National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage: Focus Groups With Remarried Couples

Summary Report

Reports were received from 10 dioceses that each sponsored one focus group. A total of 48 couples participated. Most had remarried following a divorce, but several had been widowed.

(1) Reflecting on the marriage

Positive aspects: Couples cited companionship, mutual respect and support, trust, and open communication that was absent in the first marriage. Financial and emotional stability was important for some. Many said that a shared faith life and participation in church ministries was important for the marriage.

Negative aspects: Remarried couples deal with many of the same issues as other couples: retirement, financial, and health issues; adult children returning home; aging parents; in-laws; and lack of time.

They also have unique issues, e.g., relationships with former spouses and stepparenting. One observed: “There will always be a special bond with your OWN children. Treating them equal[ly] can be a real challenge and result in different feelings.”

To deal with these issues, many couples have sought counseling. Some say that their involvement in church ministry is helpful. A diocesan remarriage course that looked at family of origin issues was very helpful.

Influence of the previous marriage: Couples bring more realistic expectations into the second marriage. They put more effort into working things out and to communicating more effectively, although abusive behavior and fighting have left some unprepared for “normal communication.” They have become more mature; they have learned who they are; they are more stable.

Many are dealing with resentments and hurts from the previous marriage, as well as trust issues. They wonder if their spouse will remain faithful.

Some said that the break-up of their first marriage helped them to see the need for spiritual values in this marriage.

(2) Church Teaching and Marriage

Why they did, or did not, marry in the Catholic Church: Those who married in the Church usually did so because their faith is important to them. (“I couldn’t imagine getting married any other way.”) Some had returned to the faith and wanted a sacramental marriage. In some mixed marriages the Catholic partner influenced the decision to marry in the church.

Some did not initially marry in the church because they did not have annulments. When the annulments were granted, they had their marriage convalidated.

Church teaching as a support: Most of the couples struggled to relate church teaching and their marriage. Some said that a shared prayer life, spirituality, attending Mass together, and the sacrament of reconciliation were helpful. One couple said that church teaching on sacramentality and sexuality is helpful.

Church teaching as an obstacle: Most comments focused on annulments and contraception.

Many found the annulment process problematic. Several said that often the “more religious person” gets unfairly penalized; for example, one person said that a former spouse, who was not religious, had been able to stall the annulment process. Many complained about a lack of information, long waiting periods, and expense. The process was stressful (“His annulment took 2 ½ years; it…took the joy out of being engaged.”) and can lead people to abandon the practice of the faith.

Some couples struggle with church teaching on contraception. One observed that the meaning of “openness to life” is not understood.

(3) Church Support for Marriage

Do you see your diocese or parish as a source of support for your marriage? There is little awareness of marriage-oriented programs and services that dioceses provide. Offerings at the parish level are spotty. (“Not much available and couples are too busy anyhow.”)

Diocesan and parish activities/programs for marriage enrichment: Those who are aware of such activities mentioned couples retreats, support groups for stepparents and remarried couples, a diocesan-sponsored convalidation conference, and a parish-based celebration of Marriage Day. Several mentioned Marriage Encounter, a national movement. Significantly, many found that activities such as faith sharing groups, Bible study, and participating in parish ministries strengthened their marriages.

What more could the diocese or parish do to support married couples? Many said that they wanted to hear more about marriage from the pulpit. Other suggestions included more couples retreats, more adult formation opportunities, faith sharing groups, resources (including in-home resources such as books and videos), mentoring for new couples, and parish recognition of anniversaries.