This cohort was defined as couples married between 5 and 24 years. Sixteen dioceses and one eparchy conducted 18 focus groups that involved 91 couples.
(1) Reflecting on the marriage
Positive aspects: “Comfortable” and “team” were frequently-used words. These couples enjoy partnership, friendship, trust, a shared faith, and working towards the same goals.
Negative aspects: Time is a major issue. Couples lack time for each other and for their family as they struggle to balance home, work and other responsibilities. They are stressed. Many have concerns about their children, including issues around discipline, spiritual values, and the future. Health and finances, aging parents, extended family, and communication are other challenges for this group.
(2) Church teaching on marriage
Why they did, or did not, marry in the Catholic Church: Almost all the couples were married in the Catholic Church. Most had been raised Catholic and never thought about marrying outside the Church. Some cited family expectations, and in a few cases the Catholic partner prevailed upon the non-Catholic to marry in the church.
Church teaching as a support: The teaching on permanence and commitment (“Love is a decision, not a feeling”) was frequently mentioned, as was sacramentality (“I appreciate it more now than at the time [of the wedding]”). The teaching on marriage as a vocation, equality of spouses and sexuality was also noted (“People have a lot of distortion about sexuality.”)
Church teaching as a challenge: Contraception was the most frequently mentioned issue. Many said they struggle with this teaching. Some noted the need for catechesis to explain why the church does not approve contraception, as well as to explain Natural Family Planning. Some felt that it is too easy to obtain annulments, and this undermines the teaching on permanence. Fertility issues were raised (“Older couples marrying are much more often facing fertility questions than couples in the past.”) Several said that priests do not know how to support marriage because they lack personal experience of marriage.
(3) Do you see your parish or diocese as a support for marriage?
Couples perceive that direct parish-based support for marriage is largely lacking. Some dioceses offer programs and resources but often people do not hear about them. Indirectly, however, couples do find support in their parishes. They cited opportunities for service that help to strengthen their marriages; role models who witness to strong marriage and family life; small faith communities; social opportunities such as parish picnics; and informal groups within the parish that are based on shared interests.
Diocesan and parish activities for marriage enrichment: These include anniversary celebrations in parishes and dioceses; retreats; and a marriage enrichment day. Many mentioned Cursillo or Marriage Encounter. One Hispanic couple observed that the Hispanic culture has a lot to do with people’s hesitancy to attend marriage enrichment programs. Attendance can indicate that the couple is having problems. It can be seen as an indictment of their marriage.
What more can the diocese or parish do: In general, couples want more enrichment opportunities for couples at this stage of marriage. These might include support groups, affordable retreats, anniversary Masses, more preaching about marriage, a marriage mission, and parenting classes (since parenting impacts the marriage). Many said that a greater effort should be made to publicize what is available. Others suggested that parishes and dioceses cooperate and coordinate their marriage enrichment offerings.