Sunday, February 28, 2016

PROXIMATE PREPARATION

Once you are engaged, one of the most important things you can do to divorce-proof your coming marriage is to go on an Engaged Encounter Weekend, attend Evenings for the Engaged, or both, if they are available in your area.  The EE Weekend helps you look at every area of your future life together, from your faith to jobs, money, sex, children, family, and many other aspects of married life.  Many couples have never talked about a good number of these areas; there will probably be at least one where you will be surprised at what your future husband or wife thinks about something that you assumed you knew. 

The Engaged Encounter Weekend includes a series of presentations led by a team of married couples and a priest, who encourage each couple to talk privately about their upcoming marriage from the point of view of their own relationship. Personal reflection and couple discussion help reveal attitudes that can impact the marriage. The motto of Engaged Encounter, "A wedding is a day, a marriage is a lifetime," highlights the importance of serious preparation for a lifetime as a married couple who will positively affect their own family and the world around them.

A friend of ours who gave Engaged Encounter Weekends, told us that the teams often judged that it was a successful Weekend if at least one of the couples making the Weekend broke off their engagement as a result of discovering that they weren't really compatible when they started talking about serious issues.  It is far better to discover this when you are engaged than to have this dawn upon you once you are married.

This is much better immediate preparation than what my husband and I experienced. We met with my pastor and filled out some forms (which were in Latin) and possibly discussed marriage, but it left very little impression on me if we did.  I'm sure we chose the Readings for the Mass for our wedding day, although when the priest whom we'd flown up from my college arrived, he asked if we could change the Gospel Reading to Matthew 7:24-27, about the two foundations. Since he was Hungarian, I still remember how in his homily he rolled his "r's" as he emphasized that our marriage would be built solidly on the rock of the Church, and so it was.

But we also had had five years where we had gotten to know each other, from the time I was 17 and he was 16 until we were married at 22, and we had three years of writing love letters to each other while we were away at college, half a country apart, when we discussed all that we were thinking and experiencing as we were becoming adults.  I wrote a paper on the marriage feast in Dostoevsky's four major novels when I was taking Russian Literature, and the professor told me I could probably have it published, though I never pursued it.  In addition, we saw some of the things we didn't want in our marriage as his parents were going through a separation, and we had the good example of my parents, who were married over 50 years before they died. 

We were an unusual couple but I'm sure we would have benefited from an Engaged Encounter Weekend if they had existed then. These Weekends take good engaged relationships and bring them to the next level, even when couples are convinced (as most are) that no one could be more deeply in love than they are!  They also point out that the couple is not getting married in a vacuum, but in a community and world that needs the witness of their faithful and passionate married love.

Monday, February 15, 2016

WEDDING VOWS

If the first two ways to divorce-proof your marriage focus on being sure you are marrying the right person, the third is part of the more immediate preparation.  Don't write your own wedding vows.  In many churches, including the Catholic Church, the vows are part of the official liturgy and generally can't be changed but in some churches or where the bride and groom are getting married in a civil ceremony, there is a lot of leeway for romantic silliness.  You may think you are writing the most original, poetic vows ever invented, but as a frequently published poet, I can assure you that they won't be.  Instead, they trivialize the seriousness of what you are undertaking, and often water down the lifetime commitment the vows should address.  Some of them go on and on at great length and say basically what the traditional vows cover with often rococo additions and--sadly--even ungrammatical constructions, as in "I will look with joy down the path of our tomorrow's" (sic).  It is tempting to want to express the uniqueness of your love in your vows, but there are many other avenues for creativity--the dress, the cake, the reception--and if you truly want to astonish, work at making your marriage exceptional and enduring once you have become man and wife. But that is for another blogpost!

Monday, February 8, 2016

LIFE LONG MARRIAGE

The second way to pursue a divorce-proof marriage is to marry someone committed to marriage for life. Because my husband and I were married in the Catholic Church at a time when marriages were expected to last, and people were scandalized when they didn't, we took our vows seriously and intended to be married for life.  

The Church makes this clear as the priest introduces the declaration of intentions:
My dear friends, you have come together in this church so that the Lord may seal and strengthen your love in the presence of the Church's minister and this community.  Christ abundantly blesses this love.  He has already consecrated you in baptism and now he enriches and strengthens you by a special sacrament so that you may assume the duties of marriage in mutual and lasting fidelity.
At some point, after we had been married for quite a few years, one of my husband's coworkers asked him if, being a lawyer, he had drawn up a pre-nuptial contract for us.  He replied that the only contract he used was "to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part."  

These days, when a much higher percentage of marriages end in divorce, and cohabitation is more socially accepted, one would do well to be certain that the person you are dating believes that marriage is permanent and gives indications that he or she honors other commitments undertaken.  Someone who frequently breaks promises or backs out of things he said he'd do is not good marriage material.  

In addition, it's critical to think about the things that are most important to you in marriage besides faith and commitment. Neil Clark Warren's book, How to Know if Someone Is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less is invaluable in helping individuals discover the qualities that are essential and those that are deal-breakers in a future spouse.  As he writes,  "you need to rehearse the fact that a bad marriage is a thousand times worse than no marriage at all."  Those of us who have seen friends in a catastrophic marriage or one that ends in divorce can testify to the truth of that statement, and the devastating effects on children of such a marriage. Really evaluating what you are looking for in a potential marriage partner is an essential investment in building a future with the right person.