Strange title isn’t it? My dictionary defines encounter as “an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something.” How can a marriage be unexpected or casual? Very strange reading the post title today. Marriage can certainly turn out to have unexpected consequences. Some marriages can be casual, but the majority are quite expected and often organized in minute detail. Perhaps the meaning relates to unexpected insights in an existing marriage. The program name and title belong to the Roman Catholic church which developed and still continue this program. More about that now:
Forty years ago though the term itself was not uncommon. Marriage Ecounter was the name of a program developed by the Roman Catholic church to deal with what they identified as spiritual divorce. The program was well organized complete with workbooks, bumper stickers, etc. I am not RC myself, so how did I become involved? One of my engineers at PP&L in Allentown, John, came up to my office and asked if I was free to talk with him. I was and answered “sure, come on in what’s on your mind” He answered that he and his wife had attended one of the training sessions, liked it and took away useful information. Perhaps something Marge and I might be interested in. This took some courage on his part to suggest something personal with me during work. We were fairly close in age and I am sure that in driving from one location to another we did discuss our personal lives, including marriage and family problems.
I said, ” sounds interesting, can you get me some information about this program including contact info and I will look into it.” I found an opportunity to start discussing this with Marge. Of course, all I had was second-hand information. Remembering back, Marge’s concern was that she would be expected to get up in front of a group of strangers and “spill her guts” about our problems as she saw them.
At that time, we were attending a Moravian church in Coopersburg, PA not far from where we lived. They did have a follow-up program based on the Marriage Encounter format. I suggested she talk with someone she knew who was involved. She did, and she agreed to take the training class.
Marriage Encounter is still quite active after 50 years and I enclose the following quote from their site as the principles are still the same. It is not a program of therapy/marriage counseling.
What happens on a Weekend? ( from the site WWME.ORG)
“Marriage Encounter Weekends are a special time for a married couple away from all distractions: work, kids, bills, and other pressures and concerns. When was the last time you had a weekend like that? It takes place at a local hotel or facility where presentations are given in the conference room and couples reside at the hotel/facility for the entire weekend.*
A series of presentations are made by the Presenting Team, consisting of 3 married couples and 1 priest. Each presentation builds on the last as we examine ourselves, our behaviors and attitudes, our relationship with our spouse and God. Communication tools are taught on the weekend helping couples connect in healthy, constructive ways on areas that can deepen their intimacy and connectedness.
Marriage Encounter Weekends have been given in the US since 1967. Decades of research, planning and tried and true wisdom have gone into the content of the Weekend and how it unfolds for couples and religious. We ask all participants to attend ALL talks and participate intently using the tools with their Spouse in order to maximize their experience.
All sharing between spouses is PRIVATE, and this is NOT a weekend to solve problems! This Weekend will help couples in good marriages communicate even better.”
Marriage Encounter began with a weekend experience as explained in the second paragraph above. We lived in PA at the time, and the location for the event was in Wernersville, not far from the city of Reading. The event itself was in a now-vacated monastery named Villa Maria.
Our encounter was held the weekend of Jan 14, 1977. The location was pleasant though basic. It was located on the top of a small hill and I did have some trouble dealing with a bit of snow but got through. The encounter was well organized and it was much better there than in a hotel I am sure. the sessions were well planned and the accommodations were basic but quite satisfactory. The facilitator for our section sent a very nice personalized letter to us in advance. I have nothing but praise for the planning and organization that went into this.
The heart of the program is called the 10 and 10. This is a dialog between both partners with about 10 minutes allotted to each. The dialog has four elements for each partner:
W – write a love letter every day
E – exchange tenderly as with a precious gift of love
D – dialog, talk about our feelings
S – select a question for the next day
The purpose of the weekend is to develop these basic ideas and then give each couple time to practice. Each letter is supposed to begin with the following statement or variations of “How Does it Make Me Feel —” We did our best. The whole environment including the old monastery was conducive to sharing what we wrote and personal intimacy.
For me the hard part was, and is I guess, getting in touch with my feelings. Scandinavians keep pretty much to themselves, don’t talk about feelings much less even become aware of them. Too bad I never took a “feeling” class. My usual response was to start with something like “I I think blah, blah…”
Marge was very intelligent and very expressive. I saved all our handouts and personal letters from the training encounter and later as we tried to apply what we experienced. Marge made a comment in one of her letters that the dialog concept was much like losing weight. Both were good ideas but difficult to really commit herself to do.
We did practice what we learned, at least to some extent until perhaps 1979. I was distracted by my concern about my job and future. We eventually left PA, moved here to NV the first of 1980. We did make an attempt to start the dialog again in 1981. It didn’t last very long. Perhaps this was because we did not have any support group and for us, Marriage Encounter just went into the dustbin of the past. Still, I think it was worth the effort and just perhaps some of the insights did become remembered.
The world of today is much different than the one 40 years ago. Just think social media and opioid crisis. I checked Google and there still are encounters in our area. I do not hesitate in recommending looking into it for anyone even casually interested.