After Elizabeth Kennedy and Justin Gil of Spokane, Wash., completed a marriage preparation course at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Spokane, they filled out a "couple inventory."
They were relieved to discover that they saw eye-to-eye on many issues that can torpedo a marriage. But the inventory surfaced one issue the couple hadn't discussed: finances.
"We scored low on the nuts and bolts of finances," Kennedy said. They hadn't talked about how they would repay their student loans. So they sat down and worked out these details, feeling fortunate that the inventory caught this area of concern for their future life.
The couple inventory they filled out is known as FOCCUS (Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study). The internationally used inventory isn't the only one available, but it is one of the most popular.
The Diocese of Little Rock has used FOCCUS to prepare couples for more than 15 years, said Elizabeth Reha, director of the Family Life Office.
All engaged couples must meet with their pastor and do the initial prenuptial questionnaire followed by the FOCCUS, she said.
"Regardless of whether they're a young couple or it's a second marriage after an annulment, they are still required to do the FOCCUS instrument," Reha said.
FOCCUS isn't a test. It is a tool for couples planning to marry.
"The tool itself is really designed as a facilitation opportunity. It's not meant to be a litmus test on whether the marriage will make it or not," she said.
|Samples from the questionnaire|
|Stepfamilies-to-be have special needs |
Couples married a few years can return to the inventory through a tool called REFOCCUS. It can also be used to prepare couples who were married civilly and now want to marry in the Church, Reha said.
The inventory is easy to fill out. The couple separately answer the same questions by saying whether they agree, disagree or feel uncertain about 156 statements. There are additional questions specific to interfaith couples, couples in which one or both are marrying a second time or cohabitating couples.
After completing the inventory, the responses are compared and graphed. The statements are separated into 19 categories that engaged couples need to discuss. Some sample categories are communication, religion and values, parenting issues, extended family issues and lifestyle expectations.
Marriage preparation facilitators like to see agreement rates of 80 percent or more on each category's statements.
Kathy Finley, who teaches "Christian Marriage" at Gonzaga University in Spokane, has facilitated marriage preparation courses for more than 300 couples at St. Aloysius, including Kennedy and Gil. She carefully pores over inventory results with each couple.
Finley is especially concerned if the agreement rate is less than 50 percent in any category. "I ask them why. Sometimes they just haven't talked about it. Then, it's just OK; let's get to it. Sometimes it's too hot of a topic, and they haven't been able to talk about it. So I give them some ways to talk about it."
Doing poorly on the inventory won't necessarily delay a marriage. But some facilitators will recommend that couples seek counseling with a therapist specializing in marriage issues.
Facilitators worry, too, if couples score poorly on communication. If they lack that skill going into marriage, it makes the bumps along the way harder to navigate. The inventory is also a good tool to uncover behaviors or attitudes with the potential to be physically or emotionally damaging.
For instance, physical abuse often begins with nonphysical controlling and emotional withholding. So, agreeing with statements that one's "future spouse makes most of the decisions about what we do together" or that at times one is "concerned about the silent treatment I get from my future spouse" could send up a red flag.
Likewise, statements about alcohol and drug use, such as, "Drinking or using drugs causes my future spouse to act inappropriately," can be an early signal that an addiction problem needs attention.
How couples score in two categories -- problem solving and personality match -- provides the strongest indicators for their future. The Nebraska-based company that provides FOCCUS recommends giving special attention to results in these categories.
These are some of the statements couples respond to in the FOCCUS instrument:
Some dioceses offer a marriage education program specifically for couples where one or both of the future spouses have been married before. It is called "Pre-Cana II" or "Cana II." This program's leaders include married couples who have remarried and headed stepfamilies.
Like "Pre-Cana," these programs bring together groups of engaged couples in a seminar/workshop format supplied with information, worksheets and opportunities for group discussion. The facilitators are credible witnesses of functioning stepfamilies and are able to discuss the real issues such families can face.
And like "Pre-Cana," the topics include the spirituality of marriage, finances, communication, conflict management and other topics that are relevant to any marriage. However, there is an emphasis on areas of concern unique to these particular couples, including those who already have children.
Are the children hostile toward the future mom or dad? Does one partner want to have total control over the discipline of his or her child? How is a stepchild's natural father or mother to be received? Does the husband or wife struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed with the added responsibility, fearful of attempts at manipulation by a stepchild?
There are instances when the new marriage itself "competes" with the parenting relationship. So relationship skills are taught in these programs that foster awareness of such issues and how to handle them.
In the Diocese of Little Rock "Pre-Cana" is available, but "Pre-Cana II" is not. But the diocese does offer the educational Sponsor Couple program, which allows the flexibility of tailoring marriage preparation specifically for each couple.
-- Andrew Lyke Jr.
Tara Little contributed to this article.
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