When an engaged couple informs their parish that they would like to get married, the Church communicates the necessary steps to prepare for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. In the Diocese of Tyler this consists of a mentor couple program, meetings with the priest, Natural Family Planning classes, and a retreat called Three to Get Married. Couples receive a list of things to do, and the parish accompanies them through the process. Bishop Strickland has intentionally referred to this as marriage formation instead of “marriage prep”, because formation for marriage is still needed after the wedding day.
The concept of ongoing marriage formation can be challenging. Before the wedding, we know the paperwork, procedures, and things that we need to do before the big day. For married couples however, there is no mandatory list of “Things to do Until Death do us Part”. We know that we need to remain faithful to our wedding vows, and we need to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church. But what does continuing our marriage formation look like day-to-day?
The good news is ongoing marriage formation does not have to be complicated. There are 3 simple things I would like to invite you to consider incorporating into your married life as part of your ongoing formation as a couple:
Have Fun Together
Regular date nights and intentional time together as a couple are an absolute must in married life. Research shows that couples who have weekly date nights can benefit from better communication, deeper intimacy, and greater happiness in their relationship. This does not mean that you have to go out for dinner and dancing every Friday night (although that sounds great!), but think about the ways you can have fun, focus on each other, and intentionally reconnect each week. It is also important to acknowledge that this may look different depending on what season of marriage you are in: couples with young children will likely need to find more creative ways to reconnect with each other on a weekly basis. There are plenty of suggestions online for at home and inexpensive date nights. The point is to make time together a priority, and to get it on the calendar.
Community is Necessary
Engaged couples benefit from having mentor couples they know and trust accompanying them through the marriage formation process. It builds a relationship that can also help them connect with the wider community, and most importantly they have a couple who can offer ongoing support as they journey through married life. The truth is that all of us can benefit from community and relationships with other married couples whom we admire. Being connected to a community of married couples who are also striving to grow in holiness while navigating the messiness of family life can be a true blessing. Community gives us the support and encouragement we need in the different seasons of marriage, and it also gives us the opportunity to share our marriage with others. Does your parish have a small group ministry for couples? When was the last time you spent time with other married couples? Pray about ways you can connect with other couples in your community. It does not have to be formal, but it is important to build up a community of marriage in the parish.
Prayer and the Sacramental Life
We have all probably heard some version of “The couple that prays together stays together.” It seems so obvious, and yet it can be one of the most challenging things for couples to commit to doing on a regular basis. Without a prayer life and without the sacraments, our marriages will lack something (and someone) essential. Going to Mass, receiving the Eucharist, and going to confession regularly are all things that open us more fully to the grace Christ wants to give us on a daily basis. If the husband and wife are each growing in their relationship with Christ, striving to become his disciples, and keeping God first, they have a firm foundation for a Christ-centered, holy marriage. How is your personal prayer life? When was the last time you prayed with your spouse? Talk to your spouse about ways that you can incorporate prayer and the sacraments more frequently into your married life.
We know that the national statistics on marriage are not great. According to the Gottman Institute, half of all marriages that end do so in the first seven years. Marriage is hard, and we live in a world that encourages comfort and happiness above pain and sacrifice. Yet, at the heart of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony there is a vocational call to a very different way of life. Our “yes” to the sacrament of marriage is not something that only happens on our wedding day. Ongoing marriage formation reminds us that our “yes” to this vocation is something that we give daily, and God will continue to give us what we need to grow closer to one another and to him.