The ministry of marriage preparation is a lot like driving a car; just when you think the road is smooth and straight and free of obstacles, you discover bumps, twists and turns, and, of course, traffic lights.
Most of the time, we hope for green lights all the way through. But honestly, there will always be a few red lights that will indicate to us it’s time to stop, see what’s going on, and make sure there is no danger.
Then, when the green light reappears, we can proceed.
Red flags in marriage ministry are just like approaching a red light along your travel route.
What do you normally do?
You stop, wait, and, when the light turns green, you continue driving.
A red flag in marriage prep is not the end of the road; it is a stop to make sure the road ahead is safe before continuing the marriage preparation journey.
Let’s analyze some of the most common red flags that marriage ministers may encounter when preparing couples for marriage. These are just examples; you may encounter many more red flags in your own experience with couples.
1. Red Flags in Family of Origin
Differences in families of origin that, if not addressed properly, may represent a bigger obstacle in the future.
The family of origin teaches us about relationships.
We learn to communicate (or not to communicate) in our family of origin. We learn to express or repress feelings in the family of origin. We learn how to handle money in our families of origin. Most of our life skills and the way we relate to others are learned in our families of origin.
When there are too many differences in the way the couples we work with were raised, and when those differences are too extreme, it is a red flag.
That means, it is time to stop, observe the reality, and adjust whatever needs to be adjusted before proceeding with the preparation for marriage.
Use of drugs, alcohol, and pornography.
This is unfortunately a very common red flag.
When we discover these behaviors with a couple preparing for marriage, we must stop, invite the couple to address the issue, and see if any type of counseling or a Twelve Step program is needed before marriage preparation can continue.
Be aware that both parties may not be Catholic, but address these issues with the Catholic party; they need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation if pornography was/is an issue in their life.
Covenant Eyes is also a great resource, and its services specialize in helping people overcome the addiction to pornography.
3. A History of Violence
History of domestic violence either in the family of origin or in themselves.
If the couple preparing for marriage reports a history of domestic violence either in their parents or in their own present relationship (domestic violence may occur even in couples who are not living together), it is time to stop marriage preparation and refer the couple to a therapist who can help them navigate these issues.
The USCCB has some great resources available for those experiencing domestic violence.
4. Lack of Vulnerability
Inability or fear of speak openly about specific issues/topics.
When we’re preparing a couple for marriage, one of them may experience fear or the inability to speak openly about a specific topic (for example: sex, money, addictions, infidelity, etc.).
Whatever the topic is, couples should experience trust and openness to speak freely about any issue that is important to the relationship.
When we find this is not possible due to fear or other reasons, it is time to stop marriage preparation and address those fears or feelings of unrest.
Your Duty as A Minister
Red flags come in many forms and are common.
It’s important for a Family Life Minister/ Marriage Minister to learn how to identify them and design a game plan to help couples work through them.
It’s our job to take the time needed to address the issues and then continue with marriage preparation.
Some couples may find it hard or uncomfortable to address these red flags, but ultimately, we need to clarify that we are inviting them to address the red flags because we care about them; we want them to be successful and happy in their marriage!
Make sure to equip yourself with plenty of resources that you can use as a Family Life Minister for navigating these difficult situations — we have linked to a few examples in this article.
Most importantly? Your guidance can help couples navigate these red flags and provide the support they need to address them in a healthy way.