In honor of National Marriage Week, the CatholicMatch Institute will be highlighting the exciting things that marriage and family life offices are doing all around the country in order to promote happier and holier Catholic marriages. The CatholicMatch Institute spoke with Lorrie Gramer, a former diocesan family life director who has helped to prepare over 25,000 couples for marriage. In this interview, Lorrie shares her expertise in preparing for marriage, strengthening marriages, and ways parishes can get involved for National Marriage Week.
What should Catholics who are dating do to prepare for marriage?
I never tire of saying to couples: “Marriage is designed to mature us…to help us grow up, and if you are not ready for that challenge, then don’t say I do.” Preparing for marriage is a time of personal growth, growth as a couple, and growth in one’s faith—and none of these should stop on our wedding day. If you are dating and want help in discerning if this is the right one, then ask to participate in the official programs the Church offers for marriage preparation—and take them seriously. They are designed to help you in that growth I’m talking about.
In a post that I wrote for the CatholicMatchInstitute, Dating: The Lottery or Opportunity?, I talked about this subject in more depth: “What am I doing that influences my dating experiences or my marriage relationship? Is there anything that is keeping me from finding and knowing love, being married well—or for that matter—discerning religious life or priesthood? This is the kind of thinking that makes dating a real preparation for your vocation, the way to have the marriage of your dreams, and the kind of discernment that has us asking ‘what do I have to offer,’ not ‘what do I get.’”
What should married couples do to help strengthen their marriages?
Here’s a great exercise. Next time your spouse is talking to you about something important to them, literally set a two minute timer, and then just listen. Don’t say anything. You can nod, smile, show concern, or any other non-verbal way of showing them you are paying attention.
What you don’t do is formulate any kind of answer as chances are they are NOT asking you a question. They don’t want your opinion unless they specifically ask for it. And, please don’t tell them it’s not that bad…even if that is what is going through your head. Reminding yourself of a time when something similar happened to you is not listening, either. That changes the subject. In fact, all of the above change the subject away from what the other is saying, to what you as the listener are thinking or feeling.
And, if you want to really be a hero, show understanding. After the two minutes, let them know what you heard them say. “You seem troubled” or “That must have been exciting” are good starts. And then listen some more. Eventually you will want to share with them what you are hearing, or at least what you think you are hearing. Be sure to let them correct your guesses. This helps them clarify what they are saying, thinking or feeling. Realize, you are not trying to tell them what they are saying, you are trying to let them know what you are hearing.
This act of listening and showing understanding is an act of love.
What projects are you working on right now?
Along with Lucia and Ricardo Luzondo, my husband, Don, and I just incorporated MarriageBuilding/MatrimoniosConstruyendo USA. MarriageBuilding USA’s goal is to offer dynamic evangelization of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Sacrament of Matrimony; while raising up a multitude of marriage-building champions and missionaries devoted to building a Culture of Life and a civilization of love in their homes, parishes, and the Church.
Starting in 2014, we will be putting together MarriageBuilding Retreats on a smaller scale and MarriageBuilding Crusades/Cruzados in large venues throughout the United States with a team of the best Marriage Evangelists, musicians, state of the art technology, and a message of hope and restoration that strengthens and sanctifies marriages! Then we will send them back into their homes and parishes.
We will support this effort with what we are calling MarriageBuilding Boot Camps where these new leaders will be taught and trained to carry on the work of marriage-building by forming our youth, preparing the engaged, and strengthening the married.
What are some practical things married couples can do during National Marriage Week?
Sign up for World Class Communications on line. I will be teaching two of the four skills, Power Listening and Power Listening Lite, as a webinar during National Marriage Week. To find out more details, visit our website at MarriageBuildingUSA.org. Here you can also download a copy of Daily Consecration of Husbands and Wives to Our Lady of Guadalupe and begin this Prayer of Consecration National Marriage Week.
Another option is to order the Home Edition of Together with Jesus Couple Prayer Series (CouplePrayer.com) created by a Deacon and his wife, and begin a powerful experience of praying together as a couple. I’d also recommend Nuts & Bolts of Daily Spirituality by Fr. David M. Knight (Twenty Third Publications) and begin reading it together. Fr. Knight has some practical tips and simple habits to enrich your prayer life, deepen you relationships and together get to know God as deeply and passionately as God wants to know you.
What recommendations do you have for Marriage & Family Life leaders to get their parishes involved in national marriage week?
In addition to sponsoring some of the before-mentioned activities, leaders could host a speaker with a dynamic talk on Marriage, hold a dinner/dance, or some other fun and enriching event for the married couples of your parish. Invite the parish youth to sponsor a “Senior Prom” for the longer married couples of the parish. Couples could also have renewal of marriage vows at the weekend Masses. It would be good to also encourage pastors to preach on Marriage. Worldwide Marriage Encounter has samples on their website for World Marriage Day, which this year is February 9, 2014.
Visit NationalMarriageWeekUSA.org. Check out the free tool kit for what others are doing. And let them know what you do plan so they can POST your Event for Free!