This year, Joseph and I are going to eight weddings. Friends, family, and friends of family are prepping for their big day, and continuing to discern their vocation together as a couple. Although the conversation topics during engagement usually tend towards wedding planning, venue options, and reception song dance lists, there are some other important conversations to have, too.
Here are six topics to talk over before the big day. Grab dinner (or coffee, or a drink, or all three) with your lover and have a heart to to heart about these important topics:
1. Your vocation to love
Saint Pope John Paul II has a special place in Joseph and I's story - he's the patron saint of our relationship. This incredible saint wrote quite a bit on the topic of love and human relationship. He reflected on the book of Genesis and what he calls 'original man' - how we lived and loved before sin entered the picture. Men and women saw each other as a gift, someone to love and not something to use.
This idea of seeing people as gifts is the foundation of how the Church views the concept of a vocation. "God who created man out of love also calls him to love - the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being," the Catechism reads.
It's easy to get wrapped into planning a wedding when you're engaged - or to look forward to planning a wedding when you're talking about engagement in your relationship. But a wedding is just a day - a marriage is (God willing!) a lifetime.
Question to go deeper: What is your love story? Every love story has two versions (Joseph's is much shorter than mine). Tell each other your love story and notice what stands out in your partner's version of your love story.
2. Family of origin
We all bring something from our family of origin into our marriage. When Joseph and I got married, one place where I saw family of origin come into play was something as simple as when we took showers. Joseph takes a shower in the morning before leaving for work, just like he took showers in the morning when he was growing up. I'm the opposite - I grew up taking showers in the evening. Since I come from a family of 10, hot water never a guarantee! Now, I usually take a shower mid-morning. Every once in a while, I'll take a shower in the evening and get some weird looks from Joseph. But that's just one of many things that Joseph and I both have a different family of origin experience with!
Some of the things we bring into our family from our family origin are great - both Joseph and I come from Catholic families that prioritize prayer time. Other things can be, well, not so great. Other can be completely neutral, like holiday celebrations or how you'll divide up who cooks dinner and who loads the dishwasher. But before you get married, take time to look at your family of origin, and the expectations you have for marriage because of how you were raised. Then, take time with your partner to unpack your family of origin. It's up to you both to decide what 'bags' you'll bring into your upcoming marriage. You get to pick what you want to carry with you.
Questions to get conversation flowing: What are some of the things about your family that you'd love to carry into your future marriage? What are some habits, traditions, or hurts that you don't want to bring into your sacrament?
3. Lust versus love
We think of the virtue of chastity as something we may have learned about in high school youth group. But chastity isn't just for teenagers going off to prom - it's a virtue meant for all of us. Even when we get married!
"Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being," the Catechism reads. "Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman."
When we talk about lust in our marriage, things like adultery, prostitution, pornography and masturbation can come to mind. But lust can also sneak its way into our marriages when couples take away the life giving aspects of making love through sterilization and contraception. Chastity is the virtue that allows us to appreciate our spouse in their entirety - mind, soul, heart, body - yes, even their fertility.
Before your wedding day, spend time talking with your future spouse about the role that chastity will play in your marriage. Take time in prayer to pray for the virtue of chastity, and the grace to love your future spouse fully, faithfully, fruitfully, and totally.
Questions to get conversation flowing: Are there any things in your life that are holding you back from loving your future spouse fully? What are some ways that you can love your partner in a way that appreciates their entire person?
4. The S Word
When we planned our wedding Mass, Joseph and I purposely picked Ephesians 5 as the first reading. It's a reading that can make the congregation squirm in their pews, thanks to the infamous line "Wives should be submissive to their husbands, as to the Lord".
Ah, the 'S' word in marriage prep. Nope, not sex (although you should talk about that too, stick around for point five of this post). Submission.
As you continue to read Ephesians 5, you'll read "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish".
The word 'submission' at it's root means to be 'under the mission of'. Submission is a word that has been hijacked by the culture. What Scripture means when it asks women to be submissive is to be under the mission of her husband. And what does Ephesians 5 say the husband's mission is? To love his wife as Christ loved the Church, even to the point of sacrificing his life for her. That's a mission I can get behind.
Questions to dive deeper: What do you think of the word 'submission'? What mission is your marriage called to? What does working together as a team mean in your marriage?
When we think of intimacy in marriage, our minds go straight to what happens in the bedroom (thank you, stupid culture). But intimacy is so much deeper than just making love - although that's beautiful, too!
In Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI, he describes marriage as a love that comes alive, a love that is fully human, "a compound of sense and spirit." This marital love is "a love which is total - that very special form of friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything."
When it comes to the sacrament of marriage, there are multiple categories of intimacy that are needed for a healthy marriage: verbal intimacy, emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, spiritual vulnerability, and sexual intimacy. Pope Francis writes, "This process takes time. Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary. Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one another and to build a stronger relationship."
Questions to chat about as a couple: What steps can you take as a coupe to sustain intimacy in all areas of your life? How can you set aside time to grow in intimacy on all levels?
There are countless things that will cause conflict in your marriage. It may be large triggers like lifestyle changes, job stress, or family issues. It could be that conflict arises because of small triggers like hunger or tiredness. In our marriage, Joseph and I both get grumpy when we don't have food - and knowing that hungriness can be a conflict trigger has been a life saver ("I know you don't mean that. We just need to get some pizza before we talk about this more").
Every couple will have conflict - that's okay. How do you handle conflict in your relationship - and how will you handle conflict in your marriage? Joseph and I both process stress differently. I like to process things externally, chatting with friends about it, and diving into verbal prayer. Joseph processes things internally. When we have something that we need to process and decide, we know that we'll process the conflict differently - and give each other space to process solo if need be.
Questions to dig deeper: What patterns do you see when you look at how you handle conflict as a couple? When you examine those patterns is there anything you'd like to change? What are some healthy strategies you can put into place when conflict appears again?
If there was a couple to write a book on marriage preparation, it's John and Claire Grabowski. In 2009, they were appointed as the Member Couple to the Pontifical Council for the Family by Pope Benedict XVI. They also are the co-authors of anniversary edition of Saint Pope John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio. They are celebrating 33 years of marriage this year.
If you like their conversation questions and want to delve deeper into conversations you should talk about before tying the knot, check out One Body: A Program for Marriage Preparation and Enrichment for the New Evangelization by John and Claire Grabowski.