Toucan do it: How a faltering marriage inspired a ministry aimed at transforming relationships

Yesterday, at the start of National Marriage Week, Christian marriage ministry Toucan launched its new 'loving' module.

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The aim of Toucan is to strengthen relationships by helping to build friendship and greater intimacy; develop and deepen communication; resolve conflict in healthy ways; learn to speak each other's Love Languages; deal with tough times and grow a vision for marriage, and manage money well together.

In the UK we want to see fewer relationships breaking down and more people forming healthy stable relationships. This would mean fewer people being drawn into the family justice system than the 500,000 each year as is the case now. Fewer children whose wellbeing and life chances are diminished. Fewer people experiencing the emotional pain and financial costs of broken relationships.

Here is my story, which is also the story of Toucan's origins.

When I first met my husband Mark I thought he was James Bond. He picked me up on his enormous motorbike for our first date and underneath his leather jacket he wore black tie. We had cocktails followed by dinner and were the last to leave the Italian restaurant that night. Three years later we were married in a fairy-tale wedding.

That feeling was short-lived as we had our first major row on our honeymoon. And then a few months later Mark announced that he didn't want to be married, and he didn't want to be married to me!

A little later Mark assured me that he did want us to be married, but a lot of damage had been done. On the surface we still looked like Mr and Mrs Successful: great jobs, nice car, clothes and so on. But underneath the smiling veneer we were both very unhappy.

We would argue a lot about small things. Mark would blow up in angry outbursts and I would run away, trying to avoid the painful clashes. The spiral of conflict deepened and our sex lives nose-dived into unsatisfactory functionality. We filled the gap of what was missing in our relationship through 'affairs', with our careers and with other people. And so we muddled along like this for seven years until a baby, sleepless nights and postnatal depression brought us to a point of hopelessness.

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We started our relationship both believing we had found our soul mate; someone to share our whole life with. But when the inevitable pressures came, we didn't know how to handle them. We both had loads of training to do our jobs but zero training in marriage.

A period of couples counselling helped us to start functioning again, but it didn't help us find closeness. It was a while later when a friend invited us to join a small group to talk about Bible-based marriage and relationships. Mark said he'd rather go to the dentist! I wasn't too sure either, but we went along anyway.

We laughed a lot as we learned a lot and not just theory but practical relationship tools. I realised that my partner is not my enemy and I changed from being a bitter, resentful person into someone who was free to love again. Mark found new meaning and purpose for our marriage. We both communicated at a deeper, more honest level, and our sex life flourished. Our marriage was transformed!

We've had to endure more tough times too: redundancy, a child with cancer, depression, parents dying. Tough times come to all of us and can be the end of relationships unless we know how to respond. Training helps too.

For years we passed on what we'd learned through seminars and small groups. Our past mess had become our mission to help other couples. In 2015 we had a vision to do something with the potential to reach everyone.

We pulled together a fantastic team and 'Toucan' was born – a fresh and exciting online experience for couples so that 'two can' build a happier, healthier life together.

Cyclists rode from Land's End to John O'Groats and then London to Paris raising nearly £90,000. We spent thousands of hours of developing, writing, filming, recording, designing, coding and testing Toucan.

Then in 2017 we launched Toucan as a web app with the first modules on communication and conflict. Now, our growing numbers of users are enthusiastic and asking for more.

Relationship problems are normal and yet a taboo. Relationship issues and marriage breakdown are a massive problem in the UK, actually in most of the world. We understand the pain! But it doesn't have to be that way. We know that many couples can help themselves, once given hope, good tools and the power to change.

Our dream is that Toucan can reach and transform millions of lives.

Toucan is being developed by FamilyLife UK, a ministry of the Christian charity Agapé. Couples sign up free at www.toucantogether.com on a phone, tablet or computer and can work through a series of modules covering topics including communication, conflict and love. The modules bring together practical relationship tools with video clips of couples from a wide range of backgrounds and ages sharing their experiences, alongside interactive exercises, animation and graphics. Full details and an introductory video can be found at https://toucantogether.com/. The app can be found at the Apple Store and Google Play. 

Christine Daniel is the director of FamilyLife UK. 

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