More than 2 million couples married in the United States in 2014, according to the Center for Disease Control. In that same year, more than 800,000 couples divorced. The divorce rate among Roman Catholics is 28 percent. This rate is significantly lower than the divorce rate among any other religious group, including those with no religious affiliation.
People view divorce differently, whether it was correcting a drunken night in Vegas, or the last resort for a failing relationship. Religious entities, however, often have their views on divorce written into code.
“Islamic law considers divorce among the worst actions that are still legal,” said Madhuri Yadlapati, a professor of Religious Studies at Louisiana State University.
Americans are generally more open to the idea of divorce, but it still is not a favorable outcome.
“Premarital counseling is the formalized way to determine if you have thought about how marriage would change your life and the relationship with the other person,” said Chantel Chauvin, a Sociology professor who specializes in marriage and family at LSU.
Without marriage preparation or premarital counseling, many couples never have these discussions prior to getting married.
Perhaps the low divorce rate among Catholics can be attributed to required marriage preparation. Any couple could partake in some type of marriage preparation, but it is a requirement for couples that wish to be married in the Catholic Church.
Dan Borné is a Deacon at St. Jean Vianney Catholic Church in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. When a couple inquires about getting married there, they receive a folder.
Inside, printed on blue paper, there is a checklist of 16 steps regarding marriage preparation. The process takes a minimum of six months. Some steps are simple and others intricate. The first is to make an appointment with the parish deacon or priest whom the couple wishes to oversee their marriage preparation process.
The folder also encases five pamphlets, two booklets, a newspaper, an envelope and six additional pieces of paper printed on various colors. These supplemental resources further explain each step on the blue paper.
Two of the steps are the most involved and effective. One is to attend a Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend. CEE allows couples to spend an entire weekend in a reflective atmosphere and gives them the time and opportunity to strengthen their own relationship as well as their relationship with God. The other is to get together with a sponsor couple and take a pre-marriage inventory such as Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study or a similar option. FOCCUS is a personality inventory test designed to help couples learn more about themselves and their partner and discuss topics pertaining to a lifelong marriage.
“You can’t flunk these tests,” said Dan Borné. He explained that the purpose is to see if couples are mature enough to marry.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy there are many factors that can predict future marital satisfaction. The main three factors are individual traits, couple traits and personal and relationship contexts. These form what is called the marriage triangle. Tests like FOCCUS address all of these factors and there are multiple versions available for anyone to take.
“The more preparation that you can give a couple the more that a couple understands going in what is expected of them . . .,” said Dan Borné.
But he and his wife, Lisette Borné, did not go through such an intensive regimen when they prepared to marry in the Catholic Church. They spent one day with about 15 other couples and a priest and their marriage preparation was complete. They are about to celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary, so things still worked out.
Lisette Borné scribbled down a quote she stumbled upon that she believes is true regarding marriage and divorce:
“If love fails, something was faulty at the beginning.”
Mentor couples are a powerful part of marriage preparation. Priests are vital, but they usually lack real life experience with marriage. At one point, Steve Buttry and his wife were trained to mentor couples in the Catholic Church’s marriage preparation process in Kansas City, Kan.
They would lead the couples in exercises covering topics similar, but not limited to extended family, religious background, natural family planning, child rearing, finances and sexuality.
While going through the multiple week process, tragedy struck one of the couples they were mentoring. The fiancée was killed in a car accident. This inspired Steve and his wife to add another topic to their exercises: death.
They asked the couples to complete the following sentences: “If I should die . . .” and “If you should die . . . .”
Death is a part of life and inevitably a part of many marriages. This is something that many people are often hesitant to discuss, which can be a common theme of marriage preparation. But discussing these sensitive topics can significantly strengthen a relationship.
“It makes you think about and talk about topics that are difficult to broach and may be uncomfortable to have,” said Chauvin.
There are over 60 church parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge. Marriage preparation differs throughout these parishes, but follows similar guidelines. For example, marriage preparation is a six-month process in every Baton Rouge Church Parish. Marriage preparation has also evolved.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of change and it’s still changing,” said Darryl Ducote, current Director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge.
Ducote and his staff are currently redesigning the whole marriage preparation program for the Diocese. For example, they are looking to make the process longer than six months to further strengthen relationships before couples say their vows.
This has been one of Ducote’s main focuses since he took the position a year and a half ago. Prior to his current job, Ducote was a social worker that specialized in marriage and family therapy. Before that, he was an ordained priest for seven years.
For couples marrying outside of the Catholic Church, marriage preparation is not a common occurrence.
“They have to see the incentive and long-term value in it, and if not properly marketed or without tangible incentives, that can be difficult to show,” said Chauvin.
Marriage preparation also costs money. According to Chauvin, this could be a reason why many couples opt out. Partaking in marriage preparation through a church like St. Jean Vianney costs over $300.
Money aside, a couple willing to participate in marriage preparation is already off to a good start.
“Those that are most willing to do premarital counseling are those statistically less likely to divorce to begin with,” said Chauvin.