By Katherine Long | Editor

The founder of the Third Option says she has seen the marriage skills-building program transform marriages in trouble. But the program can enrich any couple’s marriage, she said, and is “a great way to keep our marriages on track” and growing.

“There is a misconception that the Third Option is only for couples that are in trouble,” said founder Pat Ennis. “I think that stops a lot of people from coming who would probably benefit.”

The program did grow out of Ennis’ experience counseling a friend through divorce more than 25 years ago, and its name does come from the notion that, rather than staying together and being miserable or ending the marriage, the “third option” — staying together and building a healthy marriage — is possible.

But the comments Ennis says she hears constantly from couples in the program are, “I wish we had learned this back when we first got married” and “Why didn’t we come sooner?” Ennis wants couples to learn the skills the Third Option offers so that they don’t find themselves struggling in the first place.

The Third Option program offers a cycle of 14 workshops, mentorship from married couples who have faced and overcome challenges, and support groups that allow participants to discuss their successes and frustrations. Each session lasts about two hours and groups meet every other week. There is no cost to attend and walk-ins are welcome. Newcomers are given an orientation during their first session.

The 14 workshops, or lessons, focus on practical relationship skills, Ennis explained. Topics include effective communication, listening, forgiveness, and handling anger constructively. The lessons are interactive, not a lecture, Ennis noted, but no one has to say anything if they don’t feel comfortable.

Lessons are followed by personal testimony from a mentor couple. Again, the purpose is practical and specific. Like the rest of the program, “it’s not the philosophy of marriage. This is where the rubber hits the road,” Ennis said.

Participants are then given a worksheet summarizing the lesson and encouraged to set a goal to work on something discussed in the lesson. Participants have an opportunity to discuss progress toward that goal during the following meeting.

There are three Third Option groups in the Diocese of Syracuse. In the Western/Northern Region, the group meets at Holy Cross Church, 4112 East Genesee St., DeWitt. A new cycle of workshops begins Feb. 28. For specific meeting dates and times, visit the events calendar at

In the Eastern Region, the program is offered by the Good News Center, 10475 Cosby Manor Rd., Utica. (The Good News Center also runs the Third Option International.) For specific meeting dates and times, visit the events calendar at

In the Southern Region, the group meets at the Church of the Holy Family, 3600 Phyllis St., Endwell. For specific meeting dates and times, call Kathy Colligan at (607) 748-4743.

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