4 things you need to know before you get married

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

Therese Bussen

Marriage is a beautiful vocation. Too often, though, many see it as the fulfillment of personal happiness or just a life milestone to reach — but it’s so much more than that. Marriage is a mission: a call from God for the greater good of each other and the world. It is a vocation, a state of life which has a particular way of loving and serving God.

Like any vocation, its mission is service: service to one’s spouse, to any children that come, and to the community the family lives in.

In his apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (“The Fellowship of the Family”), St. John Paul II said, “Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored… Particularly today, the Christian family has a special vocation to witness to the paschal covenant of Christ by constantly radiating the joy of love and the certainty of the hope for which it must give an account,’” (FC 17, 52).

It’s no small thing, to raise a family in a world like ours — it’s a joyous responsibility and tremendous gift.

So if you’re getting married, or hope to be one day, here’s what you need to know to prepare for the mission God has called you to, according to priests who guide marriage preparation and a few people who have been there.

 

1. Know God, know yourself.

One of the most important things to do to prepare for your future vocation is to know yourself and know God.

Seth DeMoor, founder of OneBillionStories.com, said that this self-growth is crucial to grow in holiness in general.

“Know yourself, which means turning the digital world off more, get to know yourself through prayer and sacraments, get into spiritual direction,” DeMoor said. “Certainly keep God at the center [of any relationship], and if both the guy and the lady are heading toward God, eventually, you’ll meet in the middle.”

Father Scott Bailey, who does marriage preparation, agreed that knowing ourselves and putting our relationship with God first is the first step.

“Make God the first priority…[singles] have more free time, so work on making him your first love,” Father Bailey said. “Know yourselves and know what you want – especially women. They too often can compromise…it’s important for people to know what they do want.”

Growing in virtue is also invaluable preparation — especially the virtue of chastity.

“If a couple cannot make progress in chastity, they’re not ready to get married, because marriage also requires chastity. If a couple or individual isn’t able to make a sacrifice for the other person, then you won’t be ready to [do so] in marriage,” Father Bailey said.

 

2. Work on communication and vulnerability.

Communication, next to prayer, is probably the most important key to making relationships flourish, and in our tech-heavy world, it can be easy to get caught up in the instant gratification mindset of communicating.

Rather than having conversations in person or over the phone, we text. Texting is easy. What’s hard is vulnerability.

“Vulnerability is painful and it’s easier to lock your heart away,” Father Bailey said, referring to the song, “Hello My Old Heart” by the folk band, The Oh Hello’s, which talks about hiding our hearts from pain, and therefore, love, as a result.

“I think our younger millennial generation seems to struggle with intimacy…we desire [it] but seem to close [ourselves] off to it…people don’t share the important things and over-share the unimportant things,” Father Bailey said.

Father James Fox, pastor at Good Shepherd Parish, has been doing marriage preparation with couples for over 40 years — and had some valuable advice. To grow in communication, start with “putting away your phones and talking.”

“There has to be transparency. You can’t be afraid to share a fear, an expectation, a hope,” Father Fox said. “No two people will know each other completely before they get married, but there does need to be transparency. We can’t go into marriage having expectations without partners knowing what they are.”

 

3. If you’re engaged, remember what’s important.

Engagement can be an exciting and challenging time, full of mixed emotions. But rather than getting caught up in the all-too-easy cycle of perfectionistic wedding planning, remember the purpose of marriage: to help your spouse get to heaven.

“Talk about what you want together…what are your goals, about your faith – this is fellow souls traveling toward heaven,” said Cheyenne Becker, who is engaged to get married this spring. “Do I like and do I love this person’s soul? It’s a feeling and a choice and an act, but at the end of the day, it’s a commitment of the heart.”

Engagement is also an opportunity of deeper conversion for both future spouses.

“Getting married requires two conversions. As soon as you tell someone you’re getting married, you realize it’s not just for you…it’s for a community of persons,” Father Fox said. “The second [conversion] is [realizing] that not only is it not their wedding, but it’s not their marriage alone; God has a plan for their marriage.”

 

4. Create a vision for your marriage.

When preparing for marriage, it’s also important to have the question in mind: What is it that God wants to reveal to the world through your marriage? How will you be of service to each other and to society?

Father Fox recommended coming up with a two, five and 25 year vision for your marriage, even adding little things like making it a goal to embarrass your children with your affection for each other.

“What is your vision for your relationship? I think having a vision is critical. What would we like people to say about us as a couple?” Father Fox said. “Start [your] mission as a couple by going to a charitable organization. [Your] being married is a mission from God, and reveals God’s heart to the world. Get to know what poverty is, and make that a part of a mission…then it begins to give focus to [your] marriage.”

“We believe marriage is not only possible, but [that] your vision and God’s vision for your marriage should get closer every day of your married life,” Father Fox added.

 

While you can work hard to grow in virtue and prepare for the great adventure that is the vocation of marriage, one will never truly be “ready” — at some point, you take the leap and trust God. And for those still single and longing for marriage, trust that God has a plan — and a timeline — for everyone.

 

 

COMING UP: Catholic Millennials in the digital age: How do I date?!

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Catholic millennials struggle with dating.

Somewhere between trying to avoid an aggressive “hookup culture” – short-termed casual flings focused on physical intimacy without the commitment – and dating with the intention of finding their spouse, their challenges are uniquely nuanced from previous generations. Where their parents or grandparents married at younger ages, this generation finds itself marrying much later, if at all.

Generally, well-formed Catholic young adults try to avoid “hooking up” but find themselves unsure of what to do instead. So, often a dating paralysis sets in, where single men don’t ask women out and both men and women passively wait for someone to magically fall from the sky.

Finding a spouse has always been simple (not to be confused with easy) – and it may have been simpler in the past. But if young people are willing to overcome their dating challenges, good and holy marriages can and do happen.

Going online

One problem this generation faces is meeting other like-minded people. While meetings still happen, balancing time between work and relationships plays a factor into the dating culture, and for some, the solution can be online dating.

But this in of itself proves a challenge for Catholic millennials, too. There’s still a nostalgia of having a romanticized story, and meeting someone online doesn’t sound all that idealistic. Online dating also has a stigma: some perceive turning to the worldwide web in the search of someone to love as desperation.

“It shouldn’t have the stigma that it does. We do everything else online, and if you’re not in college, you’re not around like-minded people your age as much. Meeting people is hard, and meeting at a bar kind of falls in with the hookup culture,” said Jacob Machado, who briefly used the online dating site, CatholicMatch. “If we’ve discerned our vocation and we’re confident in it, we should be actively pursuing it. But even knowing that, I still feel uncomfortable.”

Just a tool

Annie Crouch, who’s used CatholicMatch, as well as other dating apps, thinks that it can be either a good tool or a frustration, depending on its use.

“I think it’s good. [But] it can be used poorly, it can encourage non-commitment, and you can start to see them as not a person…if we’re not careful,” Annie said.

“There are two types of people at young adult Catholic events: people who are looking for their spouse, and people who aren’t honest enough to admit that they’re looking for their spouse.”

One of the cons, Annie said, is that it can become too easy to de-humanize people online with the availability of so many options for matches. She admitted that it’s become so easy to filter through matches without even reading their bios, “reducing people to their looks” – but being aware of that tendency helps counter it.

Jacob also agreed that the perception of too many options to choose from can paralyze people from committing to relationships. With so much at our fingertips, browsing for a date online can indeed become “dehumanizing.”

“It’s not inherently bad, it’s how you use it,” Jacob said.

Make the leap

Another challenge millennials face is making the jump from the digital sphere to human interaction. While it’s really easy to strike up a conversation with someone online, and even feels less risky so that more people are comfortable doing it, “at some point, you have to be intentional and make a move,” Jacob said.

Annie agreed that media can only go so far to help relationships.

“[I think it’s important] to realize that it can only go so far, and not using it as a crutch…make sure you’re not replacing [in-person interaction]. Follow through and go out with people, and put yourself out there,” Annie said.

Embrace your desire

But even in-person interactions seem to suffer from a similar paralysis. Both Annie and Jacob recognized that many Catholic singles seem to be ashamed of or shy about their desire for marriage and a family, which stunts young people from asking each other out on dates.

“There are two types of people at young adult Catholic events: people who are looking for their spouse, and people who aren’t honest enough to admit that they’re looking for their spouse,” Machado said.

Many men and women desire their vocation – so what’s the holdup?

Close up of a man using mobile smart phone

In the digital age, some Catholic millennials struggle with dating. (Stock photo)

“The big opposition with dating is that guys don’t ask anyone out, or a guy asks someone out and everyone thinks he’s weird,” Annie said. “We’re afraid of coming off too strong…we’re embarrassed to admit that we want marriage and children. That adds a lot of pressure.”

Still, despite a seeming lack of Catholic singles with a courageous dating mindset, good marriages are still being made.

Just ask the girl

Newlyweds Mark and Brianne Westhoff, who met in college but didn’t start dating until several years after, struggled with dating paralysis before reconnecting with each other.

“This was something I experienced…I don’t know what else to call it beyond over-discernment…because [the vocation] is so important, people can become paralyzed,” Mark said. “At least for guys, they’d say, ‘Should I ask her out?’ and then wait six weeks and pray novenas. They ask God before even asking her. The order should be, trust God’s movement, then I’ll respond, see what I learn and see what changes.”

Brianne, like many other Catholic single women, was hardly asked out before Mark. The paralysis, they both agreed, stems from Catholic millennials not working with what God puts in front of them.

“[A big challenge for millennials] is not being in touch with reality. There’s a lack of trust that what is happening is reality,” Brianne said. “We don’t see reality as an actual, concrete thing that is good for me.”

The answer to this inactivity? Two parts, acting and trusting. Relationships can’t be forced, but singles also shouldn’t wait around passively, either.

“Ask her out on a real date,” Mark said. “If it’s not good, then that’s fine. You’re not asking her to marry you by asking her out.”

“Be hopeful and understand that God acts and that we can’t force it,” Mark continued. “But don’t be paralyzed by that…we have to act ourselves as well. And trust. Trust whatever is happening in reality and act on what is in front of you.”