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September 3, 2008
Marriage preparation makes for a strong bond
Nobody plans to fail, but some couples fail to plan
By Lisa M. Petsche
“I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
But let’s start at the beginning. The typical engaged couple spends a year or more planning for their wedding day. This can be a hectic time, with hundreds of details requiring attention as couples strive to ensure that their “big day” is a special, perhaps even fairy-tale-like event, perfect in every way.
In contrast, relatively little time is spent preparing for the rest of their life together.
Why, one might ask, is special preparation required for marriage? Isn’t it simply a natural evolution of a serious relationship?
That is why, for couples getting married in the Catholic community, one of the requirements is marriage preparation. This is also the case in numerous other faith communities.
The Catholic program may be offered in a series of weekly sessions or a weekend block. It’s a chance for an engaged couple to get away from the distractions and demands of everyday life—including the details of wedding planning—in order to openly and honestly examine their life together, with its joys and frustrations, its strengths and weaknesses.
In addition to reflecting on their own relationship experience, they hear about the successes and challenges of other couples’ relationships, and share relevant ideas and skills.
The ultimate goal is for them to gain insights they can use to help create their own uniquely successful marriage. Even couples with a long history together usually learn something new; at the very least they receive confirmation that they have prepared well for this lifetime venture.
Topics include: expectations of marriage; techniques for effective communication; constructive approaches to conflict; financial issues; sexuality and family planning; expectations regarding children and family life; spirituality; and the significance of marriage as a covenant relationship.
Those who lead the program regard themselves as facilitators rather than experts, the premise being that they do not give answers to the engaged, but rather help them find answers for themselves.
Couples are usually pleasantly surprised that they don’t have to sit passively for the duration of the program. It does mean they have to put in some effort, though, and the more they contribute, the more they get out of the experience.
Through the program, couples come to realize that love involves much more than emotion. Loving someone in an ongoing way is an active choice—a conscious decision involving sustained focus and continual growth. While “awesome,” this long-term commitment to the growth of another is quite a challenge, particularly in today’s individualistic, instant gratification-seeking society. Such a pledge involves moral and spiritual obligation.
Marriage must therefore be the number one priority in both spouses’ lives—without contest. In order to remain that way, it needs to be protected from the pull of outside influences, including well-intentioned but sometimes demanding relatives and friends. The marital relationship also must take precedence over the work ethic, career advancement, time-consuming hobbies and other individual pursuits.