Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 12, 2005
Love is a decision, not a feeling
Retrouvaille guides troubled couples in restoring harmony to their marriage
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
By all appearances, Dale and Hilda Morrissette are today happy in their marriage of more than 30 years.
They are active in St. Maria Goretti Parish. Dale is a member of the Knights of Columbus and Hilda belongs to the Catholic Women's League.
But it wasn't always that way. In its infancy, their marriage was on shaky ground when they learned of the special needs of their two adopted children. They discovered the children had fetal alcohol syndrome.
"I was not prepared and I did not know how to handle it. I felt I was a terrible mother," said Hilda, 55. "I did not like who I was anymore. I felt I carried the majority of the load."
Dale, 70, is a retired salesman. His business required him to travel.
The blame game
They began picking at each other without knowing why. They blamed themselves, each other and their families because they lacked the skills to help their children. There was guilt and resentment. They became judgmental towards each other. They felt betrayed.
"We had pre-conceived notions that everything would be normal," Dale said.
The couple coped by talking to a battery of psychologists and trying numerous programs to help the children.
A dark hole remained in their relationship until five years ago when a friend of Hilda's mentioned an ecumenical program called Retrouvaille.
"We know now that we love our kids and we did the best we could. We accept what happened," Hilda said.
Retrouvaille, or "rediscovery" began in Quebec in 1977 by the Catholic Church as a weekend gathering for couples experiencing hurting marriages. It was adapted into English in Toronto a year later. The program was revised and strengthened to include 12 post-weekend sessions after the couple completes the initial weekend. The couple can then continue through CORE: Continuing Our Retrouvaille Experience.
Retrouvaille is presented by three married couples and a priest. The program tries to have, as leaders, couples who have suffered deep emotional trauma in their relationships. The couples offer hope as they share their personal stories of struggle, reconciliation and healing.
The weekend helps husbands and wives to communicate and gain an awareness of themselves as persons and of their relationship.
"We are all the same. We have all been through something difficult. That's life," Hilda said.
The Morrissettes are grateful for the experience because they have been taught more than they would have discovered otherwise. They believe it was God's plan to choose them to parent their adopted children.
Time to give back
"We stay with the program because we want to give back some of what we received," said Dale, who also brought three children to their marriage from an earlier marriage.
The Retrouvaille weekend runs from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon. The 12 talks following the weekend are given in six sessions over a period of six weeks.
"The initial weekend is not a two-day miracle cure," said Ann Lewis, 64, a Retrouvaille community facilitator with her husband, Elton, 70.
"The follow-up sessions are for keeping what we learned alive in our marriage. It can be very easy to drop back into old habits. A good marriage is a full-time job." Retrouvaille stresses that damage to a marriage occurs over time. It takes time for it to heal as well. The program is open to all faiths.
"This program is about relationship building, not religion," Ann said.
The Lewises will celebrate their 45th anniversary this year. Ann claims that anniversary would not be be happening if it were not for Retrouvaille. "We had been married for 38 years when we hit a crisis in our lives that had to do with one of our adult children. We started blaming each other.
"I had read about Retrouvaille in a magazine. My birthday was approaching and Elton asked what I would like for a gift. I handed him the article and said I would like us to go.
"Our marriage has never been better."
Driving home from the hotel Sunday afternoon, Elton told Ann he thought they should become involved in the program. Ann said she was dumbfounded. Seven years later, they are the coordinators for Edmonton and area.
"I saw life from a different perspective," Elton said. "I learned how to communicate and be non-combative. Retrouvaille helps people distinguish the difference between talking and communicating safely."
Paul and Dodi McCann are teachers in the Parkland school district.
They have four children from previous marriages and a granddaughter.
Dodi had read a short statement about the program in her church bulletin. It suggested a call to the Catholic Pastoral Centre if a couple was experiencing problems.
"We were really struggling at the time," said Dodi, 50.
She and Paul had begun to ignore each other. For them, it was an alternative to their constant arguments.
"Now we are happily married," said Paul, 46. "The program reignited the reason why we got married. Sometimes you start the downward spiral where you do not see any good in the relationship or the person you married. Retrouvaille gave us an opportunity to look in the opposite direction and the tools to build on to get to where we started from."
The McCanns say they once had a fairytale notion that love lasts forever and disagreements should resolve themselves.
Rather than dealing with the mounting problems in their relationship, they put on a brave face as if nothing was wrong.
Now, they facilitate three of the 12 follow-up sessions, talking openly about that moment in their relationship.
"We are not counsellors. We do not teach," Ann Lewis said. "The program has its own outline and direction. We are people who have walked in troubled shoes and we tell our own stories. We have had couples in the first year of their marriage and couples like ourselves. We learn a faithful, positive and loving way to communicate."
Ann said love is a decision, not a feeling.
Partners must get up every morning and make the decision to love. When a relationship starts to experience trouble, couples tend to get rid of the marriage rather than trying to overcome the troubles.
Dedicated to each other
"Retrouvaille works only when both people want to save their marriage and they follow what they learn from the program."
The Lewises are currently taking reservations for the program that begins Oct. 21 in Edmonton. Reservations are on a first-come basis and must be received by Oct. 10.
Details are available by calling Elton and Ann Lewis at (780) 986-1008, or by emailing . They can also call the Family Life and Health Care Commission (Catholic Pastoral Centre) at (780) 469-1010.
More information about Retrouvaille is available at www.retrouvaille.org.