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Retrouvaille...A Lifeline for Marriages
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Light the Fire Again

By Haydn Jensen

What is a marriage worth? Or, if you are married—what is your marriage worth? What about if your marriage is struggling or you are separated, or divorced? Would it be worth the investment to rediscover a loving marriage relationship and put your marriage in order again? Some might say it's too late for them.

But, as Greg and Anita Turner shared, their own marriage was all but over until they found themselves at a Retrouvaille marriage help weekend. It was the turning point for them. There is one coming up in London on the September 26-28 weekend, hosted by Greg and Anita as Retrouvaille Coordinators for London-St Thomas.

First a quick description of Retrouvaille. With a Roman Catholic origin and starting in Quebec in 1977, the Retrouvaille organization operates independently with one goal: to help save marriages.

The name (prounounced re-tro-vi with a long i) is a French word meaning 'rediscovery'. There are only a handful of locations in North America where Retrouvaille programs operate—London is only one of four in Ontario. Do you have to be Catholic to participate? Absolutely not. Even though a priest is usually part of the leadership team and optional Mass celebrations are scheduled as part of the initial weekend, Retrouvaille emphasizes they are not there to promote religion.

Not simply an event or a course a couple attends, Retrouvaille is really intended to be a community the couple becomes a part of for as long as they wish. There are plenty of social aspects to Retrouvaille, naturally, and yet there is no expectation that couples expose details of their troubled relationship with other couples. Honest personal reflection and dialogue with your spouse is the primary expectation.

To get a better picture of Retrouvaille in action, here is Greg and Anita's story:

For a long time during their first 24 years of marriage, Greg admits his behaviour was, "off the rails". Living a double life as he practised infidelity and used prostitutes, he pretended all was well. Raised Catholic, he attended Mass occasionally, and continued serving the community as an OPP officer. Finally, Anita discovered what was happening, and she was devastated. They separated shortly afterwards, in 2005 after 24 years together, and Greg moved out to live on his own.

Finally facing reality, Greg asked himself, "What have I done?" Once, after attending Mass, he stood before the Crucifix, praying, "Lord, please give me another chance." At the back of the church he noticed a pamphlet, "Retrouvaille--A Lifeline for Marriages", with information about an upcoming weekend program to help couples overcome their marriage problems. He gave Anita the pamphlet to see if she would be willing to give it a try.

With some unexpected encouragement from her family (she thought they'd tell her to run the other way), Anita called Retrouvaille to see if there was any point in them going. She recalls the conversation, trying to explain how bad things were, and the contact person kept saying "I understand." Anita kept replying, "No, you don't understand." The woman insisted, "Yes, I do understand." The lady finally reasoned that the marriage would not get any worse if they came, and added, "You'll know by Sunday if you want to stay married or not." That was convincing enough.

As is typical for Retrouvaille weekends, Friday night started with a lot of tension, fuelled perhaps by more than a little anxiety or despair that each couple's relationship was beyond help. Some couples attend because they were sent by a lawyer or judge as a prerequisite to filing for a divorce or rendering final decisions—sometimes bringing with them legal paperwork ready to be signed or signed already. Others come sent by marriage counsellors before they can begin marriage counselling.

For the Turner's initial weekend in 2005 with 35 couples attending, the tension on Friday gave way to a very different feeling on Sunday—for them and a great many other couples. Body language changed from avoiding or rejecting any physical contact to hand holding, and arms around each other. Visible signs of hope!

During a Retrouvaille weekend a team of three couples and a priest (or three couples and a Christian minister and spouse) gives a series of presentations. Presentations enable participants to take a good look at most areas of their relationship and offer practical tools for improving the marriage. Since healthy communication is key to healthy relationships, specific techniques are taught on how to speak and listen so they can begin to safely describe their feelings to each other without judgment or criticism. After each presentation, participants are given time to reflect individually and interact in complete privacy with their spouse. Although there are opportunities for couples to share their stories with others in the group, this is not expected.

The initial weekend is not meant as a "miracle cure." Couples gather together again for six weekly follow-ups for 4 hours each. With no children, cell phones or other potential distractions around, the weekends and follow up gatherings provide important dedicated times for couples to focus on their relationship. After the weekend and follow-up sessions, couples are then encouraged to attend monthly support group gatherings. These are primarily social times and provide ongoing opportunity for couples to "check-in" with each other on how they are doing. So, the open-ended structure of Retrouvaille is perhaps a unique distinction from many other marriage help programs in that it intentionally provides ongoing support for ongoing marriages. While there is a one-time financial cost involved in the first weekend, couples are never turned away for financial reasons.

After that first weekend as participants in 2005, Greg and Anita are back on track in a healthy marriage relationship, but yet they admit that they are continuing to heal and grow. They also admit that there were some initial setbacks which required ongoing counselling support. They still practice the exercises taught at that first weekend and continue to work at integrating good communication techniques in their everyday lives together. So, while they are local Retrouvaille Coordinators devoted to helping others renew their marriages, they also say, "This is for us as well."

In fact, Greg and Anita are clear in saying that Retrouvaille in no way replaces professional counselling. "If there are issues of sex addiction, substance abuse or mental health issues, seek professional help." Retrouvaille is something couples can do together with other approaches to wellness.

To know more about...