One couple’s experience of working with Andy & Fiona

Trail through meadow and sunshine

SYMBIS stands for ‘Save Your Marriage Before It Starts’. Ours had already started and even though we’d already received two forms of marriage preparation before marriage, we knew we needed to continue to pursue support as we began our journey of ‘two becoming one’—a journey that had become somewhat rocky a lot quicker than we’d expected.

I approached Andy & Fiona after recommendations from both friends and church pastors who had attended their ‘Time for Marriage’ enrichment weekends. I wanted to see if there was any consultative support ‘Time for Marriage’ could offer us. My wife and I felt we needed some regular face to face encouragement—some form of marriage counselling.

Andy & Fiona were quick to respond to my enquiry, warm and informative. They clarified that neither of them were trained marriage counsellors but suggested we try SYMBIS, the marriage tool they were trained to use to help couples like us. They told me that whilst it was pitched at couples’ pre-marriage, it was a tool that could be used post-marriage as well. They also said that if we explored SYMBIS together and found that there was a need for marriage counselling beyond what they could offer, then they could at least advise names and contacts as was necessary. My wife and I agreed that we would try this out and were very happy to pay the small weekly fee to recruit Andy and Fiona’s services.

The first part of the SYMBIS process is that each partner in the couple needs to complete an online questionnaire that would then analyse preferences, behaviours, expectations, etc. I had completed a number of these type of questionnaires before (in a business context, used as a self-development tool to identify strengths, weaknesses, etc.) so was a little sceptical of their ability to do anything other than identify what I thought of myself. My wife was also a little nervous about a tool designed to ‘measure’ who she was. Nevertheless, we wanted to embrace whatever SYMBIS could offer us, so we gave ourselves time to answer the questionnaire well.

Our first SYMBIS session with Andy and Fiona was the first time we met them in person. It was on Zoom due to Covid but as we lived in different geographies, being familiar with Zoom conferencing because of Covid meant that the screen-based meeting was more comfortable than we might have otherwise expected. Andy & Fiona were bright, fun, extremely easy to talk to, and were clearly comfortable working as a complementary team. As we dived deeper into what it revealed, they both asked excellent, insightful questions giving us plenty of opportunity to express how we were feeling about various scenarios and why. They gave us permission to feel what we felt and often encouraged us by normalising the behaviours we were uncovering. They also regularly celebrated how well we were doing in talking about them (…even if we felt we weren’t doing so well!) Amidst the seriousness of much of what we talked about, there were huge doses of lightness and humour, and genuine connectivity which grew session by session as we all got to know each other better. One of the benefits we enjoyed in their not being ‘trained marriage counsellors’ was the freedom they had to share situations and challenges in their own marriage that helped us identify with similar in ours. This particularly encouraged us in not feeling alone in our stretch.

Throughout the sessions, Andy and Fiona remained attentive and engaged and professional. Yes, there was one occasion when a dragonfly flew into their room and Andy nearly had a heart attack (something that has us all roaring with laughter) but when we discussed anything difficult they were quick to listen and slow to speak. We always felt we could be outrageously honest, and they honoured us when we were.

Having the SYMBIS framework to work within was brilliant. Even we if digressed to discussing anything that was outside the actual material (…a discussion that often ensured after we were asked how we were doing since the last session), coming back to the material brought a safety and structure and pathway which we found helpful. And the SYMBIS analysis tool was remarkable too—it did seem to catch my wife and I perfectly from the answers we’d provided and bring an ease to talking about all manner of subjects. In a way, the SYMBIS tool aided conversation more because it provided a view of us and our marriage that we could either agree or disagree with. Andy & Fiona would often relay what SYMBIS had uncovered and then say: ‘what do you think of that?’ We liked that methodology.

Right from the beginning, Andy & Fiona had explained how the sessions would work; made sure we didn’t feel any obligation to have to do another session if we didn’t want to; and gave us the lead to decide the timing of any further sessions we wanted. Pacing ourselves through the course was helpful. We also enjoyed how the next part of the SYMBIS analysis was revealed pre-session by pre-session (rather than seeing the whole report all in one go) so we could prepare for any material that might come up in the upcoming session.

In the end, we covered off the SYMBIS material in around eight weeks. We thoroughly enjoyed going through it all and found it unbelievably extensive. It also included a series of session-by-session questions to ask and explore to keep conversation flowing outside of the sessions themselves.

We finished SYMBIS with the highest regard for Andy & Fiona. They knew when to speak and when to remain silent; they knew when to encourage; they had many personalised illustrations and examples from their own marriage to help us feel normal, as well as advocating that so many other couples like us shared the same challenges. We enjoyed how winsome they were—cheerful but not trivial, light but not afraid of delving deep. They were also able to talk about any area of marital life, including sex, with an ease that promoted safety and calm. We looked forward to our times with them (even though some of those times were really tough) and often remarked afterwards how precious our times had been.

We would recommend both them and the SYMBIS tool to you because they have done us the world of good.

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