Marriage is just the beginning of a beautiful journey. But, preparing oneself before marriage saves couples from disappointments arising due to unmet expectations. Every religion has its own guidelines for couples to follow before they say ‘I do.’
Likewise, the Catholic marriage preparation process is to guide couples preparing for marriage God’s way.
Now preparing for marriage before the marriage itself doesn’t guarantee a blissful after-married life for couples. But preparing for one helps each partner assess their readiness for marriage itself. They get a chance to understand each other better and gain knowledge about the assets and liabilities of their relationships.
Now, Catholic couples strictly abide by the doctrines of the church. On the other hand, the church attaches great importance to Jesus’s presence at wedding ceremonies since God himself is the author of marriage.
In fact, marriage in a Catholic Church is the “covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring”, and which “has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.“
As mentioned earlier, getting married as a devout Catholic means adhering to the church’s stringent rules.
Learning how to prepare for marriage is not that simple. The process includes a lot of other things as well, such as you will have to include a mass, Holy Communion, and stick very closely to Catholic dogma.
This includes expectations for your marriage as well.
The perceived effectiveness of the marriage preparation
According to the Journal of Family Psychology, nearly 30% of couples experienced higher levels of satisfaction after taking part in premarital education. And, almost 30% decrease in the probability of divorce has been witnessed over five years.
Nearly, 25% of couples have cited that lack of adequate premarital counseling or marriage preparation before their marriage is one of the reasons for divorce.
One of the potential benefits of Catholic marriage preparation is that such premarital counseling helps couples to reconsider their plans before starting their marriage.
But, respondents of the same study commented that, “Premarital counseling teaches you how you get along, and that you should communicate, but it doesn’t really talk about the phases of a marriage over time.”
One of the reasons being couples usually participate in these premarital counseling or marriage preparation programs close to their wedding dates. Now, this is a time when ending the same relationship may be especially difficult.
Despite the figures, Catholic marriage preparation has its own set of benefits.
But this again has a restricted shelf-life, and the value of marriage preparation declines significantly over time. In the first year of marriage, 93.8% of respondents agreed such an experience added value to their marriage.
But, in the second year of marriage, the percentage declined to a mere figure of just 78.4%.
Concluding on the argument, we can say that the perceived effectiveness of marriage preparation is related to the degree of its voluntariness.
Believe it or not, people believe in Catholic marriage preparation, and this is one of the valuable pieces of Catholic marriage advice for young couples.
You can refer to any Catholic marriage preparation books.
Keeping aside the arguments, let’s explore how to prepare yourself for marriage.
Here are some Catholic marriage preparation tips
1. Attend premarital counseling
Many of the issues Catholics face regarding their marriages are the same for non-Catholic couples.
Before getting married in the church, there are mandatory counseling or Catholic marriage preparation programs to be attended with proof of attendance going back to the officiating priest.
This can come in the form of retreats, being sponsored by another couple within the church, or a traditional counseling/seminar format.
Counselors will discuss the biblical methods of handling disagreements, money, communication, and how you should be treating each other.
2. Natural family planning
Catholic doctrine frowns upon the use of man-made birth control (condoms, the pill, abortions, etc.). The belief is that marriage is a means to procreation and any sexual activity should be for that end only.
Any premarital counseling done will include this conversation with the officiating priest and the class counselors about natural family planning and what Catholic rules are regarding conception and raising children.
You may find it worth your time to look into a few outside resources or Catholic marriage books as well for example ‘Natural Family Planning: A Catholic Approach’ by Mary Lee Baron and ‘Taking Charge of Your Fertility’ by Toni Weschler.
3. Effort is required
You are entering into what is expected to be a life-long commitment in the eyes of the church.
If you are a practicing Catholic then you already know that the church frowns upon divorce. You have to continue to put forth the same effort expressed as you did when dating.
Take some time to be alone together away from the routine; go on dates, hold hands, always make time for each other, and show affection. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just small gestures each day will be enough to keep a strong connection.
4. Use your engagement time wisely
The church recommends taking 6-12 months before getting married to strengthen your bond and preparing yourself. This includes the time to finish any premarital prep or Catholic marriage preparation programs, but should also give yourself and your future spouse time to get on the same page.
The counseling helps, but together you have to discuss important events that will come up in your lives together.
Children, careers, location changes, and finances all need to be discussed and compromises/decisions need to be reached before entering into marriage to avoid larger issues down the road.
If there are disagreements on anything major, the waiting period before the actual ceremony will give you the time to either iron them out or to decide that maybe the relationship is better off not going forward.
Preparing for marriage in the Catholic faith is not so different than in other denominations.
It is still a commitment between two people with differences and independent minds that will experience the same speed bumps as others.
The difference is in their faith is the doctrine is very specific in the rules that govern their lives. The Church has a roadmap laid out when it comes to marriage and their expectations; all a couple has to do is follow what is laid out in front of them.