Last month my husband and I spoke at a marriage enrichment retreat in Ohio. It was a lovely event that offered encouraging talks from several married couples, breakout sessions, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as Mass and a very nice date night opportunity. By the time the event actually rolled around, the retreat was fairly well attended.
However, in discussions with the planning committee, they expressed frustration with the fact that many couples waited until the last minute to register. They were perplexed as to how such an encouraging and affordable event could continually be such a hard sell year after year. The same couples who think nothing of spending more than twice the amount on a nice dinner won’t commit to an event that will provide a lot more fruit for their marriage than what the local restaurant has on the menu.
This gathering wasn’t unique. We’ve found this to be true locally in our own state of Michigan as well as across the country and even among the faithful. When it comes to marriage events, especially in the retreat format, it seems that registrants wait until the very last minute or ignore the opportunity altogether.
But why? With all the surveys showing marriages still struggling and often ending in divorce, it would seem like couples should be flocking to these conferences. One recent report from the Pew Center found that divorce is on the rise among couples who have been married for long periods of time. Other research shows that the couples who pray together stay together. The Couple Prayer marriage ministry (www.coupleprayer.com) often cites the statistics that among couples who pray together regularly, the divorce rate, which nationally still stands at one out of two marriages, drops to one out of 1,105. And marriage retreats can be a major catalyst in bringing husbands and wives closer together, especially in helping them learn how to pray.
As I continued my conversation that Saturday evening with the event planner, she said she finally discovered at least part of the answer. She was chatting with a married friend of hers who was actually helping her with the retreat and assumed her friend would soon be registering. To her surprise, her friend had no intention of going. And when asked for a reason she replied in a very straightforward manner, “stuff comes up and then we have to deal with it in our relationship.” The organizer was so stunned by the answer she didn’t know what to say. Isn’t that the point of retreats and conferences, marriage-related or otherwise?
As crazy as the “stuff comes up” answer is, in a strange way it makes perfect sense. Speaking from personal experience, dealing with “stuff” is tough. It’s tough enough to deal with our own “stuff” on an individual level but even more daunting in a relationship. It took me and my husband years of effort, guidance from the Church and lots of prayer to heal our marriage. When we attended a few retreats, “stuff” indeed came up. Now we’re grateful because it enabled us to understand each other better and to strengthen our faith as well as our relationship.
We all have lots of stuff. But unless we learn how to unload the burdens that may be weighing down our marriages, the loads will be too heavy to handle and we’re likely to sink into despair. So, if there’s a good marriage retreat being offered in your diocese, hop on board. Let Jesus and the Faith help you to not just get your head above water but to chart a different course that will lead to smoother sailing with God steering the ship.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and SiriusXM Channel 130.