'Our pre-marriage course was more like a Mr & Mrs quiz'
Before Philip Wall, 41, and Anna Chmielarczuk, 32, reluctantly attended a marriage preparation course in Dublin six months ago, they had envisioned a lecture from a priest in a parish hall. What they found instead were quizzes about their relationship in the vein of ITV game show All Star Mr & Mrs.
The couple could not have married in a Catholic church in Anna's home country of Poland last March without a certificate from the Dublin parish they lived in, to prove they had completed a marriage preparation course.
They settled on an Avalon course at the Hilton Hotel on the Malahide Road, close to their home in Donabate - infinitely more convenient than completing one in Poland, where the pair would have had to attend a weekly session for six weeks.
"The certificate is recognised around the world," Philip says. "Before we did the Avalon course, we checked beforehand that our priest would approve."
"We didn't see the point of it," Philip says. "We were together for three years before we got married. What could they tell us that we didn't already know?
"But it turned out to be a bit of craic. There was a lot of fun built into the course. We had to fill out a couples' quiz. I had to guess what her favourite movie was, for instance. Then you get to mark your partner's answers and see how well they did. Some couples fared quite low but we did okay on it.
"The course also brought up serious issues we hadn't sat down and discussed before. There were topics on fertility, such as 'if you had kids, who would give up their career?', then there were chats about money and even a section on how to keep sex hot after marriage. You don't always get to sit down and discuss these things because there are so many distractions around us, like television and smartphones.
"There were presentations and group interactions. One section was on the Catholic church [and marriage]. It's amazing how little we know about the church's views on marriage.
"Then we moved onto communication and conflict and discussed the reasons why we argue and how we handle it.
"We found having a trained therapist leading the course made a difference. I don't know how it would have been if a priest had been leading it. What can a priest tell you about relationships?
"After doing this course, we felt that even people who don't have to attend one before getting married might like to do one because it's a good way of learning more about each other."