While hot button issues may have taken up the most attention during the 2015 Synod for Families, the Synod Fathers also spent much time discussing pastoral issues. Going forward, it is clear that better marriage preparation as well as more support to help married couples adjust to the married life and avoid as much as possible the pains of marital crisis, infidelity, separation and divorce are two essential components of strengthening marriage and family.
As the President of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, I am blessed to see our graduates seek to support families in counseling or other psychology-related fields. Psychology, when rooted in an authentic view of the human person, allows us to more clearly see the people whom we serve—whether in our careers, ministries or family life—and support them in growing in virtue.
Solid psychology most certainly can strengthen marriage preparation programs in a number of ways. First, through personality and compatibility surveys, which help couples understand each other better on a human level. Second, when a priest or other mentor assists couples in understanding more fully their families of origins and how their past experiences may impact their married life. Thirdly, marriage preparation classes should educate couples on the human virtues needed to live out a healthy married life. These virtues include things like honest communication, trust, problem-solving and sacrifice.
Of course, a psychological understanding of the person is also helpful after a couple says “I do”—well before divorce or separation becomes a question. Catholic couples should not hesitate to seek out counseling when unresolvable conflicts arise in their marriage. There is nothing wrong with seeking professionals who can lend their expertise to help strengthen a marriage when they hit a road block, whether that be tension in the marriage or facing a major challenge together, such as unemployment, death or sickness in the family or any number of other struggles. After all, as a society we consult financial planners, life coaches and personal trainers, why do we think we can do marriage on our own?
It is certainly true, however, that not every obstacle in life calls for counseling. Yet, couples still benefit from mentors. Some people have their own parents or other caring adults of an older generation to whom they can bring their marriage questions or troubles. For multiple reasons, this is not the case for every couple. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more parishes offered the opportunity for younger spouses to be paired with an older, more experienced couple (some parishes have implemented this, to great benefit). These older couples are not “perfect”, but can share how they dealt with the ups and downs of marriage and could perhaps even receive some solid psychological training to provide even more encouragement and support to younger couples.
It is not enough to strengthen the bond between married couples, though this is certainly the essential foundation of a strong family. In addition, we can do much to support young couples in becoming good parents. Psychology lends an understanding of children at various stages of developments, giving parents the knowledge to help their children mature and thrive. Parenting can be very challenging in the modern world, and understanding how children are forming their own identity and independence is a cornerstone of the family.
Marriage and children are some of the greatest gifts that God has given us. Therein, we have the opportunity to learn to love one another selflessly, in imitation of God Who has given everything to us. Our faith gives us the grace to flourish in family life and a richer understanding of the human person—before and throughout marriage—can give couples the tools they need to cherish their spouse and their children, growing together in holiness to reach heaven.