by Judy Bodmer
What had happened to my husband and me? When had our relationship changed? Was it after our six-week-old son’s major surgery? Or was it when my husband Larry’s employer couldn’t pay him, so he was forced to leave his job? I was scared and needed Larry to reassure me, but he didn’t. I tried to talk to him, but my words only made things worse.
Larry opened a struggling business and we slogged through two years of hoping things would improve. I questioned if my husband loved me. If he did, wouldn’t I feel it? We were like strangers, sharing the same bed.
In the heat of an argument I said the word “divorce.” Larry didn’t flinch. Was he thinking the same thing? I wanted him to say we could work it out; that there was hope. Instead, he left the room. Maybe it was the solution to our problems. My youngest was now a year old, so I found a job and put my kids in daycare in preparation for my leaving.
I finally confided in my sister what was going on. She and her husband arranged for us to attend a weekend marriage retreat. They took our kids and paid the deposit. I didn’t want to go, but Larry was eager. Knowing it was a waste of time and money, I reluctantly went. This would prove to everyone I had tried.
On that weekend, an ordinary couple shared from their lives. They looked just like Larry and me. They said how much they had been in love but things had changed for them too. I could hardly believe someone understood what I was feeling.
One of the presenters owned his own business and Larry closely identified with him. He, like my husband, was afraid of living up to everyone’s expectations. This gave Larry the courage to share these same fears with me. He dropped his defenses and told me how hard it was to please me, his employees, his customers, his friends, and his family. He shared the pain he carried from his childhood. His openness broke through the wall I had built over the years.
I learned how to share my feelings without raising Larry’s defenses, a simple communication tool I use every day. I also learned I wasn’t a bad person, but what we were experiencing happens in a lot of marriages.
That weekend we forgave one another and started over again. At first we were scared. Would these new tools make a difference in the long run? But as the months and years passed, we slowly grew closer to each other and to God.
If you are struggling in your marriage, maybe you too can find the answers at a marriage retreat. According to Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couple Education, “Taking a weekend marriage education class can improve a couples odds by 50 percent.” We attended a Marriage Encounter Weekend, but there are a variety of conferences and formats now being offered all over the country.
Sollee says, “We used to think only bad marriages end in divorce. But it turns out a lot of people are just misinformed about how to make a marriage work.” Research shows it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of instruction a couple chooses in order to improve their marriage.
Contact your local church for retreats or classes they may be sponsoring. Worried about cost or babysitting? The leaders of these programs understand your needs and often have solutions for these problems.
If your spouse is reluctant, don’t let that keep you from going. It’s often fear of what others will think or what you’ll be asked to share or as one husband put it, “That I’ll be told I’m a lousy husband.” Be gently persistent. I’m grateful that those around me didn’t let me wiggle my way out of that weekend experience.
A counselor may run you $150 a session and a divorce begins at $10,000. But your future and your children’s future are priceless.
Best Known National Retreats
Love and Respect Conference:
Dr. Emerson E. Eggrich and his wife Sarah are convinced that two little words hidden in Ephesians 5:33 can make a difference in every marriage.
Length: Friday night and all day Saturday
Format: Live presentation in large church auditoriums. Video presentation at local church may vary.
Other: They offer a four-day intensive for troubled marriages
For more information: www.loveandrespect.com or 1-616-459-9190.
Weekend to Remember:
This retreat’s emphasis is on building memories. They teach God’s design for marriage and family in an environment that is fun, non-threatening, and sometimes hilarious.
Cost: $119/person (does not include lodging or meals)
Length: Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday
Format: Held at hotels. Sessions taught by a team of trained couples.
For more information: Familylife.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY (358-6329).
Emphasis is on God’s plan for marriage.
Cost: Cost varies depending upon sponsoring group. Some charge a fee up front, others ask for a contribution at the conclusion of the weekend.
Length: Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday
Format: Held at retreat centers or hotels. Presenters are couples who have previously attended. Couples are given time alone for personal reflection and couple sharing.
Other: Follow-up meetings are offered.
For more information: www.marriage-encounter.org or www.retrouvaille.org for couples with serious marital problems
©Judy Bodmer 2008 All Rights Reserved