Epp wants to equip people to execute their new responsibilities by giving them the knowledge that they need to make good choices.
We all act like jerks from time to time. The difference between “being” a jerk and “acting” like a jerk according to Dr. Van Epp is this: “being” a jerk means living in a pattern of jerk-like behavior that has shown that it will not change. Can jerks change? Sure, by the grace of God. It is not wise, however, to marry a jerk with the intention of rescuing them from their jerky behavior. A marriage is not a rescue mission, and a marriage that produces children has more at stake than the relationship between husband and wife. Most people who marry a jerk either don’t know their partner well enough (and fill in the blanks with an idealized picture) or ignore the signs by disconnecting part of their brains. P.I.C.K. teaches single people to take an objective, wide-angle view of their dating relationships.
Dr. Van Epp’s model is based on a number of accepted psychological and family-life theories, and his training materials are founded on the results of recent research on family behaviors. His training materials provide an overview of the theory and research underlying the program. How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk is an easy read, but it too is filled with information from contemporary research on family life.
Finally, the Relationship Attachment Model (R.A.M.) at the heart of P.I.C.K. is also a useful tool for those already married. LifeChangers offers a separate course for married people: Marriage L.I.N.K.S. More acronyms!
I attended the training in an Army setting. The Army Chaplaincy has selected P.I.C.K. as one of its Strong Bonds programs designed to strengthen family life. The P.I.C.K. program is also being taught in colleges and other settings, where Dr. Van Epp reports very strong interest and enthusiasm for the topic wherever it is taught. I intend to use it with singles in my ministry setting in the near future. For more information, visit the LifeChangers web site.