Ed and Angel Shuman, a couple who attend St. Rita’s Parish in Webster, noted that a few years back, their marital house was made up of invisible walls.
“We didn’t have the tools for communicating,” Angel said.
“But we did have the tools to put up the walls,” Ed added.
Screaming and cursing at each other had long replaced talking as a preferred means of handling disputes, the couple noted. Worst of all, they routinely argued in front of their children. Angel said she couldn’t stand being with her husband, and Ed said he entertained fantasies of being single again.
On the verge of seeking a divorce, the Shumans decided to give their marriage one last shot by attending a Retrouvaille weekend for troubled couples. Ed said he was “petrified” the weekend would do nothing to save his marriage, but he and his wife instead emerged with a glimmer of hope that their marriage might be saved.
Giving troubled marriages a chance at salvation is what drives Retrouvaille, which is French for “rediscovery.” The weekend program for couples in crisis began in Quebec in 1977 and has since spread throughout the world, according to the program’s Web site at www.helpourmarriage.com. Although Catholic in origin, Retrouvaille is open to people of all faiths, or no faith at all, according to Frank Riggi, president of Rochester’s Retrouvaille. His wife, Lisa, is vice president, and the Shumans serve as publicity coordinators.
The Riggis said that a priest and three couples present the program from a Friday evening to a Sunday afternoon. Although couples are asked to make a donation to defray costs, the program is open to any couple, regardless of their financial status. Participating couples don’t share any personal information with other couples, the Riggis added, noting that the focus is on reigniting the fire of communication between an individual and his or her spouse.
“It’s rediscovering yourself as well as your spouse,” Frank said.
The three Retrouvaille couples — all of whom have participated in Retrouvaille — give presentations on such topics as listening and communication; love and commitment; intimacy; sexuality; and marriage as a sacrament, according to a program brochure. Each participating couple then discusses the topics in private. These discussions can be the beginning of a new way of looking at one’s marriage, although the Shumans cautioned that Retrouvaille is not about quick fixes.
“It takes so long for a marriage to break down,” Angel said.
“That you can’t just build it back up in one weekend,” Ed added.
Indeed, couples participating in a Retrouvaille weekend are asked to participate in six four-hour follow-up sessions, which usually take place on a Saturday or Sunday, Frank Riggi said.
Both couples said they had learned much from participating in Retrouvaille, and offered these insights for couples in troubled marriages.
* Marriage is a decision to love someone: Marriages just don’t happen, the couples said — matrimony takes work. From making a pot of coffee for your spouse to praising him or her for doing a household chore, each day offers numerous opportunities to build up instead of tearing down or criticizing one’s spouse.
* Your spouse is your best friend: Instead of running to your friends or coworkers and complaining about your spouse, take time to sort out a problematic issue with your spouse first. Too often, friends will simply say what you want to hear, and may even discourage you from taking the steps necessary to heal a marriage.
* Forgiveness is essential: It’s impossible to change what your spouse has done to hurt you, but it is possible to forgive and start anew.
* Listen: Take time to actually listen to what your spouse is saying, rather than preparing a rebuttal in your head when he or she wants to discuss a problem.
After participating in Retrouvaille, the Shumans and the Riggis said they could see the harm they had done to their marriages as individuals.
“I put a lot of blame on Frank, and I didn’t realize how much I had polluted the marriage,” Lisa Riggi said.
She added that Retrouvaille opened her to a richer spiritual life.
“I realized that weekend that I invited God to my wedding, but I didn’t invite him to our marriage,” she said.
The Riggis and the Shumans both expressed gratitude for Retrouvaille’s positive effects on their lives, and their easy laughter and constant smiles sharply contrasted with the tales of woe they said had first brought them to the program. Frank Riggi added that troubled couples might want to consider a practical reason to attend Retrouvaille.
“It’s more expensive to go through a divorce than to go through a Retrouvaille program,” Frank said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about Retrouvaille, call 800/470-2230, or visit www.retrouvaille.org. The next Rochester-area Retrouvaille is slated for Oct. 7-9 at a location to be announced.