It's better to get to know your prospective spouse prior to marriage rather than after tying the knot, say Paul and Carol Quist.

It's better to get to know your prospective spouse prior to marriage rather than after tying the knot, say Paul and Carol Quist.

May 4, 2015

A couple entering marriage should do so freely, joyfully, both choosing someone they have carefully discerned.

"But some think 'I can always try again,'" said Carol Quist. "With our easy divorce (legislation), they keep divorce in the back of their mind as an escape plan."

Carol and husband Paul are directors of family ministry at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove. They give workshops, retreats, marriage preparation courses and counsel those in need of guidance.

The couple studied at John Paul II

Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Melbourne, Australia, have been married for 33 years and have three adult children.

Given their perspective, they see many of the mistakes couples make that could eventually fracture their marriage.

The most recent Statistics Canada report said the chance of an Alberta couple still being together at their 30th anniversary is 46 per cent.

Given what divorce does not only to the couple, but also to any children involved, it's a life event worth avoiding.

As Carol said, "Marriage is for life."

The top mistake on the list, said the couple, is living together before marriage. Eighty per cent or more of the couples who come to them for marriage preparation are cohabiting.

The problem is that sexual intimacy restricts the couples' freedom on many levels. They have shared their bodies, maybe property, children and pets, and might feel the pressure to marry.

People need to know they can bolt, said Carol. "It is OK; even if you are single for rest of your life, it is OK."

She said social science shows couples who live together before marriage have a greater instance of divorce and domestic abuse.

The Quists also said these couples are not practising the virtues of the Catholic faith – that "God's love is to be free, total, fruitful, faithful and sacrificial."

But really, said Paul, by the time a couple gets to the point of cohabitation, "the horse is out of the barn."

They should have had what Paul calls "remote preparation," instruction by their parents, beginning even as young as pre-school as to the reason and importance of chastity and marriage.

The Quists recommend the book As I have Loved You by Gerard O'Shea to help parents provide this vital guidance.

Parents need to provide their children with "good human formation so they become noble, courageous, thoughtful people" who can, when they reach adulthood, discern the right person with whom they can share their life.

"Maintain their innocence as long as possible and guard their freedom," said Carol. "We want our young people to choose well."

The couple also counsels against rushing into marriage, having at least a year or two of courtship during which they get to know their potential life partner more deeply.

During this time "They express their world views, hopes, fears, liabilities – a period where they really explore each other and do the hard work of self-disclosure," said Carol. "Being involved sexually clouds our judgement."

Paul offers list of red flags – signs that a relationship may be headed for big trouble.

  • Are there any addictions?
  • Has there been any verbal, physical or psychological abuse? If there is abuse, you need safety, distance and prayer.
  • Is there severe debt?
  • Are there psychological problems?
  • • Is there intense anger, jealousy?

Electronic media

  • Is there overuse of electronic media? “Playing games, chatting on the Internet may seem harmless, but it comes at the expense and cost of communicating with your loved one,” said Paul. “You tune out rather than engage with the person you live with. It’s not real life.”
  • Respect your feelings if you feel disrespected, are afraid of your future spouse or if you feel you cannot be totally yourself in the future marriage relationship.
  • Know your potential in-laws. See if your partner is enmeshed with their relatives. If it is a dysfunctional family, it will impact your future spouse’s life. And you cannot fix them or their family.

Listen to advice

  • Have the humility to listen to advice from people who care about you.
  • Beware of pornography. It has a huge destructive effect on marriage, said Paul, presenting women and children as objects.
  • Make sure you can communicate with each other. Problem solve and resolve critical issues such as finances, children, faith, discipline before marriage. Discuss whether you have a difference in values and goals.
  • Make sure your partner is ready for marriage, is not narcissistic and wanting someone to make them happy.
  • Do things in the right order. Courtship. Discernment of yourself and potential partner’s ability to make this marriage work. Then marriage and sexual union.

"If your vocation is to love, if you are called to love, there is work to be done," advised Carol.