FOR all types of career today vocational guidance and practical training are available; yet for one of the most complex and demanding "careers" — that of marriage — there seem to be few sources of help and information readily accessible.
All too often we embark in a haze of confetti armed only with love, goodwill, cookery advice from mother, and dim memories of doctrine lessons at school when marriage was tentatively discussed by an embarrassed cleric.
The fact is that while a happy childhood and the example of our parents' successful marriage may prove beneficial, we need understanding and insight to overcome all the strains that may be faced today.
Such understanding is fostered by the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council's courses for engaged couples. These courses, which are held at many of the C.M.A.C. centres throughout the country, were started in 1947, "as a result," says C.M.A.C.'s training officer, Fr: Frank Handley, "of a growing realisation that many people were singularly unprepared for marriage and that such unpreparedness was at the base of many post-marriage problems."
IDEAS EXCHANGED My fiancee and I recently spent eight Thursday evenings at such a course in Ealing, West London, finding out about and discussing most of the problems that couples might encounter.
This was not merely a chalkand-talk lecture series; rather, the 20 or so participants were encouraged by the counsellors — all part-timers — to exchange ideas in the manner of an industrial training course.
Although members came from a wide cross-section of backgrounds, all were helped by the relative anonymity of the situation to discuss their problems and put forward their ideas.
The subjects covered ranged from understanding each other's idiosyncrasies to money matters, from sexual relationships to bringing up children. One of the best teaching methods used was role-playing in imaginary situations, TRIVIAL INCIDENTS Roles were adopted by the counsellors, showing problems that might arise, or conflicts that might develop, from trivial incidents; for the emotional intimacies of marriage, besides being a rewarding experience, can often magnify minor domestic irritations.
It was clear from early in the course that family traditions are likely to be responsible for unspoken assumptions and habits — endearing or annoying — that the individual possesses.
Various case histories were discussed to show how intolerance could develop : for example, when an only child from a poor family which is anxious to keep up appearances marries a girl from a hard-up but large and happygo-lucky family, problems may arise over budgeting and family planning.
Practical advice was certainly not lacking on the course. Rented housing came in for considerable criticism by a spokesman from the local Housing Aid Society, who was perhaps rather optimistic about the ease of saving for a mortgage when young couples have comparatively low earning power.
SOLICITOR'S ADVICE However, he gave a comprehensive account of the methods of house purchase, and a solicitor was at hand to give legal advice. Course members themselves commented on the way large building societies readily welcomed money by way of saving, but were often unwilling to give mortgages to these same savers.
The question of sexual relationships must be a very difficult one to handle in any lecture course, and perhaps the doctor who presented the two talks on this course did so in a slightly clinical way.
Nonetheless, much very useful basic information was conveyed, and old wives' tales dispelled. Moreover, while the temperature method of birth control was explained in detail (thermometers were in fact on sate) and its failure rate discussed, it was also made clear that the couple's informed conscience was of primary importance in deciding methods of birth control to use.
The frankness of the counsellors in discussing sexual problems was admirable, since it provided a lead for participants to put their own questions without embarrassment.
SPIRITUAL SIDE One particularly novel aspect of the course was the Mass celebrated during one of the evenings by the course's clerical counsellor (from Ealing Abbey).
The revised wedding ceremony was read : for some of the non-Catholics this was especially interesting, and gave rise to discussion about the spiritual side of marriage—the relationship between God and the husband and wife.
In addition, the final talk was given by a couple of "mixed
religion." and it was illuminating to see what tensions can arise from a situation which is becoming increasingly common — the nonCatholic partner in this marriage in fact believed that Christ was solely a great moral teacher.
Again, both were remarkably frank in sharing their experiences with the group, and it was notable that recent developments in the liturgy appear to have made Catholicism less of a frightening prospect to the outsider.
DYNAMIC RELATIONSHIP Ranging over a wide variety of topics, the course taught one to view each aspect of marriage as part of a whole dynamic relationship, where particular worries should not become disproportionate when considered in their context.
However, the ten couples there were only a small frac tion of those getting married in
the neighbourhood, and Fr. Handley calls for a far more
positive approach by parish priests in presenting the advantages of such courses, rather than advocating them as an obligation.
He said : "Of course, there is the inevitable problem of those most in need not attending, but this is a universal problem in every sphere of life. Those who are indifferent and attend may gain little."
As far as marriage as a whole is concerned, Fr. Handley is optimistic about the stability of the institution : "The fact that young people are better educated than a generation ago means that they are better trained to make a full appraisal of life, and they have the will to work towards higher goals in marriage.
GREATER DEPTH "Today there is a much bet ter personal relationship between husband and wife, far removed from the medieval concept of marriage based on procreation and property, when a man used his wife to procreate and had his mistress to enjoy. There is far greater depth and personal fulfilment than ever before."
Fr. Handley foresees similar courses at intervals throughout married life as part of a continuing programme of education for marriage. Indeed, industry has already shown awareness of this need by experimenting with pre-retirement training courses in which wives of employees arc included.
There is certainly no doubt that the C.M.A.C.'s present courses go a long way towards opening couples' minds towards what marriage really means.