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Engaged couples take stock before marriage

By Jennifer E. Reed
May 14th, 2007
Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)

WASHINGTON (CNS) - Well, he popped the question and you said “yes”! It’s been a week since he proposed, and you’re still just getting used to the feel of the beautiful, new engagement ring around your finger. Yet, underneath it all, things don’t seem quite right.

Did you make a big mistake? Can you both truly love each other “for better or for worse”? How compatible are your views on having children, sharing money or the kind of lifestyle you each hope to have in marriage?

Are you dealing with red flags or is it just a case of cold feet?

In his book "Should We Marry?" (Ave Maria Press, 2001), Father Joseph M. Champlin of the Diocese of Syracuse, N.Y., notes that people who love each other respect each other: “Love takes people as they are, not as they should be or as we may want them to be.”

But to take partners as they are, engaged couples need to be clear about each other's expectations of married life, especially regarding the great responsibility of having and raising children. What size family do they hope for? What are their views on parenting?

Engagement is also a time for couples to examine their views about sharing money. They should ask each other, and themselves, if they trust one another with money and understand how the other person handles money. "Before We Say I Do" (Judson Press, 2003), Martin A. McMickle says that a couple “needs a clear understanding of each other’s past financial handicaps," their "present financial habits" and "future financial hopes.”

They also need to communicate about sex, to be aware of each other’s needs, desires and differences in these areas, write the authors of "Preparing for Marriage" (Gospel Light, 1997) edited by Dennis Rainey. The book outlines commonly observed differences in sexuality between men and women and provides questions to help couples communicate about male and female sexual attitudes, what each looks forward to or fears in a sexual relationship and how each understands God’s gift of sexual intimacy.

Chores around the house and child care can be marital hotspots. Several experts note that both spouses greatly benefit when they succeed at dividing chores fairly. McMickle cautions, “Just be aware that housekeeping habits die very hard, so you had better know what you are getting into when you say I do.”

The sharing of time with friends or extended family is also a point for discussion. “Marriage can and should alter all of your other relationships,” writes McMickle in "Before We Say I Do." Engaged people may have good friends of the opposite gender, but each partner “should be able to expect that those friendships will not consume as much time after the marriage as they did before the marriage,” McMickle writes. A couple also need to examine how they will balance spending time together as a new family and time spent with extended family, particularly during the holidays.

Father Champlain noted in an interview that when he meets with couples preparing for marriage and asks why they want to marry each other, the answers are usually responses like, “He is my best friend,” or “I can be myself with him,” or “I know he’s going to always care about me.”

“Friendship is a good solid basis for marriage,” he said. “Are you best friends? If yes, that is very good.”

Another important gauge for a couple is how people close to them react to their relationship and the news of their engagement. “If people close to you ... have some serious negatives, it doesn’t mean they’re right, but it means you have to seriously look at things,” added Father Champlain.

Among warning signs to watch for when a couple is considering marriage are problems with alcohol or drug abuse, selfish attitudes about money, unhealthy relationships with work, any kind of physical or emotional abuse and tendencies or acts of infidelity. Taking an honest look together at each of these areas is critical before entering into the commitment of marriage.

“If there’s something in the relationship that’s difficult, they have to honestly say to themselves, ‘Is this cold feet or a red flag?’” said Father Champlain.

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Reed is a freelance writer in Arlington, Va.

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