Couples reconnect through Marriage Encounter, Retrouvaille - Catholic Courier

Couples reconnect through Marriage Encounter, Retrouvaille

It was not urgent, yet still very important, for Deacon John Brasley and his wife, Belinda, to go on their first Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend 16 years ago.
"We always loved each other very much, but found ourselves drifting apart because of our careers and kids. The romance in our marriage got put on the back burner," Deacon Brasley said.
Around that same time, Dave and Sherrie Thurkins attended a Retrouvaille weekend after finding themselves constantly arguing.
"Life was just a big fight," Dave remarked.
Both Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille offer essential communication tools in a spiritual setting. The Brasleys and Thurkins found their marriages so positively affected by their experiences, they’ve since sought to help other couples by taking on leadership roles in their respective programs.
Which one is more appropriate for couples who want to reconnect on a deeper level? Deacon Brasley described Marriage Encounter as a tune-up for marriages, saying the program is sometimes mistaken for assisting marriages in trouble. That would be more the purpose of Retrouvaille, which exists for couples experiencing such serious hurt and disillusionment that they may be considering separation or have already separated.
Marital tune-up
Marriage Encounter weekends combine presentations by keynote speakers with many opportunities for each couple to privately exchange verbal and written dialogue. The sessions explore such themes as expressing feelings, listening, trust and God "in a way that’s very nonthreatening," Deacon Brasley said.
The Brasleys, who have been married nearly 25 years, are a presenting-team couple and have twice been Rochester/Buffalo regional leaders for the Catholic-sponsored Marriage Encounter program. Couples of all denominations are invited to participate.
Deacon Brasley, who also serves as diocesan community-services coordinator for Parish Support Ministries, said he and his wife used to recommend Marriage Encounter to couples after five years of marriage, but feels that it now holds value even for newlyweds because "we’re living in a world where marriage isn’t really valued that much." He added that studies have shown the divorce rate among Marriage Encounter couples to be only 2 percent.
Marriage Encounter offers a chance to reconnect without the distraction of phones, computers or children. For those hesitant about leaving the kids behind for the weekend, Deacon Brasley emphasized that "the best gift the parents can give their children is their love for each other."
An opportunity to heal
Retrouvaille, though Catholic in origin, is open to people of all faiths. It takes its name from a French word meaning "rediscovery."
Presenting couples share their own stories of how they learned to communicate, stay committed, forgive, affirm each other, become more intimate and view marriage as a sacrament. Not unlike Marriage Encounter, participants meet privately numerous times to discuss the presentations. Retrouvaille also involves up to 12 additional sessions over a three-month period following a weekend — a key component in the healing process.
Dave Thurkins recalled that he went grudgingly to his initial Retrouvaille weekend. Yet both he and Sherrie returned home "appreciating what had brought us together to begin with, which we had forgotten all about," his wife said. Dave added that they also brought God back into their marriage, saying that "I think, during those difficult times, we had pushed him away." The change was immediately noticed by their children — as well as themselves.
"I don’t think we had ever communicated like that," Sherrie said.
The Thurkins said they still struggle at times, but now have the tools to work out their differences. The Painted Post residents celebrated their 30th anniversary on Aug. 19, 2008, and serve as Southern Tier community coordinators for Retrouvaille.
"If we did not find Retrouvaille, we would have divorced shortly thereafter. Now I think we’re best friends," Dave said.
Program weekends are offered
The next Retrouvaille weekend in the Rochester Diocese will take place Feb. 6-9, 2009, at the Treadway Inn in Owego, Tioga County. Another weekend will be held Aug. 14-16. Contact Bob and Lisa Schriver at 607-785-0344. There also will be Retrouvaille opportunities for Rochester-area couples April 3-5 and Oct. 9-11. Contact Dick and Vivian Rightmyer at 585-293-1552. Or, visit All contacts are held in the strictest confidence.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekends are still in the process of being scheduled for 2009. Contact John and Belinda Brasley at 585-719-9848 or,or visit

Tags: Catholic Marriage
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