Reports were received from 12 focus groups in 12 dioceses. Forty-one couples participated, 16 of whom had children.
Identifying the Issues
(1) When you think about your marriage at this stage of life, what one or two things are most positive about your relationship?
A significant number noted that their shared faith and similar values were positive aspects of their marriages. Of those who had children, many cited parenting as a good in their union. As one noted, “I think our children are a very positive aspect of our relationship. They are a reflection of our love for one another. Although it may be difficult to raise them, they are our pride and joy.” Many noted feelings of acceptance, security, companionship and the excitement of the newness of their union. As one said, “We love having a companion with whom to share both joys and sorrows and just the everyday business of life.” A few pointed out that they were happy with their ability to communicate well with one another.
(2) What is the biggest challenge that you’re facing now? What resources are you using to deal with it?
Almost all groups mentioned “finding time to nurture marriage amid the noise and busyness of life.” Balancing home and work and having time to be together was a major challenge. Economic challenges, including stretched budgets and differences in how each spouse spends money, were mentioned as much as the question of how to manage time. Problems included adjusting to living with one’s spouse, communication skills, finding time to be with friends and family, integrating children, and family planning. A few mentioned dealing with infertility.
A significant number of couples used prayer as a resource in times of distress. Many also turned to family and friends. A few participated in Marriage Encounter or Cursillo. One sought counseling at Catholic Charities.
Church Teaching and Marriage
(3) Why did—or didn’t—you decide to marry in the Catholic Church?
Most of the couples were married in the Catholic Church. If they were not married in the Church, it was because one of the spouses was not Catholic. Some married in the Church because it was expected in their family, a cultural tradition. Many wanted a sacramental marriage because they have spiritual roots in the Church, and they wanted a sacramental union with God as “the third person” in their marriage. A few mentioned that the church was a beautiful setting for a wedding.
(4) In what specific areas has church teaching been a support for you?
Many couples said they appreciate the church’s teaching on lifelong commitment: “[The Church] taught me that marriage is forever and that you work things out.” Some said that the sacramentality of marriage is important. Some couples spoke positively about the value of learning Natural Family Planning. Others spoke about the importance of going to Sunday Mass and praying together.
(5) In what specific areas has church teaching been an obstacle for you? If you have encountered difficulties with certain aspects of church teaching on marriage, how have you dealt with them?
Questions regarding the church’s teaching on artificial contraception were raised in most groups. Some found it difficult not to practice contraception after the birth of a child. Some said that church leaders give mixed messages on contraception. One couple who practices Natural Family Planning sensed a lack of support for people who use NFP. Some couples expressed a desire to investigate the church’s teachings further. A few spoke about having a difficult time with the annulment process and with tithing.
Church Support for Marriage
(6) Thinking about your own experiences, do you see your diocese or parish as a source of support for your marriage?
Although most of the couples had participated in a marriage preparation program, many of them did not see their dioceses or parishes as sources of support for their marriage. Some couples without children felt they didn’t have as many resources to take advantage of as did the couples with children. A few couples had found many resources in parishes and dioceses to support their marriages.
(7) What activities has your diocese or parish offered to help you enrich your marriage? Have you participated in any?
A few couples have participated in marriage enrichment activities. Some have participated in other parish activities that they see as strengthening their marriage. These include volunteering for RCIA and Holy Week activities, going to a reunion of marriage preparation participants, Marriage Encounter, retreats, adult education classes, Catholic Family Conference (a day long diocesan initiative), and helping with PreCana after their wedding. All of the couples in one focus group were members of a group they formed called BLISS, which brings newly married couples together for monthly social activities, service, and support. Some mentioned support from NFP groups as important to them. Others said that milestone wedding anniversaries should be acknowledged.
(8) What more or what else would you like your diocese or parish to do to support married couples?
The consensus was that married couples would like to have more educational, spiritual, service-oriented and social groups to support their marriages on a parish level and increase fellowship among couples. These programs should be manageable in terms of time commitment, e.g., a day- long rather than weekend retreat, and they might also include childcare. Some hoped that their pastors would preach about marriage. Others mentioned a desire for an older mentor couple. One group suggested the use of e-mail and chat rooms to keep couples in touch. A connection should be maintained with couples after they have completed a marriage preparation program. The need for affordable marriage counseling was also an issue.