Leonor Rivera, who attends St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport with her husband, Edwin, said she and her husband are still on their honeymoon. That it’s lasted 19 years is due, in part, to World Wide Marriage Encounter, she said.
“It’s designed to help you remember why you first fell in love,” Rivera said.
According to couples involved with the program, Marriage Encounter is a Friday-to-Sunday enrichment program for couples in good marriages. The weekend consists of a series of talks by three couples and a priest on such topics as listening and marriage’s sacramental character. In between presentations, couples discuss the topics in private. It’s not group therapy, nor is there any sharing with other couples on the retreat, Marriage Encounter officials said.
“It’s a great chance for couples to experience each other in a deeper way,” said Deacon John Brasley of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Rochester. The deacon and his wife of 20 years, Belinda, recently turned over leadership of the area program to the Riveras, who became involved in Marriage Encounter about a year after they were wed, Leonor Rivera said.
“We just wanted to get a good start in our marriage,” she said. “Even though we had only been married a little over a year, we wanted to avoid the pitfalls.”
One of those pitfalls is taking your spouse for granted, she said. After awhile, husbands may stop holding the door open for their wives, and wives may stop holding hands with their husbands. Couples give up sharing their dreams of visiting places together and doing other romantic things, she noted.
“We wanted to keep our dreams fresh,” Rivera said.
She added that couples need to choose to keep the romantic fires burning, and not let them peter out, by continuing to do the little things they did when they were first dating. Rubbing your spouse’s shoulders, giving him or her a long, romantic kiss every day when he or she comes home from work — these are the actions that keep the romantic fires burning, Rivera said.
One of the things couples learn in Marriage Encounter is how to improve communication, Rivera added. She noted that there’s a difference between truly talking to your spouse and “updating your schedule.”
“That runs a business well, but it doesn’t grow a marriage,” she said.
One way to improve communication is to take ownership of one’s feelings, the Brasleys noted. For example, when discussing a difficult problem with your spouse, express how you feel about a situation, but don’t blame your spouse for that feeling.
“We really stress on a weekend that there’s no one we can change but ourselves,” Deacon Brasley said.
His wife added that spouses have a choice in how they respond to situations. She noted, for example, that on one day, she can choose to become upset over a messy living room, and on another day, see it a sign that the family she loves is home.
Deacon Brasley also noted that it’s not mandatory for spouses to act on grumpy feelings, and to do so can spread unhappiness not only to one’s mate but to one’s children as well.
“I can choose to act on my feelings, or I could give (Belinda) a hug, give her a kiss, talk to her about how her day has been,” he said.
Both Rivera and the Brasleys emphasize that Marriage Encounter can help stable, relatively happy couples find even more about which to be happy. The Brasleys participated in their first Marriage Encounter eight years into their marriage, they said.
“We probably learned more about each other that weekend than we had in the eight years beforehand,” Deacon Brasley said.
His wife added that the weekend moved them from being two individuals living “parallel lives” to becoming a united couple.
“Going on the weekend made me want a marriage, not a partnership,” she said. “We have friends that say we’re sitting on the same seat of a roller coaster.”
Both Rivera and the Brasleys also stressed that love is not a feeling, it’s a decision — and the Brasleys added that the decision is rooted in the sacrament of marriage.
“Our sacrament, our holiness … is to love each other the best we can every day,” Belinda said, adding that that includes loving one’s spouse even when, at first, you might not be up to it. “A lot of time, the feelings follow the behavior.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Marriage Encounter weekends are slated on the following dates and at the following locations: June 24-26 at Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua; Aug. 26-28 at Notre Dame; Oct. 14-16 at the Batavia Holiday Inn; and Dec. 9-11 at Notre Dame. To learn more about Marriage Encounter, visit www.wwme.org, or contact Ed and Pam Knauf at 12 Parr Circle, Rochester, NY 14617, call them at 585/342-2430, or e-mail them at EdnPamK@msn.com.