Worldwide Marriage Encounter is offering a residential retreat from Oct. 21-23 in Brookfield. (Submitted photo)
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a dramatic shift in the lives of all. Though married couples did not experience the total isolation their single peers felt during lockdowns, many problems unique to pandemic living still arose over the last two and a half years.
Differences in opinions on appropriate levels of COVID risk were a wedge in many relationships. Should we see family and friends? Do we sit in our usual place at Mass? How do we celebrate the holidays? Do we shop in person or use drive-up? The risks taken by one spouse were effectively taken by the other, and each decision was a risk calculation taken against the person’s individual and the couple’s shared values.
Forced constant togetherness was a stressor for even the most solid of relationships. Unstructured time, amplified by the uncertainty of when a return to “normal” would occur, could turn even the minor annoyances and disagreements of day-to-day life into fights.
For couples raising young and school-age children, the loss of daycare, in-person learning and extra-curricular activities was tough, forcing many parents to juggle in ways they had never previously done.
Supply chain headaches and financial woes did not help matters. The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the U.S. economy lost 22 million jobs from February to April 2020, and the cost of most necessities remains high.
With all these stressors stacked against couples, it is not surprising that multiple news outlets reported an increase in divorce rates after the onset of the pandemic. Two Catholic ministries stand prepared to help couples thrive as we enter a new “normal.”
The Retrouvaille website (helpourmarriage.org) explains, “Most people whose marriages end in divorce are not bad people. Rather, they are often people who never learned the proper tools for a happy marriage … there are certain learnable skills, attitudes and tools that they can use to deal with the inevitable problems of the real world and the difficult struggles that a marriage will face.”
Retrouvaille does not end when the retreat is over. Post-weekend sessions over six to 12 weeks help couples to continue the healing they began on their weekend. Monthly small group support meetings, called CORE (Continuing Our Retrouvaille Experience), provide couples with a positive and welcoming place to continue working on the communication skills they have learned.
A couple from Wauwatosa shared, “We were in misery when we went on our Retrouvaille weekend. We could not talk without arguing. Our three teenagers lived in a war zone. At the Retrouvaille weekend, we were able to reconnect and found hope. Eventually, our marriage entered a second honeymoon. We are able to live in harmony thanks to the skills we learned in the Retrouvaille program.”
In 2023, Lakeshore Retrouvaille, which serves southeastern Wisconsin, is holding in-person retreats in Green Lake on Jan. 27 and Sept. 15, in Wausau on Feb. 3 and Aug. 18, and Milwaukee on Feb. 17 and July 28.
Call 920-288-2043 or email email@example.com for more information.
There are also virtual options available online.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter
The Marriage Encounter (wwme.org) experience is a skill-building enrichment program — either over a weekend or in seven three-hour sessions — where together, as husband and wife, couples learn how to be the best couple they can be.
WWME explains that a Marriage Encounter is not couples therapy. There is no counseling. The experience consists of presentations followed by private time between husband and wife.
WWME offers its experience in several formats to accommodate various schedules. Weekend (residential) experiences are coming up in Brookfield from Oct. 21-23 or in Geneva, Illinois, from Nov. 11-13. To register, contact Tim and Doris Trout at 888-574-5653.
Parishes or schools can host non-residential weekend experiences for their families. They follow a similar schedule to the residential weekends, beginning on Friday evening or Saturday morning and continuing through Sunday afternoon.
If an entire weekend is not feasible for your parish, 3RE Experiences are the same Marriage Encounter experience offered in seven sessions of two to three hours each. These are typically weeknight meetings held at a parish or school premises.
WWME also offers virtual versions of both residential and 3RE formats.
A mother of five, Liz Hammetter went on the Worldwide Marriage Encounter with her husband, Nick, years ago and explained, “WWME helped bring God and our faith to the center of our marriage. It helped us realize the blessings, big and small, that we receive each day. Inviting God to the forefront of our marriage and being able to recognize our blessings helped us work through the difficulties of the pandemic.”
The Hammetters have turned their pandemic pivots into permanent lifestyle changes. Liz now homeschools their children on their farm in Grafton, and the joy they have found in their added togetherness radiates through the family.
“We were blessed by the extra time together, the extra time with our children and a slower schedule for our family,” she said. “We realize how blessed we were to have each other.”