Recently the Church has seen a revitalization of the study of marriage and marriage-building practices as we have taken the damage of divorce more seriously than ever before. The trials and challenges of marriage are as real as its joys and rewards. Sadly, two thirds of marriages where one spouse has a disability will end in desertion or divorce after twenty-four years of marriage. Because the majority of most marriage research has focused on couples who do not live with disability, and because his wife Lisa has suffered with Multiple Sclerosis more than 30 years, Dr. Hatteberg has researched what traits are necessary to produce a healthy relationship in a couple where one spouse has a long-term, non-terminal, physical disability.
Through personal interviews conducted with three couples who scored as “Vitalized” (the highest score possible) on the PREPARE/ENRICH marriage survey, their responses on the Marriage CORE and Trent surveys, observation of the couples in their home environments, and further analysis of transcripts of the interviews, Dr. Hatteberg was able to identify both what traits produce a healthy relationship, and what is characteristic of those traits. The non-experimental descriptive surveys and the qualitative personal interviews conducted with these healthy couples revealed the beauty of established healthy relational patterns. These patterns strengthened their marriages and helped each couple overcome the emotional or psychological factors raised by the addition of a disability after the start of their marriage.
Dr. Hatteberg observed that couples whose commitment to each other, communication, shared spiritual viewpoint, attitudes, and perspectives had been uniquely shaped by their partnering together to live with disability. The characteristics of care, empathy, kindness, love, respect, and trust and how they are manifested in these couples’ relationships can aid marriage practitioners in shaping their counseling toward the skill development that cultivates these traits.
By examining these traits and seeing how healthy couples living with disability possess them, pastors, counselors, and marriage-enrichment leaders can create and implement counseling procedures or programs to encourage the development of these traits. These character traits are relevant to couples contemplating marriage as well as those who are currently married. Healthy relational patterns tested by the difficulties of long-term disability can become the building blocks for marriages, but especially those who are living together with disability.
Dr. Greg Hatteberg has worked at Moody Bible Institute and at Dallas Theological Seminary in the offices of the Academic Dean, Advancement, Placement, and Admissions, where he now serves as the Dean of Enrollment and Alumni Services. Dr. Hatteberg is an instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries and has been a licensed tour guide in Israel. He is on faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary and teaches in the Bible Exposition and Educational Ministries & Leadership departments. He teaches Bible Exposition, the Physical and Historical Geography of Israel, Christian Marriage, and Christian Home courses.
Dr. Hatteberg earned his Doctorate of Ministry in 2014, choosing to focus his research on the characteristics of a health marriage when one spouse has a disability because Greg’s wife Lisa has suffered with Multiple Sclerosis for over 30 years and has been bedridden for over 17 years.
 C. C. H. Pfleger, E. M. Flachs, and Nils Koch-Henriksen, “Social Consequences of Multiple Sclerosis. Part 2. Divorce and Separation: A Historical Prospective Cohort Study,” Multiple Sclerosis (13524585) 16, no. 7 (July 2010): 878–882.