2. What Are Specific Objectives in Doing Marriage Preparation With Cohabiting Couples?
The general goal of marriage preparation with all couples is the same: to create a clear awareness of the essential characteristics of Christian marriage: unity, fidelity, indissolubility, fruitfulness; the priority of the sacramental grace that unites the couple to the love of Christ; and the willingness to carry out the mission proper to families in the educational, social and ecclesial areas (Pontifical Council for the Family, "Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage," 45).
For cohabiting couples, a specific goal may be added: to encourage the couple to reflect on their situation and why they decided to cohabit, and to provide insights into possible consequences, factors that may present special challenges to them or put them at risk for later marital disruption. (See, for example, marriage preparation policies in the Dioceses of Rockford, 1992, Sioux Falls, 1988, and Peoria, 1997, among others).
To accomplish this second goal, the pastoral minister invites the couple to reflect on their experience of living together and its implications for sacramental marriage. The following questions (or appropriate variations), drawn from a newly developed section in FOCCUS, can be discussed:
1. Why did you originally choose to live together? How does the commitment you wish to make now differ from the commitment you made when you decided to cohabit?
2. How does your family and community feel about your living together? How do these feelings affect you?
3. What are your reasons for wanting to marry at this time? Is there any reluctance to marry? Is pressure from family or around children a major reason for marriage now?
4. What have you learned from your experience of living together? How do you expect your relationship to grow and change in the future? Does either of you expect marriage to be free from times of discontent? How well do you deal with conflict? Have you agreed on any changes in the way you will handle money after you are married?
5. Why do you want to marry in the Catholic Church at this time? Do you understand the concerns the church has about your cohabiting situation?
6. What does marriage as a sacrament mean to you?
7. What do you think will be the largest barriers to a life-long marriage for you? How do you think you will be especially challenged by the vow of faithfulness?
After these discussions the pastoral minister may ask the couple how the information gained from the preparation process has raised their understanding of church teaching and cohabitation, and what response they will make in light of this knowledge. At this point the pastoral minister may ascertain the couple's readiness and ability to enter into a sacramental marriage.
3. What Distinctions Are Made Among Cohabiting Couples?
Some diocesan policies (e.g. Cleveland, 1988, Buffalo, 1992, Michigan dioceses' common policy) note the following differences among various types of cohabiting couples, based on the reasons given for the cohabitation. Each has distinct pastoral implications.
1. For couples who have seriously planned for marriage and who decided to live together for practical reasons such as finance or convenience, the pastoral minister can focus on their understanding of the meaning of sacrament and the commitment to permanence and stability in marriage.
2. For couples whose cohabitation seems more casual, and for whom no previous commitment seems to have been made, in addition to the treatment of commitment and sacrament, special attention is given to overall readiness for marriage and for permanent lifetime commitment.
3. For couples whose reasons for seeking marriage are more for the sake of appearance or to accommodate social or family needs, and little evidence is presented to indicate either spiritual or psychosocial maturity for marriage, a postponement of further marriage preparation, at least at this time, can be considered.
4. Should Cohabiting Couples Be Encouraged to Separate Prior to the Wedding?
Many diocesan marriage preparation policies suggest that pastoral ministers encourage cohabiting couples to separate. They recognize that this is a desirable goal to propose and to achieve - not because the church is so concerned with the fact of separate addresses but because it declares that conjugal love