Engaged couples credit marriage inventory’s breadth, depth

He’s a financial planner in Omaha, but Jason Huff and his wife, Erin, hadn’t spent much time talking about money while they were engaged – until prompted by a question in the archdiocese’s pre-marriage inventory known as FOCCUS.
“I figured, well, I got my finances in order,” Jason said as he reflected on the need to discuss those issues at some length with his fiancée – as well as cover other issues broached by the more than 150 FOCCUS questions on topics such as faith, leisure time, friendships and even pets.
Married in January, they ultimately decided to share expenses and savings, and keep leftover cash in separate checking accounts to promote freedom of choice on some spending, Jason said.
Helping couples see the need to talk about finances and other concerns is an important aspect of FOCCUS, the acronym for Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study Pre-Marriage Inventory. 
The inventory is designed to prompt conversations about what it means to be married and what marriage might look like, said Murphy Lierley, manager of FOCCUS and trainer of the facilitators who help couples with the questions.
Marriages can falter without those conversations – and many couples need prompting to get there because often it takes a crisis before people think about any number of potential roadblocks to a healthy marriage, he said.
And about 3 percent of couples who take FOCCUS decide they are not ready to marry, either delaying the wedding or ending the relationship, which is a good thing, Lierley said.
“We’d really rather see an engagement end than a marriage end,” he said.
“I think of FOCCUS as preventive medicine,” Lierley said. “A marriage counselor (on the other hand) comes in when a marriage is broken and needs to be fixed.”
Gabe Gubbels and his fiancée, Liz Johnson, recently wrapped up several FOCCUS sessions with Gabe’s parish priest, Father Timothy Forgét, that prompted discussions on a variety of subjects.
A member of St. Mary of the Seven Dolors Parish in Osmond, Gabe said he particularly appreciated discussing how they might spend their leisure time.
“That was one we struggled with a little bit,” he said. “We’re able to discuss the big decisions, but not the smaller ones – what to do for a weekend, who you’re going to hang out with and what you’re going to eat.”
“I think before marriage you want to do whatever the other person wants. So you are kind of afraid to say what you want.”
And both couples, Jason and Erin at Holy Cross Parish in Omaha, and Gabe and Liz hailing from Osmond and Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, reflect what more than a million Catholic and other engaged couples have experienced around the world in more than 30 years of FOCCUS – a comprehensive tool that helps them explore similarities and differences, potential challenges and blessings.
Having a facilitator with FOCCUS was helpful, Liz said.
“If nothing else to help us as we struggle to find the right words, in a way paraphrasing what we’re trying to say,” she said. “Sometimes we’re saying the same things, it’s just in the way we are phrasing it.”
Both couples pondered questions about faith – Jason and Liz are Presbyterian converts to Catholicism and Gabe and Erin are lifelong Catholics. 
“That does make it a lot easier,” Gabe said of sharing the same faith with Liz. “A lot of couples have a hard time making that decision.”
Each couple also deals with health issues. Jason is a diabetic and Liz has cystic fibrosis, nine years ago undergoing a lung transplant.
Gabe has embraced the challenges along with the joy, Liz said.
“He has embraced everything I am very bravely and courageously,” she said. “And it’s great to be loved like that. And I will do the same for him.”
Jason said before he met Erin he was determined not to marry someone who smoked, had tattoos or children. Erin has vowed to quit smoking, has tattoos and is the mother of 7-year-old Liam, he said.
“When I stopped asking God for what I wanted and instead what God wanted for me,” it became clear Erin was more important than artificial markers for a good marriage, he said.
And FOCCUS helped him and Erin talk more about all of those topics.
As Liz and Gabe make plans to marry July 14 in Osmond, they said FOCCUS has helped them carve out the time and provided the tools to discuss many subjects.
“It’s been a great tool in preparation for marriage,” Liz said. “Even if we already talked about something, it goes deeper.”
Religion is a foundational question, but even pets are important to consider, she said.
Growing up, she was nervous at night and a dog in the house provided reassurance, she said. Gabe grew up with pets kept outside the house, so if they share a dog in the future, the pet might be outdoors or in the garage, but still nearby as a safety measure, she said. 
“Pets may seem small, but it’s good to bring up stuff that’s not likely but could be impediments to marriage,” Liz said.
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