Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why I Recommend Marriage Prep to Everyone: Part II - Alice + Warren

(If you’re new to this three-part series, click here for part I)

Alice + Warren
The underlying and continuous theme of our 9 months of marriage preparation was communication. Garrett and I have always put an emphasis on open communication, which is what I believe has strengthened our relationship to what it is today. What Pre-Cana and a little bit of maturity taught us, though, was how to communicate.

Our methods of communication vastly improved through taking the Foccus Pre-Marriage Inventory test, meeting frequently with our priest, getting together on multiple occasions with a long-time married couple within the church, and attending weekend-long seminars. What I am going to primarily talk about in this post is the Foccus test, how it connected us with a sweet elderly couple, and how they introduced a simple practice into our relationship that has improved our daily lives.

Through answering a series of questions, the Foccus test brings forth how you and your future spouse value certain topics in life such as faith, communication, family, cohabitation, finances, careers, sexuality, friendships and more. It fuels discussions centered on those important topics while offering communication and conflict resolution skills, all designed to strengthen your relationship in both the short- and long-term.

A lot of Catholic churches will have you review your Foccus tests in depth with your priest. Our church, however, has you discuss your answers with a long-time married couple (which I thought was a much better approach. After all, how well can one counsel marriage if that person has never, in fact, been married?).

The husband and wife that we were scheduled to meet with were named Warren and Alice. They had been married for 55 years and had copious amounts of children and grandchildren. They were the first to admit that their marriage had endured its fair share of ups and downs and were there to listen and offer gentle guidance on resolving conflicts that Garrett and I had. At the end of each meeting (we met with them three times), they asked us to work on one or two new techniques in the time between our next gathering and report on how they worked. One of Alice’s suggested techniques, which I’ll talk about in a moment, is something that I still practice today.

Allow me to give you a bit of a background first.

Garrett has an unbelievable capability to zone out. If he’s playing a game, reading something, watching TV, or merely deep in thought, the whole world disappears around him. Sometimes, you can scream and shout and cry to get his attention, and he won’t answer you. Other times, he’ll reply and hold a full conversation, which he’ll immediately forget having. I would grow upset at his unresponsiveness or forgotten commitments; in turn Garrett would become angered by his crazy fiancĂ©e’s antics of screaming at him or “putting words into his mouth”. Needless to say, the combination of yelling and forgotten discussions became a frequent frustration in our relationship.

For this frustration, Alice had a simple cure.

“Why don’t you try to engage him with physical contact?” she asked sweetly. “Try tapping him on the shoulder or squeezing his arm and saying, ‘Garrett, I need to ask you something’. Wait for him to pause what he is doing, make eye contact, and let you know that you have his full attention.”

This. Was. Genius.

How had I never come up with that before? It wasn’t that Garrett wanted to zone me out; it just happened. It wasn’t that I wanted to scream and shout; it just happened. So why, after years of behaving in ways that neither of us wanted to, did we not try and change what was happening?

Because we didn’t realize it, that’s why. Often, you get so wrapped up in routine that you come to expect and accept things to happen in a certain way. Which is exactly what was occurring in our relationship: in our routine and overall happiness with each other, we failed to be mindful of how certain interactions affected our relationship. And that is where it helped to have a third set of eyes—in this case, Alice’s.

So now, almost two years later, I am still tapping Garrett on the arm to register his attention before speaking. He stops what he is doing, turns to me and says, “I’m listening.” There is no shouting, there are no hurt feelings, there is no frustration. With the simple gesture of making physical contact before speaking, our relationship has improved vastly.

That’s my example of how Pre-Cana (and Alice) taught us how to communicate better. Had we not taken the time to sit and realize our frustrations and been in the presence of somebody capable of offering good advice, it is possible that we may still be communicating in our broken way. And though that broken communication only happened for at most 60 seconds a day, eradicating it from our relationship is one of the best things that we have done for each other. Now, we use that 60 seconds a day to laugh, hug, or…wait for it…have engaged, meaningful conversation.  For the amount of time that I’m planning on spending with Garrett as my husband (which is for the rest of my life, in case you were wondering), we’ve just traded about twenty five thousand and five hundred minutes of frustration for twenty five thousand and five hundred minutes of happiness. How would you trade your time?

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