By Joyce Gan

SINGAPORE - Newly-weds and couples who are married for less than 10 years now have access to a programme that addresses the challenges they face. The Couple-Empowerment Program (CEP) by the Family Life Society (FLS) was launched last year at Church of St. Mary of the Angels after three years of planning.

On Jan 7, the first batch of 38 couples graduated from the programme, which was conducted by Father David Garcia, Dr Bernard and Ying Thio from Couples for Christ, and a core team of couple facilitators.

Topics included present day issues such as: the need for unity and intimacy; how to maintain a work-life balance; enjoying a harmonious relationship with in-laws; fulfilling couple sexuality; and church teaching on procreation and parenting. The sessions combined teachings of the magisterium, insights from marital psychology, psychiatry and life skills to build healthy couple relationships.

Laura Tan, a participant at CEP, had "chanced upon" the CEP poster at the baptism of a friend's baby. Her initial reaction to CEP was a recognition that "here was a programme that dealt with some of the issues that had started to surface in our marriage, especially after our baby's birth".

Laura had found herself facing challenges in her marriage and family life that she had never considered before - the anxieties of being first-time parents and caring for a newborn, her struggles to balance work and family, and the juggling of various expectations of her family that was taking its toll on her marriage. "Having recently revisited the notes from our Engaged Encounter and Marriage Preparation Course, I knew instantly that CEP was focusing on areas that were not really covered in these pre-marriage courses," she said.

CEP revealed the importance of guidance and support during the early years of marriage when marriages are more prone to break down due to the "myriad pressures and adjustments required", Laura said. "These are years when couples are not only struggling to accept each other's differences in personality, family background, values and attitudes but are also learning to cope with completely new responsibilities like managing the household and finances, parenting and raising children, caring for aged parents, establishing careers and so on," she added.

Likewise, Bernard and Julie Phua, another participating couple, having been married for almost 10 years, realized through CEP that "every marriage has its own unique struggles, however harmonious a couple may appear". "This is not news, but hearing the personal sharings made us more aware that we married couples are all travellers on the same journey - the journey to bring our spouse and children to God's kingdom," they added.

At CEP, they discovered that complicated philosophical issues like happiness and contraception were clarified with elegance and clarity by Father David Garcia, "one of those rare people who can throw much needed light on difficult moral questions".

"We parents spend a lot of time, effort and money to provide enrichment programmes for our children while sometimes we forget to care for ourselves," they said. "We're really glad to have put building our marriage as a priority and attending CEP these past few months."

The next CEP will be held at Church of St. Mary of the Angels in June. Couples who wish to participate can contact Victor Ong at 9105 9921, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.freewebs.com/cep_singapore.

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