In the beginning, there were wedding bells, music and dreams of living happily ever after.
Sometime later, the picture was not so rosy. Perhaps communication had ebbed or ended; perhaps one spouse was drinking or having an affair.
Perhaps they visited a marriage counselor, their priest, or consulted friends and family. At some point, one or both spouses decided they wanted out.
However, deep inside, they hoped for one more chance. Enter Retrouvaille, an international Catholic-based organization that helps people preserve their marriages — even during separation and sometimes after divorce.
Pronounced Retro-vie, the program began in Montreal in 1977.
Retrouvaille — the French term means rediscovery — and began after some Montreal Catholics involved in the Marriage Encounter program realized that more than half the participating couples had troubled marriages.
The program, which is open to those of all faith backgrounds, begins with a group of couples meeting for a weekend away from home. There, a priest and several couples who have benefitted from the program volunteer their time to lead the couples through a series of presentations and reflections on their own experience.
When William and Betsy Gonwa participated in a Retrouvaille weekend in year 16 of their marriage, it was a life-changing experience. The couple was unable to communicate without arguing. Thankfully, a friend directed them to Retrouvaille, saying they would learn a new way to communicate with each other.
“I wanted help to get us through our difficult time,” said Betsy.
Willie added that he wanted to go because he was afraid that after the children were grown and gone they would have no reason to stay together.
“It gave us the tools to communicate without arguing,” he said. “We were able to reconnect with each other. It gave us hope.”
Willie and Betsy became a presenting couple 12 years ago to continue growing in their relationship and to give back to others the gift they received.
“All the couples who volunteer in Retrouvaille are couples who have experienced the pain of a broken marriage,” said Betsy. “It is rewarding to help hurting couples restore their marriages and their families. In Retrouvaille, we are on the front lines, helping couples be reconciled to each other and heal their broken relationships. Retrouvaille gave us the tools that we needed so we could work out our difficulties, and it brings us joy to pass this onto others. Saving marriages makes it all worthwhile.”
For the past two years, the couple has volunteered as the Community Coordinators of Lakeshore Retrouvaille, serving the communities of Milwaukee, Green Bay and Escanaba, Michigan.
“Our role includes retreat weekends and follow-up, post-weekend session, representing Lakeshore Retrouvaille regionally and internationally, including attending the annual International Council Meeting and developing leadership within the Lakeshore Retrouvaille community,” said Willie.
Retrouvaille has a success rate of about 80 percent among couples who desire to save their marriage. According to Betsy, it takes both spouses working to restore their marriage.
“If one spouse doesn’t put in the effort, it doesn’t work,” she said. “In the cases where both spouses are willing to work at the marriage, couples flourish. There are some couples with issues, such as addictions and anger management, that may need help in addition to the Retrouvaille program.”
Robin and Monte Nuckois attended Retrouvaille after their spiritual marriage counselor suggested it might be a helpful program for them. Both agreed the program helped save their marriage because they were surrounded by others who had gone through similar pain and hopelessness.
“They had made a commitment to make their marriages work, not just work but have a much happier, deeper marriage,” said Robin. “We liked that it was faith-based and it taught us to communicate better.”
Though they are not Catholic, both Robin and Monte felt that the program worked well for them, despite not understanding some Catholic traditions.
“It didn’t bother us at all and the program can work for everyone if you are both willing to work hard and never give up,” she said.
Because they credit the program for helping to save their marriage, Robin and Monte volunteer their time as the Finance Couple.
Married 38 years, Brent and Donna of Sheboygan attended Retrouvaille at a low point in their marriage. While they weren’t contemplating divorce, their marriage was in trouble.
“The program gave us tools to communicate again in a better way,” said Donna.
For Brent, it helped him to understand how important their marriage was and that it was worth the work it would take to be in a good place again.
“The weekend is what I would call a good start,” said Brent. “We didn’t get to where we were overnight. The weekend got us to think of the importance of our marriage, not only to ourselves but our families, friends and even God. The weekend started giving us the tools to better understand each other again and find the treasure of our marriage.”
Retrouvaille isn’t limited to a single weekend. Follow-up meetings continue leading couples on the path to healthy marriages.
“We had several Saturdays in the POST part of the program, where we had meetings with the weekend couples and POST presenters to continue the journey of making our marriage good again,” said Donna. “We have continued our journey with many of our weekend couples by attending monthly CORE (continuing Our Retrouvaille Experience) since the weekend and post CORE has been great for our marriage and allows us to spend time with couples who once were hurting in their relationships as we were. Together we are stronger than when we are alone. This process brought us closer as a couple, but more importantly, we are closer to God in our faith. Our lives have changed as we are now trying to be not only the individuals, but the couple God wants us to be.”