This morning I got up and hung a little sign on the window over my kitchen sink. It says: “Make a decision to love.” I taped one to the bathroom mirror and over my desk as well. What’s with the cryptic notes? They’re part of my re-entry into the real world after experiencing an eye-opening and life-changing Marriage Encounter (ME) weekend with Dennis.
This was our first ME experience, after years of hemming and hawing about whether we should go. I’d often suggest it, but we would always come up with a laundry list of excuses as to why it wasn’t possible. Mainly, how could we go away for an entire weekend when we couldn’t find a sitter for two hours on a Friday night?
And so we continued on our not-so-merry married way. We were still deeply in love, but it was a little less obvious with each passing crisis and every added responsibility. Our sacramental covenant was starting to look a lot more like a business partnership. What happened to the outward signs of love that used to make our inner commitment so apparent? If we continued to pile on things that pulled us apart, would our relationship eventually crack under pressure? We weren’t about to find out.
We decided to figure out a way to overcome the obstacles and put aside our fears and signed up for the November weekend at Don Bosco Retreat Center in Stony Point. As we drove up to the center Friday night, Dennis and I both wondered aloud if this could be everything it was cracked up to be. Wouldn’t we be just as well off if we took time away at a hotel in New York City? How could a two-day experience transform our lives as promised?
It didn’t take long for us to see that this weekend did indeed have the potential to give us something a vacation away could never give us: the tools we need to traverse the sometimes rocky road of married life with trust, love and anticipation. With every hour that passed, we peeled back another layer, revealing the couple we had been when we first fell in love. By Sunday night we realized that we now had within our grasp the ability to experience the passion, joy and excitement we once felt as newlyweds every single day for the rest of our lives.
The weekend isn’t a magic potion, of course. It’s not like getting an immunization that will protect our relationship from all the outside forces that threaten to tear it down. But it does lay the foundation for helping us live our love in positive, life-affirming ways. And, in case you’re wondering, there is no required group sharing. This isn’t about confessing your deepest feelings to strangers or about rehashing old hurts. This is about looking forward as a couple – just the two of you alone in your room – and finding ways to communicate so that the love you have inside radiates from you both and warms everyone around you. Sounds impossible, but it’s for real.
Sitting there with 18 other couples (and one priest participant) and listening to the stories of our presenting couples and priest, I felt lifted up by their honesty and their commitment to their vocations. I felt surrounded by hope and faith.
As Dennis and I headed home, with the kids talking endlessly about their own adventures away from mom and dad, our renewed zeal for our marriage burned bright between us. Although darkness and fog enveloped the van as we drove north, dawn was breaking in our hearts because we had made a conscious and deliberate decision to love.
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