Marriage Renewal Brings Back Happiness

Posted by Patty Machelor

Weekend retreats with hosts Albert and Bertha Fresquez don't offer much in the way of mental relaxation or idle talk. In fact, the married guests at these Retrouvaille weekends are there to work with one clear goal in mind: reviving their marriages. Retrouvaille, which is French for "rediscovery," is for couples whose marriages aren't going well or are in danger of failing. The program is affiliated with the Catholic Church, but participants don't need to be Catholic.

Marvelle and David Buechel had been married nearly 30 years when the stress in their marriage peaked a couple of years ago. David Buechel's mother had died, and, a short time later, he left his private medical practice and joined a group practice. Tension grew, and the couple struggled to communicate. After a particularly bad day in his new job, David came home very agitated.

"I listened without saying anything, and then I told him: 'I can't do this anymore, Dave. I can't live like this.' And he said: 'Fine. Don't,' " Marvelle said. Marvelle had first noticed Retrouvaille in a church bulletin a couple of years earlier but didn't think David would agree to go. "I'm a physician, and so there's a certain amount of skepticism you have anyway," he said. He was surprised to find how helpful Retrouvaille was, both for his marriage and for his personal growth.

"There was a focus on self-discovery and one's contribution to the relationship, both in a positive and a negative fashion, and there was a lot of attention directed at discovering the origins of dynamics in a relationship," said David, 59.

Life has improved dramatically since they attended the session nearly a year ago. David said he's better at listening, communicating clearly and understanding other people, or at least trying very hard to.

"It's been a godsend to me, I'll tell you, and I pride myself on being an effective communicator and problem-solver," he said. "My eyes were opened."

Marvelle, 56, said the three-day weekend retreat, which is held at a hotel, was both exhausting and renewing. "We were so wrapped up in the dynamic of being right that we were not able to discuss anything," she said. "They give you tools you can use every single day. The blame thing is gone. It's about letting your partner know how you feel without criticism or judgment."

Marvelle, 56, said the three-day weekend retreat, which is held at a hotel, was both exhausting and renewing. "We were so wrapped up in the dynamic of being right that we were not able to discuss anything," she said. "They give you tools you can use every single day. The blame thing is gone. It's about letting your partner know how you feel without criticism or judgment."

There are four stages of marriage, according to Retrouvaille teachings. The first is romance; the second, disillusionment; the third, misery; and the fourth, if the marriage hasn't yet ended, awakening.

Many of the couples who come to Retrouvaille are in the misery stage, said Albert and Bertha Fresquez. "Some couples who come in aren't speaking to one another," Bertha Fresquez said. Albert and Bertha had their Retrouvaille weekend nine years ago, at which time they'd been married 22 years. Like the Buechels, they had stopped communicating well. Their children had grown, and there was an "empty-nest syndrome," Bertha said. There was a lot of pain to sort through, she said. They credit the weekend with saving their marriage.

Albert, 56, and Bertha, 53, started leading weekends themselves in 2005. They share their volunteer job with a priest and two other couples who also have completed a Retrouvaille experience. The focus is on learning to recognize feelings, both your own and your spouse's, and to accept what's shared without judgment, Albert said. "The other concept we teach is that you cannot change your spouse; you can only change yourself," he said. During the weekend, there is group time and time for the individual couples to work alone. All of your problem solving is done in private. You do not share your problems with the group and you are not asked to share your personal problems at any time.

Retrouvaille, which started in Quebec, has been in existence for 30 years. After the initial weekend experience, there are 12 post-sessions during which couples continue their work.

Galen and Vida Gudenkauf of Nogales traveled to Tucson, Ariz., for their Retrouvaille weekend last year. They'd been married for 47 years. "We really couldn't get along. We needed help," said Galen, 66. "You take everything for granted over the years." Galen still can't believe what a difference that retreat and the post-sessions made in their marriage.

"Those people who have gone through Retrouvaille before, they get up in front and tell their life story," he said. "It's powerful." Vida, 65, said she didn't have many expectations. She just hoped it would work. "We were willing to try anything and everything," she said. "We wanted to be living happily again." Galen said they continue to use what they learned every day. "We're not taking anything for granted," he said. "We learned you make a decision to love. It's not something that you just do; you have to make a decision."

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