Journeying with Couples to build strong marriages
In response to the calls of our Holy Fathers, the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family (ACF) launched the Couple Mentor Journey (CMJ) here in October last year. CMJ is a journey on which engaged and newly married couples are mentored by more seasoned Couple Mentors. Helmed by the ACF, CMJ was put in place to augment – not replace – existing marriage preparation courses Catholic Engaged Encounter (CEE) and Marriage Preparation Course (MPC).
At Couple Mentor Journey, couples continue building upon the foundation they had received in the course of their marriage preparation with the support and accompaniment of their assigned parish-based couple mentors. It is an ongoing journey that sees couples before their marriage or newly married couples through their first two years of marriage (where the storms usually hit) before they move on to marriage enrichment programmes such as Marriage Encounter (ME) and the Couple Empowerment Programme (CEP). “This is in line with ACF’s vision and ongoing work of having programmes in place for Catholics at every stage of life.” said David Fong, ACF’s executive director.
But what is in it for couple mentees? As it is, there is hardly even time to breathe amidst work and all the wedding preparations and other obligations. According to engaged couple, Jamielene Fernandez, 36 and Vel B. K., 38, it may be just the thing they need.
“Really getting to spend protected time with your spouse on a personalised journey is a gift,” says 36-year-old Jamie. “There is just so much distraction we contend with in everyday life. Having that time carved out for each other allows us to reflect, communicate and share our thoughts.” That they have an older couple to guide, support and encourage them on the journey is a bonus, says her non-Catholic husband, Vel. “You get to see things from the valuable perspective of mentors who have walked the same road you are on. It is very heartening and assuring to know that they are willing to so generously open up their lives to us so that we can draw and learn from them.” He and Jamie are looking forward to the start of their journey next month.
The experiential learning that CMJ provides is invaluable according to Caroline Theseira, who co-directs the Couple Mentor Journey with her husband Roderick. She shares: “We are imperfect beings caught up in a busy state and it is very common for couples to not apply what they learn in books or lectures due to complacency, indifference or even memory lapses.” She explains: “This can cause a number of disruptions in the relationship – often to its sad detriment”.
Because the Couple Mentor Journey is in fact, a journey, the learning is “live” and “real” as the Couple Mentors share the struggles and difficulties in their own marriage, and how they overcome them together. “There is no better way to learn than from witnessing another couple living out their marriage fruitfully. It is inspiring and it gives us a clear picture of where and what and who we want to be”, says Jamie. Vel adds: “Having a mentor couple also means coming to the realisation that we are not alone, and that the problems we will face are not going to be unique to us.” This helps lighten the load of the hard work that marriage requires. “And provides us with lifelong couple-friends whom we can count on and turn to in the long run, because of all our shared experiences,” says Jamie.
The CMJ experience
Newlyweds Aylwin Lek and Weijing Cao, who have recently completed the CMJ programme cannot wait to put what they have learnt into practice and also recommend it to others who are planning to get married. The couple, who is of mixed faith, signed up for the programme when their assistant parish priest, Fr Terence Kesavan, of Divine Mercy Church, recommended it.
“Having an experienced couple mentor us is a real advantage because we get to pre-empt issues before they hit us. In essence, that is what marriage preparation and enrichment is all about,” said Aylwin.
Added Weijing: “CMJ is very holistic and also made us more aware of each other’s expectations and ideals, and how to manage them so that we can enjoy our lives as a married couple.
Couples can attend CMJ after their initial marriage preparation (Engaged Encounter or Marriage Preparation Course) either before or into the two years of their marriage. CMJ provides this to augment their marriage preparation to enrich their marriage.
It is an equally meaningful journey for the mentors. Having been married for 28 years, Kevin and Isabel Yap signed up to be couple mentors last year. Recalling their early struggles as a young married couple, they wished there was a more seasoned couple they could turn to for comfort and advice when they were sailing through rough waters.
“Such a mentor couple would have made a huge difference. It would have helped to put things into perspective and helped us use this time to connect at a deeper level,” said Isabel.
As to how a young couple might benefit, Isabel explained: “It prepares couples in a meaningful and practical way for marriage and provides tools for good times and troubled times. It also gives a continued connection with the Church through an intimate relationship with the mentors who can provide some support along their years of marriage on an ad-hoc basis.”
One of the programme’s attractions is the availability of help on tap. Said Isabel, “It will be reassuring for the young couple to know that they can refer to the mentors when needed, even if it is just meeting at the end of mass and spending a few minutes together.”
Training to be couple mentors also benefitted the Yaps. Kevin shared: “We learnt that marriage is a loving sign of God’s love and likewise, married couples are called to be a living, loving sign of God’s love. And there are lots of great CMJ Smart Loving Tools to help us live that out. Even though we have been married for 28 years, we find the tools very practical and useful for ourselves!”
Photo: Kevin and Isabel (couple on the right) shared their marriage experience in the new parish initiative, the Couple Mentor Journey, with couple mentees Aylwin and Weijing.
Answering the call of two popes for accompaniment of newlyweds
Pope Saint John Paul II was a strong advocate for the family. In 1981, his prophectic Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, placed emphasis on pastoral care after marriage, saying: “Young married couples should learn to accept willingly, and make good use of, the discreet, tactful and generous help offered by other couples that already have more experience of married and family life” (69).
Wistful about how young couples are left to their own devices after they marry, Pope Francis called for the Church community to “welcome, accompany and help young couples, by offering them opportunities and appropriate tools” to nourish their spiritual and family lives. “It is in these first moments of family life that they must be guaranteed greater proximity and a strong spiritual support,” he said. In so doing, we effectively help to weave young married couples into parish community life – from which they must draw encouragement, wisdom, support and strength.
Pope Francis added: “Couples need to “embark upon marriage as a life-long based on a firm and realistic decision to face all trials and difficult moments together” through means of a “pedagogy of love, attuned to the feelings and needs of young people and capable of helping them to grow interiorly”.
For more information on CMJ or to sign up, visit catholicfamily.org.sg/cmj.