All marriages experience times of stress and disconnection. This is normal. At other times we need to love, help and support of others.
Our thanks to Cathy & Clive Jones of Retrouvaille UK for this article
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Marriages go through stages that include Romance, Disillusionment, Misery and Awakening.
Romance finds us couples thinking we are so lucky, so in tune, compatible, with shared values and dreams. We have found the most wonderful person in the whole world. We just know our marriage will be different, many of our friends and families marriages founder but our marriage will be amazing and fulfilling.
Disillusionment is a stage that can happen quite early in marriage or after quite a few years. There is a nagging sense of disappointment, the recognition that our husband/wife has habits and ways of doing things we don’t like. We notice loving ways and attentiveness are less.
Life becomes hectic, managing work, children, housework, tiredness, money. It’s like we are on a treadmill, with no pause button. We may be alarmed, we can’t really talk to each other anymore. Very unsettling. Hurts pile up.
We enter the Misery stage of marriage, closing off from each other, nagging, arguments, contempt and stonewalling increase. We are not interested in the others perspective, they have become the enemy, the cause of the pain in our lives.
When the ways of managing things that we learned in our family don’t work, we sink into deeper disappointment and hopelessness and every shortcoming is magnified. Sarcasm and criticism increase. We avoid each other, take up hobbies, go out alone, work longer hours, in an unconscious attempt to block out the pain.
The children become top priority as we lose sight of what they really need; parents who care for and respect each other.
We are stuck and we look for ways of easing our heartache, and loneliness, these often make things worse.
Someone at work who really listens, does not criticise us, and indicates they find us fun and attractive. How different to what goes on at home!
Drinking, gambling, pornography can start as attempts to escape from the despair we feel.
Then, enter Covid 19! Lives and livelihoods changed overnight. Everyone unprepared. Children home all day, home schooling, extra cooking, working from home, no space to escape to, no grandparents or friends to meet up with, maybe no garden or outside space. A nightmare, full of uncertainty, tensions increase.
In the Misery stage of marriage, we are lost for words to express what we are experiencing. Blame and criticism may be heard when we try to talk, leading to yet another argument or a longer silence.
We blame each other for our pain. Imagine an earache or a toothache, relieving pain becomes the priority. We are stuck, it becomes urgent to free ourselves from this suffering. Thoughts of separation and divorce are daily companions. We reason we have tried with everything and nothing worked. It is not what we really want, but ending the marriage seems the only way.
THERE IS ANOTHER WAY! The 4th stage of marriage;
We are at a point of crisis, we could decide not to throw in the towel, to look for help instead.
To choose to get help to improve communication, listening and understanding, to manage conflict better, to replace a critical mindset with a positive one, to forgive, to rebuild trust and to heal our marriage.
This is possible! Couples can develop and learn additional skills that will help them reconnect, grow and heal their marriages. That is what Retrouvaille offers, plus the support and encouragement of the couples and priests who facilitate the programme. Retrouvaille is a ‘peer ministry’, presenter couples and priests have themselves known the pain of Misery in their marriages. In Retrouvaille, they discovered what they needed to heal their marriages. Then they trained to pass it on so other married couples can benefit. Retrouvaille provides a private welcoming place for couples to attend to their marriage.
Below; an excerpt from an address by Pope Benedict XVI
‘As your experience proves, the conjugal crisis - we speak here of grave and serious crises - constitutes a two-faced reality. On one side it appears, especially in its most painful phase, as a failure, as a proof that the dream is over or it became a nightmare and, regretfully, "there is nothing else to do".
This is the negative face. But there is often another face, unknown to us, yet seen by God.
Every crisis in fact, as nature itself teaches us, is transition to another phase of life. If this happens automatically in the inferior creatures, in man this calls for freedom, will, and, therefore, a hope bigger than desperation.
In their darkest moments couples have lost hope and therefore they need someone who guards it, they need some "us", a company of friends who, with extreme respect but also with a sincere will of good, are ready to share part of their hope with those who have lost it. And this not in a wishful and sentimental way, but in a realistic and organised way. Thus, at the moment of the breaking up you (Retrouvaille) become the concrete possibility for the couple to have a positive point of reference to which they can entrust themselves in their despair.
In fact, when their relationship breaks, couples fall in deep solitude both individually and as a couple. They lose the horizon of their communion with God, with others and with the Church. At this point your programme offers the "hook" so that they may not be totally lost and may gradually climb over the cliff. I love to think of you as custodian of a bigger hope for the couples who have lost it. Crisis, then, is transition to growth.’