For the past 30 years, my husband, Mike, and I have spent time with engaged couples preparing for marriage through the Pre-Cana program. In the early years, each couple came to our home three times, and we’d spend about two hours exchanging ideas about marriage and family. It was a challenge fitting these Pre-Cana evenings into our lives while raising four sons, but it helped Mike and I keep a vigilant watch over our relationship.
To say the couples arrived with a bit of apprehension would be an understatement. Occasionally, they’d sit with arms crossed, on opposite sides of the couch. We imagined on the drive over they must have been “discussing” seating arrangements, meddling future in-laws, and “Why in the world are we doing this Pre-Cana thing?”
By our third evening together, they were hugging us goodbye and giving us gifts.
About 15 years ago, we were asked to present Pre-Cana programs for groups of couples. Preferring the privacy of our home, we reluctantly agreed. Our first group was wonderful. I had never been in a room with so many affectionate soon-to-be grooms. They reminded me of when Mike used to “gaaaze” at me!
Just before we began the program, I asked Mike what would be “the one thing” he would like to tell the young people. Without a moment’s hesitation, he whispered, “Run!”
All morning, the couples worked diligently in their workbooks and privately discussed their ideas and opinions. Later in the afternoon, looking at their weary faces, I said to Mike, “At 8:30 this morning these couples arrived in Engagement La-La Land and in only five hours, we’ve transported them to Marriage Reality Land.”
Mike turned to me and said, “Well, why do you think we’re here?”
Now, after all these years, I look out at our loving, attentive, “we-just-can’t-sit-close-enough-to-each-other” lovebirds. I feel compelled yet reluctant to candidly share my impressions of a life-long marriage.
After taking a deep breath, I say: “Marriage is a beautiful gift, but get ready to roll up your sleeves because marriage is hard work. If you are in this for good—I mean, “till death do us part”—then expect that you will go through good times and bad times. These good and bad times will last days, months, and sometimes even years.
“At times you’ll have more money than you need. At other times, you’ll be paralyzed with fear because you need much more than you have. The natural affection you feel for each other today is something you will have to intentionally work at to sustain throughout your marriage.
“You will go through times when you do not like yourself when you are with your spouse. These times will be much more about you than they are about your spouse. You will also become ill in some way—physically, emotionally, or spiritually—and you will need your spouse to take care of you.
“I love when things are great with Mike and our growing family. It’s like being in La-La Land. But I don’t get to live there. I only get to visit. The rest of the time, we enjoy plugging away with home, kids, work, bills, and wrinkles. It’s all good. It’s just a lot of hard work.”
Bernadette Bonanno lives in Albany, N.Y. She can be reached at email@example.com.