What today’s couples need most is support — from family, friends, community and Church. Photo by Michael Swan.

Words of advice for engaged couples

By  Dr. Mona-Lee Feehan
  • September 28, 2014

Dr. Mona-Lee Feehan, author of the recently released marriage preparation book What God Has Joined: Preparing for Marriage in the Catholic Church, published by Novalis, is a faculty member at St. Stephen’s College in Edmonton. With marriage to be such an important topic at the Synod on the family, she was recently interviewed about her ministry and offered advice for new couples. 

Q: Over your 35-year experience of listening to and journeying with engaged couples, what are some of the greatest challenges you have heard that couples experience? 

A: I firmly believe that the greatest challenge for today’s young couples is in the struggle between who they are, who they think they should be, and who society dictates they should become. Today, we are so media driven and influenced by movies, television shows, magazines and videos. They have become the teachers of relationship rather than real people with real experiences. Often, what we see in the media is at odds with our call to live a sacramental marriage, a call that challenges us to love one another as Christ loves the Church; a call to celebrate a life-long and faithful commitment; and a call that is open to life. Society, as portrayed through media, expects very little by way of love, commitment, faithfulness and sacrifice, all of which are foundational to a sacramental marriage. The greatest challenge for young couples today is to strive to live marriage as God intends and not to slip into relationships of low expectations, most often portrayed in modern society. 

Q: What do you think couples need most today as they begin their new life together? 

A: Without a doubt, couples today are in most need of support; support from their families and friends, support from the community, and support from the Church. We spend so much of our lives preparing for careers, and once in them, commit to professional development in order to maintain and progress within our professions. Not so with marriage, a life-long career. We need to be there for each other. Marriage is a collective, not an isolated experience. 

Q: How can the Church support and encourage newlyweds? 

A: We, as a Church, can no longer ignore the non-verbal cues we hear from young couples today. We see them struggling, we witness their uncertainty and still, as a Church community, we believe that a couple’s relationship is private, a privacy we should uphold at all costs. While we provide marriage preparation within our Church, any other help or support needed after marriage requires that couples ask for support. This is not an easy ask. We must be proactive in supporting marriages by providing opportunities for couples to come together through workshops, discussion groups and information sessions that enhance their communication, broaden their circle of support and teach parenting and relationship skills. 

Q: You recently released an updated marriage preparation program based on What God Has Joined. It follows your very successful Saying I Do book and program. What is different about this new program? 

A: Since writing Saying I Do, I have grown and my relationship has grown. I never believed that I had all the answers, but I have come to realize even more deeply over the last decade that, in fact, I know very little about relationship, but I experience and grow in my relationship daily. Every day and each experience changes us and changes our world. Our relationship, our marriage, is like a dance whose steps change every day. If we do not stop to learn the new steps each day, then we are continually stomping on each other’s toes! This is true with my programs. With each tweak, with each revision, with each new program, I hope that what I have learned is reflected in the writing. 

This is also true in regard to my understanding of our Church and the Sacrament of Marriage. I understand more fully now and, most likely, less than I will in the future. I have experienced more of God’s grace in my marriage and more of our Church’s commitment to the Sacrament of Marriage, and I believe this, too, is reflected in What God Has Joined. 

Q: What words would you share with those preparing for marriage? 

A: You have made the decision, now the joy is in making this decision work! The challenge to each couple is to wake up every day and say, “What can I do today to fall more deeply in love with my spouse?” If each individual in every married relationship were to ask this question daily and act on it, we would have a very different face of marriage today. 

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