IDEAS PEOPLE: LAVERN & RONDA NISSLEY
Working to keep marriages healthy, strong
We’re always interested in suggestions from our readers about who should be
featured in this space, and several folks recommended that Lavern and Ronda Nissley,
the couple who operate Spring-field’s Marriage Resource Center, would be great “Idea
People.” We got the chance to put a few questions to them this week. To learn more
about the center and their work, call or visit 937-324-3604 or www.mrcmv.org
Q: Talk about the mission and work of the Marriage Resource Center, for those
not familiar with it.
Lavern Nissley: The Marriage Resource Center was launched in 2004 to address a
troubling statistic in Clark County. Marriage terminations for about 10 years had been
about twice the national average, meaning almost as many divorces as weddings in a
Ronda Nissley: Fractured families increase social-risk factors in children and cost
taxpayers about $30,000 per divorce. Our approach has been to offer marriage and
relationship classes that provide tools and skills for strengthening communication,
connection and conflict resolution.
Lavern: So, a variety of relationship classes for couples, men, women and teens, as
well as those in the workplace,make up the range of programs we are delivering. Most
classes are about 8 to 10 hours in length, faith-neutral and at no cost to participants.
Q: Is the center’s program designed mostly for couples who are having troubles
with their relationship, necessarily, or for everyone?
Lavern: It is for everyone who wants to strengthen life relationships. The RINGS class
for couples, as an example , is for marriage preparation, enrichment or restoration.
Ronda: We’ve kept meticulous records on completions and effectiveness. To date,
more than 16,000 have attended and completed classes offered in Clark, Greene and
Champaign counties with a pre- to post-test average improvement of about 30 percent.
Q: What are some of the things couples need to pay attention to, to keep their
Lavern: In 1990, after about 11 years of marriage, we attended a marriage seminar
and came away with several “musts” that have kept our marriage strong. One was a
daily time of connecting with each other for at least 15 minutes. We’ve called it the
RINGS chat, an acrostic for five important elements: Real, Information/ Intentions,
Needs, Grateful, Someday. (Visit our website for details on this.)
Ronda: The RINGS chat is what keeps us connected, communicating and heading off
conflicts. Every day starts with Lavern getting us both coffee, each having some time
alone, then coming together for our RINGS chat.
Lavern: Praying together daily is the second major “must” we took away from the
seminar, for it reflects a humble posture that we can’t do marriage and life by ourselves.
Less than 1 percent of couples who pray together daily experience divorce.
Ronda: Marriage research strongly encourages that couples plan for daily connecting
times, weekly dates, attending marriage enrichment events, taking timeouts when
conflict is escalating, and arming themselves with proven conflict-resolution skills.
Q: Of course, having children has a big impact on any marriage. How does
parenting play into all this?
Lavern: One of the most important gifts that parents can give their children is a strong
marriage. And one of the best gifts we can give parents is time away from their children
for just the two of them.
Ronda: Research on parenting effectiveness shows better outcomes for parents who
work on their marriages than on parenting skills per se. After all, parenting also requires
communication and conflict-resolution skills.
Q: Are there key times in a relationship at which problems are more likely to
Lavern: Any change that requires adjustments (stress) can bring problems to the
surface: a new residence, a new job, a new baby, empty nest, health challenges,
financial struggles, in-law conflicts, a damaging secret revealed and the like. However,
the best preparation for such changes would be to gain the skills in advance to navigate
them. That’s why we spend so much time on the tools of communication and conflict
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Ronda: For most of our 34 years of marriage, we had separate jobs/ employers. We
have really enjoyed working together as a couple since 2005 when we began with the
Marriage Resource Center.
Lavern: I think we have seen a greater level of fruitfulness and fulfillment by investing
our energies wholeheartedly toward healthy relationships. Hearing feedback like, “Our
relationship is so much better after taking your classes,” or “If it weren’t for being
mentored, we would not be together,” reinforces our desire to keep doing this!
Q: What do you like about living and working in the Spring-field area? What is
one thing you’d like to change to make it better?
Lavern: We’ve lived in Springfield since 1994, and we love the many relationships
established with caring, competent people. No city is perfect (even as no marriage is
perfect), but there are many people in this area who are truly striving to make it better.
Ronda: We’d love to see relationships of all kinds improved, so that’s where we’ll
continue to invest our time and energy.
Lavern: Marriage failure rates in Clark County have decreased about 25 to 30 percent
since 2004. We still have a ways to go to reach the national average of 48.5 percent;
however, we celebrate progress, appreciating the opportunity to make a positive