Our Marriage Encounter weekend was an incredible blessing. It was work, it was grace, it was balm, and it was something My Darling and I would do again with absolutely no hesitation.
It began in the evening on that Friday. We arrived at an absolutely beautiful retreat center not terribly far from home (I think our drive time was about 3 1/2 hours, but we had two stops to make on the way). The setting was just lovely--pastoral, blooming, peaceful country, and well off the beaten path. There was no noise from traffic, no view of other buildings, no disruptions whatsoever. We were escorted to our private room, and given time to freshen up and lay out our things.
Once we were settled, we met with nine other couples in the conference room, where we were introduced to three of the couples, who would be presenting talks for us, and a dear priest, who was also presenting. We were given an overview of what the weekend would look like, and we spent some time that night working on how to dialogue. This form of dialoguing is accomplished by agreeing on a particular question, spending some individual writing time answering the question with a few sentences reflecting on thoughts and a few paragraphs on feelings, and then meeting together privately to read one another's writing and talk about it. A decent portion of time in the conference room was learning the important distinction between thoughts and feelings--because the two are not the same thing. Each time throughout the weekend that we had a new question for dialoguing, we were separated into groups of husbands and wives for the writing portion--so the husbands would stay in the conference room while they wrote, and the wives would be dispersed to the private rooms. At the end of the allotted time, the husbands would join the wives in the private rooms so that the reading and discussion could take place.
I found the whole thing to be very laid-back, very informative, and not in the least bit emasculating--and I say this having heard it from My Darling, so it's not just the view of a sometimes emotional woman. ;) The topic of feelings was approached by the presenting couples and priest in a way that did not seem to make any of the attending men squirm in their chairs. I saw no rolling eyeballs, heard no throat-clearing, noticed no twitching. I think one of the reasons for this is because we were encouraged to use descriptors that fall under general categories--happy, sad, angry, and "other"--that help to be specific, rather than wishy-washy. But that's just what I think.
There was no group discussion, no pressure to share anything that we had written or talked about, and there was ample time for us to be together as a couple. We were able to talk with other couples during meals, and the presenting couples and priest as well. In our setting, we had a generously-sized cafeteria available. Each presenting couple had "their table," with Father at one of them, and we couples rotated where we sat. They had place cards indicating where we would sit, which made it easy to not get stuck sitting in the same place with the same (lovely) people at every meal. We had predetermined topics of discussion at each meal, which helped conversation flow easily. And there were plenty of snacks (each couple brought something to share) and always coffee, tea and water available. We were encouraged to pick up a snack on the way to the conference room each time. Another one of the wives and I remarked that it seemed to be like a cruise--lots of time with your husband, and plenty of food at every turn!
We also had plenty of opportunity for confession--Father made himself available to us on both Friday and Saturday night. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered on both Saturday and Sunday morning. And the chapel was located directly across the hall from the conference room, so if a person wanted to, they could just go spend some time with Our Lord. It was a pretty great set-up.
I think we engaged in the dialogue process about a dozen times throughout the weekend. Some of them were fun, and some of them were just....really difficult. I mean, the questions ranged from, "What quality of yours do I appreciate the most?" (in which we were encouraged to mention traits, and not behaviors--e.g. "I appreciate your work ethic," is different from, "I appreciate that you made our dining room table.") to, "What were my expectations of our life together when we married?" to, "In what area do I find it most difficult to listen to you?"
Y'all, there were more than a few tears shed sometimes. There were some topics that were really difficult to dialogue about, because there were seriously strong feelings involved on both sides.
Now, they made it very clear that these weekends are not intended to problem-solve. And as much as that sounds difficult, it did get easier as we went along. And in the end, the method of communicating that we learned has made it possible for us to actually approach some of our problem areas far more peaceably than we have in the past. We have been able to take elements of these areas and break them down into questions that we can work on in the dialogue format.
So healing. And it's tremendously gratifying to hear My Darling actually talk about his feelings--his feelings!--and not feel so shut out. And it's incredibly comforting to know that my feelings are not only valid, but heard and respected by My Darling.
We needed that weekend, and we'll probably go on another one...or two.....or more.
I strongly encourage anyone who is married, or anyone who is ordained or consecrated, to attend a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. It doesn't matter how long you've been married, nor how strong your marriage, nor how ably you communicate. Even if your marriage is a great one, a Marriage Encounter weekend will make it better.
Take a few minutes to check out the opportunities available to you. You won't regret it.