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in Sex and Marriage in the Catholic Tradition: An Historical Overview - page 6 / 11





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. Cohabitors have more conflict over money after they marry than noncohabitors do. Often they have set patterns of autonomy or competition about making and handling money during the time of cohabitation, and this carries over to the marriage. Many couples have one pattern of money handling in the cohabita­tion household and have not discussed clearly how one or the other individual expects this pattern to change after marriage (Singh and Lindsay, 1996; Ressler, Rand, Walters and Meliss, 1995; Waite, 1995).

. Domestic violence is a more common problem with cohabitors than with married persons, and this pattern will carry over to a subsequent marriage relation­ship. Cohabiting partners can have a lesser-felt need to protect the relationship while they are cohabiting because they do not see it as permanent. If this is the case, some will begin dysfunctional patterns of problem-solving. The existence of the partner's children in the relationship or stress over the permanency of the relation­ship are common causes of conflict and sometimes violence (Jackson, 1996; McLaughlin, Leonard and Senchak 1992; Stets and Straus, 1989).

. Cohabitors who marry are less effective at conflict resolution than those who did not cohabit. Either a fear of upsetting an uncommitted relationship or the lack of need to protect a temporary relationship can be factors that lead cohabiting couples into poor patterns of conflict resolution which they then carry into mar­riage (Booth and Johnson, 1988).

. Using sex as a controlling factor can be a negative pattern, which cohabiting couples can bring to their subsequent marriage. Reinforcement of negative family of origin patterns can also have occurred in the cohabiting relationship and be carried over to marriage. Both of these patterns are common issues that dating couples carry into marriage, but they can be exaggerated by the cohabitation experience (Waite and Joyner, 1996; Waite, 1995; Thornton and Axinn, 1993).


Preparation for marriage begins long before the couple approaches the priest or pastoral minister. In his apostolic exhortation on the family (Familiaris Consortia, 81), Pope John Paul n strongly urges that young people be educated about chastity, fidelity and the meaning of marriage as a sacrament. Religious education, parish-based catechetical programs and chastity curricula in elementary schools are all part of this effort. The Catholic Chastity Curriculum Directory (NCCBIUSCC, fall 1999), a directory of available materials that follow Catholic teaching, can be a helpful resource.

The high school years, in particular, can be a prime time for dealing with these issues when dating, and the desire to date, are foremost in the minds of adolescents. During this time they can be given the spiritual foundation that helps them to make informed, faith-filled and life-giving choices throughout their lives. With this foundation it can be hoped that couples will choose not to cohabit before marriage.

Nonetheless, we know that many couples do live together before they marry. Many pastoral ministers identify cohabitation as the most difficult issue they deal with in marriage preparation. They are faced with the dilemma of addressing a situation that is contrary to our moral principles while attempting to validate and sanctify the relationship of the couple through the sacrament of marriage (Archdio­cese of Miami, "Marriage Preparation Guidelines," 1997; Diocese of Phoenix, Marriage Preparation Policy Handbook, 1998).

We offer the following pastoral suggestions to priests, deacons and pastoral ministers who prepare couples for marriage. They are intended to provide general guidance only, since each couple's pastoral needs and circumstances are unique. In developing these suggestions we join with many dioceses in turning to Familiaris Consortia for inspiration. "In Familiaris Consortio the Holy Father offers sound guidance," says the Miami Archdiocese's marriage-preparation policy, referring to

the challenge posed by cohabiting couples.

In Section 81 of Familiaris Consortio Pope John Paul II points out that de facto free unions, i.e. those unions without any publicly recognized institutional bond, are an increasing concern. He recognizes that various factors can lead a couple into a free union. These include difficult economic, cultural or religious situations, extreme ignorance or poverty, and a certain psychological immaturity that makes couples afraid to enter into a permanent union.

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