What to Know About Taking a Pre-Cana Course Before Marriage

A man and woman holding hands in a Pre-Cana class.

Pre-Cana classes may sound scary, but it’s really not all that bad to learn all you’ll ever want to know (and more!) about your future husband or wife. I went into wedding planning knowing I was marrying a Catholic (I grew up Baptist) and that i would have to do some sort of crazy classes before marriage. I was scared to death. What did they want to know? Were they going to scare my fiancé out of marrying this little Baptist chick? Did I have to sell my soul just to get married? Don’t worry, the answers won’t scare you.

An Overview of Pre-Cana

Pre-Cana in layman’s terms is a course for couples getting married in the Catholic church. Some call it something different like “marriage preparation” classes. Basically, it’s couples therapy. Some Pre-Cana classes are taken in one day, while others are a weekend retreat where you work on the upcoming marriage the entire weekend. It depends on your parish as to how they actually hold the classes.

Our parish had us meet with a sponsor couple over a period of six weeks. Each meeting lasted about two hours. We went over every little thing you could dream of that could, should, and might happen in any marriage. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says these are the things couples have to agree upon before marriage: commitment, children, cohabitation, finances, careers, conflict and resolution, and overall faith.

Discussing the Tough Stuff of Marriage

A young man and woman on opposite ends of the couch having a disagreement.

There were things we didn’t want to face in our engagement bliss, but the class forced us to look at them. We felt like our Pre-Cana sponsor couple wanted us to fight! They made us dig and wanted us to get out the emotions and all of the tough discussions before hitting marriage. We’ve all heard that marriage isn’t easy, but it’s often hard to understand that fully until you’re actually married.

For instance, we were asked what would happen if one of our jobs forced us to move. We didn’t want to think about this because it was something that could have actually happened. I shook my head saying I would never go, but they forced us to talk through the potential situation. Well, guess what? Fast forward two years and my husband’s job forced us to move across the country!

It was such a relief to get some of the biggest topics that would effect our marriage off the table. Most of us talk throughout our relationship about big things, but there’s some areas of discussion you just might not think about. (Such as moving because of a job opportunity.) Pre-Cana classes helps you find these areas so it doesn’t create a huge problem in your marriage down the road.

Discussing Family Relationships

Sometimes, you have homework in Pre-Cana class. My husband and I had to each draw our family tree in detail. We had to explain relationships with the people in the immediate family tree, and even explain deaths. This was serious therapy as you really had to take a deep look at how your parents interacted with their family, as well as how you interact with siblings, parents, cousins, etc.

My mother lost her father at a young age and I lost my mother at a young age, both from heart attacks, so we spoke in depth about how this impacted my entire family connection. I have grandparents that divorced after 35 years of marriage, so we talked about divorce in the family and how we all worked with each grandparent as a family after it. There’s a million different scenarios, but it was very interesting to see how your family dynamic grows and changes. You also want to see if there are places where you can keep connections stronger than your parents or grandparents. It doesn’t matter if you come from a broken family of you’re Beaver Cleaver—you can always learn from your own family tree.

Discussing Natural Family Planning

A family of feet under a white blanket.

I wasn’t excited about this subject at all, but natural family planning is an important topic in Catholicism. Most Catholics believe you have as many children as the Lord allows, without using any contraceptives. It was quite awkward to dive into this topic with a sponsor couple. Besides talking about this natural form of birth control, this entire part was about how to raise children as a whole. Of course, it’s highly important to talk before getting married about if you want children, so that’s the first step here. We knew we wanted children, so the sponsors spoke to us about how we would raise those children. They wanted to make sure we would raise them with a Christian faith and a Catholic background. There are so many different parenting styles that a married couple needs to be on the same page. (We’ve actually lost friends over different parenting styles!) This is the only part of the classes that made me feel uncomfortable to be talking with strangers, but it’s also something that needs to be done.

Receiving a Certificate of Completion

When it’s all said and done, you get a certificate for the completion of a Pre-Cana class. No one tells you that you can’t get married if you’ve fought too much in the classes or had an “off” day. Our sponsors did tell us, however, that they had one or two couples that obviously had things very “off” in their relationship—but never told them they were shutting down the wedding. The sponsor couple will usually talk to the priest about any red flags so you can discuss them with him. We actually enjoyed our classes and enjoyed having someone from the outside make our relationship an open book. There is no judgement and everything is out on the table, so (hopefully) there aren’t huge blowout fights after marriage (or at least not a lot). No marriage is perfect, but getting all the help you can before you walk down that aisle will help you on the journey to “happily ever after.”

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