Part of my work is in the area of marriage and family so I have long seen the importance in undertaking a pre-marriage preparation course. I realise that some engaged couples (and most often the men) can think it is a bit of a waste of time but I have never really understood that logic. After all we put years of education into the field we desire to work in, we undergo courses in personal areas of interest, we read self-help books by the millions, but yet when it comes to marriage, the largest single life investment a person can make, we think “no worries, it’ll be right”.
Being in love and being engaged is a wonderful thing, but all this new found joy can give a false sense of reassurance, that the mere ‘feeling’ of being in love is what will keep a couple going for fifty years. Even a young couple who are active in their faith and have the right idea of what marriage is about are not completely prepared. The fact of the matter is that a couple at the starting line of marriage cannot possibly foresee or completely understand how life changes after the honeymoon is over and the wedding gifts are unpacked (and I willingly put myself in this category; these past three months of engagement have been lesson after lesson). It can be too easy to ignore discussing what marriage will be like and instead hide behind the fun of being together and planning a wedding and honeymoon. Putting time aside to think about the vocation of marriage is without a doubt the most foundational and important task an engaged couple need to put on their ‘to-do’ list.
Some of the goals of marriage preparation include helping the couple recognise the need for good communication and examining the level of commitment needed for marriage, and further added in a Christian context, understanding what the sacramental nature of marriage is and the Church’s vision for life and love lived out in sexual morality. However marriage preparation is not about the couple sitting though a lecture of what they should and should not do. Rather the idea is for the program to allow space for the couple to discuss questions and think through issues themselves that they may otherwise overlook. It also gives them the tools to prepare for what will be needed to love rightly in marriage. I sometimes wonder if the individualism that is seen in weddings today (i.e. it’s ‘our’ special day) is a part of the dislike for marriage preparation courses which are built on receiving the wisdom of those who have gone ahead.
There were a few options that Jane and I could have chosen for our marriage preparation including courses given in large or small group settings and over weekends or weeknights. We decided to enrol in a program called Smart Loving which looks deeply at the sacramental nature of marriage through the lens of Pope John Paul II’s catechesis on the theology of the body. They offer the program in various size formats so we opted for the individual couple-to-couple mentoring which runs over six weeknight sessions in the mentor couple’s home.
We are now into the program and it certainly has not been a casual chat over tea and cake (although our mentor couple has been kind enough to supply both the tea and the cake). Each two hour session has a set topic such as the different ways men and women give and receive love, emotional communication, conflict and forgiveness, the sacred nature of the sexual union and spiritual intimacy. The actual evening involves input from our mentor couple, a short DVD by the directors of the program and space for us to discuss and work through set activities. Then during the week there are more activities to be worked on. This certainly is an investment of time but one that Jane and I can already feel is bringing about very positive results in our relationship and discussions about married life. Once we have completed the course I’ll be sure to fill you in on some of the insights we have taken from this valuable opportunity.