As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, people were often surprised that, until last month, I was not married. People undoubtedly questioned my marital expertise without having experienced marriage. I had thought-out answers I had at-the-ready if confronted about this by potential clients. I would say, “I think about it like an oncologist; the doctor doesn’t have to had previously battled the illness to be able to treat it,” or “Age and marital status don’t necessarily parallel to experience and training.” My expertise and training led me to question how much I would learn from the premarital instructions of the Archdiocese last September, for if I’m giving advice and support to married couples in my work as a therapist, then surely, I won’t learn too much going through the process myself. I’ve never been so happy to have been wrong!
I learned three overarching themes during my engagement:
I. Humility: I was given a strong dose of it! In the preparatory work with my fiancé, I learned to be more humble in my job as a marriage counselor and more humble in our relationship. My husband and I were given countless pieces of advice over the engagement process, and we took it in strides. When our wedding preparations began, I set out to be easy-going, easy to work with, accommodating, and not turn into a “bridezilla”. Sure enough, I was given multiple opportunities to put this into practice—like when our caterer dropped our contract out of the blue. With humility came the realization of the need to be selfless. My prayers turned from “me” to “we” as I began to see us becoming one, as in the eyes of the Church.
II. Focus: I learned that there is a huge difference between the wedding party and the marriage you have after the party. My husband and I tried to focus on the marriage sacrament and fully understanding from our Catholic faith what we were getting ourselves into. However, there are countless distractions that disrupt this focus—so many plans to be made, less and less time together talking about anything other than the “big day”, and that darn Pinterest site! It took a million reminders from each of us to return to the nature of the sacrament. Did that mean that we should neglect the reception décor and music? No, of course not. But it meant that we tried to place more emphasis on our faith. This was helped through all of the marriage preparation requirements, but it also meant individual and couple-based prayer, masses, and confession. My favorite reminder from experienced couples was that the Devil works extremely hard to make the engagement period difficult in hopes that the marriage doesn’t happen, so you have to be on guard not to let him win. God always triumphs when we turn to him.
III. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others: I realized that although marriage is a commonly shared experience, we must be cautious making judgments. Too often there are comparisons of people’s wedding and marriage. We become competitive—believe me, I have two sisters both married before me. When we fall prey to this judgment, we forget the true nature of the sacrament. When we judge a bride for her dress, or a couple for their choice of food, we completely lose sight of the importance of the sacrament. God is uniting us to became one, and is giving us an outpouring of grace as we say “I do”. Focusing on being less judgmental, planning for the marriage as well as the reception, and becoming more humble are important lessons I learned during my engagement. Now, having learned so much during my engagement, I cannot wait to see what I gain from personal experience as a wife!