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Title: Pastoral Accompaniment of Couples before and after Marriage
Author(s): BIEMANS, Ward
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 27    Issue: 2   Date: 2021   
Pages: 196-212
DOI: 10.2143/INT.27.2.3289974

Abstract :
In this article, following the 'empirical-critical-theological' method, research on the pastoral accompaniment of couples before and after marriage is evaluated in the light of some recent magisterial documents and with the purpose of indicating ways of improvement. In the first part, recent empirical research on the investment in sustainable conjugal relationships by couples living in Western countries is analysed. Premarital education, which is often provided in a religious setting, has a sustainable beneficial effect on the relationship quality of couples and reduces the chance of divorce. The risk of separation for cohabiting couples is about twice the risk for married couples. Adults after divorce and children with divorced and separated parents have lower mental well-being than adults and children in intact families. Against this background, the second part sets out a vision of how pastoral accompaniment for couples before and after marriage could be improved. There is an analysis of the ways Pope Francis, in Amoris laetitia, is inviting the ecclesial community to broaden its pastoral vision on the accompaniment of couples and families. This is illustrated by a number of recommendations for a renewal of marriage preparation and education. In the third part, empirical research which could support a pastoral strategy for the accompaniment of couples is critically reflected upon. Most of this research has taken place in the United States, and European studies are scarce. Several effects are measured in relation to religiosity, spirituality, and marital well-being. Church attendance, praying together as a couple, praying for one’s partner, investing time in Marriage and Relationship Education, and the willingness to forgive one’s partner all contribute to a higher perceived marital quality. Sustainable effects of marriage preparation and education are more likely to be expected if a clergy or lay leader has a strong working relationship with a couple and shows a sensitivity towards an intercultural building up of the church community. In the final part, ways towards a more effective pastoral accompaniment of couples, as well as and recommendations for future research, are presented.

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