It’s wedding season, and clergy are tweaking and tuning their homilies. Most preachers will remind newlyweds about Christ’s promise to remain with them throughout the ups and downs of marriage. Many will also remind the guests about their responsibility to support the bride and groom, especially during the critical early years of their marriage.
Perhaps you’ve heard this challenge yourself. As a family member or friend, you may have wondered how you can offer personal support to the couple. What practical things can you do to affirm their marriage as both a natural gift from the Creator and a supernatural blessing? How can you encourage them to develop the skills and behaviors necessary for a holy and happy union?
Let’s start with the wedding.
Showing up is a good start. Most of us remember who attended our wedding long after the event is over. We interpret our guests’ presence as a sign of support, especially if they have come from a distance.
But don’t just show up, pray. Consciously join in the church’s prayer for the couple at this solemn moment.
Of course, guests don’t come empty-handed. With on-line registries, a place setting of china or flatware can be dispatched in a matter of minutes. Why not consider a gift that reflects the spiritual dimension of marriage? Possibilities include:
• A tasteful piece of religious art, such as a crucifix or an icon of the marriage feast at Cana.
• A passage from one of the wedding readings, mounted, framed and with the wedding date.
• A copy of “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” or a book about the spirituality of Christian marriage.
• A gift certificate to a religious goods store.
The first year
Stay in touch. If the newlyweds live nearby, invite them to dinner or to brunch after Sunday Mass. If they’re out of town, call or e-mail. By touching base with some regularity you will know if problems are brewing and be able to offer support and encouragement.
Sometimes a husband or wife –or both – need reassurance that their marital growing pains are entirely normal. A listening, sympathetic ear can be a great gift. If the problems seem serious, find out how to refer the couple to counselors who support marriage. Diocesan Catholic Charities offices can provide referrals.
• Pray for the couple each day, by name.
• Pass along informative articles about marriage. Marriage research is booming, and much of it can be of practical help to couples. For the latest updates, check out Marriage in the News.
• Make a habit of remembering the couple’s anniversary, beginning with the first.
The early years
Since most divorces occur within the first five years of marriage, ongoing support for the newlyweds is crucial. This can be a time of transition for many newlyweds, as they buy a house, have their first child, and move forward in their careers. Even positive events, however, can cause stress in a marriage. The wedding may seem a distant memory by now, but the need for support continues. A few tips:
• Offer to babysit so the couple can enjoy an occasional date night.
• Encourage the couple to attend a weekend retreat. Some dioceses and parishes sponsor couples’ retreats, or check the schedule of local retreat houses.
• Share your positive experiences of attending a marriage enrichment session. If feasible, give a gift certificate for an enrichment event. Books on Christian parenting make great gifts.
• Make sure the couple knows about the resources available on the website, foryourmarriage.org.