“I hear you're attending Marriage Preparation classes in Wellesbourne.” remarked Phil, balancing himself atop the large, yellow Body Ball. “Yes!” I wheezed breathlessly from the cross trainer. “How’s that going?” asked Graham, as he headed toward the treadmill. “Back in my day, they’d never have had ‘classes,’ you just called in on the vicar, or were forced to call in on the vicar, rather.” Phil smiled broadly with a chuckle.
Times have certainly changed. And, as I said to my wonderful gym chums, I’m very thankful for the preparation course. This is something the Church of England gets absolutely right. I think it is much needed in this day and age. As my friend, Mikala, reminded me on the phone today, I am secretly quite a staunch traditionalist at heart, though my life has often been far from it.
At our marriage seminar we walked through “The Marriage Service” line-by-line, word-by-word. But this is much more than a rudimentary “Do-you-understand-what-you-are-saying?” exercise. We dissected the text chunk-by-chunk and explored issues that are directly and tangentially related to the points being made.
As a part of this, there were a series of written and conversation-starting exercises that we were to complete individually, and then share with our partners. The exercises tackle some really important and pertinent issues.
The first exercise is called “Appreciating Your Partner and Their Talents.” Rationale: “Do you appreciate your partner? Do you value yourself? Marriages are built on a combination of each partner’s talents. Someone once said that one key to a good marriage is where ‘My partner enables me to love myself more.’”
We are then meant to fill in the following blanks:
1.) Something I really appreciate about my partner is (blank). 2.) Something my partner does really well is (blank). 3.) Something I like about my partner’s appearance is (blank). 4.) One special memory about our life together so far is (blank). We then had to share our answers with our partner, in the form of a direct sentence: “Something I really appreciate about you is (blank).”
The next exercise was called: “Where Does it Come From?” This exercise looks back on that pivotal relationship of our parents, and their marriage. The dynamics of our parents’ marriages have such a significant influence and impact on how we interact with the opposite sex, and how we see the construction of marriage in both positive and negative ways. One often hears people making statements such as I want to, “marry someone like my Dad” or “never ever be a wife like my mom.”
For this exercise we had to sit and consider who did what in our families, i.e., paid the bills, did the dishes, disciplined the children, mowed the lawn, taught the children how to pray, sent out Christmas cards, and etc. The course leaders stressed the point that these childhood experiences can create strong, deeply-held convictions, assumptions and expectations of which we may not even be aware.
The most interesting part of the exercise for me was that in addition to outlining our own experience of “who did what,” we had to guess what our partner’s experiences had been. Coming together later with our answers revealed much about how my Darling English Boy and I became the people we are.
In his family’s household, the washing up/doing the dishes was a shared responsibility, most notably done by the children. The D.E.B.’s mum was responsible for the family purse, and paying the bills, while she and the D.E.B’s dad shared the tasks of disciplining the children, deciding where to go on holidays, and deciding where the children went to school, & etc. They also made a joint effort in sending out Christmas cards and entertaining guests.
I was astonished.
By comparison, my family was a cliché, 1950s, American sitcom.
I never once saw my father (god rest him) wash a single dish, and I’m sure he had no idea where my mother even kept the broom, let alone the Christmas cards.
I’m not saying my parents had a bad marriage, clearly, it worked for them; their marriage was just very different to the one that the D.E.B.’s parents had.
I will say that my parents' marriage did in some ways, put me off the idea. I can also say now that I did resent the way my father wasn’t involved in household chores and such. There was clearly a “male/female” divide in terms of who did what, and who had the ultimate and final say.
After delving into the past, we had to look at the present. The next exercise was: “What Sort of Person Are You?” Again, working individually, we had to decide and note down, between ourselves and our partners, who was: a.) The more clothes conscious. b.) The one more likely to take risks. c.) The more thrifty. d.) Gets angry the soonest. e.) More ready to show affection. f.) More inclined to sulk. and, g.) the more reserved.
When we came to share our answers, The D.E.B. and I had each awarded the other with the “most affectionate” mantle.
There was a great deal of substance in this experience for us. Particularly in the area of who gets angry soonest (me) and who is more inclined to sulk (The D.E.B.). This exercise led us to talk about conflict, and how to handle differences.
As I said to my gym chums, I think the one thing we as people are not taught to do well is to disagree. Arguing is viewed as such a negative thing, yet it is something that inevitably happens in every relationship. I really appreciate our Preparation class acknowledging that, and pushing us to actually think about “How do you argue?”
Other points we addressed were: “The ways we express love to one another: Touch, Words, Service and Gifts” -- raising such questions as “How do you feel you are being cherished in this relationship?” And, “Which ways of being cherished are most important to you?"
“Marriage is seriously joyful, seriously hopeful and seriously demanding.”
One of the course leaders—a priest who was truly amazing!—got up spoke frankly about how his first marriage didn’t work and had ended, and how God had blessed him with a second.
He was honest, open and vulnerable with us, and that meant a lot. He led us through a segment called “Commitment Through All The Changes Ahead”.
We were asked to list some of things that we were individually looking forward to, which we hope might happen during our marriage, either in the near or distance future; also to list the things we might find more challenging, painful or fearful; and then finally, asked to consider and list “roots you can put down now which will help you to cope with situations as they occur in the future.”
The remaining two segments were the most profound: “What Do You Want From Your Partner?” (Rationale: Sometimes it is hard to tell your partner that you want something from them; but how will they know if you don’t tell them. Equally important is being willing to listen to your partner’s needs – sometimes we have to be aware of unspoken signs.”) and, “It Worries Me…” All about revealing your fears and concerns about marriage (money, boredom, loss of freedom, and etc.)
And things that most people rather not thinking about. Much easier to get caught up in flowers and tiaras…The leaders intended all of this to be a springboard into our on-going conversations with each other as we journey into marriage.
“So,” I said, huffing and puffing my last 5 minutes on the cross-trainer, “what’s the secret to a good marriage?’
“Oh!” Phil and Graham say in unison, more than ready to give some fatherly advice. “Keep the woman under control,” cheeky Graham said with a smile and wink in the mirror. “Do as I’m told,” Phil says plainly, finishing his squats.
“Of course, you know,” said Graham, slowing down his treadmill, and facing me, “Phil’s answer is based on reality, while mine is completely and utterly from the realm of fantasy.”