Dialog Box

20 May 2020

Remote learning for couples

2020 started off like any other year for CatholicCare’s Marriage and Relationship Education (MRE) Team - a packed calendar full of Partnerships workshops and FOCCUS sessions.

In the first few months alone we worked with more than 130 couples, helping them to become better equipped in their relationship and able to grow their “emotional bank account”.

But enter COVID-19 and with it, the restrictions on gatherings, all face to face services were suspended for the safety and wellbeing of staff and clients. And our planned calendar became, well, redundant!

So with our traditional methods of service delivery unavailable, the MRE team did what they do best - create relevant and accessible content, for use in a new “Remote FOCCUS” program.


First of all, what’s FOCCUS?

Our pre-marriage programs, including FOCCUS, are designed to highlight and affirm strengths in relationships, give opportunities to reflect on growth areas, and develop ways to create, nurture and maintain a life-giving, life-long relationship.

In our traditional FOCCUS (Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study) program, individual couples meet with a facilitator for three one-hour sessions to experience tailored relationship education, based on an inventory of questions about aspects of their lives together.

Like the conventional model, Remote FOCCUS uses this inventory of questions as the skeleton for a facilitated conversation. But to augment this tool, our educators use the full functionality of Zoom to make sessions interactive, fun and a rich experience for participating couples.

ZOOM, you say? The now world-famous video conferencing platform? Yes!

“CatholicCare has invested time and effort to make sure that our use of technology is safe and secure to ensure the privacy and comfort of our clients”, says Francesca Gerner, our CatholicCare Victoria Tasmania (CCVT) Contract Manager.

“Additionally, our research indicated that tele-learning can be as effective or equivalent to face to face learning in terms of outcomes, so FOCCUS via Zoom enables couples to actively participate and enjoy personal interactions with their facilitator despite not being face to face. The stage is set for all the benefits of undertaking FOCCUS to be realised.”


So what are Remote FOCCUS sessions like?

Our first Remote FOCCUS couple, Priska and Kris, were very grateful to be able to complete their pre-marriage education from the comfort of their home.

After completing their sessions they said “Our facilitator was entertaining and engaging and responded to our thinking with respect and an open mind, allowing us to discuss many aspects of our relationship and marriage. We want to thank CatholicCare for the online FOCCUS sessions and for making the whole process easy and enjoyable. It was very useful and eye opening and we will remember and practice what we learned during the sessions.”

One of the learnings Priska and Kris particularly valued was the analogy of the Emotional Bank Account (I bet you were curious when you read this term earlier!).

An Emotional Bank Account is a store of good-will, thoughtful actions, kind words, quality time and loving decisions that is shared between two people, which strengthens a relationship every day and acts as a buffer against tough times.

This is just one of the handy learnings shared in our pre-marriage workshops.

The endless possibilities of remote learning

In the coming weeks we look forward to many more Remote FOCCUS sessions, including some where partners are in different locations!

Mike and Caroline are one such couple who are planning to be married later this year. The couple are starting their Remote FOCCUS sessions this week - Mike from his place in Melbourne, and Caroline from India.

In previous times, the couple would have undertaken their pre-marriage preparation courses separately, but with the help of teleconferencing they can now share the experience together.


Relationships are at the heart of why CatholicCare exists and it is particularly important at this time that, while we stay physically distant, we remain emotionally and socially connected.

At CatholicCare we’re proud of our 40-year history delivering relationship education in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and our 20-year partnership with the Diocese of Sale.

Each year we are privileged to help almost 50% of couples marrying in the Archdiocese of Melbourne and almost 55% of those marrying in the Diocese of Sale with their preparation for their life-long commitment to one another.

The Marriage and Relationship Education Team are excited to play a part in continuing to help couples stay connected and grow their relationships!

To book a Remote FOCCUS workshop with your partner, click the link below.


Rhyannon Elliott, Manager Marriage and Relationship Education 

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