Almost as soon as a ring was slapped on my finger I was looking for marriage preparation for the two of us. We didn’t have any dire need for counseling for fights or anything of that nature, relationship counselors handle that. We wanted straight up marriage preparation. A concentrated space facilitated to discuss our opinions about our upcoming marriage (e.g. finances, expectations of the other, child-rearing, spirituality).
My search took about four months. Four months! Apparently many couples go through their spiritual centers and churches. However, I am Buddhist and FI is Buddhist/Christian (I didn’t realize the extent of the Christianity until our retreat BTW). In Buddhism marriages are like civil arrangements, we couldn’t find a marriage prep source via the institution we are loosely affiliated with. The hunt for non-denominational preparation was on!
My big advice if you are looking for non-denominational marriage preparation is to think out of the box and start early. This is especially true if you live in a less than liberal community.
So here is a brief re-cap of where I looked because basic Google searching didn’t cut it. We wanted comprehensive marriage preparation that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
First we tried locally:
1. I asked my university and they didn’t offer services.
2. My university suggested the “switchboard” which is essentially a collection of resources within the county to assist its residents and of the three times I called I was told I could get help if there was a domestic abuse case involved and I needed help. WTF?
3. I contacted the health and psychology department heads and instructors for my university and a nearby university that teach curriculum about marriage preparation but never received responses.
4. I did find numbers to a therapists 10 miles away and 25 miles away that did not have marriage preparation programs but were willing to talk to the two of us for $150+/hour.
5. Of course in the state of Florida you get a discount on your marriage license if you attend marriage preparation so I naturally found a number of online courses where you basically pay for a certificate and print it out.
6. I also found a really cool organization south of us, En Familia, that works with the migrant agriculture community. They weren’t offering any English programs anytime soon though.
7. I sent out e-mails and phone calls to the contacts listed in Miami-Dade county for preparation programs via their marriage license division on their website but I either did not get return communication or was told NO.
I went through national organizations and web-searched like a demon at any lead I could find. These aren’t all the sources, but a number of them.
1. smart marriages
2. American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
3. Prepare-Enrich by Life Innovations, Inc.
4. Equality in Marriage now defunct but still on the web for archival purposes
5. The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists
The non-denominational prep we were considering the most were:
1. XY Outlook with Mimi Azoubel Daniel in Baltimore, you can do it via the phone now
2. Marriage Prep 101, weekend workshop in the California Bay Area **Lots of good links!
3. Marriage Success Training based in NYC, but they travel
4. a weekend B&B in Canada retreat
5. a backpacking retreat in Arizona
We also looked into DIY prep:
1. RELATE operated from BYU but it is not affiliated with any religion
2. The Conscious Brides Wedding Planner (great book, we actually did this 2 months before our retreat). The author Sheryl Paul also has a great website up with advice and message boards, consciousweddings.com
Eventually when I was beyond frustrated and had sent out all kinds of messages to people in the U. S. and Canada I got a response from the Diocesan Center for Family Life in St. Augustine. I was naturally wary considering that the Archdiocese in Miami was a bit rude to us about this matter. However after a series of e-mails and reassurances about how my fiance and I would be treated we registered for their Engaged Encounter weekend as a fully non-denominational couple. The priest I had spoken with said this was a good idea given our “unusual circumstances” as he noted. We paid our $280 and drove eight ours each direction to the sweet retreat center in late February earlier this year.
Catholic Engaged Encounter: www.engagedencounter.org
United Methodist Engaged Encounter: www.encounter.org
Episcopal Engaged Encounter: www.episcopalme.com/ee.htm
Lutheran Engaged Encounter: www.leeionline.org
Mennonite and Brethren Engaged Encounter: www.marriageencounter.org/ee.htm
We got what we wanted, a concentrated space for us to discuss ourselves and our roles in our upcoming marriage. I know many people scoff at the idea of marriage preparation for various reasons including, “we’ve lived together for a lot of years, we already know each other.” However, I recommend marriage prep if for anything else just to check-in with one another. I see us doing relationship retreats every few years into our marriage. It can be a nice informative space. I’ll go into what ours was like in another post at another time. For now you can see the questions we went over at the top of my knot bio.