What happens on a Marriage Encounter?
To give a glimpse of what actually happens, we will share excerpts from several presentations given by inmates and their spouses* who served on teams at a Marriage Encounter. We have chosen one or more presentation from each of the four phases of a M.E., which are:
“I” PHASE: Participants learn to appreciate themselves as individuals.
“WE” PHASE: Couples learn communication skills and come to accept each other in a way that rekindles their love relationship.
“WE/GOD” PHASE: Couples examine their relationship with God.
“WE/GOD/WORLD” PHASE: Couples let their love spiral out to others, and set goals for the future.
Phase I: The “I” Phase: Encounter with Self
Excerpts follow from a presentation on Encounter with Self by Carol and Paul, who served on NMEPM teams while Paul was incarcerated at a state prison.
CAROL: My parents divorced when I was in grade school and I spent weekends and summers being juggled between grandparents. I became spoiled and manipulative, requesting many material things. By the same token, I wanted to be liked, so I tried not to give anyone cause to be upset with me.
PAUL: To discover who we are, we need to look at our past. No one in my past is to blame for who and what I am today, but I am a product of that past. When I was six, my father died, and I became a miniature man of the house. It was my duty to get my brother and sister dressed and fed before my grandmother arrived and I left for school. I learned to be quiet, friendly, polite and do exactly what I was told. Inside I was seething with resentment and anger. I hated criticism and became overly defensive.
CAROL: I thought being a good wife meant getting what I wanted without a big fight. I hated when Paul got mad at me, and I tried not to upset him. I didn’t respect myself and I didn’t feel respected by Paul. I tried to keep peace with everyone, to please everyone. But somewhere along the way, I lost myself. I didn’t know how to communicate my needs, my feelings, my love.
PAUL: My self-encounters revealed that I had fears – fear of poverty, fear of not being accepted, fear of not living up to some “unspoken” expectations of my wife, fear of appearing foolish. This last fear led me to believe that if you have enough money, no one laughs. Anger covered all my fears. I became angry if Carol didn’t have dinner ready, if the children left toys outside, etc. I was a frustrated, angry individual, incapable of showing love.
CAROL: Marriage Encounter has changed so much of my life and it certainly enhanced the way I feel about myself. It’s through our dialogue that we have learned to communicate, and to trust, respect and love each other.
PAUL: Who wants to admit they are less than perfect. Yet we cannot become better unless we admit what was/is wrong. So then, look inward. Even though we find that we’re not perfect, we need to remember the banner saying, “I am good. God does not make junk.” As we encounter ourselves, we can know and like ourselves better, and therefore be able to love each other more deeply.
To help you start your Encounter with Self, examine the picture below of children playing in a tree. Each child exhibits a different type of personality. Which child seems most like you? Why?
Questions for Personal Reflection on Self-Encounter:
- List my good qualities (the things I like about myself) . . .
- List my poor qualities (things like selfishness, pride, etc.) . . .
- What specific personal qualities do I see in myself that make it more difficult for those I love to love me?
- Am I happy with myself? ____________ Do I want to change anything about me? _________ If yes, what?
LOOKING INWARD: A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY . . . . LEADING TO FREEDOM!
Text by Father Lou Guntzelman Cincinnati, Ohio, author of So Heart and Mind Can Fill, and A Country Called Life.
We dread becoming more conscious of ourselves and the realities of life. That’s why denial holds such sway in our lives. We can only stand a bit of reality at a time.
From earliest years, we’re protective of ourselves. At times it’s a matter of survival. Some experiences are too painful or fearful to deal with, some realities seem better left alone. As children, feeling powerless to change such situations, we quickly learn to rely on self-protective defenses of repression and denial.
- Repressing forces the memory of an event into the unconscious mind;
- denial refuses to acknowledge reality.
We continue these defenses throughout a lifetime, shielding ourselves from hard-to-admit truths.
To assist in this task, we also use other methods to help us repress and deny – like busyness and certain addictions. At any age we tend to push troublesome realities out of conscious awareness. We deny our personal weaknesses, past traumatic events, and even the uncomfortable fact that one day we will die. It’s actually easier to deny reality than deal with it. It’s not right, not healthy, but easier.
Things that are repressed and denied make up what is called our “shadow”, so named because it comprises facts hidden from the light of our awareness.
It is important for us to realize, however, that everything hidden within us is still operative. What is hidden affects us indirectly. It slips out in moods, sarcasm, or indecent behavior; it can be the cause of headaches, anxiety, stress and depression. Our outside health is tremendously affected by our inside health.
Even relationships can he seriously impacted by unrecognized and unshared elements of our lives. That is one of the reasons communication is so crucial for healthy relationships. Unfaced fears, feelings, guilt and a host of other denied parts of us can hold us back from loving and being loved more freely.
There are two possible approaches we can take toward the things we repress and deny. We can keep trying to hide them from ourselves and keep the door shut and the light of awareness turned off. Or, we can decide to go meet them and deal healthfully with their presence.
Many more of us choose the former than the latter because the latter is frightening and requires courage and much work. At times it is extremely beneficial to have the help of a competent counselor – emphasis on competent. The blind can’t lead the blind.
Those of us who choose the first way of dealing with our shadow usually have a great distrust of being human, of possessing feelings and a body. We believe if we acknowledge our human impulses they will always run wild, and do terrible things. So we rely on repression and denial, on more rules, tighter morality, and higher fences.
When we choose the second way of dealing with our shadow world, we choose the better way. We cannot afford to look away from what is within us, good or bad. We can’t shove a burning wastebasket in the closet and pretend it is taken care of. It smolders, and can burn down the house. We must start by acknowledging our dark side. We don’t deny that it is there, nor call it friend, but by honestly meeting it we can better plan to keep from being overwhelmed by it. In fact, greater shadow awareness can lead to greater morality.
Things that are repressed and denied make up what is called our “shadow”, so named because it comprises facts hidden from the light of our awareness.
Spend some quiet time reflecting upon the meaning of Fr. Lou’s words in your life.
Phase II: The “We Phase” – Marriage in the Modern World
Marriage in the Modern World is one of several steps in the “WE” phase of the Marriage Encounter. Following are excerpts from a presentation by Gerri and Rick, given during a M.E. while Rick was incarcerated at an FCI.
RICK: Times were hard and money was not much to meet our bills. I had so much work and so very little time at home. Our communications were terrible. We either argued or hardly talked at all. I often went to a bar on my way home.
Then business picked up and I could see a glimmer of hope, when my friend of all times gave me a free membership card with the B.O.P. I felt like this thirty-six-month nightmare should not have happened and I ask myself “why?”.
Early in my stay here I was told to forget my family and let them go on their own; to divorce Gerri was the kind thing to do.
GERRI: Most people, when they learn Rick is in prison say, “Are you staying married to him?” At first I used to go into great detail about the circumstances of Rick’s sentence. Since our Marriage Encounter I simply respond, “Love is a decision and so is marriage.”
In this step we’re to use a handout to examine how we contribute to the difficulties in our marriage. I found this a hard step, but most helpful. It’s always been easier to blame Rick than to admit my faults. But as I shared my faults, he shared his. It was very humbling. We both became vulnerable.
RICK: I approached this step with a lot of fear. How would Gerri react? How many did I miss? I was embarrassed to see how blind I had been. I told Gerri how I felt about many things: my behavior, my attitudes, the way I treat her, and how much I love her and need her love. We were open and honest with each other. This was our first step to a new relationship.
GERRI: Admitting our faults and opening up to each other was such a freeing experience. It was like getting all the garbage out and throwing it away. I felt like we were given the opportunity to start all over again.
RICK: After we were through sharing, I had a better understanding of what Gerri needed from me, and what I could do that would help us in the future. I marvel at what we accomplished through Marriage Encounter. When we were together on the outside, we never communicated like we do now – in the visiting room, by mail, by phone. We pray together, and for each other. We’ve never been this happy. It’s like turning the clock backwards and starting all over again. I can honestly say I’d rather be in prison and have the relationship I have now with my wife and God, than to be a free man and go back to the way things were.
SYMPTOMS OF A SPIRITUAL DIVORCE EXERCISE
It is now time to reflect on symptoms of Spiritual Divorce that may be present in your marriage. The instructions and list of symptoms that follow will help you.
A) Read through the list and check those symptoms which you are experiencing in your marriage.
B) Write a letter to your spouse explaining how you contribute to those symptoms. Express your feelings as you write your reflections, and write lovingly. Do not blame, analyze or try to solve problems. Remember feelings are neither right nor wrong; they are your natural response to the situation.
C). When you receive and read your spouse’s reflection, read once for understanding, and once again for your heart.
List of Symptoms:
- Prolonged unhappiness or sadness in our marriage.
- Mutual coldness or indifference.
- Frequent tension, fear, bad temper, arguments.
- Lack of concern for the other’s interests or problems.
- Lack of tenderness, small courtesies, gentleness, or respect.
- No intimate communication; fear of being open and honest.
- A feeling of being alone, insecure, misunderstood, or avoided.
- Atmosphere of insincerity, and distrust.
- More confidence in a third person than in your spouse.
- Avoiding situations that need attention. Failure to plan together.
- Superficial life and continuous escapes – such as liquor, drugs, work, sports, television, etc.
- Attitude of selfishness; self-centered demands on our marriage.
- Lack of enthusiasm, faith and hope in our love and in our marriage.
- Individual spiritual life (keeping it private from the other).
- Lack of appreciation for my/your contribution to our marriage.
Any others not listed.
A HELPFUL TIP:
If the event (symptom) is past but the feelings are present, describe the feelings. In other words, if it’s over and healed, why bring it up? But if you think it will affect you again, perhaps you need to talk about it.
SUBJECTS FOR UNDERSTANDING
In the last step we examined the Symptoms of Spiritual Divorce to see if any are present in our marriage relationship. The major cause of spiritual divorce is a lack of understanding in basic areas of our relationship. To help avoid periods of spiritual divorce, we need to have dialogue. Through dialogue we can better understand each other’s feelings and thoughts on a wide range of subjects, such as work, time, money, family, relatives, intimacy and other topics as listed below.
MONEY is the subject chosen by Gary and Lacey on which they needed to grow in understanding. They gave this presentation when they served on a Marriage Encounter team in Florida where Gary was incarcerated.
Gary: When I started to embezzle, I never dreamed I’d get caught and our life would fall apart. I’m serving time for greed. Yeah, I thought money was my friend. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I liked the results. I liked the life money gave me. I liked the attention it brought me. I felt like I was on top – I was in control.
Lacey: I suspected Gary wasn’t making the kind of money that could afford this lifestyle. But when I questioned him about it, he became upset. He rejected my feelings of concern, accusing me of being ungrateful for all his work. I was frightened by his display of anger. So, I avoided talking about money at all cost. I felt terribly confused and very misunderstood.
Gary: That Lacey stopped talking about money was fine with me. I was getting nervous about what I was doing. My anger was covering up my fear of getting caught. I decided to stop –well SOON! I needed a little more money, or so I thought. In reality, I liked the thrill of pulling off another deal. It was my “high”.
Besides, I was able to help out my buddies and my brother. I loved that feeling of being special and really appreciated. I know deep down, I was afraid if I didn’t keep it up I’d lose their admiration. I was also afraid I’d lose Lacey’s love for me.
I was beginning to quiver inside, like I was somehow falling apart.
Lacey: When Gary was arrested I felt guilty for not doing more to stop him. I felt tricked, even betrayed. I also was scared to death because I didn’t know what was going to happen to him – or me – or us.
Gary: We lost almost everything – including our friends. I thank God I didn’t lose Lacey. She stuck by me. It helped us in many ways when I pleaded guilty. I knew I was guilty and hoped for leniency. I also wanted to save us the money in legal fees.
Lacey:Suddenly my whole life fell apart. I was overwhelmed with all the legal problems mostly due to living beyond our means. Bills were mounting for living expenses, doctor bills, car payments and house payments. Gary didn’t have a job in the prison yet, so he was completely dependent on me for finances. I was now the “bread winner” for both of us. I had to get a job, but I was emotionally a wreck, and unprepared to go looking for work. On top of it, our friends abandoned us. To some extent I understood because they didn’t want to be implicated. But they could have helped me get a job, or something. I didn’t do anything wrong. Were they really friends?
Gary: When I settled into the routine here, I started calling Lacey. Since she didn’t have time to write, I called as often as I could. I also asked her to put money into my account, so I could buy things at the commissary. I was nearly in a panic trying to stay in touch with Lacey, and hide the pain of prison life
Lacey:Lonely, and dealing with so many problems, I was happy to hear from Gary –that is, until I got the phone bill. It came right when he asked for more money. I was really angry with Gary for putting me in this position. His housing, food, medical expenses and daily necessities were all taken care of in prison, while I was drowning in a sea of financial problems. I felt panic coming over me. That’s when I turned to my faith.
Gary: We were still dealing with a lot of money issues when we made our Marriage Encounter. We looked over the Subjects for Understanding. Were we brave enough to tackle the subject of money?
When I read Lacey’s letter, my eyes began to open. I had no idea how difficult her life had become. I felt so bad, and so out of control, I cried and cried. She needed to tell me everything – to get it out. And, as difficult as it was for me, I needed to listen to everything she had to say, without interruption. If she was going to stick by me, that’s the least I could do. She needed my loving support, and here I was adding to her financial burdens.
Lacey: I read Gary’s personal reflection. I had no idea how worried and scared he was before his arrest. He seemed so strong to me. But in his letter he told me how humiliated he felt and how devastating it’s been to go from being on top to feeling like trash.
As we dialogued I was slowly able to understand what it’s been like for Gary. How hard it’s been for him to adjust to prison life, and how scared he was of losing me. His openness gave me an awareness of his love for me. He was willing to risk everything to show his love.
While it was hard for me to be open with Gary, I trusted him because he was so open with me. Looking back, I knew in my heart he was doing something wrong. I knew he’d get caught. Why didn’t I try harder to stop him? I wasn’t that afraid of him. I had to admit that I actually enjoyed the freedom the money provided me — I didn’t have to work, and I could buy almost anything I wanted. I, too, had greed in my heart. I now felt ashamed of how foolish and blind I had been.
Gary: I thought Lacey’s openness took a lot of courage. I knew she told me because she loves me. Slowly, I began to understand what Lacey had been going through. We both were hurting and I didn’t want to add to her pain.
Lacey: Our understanding each other was the most important thing. This adversity has humbled us. With God’s help we were able to forgive each other and ourselves. Now we could work together, putting the pieces of our life back in place. I didn’t have to deal with all the problems alone.
MONEY is a subject we’ll be dialoging on for a long time. Our response to this time of adversity will make our marriage stronger, and not lead to Spiritual Divorce, and more serious crises. We resolved to grow in understanding.
SUBJECTS FOR UNDERSTANDING EXERCISE
Read through the list of subjects below. Check those on which you don’t feel understood by your spouse.
1. In your PR (Personal Reflection) write your feelings and thoughts on the subjects you marked in the form of a love letter.
2. If your spouse is also writing on these subjects, exchange your letters by mail. Read your spouses PR entirely. Then read one subject at a time and respond to it in writing. For added tips, see the link, “Dialogue by Mail”.
HEALTH Fatigue, nerves, depression; proper diet; adequate rest; use of drugs, tobacco; changes in health; worries; concerns.
VISITING Importance, frequency, privacy; bringing children; other visitors; making the most of visiting time; letters; phone calls.
MONEY Living within our income; feelings and concerns about finances; agreement of the use of money; living arrangements; donations.
WORK Mutual interest in each other’s work and activities; our role changes; adjustments; expectations; satisfaction; using work as an escape; work taking precedence over time for each other or children; schooling or job training; planning for the future.
OUR RELATIONSHIP Commitment to our marriage; trust; communicating openly; forgiving; understanding; moral support; personal growth; building each other’s confidence; dealing with differences in temperament, values, goals.
INTIMACY Acceptance of maleness/femaleness; need to feel appreciated; need for tender-ness, love; sharing intimate thoughts, hopes and dreams.
HOLIDAY Celebrating birthdays and holidays, importance; ways to make pleasant/special for us, for our family; dealing with loneliness during holidays.
RELATIONSHIP Trust in God; praying privately, together, with others; praying for each other; WITH GOD lack of harmony in our spiritual growth; attending services; reading scripture.
CHILDREN Communicating/building a relationship with each child; agreement on their care, discipline, education, religious training, career choices, helping our children to make their own choices, to take responsibility, to care about others.
RELATIVES Getting along with them; amount of time and attention given; showing appreciation; interference in our marriage by relatives.
FRIENDS Yours, nine, mutual, inside, outside; needing, trusting, appreciating, helping, keeping; amount of time with friends; social life (too much or too little); effect of friends on our relationship.
DEATH Yours, mine, children, parents, others. Fears; provisions.
OTHER SUBJECTS _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________
Phase III: The “We/God” Phase- Marriage Spirituality
During the Marriage Encounter there are several presentations on God blessing marriages and wanting to help us. Here excerpts are given from a presentation by Bev and Joel while they were serving on a M.E. team in a penitentiary where Joel was incarcerated.
BEV: Since Joel’s incarceration, we have grown in our relationship with God and with each other. We agree that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, but we have much discussion on what “born again” means. On this point we have agreed to disagree. We both love Christian authors, speakers and music. We use the same two devotional books and the Bible each day. We may be separated physically, but we are one in Spirit.
JOEL: My personal relationship with God was formulated in my youth, but only after committing a serious crime did I make a personal commitment to Christ. It was then that my prayer life became a reality, faith had substance, and I became aware of a personal and living God. Indeed, I felt loved, accepted, and forgiven, all vital to my total well-being. Through incarceration we know that many things are out of our hands… but not out of God’s hands.
BEV: Joel and I almost broke up while he was here in prison. During our separation, his younger teenage daughter called and told me she thought she was pregnant. I went with her to see a doctor, and told her I thought she should tell her dad. She wanted me to go with her. Joel and I got back together that day. I later found out that many inmates, guards, family members, and mutual friends were concerned about us and praying for our reconciliation.
JOEL: With God’s help, we weathered the crisis, both in our relationship and in my daughter’s pregnancy. I’m glad to report that she married the father of the baby, and we now have a wonderful grandchild. Bev attended the wedding for both of us, and they now live near her. I rest better knowing that they are there for Bev, and Bev is there for them.
BEV: In all these incidents I believe God was in charge. I saw God working through others to make His will known to us, to draw us closer in our commitment to Him and to each other. The words in a song we like say, “In His time God makes all things beautiful, in His time.” In our life together, we have witnessed this fact. We feel very thankful and blessed because of the great things God had done for us and those we love.
MARRIAGE SPIRITUALITY EXERCISE
- I would describe my relationship with God as …
- Are we blending our individual spiritual lives into a couple relationship with God? How does this make me feel?
- What is separating us from God?
- What is drawing us closer to God?
- What can we do to improve our relationship with God?
Phase IV: “We/God/World” Phase-Marriage Commitment
Encountering couples are encouraged to put into practice the things they became aware of through the Marriage Encounter experience in the form of a commitment. Fr. Gabriel Calvo, the founder of M.E. says, “The carrying out of this commitment must be ranked in accordance with the Vision of God outward in a spiral fashion – not in circles – from he person to the couple and from the couple to the family, relatives, friends, the community, etc.”
Short excerpts from two inmate team couples tell how they are putting their commitment into practice:
JOEL: Bev and I believe that God has called us to minister to the various needs of other people in this setting through intercessory prayer. We often pray for the same couples and needs. On more than one occasion we have been asked to “stand in the gap” for others, and have prayed with them in the visiting room during their hour of need. Recently a couple’s daughter was having brain surgery and we shared their concern in prayer with them. When news arrived that the surgery was successful, we all shared in joy and gave thanks to the Lord.
BEV: Joel and I feel a special calling to minister to others who are in the “same boat” we are… to share our joys, our goofs, our load, our wounds, our Lord. We pray regularly for the needs of others, inside and outside the wall. Sometimes I recognize the relative of an inmate at the hospital where I work. Hospitalization can be frightening, but if a patient knows one person who works there, a lot of fears may be alleviated and that usually helps the healing process. Sometimes Joel and I facilitate a link between these family members. As we reach out to others we find purpose in this time of separation.
RICK: I had a very close friend that provided me with an excuse not to reach out to others. I spent a lot of time with this friend. I’m not going to mention any names, but his initials are T.V. That’s right – Television. My friend and I could escape to wondrous places. We were right there with all the action – world news, sports, adventure.
On our Marriage Encounter I realized how my TV time could be better spent writing letters to family and friends. Gerri can’t keep up with these contacts because of her long hours at work, so I made a commitment to reach out to others in both our names by writing letters. I haven’t been real good, but each month I’m getting better. The best part is I’m beginning to get letters in return, and sometimes they’re better than the TV. This gives me more nice things to tell Gerri about, and makes it easier to write the next letter.
Planning for a Better Tomorrow
- Specific areas in which I will try to improve: (Check areas you would like to work on.)
_____ Health _____ Relatives _____ Spiritual life _____ Use of time _____ Use of talents _____ Use of money _____ Children _____ Our marriage _____ Other
- Specific fault upon which I will work …
- Specific activity to which I will try to dedicate myself, such as writing more letters …
- People whom I can help, and in what way …
- Specific means of improving relations within my family.