By Reagan Scott
(SNR) - FOCCUS plays an integral part in marriage preparation for couples around the globe.
FOCCUS, which stands for Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study, is an apostolate founded by the Archdiocese of Omaha Center for Family Life Formation.
FOCCUS helps engaged couples to discuss essential topics by having each person complete a pre-marital inventory before getting together to talk about their answers with a sponsor or mentor couple who is FOCCUS-trained.
The areas for communication range from asking how children will be raised in the faith to finances, and include topics that people may not have considered, like pets.
Father Gary Coulter, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln and a FOCCUS trainer, said, “There is definitely a faith component, but it also covers other secular topics. The goal is to prevent couples sweeping things under the rug that will be important later in marriage.”
Father Coulter stressed that the inventory is not meant to be a compatibility test, but a way to facilitate discussion between couples regarding important issues that will come up in their married lives.
The pre-marital inventory is taken individually before sitting down with a couple or an individual who has been FOCCUS trained to discuss the answers to inventory questions with one’s future spouse. The facilitator is not there to teach the couple, but to get them to engage in meaningful dialogue.
The FOCCUS inventory is not discussed all in one meeting, but instead throughout a series of meetings, the number of which varies per couple.
Father Gary Coulter, ordained in 1999, has been working with FOCCUS for 20 years and was trained to teach new facilitators in 2005.
“I wanted to be a better facilitator myself, and then I realized that there was a need to train priests and new couples. I wanted to help others to be better facilitators and maybe prevent a few divorces,” he said.
Father Coulter has trained many priests and couples to be FOCCUS facilitators, including seven at St. Michael and nine at North American Martyrs parishes in Lincoln. He trained Michael and Erica Volkmer of North American Martyrs about five years ago. Since then, they have helped approximately three couples go through the pre-marital inventory each year.
The Volkmers’ FOCCUS journey began when Father Brian Connor, pastor at North American Martyrs, asked the pair if they felt called to be facilitators and they said yes.
While the number of meetings with each couple can differ, the Volkmers usually meet with each couple three times to ask them the series of almost 200 questions.
“Each couple is so different.” Erica Volkmer said. “Sometimes there are differences in religion, and sometimes they realize they have different opinions about things they thought they were on the same page about.”
These differences can change the number of questions asked, as different circumstances can have various questions associated with them. As they’ve been able to interact with other couples from North American Martyrs Parish and out-of-town couples married in the church, the Volkmers said they have enjoyed getting to share the ministry together.
“It’s been fun, and it’s been good for my husband and me. It has helped us to talk about important topics and grow in our marriage,” Erica Volkmer said.
Father Coulter has also enjoyed the interactions he has with the couples that he has helped through the inventory.
He said, “It’s a chance to get to know someone more deeply. As a priest, it’s nice when you know a couple really well at their wedding. The reward is seeing their interactions and enthusiasm.”
Father Coulter will hold a FOCCUS training at St. Michael Parish in Lincoln Saturday, Feb. 3, in order to equip even more facilitators to help engaged couples with the skills and information they need to be successful in their marriages.
“There are a lot of couples who value the faith, and they don’t want to get divorced,” Father Coulter said. “We want to give them the tools to get their marriage to last.”
Those interested in the FOCCUS training or becoming facilitator should contact their pastors; to register for the Feb. 3 training call St. Michael Parish at 402-328-8480.