One of the joys of getting married in a Catholic Church is the pre-marriage course. This is a two day seminar where you are taught how to be a good married couple. I was looking forward to the course. As an avid reader of self-help books and popular psychology, I’m all into discussing ‘us’.
The other half meanwhile didn’t give the course a single pre-thought, until we were sat in the room, with eight other nervous looking couples, faced with two staunch catholics and a flipchart. I wanted to leave. He wanted to stay.
The lighting in the room was blinding. For the first hour we could barley look up. I wondered if I could pop my shades on, like an alcoholic at rehab, without looking rude.
A projector outlined what we would be learning over the evening and the following day. Commitment, conflict resolution, parenting and God in your marriage. Ah God, I thought.
Greetings over, we were asked to open our folders and start an exercise. The exercises came in pairs, one for your partner and one for you. You filled them out, then swapped answers and discussed. Each time we were taught a subject you filled out an exercise. The aim was to keep you busy. It was a well planned out kindergarten tactic.
We discovered that tea is very important on a pre-marriage course. You have a cup when you come in, and a cup about every hour or so after that. Maybe this isn’t so bad I thought. Caffeine fuelled, it was easy to talk about various difficult issues. What kind of parent will you be? How do we handle finance? How would we cope with a serious illness?
Family of origin plays a big part in your relationship. Luckily for us, we come from very similar backgrounds and we were in agreeance in nearly every exercise we did. Which made me look at other couples to see how they were getting on. Were they all so perfectly matched as us?
The answer was yes. If you scrambled us all up and asked a stranger to match us up, it would have been the easiest game of Go Fish ever.
The Jeremy Kyle couple made their presence known early on. The man liked to shout at the facilitators if they mentioned anything that he was interested in. He sat with his Missus, arms wrapped round her, tapping her ribcage and every so often running his finger down her nose and flicking it. I wondered if he ever beat her up. He was so drunk he could barely see out his eyes.
The second couple who stood out were The Humpty Dumptys. They were both shaped like round Os, with no necks and double chins. He has balded to the front of his head and she liked to stare longingly at him during pauses in the course. When it came to the sex exercise, she put it as number one priority in their relationship. Most other people put it at three.
The Childhood Sweethearts were wordless and saccharine.They didn’t have much to contribute. Not even to each other. The Dysfunctional couple sat next to them, snarling at each other throughout. While the facilitators spoke and everyone looked on in attention, the female snarler stared into space, mouth slightly open, a million miles away from the fluorescent lit room.
We finished our evening with a bit of relief. We now knew what to expect and the full day the next day didn’t seem so bad. Especially with all the tea and biscuits.
I didn’t expect the Jeremy Kyle couple to be there on the Saturday. I half hoped that Mr Jeremy Kyle wouldn’t be able to get out of bed, so we could get through the course in relative peace. There he was however, decked out in his shell tracksuit, meek as a kitten.
We tackled the rest of the subjects. Infertility. Would you adopt if you couldn’t have kids? I don’t know, I thought. That is not something I have ever considered. The facilitator informed us that she had adopted a child and suddenly all these questions became more real. We looked beyond the wedding day into the next decades.
Your 40s. Your 50s. How will you feel as couple then? Your relationship will change, they told us. You will go through ups and downs. You may have problems that need counselling. There may be cheating. One in three couples will experience some sort of infidelity in their relationship but two thirds of these will get past it. The internet is causing major problems these days; porn addiction, games addiction, facebook addictions; sitting in front of the TV night after night, faces lit with the glow of apple iPads and no conversation whatsoever. We had a lot to think about.
It was strange to sit in a room of strangers and look at very deep and confidential issues. We moved towards each other, protective of ourselves, not really wanting to discuss these issues, yet fascinated by them. We felt closer as each hour of the course ticked by.
After lunch, a priest came in to talk to us about our wedding ceremony, paperwork and being good Catholics. He was funny and down to earth. He told us he didn’t really give a shite about us and that he was obligated to do most of the boring paperwork by the people in power. As he talked however, he revealed stories of death and friendship and everything that makes us human.
The wedding day is not your day, he said. It is everyone’s day; the woman who lost her husband and doesn’t want to go to your wedding to be reminded of this; the husband who had an affair, and his ex-wife who doesn’t want to see him on the day; and the joyful couple who are there to wish you well and hope you have a happy marriage like they did.
We gathered up our paperwork, shook hands with the priest and left to get into our cars to drive home to the houses we shared, all of us already living as thought a married couple might.
We were silent in the car, exhausted by two days of probing and prodding at the inner workings of our relationship. But one question hung in our minds, filling our quiet thoughts. Which type of married couple would we turn out to be? And how would we feel when we had to attend weddings in the future?
Would we be the resentful couple glaring at each other over shimmering glasses of wine? Would we be the divorced couple barking behind shielded hands to anyone that would listen? Or would we be the joyful couple wishing the newly weds well, longing for the days or our early marriage? Only time of course, would tell.