Many a starry-eyed couple enters into marriage on cloud nine, thinking that love conquers all – only to be rudely awakened by the stark reality that marriage is no bed of roses.
There is no such thing as a perfect marriage, according to 41-year-old Colin Yeow, who is married to Audra Lim, 37. “And couple mentoring is a very concrete way of understanding this reality,” he adds. The couple, who have been married for 10 years, felt a mutual prompting to answer the call to be couple mentors in the CMJ programme a few months ago.
“We dated for six-and-a-half years before getting married and felt we knew all there was to know about each other. But married life is different. There was a lot of adjusting and dying to self that had to be done,” says Audra.
She recalls that the initial years were even more challenging when their two children came along. “What helped us stay sane was meeting other marrieds and hearing about their very similar struggles with their spouses and children. And then we felt normal,” she reveals, citing the confidence they garnered just by knowing that other couples went through similar circumstances and overcame them.
“We have our own marriage battle scars and we know that in the lowest of the low moments, it can seem quite impossible for a marriage to recover… but it does – with prayer, lots of effort and making a constant choice to choose love. We want to help other young marrieds know that it is worth the journey,” says Audra, who feels that the time she is supposed to set aside for the CMJ progamme is manageable, even with three young children.
Older couples to journey with younger couples
According to ACF, it is currently seeking couples who are married for at least five years to journey with younger couples in their own parishes who are just starting out. A typical journey would span from pre wedding to the second year of their marriage. “The idea is to nurture a strong marriage through friendship,” says Caroline Theseira, Co-director of the Couple Mentor Journey, with her husband Roderick. They have been married for 24 years.
“We need happy and successful marriages to be more visible,” she adds. “When more experienced couples share their marriage experiences with younger couples, their determination and perseverance in having overcome many hurdles shine through and become benchmarks for the mentees.”
According to Caroline, CMJ allows important lessons to be naturally passed on through the real-life stories of the mentors. “In addition, couple mentors can point out possible pitfalls ahead and help to dramatically shorten the learning curve for the young couples”.
One young man who is looking forward to learning the ropes via couple mentoring is 27-year-old Jeremy Chan, who was recently engaged. Jeremy explains why: “There is the fear of not having a successful marriage, but the bigger reason is that we want our marriage to be fruitful, loving and safe for our children.”
For 35-year-old Henry Soediarko, who married Irma Kusuma four months ago, CMJ’s juxtaposition in the marriage life cycle is ideal. He says, “When we completed our EE (Engaged Encounter) weekend, we felt grateful and scared at the same time. While we found EE very helpful in preparing us for marriage, we felt it would have been nicer if there was something after EE,” The new husband adds, “Plus, we all know that empirically, marital trouble starts in the early stages – so help in any form, is more than welcome!”
ACF Chairman John Hui elaborates: “Engaged Encounter and Marriage Preparation Course are very good programmes that help engaged couples prepare for marriage. However, there needs to be a follow-up – as with any journey. Leaving the newly married couples inadequately supported in the early years of marriage leaves them vulnerable to the storms that can cause great damage during this period. It is important, therefore, for a programme to keep newly married couples supported, at least until they continue their marriage enrichment journeys in any of the marriage enrichment programmes that are available in our Archdiocese.”