In my last post, I gave some practical tips for Catholic engaged couples including the importance of prayer, planning your wedding together and learning to love your spouse. Here are more helpful tips to help you discern and be fully prepared for the sacrament of marriage (and also some helpful suggestions for those who are single and waiting to get married):
Get Serious! Read and Prepare:
Most everyone knows, or should know, that marriage isn’t just a walk in the park. Good marriages take work and great marriages take more work.
Priests study for their vocation for eight years! Catholic couples get a weekend encounter, if that. Big whoop! While it is better than nothing, it is incredibly important to read and study on our own, to learn what marriage is about and what it takes to make it excel. Reading and studying will also help you and your future spouse to grow as individuals and together. (You will thank me later.) The more work you put in before and during your engagement period, the more you will reap the benefits. Here are a few of many recommended titles:
For Better… Forever! A Catholic Guide to Life-Long Marriage – By Gregory Popcak
A Catholic Handbook for Engaged and Newly Married Couples – By Fredrick W. Marks
A Decision to Love – By John M. V. Midgley
Form Good Habits & Don’t Fight!
My wife and I have heard from time to time that “Everyone should have at least one big fight before they get married.” However, this is the farthest thing from the truth. Psychotherapist Gregory Popcak, in his book listed above, says, “Just as war is a failure of diplomacy, so fighting is a failure of problem solving.”
Naturally, there are going to be times when you disagree or even have heated, emotional discussions. However, this should not lead to fighting. Fighting is a sign that something went wrong, that a discussion deteriorated in an unhealthy manner. In a healthy disagreement, the goal of the couple is to work with each other to solve a problem, not to be right or to prove the other wrong. It’s trying to figure out a common solution where both people feel heard, edified, and mostly content with the outcome. Fighting is more about bad habits, control, having to be right at all costs, or perhaps just letting your unresolved issues manifest themselves.
It’s an illusion to believe everything will be peachy keen all the time. Even the best couples have some big disagreements, but they work through these issues in a healthy manner. Moreover, they come to a mutual understanding without name calling, screaming their heads off, threatening each other, or walking out, etc.
Continual fighting is a sign of much deeper problems. Thus, reading books on communication or even counciling might be in order.
Engagement and the first year of marriage are important because conflicts will inevitably arise. Therefore, it is extremely important to form good habits immediately, to practice patience, understanding, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and deep listening skills, etc. It is far too easy to become nitpicky, judgmental, impatient, or to blame, pout, or play the victim. These things are like a pestilence that eat away at your love. So we need uproot these as much as possible while we reinforce good habits that will be form a foundation for the future.
Gregory Popcak says, “If you want to fight, take a karate class, buy an exercise dummy, or better yet, call the IRS tax help line, but, if you want to be married, you are going to have to learn problem solving.”
I would strongly Popcak’s book, For Better Forever – A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, by Gregory Popcak.
I also recommend, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. (This book isn’t perfect and tends to over generalize, but overall, it’s an excellent resource for understanding the other person and learning necessary communication skills).
Practice Good Habits, Work on Bad Habits:
It is essential that you work on yourself continuously, making yourself better, and avoid making excuses. Remember, we are all called to become the best versions of ourselves. The last thing you want is to marry someone – or be married to someone – who refuses to change, admit they’re wrong, or work to make themselves better. That will be a long, difficult, and painful marriage.
Rather than making excuses, it is important to work more and more toward humility, to admit when you’re wrong, to apologize quickly, and to work on bettering yourself in the future. I mess up in marriage often, and therefore, I have to pray and meditate on why I do the things I do.
I have to learn about my issues (i.e. impatience), how to fix them and how to avoid them in the future. The more both parties form good habits before marriage, and in marriage, the more you will build a strong foundation of love that will yield much fruit.