Keep the lines of communication open, and buy gold.
Those are the two things and the only things my husband and I learned in our marriage preparation classes 25 years ago.
It’s hard to say which bit of advice was less helpful. We already knew communication was important, but what we really needed was practice. And the financial advice was sound, but we had exactly enough cash for one month’s rent and a new mattress, so that’s what we spent it on.
In other words, what we learned during marriage preparation was one thing that was true but uselessly abstract, and one thing that was true but comically irrelevant.
And this, unfortunately, seems to be par for the course for most Catholics. When I asked Catholics about their experience with marriage preparation, some said they enjoyed and appreciated it and learned valuable things. But many more told me that the experience was just an extra burden during an already stressful time, or even that it soured a skeptical partner against the faith. The recent announcement by the Vatican of a year-long (albeit voluntary, at least for now) “catechumenal itinerary for married life” has been met with mild to scathing cynicism from Catholics—including priests and lay people—on social media.
“Catholics think if you just get the right program, everything will be fine,” said Robert Krishna, a Dominican priest in the archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia. “And if they don’t understand what they need to do, repeat yourself louder and slower. That’s not the answer.”
Still, the answer cannot be simply to require no preparation. More than one canon lawyer who has worked on marriage tribunals has told me that many couples present themselves at the altar with little to no understanding of what marriage is. Their relationships fall apart because they were unprepared for marriage. So someone has to do something.
What type of marriage preparation is actually useful, helpful and stays with a couple as they grow into the sacrament they have conferred on each other? I talked with Father Krishna, several married people, and a married couple who have been running Engaged Encounter weekend retreats since 2005, and here is what I learned…