Marriage Preparation


I was wondering if anyone had advice on the best way to complete the Church’s required marriage preparation program. My fiancé and I are both conservative Catholics who attempt to follow Church teaching. We both like the idea of a weekend retreat, such as Engaged Encounter. However, from briefly searching on this forum, I’ve seen some not so great reviews of that program. (Of course I’m sure it varies depending on the individual people leading the retreat). I’m wondering if anyone has heard good things about any particular marriage preparation retreat (Engaged Encounter or otherwise) in the New England/New York area. Or, if anyone has heard good things about a marriage prep program in this area that is not a retreat I’d also be interested to hear about it. Finally, any particular marriage prep books you recommend would be welcome.

Thanks very much for any advice!

We personally got more out of a series of meetings, because we’d have a meeting, talk in between, have a meeting, talk in between, etc.

I feel the same way about childbirth preparation classes (at least a first time one)–when there’s so much new information, it’s very difficult/impossible to absorb in a single meeting.

Start with what your diocese and parish require and whether there are choices or one program all must complete. Each diocese establishes its own requirements.

In the diocese I used to live in there were two options, attend an Engaged Encounter retreat or work with a sponsor couple-- and the engaged couple chose which one they wanted to do-- plus everyone had to attend several meetings with the deacon or priest and take the FOCCUS assessment.

In my new diocese they don’t do any of that (except the meetings with the priest or deacon), and instead have their own marriage program they’ve developed that couples must attend.

Has your pastor indicated what the requirements are?

In my diocese, Engaged Encounter or Pre-Cana was the norm; however because of my crazy schedule we couldn’t attend these. We had a series of private meetings with the priest who celebrated at our wedding, plus we did the FOCCUS testing. It was sufficient, but hindsight being 20/20, it didn’t prepare me for the realities of my husband’s mental health issues or bring to light his addiction which was unknown to me. I doubt any of the options would have.

I guess all this to say, do what the diocese recommends, then go above and beyond. Better to delve deeply than be rocked to your core later.

My husband and I did a weekend retreat that was mandated by our diocese as well as FOCCUS testing. They were both really valuable and gave us a lot to think about. However, another thing that was great (though not a Catholic resource) was purchasing a book called *The Hard Questions *and working through it. It’s basically a bunch of things to consider and discuss before you get married. We actually purchased the book while we were on a weekend vacation to attend a friend’s wedding, and we read the book together and discussed it over the weekend. When we went to do our FOCCUS testing several weeks later our score was so high that they thought we might have cheated! A lot of the questions from FOCCUS were also touched upon in the book. I’d highly recommend getting it and going through it.

If you are well-catechized, it is quite likely that you would find an Engaged Encounter retreat to be unsatisfactory (though the presenting team might love having you there to help reinforce Catholic teaching among your peer fellow retreatants*). Other couples on the retreat are less likely to be so well catechized** and the program will play to the least common denominator.

If you seek a fruitful pre-cana experience, and if you are well-catechized already, I suggest you to seek personal instruction with your priest or deacon, or with someone else recommended by your officiant.

My bride and I spent 7-10 years as a presenting team for Engaged Encounter (until health difficulties forced us to withdraw).

(* I know my bride and I always loved the presence of such a couple!)

(** If you can find an excuse to make the retreat in Steubenville Ohio, where the retreats primarily serve the needs of students and recent graduates of Franciscan University, I hear it is a whole different kind of experience.)


Our diocese used to have a marriage prep program that was hosted by different couples at their homes. It was excellent. One night every two weeks we would meet with all the other engaged couples at a chosen parishioners house. Most of the hosts were long time marrieds with one host being a newlywed couple. The hosts were chosen for their specific topic of discussion. A well to do couple taught the finance evening, a couple with a bunch of kids running around taught the NFP evening, etc. There were 6 or seven subjects and nights. We enjoyed all of them except for the finance one and actually learned a lot.


The other couples in our “group” were horrendous. There were 9 couples. All but two couples are now divorced. We were the only ones who did not meet in a bar. We were the only Catholic couple. :eek: Most of their time was spent scoffing or eye rolling any time Church teaching was brought up. The couples who hosted were amazing, the fellow engagees were not great.

I agree, if you can find a program that is a series of separate meetings go for that. If there is a gap in between meetings, it gives you a chance not only to absorb what was said; but you can discuss it with each other as well and get ready for the next meeting. Most people would rather go for a weekend and do it all at once but the approach of having a series of meetings would be my preference it gives you a chance to mull it over then ask questions about it at the next meeting if you have any.

Please be assured of my prayers for you and your upcoming wedding, God bless!

That’s what we did. There was a program offered by the diocese that met once a week I think for a month or so. I thought everyone had to do either that program or an EE weekend, but I’ve learned since that some parishes run their own with a similar format.

Unfortunately, we didn’t take ours as seriously as we should have, but that was on us, not the format. (We thought we were soooooooo smart. :rolleyes:) We also had meetings with our priest and did the FOCCUS testing.

We’re in New England (but not New York). Our prep consisted of a couple of meetings with the priest, an “Engaged Couples Seminar” (which I think was supposed to be an abbreviated form of Engaged Encounter), and the FOCCUS inventory along with a couple of meetings with a local couple.

I felt that most of the marriage prep we had was unhelpful. The seminar was one day, and consisted of things like drawing pictures (I can’t remember of what) and learning to dance with each other. I found most of it weird and a waste of time. There were a few meaningful pieces of advice that I found helpful, but mostly I felt like I was in elementary school. I personally disliked the way some of the questions on the inventory were asked- in more than one instance, we both interpreted a question in different ways, giving different answers, but were actually on the same page about whatever the item was. I also found it kind of invasive to have to discuss our personal relationship with a couple from our church who we had just met and who we would have to see at Mass. I would have preferred to have meetings with our priest, who I trusted and felt comfortable with.

I found it much more helpful to go through a secular book I found (I forget the title, something about 100 questions) with my then-fiance and talk about things. We’d been together a long time at that point anyway so it didn’t really reveal anything new, but was better at opening up conversation than any of the church-sponsored marriage prep we had.

A complete waste of time! It was a case of ticking the boxes as it was a requirement. Here in NZ the pre cana program is outdated, had incorrect stats and views on a number of topics. Videos from the 1990’s that where full of errors and many cringeworthy moments. No meaningful discussion of relevant relationship psychology. It was all an attempt to preach only Catholic teachings. It was interesting that in our group there was not one couple that were both Catholic. There was never an opportunity to talk about differences of opinion that others may have had. Also there was no feedback survey afterwards.

Don’t just rely on the required program! There is so much more to learn than can be covered in such a short time.

Focus on the Family broadcasts are a good resource. You can download mp3s and listen to a 30 min segment while you are driving on date night or to a family gathering, etc.

We are both introverts so like to sit together and read a christian book on relationships. One on love styles was quite impactful. Another on personality types for couples was as well.

The formal program will probably come across as a bit legalistic due to the limited time to explain “why.” Christopher West’s presentations on JP II’s Theology of the Body might be a good resource to help explain God’s loving plan for marriage and sexuality.

My husband and I did a session earlier this year. Our New England (central CT) diocese offered a 4 hour seminar or the EE weekend. We chose the shorter option due to time constraints, and it was horrible. A deacon came for the first couple hours, and his contribution on the spiritual aspect was good, but very short. He left early for a funeral and our instructors let us out about an hour before the end of the session. We wrote letters to each other did a couple dinky exercises with no context or time to digest our answers. And the NFP bit was horrible. “It works, try it out” was the gist of it. Definitely wrote a lengthy evaluation and am considering writing a letter to our archbishop. how they can require up to 2 years and a mini-retreat for First Communion (seriously, not my diocese but elsewhere) and an iota of that for the rest of people’s lives, I just don’t know.

We could have met with our parochial vicar for multiple sessions and worked with a more catechetical approach, but given our backgrounds, DH and I opted out of “review”. (I got to look at it while DH was finishing his FOCCUS test.)

Congratulations on your engagement! God’s blessings to you! If you like, there’s a Catholic Bride group on Facebook (Gettin Hitched Catholic Style or somesuch) that’s got some great tips and community.

My new husband and I found reading to each other and discussing chapters to be useful. We liked Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage by the Popcaks and The Sinner’s Guide to NFP by Simcha FIsher. We’re still working on Three to Get Married by Fulton Sheen. We also have a quiz book (while engaged, some were not appropriate), that goes from the silly/interesting (who from around the world/history would you invite to a dinner party) to in-depth: how would you respond/feel if [insert situation here] happened, dealing with family, etc. Communication with your beloved is what’s key.

And, though I am probably biased because I was involved in the publication of it, the Transformed in Love program developed by the Archdiocese of Boston (and adopted elsewhere) has good, authentic content. Unfortunately, most programs have to be designed to be approachable to a wide, not necessarily “up on their faith” audience. And if some of it depends on the couples running it/giving talks and participation of other couples, it will be hard to get the level you desire. Bottom line: don’t rely on the program. Rely on each other and work with your priest.

Yeah, require 2 years of marriage prep – Or 4 years of study, such as required for ordination. But…

How many couples would participate in such a program?

Even if it were available, would a 4-year program do any better than a 44-hour retreat or a 4-hour class at de-programming people of their primary education in marital life – For good or for ill: The example of their parents?

It is puzzling. :hmmm:


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