Yesterday we spent the day talking to the freshman religion classes at St. Viator High School. We have both taught there and their teachers asked us to come back to speak to them about marriage as part of their study of the sacraments. We asked the teachers to collect questions from them, which we used in our presentation. We think our readers might be interested in some of the questions they asked. Here are some of the topics that interested them with some short comments from us.
We started each class by asking how many wanted to be married some day and why, and who wanted to be married in the Church and why. A large majority expressed a desire to both to be married and to be married in the Church. With that in mind, our goal was to answer some of their concerns, ease some of their fears and leave them with assurance that a long happy marriage is possible for them.
While marriage for most of them is at least 10 years away, they had some general interest in how people meet and eventually get married. We told them some of our story and offered some general input on the current culture and the potential impact of behaviors related to dating, sexuality and living together on their eventual marriage.
There were many questions related to divorce and annulments. They wanted to know the difference between the two. We gave them a short explanation. See our post on The Difference Between Civil and Sacramental Marriage. Many were also concerned about why so many couples could be so “in love” on their wedding day, but end up divorced. We don’t have any single answer, but suggested that poor communication skills, rushing into marriage without getting know each other well and an inability to make the necessary long-term commitment as some of the reasons.
The student questions revealed their concerns about how it is possible to stay married for a long time. They seemed to be especially concerned about becoming bored in a relationship and wanted to know whether we ever get bored with each other. We assured them that a lessening of the excitement over time is normal, but that, rather than change partners, as many do, we change the circumstances of our lives. We travel, try new restaurants, renew acquaintances with old friends, find new friends, and read and discuss books together, as examples. We also work to maintain an active sexual relationship and to stay in physical touch with each other in many little ways. The key word for us is that change with each other helps us keep our lives interesting.
Being teenagers, the students were very interested in sex and sexuality. We discussed with them the potential impact of pre-marital sex and cohabitation and raised the theory reported recently that in this culture we want intimacy but settle for intensity. Without commitment, the goal of sex is to seek the strongest physical response. With the commitment of marriage, the goal should be to build the intimacy that will keep a marriage strong and make it last. We asked them to consider whether one can make that switch in how they have sex, before they become sexually active. We also addressed the consequences of living together without the vows, especially that it inhibits the ability to build intimacy and serial cohabitation becomes an experience equivalent to multiple divorces. We asked them to consider the impacts of these things and their potential impact on their eventual marriage.
Many questions raised concerns about issues that cause stress in a marriage. We found that they easily identified the major stressors, which suggested to us that they are aware of and concerned about the effects of stress in their own families and their parents’ relationships. We readily agreed that money, jobs, having to compromise and raising children are major sources of strain in marriages. We talked to them about the necessity of building communication skills and working for the good of the relationship rather than what I personally want or to win an argument. We also wanted them to understand the long-term trust that can be built in the process of resolving issues and that it is an important factor in keeping a marriage strong.
We were touched and concerned by the question, “Are children worth it?” It is scary to consider that, in that room full of children, there was even one child who was unsure whether his parents thought he/she was “worth it”. We did all we could to speak of the joys we found in our children as they grew up and still find in them as adults as well as in the grandchildren they have given us.
Finally, some students asked us directly whether we had ever considered divorce. We each have the same answer. When we consider that question, we can only respond that we can’t imagine our lives married to someone else.
We conclude that teens are interested in marriage and have many concerns about what they experience in their culture and even in their own families. It is important for them to have the assurance that there can be a great marriage in their future. We happily married couples have a responsibility to prepare them for that future. Wherever and whenever you have contact with young people, please share with them the realities of stress, but also your ability to resolve issues. Let them know the work it takes and why it is worth doing. Above all, young people are looking for hope. Offer them your assurance that you wouldn’t want to live your life any other way.
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