Well, apparently a lot of couples, if divorce rates are any indication. The fiance and I went to a Catholic Engaged Encounter, a pre-marriage retreat for engaged couples over the weekend. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy discussing our future with my fiance, but I kind of saw the weekend as a timecard to punch. The church we're marrying in requires us to attend one of these retreats as their Pre-Cana, or preparation for marriage. I'm all for marriage preparation. I'm a planner for sure. But a weekend without Internet, cell phones, television and sleeping in strange surroundings? Not so much.
Our retreat was at the St. Vincent Inn in Montebello. Although I wouldn't really call the place an Inn. The place was formerly a boarding high school for young men interested in the seminary, and it has the coziness of a prison. OK, maybe not a prison, but at least a bare-boned hostel. The food was, well, edible.
Men slept in one dormitory and the women slept in another.
So, how do you pack preparation for "from here to eternity" in one weekend? Very little sleep and a lot of talking.
The weekend was led by two married couples and a priest. One couple had been married for more than 40 years while the other had been married for 20. They each gave personal testimonies and spiritual perspectives on various topics, including viewing marriage as a team of one unit, communication and active listening, personal and family values, religion, respect, forgiveness and financial planning. After each talk we would answer questions in our journals. We would then discuss our answers with our fiances.
My fiance and I really enjoyed the discussions. Most of these issues had already been discussed at some point in our 7 years together, but it's always good to revisit them, to talk strictly about marriage instead of wedding planning.
Some things were a discovery. For instance, I had the opportunity to really reflect on the idea of married identity. I've heard a lot of talk from people who say marriage doesn't really change anything. All you get is a new last name or maybe just a piece of paper that says you now qualify for tax breaks. But marriage does change things. It means something more. You wouldn't choose to marry someone unless you thought it really meant something. If marriage didn't change anything, then you'd be content with just being a couple, and not ever taking that next step.
Up until we decided to get married, I was comfortable in my own personal identity. I valued my freedom, the ability to travel or embark on any project or destination without really consulting anyone. I picked up and traveled Europe on my own and I told my boyfriend about it only after I purchased my ticket. I didn't mind being known as his girlfriend. We were together, as in not available to other people. That was the extent of our commitment as a couple. We loved each other, but now, instead of two separate lives bonded together by a feeling, we are now two people committing to share our lives together.
But marriage is so much more than fidelity. Yes, faithfulness is a big part of marriage, but it's also being comfortable in not only your own personal identity, but being part of a whole. *Gasp!* Yes, I said it. If this part is just too corny for jaded bloggers out there, oh well. Let me flaunt my sappiness because I have faith in what is good in a true partnership.
The whole "oneness" of marriage is getting a bad rap lately, and I'm here to reclaim it. Seeing yourself as part of whole is not resigning yourself to becoming his property. You are part of a team. Not that you lose a sense of yourself, but you now add what's uniquely you to create something better. My husband-to-be enriches my life, as I do for him. Love is teamwork and it encompasses the unselfishness, respect, communication and consideration we continually give to one another. You are not complete simply because you are loved, your life is complete because you love. Whenever I'm part of a project or an organization I'm truly proud of, I can see my own talents and skills contributing to the progress of that group. I take pride in my identity as part of that group, as part of a whole. I am not complete because of my membership, but the group is now complete because of me. The same goes with marriage. If you don't know who you are, or happy with who you are as an individual, there is no way you can contribute positively to the whole.
I'm not saying once vows are said, and the ink dries on the marriage certificate that, poof! All of a sudden things change and you feel somehow married. Marriage is not a feeling, it's a new way of looking at your relationship with your new husband. Perhaps you already were working as team beforehand. Perhaps you've been living together and you already know you're compatible. But now you may take on new responsibilities together throughout your marriage - perhaps children, finances, new jobs, new locations. Your goals, dreams and values are intertwined as never before. Perhaps you'll tackle obstacles and challenges you didn't face during the time you dated, but the true feeling of being married and working together as one won't be felt until these challenges rear their ugly heads.
We incorporate this perspective in our decisions together and even on plans I have for myself. Our future goals, our finances and family life are made together as a team. We talk to each other about our own personal goals, and we discuss ways on how we can support one another in achieving them. It's this constant ebb and flow, give and take and communal values that supports a strong foundation for marriage. If you are not comfortable with the idea of being part of a whole, you hold onto to your separate identity and never want that part of you touched by another soul, then you have to look at what exactly you're committing to on your wedding day. If it's just a piece of paper, then that's what your marriage will ever be. It will disintegrate with the slightest spark of fire.
We had the opportunity to think about how exactly we plan to incorporate these values in our day-to-day lives. We both know family is extremely important to us. How do we make sure that work or careers do not distract us from the relationships we build with each other and our children? Does that mean one of us stays at home? The fiance and I established early on that careers were important to us, but we would strive to choose opportunities that will allow us to be emotionally and physically present in our children's lives.
Sharing these ideas with my fiance and other engaged couples was an uplifting experience. And it made us even more excited for marriage. There were those, however, who seemed like this was the first time these kinds of discussions ever came up between them. There were tears and arguments, and they were getting married in weeks! Sure, one weekend is not going to prepare you for eternity. But couples need to have these Talks, whether they like it or not. I'm sure this has been preached thousands of times before, but frankly, I don't think people really understand what it means. I'm going to get up on my high horse because I would rather die a slow, torturous death than watch another episode of Bridezillas. A wedding is a day, not your life goal. The wedding does not signify the end reward, the last page of "Happily Ever After." Marriage is forever. It's the beginning of a new saga, a journey. Imagine how much planning you put into that wedding day. Now, try planning for a lifetime!