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Catholic Vancouver May 11, 2018

Retrouvaille helps restore marriages

By silvana carr

Retrouvaille, developed in Canada in 1977, is a ministry for couples in tough times. (Pexels.com)

Michael* and Jane* had been married 17 years. Over-commitment to their careers and children’s activities left little time for their marriage relationship. The bloom had faded from their romance. 

They had fallen into the “married singles” lifestyle. Michael found solace with a co-worker. 

Jane hired a divorce lawyer; Michael followed suit. Both were miserable; but deep down neither wanted to lose their family. In the church bulletin Michael saw the notice about Retrouvaille. Jane just wanted an end to her pain and was skeptical, but agreed to attend a weekend.

Retrouvaille (French for “rediscovery”) has been described as “an industrial-strength version of Marriage Encounter.” Developed in Canada in 1977, it has spread to over 35 countries. Though Catholic-based, it is open to married couples of all faiths, or of no faith at all.  The program offers a safe setting that encourages couples to rediscover each other through respectful communication techniques. These techniques are designed to help each other identify and understand their feelings, and to manage conflict in a rational and non-judgmental manner.

Retrouvaille is especially designed for couples who are having significant problems in their marriage. It is based on the idea that the love that originally bound them together can be retrieved. The program addresses various dynamics. In some cases, marriages have simply grown stale with the passage of time – the romance has gone, life has become humdrum. In others, couples have grown apart through various forms of over-commitment: to careers; to volunteer programs and social activities; or even involvement in third-party relationships and various forms of addictions. Tens of thousands of couples seriously contemplating separation or divorce, even those already divorced, have found Retrouvaille to be their lifeline.

Retrouvaille is a peer ministry. The initial weekend is not a retreat, marriage counselling, or a sensitivity group. Couples are not obliged to share their stories with the rest of the group and anonymity is guaranteed.  The weekend team consists of a priest, as well as three couples who will share their stories of how they had rekindled their relationship through the techniques learned in Retrouvaille.

Post-weekend sessions are held over the following six or seven weeks. They reinforce and build on concepts and techniques introduced during the weekend. 

After completing the post-weekend sessions, couples are invited to attend a monthly gathering called CORE – Continuing Our Retrouvaille Experience. There they can find the encouragement to maintain the momentum of the earlier sessions. It helps couples avoid backsliding.

Michael and Jane completed the program and found their lives transformed to such an extent that, eight years later, they are still seriously involved in Retrouvaille as organizers and presenters. For them, they tell everyone, life has never been better.

*Names changed to protect privacy.