Recognizing Your Learning Stage in Marriage


Just as there are learning stages in leadership, so there are learning stages in marriage. Here's how to help each other grow in every stage!

Those You Lead Need Different Responses

In the Lead Like Jesus Encounter, there’s a section where participants look at leadership through the lens of the learning stages of their followers.

There are four learning stages:

  • Novice
  • Apprentice
  • Journeyman
  • Master

At each learning stage, those you lead need different responses from you. This occurs in every area of life where you lead – corporate life, church world, volunteering in a non-profit, and even in marriage.

A Personal Example

When we first began to travel full time a year ago, with our 282-square-foot house-on-wheels, some roles in our traditional marriage changed.

We had spent 30 years together as husband and wife. Robert went out into the corporate world to work. Lori took care of the children, homeschooled, and made sure the home ran well. And we enjoyed our time together.

Now it was just the two of us traveling full time, and spending 24 hours a day together. Every day. Each week. For months at a time. Yes, we love and like each other a lot, but we quickly knew “alone time” was also needed.

To build in brief moments apart, we shifted some tasks in our marriage – including grocery shopping. Up to this point, Lori had been fully responsible for buying everything. Now Robert had an opportunity to stretch his abilities.

This shift in roles highlighted a challenge.

In some areas of our marriage Lori was clearly a master, and Robert was a novice. This became clearly evident in grocery shopping.

In the beginning, Lori sent Robert with a list, and he entered the world of the grocery store – aisle upon aisle of products, many of them similar, with so many manufacturers, and brands to choose from …

On the list were normal food-stuffs like bread and butter, jam and peanut butter, carrots and potatoes. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? We’d been eating this stuff for thirty years. So Robert took that list to the grocery store with confidence.

It wasn’t as simple as buying what was listed.

For example, within the area of butter, there was salted and unsalted butter, tastes-like-butter, whipped butter, and cultured butter. And in the bread aisle, there was whole wheat bread, rye bread, sourdough bread, eight grain bread, and gluten free bread. There were jars of jam – all strawberry – but one was sweetened with cane sugar, another with corn syrup, one had 75% fruit, and the other was seedless.

From confused to overwhelmed.

The list was simple, right? Robert had been eating these items for 30 years. Yet when he went into the grocery store to shop – responsible for choosing the right items from a host of options, it wasn’t so easy. Lori expected him to be a master at grocery shopping. But he’d never had the opportunity to execute the task on his own.

When he came home from the store, she was just a little bit perturbed. How come he didn’t know she always bought salted butter? And what was so hard about putting a loaf of wheat bread into the cart?

Both of us realized we needed to change how we communicated and behaved to make this new role easier for Robert to experience a “win.” Lori needed to be aware that Robert was a novice in this area, and he couldn’t just be delegated a task and left alone to complete it.

Sure – it would have been more convenient if Lori bought the groceries herself – but doing it herself isn’t leadership. (When you’re learning to lead, even small areas like grocery shopping become a place to grow.) In spite of the hurdles, Robert continued to shop for the groceries. And Lori provided clear instruction and guidance.

Progress takes time.

Fast-forward a year, and Robert’s now completely comfortable in picking up the right options. Sometimes he makes decisions to go off the list and buy a comparable, yet better product. Lori is thrilled when he uses his expertise with numbers (which isn’t her strength) to decide which choice is better.

Is Robert now a master in the area of grocery shopping? No, not yet.

After discussing this topic, we decided that Robert is currently an apprentice because he still calls or sends a text to inquire about a preferred choice. But he’s making progress. And Lori provides encouragement.

Different stages in our leadership journey

This little example demonstrates that the four learning stages clearly apply to marriage. In one area, you might be a master, while your spouse might be a master in another area. Of course, there’s a good chance neither of you – husband or wife – will be a master in all areas of your life together. But you can help each other grow.

By Robert and Lori Ferguson

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