Gavin and Nicole Van Kuppeveld
EDMONTON - When they were engaged, Gavin and Nicole Van Kuppeveld, now married for 22 years, heard about Marriage Encounter. They agreed that someday they would like to give it a try. Someday arrived in March 2010.
"It was a very powerful weekend," said Nicole.
"By Saturday night, both Gavin and I felt like we had run back-to-back marathons because of the emotional investment in our relationship and the depth of sharing with each other."
Marriage Encounter is a weekend experience that gives married couples the opportunity to learn a technique of loving communication that they can use for the rest of their lives. The weekend was a time to share their feelings, hopes, and dreams with each other.
"We were married five years before we had any children," said Gavin, who has two teenage daughters. "We knew what it was like to be a married couple without responsibilities. Once the children came, we gravitated to that parent role, and kind of forgot about each other."
Marriage Encounter is not a retreat, not a marriage clinic, not group sensitivity and not a substitute for counselling. For the Van Kuppevelds, it was a chance to fulfill their desire for a richer, fuller life together.
"I would say that Marriage Encounter is more for people who want to enhance their married life, and for people who have been newly married, and also for veterans. There is definitely some value for anybody," said Gavin.
"It's an opportunity to look back and celebrate the growth that you've had in your marriage and the relationship you have and also an opportunity to learn new skills. It makes a good marriage great," said Mary Ganton who, along with her husband Jim, is the registrar for the weekend retreat.
Couples who make Marriage Encounters already have a good marriage but want something more, she said. "You're not saying your marriage isn't good. You're saying that your marriage is so good that you want it the best that it can possibly be."
Marriage Encounter presents a relationship with God as a focus for a successful marriage. Although presented in the Roman Catholic faith, the weekend is open to couples from any Church.
"The really most powerful moments that weekend were renewing our commitments to God in our marriage as sort of the third leg of the stool," said Nicole. "We talked a lot about marriage as a sacrament, and how a Catholic marriage is different because it's not just the two of you - there's always a third party involved."
While other married couples were there, they did not interact with them much. Most of the work was done privately as couples.
A presenting team comprised of Father Mike Dechant and three married couples guided the participating couples. The presenting team facilitated the weekend with meaningful stories of their marriages, with which the participating couples could identify.
Certain issues within a marriage might be stumbling blocks to a happy marriage, resulting in feelings of emptiness, disillusionment. Through open dialogue, the couples learn to reconnect and overcome those barriers.
"They reflect on their relationship, when they were younger, just meeting each other and making a commitment to each other," said Jim.
"They reflect upon their wedding day, some of the insights coming from that, so they can reconnect with where they were."
The weekend involves sessions with the presenting team, and time in private dialogue. Some of the conversations are brought into play through love letters to each other.
For Gavin, the most impacting moment of the weekend came early when the couple had to address what each other's most endearing quality was.
"It really got the mind in the right place because now you're thinking about the other person and how they feel, and trying to get in touch with this person you married 22 years ago that you'd maybe gotten away from," said Gavin. "It was really powerful to experience that."
Many couples are essentially "married singles." Wrapped up in their own lives, they forget about each other. Some couples falsely view that sort of life as happiness when in reality, it's not.
"You're not really forgetting about each other, but you're kind of living parallel lives, almost like roommates," said Nicole.
Now the couple, even during hectic days, carves out time for each other. That time together in communion and intimate dialogue has ripple effects that impact the rest of their lives positively.
The next Marriage Encounter is April 15-17 at Quality Inn West Harvest.
"The reason we choose a hotel is so the couples have the necessary privacy and their own relationship can be expressed," explained Jim.
Although they have always been part of the parish at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park, and held different roles there, the Van Kuppevelds now evangelize through their marriage.
"We are definitely advocates of everybody having a go of it. It's probably the best 48 hours you could invest in your marriage," said Nicole.