CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY
As a Catholic bride-to-be, you’ve probably been inundated with book recommendations, engagement prayers, and NFP method comparisons. Despite all of the doomsday talk we hear about the state of marriage in our culture (much of which is justified), I think we are living at a wonderful time to get married in the Catholic Church. Never before have there been so many resources available to engaged couples, ranging from theological to practical. Elise wrote an excellent post on her favorite Catholic resources (she hit everything on my list!), and while those were foundational to Kristian’s and my preparation, we also found wisdom and guidance in books that don’t qualify as spiritual reading.
Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy
I would count Attachments as one of the books that changed my life. Shortly before I met my now husband, I became aware--through the help of my therapist--that much of the distress I had experienced in past relationships was due to a lack of secure attachment. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake my fear of abandonment and rejection, which made it impossible for me to be truly vulnerable with anyone. And if you can’t be vulnerable, you really can’t have a healthy or happy marriage. My therapist recommended this book, and I don’t think I would be engaged today if it weren’t for the practical help it gave me. A few months after we started dating, Kristian read it on my recommendation and also found it helpful, not only for understanding me, but also for making sense of his own life and relationship history.
Attachments breaks down the different styles of insecure attachment (i.e. the reasons why so many relationships are unstable and unhealthy) and the root causes of them, e.g. traumatic/abusive/unhealthy experiences from our childhood. The authors give real-world examples of each attachment style and practical guidance on how to become securely attached in your relationships with God, family members, friends, spouses/significant others, and your (future) kids. Attachments, true to its title, helped me understand why I “love, feel, and act” the way I do. It also helped me understand why my ex-boyfriends, siblings, parents, and even friends love, feel, and act the way they do. It’s not a silver bullet, by any means, but after reading the book and putting into practice some of the authors’ recommendations, as well as discussing what I learned with my therapist, I started to notice positive, seemingly miraculous changes in the way that I related to others--especially my family and my husband. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.
Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman
Although it’s written for already-married couples, I think Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work should be required reading for anyone who is seriously dating or engaged. Dr. John Gottman uses his impressive and extensive body of research to shed light on the common causes of divorce (they’re not what you think) and the habits of couples who not only make it, but are genuinely happy together throughout their married lives. It’s full of quizzes and activities that you can do with your significant other that can help you identify potential problem areas and start building a solid “relationship house” even before you say “I do.” Dr. Gottman isn’t Catholic (I’m not even sure if he’s a Christian), but Seven Principles is grounded in the truth of what it means to love someone “till death do us part”, and thus belongs on every Catholic couple’s bookshelf.
The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
And now, for something completely different. It was actually Kristian's idea to read the classic Italian historical novel The Betrothed (“I Promessi Sposi”) together; he read it in Italian (yep, he knows Italian) and I read the English translation. The Betrothed is ultimately a story about the mysterious nature of God’s plan for our lives, and that nothing can separate us from his love. The story follows the lives of Lucia and Lorenzo, an engaged couple living in 17th century Italy who are prevented from marrying by the powerful lord Don Rodrigo, who desires Lucia for himself. While they escape the clutches of Don Rodrigo, they become separated and must persevere in their love for each other while the whole world seems to crumble around them. I must admit that I skipped some of the Italian political history stuff (Kristian did not), but I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was encouraged by the faithfulness of Lucia and Renzo, not only to each other, but to the Lord.
I hope these resources prove to be as helpful to you and your fiance as they’ve been to Kristian and me. Regardless of how far along you are in the marriage prep process, it never hurts to add a few more books to your list--even if you don’t get to them until after you’re married. If you’re engaged or married and have read these books, what did you think? Did you find them helpful? Would you add any others to the list? Let me know in the comments!