Contributed photo South Surrey writers and speakers Janice Hird and her husband Rev. Dr. Ed Hird are co-authors of For Better, For Worse: Discovering the keys to a lasting relationship.

Personal anecdotes inform insights in South Surrey authors’ new book

Couple shares 40 years of experience in making marriage work

Rev. Dr. Ed Hird and his wife Janice are not afraid to tell stories against themselves – whether it’s to reinforce their own union, or to help other marriages.

That’s one of the strengths of their book For Better, For Worse: Discovering the keys to a lasting relationship (HIS Publishing Group), based on the Strengthening Marriage Workshop they conduct and the work Ed did in gaining a doctorate in ministry focused on Dr. Murray Bowen’s Family Systems Theory.

In 40 years of marriage, they have had plenty of time to make what they frankly acknowledge as “painful mistakes” and gather humorous and embarrassing anecdotes they are willing to share to illuminate their points.

“Authentic, non-judgmental story-telling is one of the keys to healing of relationships, especially in marriage,” they write in their introduction to the book, published late last year.

The couple recently relocated to South Surrey after 30 years in North Vancouver (where Ed was the Rector of St. Simon’s Church and Janice was its music director).

Ed is also a frequently-published newspaper columnist who takes on speaking and workshop engagements.

“We’ve been talking about writing this book since I completed my doctorate,” Ed told Peace Arch News.

“Janice is an amazing story-teller and stories are what help principles come alive.

“We took my doctoral thesis and rewrote it for the ‘normal’ couple.”

Their book – an easy read at 120 pages – is packed with pragmatic, relatable advice for couples on such issues as striking the balance between closeness and personal space and the importance of forgiveness.

They also describe how the stresses of daily living and personality differences can create an emotional distance founded in a desire to avoid conflict.

But, in circumstances of chronic anxiety, they say, that distancing can morph into a danger zone of “emotional cutoff,” which guarantees that partners feel neglected and issues are never resolved.

While partners should be ‘present’ in their marriages, the couple writes, achieving balance also means being able to celebrate their differences and give each other room to be their own person.

Their perspective is clearly a very traditional, Christian-based, concept of marriage (“We think Christian principles and Family Systems Theory complement each other really well,” Ed observed) but there is much that can be applied to other relationships, the couple acknowledge.

“We wrote it in a way that you don’t have to be religious to benefit from it,” Ed said.

Ironically, marriage became a very contentious issue for the Hirds in the early 2000s when the Anglican Church of Canada was sharply divided over the issue of blessing same-sex marriages.

That schism ultimately resulted in Ed, an outspoken critic of allowing same-sex blessings, leading the St. Simon’s congregation literally and figuratively out of its existing church and into an affiliation with the traditionally-oriented Anglican Church in Rwanda – a connection that the Hirds maintain today through workshop and speaking tours in Africa and as members of the congregation of Bishop Peter Klenner’s All Saints Community Church in Crescent Beach.

Looking back on the conflict today, Ed said he feels there have been lessons to be drawn from it.

“Sometimes the church may get it right from the biblical perspective, but not get it right from a pastoral perspective,” he said. “I think the Lord has taught us more about the importance of genuineness and respect and I think we’ve grown more towards that in our speaking and marriage seminars.”

They noted that the congregation’s split with the church coincided with an event – the-spur-of-the-moment decision of a divorced couple to remarry at the end of communion – that led to a new focus on strengthening marriages for which the relocated St. Simon’s later became well known.

“It was the Sunday of the same week,” Janice said. “Maybe it was just the Lord saying you can be used in healing.”

Life changing, too, they said, was their first visit to Uganda and Rwanda, where they had been invited to speak on marriage, in 2011.

The Hirds said they were amazed by the church-going commitment of the large congregations they found there, and their willingness to engage with the couple’s marriage seminars at very short notice.

But more amazing still, was the quality of forgiveness they found – particularly in Rwanda, where the period of genocide had literally pitted neighbour against neighbour.

Ed said he marvelled at the ability of one woman to forgive the man who had killed her family, and later came back to the same village and rebuilt her house.

Hearing stories like that put the problems within marriages – and the possibilities of forgiveness – in a new perspective, Janice said.

“Particularly when you think that, over here, people don’t forgive us for something that happened years ago, which was really about nothing,” she said.

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