"The longer I live, the more I realize that the hardest thing is just relationships," says Robert Brancatelli, an assistant professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University in California's Silicon Valley. "It's hard enough to figure out yourself, let alone another person."
His course, "The Theology of Marriage," challenges students to go beyond notions of romantic fantasy to ultimately view love as "a mature self, capable of offering oneself to another person freely."
"And in doing so, you become more of your true self," says Brancatelli, who requires students to spend time with married couples to see what a life of commitment is really all about.
"I tell them to try to get invited over for dinner," Brancatelli says, "to see what the couples are like after a couple glasses of wine."
In his course, "Theology of Marriage," the first thing Robert Brancatelli asks his students to do is to write down their deepest fears. They usually write about failure, losing control, or intimacy.
It may seem like an odd exercise for a course on the theology of marriage. But Mr. Brancatelli, an assistant professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, believes that it makes perfect sense. "The course is about self-work," he says. "That's because marriage is about giving the core of yourself to someone else."
Along with encouraging students to recognize their fears, he also tries to disabuse them of idealized notions about marriage.
"A lot of it is about shedding some of this crap about love and romance," he says. "Candlelit dinners are nice, but those are incidentals."
The professor acknowledges that such talk makes him sound like a cynic. He's not, he says -- he's just a realist.
"I respect marriage enough to be honest about it," he says.
Mr. Brancatelli is frank with students about his own divorce. "This is where I think I went wrong and how it happened," he tells them. Still, he considers himself...