The Positive Effects of Premarital Education
by Caty Long
Entering into an unbreakable, lifelong commitment such as marriage requires careful preparation. The Catholic Church recognizes this and provides resources for engaged couples to ready themselves for life together through retreats, guided personality questionnaires, mentor couples, and more. Couples not marrying in the Church, however, are typically left to their own devices when preparing for the momentous step of marriage. The Institute for Family Studies has published a two-part article about Utah’s premarital education program and four major issues facing young couples today.
The state of Utah has taken steps to support and aid couples entering into marriage. In March, Governor Gary Herbert signed into law bill SB 54 that discounts the price of a marriage license by $20 for those couples who participate in premarital education, either secular or religious (a full-price license is $40-50). Since the 1970s, several decades prior to SB 54, a Utah formal policy encouraging premarital counseling for teens and previously divorced couples has been in place; the new bill broadens the scope to all engaged couples, regardless of age or previous relationship.
The discounted $20 goes to the Utah Marriage Commission in support of “marriage strengthening education services.” The class must be finished 14 days before the couple applies for their marriage license and covers important topics such as commitment, communication, and problem-solving skills. Should a couple choose to forego premarital education, the $20 will go to the Utah Marriage Commission to aid their efforts in providing premarital education.
Utah is the tenth state to enact such a policy in hopes of increasing family stability. One of the Utah Marriage Commission’s goals is to increase citizens’ participation in premarital education from 30% to at least 50% in the next five years. In that time, the Utah Marriage Commission plans to partner with vendors in the Utah wedding industry, hoping that vendors will match the $20 discount in their products and services.
In the second article of the series, Tiffany L. Clyde and Alan J. Hawkins of the Institute for Family Studies address the four major trends that will most likely have a big influence on the marriage patterns of iGens (also known as Generation Z, those born after 1995 and later). Starting preemptively with premarital education can help equip couples to live stronger, healthier marriages.
- Individualism, Self-Discovery, and “Commitment Ambivalence”: marriage is not a priority for many young adults, who are more focused on getting a degree and finding a good job. College debt plays a major factor in putting off marriage until couples feel financially stable enough to pay for a wedding.
- Attitudes about Marriage: for many young adults, marriage is “just a piece of paper” that is often deemed unnecessary for expressing a couple’s commitment. Additionally, according to the 2016 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, over a quarter (26%) of American adults think that monogamy is unrealistic, and more iGens are “involved in consensual non-monogamy in greater numbers” than previous generations.
- Prior Relationships: more couples are cohabiting (approximately 50% of couples, often in multiple different relationships) and engaging in premarital sex (as many as 90% of couples) before marrying. A majority of young couples believe that living together before marriage helps decrease the possibility of divorce later in life. Yet often couples do not have a definitive plan of “date, cohabitate, get married”; the cohabitation happens unintentionally. Additionally, more couples are having children in a cohabiting, rather than married, relationship (35% of parents).
- Social Media and Porn: the members of Generation Z have spent most of, if not all, of their lives surrounded by computers, cell phones, and other media devices. Social media and dating apps can make it easier to reunite with past lovers or begin a cheating relationship, whether emotional or physical, with someone other than their fiancé. Additionally, such devices have made pornography more readily available and easier to access than ever; as much as 90% of Generation Z has viewed porn. Porn often normalizes displays of abuse and violence between men and women and negatively affects the user’s sex life because of unrealistic expectations about sexual pleasure. Porn use also affects the emotional part of a relationship; women whose male partners use porn often feel unloved, betrayed, and distrusting of him. It should be noted that in 2016 the state of Utah set in place a resolution declaring porn to be a public health hazard.
Weddings are expensive and stressful affairs; there is significant societal pressure on couples to have a unique, picture-perfect wedding day. But the wedding is just one day; marriage lasts a lifetime. The years that follow in marriage are beautiful but not without difficulties. This must be emphasized for everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. For those of us in the Church, the best way to support strong marriages in the Church is to prepare couples before they receive the Sacrament of Matrimony. Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia wrote that “marriage preparation should be a kind of ‘initiation’ to the Sacrament of Matrimony, providing couples with the help they need to receive the sacrament worthily and to make a solid beginning of life as a family.”
While no marriage preparation plan is perfect, any premarital education is better than none. It is heartening to see concrete steps taken in public policy that buttresses the Church’s work in strengthening the next generations of husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Families, “The Church must therefore promote better and more intensive programs of marriage preparation, in order to eliminate as far as possible the difficulties that many married couples find themselves in, and even more in order to favor positively the establishing and maturing of successful marriages.”
About the author
Caty Long is a recent graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and spent two years as an office assistant for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth at the USCCB.