Kim and Nancy Kimberling have never had a perfect marriage. In fact, they don't believe such a thing exists. But they have worked at theirs " and made it work " for the past 39 years.
Judging by a divorce rate higher than 50 percent in Oklahoma, however, marriage is clearly not working for everyone. Kim Kimberling, a professional counselor and president and co-founder of Family Christian Counseling in Oklahoma City, is working to change that statistic, one couple at a time.
Through his "Preparing for Marriage" class, he has given hundreds of couples the tools for a successful marriage, including communication skills, finance management, personality tests, conflict resolution and a look at sexual relationships and Biblical roles. And, not so astonishingly, Kimberling said divorce rates for couples who come out of the class are less than 10 percent.
"We try to help them really look at marriage from God's perspective and try to really help them see that God's ways aren't antiquated or out-of-date," he said. "The couples that I work with in the counseling area, what I see with most of them is that they don't do the things they need to make marriage work."
Kimberling's nine-week class originated in 1998 when he and an Oklahoma City pastor came up with the idea for a structured marriage preparation class at Crossings Community Church. Most couples who take the nine-week class are engaged, although about 25 percent are dating seriously.
"I wanted it not to be associated with a denomination or particular church," he said. "The need for pre-marriage counsel is there for everyone."
Kimberling said he owes the success of his class to teaching couples conflict resolution and the importance of keeping God in their marriages. He reminds couples that even the best unions will have their share of problems, and that one setback does not mean the end of their partnership.
"That's the one thing I want couples to have out of the class more than anything, is to know that no matter what comes up, we can work on it," he said. "If they feel like they've grown apart or they're not getting along well, you can solve all those things."
The Kimberlings know the importance of working out problems " they've seen their own share of difficulty, especially early on. The couple married young " 20 and 22 " and said the first six or seven years were difficult, partly due to differences that drove them apart. They almost divorced, but decided to stick it out for the long haul.
"I think we've learned to appreciate those differences more," Kimberling said. "It's just learning to embrace those differences and see them as positive. If we had been just alike, we wouldn't have grown."
If they had not learned to work through their differences and divorced, Kimberling said, he and Nancy likely would have made the same mistakes in a second marriage. And, divorce rates for second marriages are even worse.
"We don't have a perfect marriage. We just work at it," Nancy Kimberling said. "Kids today just give up way too easy. Everybody's looking for the perfect mate, and there's no such thing."
But although the Kimberlings' marriage survived some tough times, that doesn't mean it's always smooth sailing. Even on bad days, the couple regularly takes time to talk, connect and pray together, which they said is what keeps their marriage strong.
Kimberling's class made a world of difference for Chris and Heather Beard, married almost nine years.
"The way (Americans) are brought up dating is setting us up for divorce," Chris Beard said. "We run for cover at the sight of any problem."
Heather Beard, previously divorced, said the class helped her realize people bring the same issues into every marriage, and that circumstances don't change.
"You have to change yourself to have a successful marriage," she said. "It's one of those deals where your learn as you go."
In one of the course's exercises, couples mentally fast-forward to issues they may face in 10 years, long after the honeymoon phase has ended.
"What are you going to do when your children are deciding to be in a fraternity or sorority, what are you going to do with your finances, how are you going to plan dates?" Chris Beard said. "It kind of puts you in real-life situations. It forced us to take a look at that and be more prepared."
The Beards now have three children, and although they admit there is still some conflict, they went into the marriage with a better idea of how to handle it, without unrealistic ideals.
"I would recommend anybody looking to get married to go through something like this," Chris Beard said. "It gave us a very good chance that was very realistic and honest."
Although most couples marry following the course, about 12 percent actually split up after gaining a better understanding of their differences.
"Even though that's hard for them, most of them afterwards say it was the right thing," Kimberling said.
Clay Symes, who took the course about eight years ago with his former fiancée, knows he made the right decision when he ended his engagement shortly afterward.
"After going through the class and really getting to know somebody over time, you just sometimes realize there's no way it's going to work," he said. "You really don't know as much about that person as you think you do until you go through the class and when you go through the whole engagement process."
Symes said although the class opened the door to ending the relationship, it was not the deciding factor.
"I just figured out that we were not meant to be together. We tried to work on our relationship and we would go through the same cycle," he said. "Things weren't going to change and we just couldn't work through our differences."
Symes is recently married and now applies his knowledge from the class.
"I do recommend it for people to figure out those hard questions before you get married," he said. "It doesn't get any easier just because you're married." "Caitlin Harrison