program pairs successful couples with those preparing for marriage
by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “The world tells us to be really selfish,” said Dianne Mallari, mother of three and parishioner of Christ the King Parish in Topeka.
But successful marriages and the parenting of young children — she has three under six — require exactly the opposite.
That’s why she and her husband Dave make time in their hectic lives to be a “lead couple” in the marriage preparation program of the archdiocese — “Preparing to Live in Love.”
“The program teaches you to be selfless and how to be the best spouse possible,” said Mallari, “and to be more Christ-like to each other.”
Mallari was already responsible for coordinating the lead couple schedule for the Topeka Region when she and her husband attended a “Living in Love” retreat.
The retreat — an opportunity for any married couple to get away from their daily routine and devote some special time and focus to their marriage — encouraged the Mallaris to take the leap and volunteer to be a lead couple themselves.
And it’s proved a boon to their own marriage.
“Love is very contagious,” said Mallari. “In working with engaged couples, it helps to keep Dave’s and my passion and excitement for our own marriage alive.”
And it reminds them to apply the skills they’re imparting to the soon-to-be married to their own union.
Through sharing their own real-life struggles, the Mallaris help couples see what love can be.
“It’s sustaining, it’s real — and possible for the long haul,” said Mallari.
Denise Ogilvie, a parishioner of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, agrees. Young couples need that type of example, she believes, especially in a society where many marriages are failing.
“The world — not just the Catholic world, but really the entire world — needs examples of couples who are living a faithful and fruitful marriage,” said Ogilvie, who has been married to her husband Scott for 34 years. “It can be very empowering to young couples to see other couples who have a successful marriage and are living out a sacramental life within their marriage.”
That doesn’t mean everything’s perfect, said Ogilvie. But it does help couples make it through the tough times — which any marriage will face.
“Marriage is a lifelong endeavor — you have to work at it constantly,” she said.
Participating in Mass, praying together and taking an active role in your faith can strengthen a marriage, she said.
“You’re bringing God into this; you’re not doing it on your own,” she added. “That enables you to be the best that you can be.”
This investment on her part, believes Ogilvie, will pay off — even close to home.
Her son married recently and her daughter will be getting married this fall, Ogilvie said. And she wants them to see as many strong couples as possible.
“The more people they see and know, the more role models they have, then the more successful they will be,” she said.
Sharing Christ’s love
Marriage just keeps getting better for Dutch and Kathy tenBroek, parishioners of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park.
The parents of four and grandparents of nine have been married 47 years and have participated in Marriage Encounter, “Living in Love” retreats and various marriage preparation programs throughout Dutch’s years — and assignments — in the U.S. Army.
Sharing their experiences with engaged couples through marriage preparation just seemed natural.
“A lot of it is the fact that our faith is very pro-marriage — and the fact is that you can, over time, become more in love than the day you start,” said tenBroek.
He believes that as a sacramental couple, they are responsible for sharing their vocation to married life.
“Our church believes that the job of our sacrament is to represent Christ’s love,” said tenBroek. “And so we’re called to be openly in love with each other every minute of the day.
“Because that’s the way the rest of the world sees what Christ’s love is like.”
The program integrates teachings of the church with practical, everyday skills that can help couples build lasting marriages.
When the tenBroeks saw all the skills the program imparts to couples just starting out, they sometimes wonder, “Where was this 40 years ago?”
Calling all couples
Lead couples like the Mallaris, the Oglivies and the tenBroeks serve as “living, flesh-and-blood examples of what it is to live out the vows in everyday life,” said Deacon Tony Zimmerman, lead consultant for the archdiocesan office of marriage and family life.
With about 900 couples entering into marriage in parishes across the archdiocese each year, couples that can lead those preparing for Catholic marriage toward a truly sacramental union are in high demand.
The program has great lead couples now, said Zimmerman, but he’d like to see even more — ultimately enough for them to meet one-on-one with engaged couples.
“The lead couple is there to witness, ‘Yes, this is possible; this is happy and joyful,’” he said.
But it all starts with communication — something that “Preparing to Live in Love” devotes a lot of attention to.
Through the marriage prep sessions, explained tenBroek, the couples are taught skills that will help them communicate and make decisions as a couple without arguing.
“One of the key skills is to understand that when you get married, you become a new entity — a relationship, if you will,” he said. “And that relationship has to have a voice, and so we ask our couples to develop a key saying or a mantra for their relationship.”
The tenBroeks’ own mantra is that if something moves them closer to God, then it’s obviously something good. And if it isn’t something good — don’t do it.
He also sees in this program an emphasis on maintaining an openness to what God wants.
And that is important in the natural family planning component of the preparation, he believes.
The lead couples say they gain as much out of their involvement in the program as the engaged couples do.
And tenBroek hopes other happily married couples will see in themselves something they can share with others.
“Don’t discount yourself,” he said. “Every couple has something to offer. If you’ve made it five years, 10 years, 40 years, there’s a reason for that — and young people need the gift of your experience.”