by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — If you’re in a struggling, hurting marriage, Joe and Danette Searle would like to tell you three things.
You’re not alone.
Don’t give up.
There is hope.
The Searles, members of Ascension Parish in Overland Park, learned these three things from personal experience. Their marriage was struggling, too, when they found help in Retrouvaille, a peer-to-peer program.
Retrouvaille (pronounced “reh-trow-vie”) is a French word meaning “re- discovery.” This program helps couples rediscover the love in their marriage. Retrouvaille is international and Catholic in origin, but welcomes married couples of all faith traditions.
“Retrouvaille is for couples that are struggling, don’t have the [needed] communications skills, and keep dealing with the same issues over and over and can’t seem to get past them,” said Danette.
Joe and Danette are Retrouvaille community coordinators, responsible for leading the program in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
They made their first Retrouvaille in October 1998.
“We wanted to get involved because of what it did for us and what we saw it did for other couples,” said Joe.
The Searles agreed to become one of the three presenting couples and wrote their own talk, giving their first in 2001.
Couples begin their participation in Retrouvaille with a three-day, two-night weekend. During this weekend, they attend presentations by three married couples and a priest.
The topics of these presentations include: listening, values, conflict, God’s place in the marriage, the decision to love, forgiveness, sexuality, trust, intimacy, how to begin again, and the sacramental nature of marriage. The couples also learn how to communicate.
“People sometimes wonder if they’ll have to share their own issues,” said Danette. “No couple is asked to share their problems with anyone else. It is private between that couple.”
“If they handle it in the structure that is provided, it’s a safe environment to be able to work through their issues,” she continued. “We find a lot of couples appreciate that structure, because it allows them to share their feelings, maybe for the first time in years.”
After the weekend, the couples participate in six or more post-weekend sessions over the period of three months.
Not all couples choose to attend a local session. Whether for privacy or convenience, many couples travel to other cities for their weekend and return home for the ongoing post-weekend sessions.
For participating couples, Retrouvaille is a healthy dose of both hope and reality.
“We tend to believe that we are the only ones having these problems at this level, and it seems hopeless,” said Danette. “In reality . . . struggling marriages are the norm.”
“What couples on these weekends see is hope, because they [hear] couples who are willing to share, who have already walked this path,” she continued. “They’ve already passed through these issues and they’re on the others side. [They say] if you trust us and take this walk with us, we will show you how we got through it.”
If there is one mistake that couples make, it is waiting too long before they seek to address the problems in their marriages, she said. The earlier they work on their marriages, the easier it is for them to take up the means and methods of Retrouvaille.
Even at a later stage, however, Retrouvaille can help.
“Even in the darkest moments of your marriage, there is hope,” said Danette. “We know couples that . . . have come back from the most dire of situations, that some people would say are hopeless and society would tell them to give up.
“Now, they have some of the strongest marriages we think we’ve ever witnessed.”