The initial years are a vital yet delicate period during which couples grow in an awareness of their vocation and mission.
– The final report of the 2015 Synod of Bishops to the Holy Father, Pope Francis
When couples prepare for marriage or are navigating those first crucial years, going it alone is not a wise option. With over 20% of marriages ending in divorce in Singapore, if you are a newly married couple today, the odds are not stacked completely in your favour. The Catholic Church mandates that couples preparing for marriage attend a marriage preparation course to gain the skills needed to navigate obstacles and ensure that God is present in the marriage. But when the honeymoon period is over, who do you turn to when you need help? And you will.
Nobody enters into a marriage able to manage it perfectly. Firstly, it’s a new situation you will not have a past personal reference for. Your model for marriage will have come, in most cases, from your parents. And your spouse may have a different frame of reference for what a marriage should be than you do, due to a different upbringing. Additional challenges may arise if you enter into a mixed-faith marriage. Add to that the fact that men and women communicate very differently (AKA Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus) and you’ve got some work ahead of you, no matter how prepared and accepting of each other you think you are now.
Couples cannot walk alone
We need the grace of God and the support of the Church’s community to sustain, nourish and strengthen marriage. ACF has introduced the parish-based Couple Mentor Journey (CMJ) programme specifically to mentor engaged couples and those in their first few years of marriage. It augments existing marriage preparation programmes like Catholic Engaged Encounter and Marriage Preparation Course. Its aim is to help couples build a strong, faithful and fruitful Christ-centred marriage.
CMJ provides vital new tools to newly weds
We put our couple mentors through a training course so that they are better prepared to deliver CMJ and arm their mentees with skills for a loving and God-filled marriage. But not surprisingly, these couple mentors found that the learning helped to enrich their own marriages. The tools from the Smart Loving training provided some new communication skills they had not been aware of before.
Stop. Reflect. Connect.
Jannine and Zach are one of our couple mentors. They’ve been married 12 years and, like all married couples, they still face difficulties from time to time. One issue came up not long after they had attended the training course to deliver CMJ. As the couple looks back, they can see that the Stop. Reflect. Connect. tool they learned on the course really helped them through the rough patch, as Jannine explains: “Zach runs his own business and, as the boss, had taken a female colleague to dinner alone one evening to discuss something away from the office. I felt really uncomfortable about this. I trust him of course, but I didn’t think it was wise for him to put himself in a situation where he could get tempted.”
So Jannine confronted Zach with her feelings, and the couple started to get into a heated debate as Zach simply couldn’t see that he’d done anything wrong and felt she didn’t have anything to be upset about. As voices rose, the couple remembered the Stop. Reflect. Connect. tool and called a time-out on their argument. They realised that talking while emotionally charged wasn’t going to resolve the issue. They went off alone to reflect on what each other had said and examined the situation from the other’s point of view. When they reconnected 10 minutes later they followed the Stop. Reflect. Connect. process and took turns to talk uninterrupted in a calm manner. From there, they were able to understand each other’s feelings and agree on future behaviours.
For Zach and Jannine, it’s all about family time
“We wouldn’t have resolved this issue so quickly if we hadn’t done the course,” Zach observes. ”I really couldn’t see that I had done anything wrong and was surprised by her reaction at first. But by applying the tools, I was quickly able to see things from Jannine’s point of view, and she had a point about not putting myself in the way of temptation. Now I hold all staff meetings in the office and during office hours.”
The couple have come to a new and deeper level in their marriage where they are very open and honest with each other, now that they have these vital communication tools.
The new tools learned on the course also helped one of our other couple mentors, Alicia and Jeremy. “There’s no such thing as a perfect marriage,” says Jeremy. “It’s a journey where every day is a challenge to love and grow in intimacy. There’s no end game.”
Remember the bigger picture
Jeremy and Alicia enjoying couple time together
Jeremy added that we all go through many years of formal education to prepare ourselves for our careers. But we enter into marriage not necessarily equipped with the skills and tools. We learn through trial and error. Yet these skills are the fundamentals to a successful God-filled marriage. “Couples really owe it to their marriage to invest the time to learn these skills now. What I took away most from the course was the importance of taking time every day to remember our vows and the commitments we made to each other.”
Alicia explains that couples should expect fights every now and then. That’s part of a healthy marriage. But we have to remember the bigger picture. How we are both in this for life. So fight fairer, reflect and have more empathy for one another.
“I used to think that fighting was bad,” says Jeremy. “But now I understand that it gives us a chance to grow. When we use the skills taught to fight fair, it becomes a win/win situation for both parties and brings us closer together. It’s a journey and an ongoing process. It’s not just about romance but about developing a deeper communion.”
Surviving a mixed-faith marriage
As Catholics are required to bring their children up in the Church, being able to communicate well in a mixed-faith marriage is all the more important. For our couple mentors Karren and Gabriel, this was not an issue they expected to face when they entered married life.
“We both were not Catholics when we got married and as such we didn’t go through any marriage preparation course,” Karren explains. “But I always felt we needed some tools we didn’t have. We married young at 24 and 25 years of age and found it difficult to cope as young parents. I entered into the Church first and I always wanted to volunteer. A Nepal trip came up when my first child was two and I knew I had to go. Gabriel was dead set against this as he thought I should be at home with our son. But for me, there is never a “right” time as parents, and I realised we had very different perspectives on our roles, which we needed to deal with.”
Gabriel and Karren with sons Zinedine and Zac
When she returned from Nepal, she signed up for Marriage Encounter, recommended by a friend. “We benefitted from the Love Circle a lot,” Karren remembers. “Because I know the impact such courses have had on our marriage, I wanted to sign up as a mentor on CMJ to give back. We really believe we could be saving a marriage in some cases. Ours was certainly saved.”
“Karren baptised the boys when she got baptised, but at that time I didn’t see the need to convert,” Gabriel adds. He was able to understand and respect her decision and didn’t object to his children being brought up as Catholics. “The Love Circle had helped us tremendously in how we communicated with one another. We even had friends with failing marriages approach us to ask how we managed to make our marriage work so well.”
Gabriel’s baptism with his Godparents (and Love Circle mentors)
As time went on and the children got older, Gabriel started to feel he was missing out on important family bonding and togetherness. So he started to attend mass with his family and got touched by God, entering the Church four years after his wife and kids.
Alicia and Jeremy, however, entered marriage as a mixed-faith couple and continue to be so. “Jeremy is a Catholic and I’m a Methodist,” explains Alicia. “We stopped attending church during the first few years of marriage. Then when the kids came along, we had our differences on how to raise them. This pressure, on top of our very different communication styles, led to disagreements.”
“I suggested attending the Couple Empowerment Programme to try to improve on our relationship and communication with each other,” added Jeremy. “Through this, we became convinced that we should put Jesus at the heart of our marriage.
When we were asked to be mentors in CMJ, it seemed like a natural progression to us as we felt that, with the tools that we have learnt, we could share our experiences on a more personal level with newly married couples. This kind of support was something we did not have during our initial years in marriage.”
One thing all three mentor couples agree: the single most important ingredient to a lasting marriage is Jesus Christ. Join the journey by enrolling on CMJ and build a strong, faithful and fruitful Christ-centred marriage.
How does CMJ work?
When you enrol on CMJ, you and your partner will be paired with a mentor couple from your parish who has been married for more than five years and has been trained to guide you through the programme
You will visit your mentors in their home. This way you get to see live, in real time, what married life is like, warts and all. You’ll see the issues faced with raising children, managing time and household chores together and how work, children and priorities can alter the marriage dynamics. You’ll learn, as they have learnt, how to use the Smart Loving tools to connect at a deeper level and to achieve unity in marriage.
Your mentors will share their own experiences in their own marriage to guide you. Couples have found this to be a particularly useful aspect of the programme as they get to realise that their situation is not as unique as they thought and that in fact everyone goes through similar feelings and challenges.
Through the programme, you will also come to understand that having differences of opinions and arguments is not an indicator that you are failing in your marriage. Quite the opposite in fact! It is natural and expected to come across situations in which you will disagree. CMJ will teach you how to communicate effectively in such situations so that the resolution brings you closer together as a couple and helps you to grow. Through CMJ, you’ll get to understand the beauty of the sacraments God has given us, and learn to know and understand each other better. You’ll become more attuned to each other as you get to understand your partner’s perspectives and learn to make adjustments together.
Your mentors are not professional counsellors or experts by any means, but because they have been through the challenges, they can help you avoid making the same mistakes, and therefore smoothen your transition into marriage and a life together with God.
How long is the programme?
You will visit your mentors at their home for six sessions and they will take you through one of the six modules of the programme at each session. The expected duration is 12 weeks, though this is flexible, and you will have homework to do after every session. Once the sessions are over, your mentors will still be there for you any time you have a question or need some guidance. It is hoped that you develop a long-lasting friendship.
How much will it cost?
The cost is $98, which will cover a set of Couple Workbooks used during the journey.
Who is it for?
If you are engaged to be married or if you are married (three years or less), this course is for you.
How do we register?
Sign up for CMJ by going to https://catholicfamily.org.sg/cmj/mentees
If you have questions you can write in to firstname.lastname@example.org
Couples married for five years and more who wish to help younger couples build the foundation for a lasting purposeful Christ-centred marriage, like the Couple Mentors featured in this article, please visit https://catholicfamily.org.sg/cmj/mentors