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Marriage Encounter

Copyright © 1997 by CarolAnn Jarnagin


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The Men's Forum has pages of advice on experts about relationships. But who are the experts? In one sense, aren't we all? Don't we all at least have the wisdom of our own experience, our own truths? Here's a story by member CarolAnn Jarnagin about Marriage Enconter, an ecumenical program that has been offered through many churches for many years.

Related:
Negotiating Love, an interview with Riki Robbins Jones and Philip Jones, by Bert and Bernetta Hoff. Riki is the author of the Ballantine book Negotiating Love.

OK folks - here it is. The official rundown on my weekend, as requested by our fearless leader! <g>

Seriously, though:

Steven and I went on a Marriage Encounter this past weekend. The ME program is designed to facilitate communication between spouses - it is NOT to repair marriages in trouble. If anything, the level of intimacy in communication and honesty demanded by the program could conceivably destroy a shaky marriage.

As most of you are aware, my husband and I have had a rough couple of years. We had steadily grown apart until a recent crisis forced us to re-examine our marriage. We discovered that although we had our differences, we loved each other very much and we had a solid foundation under us&emdash;we had both just forgotten it was there.

Related:
Relationship! Can We Ever Get One That Works?, by Richard Prosapio. A therapist talks about what he's learned about relationships in his own life and offers eight "rules" for success.

We spent the weekend away from the kids, the house, in-laws, family, etc..... No cooking, cleaning, or anything - they do everything for you. The weekend was spent listening to talks on such topics as Spiritual Divorce, Self-Encounter, and Marriage Inventory. Each talk was given by a couple who had been through the Encounter weekend&emdash;they write their own talks and often illustrate their points with examples from their own relationships. After the talk is over, the couples separate and write, usually answering questions given to them at the end of the talk. They then come together, exchange what they have written and discuss it. Steven was very apprehensive about this, but he was happy to discover that there was no group sharing - all talking is only between the spouses.

One thing we discovered in the course of all this was that we basically had the same ideas of what we needed to do to get things back on track, but we didn't think the other was on the same wavelength. It was rather ironic to find that we had been skirting all kinds of issues that we basically had the same ideas and goals about.

The thing that struck us both was an illustration of crisis points in marriage. Basic ally, it was a graphic illustration of how the crisis leads to a decision&emdash;the decision to address the crisis together or to address it apart, and what each decision can lead to. We looked at that and a light bulb went off in our heads&emdash;that perfectly reflected the cycle we had been in for years, and the path we took to get out of it.

The Crisis Cycle
  Confidence   Understanding
Acceptance
 
 
Joy       TOGETHER
 
Illusion   Crisis   Decision
 
Substitutions       APART
 
  Misunderstanding
Loneliness
Emptiness
Isolation
Blame
 

Symptoms
 
 
 

Every relationship begins with illusion – the intense and romantic feeling of falling in love. When crisis occurs, a decision must be made.

If the decision is to approach the problem apart, or if indeed no joint decision is made at all, estrangement begins. The symptoms of misunderstanding, lonliness, etc…, begin, further intensifying over time. Eventually, one or both partners begin to look for substitutions, perhaps work, hobbies, or even through infidelity. Through these substitutions, the illusion can be maintained, even if only to the outside world.

If a conscious decision is made to approach the problem together, understanding and acceptance of the problem occurs. Confidence grows, both in the individual and in the relationship. This confidence leads to a sense of joy and happiness. The crisis is resolved one way or the other, and the illusion is restored.

 
 

None of the presenters are professional counselors - they are simply couples who are willing to share their experiences in the hope it will help others. There isn't any psycho-babble. It's a wonderful atmosphere as well&emdash;no stress, no fuss. However, it can be emotionally exhausting - they provide a snack table because everyone there is always hungry! <g> It is hard work, but the rewards are well worth it.

Marriage Encounter is a Christian ministry. Much of the subject matter directly or indirectly relates to a spiritual aspect of marriage. However, they do not ram any dogma down your throat. Here in Dallas-Fort Worth it is sponsored by the Catholic Church, but in other parts of the country it is sponsored my many other denominations. Steven was raised Pentecostal and I was raised Catholic, but we were both very comfortable with the manner in which spiritual questions were addressed. My mother is a Pagan and she is on the local board and also presents for this organization. It covers all points of the spiritual spectrum.

The Voice Unseen

Steven and I came out of this experience recharged and ready to face the future of our relationship with both barrels. <g> We have a lot of new tools to use in dealing with the problems we are sure to face in the future, and we feel confident that we belong together, which is something neither of us was sure of just six months ago.


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