Marriage in the News March 2009, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


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Marriage in the News

Marriage in the News March 2009

March 1, 2009
  • Marrying in a recession: Wedding cost control
  • Marriage preparation: More popular than ever?
  • On winning and losing in a marital conflict: Year of the Family in Austin
  • How couples manage disagreements: A few marriage essentials
  • Why money spent on a shared experience counts: Finding happiness
  • Lent and the economic crisis: Reflections for families, parents and others


Getting Married in a Recession: Wedding Cost Control

Engaged couples will proceed to marriage, economic recession or not. That’s why some social analysts hold that marriage itself is recession proof. But weddings are not recession proof — not when it comes to cost. In fact, the current economic crisis has couples all over the world searching for ways to rein in their wedding expenses.

In 2009, the average cost of a wedding is headed downward. Couples and their families are taking necessary steps to cut what they earlier might have spent. In some cases, a job loss within the family or by the bride- or groom-to-be mandates a revised wedding budget.

In January, the results of a widely reported survey conducted for David’s Bridal, a well-known bridal-shop business, showed that 25 percent of couples planned to cut the cost of their upcoming weddings by 50 percent; 10 percent of couples intended a 75 percent cost cut. Some 34 percent of couples hoped to keep the cost of their weddings under $10,000.

A wedding costs whatever a couple decides it is able or willing to pay. So wedding costs range from a few hundred dollars to $50,000 and even more. But throughout what is known as the “wedding industry,” it is reported that the average cost of a 2007 wedding in the U.S. was $27,490.

As the global economy worsened in 2008, however, the average cost of a U.S. wedding dropped to $21,814, and the “industry” anticipates another 10 percent drop of costs in 2009, making it about $19,600 – not, of course, a low cost at all in the minds of many.

Molly K. Hans and Father William C. Graham, authors of “The Catholic Wedding Book” (Paulist Press, 2007), advised engaged couples that they can expect to encounter “two prevailing philosophies” about weddings among their friends and relatives. One group, labeled by the authors “the do-it-right people,” holds “that your wedding day exists to make all your dreams come true in a lavish ceremony guaranteed to send Cinderella back to the drawing board.”

The authors cautioned that for the do-it-right people, a wedding means “cramming more guests, music, flowers, liquor, food and confusion into one day than is currently allowed by law in most states.”

A second group, the “hold-your-horses people,” believes that when it comes to weddings, “the simpler the better.” For this group, the authors explained, a wedding is “a voracious beast requiring financial nourishment as each new detail is added.”

Clearly, couples in any year need to undertake some real planning if they want to keep the cost of a wedding from soaring out of sight. But for couples in 2009, establishing a wedding budget that works is essential in a new way.

According to numerous reports, couples are doing exactly that – establishing a wedding budget that works. A simple Google search of “wedding costs 2009” will yield numerous cost-cutting suggestions that couples will find helpful.

Couples may even gain valuable skills for marriage through this type of wedding planning. Columnist Steve Rosen, writing Feb. 24 in The Kansas City Star, told of a couple who, in the process of planning their wedding, “learned some practical lessons about budgeting, bill paying, negotiating and compromising.”

Rosen said the whole process starts with the couple discussing “spending priorities and values.” He advises parents who may be paying all or some of the wedding costs, and the couple themselves to make certain “there is a budget and stick to it.” But he acknowledges this often is “easier said than done.”

What are some ways engaged couples and their families control wedding costs? In my survey of current reports, I read of two brides who each saved about $1,000 by purchasing a wedding dress online, one at eBay; yet another bride saved by purchasing her dress in a vintage shop.

Numerous reports told of couples saving money by cutting guest lists; simplifying wedding reception menus; ordering a small, decorated wedding cake as a centerpiece, but serving sheet cakes to guests; calling upon skilled friends to serve as musicians or photographers.

Some families plan to purchase wedding flowers at a farmers’ market; some brides will carry bouquets cut from a family garden. Some couples are eliminating expenses they judge nonessential, such as the favors commonly given to guests at wedding receptions. (A few years back in our own family, one daughter, a graphic designer, created a bookmark favor for her sister’s wedding; after the bookmarks were inexpensively photocopied, several family members sat on the floor at home and shared the task of cutting them out and preparing them for the reception guests.)

Not surprisingly, many engaged couples in 2009 report they are altering honeymoon plans. Some are canceling their honeymoon altogether, while others are canceling the high cost of flying to a faraway destination, deciding to honeymoon closer to home. And some couples simply are postponing their honeymoons.

Rosen advised couples to ask wedding vendors for discounts. He wrote, “In this economic environment, caterers, photographers and florists, for example, may be willing to charge less to get the job.” He also offered this concluding observation:

“Planning a wedding in a cost-conscious manner … is a great way to get the marriage off on the right foot – and it can still be fun.”


Marriage Preparation: More Popular Than Ever?

Is marriage preparation growing more popular? ACCORD, an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference promoting marriage enrichment and marriage preparation, reported Feb. 12 that preliminary statistics show a 4 percent increase in the number of couples attending its marriage preparation programs in 2008, compared with 2007.

Ruth Barror, ACCORD’s national director, said the agency’s latest statistics showed that 9,500 couples participated in ACCORD marriage preparation courses in 2007, while figures for 2008 indicate that 9,880 couples participated in these courses.

Barror commented: “Marriage is a journey and not a destination. The decision to get married is the most important decision a couple will make in their lifetime.”

The Irish Times, discussing the ACCORD statistics Feb. 13, said the agency is Ireland’s largest provider of pre-marriage education courses. The newspaper quoted Stephen Cummins, ACCORD’s director of marriage education, who said the current economic downturn will not lessen the number of couples getting married. He said, “In a time of recession and job loss, what are you left with other than love?”

Cummins said, “There are certain skills couples need to maintain a good relationship, and they can learn these skills from the marriage preparation courses.”

ACCORD says the feedback it receives “constantly shows that couples who attended marriage preparation courses were delighted they had done so.” In the first place, “it gave them special time together as a couple, away from all distractions to concentrate on themselves and their relationship.”

In addition, says ACCORD, participants in marriage preparation courses “mention in particular that the openness and honesty of the [married] facilitators in speaking about their own experiences” is important. Participants find, too, that the atmosphere of the course made it easier “to speak about issues they had not previously thought of or had even been avoiding.”

Finally, ACCORD’s feedback indicates that meeting with other couples who are “experiencing the same excitement, anxieties and asking the same questions was particularly helpful” for engaged couples in marriage preparation sessions.


Winning and Losing in a Marital Conflict: Year of the Family in Austin

“Because in a marriage two people have become one, if your objective in a marital conflict is to ‘crush the opponent,’ you will end up ‘crushing’ yourself and the relationship,” say Joseph White and Trey Cashion. Their article titled “Healthy Communication in a Sacramental Marriage” is among background materials posted online for the 2009 Year of the Family now being observed in the Diocese of Austin, Texas.

White, a clinical psychologist, is director of the Austin Diocese’s Office of Catholic Family Counseling and Family Life. Cashion, a financial planner, is a parishioner at St. Mary Catholic Church in College Station. Their article is adapted from the diocese’s marriage preparation program, “Together in God’s Image,” which they authored.

The goal of a wife or husband at the time of a marital conflict is not to try “to achieve victory over the other,” according to White and Cashion. Instead, “the focus needs to be on finding a way to work together.” That, they add, is “the only way to win in a marriage.”

How can a couple work together at the time of a conflict? White and Cashion encourage each spouse to find out about “the needs of the other” and to communicate his or her own needs “in a way the other person can hear and understand.” The writers counsel that this means communicating in a self-giving, not a self-centered, way.

Self-centered ways of expressing oneself lead to defensiveness as “the other person’s focus on their own rights and preferences leads us to do the same,” they explain. Then, “instead of listening, we begin to think of ways to get ‘our’ point across.”

Self-giving expression, on the other hand, “involves working to understand the needs and feelings of the other, and sending our messages in a way in which they will be best understood,” say the writers.

Self-centered expression, according to White and Cashion, “is all about ‘what you need to do to please me.’ There is no vulnerability, no gift of self and no consideration of what the other person might be feeling.” However, they continue, “in self-giving expression I am trusting you enough to show how I feel, I’m not blaming you, because I know you have another perspective, and I’m looking for ways that I can help, ways I can support you in working things out.”

Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin said in December 2008 that the diocese would “partner in a special way” during 2009 “with families in their efforts to become what God has called them to be.” In a letter to the diocese about the Year of the Family, he said, the diocese would renew efforts directed “to forming families in faith and forming them in healthy relationships, assisting families in crisis, providing families with resources to help in living out their vocation in their daily lives.”

The Year of the Family is an effort to help equip couples and families for the challenges of Catholic family life in the 21st century. The year’s activities encompass workshops, retreats, prayer and study opportunities.

White spoke with this Web site about ways the Year of the Family will support married couples. “Just as we must continue to water and prune a garden after we plant it, a marriage relationship needs continued care if it is going to be healthy and grow,” he said.

The diocese hopes the Year of the Family “will aid already married couples by offering resources for prayer and other spiritual activities for couples and families with children, as well as practical tools for growing in communication with one another and with their children,” White said.

He added that the diocese wants to highlight “resources in the diocese for ongoing enrichment” such as the Worldwide Marriage Encounter,” along with resources for struggling couples, such as the Retrouvaille program and family counseling.


How Couples Manage Disagreements: A Few Marriage Essentials

Couples in happy, long-term marriages manage disagreements without letting them get out of hand, says Alan Booth, distinguished professor of sociology, human development and demography at Penn State University. He proposes this formula to help couples keep things in balance: “Every one negative thing said needs five positive statements to override it.”

Booth is co-author of “Alone Together” (Harvard University Press), a 2007 book analyzing how marriage in America is changing. He has studied the causes of marital instability, divorce, parent-child relations and other issues related to the quality of marriage.

The university discussed Booth’s research and his views on marriage in a report Feb. 17 by freelance writer Jesse Hicks titled “Probing Question: What Predicts a Happy Marriage?” Booth says in the report that negotiating disagreements is a skill and takes practice; couples who can manage these problems effectively have happier marriages, but that doesn’t mean their happiness came easily.

Booth points out that men and women generally approach conflict management in very different ways. Men tend to withdraw, while women want to solve the problems, “so they’re initially at odds, strategically,” he comments.

According to him, happily married couples make explicit agreements about large and small matters by talking together in an environment of mutual respect and consideration.

How do couples know if they are ready to get married? They need to know each other very well and have a commitment to mutual respect, Booth emphasizes. Writing about this, Hicks says:

“According to Alan Booth, ‘a happy marriage depends less on the aim of Cupid’s arrow and more on those mundane day-to-day elements no one finds particularly romantic.’ In fact, says Booth, … ‘it’s a bad idea to marry during that early, idealized period.’ Biological factors produce that light-headed feeling of being in love, and while pleasurable, it can also be misleading. In his research, Booth has seen that divorce rates peak in the third year of marriage –  a clear indication that a lot of newlyweds have early regrets.”

Discussing Booth’s work, Hicks notes that “one way couples get to know each other — by living together — doesn’t necessarily lead to happier marriages. In fact, research suggests that divorce rates are higher among couples who cohabited before marriage than among those who waited until after their wedding to move in together.”

According to Booth, “Even though they’re living together, a couple can still see themselves as in a temporary relationship.” Without committing to marriage, he adds, couples often spend this “trial period” avoiding long-term problems in their relationship.

Hicks points out that Booth’s research suggests a happy marriage, like any long-term project, requires careful, daily tending and that couples are much more responsible for their happiness than they realize.


Why Money Spent on a Shared Experience Really Counts: Discovering Happiness

If you have some disposable income, will using it to make a new purchase bring you happiness? It all depends, says Ryan T. Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. His current research indicates that money brings people greater happiness when it is spent on experiences rather than material objects. For one thing, experiences tend to be shared with others.

Howell told this Web site that he believes his research is valuable for married couples. He said he has “heard back from a number of couples that they attempt to spend some of their disposable income on experiences” as a step toward keeping their marriages strong.

The university said Feb. 7 that Howell’s new study “demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality — a feeling of being alive.”

In an interview Feb. 13 with National Public Radio, Howell noted that spending money on an experience can be less expensive than purchasing a material thing. A shared experience such as time spent together in a coffee shop might cost as little as $5, he said. So the level of cost is not the determining factor. In fact, he has said that whether people spend a small or large amount on an experience, their ensuing level of happiness will be the same.

Howell doesn’t doubt that the purchase of a material object can sometimes yield feelings of happiness – for awhile. But he pointed out that experiences make people feel more alive and connected — related — to others. In a CNN report on his findings, Howell said that “when people spend money on life experiences, whether they also take someone with them or buy an extra ticket or whatever, most of our live experiences involve other individuals.” Thus, people fulfill a need for social bonding through experiences, he said.

If the purchase of a material object brings people happiness, it is likely to be short term, Howell thinks. But positive memories of shared experiences can endure far into the future. In his words, experiences build up our “memory capital.” He said, “We don’t tend to get bored of happy memories like we do with a material object.”

Do people still believe money will make them happy? Yes, says Howell, “even though 35 years of research has suggested the opposite.” Perhaps people hold to this belief, he postulates, “because money is making some people happy some of the time, at least when they spend it on life experiences.”

Howell’s findings will be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. He presented his findings in early February to the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Tampa, Fla.


Lent and the Economic Crisis: Notes for Families, Parents and Others

Lent in 2009 is different. The impact of the economic downturn means that families and individuals this year are not choosing which Lenten sacrifices to practice. Instead, sacrifices “have chosen us,” Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said Feb. 22 in a message for Lent.

The cardinal said Lenten sacrifices in 2009 will not remain part of people’s lives only during the weeks until Easter. In fact, he said, “Lent actually began in 2007” for many families, “and we have been in a long and protracted season of Lent ever since.”

With the economic crisis, “incredible difficulties have burdened families: parents ever fearful that they cannot provide for their children, the unknown financial calamity that lurks just around the corner, the awful feeling of being one paycheck away from complete financial meltdown,” Cardinal Mahony said.

During Lent, he said he intends each day to offer his prayers and sacrifices “for a special group of co-disciples with Jesus: those out of work, families who have lost homes, parents who fear that they won’t have the money needed for their children, the many who have lost health insurance, the retired people whose retirement funds have been severely diminished and all who fear each tomorrow.”

Cardinal Mahony urged people this Lent to “recall the origin of the word ‘sacrifice.’” It comes, he explained, “from two Latin words — ‘sacrum’ and ‘facere’ –meaning ‘to make sacred.’” Sacrifice means “accepting an ongoing or new reality — usually burdensome — and turning that into something sacred, a source of God’s love and grace.”

Thus, for him, “this Lent means embracing the new wearisome burdens, difficulties and unexpected hardships that have confronted me on my journey of life and faith,” Cardinal Mahony said. “I can’t pretend that these difficult burdens aren’t there, nor can I try to somehow sneak around them and move on — neither approach works,” he added. What he must do, he said, “is recognize them, embrace them, realize I can’t carry them alone and ‘make sacred’ all that surrounds me.”

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Marriage in the News

Marriage in the News

David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.


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Marriage in the News March 2009, available at: ForYourMarriage.org
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