Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pre-Cana/Catholic Engaged Encounter Weekend

This weekend Ed and I went to the Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend in Salt Lake City. Although my parish priest had recommended that we go because he himself does not run any Pre-Cana workshops for engaged couples, he did note that the weekend had both good and bad qualities. It was a good weekend for younger or more inexperienced couples who might need help learning how to communicate effectively with each other; various questions would be posed such that the affianced would have the time to really discuss a lot of issues that will affect their married lives: finances, children, marriage as sacrament, etc. Lots of good topics. It was also noted, though, that Ed and I specifically might not get much out of the weekend because we were slightly older than the average age of the couples who generally attend, and because we were older, were more likely to have discussed most or all of the issues presented. I think if we had said we didn't feel comfortable attending, or if we hadn't been able to afford to go (the price of the weekend was $300, although we only paid $275 because we registered more than a month early), Fr. Carley would have if not overlooked it, helped us with a viable alternative.

Nevertheless, we decided to go; I think Ed was largely ambivalent about going, but knew that attending was important to me, since I want to get married in the Catholic Church. I thought that the worst that might happen is that we might be somewhat bored, but we might be introduced to a few topics we hadn't thought about or need to address further.

The weekend was being held at the Wasatch Retreat and Conference Center, and we were told that we would each have a roommate of the same gender, that there were no exceptions to this policy. We were given keys to fairly nice rooms: single beds with bedside tables that included lamps and an alarm clock, shelves behind one bed, place to hang one's jacket, and a sink; there was a semi-private bathroom that was to be used by two rooms. Not too bad.

With a bit of relief, I was happy to note that Ed and I were not the oldest couple there. There were only six couples: One couple was at least 5-10 years older than we were, and another couple was about our age. The remaining couples (of which one arrived more than an hour late) were in their early to mid-20s.

The entire weekend consisted of two married couples (one in their 50s and married for nearly 34 years, the other in their late 30s or early 40s and married for six years) reading from printed scripts, then giving us a printout of questions to answer in the notebook we'd been provided. Men and women were alternately sent to assigned rooms (one of the previously assigned bedrooms, either your own or that of your fiance/fiancee) or told to stay in the common area to write for a specified amount of time, after which those who had stayed behind went off to the room that contained your fiancee/fiance to read each other's responses and discuss them.

Ed and I were pretty dutiful about writing our responses, although we skipped occasional questions. We were pretty much in tune with each other; we'd discussed these topics previously so there weren't any great surprises. Topics ran the gamut:
  1. introduction ("Why did I come here this weekend?")
  2. self-awareness ("Our family backgrounds have a lasting influence on who we are today. What are three strengths from my family that I bring to our relationship? What are three weaknesses from my family that I bring to our relationship?")
  3. disillusionment ("What are some ways you and I are alike? What are some ways you and I differ? How do these play a part in our cycle of romance, disillusionment, and joy?")
  4. openness in communication ("What things (thoughts, feelings, behaviors, dreams, values) do I find difficult to reveal to you?")
  5. signs of a closed relationship ("Which of the following cause me to ignore differences between us: peace at any price; don't rock the boat; matter of convenience/laziness/indifference; fear of rejection; fear of losing you? What can I do to address these obstacles?")
  6. marriage as vocation ("What does marriage as a vocation now mean to me? How is God calling us to be one?")
  7. marriage morality ("What specific ways have I been life-giving in our relationship?")
  8. decisions in marriage ("What important decision have we made recently that has affected us a couple? How did we seek God's guidance in prayer?")
  9. married sexual intimacy questions ("What are my expectations/hopes/anxieties about our wedding night/honeymoon; leadership/initiative in lovemaking; my sexual knowledge/information; etc.?" There were eight bullet points.)
  10. forgiveness ("When have I hurt you during this weekend? Explain.") 
By number six I had stopped writing my answers; although I did write my answers to the earlier handouts and one or two of the later handouts, I often didn't have much to say. Some of the more religious-based questions were more difficult to answer because Ed doesn't have the background I do, and I know that however I might interpret something specific (for example, marriage as vocation) did not mean that he would interpret that something the same way.

I could definitely see how many of these topics would be helpful; and in a sense they weren't bad for us to revisit either, which I think is a big point: Being able to revisit topics from time to time is beneficial to make sure you're still on the same page. But because Ed and I haven't been dating for years on end, and we've only been engaged about four months, our recent discussions have negated our need to answer these questions again. And the couples who were running this weekend had acknowledged that some of these discussions may be more or less applicable to each couple.

All the discussions were a bit much after awhile. Ed and I were tired from the moment we'd arrived on Saturday morning anyway, since we hadn't gotten enough sleep, so the leaders reading from printouts was additionally tiring. After awhile we got into the groove of reading each other's contributions, talking for a few minutes, and then going off on a tangent.

There were a few things that I did appreciate. For example, we were asked a series of questions, and told to answer "yes" or "no" after each question, after which were taken out to the lobby and told that if we answered "yes" to a question, we'd stand on one side of the room; if we answered "no" we'd go to the other side of the room. It was interesting to see how Ed's answers compared and differed to mine when it came to things like whether we should life insurance soon after the wedding, and should the woman balance the checkbook. There were a few answers we disagreed on, and it was interesting to see how we thought differently. (One question I had an issue with was whether the woman should balance the checkbook, I suppose the presumption being that each couple would have one checking account. Ed and I have had discussions about both paychecks being deposited to the same checking account, but I may keep my own separate checking account for small deposits as well. Certainly I do not want or need Ed balancing a checkbook tied to a checking account that's not his. To my mind, the question was poorly phrased; perhaps it was intentionally vague.)

The other activity that I found helpful had to do with priorities, namely what we prioritize and how. We were given (yet another) handout that listed various areas the one could value; we were instructed to check five areas that we, as individuals, would see as values in our future marriage. We both agreed that raising a family, owning our own home, our careers, and going to church were priorities; while I had also checked finishing school (must...complete...Master's...), Ed had chosen something else that made equal sense. We also rated how to spend money and time, and how we ranked the importance of family of friends; our lists there were way off, so that's something to work out. Those kinds of activities are more helpful to me than most of the other writing we'd been doing all weekend.

There are a few more things I'll be blogging in terms of our weekend: a few interesting things (or at least, things that made me stop and think), and a response to one discussion that I had to leave because it made me too upset, but I need a little bit more time to process this weekend's events.

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