When Dennis and I first started dating, after being friends for a while, everything about us seemed in sync. We often said the exact same thing at the exact same time, bantered back and forth like a well-rehearsed comedy team, wanted all the same things out of life, even bought each other the same card on our first Valentine’s Day together. And it was not a traditional, common card. It was one of those eccentric artsy cards. It was totally unexpected and happily surprising when we realized that we were so in tune with each other that even our card shopping reflected it.
Soon after we were married, we moved across the country — from New York to Texas — to start our life fresh. We eventually bought a house under construction and, not long after, had our first child. Life began to get more stressful and less carefree. After struggling through a difficult miscarriage and a year of medical issues following it, we had another child, another move back across the country, and, finally, a third child when I was almost 43 years old. To say that life was very full — and sometimes very difficult — is a monumental understatement.
The blissful feelings of those early days, when we each recognized the other as soul mate, best friend and lifelong love, started to get buried under the day-to-day obligations and normal stresses that come with parenting and professional lives, volunteer service and home owning. It was becoming harder and harder for us to see the couple we had once been, despite our deep and constant love for each other. Our actions, tone and words didn’t reflect the love we knew was there, so we decided that we would do something we had talked about now and then but never pursued seriously: attend a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend.
Even up until the moment we entered the Don Bosco Retreat Center at the Marian Shrine in Stony Point, the two of us were wondering if this weekend could really make a dramatic difference in our busy lives. Marriage Encounter veterans had told us again and again that it would be life-changing, transforming, but we had our doubts. We vowed to give it a 100 percent anyway and see what happened.
I am here to tell you that it was, in fact, everything promised. While the room wasn’t stellar and the food was mediocre at best, the weekend itself was amazing, restorative, renewing, and, yes, transforming. Over a period of two days, Dennis and I explored ideas and feelings we hadn’t thought about in a while — or ever, in some cases. The weekend didn’t dredge up problems or dwell on the negatives; in a gentle and life-affirming way, it gave us an opportunity to stand side by side looking out at the future as one. Through the powerful stories and examples of our presenting couples and priest, we learned how to create a married life of joy, passion and excitement even in the midst of our daily challenges and struggles.
Marriage Encounter is not about sharing your deepest feelings with strangers, something Dennis feared when I first started suggesting we attend. It’s about sitting together, as a couple, away from everyone else and really giving each other some much-deserved attention, something that had been sorely lacking in our lives. We left the retreat center with the resolve to put into practice all the skills and tools we’d been given in order to make radical changes in the way we live out our marriage.
The really interesting thing is that so far my excitement and hopefulness and anticipation for what’s ahead for us is actually continuing to increase even though the weekend is behind us. I kind of expected that after we left our Marriage Encounter cocoon, we’d be right back to where we started, but that’s absolutely not the case, and if you look at the presenting couples, you can see that this new reality is not a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. We were in a great place when we left Stony Point on Sunday night, but I have to say that today we are in an even better place, and I find myself giddy — much as I did in those early days of our relationship — over what I realize I still share with Dennis. That’s not to say we don’t expect fights or setbacks. We wouldn’t be human if we could live a perfect life. But we do expect to be able to manage those setbacks better and to bring real healing to any divisions threaten to pull us apart, the kind of healing that can actually make our bond stronger.
We will be married 15 years in April. The WWME weekend was the best anniversary gift we could have given to each other. We can look toward the future and see a life where the intense feelings of love and our joy in being a couple do not have to diminish with age or time or struggles. Because we have made a decision to love, because we have been reminded of our great gift and given what we need to keep that gift alive and flourishing, because we have put God back into his rightful place in our marriage, nothing seems impossible anymore.
If you have not yet made a Marriage Encounter weekend — or if you made one a long time ago — sign up today. You will never regret it, I can promise you that, and will more likely wish you had done it years ago. We did ours through the Archdiocese of New York, which will be sponsoring 2010 weekends Feb. 12-14, April 16-18, Aug. 13-15, and Nov. 5-7. Call 914-524-7088 for more information on NY weekends. For those outside the archdiocese, click HERE to go to the Worldwide Marriage Encounter national website, which will connect you with local ME weekends and resources.