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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinFebruary 7, 2003 Issue 

Weekend helps couples avoid marital rocks

Special program seeks to help couples save troubled marriages

Second in a series on Bishop's Appeal

photo illustration of married couple
SEEKING A WAY: Retrouvaille offers help to couples trying to save their marriages. It receives funding through the Bishop's Appeal. (Photo illustration by Rick Evans)

Helping couples

What: Retrouvaille weekend for couples in troubled marriages to help them rediscover each other and to examine their life together in a new and positive way.

Who: Weekends are led by three couples who Retrouvaille helped to rebuild their marriages and a priest or deacon.

How: Not a retreat, but teaches communication skills that couples use in privacy.

When: Feb. 21-23, Madison; April 4-7, La Crosse; April 11-13, Green Bay; May 16-18, Madison; Aug. 15-17, Marathon; Sept. 19-21, Madison.

Cost: $75 deposit, plus a suggested donation to cover costs, though no one is refused for financial reasons. (Retrouvaille is funded in part by the Bishop's Appeal.)

Information: Tom Rinkoski, (920)437-7531 or 1-877-500-3580 (toll-free), ext. 8304; e-mail: [email protected] or on the web at

Editor's note: Among the programs and services the annual Bishop's Appeal sponsors is Retrouvaille for couples with troubled marriages. Here is the story of one woman who went on a Retrouvaille weekend.

By Marlene White
Special to The Compass

My month of "house sitting/time out" was over. It had been good in many ways, including helping me understand that I could survive on my own just fine, if I had to, but that it would be lonely and self-centered and not necessarily a life I would choose.

Stepping Together in Faith logo
Stepping Together in Faith
2003 Bishop's Appeal

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Neither, though, would I choose to live with the pain and conflict and negative stuff living with Tom had become.

I didn't make any clear decisions about my future. But I was better able to make decisions from a position of strength and confidence and a better knowledge of myself than I had had in a long time -- if ever.

Tom and I decided to attend a Retrouvaille (ret-ro-vi) weekend.

I didn't have a lot of hope that it would make much difference; I had deep concerns that my love for Tom had been pushed aside by so much anger and resentment and blame that it was beyond redemption.

When we walked from the car to the retreat house, I felt huge barriers going up. I thought: "I don't need this. I will have nothing in common with these people. My life and my experiences are far different from any of these people. I don't belong here."

I had a feeling of failure and weakness for even having to resort to going to a weekend for troubled marriages. It was as though our problems were beyond my/our ability to fix on our own. I had to really stiffen my backbone to keep going.

But, after sticking it out for the whole weekend -- in spite of a couple misunderstandings and missteps and a couple of "spats" -- I'm feeling more positive and hopeful than I have in many years.

The leadership team focused on dialogue. They gave us a question or subject on which to individually write a letter to our partner about, focusing primarily on our feelings about that subject or question.

You try to find different ways of sharing your feelings and comparisons, on a scale of 1-10; using shared experiences, showing rather than telling, so that your partner has a clear sense of what you are feeling about that subject.

You exchange the letters and read them. Then you discuss them -- paraphrasing and so on to make sure you really understand the feelings your partner expressed.

The idea is to let your partner in on the feelings you have, so that he or she can understand and accept them. Then, at least you have common ground and understanding about why the other person may be reacting a certain way.

It doesn't take the problems away, but it helps you share on a whole different level. While it is much harder to share on that level, it really leads to true intimacy.

Tom found this very difficult because he doesn't understand feelings well at all. It is an area of his personality that was not encouraged -- in fact, it was discouraged and frowned upon in his family. He understands anger and hurt and that's probably the extent of his repertoire.

But he stuck to it and we had some very good exchanges.

Of course, it was also frustrating at times for both of us when I felt he wasn't "getting it" and he misinterpreted things I said.

There will be follow-up sessions on Sunday afternoons for the next six or seven weeks.

It was very intense. We were either in workshops hearing the lead couples' stories (two out of three had had problems with affairs, so trust issues were big) or we were writing about our feelings or sharing our feelings.

There was no free time to relax or read or take a nap or anything. We had meetings till 10:30 or 11 at night and then started again by 7 the next morning. Whew. Marathon.

Bishop's Appeal

What: Bishop's Appeal, the Green Bay Diocese's annual fund-raiser to support diocesan programs and services offered to parishes and individuals.

Where: All parishes in the diocese.

When: Right now.

How: Making a cash, check, credit card (Mastercard, Visa and Discover) or pledge donation. Materials have been sent to homes and also are available through parishes. Some employers offer matching gift programs, for which Catholic Charities may qualify, since it serves the general public; additional information is available through Human Resources departments.

Theme: Stepping Together in Faith.

Target: $4.8 million.

But by the end of the weekend, it was clear that almost all 16 couples had experienced some very positive emotional events and seemed closer than they had on Friday night. Or maybe we were all just exhausted and were clinging to each other for support so we didn't fall down.

While this doesn't solve our problems, it does give us better footing to tackle them together and work as a team, instead of one or the other carrying the whole load and feeling resentment.

I think Retrouvaille is an excellent program for couples who are willing to make an effort to save their marriage and maybe even find that fourth stage of married life.

Moving from pain and misery to resurrection and redemption and a peaceful joy is to arrive at a place, that, like spring, can only be truly appreciated after suffering through a long, cold, wet, dreary winter.

There's still lots of work to do, but we both made a strong commitment to work through our misunderstandings and problems. These relationship things are never easy, but it does help to have good tools to work with.

Thanks to all of you for your prayers and support. And especially those of you who've listened to me non-critically and been such good friends to both of us.

Update: Tom and I just returned from a six-day trip to Hawaii. Part of our problems were not finding time to have fun together. So it was kind of like a second honeymoon.

(White lives in another state. Her name and that of her spouse were changed for this story.)

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