Our church has a pre-marriage program that is very powerful in bringing couples to a deeper faith and deeper personal awareness.
When engaged couples come in to see me in my office, who want to get married, many are already living together. Many do not go to church on Sunday, and many do not pray regularly.
I see it as part of my job to help them understand the importance of our faith lives and prayer, and also to have a deeper awareness that we all have baggage we carry from our past. As we have grown up in our families, we all have taken on some dysfunction some of us more and some of us less, but we all have at least some.
I will give them statistics at some point. Many of the couples do not like to be considered statistics, and rightfully so. But I like to give a bigger picture to what they are getting into.
• About 50-60 percent of all marriages end in divorce in our culture, here in the US.
• If a married couple goes to church every week, about 70 percent stay together for life.
• If the couple prays together every day, it’s about 80 percent that stay together for life.
• And if the couple practices what we call natural family planning (NFP), then 99 percent of those married couples stay together for life. When I tell them this, most often, both of the couples are taken aback and want to learn more about what NFP is.
NFP is focused on a total self gift of the couple to each other in the physical intimacy of marriage. These teachings operate on many different levels: psychological, emotional, physical, and certainly spiritual. They are a wholistic approach to the sexuality of the human person.
What they do is create an unselfish way of giving to each other, rather than a selfish taking. They take lust out of the relationship and put a deep self-giving love into the marriage.
The pre-marriage program encourages the couple to become best friends and soulmates. We believe, as Christians, that before the two future spouses were even born, their match was made in heaven. God chose the two of them to come together at this time in their lives, to spend the rest of their earthly lives together for perhaps the next 50 to 60 years, or more. We want their marriage to be the best possible marriage, with the highest quality and deepest happiness.
Personal awareness is also critically important to this process. To understand how we grew up and that the many influences on us affect how we relate with others is crucial. We all carry the good and not-so-good of our family life growing up. And so, for those to be married, they must know how they relate in the many ways we do as human beings.
For instance, how does each express their anger when they are mad at each other? Can each of them make themselves vulnerable to each other and still feel loved and respected?
Are both able and willing to help fill each other’s needs as they arise?
Are they both trustworthy and safe on a deeper level?
And, God-willing, if the future spouses have children, the children will observe very carefully how mom and dad relate. If mom and dad relate in ways that are very kind and gentle, respectful, honest, and generous, the kids will grow up and do the same. Most often, the children will choose good friends that relate in the same way as mom and dad, and, as they grow into adulthood, they will most likely choose future spouses with the same ways of loving each other.
I also tell the couples that it is important that they are not getting married based on the qualities of the other. Qualities such as intelligence, good looks, and athleticism will fade with the passing of time. Accidents or illness can change one’s life quickly.
Our faith tells us that each one of us is unrepeatable, that each one of us is unique and special in the eyes of God. We marry each other based on that divine providence and the coming together in our specialness by God’s direction, not on the changing qualities of our spouse.
When we move away from God’s plan, we become miserable. It is only when we learn to trust His love and mercy that we begin to come to Him, slowly conforming ourselves to His beautiful plan for us.
NFP is a very powerful way in which God speaks to us of health and virtuous living. When we choose to pray and behave in ways consistent with the Gospel, we become happy.
God made us in His image and likeness we are children of God, and when we are good, do good, and be good, we are simply being the way God has created us. This is what makes us happy, and certainly God wants us to be happy. It is sin that makes us miserable.
So, let us continue to turn towards God, even when we may mess up, trusting in His infinite mercy and love.