Reports were received from 13 focus groups in 9 dioceses. 110 people participated. There were 55 couples and most had children.
(1) Reflecting on the Marriage
Positive aspects: Most couples mentioned that good communication and a sense of the commitment they both have to their marriage were positive aspects of their relationship. One couple said, “Years ago, we didn’t communicate very well…just decided what the other was thinking…now, we ask what the other is thinking.” Some mentioned the gift of grandchildren, a shared faith life, more time for their marriage, and the forgiveness they offer each other.
Negative aspects: Many couples were concerned about the problems of adult children and grandchildren, including a weakening of their morals. On the issue of grown children leaving the Church, one said, “I tell my kids, ‘when you’re down and have nowhere to turn, where will you go? You go to church, to God…mark my words.’” Many noted the challenge of caring for aging parents and also mentioned their own health and aging as a challenge. More than half said finances were an issue. Some said they had time management issues and others mentioned empty nest syndrome. For help, couples turned to friends, family, prayer, mentors, books, and the Church.
(2) Church teaching on marriage
Why they did, or did not, marry in the Catholic Church: Many married in the Catholic Church simply because they were Catholic; they did what was expected of them. At the same time, some were aware of the importance of a sacramental marriage.
Church teaching as a support: About half of the couples said that church teaching on permanence was helpful for them. Some found support in the teaching on the sacramentality of marriage. A few said they found meaning in the idea of marriage as a vocation. A few said that they found support from the people around them rather than, specifically, church teaching.
Church teaching as a challenge: Many couples mentioned the teaching on contraception. Some did not agree with the teaching, while others were struggling to understand it. Some said the issue should be addressed in a more positive and educational way. Many participants had questions about divorce and annulment. Other issues included women’s role in the church, denial of Communion to non-Catholics, and church teaching on some biomedical issues.
Do you see your parish or diocese as a support for marriage? Many did not see their diocese or parish as a source of support after they married. One group agreed with the observation that “Married people are treated like a completed project instead of being offered sermons, enrichments and programs to help them grow in love and understanding.” Some couples did identify sources of support. These included Marriage Encounter, retreats and days of renewal, the diocesan family life office, small support groups, RENEW, Retrouvaille, Teams of Our Lady and anniversary Masses.
What more can the parish or diocese do to support marriage? Many suggested that there should be more educational, social and spiritual support for married couples. Better publicity for events and personal invitations to events were suggested. Many mentioned that priests should know more about marriage, preach about it, and be more involved in marriage programs.