WASHINGTON (CNS) — It’s not easy to get couples to come to their parish for a weeknight program, even one that might improve their marriage.

Barb Lishko, coordinator of the marriage preparation and enrichment program at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Chandler, Arizona, knows all about that. Her parish was sponsoring monthly date nights for parish couples as a form of marriage enrichment but when the initial enthusiasm for the program waned, she changed the format to four times a year.

“It’s not that we don’t want to come; it’s just one more thing at the end of a busy week,” parishioners told her.


Now about 25-40 couples attend the program, but Lishko thinks the turnout could certainly be greater, especially since the parish has close to 5,000 members.

She said she gets a lot of excuses when she personally invites people and often hears couples say they will attend these types of programs when their kids are gone.

“That’s too late,” she tells them, urging them to work on their marriage now.

She also finds it a tough sell to get the men involved because they often tell her: “I’m not sharing my feelings.” But in turn she tells them: “Do this for your wife, for your marriage.”

Gail Risch, who teaches Christian ethics and theology of Christian marriage at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, said the Catholic Church does a good job in marriage preparation. She said research has shown that this initial training “has a shelf life and couples need a booster shot at some point.”

As she sees it, couples do not need more information on what the church teaches about marriage, which she said is clearly spelled out. What they could use more, she said, is tools to get through challenging times.

“The kinds of things couples fight about today is the same old stuff” she said, noting that big issues include careers, money, kids and lack of time. “That’s why a refresher course seems to make sense,” she added.

And as much as Risch, a researcher at the now closed Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton, said the concept of a follow-up program for couples is “theoretically wonderful,” she also wondered how it would work on a practical level since today’s couples are so busy.

“I’m guessing that for most couples, time is an issue. I think the church has to think about technology and doing things online,” she told Catholic News Service Sept. 16.

Some of the marriage enrichment programs available and listed on the U.S. bishops’ website foryourmarriage.com — www.foryourmarriage.org/marriage-resources/marriage-help-and-support/encouragement — are online.

One of these programs: “Fight Less, Love More” — based on the book of the same name written by Laurie Puhn — is available as a virtual classroom format.

Puhn, a lawyer and couples mediator, told CNS Sept. 17 that her program works because it is practical in the tips it provides and access to the program.

The communication skills you learn in the nine-week class, she said: “will anchor your marriage so that when the storm comes, and it will, the ship won’t sink.”

“We have to get better at being married,” she said. “We have to be able to say the right thing in difficult moments.”