So tell me: Marriage Prep

All this talk about young married couples has sent me on a trip down memory lane, back to the old days when my husband was naught but a boyish husband-to-be, and I was a blushing maiden of 22.  And by “maiden,” I mean I was 22.  Ah, yoot!

We did go to marriage preparation classes.  They were held by another couple in their comfortable home.  It was a little too comfortable, as I recall:  they installed me next to the fire in a rocking chair, and I damn near fell asleep every night as they droned on and on and on.  Maybe I missed the good parts while I was dreaming, but I don’t think so.  My husband reports pretty much the same thing as I remember.

There are, we learned, two components to a stable, successful, loving, happy, and holy marriage.  Are you ready?  Here they are:

1.  Keep the lines of communication open.

2.  Invest in gold.

Well, there you have it.  Boy, were we prepared for marriage then, let me tell you!

So, that was, let’s see, 1997.  To be honest, I’m a little amazed at how many people mentioned that NFP even came up in their marriage prep — last I heard, most Catholics aren’t even aware there is such a thing.  I would be very interested to hear what your marriage preparation was (or is) like, and what year it was  – and also what your parents’ or older siblings’ was like, if you know.  Did you hear anything useful?  Anything nutty?  Does it seem like things getting better, overall?  Or worse?  Or what?

And why don’t we have more gold around here?  I guess it’s a good thing they didn’t say anything about NFP — I clearly wasn’t paying attention anyway.

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  • Theresa

    1997 in NH, too. We went to an all-day group crash course one saturday. It was divided into mini-workshops…. one of which was in deed an introduction to NFP.

    All I remember about the rest of the day was the time they split us up into groups and had us come up with ways to handle complications that may arise in a marriage. Problem was, the groups also came up with their own problems to solve. We did a lot of brainstorming over ways to fairly and peacefully decide which house step-children were going to for the holidays and things like that.

    There was some theology discussed, but I remember thinking that it was directed at the lowest common denominator – ie the adults who had been forced to go to CCD until confirmation by their meme and then hadn’t been back to church since. I also remember thinking that they were being very careful not to offend anyone in the room.

  • Vicky

    We got a section of our marriage prep in 2006 on NFP. It wasn’t detailed, and it was taught by a couple of people I could easily judge – he made a boatload of money in his business, she happily stayed home with their 6 kids. I couldn’t relate at all and found it discouraging.

  • Christy

    In 2001 we attended evening sessions once a week for a month with 50 other couples (not exactly a lot of individual attention or a good forum for discussing NFP, which I don’t remember being mentioned at all). During one session we played the Nearlywed Game. One of the questions was “If your fiancee was not marrying you, what famous person would she marry?” My husband answered “Andy Griffith.” So this ridiculous tale was about the only thing we got out of our marriage prep classes. And for the record, I would not have chosen Andy Griffith!

  • http://www.clan-donaldson.com Cari

    We weren’t Catholic when we got married, so our marriage prep wasn’t pre-Cana- keep that in mind.

    Our man marrying us was the former pastor of our Presbytarian church. He had left in scandal, after having divorced his wife of 20 years and marrying one of the women in the congregation. He agreed to come back to marry us, after having said no to everyone else who asked, because I guess we were/are such a rockstar awesome couple, and he was as glad as everyone else that we were finally getting hitched.

    We sat down in his office of his new church, he said something to the effect of “make sure you two are on the same page about finances”, I asked if we could have the marriage ceremony not mention Jesus whatsoever, he said, “sure”, and 4 months later, we were married.

    Two people who were not going to have children, who wouldn’t let the name of Jesus be mentioned, stood in front of a divorced and remarried Presbytarian minister, and exchanged vows.

    And that was our marriage prep. The end.

    • http://www.clan-donaldson.com Cari

      and I would like to state for the record that I do, in fact, know how to spell “Presbyterian”, despite the two misspellings to the contrary.

    • http://fineoldfamly.blogspot.com Sally Thomas

      Ha! Our Methodist marriage prep consisted of the minister’s remarking that his wife always made breakfast for him, and he always said thank you. (and later also left his wife of many years for a woman in the congregation, which in hindsight cast his homily at our wedding, on how the world had grown cynical about Christian marriage, in an interesting light).

      Anyway, I think that whole conversation took ten minutes. Figuring out marriage has taken us twenty-one years and counting.

  • April

    Our marriage prep was a weekly meeting with the priest over several weeks. This was in Maine in the late 90′s. There were compatability tests but I do not recall any NFP prep at all.

  • http://deirdremundy.blogspot.com Deirdre Mundy

    I was 23, my husband was 22. (Yep, I’m a cradle robber!) We went to the priest at our Catholic student center and he talked to us for about an hour and then said “Wow, you guys are really prepared! Just go to one of those Diocesan ones downtown!” (It was Chicago, 2001)

    So we went. We didn’t have the money for one of those fancy “engaged encounter” weekends, and we couldn’t get married unless SOMEONE signed off that we’d gone to a class, so…..

    We picked out the one that was “Regular Pre-Cana”–for couples where both people were Catholic and you weren’t sleeping together and really, you just needed decent advice. It was supposed to be taught by a couple, but their kids were sick with the flu, so we had a sub –who was teaching alone because his wife had already made plans to spend most of the day driving their teenagers around. At the time, I thought, “what a gyp!” Now that I have young, fluish kids, who often need to go places, I realilze this was probably the MOST realistic marriage prep known to mankind.

    Anyway, the teacher was good, but…. our classmates? Well, by the lunch break, we were SURE we were in the wrong class. There were only two other couples there that weren’t sleeping together– a couple we actuallay knew (though hadn’t known they would be there) and another young, college-aged pair from DePaul. All the others were older and had engagement stories that went like “So then, I rolled over in bed and said…….”

    At the end of the class the instructor gave a 15 minute rant called “Don’t lie to your priest and the diocese because if you’d gone to pre-cana for people living in sin, you’d have gotten special help for the problems YOU will face, but instead you just got the basic, you morons, and the diocese wanted to HELP you!” So I guess we WEREN’T into the wrong class after all…..

    Anyway, the only bit I remember is that marriage is like a jar of marbles and they’re all different sizes and quite a few are mishappen and so, don’t be obsessive about keeping track of who does what, just do what needs to be done even if it’s not YOUR job, and everything will go well.

    Yeah, and NFP. But that was another class and it was really expensive and long and my husband was finishing his BA and I had to work and heck, we really wanted babies!!!!!!! wheeee!! So we’ve never bothered to take the class. Still. Because, as one of my friends says “It smacks of effort.”

    And when kids are throwing up in the middle of the night and the baby nurses every 1.5 hours all night long and everyone’s tired and your not all that fertile anyway and whatnot— well, it’s amazing how few oppurtunities we “Pseudo-providentialists-who-have-nothing-AGAINST-NFP-but-don’t-see-the-point-in-our-own-lives” to actually HAVE babies…..

    • http://deirdremundy.blogspot.com Deirdre Mundy

      Oh! I forgot! My confessor at the time had just written a book(now out of print) about marriage – so he gave us that: http://www.amazon.com/Marriage-Love-Forever-James-Socias/dp/0933932537/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

      And, then we also read “Three to Get Married” by Fulton Sheen, which utterly rocked and was the first time I really sort of ‘got’ (not understood, but got…) the Trinity instead of getting a headache thinking about it.

      Really though, our first year of marriage was pretty terrible. Not because of marriage prep or lack thereof, but because we were first-year teachers at a Catholic High School. Ugh. And really, I’m not sure what purpose marriage prep serves for most couples. Other than taking up a Saturday that you COULD have spent doing something fun. But, come to think of it, as a married couple, most of our weekends get filled up with obligations and chores, so yeah…. that was relevant too!

  • http://catholicsoccermom.wordpress.com catholicsoccermom

    I was married in the Diocese of Orlando in 1993 at 23.

    We had a weekend retreat where we bunked with another couple – girls in one room, boys in another building completely. Mini workshops we all attended, lots of discussions about “you must communicate” and times when we were given journals where we’d write about a question separately, then read each other’s writings. I actually did learn something new that weekend, despite the fact that we’d discussed finances (we’d have joint accounts because – duh! – we’d be married), children (I wanted 3 or so, he wanted 2, I didn’t understand that the Church taught contraception is a mortal sin), discipline (spanking is okay), what happens if one of us is offered a job transfer (who is making more money? we can transfer, whatever), etc. All that while dating and before being engaged!

    I learned that, because of his family’s workings when he was growing up, my future husband expected me to do all housework and cooking and cleaning without his help. He learned that he was going to help whether he liked it or not.

    Back to marriage prep, though.

    We learned about massaging each other’s backs, but also a quick intro to NFP, but without the mortal sin parts. [We did eventually take a class on NFP, wherein the couple presented it kind of like Catholic birth control. "We have two kids and that's all we wanted and we use NFP and we don't have any more than the two that we're happy with and if you only want to avoid pregnancy than this absolutely works just as well as a well-timed, never-missed Pill but without the using something the Church doesn't like." Still no mention of mortal sin.]

    ANYWHOOO… There was one couple at marriage prep who was expecting. I was a little afraid she’d pop during the weekend. I think most people were Catholic (hubby was not at the time), and we did end with Mass, which was really nice. I liked the weekend. I was one of those “not been back to CCD since Confirmation in the 6th grade” types who did not understand my faith, so it was probably aimed right at me.

    In an attempt to prepare my kids better, we’re doing Theology of the Body for Teens with our older daughter next year. Even though I think the diocese is trying desperately to improve (Richomond, VA), there was a HUGE backlash against a total modification of the marriage prep that would be centered on TOB & an entire NFP class. Backlash was, sadly, from some pastors who didn’t want to offend. *sigh*

    • Constance

      I am also in the Diocese of Richmond. I feel your pain! Lots of prayers are needed in my area!

  • http://catholicsoccermom.wordpress.com catholicsoccermom

    Sorry for being so wordy. I should really learn to blog on my own site.

    • http://deirdremundy.blogspot.com Deirdre Mundy

      But Simcha’s place is so happening and fun! :)

      • http://catholicsoccermom.wordpress.com catholicsoccermom

        Yeah, but my place *could* be happening and fun.

        If Simcha wrote there. ;)

        Maybe I should write about NFP and get traffic…

  • Carolyn A

    We had instruction from our priest and attended an Engaged Encounter Weekend where there was a thorough intro to NFP.

    There were about 20 couples on the weekend, and we were one of three that weren’t living together already. There was open hostility to us from the other couples, and we bonded with the other two couples living separately very quickly.

    This was 1997.

  • Sarah M

    We were not Catholic then, away back in 2005. The minister marrying us required us premarital counseling from someone, so we picked a counseling professor at the seminary I attended, for convenience sake. We talked about ourselves, took a lengthy test in separate rooms. Then the prof stared at all his papers seriously before saying “Well, you’re not a great couple, but you can be if you try.”

    My parents, a nominal Catholic and Episcopal pair at the time, had a 1981 premarital counseling session that went like this: “You know what the Church teaches, we all know you are not going to listen, just pretend like I didn’t know that if you are ever asked. And sign this contract saying you’ll raise your kids Catholic.” (At my conversion a few years ago my father was relieved, saying he felt like he’d upheld part of that questionable contract at last)

  • http://cathyadamkiewicz.blogspot.com Cathy

    Hubby and I went to classes at our parish in 1986, while I was a 21 year old college senior, five months pregnant. That’s a story for another time, when we’ve gotten to know each other better.

    Anyway, we were treated to a fairly decent preparation, amazingly including NFP. They even had some “workbooks” about the ovulation method available, which I purchased and did indeed end up using about a year into our marriage. (We got hitched a month after our daughter was born.)

    My favorite couple attending was one who lived together, and said they had been using NFP but weren’t really happy with it. They liked that it was all natural, though.

    The prep was run by a few older couples from our parish, and they actually had some knowledge about NFP, even back in those olden days. One lady acknowledged the cross of having to abstain on “special days” like your anniversary. The same gal recommended making time to have friends over, even if you could only afford to offer them cheese and crackers. That’s pretty much all I remember.

    • http://catholicanuck.blogspot.com JP

      Hmmm. Cathy…are you sure you’re not me going by another name?

      Actually though, dh and I took our courses in two different cities. I don’t recall if MY course got NFP but his sure did. He was the one who bought the thermometer (that we couldn’t actually use for about 6 months…but anyway).

      In our current military parish, the Catholics and Protestants have joint marriage prep and they have been known to be a travesty…goody bags handed out containing flavoured condoms, among other treats…NFP is sometimes taught, but only to the Catholic folks.

      The local diocese though has gone to great effort to start up a TOB oriented program though. From what I’ve heard, it is terrific…so there’s hope. Now to get the Catholic padres to send their to-be-marrieds to the diocese for prep!

    • http://catholicanuck.blogspot.com JP

      BTW

      Happy Twenty-fifth!

  • Suzanne

    I went to marriage prep in New York City in 2009. It was two full day classes with about 50 other couples. A different married couple presented material each time. The first session was about marriage in general, and the second was about sex. We all got a copy of “Good News about Sex and Marriage” though we never actually discussed NFP.

  • Morfudd

    We were in a five-week session with about thirty five couples. There’s really only one class for the downtown part of the mega-city where I live, so they have various sessions running concurrently. Many of the couples were married civilly and were preparing to have their marriages blessed by the church. We had three weeks of an older gentleman who is a marriage counselor for the archdiocese (his wife usually teaches it with him, but she was being treated for cancer), one week of a financial adviser who mostly talked about how to manipulate your taxes and told horror stories of money being taken from children by second marriages (and thus the importance of having a will), and one week with a priest who gave a pretty uninspired talk about the theology of marriage– he started out with Adam and Eve, but gave too much time to them and ran out of time to talk about anything else.

    There was some talk about sex, but there was no talk about NFP. We went for an NFP class later, and it turned out that the other two couples in the tiny tiny class were required by their parishes to do it–ours certainly didn’t (although they were all pretty enthusiastic). When we said we weren’t required to do it, the woman assumed we were there because we were serious environmentalists. While we do dislike the idea of pumping hormones into the water supply…

    There were no real compatibility tests, either. I think the most important marriage prep thing we did was in our large class, where we had to fill out a worksheet and then talk about what family life was like growing up and what expectations we had for it.

  • Becca

    We had marriage prep in Atlanta in 2005, an Engaged Encounter weekend (which we skipped the last day of because my then-fiancee got take-home-and-force-fluids-on-the-couch sick). We loved it and learned a lot about each other and our relationship, even though we’d been together for 6 years by that point. And yes, there was a whole hour session devoted to NFP, though we never followed up with a real NFP class and they didn’t really have to convince us anyway.

    The biggest thing I remember from that day is that during the big group discussion portion, about 1/3 of the couples present wanted to know about what they should put in their pre-nups, and the deacon leading that session insisted that pre-nups were un-Catholic and a horrible idea (because you’re going into your marriage thinking about your eventual divorce). I did get the impression that this was the first time most people in the room realized that maybe the Church means what She says on divorce.

    And wow, yeah. Can I request that we keep the judgmental tone down on couples who had sex before marriage? I’ve confessed all the stuff I did in college, but that was a long list. We were cohabitating and our first child (of currently 4) was accidentally conceived 5 months before the wedding — at least we were using NFP! ;-) And while I wince at a lot of the things I rationalized at the time, it worked out just fine and we’re now fairly indistinguishable from those couples that I assume did it all without the traps of mortal sin. I guess I’m just tired of the assumption that “those” couples you remember from marriage prep who lived together and/or slept together before their wedding night stayed lukewarm (or were lukewarm about their faith to begin with).

    • Becca

      Ok, looking back on the comments (about 20 were posted while I was drafting this), can I amend the last bit about people being judgmental? ;) Sorry… I shouldn’t write things on the internet on 2 hrs sleep while the aforementioned four small children are all running around in circles shouting jokes about poopy diapers at the top of their precious little lungs.

    • Maureen

      Becca,

      I’ve got a past that would make many blush so I don’t presume to think that one’s past dictates one’s future, thank our merciful Lord. But I do think it’s imperative that marriage prep is honest and forthright about what and why the Church teaches on marriage and the very real danger to one’s soul in choosing not to earnestly try and live by those principles (which we all fail at sometimes, hence confession). Not only is it shortchanging the engaged but I also believe that it’s endangering the souls of those entrusted with the responsibility of preparing the couples.

      • Becca

        Oh, I agree. I absolutely agree. :) Just cautioning those who _don’t_ have the make-you-blush pasts to remember that even those of us who screwed up the.. well… screwing part, can sometimes have a change of heart with the change of life station. The Sacrament of Marriage comes with real graces, I can attest to that!

        • http://deirdremundy.blogspot.com Deirdre Mundy

          Sorry Becca— didn’t mean to sound judgemental– it was more that our diocese had 2 classes Regular Precana and Special Precana, and according to the description, Regular was for people who weren’t sleeping together and Special was for people who were.

          And we went to regular, and then found out that APPARENTLY the two classes were really “Special Precana” and “Precana for people who lied to the priest” and that we were the odd ones out in the class (except for those other 2 couples) because we’d actually told the priest the TRUTH.

          So I was kind of annoyed that the other people in the class all lied to the priest. (Like, they’d all been living together in their high-end condos for 4 or 5 years before they got engaged……. this wasn’t a ‘carried away by passion’ crowd. Other than the other 2 young couples it was a “then she said, look, my clock is ticking and I want to have a kid and well, we’d been living together for 10 years already so maybe it’s time to get married!” crowd. After the fact, people said “Well, of course that’s what you got… you went DOWN TOWN!” But we had no car, so downtown was pretty much the only option!)

          Anyway… I think the point is that the different precana classes are supposed to be geared to the issues you and your fiance are most likely to have…. so lying to the priest just to get the ‘not special’ class? Bad idea.

          • Becca

            Yeah, I guess that’s the benefit of EE over preCana… no lying to a priest required. ;-) Same weekend for everybody, and it’s more DIY.

  • http://sweetridgesisters.wordpress.com/ Kate

    After years of bragging to my many churchless friends that the Catholic church really had it together, what with marriage counseling and NFP information before marriage, I was a bit let down after the one day diocesan workshop which my husband slept through, as we were having a long distance relationship and traveling had utterly sapped his strength. There was a brief presentation on NFP but I was imagining encountering it for the first time and realizing there was no way you could learn much at all in the space of half an hour. What I mostly remember is that we were supposed to bring things that represented our families and we had forgotten till 6am when we were on our way out the door. We were at my parents farm, so we grabbed a large toy pirate ship to represent my husband’s ship captain father, and a huge garden hoe to represent mine. We had no idea that at the end of the day we would be required to present these items at the altar, before recieving a candle with lots of wicks that I believe represented familial merging or something of that sort. At six foot and six five heading up to the altar with our pirate ship and dirty hoe, we were quite a sight.

    • Kristine

      Thanks for that imagery. Funny.

  • Maureen

    In 2002 when I was 36 and my husband was 39 both of us having a marriage and annulment (in separate dioceses). Both of our annulments required pre-marital counseling to make sure we weren’t repeating the same mistake with a new person. In my husband’s (now our) diocese that meant meeting with a Catholic(faithful and openly so) lay counselor to discuss our previous marriages, our current relationship and our expectations, including Church teaching on marriage. The official marriage prep was done in my home diocese. That included a couple of meetings with the pastor in which we discussed the same as above. We also were required to have a session with a sister who was the director of counseling for the diocese and to attend a re-marriage class. The session with the sister was a joke and actually offensive. She asked us if we satisfied each other sexually and seemed taken aback when we stated that we sure hoped we would but that we believed in and were following Church teaching. She also ran the re-marriage course (2 evenings with about 20 couples in a lecture style). Lots of talk about communication and the results of the myers-briggs we had to take. Squat about the true meaning of marriage and how to live that out…and certainly nothing but lip service to the idea of NFP if needing to space children.

    • http://catholicanuck.blogspot.com JP

      I am offended just HEARING about your session with Sister!

      I realize the numbers are against those who are chaste before marriage (and I say that with no malice whatsoever) but how can a representative of the Church in good conscience assume that everyone is sexually active before marriage? Can’t they even imagine that some might follow Church teaching?

      Sorry. Rant over.

  • Mary S

    Virginia, 2008. I had graduated, but my fiance was still in school waaay in NH. Our marriage prep went like this-

    Me: So should we be taking some kind of course for marriage prep?

    Priest: I think you guys are pretty well prepared. We’ll decide after I speak with you a few more times.

    Priest: (Speaks with me a few more times – never suggests classes)

    I do think he bumbled a little. I mean, sure, we were pretty darn prepared theologically, but we were still young and immature, and probably could’ve used more direction.

    There was no mention of NFP except from my older siblings who asked if we planned on taking a course in it. We said not right now, and that was it basically. Here we are almost 3 years later with 1 baby and 1 on the way! Even when we thought we knew what we were doing, God’s so much smarter than us.

  • Mary

    At our EE weekend, they briefly talked about NFP and offered some pamphlets. They didn’t say anything about church teaching on the matter, though.

    We were already taking NFP classes at that point.

  • http://deirdremundy.blogspot.com Deirdre Mundy

    Oh! one last thing—

    I think the people doing marriage prep tend to forget that living chastely while engaged is REALLY REALLY HARD. Especially when friends, family, parishioners etc. keep saying “you’re engaged! you should move in together…. etc. etc.” So, it would be helpful if marriage prep and the institutional Church tried to actually, y’know… provide some support and encouragement to engaged couples, instead of treating them like freaks for actually trying to take the Church at its word. (Fortunately, we had some good friends too, who were praying like crazy for us!)

    But being engaged is hard. Harder than dating, and, at least so far (10 years this fall!) harder than marriage. We need more supports for engaged couples, I think.

    • Becca

      Agreed! I didn’t actually know that cohabitation was at all wrong and against Church teaching, for example, until we had already moved in together! It just seemed like the thing to do, and nobody told us otherwise.

  • Karen

    I was an elderly 26 when I married. I had already decided I wasn’t going to be using artificial birth control, for several reasons, so the NFP speech at our EE weekend was like preaching to the choir. I think they scared the other couples, though, because the couple from Couple to Couple League had three kids, one of whom they had with them, and the wife was pregnant. That wasn’t the other couples’ idea of family planning! During a break, one of the women at our table came up and asked me flat out if my fiance and i were having sex. I said, “No,” and she giggled and said, “Oh, darn. We are. I was just trying to see if I’m the only bad Catholic here!”

    After the EE weekend we had monthly visits with the priest who was going to marry us. We were lucky and got a young, idealistic, passionate priest, who was thrilled that 1) We weren’t living together (apparently all the other couples he was counseling were already living together) and 2) we were planning to use NFP. We talked a lot about NFP and its benefits, and I still haven’t seen a downside to it.

    My mother’s idea of preparing me for marriage was to make sure I knew several things:

    1) Men were ugly “down there.”

    2) Get on the Pill as soon as you can, preferably before you marry.

    3) Men will drag you down and keep you barefoot and pregnant if you’re not careful.

    4) Get a college degree and start a career before you even THINK of having babies.

    I asked my brother once if he had gotten any sort of “save sex before marriage” talk, or anything of the sort, and he looked at me, puzzled, and said. “No.”

    Needless to say, my mother was mortified when I told her I was pregnant…four months after the wedding. And when she heard through the family grapevine that I had had a second child, she nearly threw up.

    • Jen

      he-he! Sounds kind of like the down-low my mom gave me the night before my wedding, too! Only instead of the Pill part, she said, “And you will go to HELL if you ever refuse to have sex with your husband!” Wow.

    • Karen

      Meant to say, it was 1998, got married in 1999. In Ohio.

  • Kathryn N

    We did a one day marathon at the parish my husband grew up in as well as some other counseling sessions, both together and separately(because we were dating long distance and both of us couldn’t always make it). The most memorable portion of the marathon day was at the end when they were doing Q&A, they had a presenter assigned to each table to answer our questions, ours happened to be the parish deacon. He decided to get the ball rolling by pointing out(rather loudly) to our table that my hubby-to-be and I were the only couple that weren’t living together and that we were probably the only ones who knew what NFP was, much less how to use it. Slightly mortifying at the time, but kind funny in retrospect.

  • Elizabeth

    My husband and I went to an Engaged Encounter weekend in 2010 (yes, we’re still blissful newlyweds!). It was an interesting experience. Two couples, one older and one younger, gave little talks about different subjects (marriage, communication, practicing the faith, etc.) and then we were sent away to write down our feelings on the subject. They gave us booklets with questions for each subject that were supposed to elicit deep conversation apparently. Woman that I am, I poured out my heart. My husband usually wrote one or two word answers, or poetry when he was particularly bored. It was WAY too touchy/feely for most of the men there I think. Honestly, we really didn’t learn anything about each other we didn’t already know. We were surprised how many couples there had never discussed things like children, birth control and going to Mass on Sundays!

    The NFP portion was absolutely terrible. A nurse gave a 15 minute blurb right before dinner and focused completely on the biological bits (I love watching people turn red and squirm!). The take home message of the talk was this is an ecologically friendly, Church approved method of birth control. Awesome.

    The last night of the retreat, they made time for a question and answer session. My husbanded and I planted questions in the question box to stimulate some discussion on birth control and NFP, so we got some good conversation going that way. I did feel bad that this was probably the first and only exposure that these couples were going to get to NFP. I’ve read and prayed about the subject for several years and still struggle mightily with it!!

  • Jen

    My husband and I were married two years ago. We’d heard enough horror stories about others’ marriage prep classes, that we decided to do “the requirements” and then piece together our own. It worked really well. On our own time, we went through Gregory Popcak’s book “For Better…Forever!” and we found NFP materials and someone who could teach us the Creighten Model system. We read “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” and “The Five Love Languages” and some book about the four temperaments — all helpful in some ways and a bit useless in others. Oh, and my techie fiance designed an elaborate budget spreadsheet for tracking our spending (it’s still is baby and has gotten so elaborate that I can’t even use it anymore… but, oh well, because the main point is that he gets to play with excel spreadsheets…) So all in all, what we pieced together was helpful to us & more practical than the quick classes we got through our church. We recommend the “DIY” approach to all our engaged friends these days!

  • Christine

    I was 22 and my then husband to be was 24. We were getting married in San Antonio TX. My 2 evenings of pre-cana were spent in the side yard of the church having morning sickness. We were expecting. I don’t remember a thing I learned, but one thing the diocese did require in 1992 was taking an NFP course. The whole course, not just a little talk about it. I had never even heard of NFP. We were just going to use contraception like everyone else did, that was your only option, right? At the time I didn’t know it, but that class changed our lives and I think our road as a married couple. We just took it for face value, believed what our instructor said and started using it. Our teacher was a wonderful woman who had 7 children, and I’m thinking this really works? You’re not exactly the poster child for this class! As we started charting, the stuff worked and it also worked on our hearts. We have been married for almost 18 years and have taught NFP for 12 years. We have six kids of our own now. We didn’t start out the way I would have wished, but I do believe that that class changed our course and vision for our lives. God makes all things new, even what seems like disaster in the making. Thanks for the blog, it’s great.

    • http://sweetridgesisters.wordpress.com sweetridgesisters

      What a beautiful story, thank you.

    • http://thingsthatlast.blogspot.com Mary

      That was such a great comment! love it!!

  • JoAnna

    My husband and I are converts from the ELCA, so we did “marriage prep” – such as it was – in that denomination. As I recall, it consisted of meeting with the pastor who married us two or three times, and taking a compatibility test (we then discussed the results with the pastor, and he pointed out our strengths and weaknesses as a couple).

  • courtneyeschbach

    Married in NH in 2009. I was 29 and he was 30. Husband is an Episcopal priest. I studied theology in school. The Catholic priest who married us met with us several times and we had several big theological discussions about what marriage is and he told us (if I remember correctly) that the diocese mandated that we attend an official pre-cana conference. Since now-husband works on Sundays we couldn’t do the weekend retreat so we settled on the day long retreat.

    It starts on Sunday morning — you know, when we’re supposed to be in church. I know, I know I could go to the vigil mass or the sunday evening Mass but it just struck me weird that the program was held on a Sunday, which is a day of obligation and worship, not a Saturday.

    The gentleman running the retreat (who was apparently a certified marriage counselor) had an incredibly dim view of the male/female relationship that boiled down to women nag and talk to much and men just want to be quiet and fix things. Seriously, it was as if all marital relationships were made in the Homer and Marge Simpson mold. I really really bristled at this.

    He also, on the few times cohabitation and pre-marital sex came up, would spout the church’s position and then do a little wink-wink, nudge nudge. That actually POd my husband more than me because doing “the right thing” was pretty counter-cultural in our group of friends and it was costing us a boatload of money. To get patronized for living chastely was really off putting.

    There was a couple who came to talk to us for a segment about real life marriage and they were really great. I wish they had run the whole thing. They talked about day to day practicalities but also about praying together and relying on God. Some of their financial advice was a little outdated but that’s what we have a financial planner for.

    The NFP segment was pathetic. It was couched in the “Well, if you’d like a moral way to plan your family here it is and here’s a little of how it works.” It was completely passive, didn’t explain any of the “why” behind the Church’s position on contraception and just seemed overly apologetic, as if “Well, we know none of you will listen but we have to tell you this. So here.” We met with a nurse from the local Catholic hospital who taught us the Creighton method but emphasized more of the charting than the theology (which was fine because that was her job) but my husband was really thirsty for answers. I ended up just giving him my copy of the Theology of the Body.

    They had someone come in from the local ballroom studio to teach a segment on, well, I’m not sure what. I already knew my WASPy husband couldn’t salsa.

    And then, in discussing the liturgy, the gentleman running the program decided to pick on my husband (because he was late coming in from church). He started rattling off questions about the liturgy and my husband started answering them. In detail. That kind of threw the moderator. I guess he was planning on doing some sort of “Aha! You think you can X! But really you must Y!” thing and, suffice it to say, he picked the wrong dude.

    The whole thing was aimed at — jeesum, can there be something lower than the lowest common denominator? Between the guy behind us who joked for 6 hours about killing his fiancee’s cat (charming!) and the couple who was obsessed with having a unity candle (what do you mean it isn’t scriptural?) we figured we were owed a few gin and tonics after it was all over. We were both so disappointed.

    That said, I realize that these things aren’t and probably shouldn’t be oriented towards a couple where one member specializes in old testament studies and reads arameic hebrew and koina greek for fun and another who has a subscription to Communio and worked for a canon lawyer. But the lack of theology or prayer in the entire thing was just jarring and greatly surprised our pastor who I believe ended up writing a letter to the chancery after recovering his teeth (which had dropped out of his mouth as we told him all about the seminar at our marriage prep meeting the following week).

  • Kate

    I feel pretty fortunate after reading all these comments!

    DH and I were married in my home diocese, but for most of our engagement we lived in his home diocese and we decided to do the marriage prep requirements his parish called for – still the most stringent requirements I’ve yet heard of.

    We were given a list of NFP classes to choose from, ranging from a weekend workshop in Billings to the 4 classes over 4 months from CCL. There were a lot of options as to times and scheduling. We took a CCL class and found it fairly informative. It was nice that there were three already married couples taking the class with us who had questions about breastfeeding and post-partum use so we got a little preview into that.

    We also had to take a conflict resolution class offered through the diocese. There was only two dates available for that, but it was only a couple hours, and was honestly very useful (though we had a good chuckle at the presenting couple, who were very hippy-ish.)

    We attended a marriage prep weekend at a local retreat center, which was fantastic. The weekend was organized by the wonderful Fr. John Riccardo (http://frjohnriccardo.libsyn.com/) and he was very impressive in how he dialogued with the…well, with everybody else in the class, who were living together and using contraception. :-P We felt like we stuck out a bit, but we enjoyed the various presenters and the frequent prayer breaks. The financial presenter was quite good and gave us all a workbook on budgeting and planning that I’m still referencing and trying to utilize.

    Oh, and in the midst of all this, we took the FOCCUS questionnaire and reviewed the answers over 8 hours (spread out over a few months) of sit down chats with a mentor couple matched with us through the parish.

    After all that, I can still say we probably could have used more prep, or at least that we would have benefited from paying even closer attention to the prep we had. Marriage is a big deal! I’m grateful we had so many opportunities to work out some issues and potential conflicts in advance.

  • http://www.gardenofholiness.blogspot.com Christie

    My conversion happened after we were married for three years. I started RCIA and then we started the process to get our marriage blessed. Father agreed to bless us, but insisted that we promise to go to marriage prep classes, which we did at the next available opening–about 8 months later.

    Um…so, I was eight month’s pregnant at the time we finally took the marriage prep class. We had also taken the NFP classes (they had an opening first), so we were called upon as the marriage prep class “experts” on NFP. Here we were 3, almost 4, years married, HUGEly pregnant and blithering on about NFP as only the newly converted can. Right.

    I can only imagine what was going through those young kids’ minds.

  • Lisa

    We went to an EE weekend in the midwest (1990). I had been a Catholic all but a year, but my husband and I had heard how bad these things were a head of time, so we made all sorts of evil plans on how disruptive we were going to be during this weekend that we considered stolen from us. IRL we are very friendly but not the assertive type, so of course we didn’t go and cause problems, but I remember laughing so hard as we were driving to the retreat center, making up all sorts of scenarios and the outrageous things we were going to say to set everyone straight.

    The entire weekend was was led by one couple who were, despite being lukewarm Catholics (as far as we could tell), the ultimate in cool. They were also warm, friendly, and comfortable. If I remember correctly, they were in their mid-thirties and had 3 kids. None of what they talked about really mentioned much about the Church, its theology on marriage, sex/BC/NFP etc. but they did offer some good practical insights into marriage.—-which was probably good since as an on-fire 20 year- old neophyte, I was on major heresy alert—-and I was going to squash it with the sheer force of my will (or so I imagined). Needless to say, their personalities disarmed me and the absolute lack of theology cleared them from the Inquisition I had packed in my suitcase.

    What I do remember best was the workbook we used, called “When Families Marry” (or something close to that). It is memorable for a couple of diverse reasons:

    It actually was a decent book because its premise that we bring our families (and their tradition, perceptions, etc. that goes with them) to the marriage really is valid.

    Much of the workbook consisted in answering questions first about how we were raised in a particular area (which were compared with our fiancee) and then our expectations for our marriage (again compared after answering privately). We had some great discussions even after we were married about some of the topics raised in the book: like caring for elderly parents or whether it was the individual or the family as a whole that was valued in the families we were raised in.

    Theologically it was probably a sham but was most distinctive was the sex section: it was basically two pages of porno. I mean make you blush kind of stuff. After we married and I was doing my student teaching, a lunch time conversation was struck concerning pre-cana classes. No one believed me that Catholic Church would allow such a book, so I brought it in. People gasped—I’m not kidding!!

    I’m glad now, 21 years later, that my 8 kids (5 teenagers) are being raised differently than I was and that they’ve had the opportunity to witness some nice Catholic courtships and new marriages. No class replaces the primer family living provides for these young people and there are lots of good book out there now for these kids to read and discuss on their own. Anything else is gravy.

    I think I’ll go look for that workbook now…

    • Anna

      My parents were facilitating marriage prep classes for some years and *hated* that book for that very reason. Their own coverage of the subject matter in the actual sessions was on-target with Church teaching, but they said they felt awful for couples who were trying to remain chaste (a minority in their classes) and were handed, as you said, a porno book by the archdiocese. They did go the the archdiocese with their complaints and I gather it has been revised somewhat, though that revision didn’t happen until there was a fair amount of shake-up in the chancery offices.

  • Steve T.

    In 1997, the average price of gold was $331.29 a troy ounce.

    As of today, Friday, March 25th, the spot price of gold is $1,428.71 a troy ounce.

    So they were right.

    Shoulda listened.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/simchafisher Simcha Fisher

      Crap. We didn’t learn how to communicate until, like, last Thursday, either.

  • http://www.laundryandlullabies.blogspot.com Emily

    I’m Anglican, so our marriage prep didn’t have anything about NFP in it (we discovered it for ourselves later). We had an overview of the theology of marriage, basically. Very little on the practical aspects of how to be married WELL and what to do when problems arise.

    We’re coming up on 8 years now, and often say to each other “hmm, wouldn’t it have been nice if they’d told us how to handle x,y,z BEFORE we were married?” ;)

  • Kristin

    Mid 90′s, southeastern US.

    We spent all day Saturday with a bunch of other couples crammed into a CCD classroom at our church. The priest was super crabby, and at lunch actually scolded us all us for striking up conversations with other couples, because “you aren’t here to make friends.”

    We filled out lots of worksheets and questionnaires. Then we watched a movie about NFP. It was animated. LOL.

  • Megs

    We went to an EE in Cullman, AL in 1989 and also had several sessions with a Dominican priest who was stationed at the student center at the university where my future husband was attending graduate school. The potential points of contention on our marital inventory indeed became the sources of marital conflict for us although we’ve done a lot of learning together about how to work through those issues. I’m not saying those issues are completely resolved–after being married 20 years I doubt they will be, but we were aware of our differences on those subjects before we were married and, by golly, we still struggle with them :).

    We did have a good NFP class that met for three sessions scheduled over the course of two cycles and included follow up visits with a person trained in the Billings Method (sorry if that method seems unenlightened, but that was what was offered in our diocese), but based on what others have said we had much better preparation than most. I was very attentive to what was said because I’d been in an intense relationship with someone else prior to meeting my future husband and had suffered a lot spiritually and emotionally, so I was ready to hear what the Church had to say re: fertility and being open to life with my husband. The actual practice is not easy because my husband and I are not compatible with our need for physical intimacy, but I am grateful that the Church has given some guidance, albeit imperfect, to help us.

    I don’t remember much of what was said during the EE weekend other than the usual: communicate, make time for each other, be open to life, make God and prayer a part of your marriage, but basically I guess those *are* important parts of nurturing a marriage over the long haul.

    One thing that I wish had been emphasized more in marriage prep is that “until death do you part” can be a very long time and making that commitment can be painful for any number of reasons especially if one of the spouses isn’t as deeply committed or wants to let the other spouse do all the heavy lifting in a marriage either by intent or by passively letting things slide–I don’t think I really had a full grasp of what I was saying when I committed myself for life to my husband–it didn’t take long to realize the extent of what I had said! I believe marriage can bring a couple closer to God, but I think couples need a better understanding that there is a lot of walking around in the dark and bumping into things over the course of time. Married life is messy, but a worthy way to spend your life.

  • http://lydiapurpuraria.wordpress.com lydiacubbedge

    I got married in 2005. We had great pre-cana with Msgr. Charles Pope, who married us. We avoided doing the normal pre-cana fireside chats or group weekend things. I don’t know. Marriage is so personal that group stuff seems a little out of place, but maybe that’s just me. I don’t work well in groups. Our priest addressed the big issues, but he also knew that my husband and I had no plans at all to use contraception. We signed up for a CCL class but were turned away because we were late (we’d been given the wrong time). So, we got through pre-cana and the FOCUS evaluation, which was good and thorough. Funny thing, though. I found my old evaluation the other week and looked through it. Stuff that has not been an issue at all were highlighted as being potentially problematic, and other stuff I was blithely unconcerned about has come up to bite us. Marriage is funny like that. You can’t really ever totally prepare for it, no matter how good your prep is.

  • http://cjvdomesticengineer.blogspot.com Christina

    We had three one-on-one sessions with a mentor couple and did a weekend retreat with forty other couples. The closest we got to talking about NFP went like this:

    Them: So, have you talked about children?

    Us: Yes. We’d like to have a big family.

    Them: Ahh, good. Now how about finances?

  • http://aerinlissar.blogspot.com Kyra

    We weren’t Catholic when we were married- I was a cradle Anglican and my fiance was a recent Christian convert. I was 24 and he was 22. I’m a cradle robber. We did premarital counseling with an assistant minister who utterly rubbed us the wrong way, and had to do a fifteen page multiple choice questionnaire which told them (apparently) that we were a poor match. They advised us that it wasn’t their policy to marry couples whom they thought would divorce, and we had an emotional and terrible time and almost got married somewhere else.

    They eventually agreed to marry us but gave us a letter stating that they didn’t think this was a good idea and they basically weren’t responsible for the consequences. We were young and dumb, probably, but enthusiastic, Christian, and chaste.

    We’ve been married eight years and have two kids and one in Heaven, entered the Catholic Church in 2007, and are still kind of sore and weirded out by the whole incident.

    We learned about NFP a year before we entered the Church, started, did it very imperfectly and got our first kid.

  • J H

    We got married in NH in 2009, but since my husband was in Albania for two of our four month engagement we were told that we could just have a priest instruct us for three hours to fulfill the requirement. We had a very holy priest. We didn’t think we needed much prep (ha!) but he taught us a lot!! and some of the topics were pretty unexpected. He talked a lot about the “marital privilege”, ensuring culture in the home, raising of children, what to do in instances of infidelity, not so much about finances, need for prayer, extended family involvement, etc. He did talk about NFP and was very clear on what the Church’s teaching on it. We also had to do the FOCCUS test, which was fine. The priest whose parish we were married in (not our pre-Cana priest) asked NINE TIMES if either of us had ever been married before. And that was just our first meeting. Apparently, he’d been burned a few times by people lying to him. After having such a good priest prepare us, I feel badly for people who have so little preparation.

  • http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/ Erin Manning

    One on one with our priest, who *hated* the diocesan classes and wouldn’t send anybody to them. He had us read the Catechism on marriage and discuss it with him. I was 26, my husband-to-be was 34 and decently employed, so Father didn’t worry too much about instructing us in finances, and when he asked us a gentle question about NFP classes we both said, “Oh, we’re getting married kind of “older” so we don’t have any reason to wait if we want a big family,” which was fine with our dearly pro-life, baby-welcoming pastor. (As it turns out, waiting might have meant fewer than our three–which is a scary thought!)

    There were two things about those weekly “sessions,” five or six in all before we married, that I remember: one, that one Sunday when Father seemed busy he asked a married couple with four young children to talk to us instead, and two, that one Sunday before our class he asked us to stay and be proxy godparents for a couple who would be arriving with their child very soon.

    The married couple with the four young children had just returned from their first “alone together” vacation since they’d gotten married, and they spent the whole time telling us how terribly, vitally important it would be for us to get away from our as-yet-nonexistent children! As it turned out, we’ve never really been those parents, and like to have our kids with us on vacations and things. :) Which goes to show how different marriage and parenthood are for everybody.

    The couple who showed up with their baby to baptize–well, that was an amazing scene, because there we were in rural North Carolina, and the gentleman who walked in was a man, who was not from North Carolina, whom my husband had served with in Japan and hadn’t seen in over a decade! Father was tickled pink by the whole thing–that we would be the ones standing by to be that darling little girl’s proxy godparents.

    I really think marriage preparation should be one-on-one with one’s pastor, though, instead of a bureaucratic “process” which tries to speak to all married couples and ends up tailoring the advice and presentations only to a tiny handful. But then again, I home school, so maybe I’m biased toward that approach generally. :)

  • Maria

    We were married in 2004 and did our pre-cana in a conservative diocese on the East Coast. Two couples and a preist gave several talks at a one day conference on the theology of marriage, sexuality, communication, finances, and parenting.. Both confession and Mass were offered. NFP was presented, both theologically by the priest (from a TOB viewpoint) and practically by the couple. This conference was a supplement to several private meetings with your priest. How good those were depended on the priest. Ours was excellent.

    Almost seven years later, my husband and I now give talks at these engaged conferences in our diocese. We get stats on all the couples there (usually 60-80 couples), including how many are co-habitating. Usually about 50%. It’s interesting to have an inside few and read all the evaluation forms the couples fill out at the end. You can never make everyone happy, especially on NFP issues. Either couples are complaining that the Church just “doesn’t get it” or we are pushing “Catholic contraception” by even talking about it. Sheesh.

    In our NFP talk, my husband and I actually spend half of the time talking about why contraception is wrong because, seriously, almost no one does NFP if they aren’t convinced contraception isn’t really wrong. Then we spend a very, very brief time talking about the science of NFP, just so everyone knows it is not the rhythm method, and STRONGLY suggest everyone take the full class. A little biological info about NFP is a very, very dangerous thing in a young couples’ hands, if they don’t take the class. I know from experience! Then we talk a little bit about the struggles and positives of NFP itself, trying not to scare people off but also to giving them a white-washed version of the truth of NFP.

    I must say after doing these conferences for a couple years, I begin to worry less about if I’m giving the couples’ the best possible marriage advice or not. You can’t prepare someone for marriage in 7 hours in a group of 180 complete strangers. I now focus more on just praying. Praying to the Holy Spirit that something one of us says points someone present to Christ. If a couple comes out with a heart, mind, and soul more open to Christ, that’s really the best thing for their marriage.

  • http://wonderfulworldofweez.blogspot.com/ Louise

    My husband and I were married in 2007 in Ohio. We were both in our early 20s. My parish required an NFP class, which was attended by us and one other couple that had been married a few months before and was already charting. Most of the parishioners at this particular church are older, so there aren’t a ton of young couples, but I was still shocked by how few people were there as the classes were only offered every few months and we got married during the “busy season.”

    The couple who taught the class were CCL teachers. They were very kind and I thought they did a good job explaining the workings of NFP. My husband is not Catholic and while he has always been completely on-board and supportive (and cooperative!) regarding my family-planning beliefs, he isn’t necessarily as much of an NFP “cheerleader” as I am. It was interesting to hear his reaction, because I think it was probably much more typical than mine (I had just discovered Theology of the Body and was very excited about NFP). I think it made him a little nervous to notice that the teaching couple had eight children. (Hmm…sounds familiar! ;) ) At the time, my response was, “Oh, how wonderful, they’ve been open to life and God has blessed them abundantly!” whereas his was more along the lines of, “So NFP basically doesn’t work, right?”

    I certainly don’t mean to berate my husband in any way for thinking that — I quietly worried about the same thing. But as I reflect upon it, it makes me realize that just explaining the mechanics of NFP with a dash of theology would be completely ineffectual for many couples. It takes so much more than that in a world where many, many Catholics have never even heard of NFP.

    We also had to attend a diocesan retreat for engaged couples. I don’t remember anything too crazy happening. There was a session on NFP towards the end, and each couple received a free copy of “Good News About Sex and Marriage” by Christopher West. I don’t think the session itself would have been all that effective for couples who planned to use contraception.

    Finally, we had 3 pre-Cana sessions with the priest who married us, a wonderful Dominican friar. We each had to take a test during the first session. I think it was intended to both measure our compatibility and assess our expectations for marriage. That wasn’t all that enlightening (although I suppose it could have been if we were terribly off base), but our talks with the priest were wonderful. He thoroughly explained the purpose of marriage, what constitutes a valid marriage in the Church, etc., while comfortably engaging us in discussions about our relationship. Up until that point, my husband had had very limited experiences with Catholic priests, and I think those sessions really helped him to feel more at ease in the Church and develop a greater admiration for the priesthood.

    So, in summary: our marriage preparation requirements were okay, but not great. Meeting privately with our priest was much more helpful than any of the “group” activities.

  • http://momscwot.blogspot.com/;http://letthemeatsyrup.blogspot.com Christy

    In 1991, we heard nothing, to my memory, of NFP in our marriage prep classes (in Iowa), despite the fact that I revealed a desire to have 9 kids, in contrast to my husband’s desire to have 2. I guess it’s not surprising that (fast forward many years) after 14 years of leading couples in marriage prep as sponsors and/or reviewing Foccus assessments with engaged couples (in Kansas), we’ve yet to receive any real instruction on NFP or how to promote it. We discussed this with our new priest and he agrees that it should be integral to Catholic marriage prep. Honestly, I have the maturity of a 12 year old when it comes to the sexuality portion of the preparation (I’m trying not to laugh nervously right now) and always just hoped that we could race through that section and let our own house full of kids (8 now) send a message about openess to life. Marriage prep sponsors need more training that is friendly with busy family schedules. A separate NFP introductory course led by a competent person should be part of the mandatory process.

  • Elizabeth

    We got married and did our marriage prep in 2008 in the archdiocese of Washington DC. Requirements were 3 (? I think it was 3) session with a priest – just the couple and the priest marrying you – a two day weekend session and I don’t remember if the NFP was required or not, but we did it. I am pretty sure it was required, but you had to arrange for the class yourself. But luckily there were quite a few options. We planned the wedding in 5 months, so it was tight squeezing it all in! I was definitely impressed with the marriage prep weekend done by the diocese. I guess I kind of expected it to be lame and more of the feel-good type of thing, but they really brought up all the hard topics (including NFP) and had a lot of great speakers and priests and then gave couples time to discuss, etc. Mostly I was impressed with how positively they protrayed things like NFP (especially because probably 90% of our fellow attendees were already living together) and just how well it was all done.

    Our NFP was through CCL and was also good. Unfortunately, I lost our book in a move and thought I had paid better attention than I did…we just had our second, so I think we may need a refresher course!! :)

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

    We were married in the states at my parents Roman-rite church with our Eastern- rite bishop officiating and two other priests (from a different Eastern jurisdiction)- so we had to fulfill the requests of:

    1. the diocese in the old country (we thought we were going back)

    2. the diocese in the US connected to our old country

    3. the diocese where the other priests were from

    4. the Roman Catholic diocese of the physical church we were married in

    The ONLY aspect of life that the Roman-rite priest at marriage prep (30 couples) was definitive about was: Have a joint checking account. Nothing about living together before marriage, birth control…very sad

    The bright side? The class (5 sessions) was on Friday and we would have shrimp broccoli at the Chinese restaurant afterward and have some REAL discussions about marriage

  • Julie

    My husband and I were married in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2009. We attended an “Engaged Encounter” weekend, which we both thought was terrific — definitely better than we had expected. I thought they had a great model — taught by two married couples (one younger, one older), with topics (communication, finances, sex, children, faith, etc.) discussed by the leaders before allowing us to write down our thoughts individually, then share them with just our fiance (not the whole group).

    We also had a lovely mass and an even more lovely prayer service, where the lead couples prayed with each engaged couple in turn, privately. NFP was mentioned, but not instructed. We were provided with information on how to find separate NFP classes. I think the weekend was really solid — I’d definitely recommend it.

    And, interestingly enough, at the end of the weekend we learned that one of the participating engaged couples wasn’t even Catholic. They’d had Catholic friends who had attended the weekend and this (non-Catholic) couple figured that it made sense to try anything that would provide their marriage with a firmer foundation. They were really pleased they’d done so.

  • Joy L

    My husband and I converted a couple years after our marriage, which took place when we were both 21. Our marriage prep was from a Presbyterian minister, a meeting of about an hour. We had to write separately and bring to the meeting a list of 10 expectations we had for our marriage. Then we discussed our lists. That, and he told us to buy a sex manual.

    About a year after we converted we volunteered at our parish to help other couples during marriage formation. It must have been a sign of desperation that they let us actually help prepare other couples for marriage. What we did was have the couple to our home for supper and go over the results of their FOCCUS surveys (I forget what it stands for, but it’s just a personality/expectations inventory of about 150 questions). I admit it was interesting to see people’s responses… We did talk some about NFP with each couple. Most were very skeptical and clearly thought they shouldn’t be taking such advice from babes in the woods. Now, after almost 19 years of marriage and 6 kids I think I could finally tell them a little about marriage, but I still don’t think I’d have much credibility about NFP (smile).

  • Kate

    Well, my husband and I are graduates of one of those small orthodox Catholic schools. One of our school chaplains gave our marriage preparation and witnessed our marriage. We were asked to read a few papal encyclicals on marriage and we met with him to discuss them. As he was also our confessor, I think he had a pretty good pulse on what our weaknesses were and if we were ready for marriage. However, I think the best preparation for marriage for both of us was our parents’ happy and long-lasting unions. Every time I see a couple bring childhood divorce issues into marriage, I thank God that at least, as hard as marriage is, we don’t have this baggage to deal with. So, ultimately our marriage prep was Mom and Dad.

  • Anna

    We went on an EE weekend in 2003, which was helpful and we both liked. There was supposed to be a presentation on NFP, but the couple had the date wrong and turned out to be out of town. So the chaplain gave a brief talk about it, which wasn’t much and I don’t really remember much about it. The good thing was that one of the presenting couples then ended up talking about their experience; they hadn’t been all that on-fire about the faith earlier in their marriage and he’d had a vasectomy after a couple kids. He actually teared up talking about the damage that had done to their marriage and I think that couple’s witness did far more than a basic NFP talk would have.

    We also took the FOCCUS “instrument” and met with our officiating priest several times. He was the same priest who’d married my parents 30 years before, and so he wasn’t too worried about me and my fiance since he knew us so well. Though a bit more worry might have been good, rather than figuring that since we got the theology/morality part of things, we’d just skate on through married life. He did emphasize communication, mostly to my now-husband since, male himself, he knew the guy was far more likely to clam up than the gal. I don’t know if he would have required us to take NFP classes if we’d shown any reluctance to do so, but that was a given for us. We took intro sessions for both Creighton and CCL and went with CCL since we liked their take on things a bit better.

    Our archdiocese still doesn’t require NFP classes (it’s up to the individual pastors), but we are trying to promote it more. We have a Theology of the Body/brief NFP intro section required at the remarriage prep classes and we’ve opened that up to all marriage prep couples and are encouraging priests to send their couples to that at least, if they aren’t willing to rock people’s boats to the extent of making them take the whole NFP class. I do the ToB part of that and we really try to make it about conversion of hearts, not just “here, learn an approved method.”

  • Hmmmm…

    How sad reading these. How sad thinking of mine as well. The priest officiating our wedding was a very holy man, was fairly young and because of that was a very busy priest.

    Our marriage prep was very lacking.

    It consisted of 3 Saturdays with Father as a group talking about Marriage and the OT, Marriage and the NT, and the Theology of Marriage. It might have been nice but DH and I already had taken the course Theology of Marriage together at the college we were both attending.

    We also had to have 2 meetings together with Father and also choose 2 (or 3) activities on an approved list such as NFP classes, Engaged Encounter, etc.

    We did not take the FOCUS test, which I think could have been the most useful.

    DH and I got engaged at 19 and 20 (holy shit, what was I thinking?!) and married at 21 and 22.

    I thought we were hot snot. We were both on fire with our faith (yeah, us Catholics got it right!) but sadly the personal relationship with Christ was lacking. Whenever we struggled I would think, but we have such faith and surely the devil woudln’t want two faith filled people to marry and have a faith filled family. We’ll get through this.

    Ah, hem. I failed to realize that the whole practical matter of having shared interests and of getting along well really IS important in marriage. Our faith, values, morals could not be more identical, so we thought we were being so good and holy wanting a family and marriage above things like clubbing and traveling like the healthens we went to school with. Hmmmm. So why was I kneeling in front of the tabernacle begging the Lord to show me if we were really supposed to get married?

    THESE were the things that should have been addressed. (Ironically, we DID go to an engaged weekend a few months before we were to be wed and there for the first time we discovered that yellow caution lights in our relationship. We actually thought, holy cow, maybe we need to look at this further> My heart sunk at the thought and I am sure that had something to do with not having the strength to continue to search out that reality. We shared our thoughts with our pastor who chalked it up to “cold feet.” We nervously agreed. He probably just saw this good catholic couple on the outside like everyone else. How could he get to the inside of us? Priests are SO busy.

    Fast forward nearly 5 years and my heart aches so often. We should not have gotten married. I still don’t always have the optimism that this will ever get better.

    We finally experienced how marriage prep SHOULD be done 3 years in to our marriage. We confided our very troubled marriage and wounded selves to the pastor at our current parish. What a wonderful man. He gave us the FOCUS test. We went over each answer, so thoroughly that sometimes we only got through 3 answers in an hour. He got to the root, he saw the nuance in our answers. He made us lay it all on the table. Talking with him was the first time I felt a real hand from the church in our lives and our marriage. Haha. I’m crying now writing this. I do believed it helped a lot.

    He said that the priest’s main duties are the sacraments, and that sitting down and preparing a couple is to be a priority in the schedule. It should be an individual meeting with the couple and their FOCUS test thoroughly discussed. This is a very small parish and there are about 5 funerals for every wedding, so he has the time to do this, but I still think there needs to be a way for priests and couples to prepare these couples on a more individual basis. Yes, it takes time, but this is the most important thing in the world to them and the church. Their relationship with each other and God is the foundation for their family, the domestic church.

    So please do not belittle the idea of marriage prep (as a couple commenters poo-pooed it away). There is a right way to do it and it is important. It may not make a difference in a couple that is already prepared for marriage, but for the less than mature relationships, it will make all the difference in the world.

  • Hmmmm…

    Holy crap, that was way too long. Blame it on the emotion and pregnancy hormones!

  • http://myunorderedthoughts.wordpress.com completethree

    Been married four years

    We are re-doing our marriage prep

    Enough said :-)

  • Joan Maria

    My husband and I attended our diocese’s (Albany NY) Pre-Cana class before we were married in the summer of ’09. There’s really no need to get into the details, other than to say that the couple who taught the class were both divorcees and the wife was a divorce lawyer. That was great. Also, they ended the 8 hour (sadly useless) class by saying “Oh, by the way, the Catholic Church is not against birth control. Check out the nfp flyer in your packet.” It was very clear that they were implying that all methods of birth control were approved.

    On a positive end note, my husband and I decided right then and there that if we are able and there is a need, we would volunteer to help with these classes or with marriage prep in general a few years down the road. We’re not perfect of course, but we try to meet the “ugliness” of our diocese and the parishes in our diocese with charitable proactiveness as much as we can.

    • Maureen

      Joan

      That was my home diocese. It’s so sad how the zest for the corporal works of mercy have completely obliterated the attention to, or even acknowledgement of, the spiritual works of mercy. The Mystical aspects of the Church are so neglected there, even derided. It’s been going on so long that generations of people don’t even know that they’re missing something. Many prayers are needed.

  • Alice

    We got married in 2007, so our marriage prep was in 2006. Our diocese required the FOCCUS test, Pre-Cana OR Engaged Encounter, and a Christian Sexuality Workshop OR NFP classes. The FOCCUS test was a great tool to get us talking with each other and our priest and the NFP class was very, very useful. (The CCL materials, the presentation, and the presence of the teaching couple’s toddler made me want to go on the Pill, though.) The Pre-Cana workshop was orthodox, well-presented, and taught by another NFP teacher, but it was aimed at non-Catholics and those who hadn’t been to CCD since their First Communion, so I was annoyed that I had to take the day off work to attend.

  • http://allepsalite.blogspot.com JaneC

    Our marriage prep was in 2007, Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It consisted of taking the FOCCUS test, and one half-hour meeting with the pastor (I think there were supposed to be more meetings, but he evidently decided it wasn’t necessary), and a day-long Pre-Cana session with several speakers.

    There was a handout in our folders for an NFP segment, which implied there would be a talk, but there was no talk. The major things I remember about the day-long session were the fact that we were the only couple (out of about twenty-five) who weren’t already living together, the apparent need for this class for everyone except us (since several of the couples had clearly never discussed jobs, finances, or having children, and we’d had many long, soul-searching conversations about joint vs. separate accounts, let alone the rest) and Finance Guy. Finance Guy, supposedly a retired economics professor, spent about twenty minutes talking about buying generic canned corn rather than name-brand, and advised us to leave our one and only credit card in a drawer at home and pay cash for everything, because apparently he has never heard of building credit or renting a car or staying in a hotel.

    We ignored most of it, and have been very happy for three years.

  • Laura

    Man, you go off the internet for lent and miss all the good stuff.

    We got married in 1999 and did an “engaged encounter” weekend.

    God bless all those nice people, it was completely stupid. We still laugh about it today. The format was a presentation, then individual time to answer questions in a notebook, then time together to discuss it. I’m sure that would foster communication for some people, but life has taught me that 99% of couples have no frickin’ idea what is coming down the pike and stuff like that is fruitless. Mike and I agreed on everything, or at least thought we did. We were even mutually offended that we were supposed to discuss orgasms.

    I do recall sneaking into Mike’s room and trying to get him to make-out with me. That may have been brought on by the inappropriate questions.

    I realize that I live in a unique catholic land here, but we have had NFP crammed down our throats. Not, “hey, here’s a thing you might want to know about!” rather, “you have to do this to be a good catholic!” And man, that is the pervasive atmosphere here in Steubenville. I have had multiple encounters with people who are shocked, confused and flabbergasted to learn that we don’t “chart.” [I don't volunteer that information - I get asked.] And I know several couples who’s marriages were strained for various reasons because they were practicing some form of NFP and they felt totally liberated when they finally let it go.

    I think it’s just fine and dandy if you need it, and fully appreciate that in most of the world people are contracepting and NFP used, even poorly, is a huge step up. I think this is probably an in-house problem, but I do enjoy getting the chance to complain about it.

    I think good marriage prep would be along the lines of “You are about to attach yourself, irrevocably, to a person subject to concupiscence. Their family and yours are composed of similarly flawed people. Likely enough you will spawn a certain amount of likewise concupiscible children. Cling to Christ, make use of the sacraments, try to become a saint.

    You are going to mess up, probably really badly. Repeatedly. You will be deeply wronged. Bad things will happen that you never could have imagined. Cling to Christ, make use of the sacraments, try to become a saint.

    There will be amazing moments of trancendant joy, peace and happiness. Treasure them! File them away! They will not come at any predictable rate, and they are not guaranteed. There may be seasons full of them, and there may be seasons devoid of them. Thank God for everything, the good and the bad. Cling to Christ, make use of the sacraments, and try to become a saint.

    Now, here is a crate of tissues for the first few years of tears, and here is a large box of pregnancy tests. If you find you don’t need them, please pass them on to someone who does. Learn the number for poison control, don’t tell your mother anything that you don’t want her to remember for the next 30 years, and tape the local confession schedule up somewhere in the kitchen. Remember, people usually don’t die from lack of sleep, questionably old ground beef or an unmopped kitchen floor, but sometimes they do. Good luck! See you on the other side!”

    I probably should not teach marriage prep.

  • http://catholicanuck.blogspot.com JP

    @ Laura

    No, I think you SHOULD teach marriage prep. I’d want someone like you to teach MY kids!

    Marriage is a course in sainthood. Were any of us told that? Whether it’s trying to chart NFP with an immature spouse, rearing a handicapped child, rearing a perfectly normal child (or 10), figuring out how to explain to your older children why the eldest among them appears to have been premature… living with in-laws or just always being financially challenged, we are being trained for sainthood. We are to do our best to help our spouse get into heaven.

    That’s what it’s all about!

  • pimeusa

    @Laura – BRILLIANT.

    I just shared it with my coworker who is getting married this fall. He got a little pale. It was great.

  • lisaR

    @ Laura: You are completely correct. Thanks for posting this, because it is all true!! I wish I had you as our marriage prep counsellor 5 years ago!!

    @JP: Marriage IS a course in sainthood and definitely isn’t for the faint of heart!!

  • Constance

    My husband and I were married last August and went to Pre-Cana in the Diocese of Charlotte in February 2010. The course itself was fine, but seemed geared towards younger people who had not discussed finances, kids, jobs, moral teachings, division of labor, communication, etc. My husband and I were 33 and 29, so we discussed everything and knew what we wanted at that point. Not that we are anywhere near experts. We had just discussed the basics already. First year of marriage is tough, but so rewarding!

    As far as NFP goes, the Diocese of Charlotte does require all couples to attend a class. They added it to the Pre-Cana and it lasted about 1.5 hours. We were friends with the NFP Coordinator so we got lots of info from her. She also gave us and some friends a full 1 day course after our Pre-Cana. Our priest also suggested we attend a Theology of the Body lecture in Asheville where Bill Donaghy was speaking. It was awesome! We really enjoyed it and learned so much more about the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. We learned that NFP was to be used through prayerful discernment and not as “Catholic birth control”. I got pregnant 1.5 months after we married and we are expecting our first daughter in July! Yay!

    My current Diocese (we moved to VA) does do NFP with their Pre-Cana, but it is more of the..ahem…how shall I put this….politically correct version in these parts.

  • http://thealluringworld.blogspot.com Kayla

    My fiance Ryan and I are going through marriage prep now – sort of. You see, it is kind of unforgiving when it comes to scheduling and trying to choose a weekend that is entirely free. Maybe it’s just us (one of my friends commented that perhaps it shows how dedicated we are to our marriage that we can’t find a weekend from 8 pm Friday to who knows when Sunday to dedicate to our upcoming marriage) but it doesn’t seem like there is any thought given to “oh, these two people may not have regular, nine to five jobs Monday through Friday. And they might not have time accrued at their jobs to be able to take any time off yet.” We tried to go to a marriage prep weekend, but because we couldn’t get there at 8 pm, only at 10 pm Friday, then we weren’t allowed to attend at all and were refunded our money. So instead, we met with friends of ours (who are NFP teachers) and they did our marriage prep for us in one evening. We went through a list of topics that they and other couples have found to be important conversations (what to do if one of you loses the ability to lead a “normal” life, how to space children and why, what does it mean to budget, how do you feel about asking other couples for marital advice) and we thought that was really great. Then we broke into twos, so that the woman could share with me some personal experiences and the men could do their thing. We liked it, and were glad that finally something worked out that didn’t cost us $150.

  • http://halfdozhalfbaked.blogspot.com barbara

    Uh, I hate thinking bout marriage prep b/c we were idiots. We went to a friend of the family b/c our wedding was going to be in my hometown, not where I lived. He was fine, but he really didn’t get in depth with us, and stupidly, we thought we knew everything. We did do an NFP course, which was great for my husband but uncomfortable for me. I learned NFP at the dinner table and the formal setting and slide show photos of popes was weird to me. (My mom taught me to track my cycles ASAP so that I would at least not be caught unawares at school and have to buy one of those awful machine pads.) Anyway the who “prep” was no prep at all, which was as much our fault as anyone’s, dumb kids that we were.

    Married in 2003


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