Marriage Encounters (aka Bootcamp)


Being married is a lot of work. Especially as time passes, life happens, and communication wanes. Kids add beaucoup stress to a marriage (although possibly not as much as wanting kids does). And sudden disability? This experience has got to be the worst marriage killer we’ve yet experienced. We went from a couple with a rhythm, roughly equally divided tasks, and understanding of our routines to total chaos. Professor X’s pain levels varied hour to hour so tasks I thought would be done were not and expectations of time with the kids were crushed. During the summer I felt like I had become a single mom, although Professor X was at home all day. Although both of us were on “summer vacation”, I took on 90%+ of both kid and home responsibilities. My resentment built up, and as it did, so did his.

We both realized that things were bad and needed help. So in late August we had a long heart to heart–revealing our feelings, hurts, hopes, and fears. It was the beginning of our healing time. We also decided to pursue counseling, which I hoped would give us a plan for continuing our communication and help us through this troubled time of chronic pain and unknown diagnoses.

We like our counselor. She’s brought up some good points about our pasts that could be contributing to the hurt in our relationship. She has had some suggestions for ways to help Professor X. But she hasn’t helped us develop a plan. Organized as I am, I want a list: “here’s what you need to do to help your relationship”.

Around the beginning of September, a friend mentioned that her parents had been actively involved in Marriage Encounters, a faith based weekend to help marriages. There are 12 different Christian denominations that participate, but I wasn’t picky the sponsor denomination. I sought out the next available near-by Marriage Encounters weekend. It was certainly a God-thing that my non-Christian friend directed me to this organization, that there was a weekend only a month away, and that it was only a few miles from our home. We knew almost nothing about this organization or what the weekend would be like. But I trusted my friend and I assumed giving one weekend to just concentrate on our marriage couldn’t hurt.

Finding babysitting was not so easy. We’d never left our children before (not that we haven’t wanted time away, but we have no family around to watch the kids). The families from church that we asked were all busy with their own obligations. Time was running out and still we had no sitter. Although my mom couldn’t fly in to help, she said she would pay for my sister to do so, if my sister was willing. My sister (who shall here-by be re-named ” Wonder Auntie “) was honored and excited at the possibility. She readily took us up on our “offer” and did not back out even when she was given a job offer and coming to watch our kids would affect her first week on the job.

We knew that God had lined up the weekend after Wonder Auntie’s plan were in place.

Thankfully, one of the volunteer presenters told us “not to judge” the weekend until the conclusion. This organization was designed for the baby boomer generation, and has held onto many of those “old school” traits. From cheesy felt banners, “yea God!” chants, Johnny Appleseed blessings, out of date vocabulary, an organizational anthem (??!!), and silly clip-art, I felt like I was in a time-warp. I have a tendency to immediately turn “off” when I see these things, but I was making a concerted effort to stay attentive. It also gave Professor X and I more things to laugh about later.

What is this weekend really about? It is an intense series of lessons on a new (to us) communication technique. This communication technique (called “dialogue”) involved writing “love letters” to each other about how we are feeling on a variety of issues. After 10 minutes of writing, we spend time together to listen attentively and really try to understand how the other person is feeling. It is not a time to problem solve, resolve conflict, or bring up past wrongs. It is a time to listen to the heart of your spouse. Through many, many examples, and just as many practice sessions, we began to feel comfortable with this technique.

The key and real challenge now is to take this communication tool and use it daily. As I told Professor X, “If I am willing to devote time to blogs, exercise, and the kids activities, it would be just wrong of me not to spend time completely devoted to you.” Marriage takes work. And time. And intimacy.

What surprised me about this weekend? It was not a retreat. It was not relaxing. More like cramming a 4 credit class into 2.5 days, we were exhausted. We were “working” until 11pm each night and received wake-up calls at 6:30. When we tried to come out of our rooms early for some coffee, we were told to “go back to your room and wait for your phone call”. Whoa. My swimsuit for the hot tub? Unused. My work out clothes? Never left the bag. Already suffering a sore throat before the weekend even started, I had to take 2 days off of work to deal with my full-fledged cold after the weekend.

Welcome to Marriage Bootcamp. Prepare for some arse-woopin’.

The cost of the weekend seemed steep, but the organization lets each couple make a confidential payment of the amount that they can afford. They encourage couples that are able to make a tax deductible over-payment to help future couples afford this relationship changing weekend. Unlike other events, no one is turned away from Marriage Encounters because of finances.

Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Yes. I really believe that if Professor X and I can continue with this communication tool, our marriage will be improved 100%. Professor X shared aloud that, “It’s like all the good parts of our marriage are floating to the top!” And our improved marriage will in turn help our relationship with God and with our kids.

When you see a couple that has been married 49 years stare into each others’ and sing “I’m everything I am because you love me“, you can’t help but get choked up. That is the marriage I want to have.

Interested in attending? Watch this informational video by Gary Chapman, author of the 5 Love Languages.

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  1. This was really interesting! I think it could be of benefit to all couples actually.

  2. I’ve never heard of this, but it sounds wonderful. I think the first step in helping one’s marriage is having the courage to ask for help and then get it. Kudos to both of you.

  3. This sounds wonderful! I am so glad that you were able to find out about this program and participate. Even more happy that it helped!

    Work. That is right – marriage takes work. No one ever says that at the bridal shower. LOL It sounds like we could all benefit from a program like this. ;D

  4. Good for you! My husband and I went to one of those weekends (I think it was the same thing, although it was years ago, so it might’ve been called something different.) We were newly married, before kids. It was AWESOME! We learned stuff there we still use.

    Great post!

  5. SO glad to hear it went well and that you guys are communicating through this. So often, it’s easiest to give the cold shoulder, confide in friends who are “on our side,” and let our marriages fade into nothingness. You’ve chosen the harder road, that’s for sure, but the rewards will be worth it. This is an awesome answer to prayer!

  6. We went through Engaged Encounter with the Catholic Church and I thought it was a great experience. I’ve heard good things about Marriage Encounter.

    I’m glad it’s working for you.

  7. SO awesome that you are working on your marriage. It IS hard! So much harder than anyone ever thinks, until you’re in it and you realize how much you give of yourself to accomplish “unconditional” love. Phew! Kudos to you guys!

  8. Thanks for sharing this. I’m so glad that you both had a good experience. Effective communication is something that has waned with us over the years as well. I think it happens with a lot of couples, but if you make an effort, it can get better. I think my mom actually gave me that book you referred to. I’ll have to look for it.

  9. So sorry to hear about all that has been going on, but so glad to hear that the healing is starting! I’ve heard good things about the Marriage Encounter weekends … LOVED your take on the whole thing … the good and bad (or, should I say, outdated)!

  10. Gulp. That sounds like a very challenging weekend. Fascinating how the intensity and scheduling made you work as a team.

    Keeping communication going is tough. As ever, you and the Professor are very inspiring.

  11. Hubby and I have been on a few marriage encounter weekends and we always return rejuvenated.

    I have multiple sclerosis, if you ever need to talk to another chronic couple just stop by my blog!

  12. Congrats, you guys! I’m so glad that you went and were blessed. You’ll have a wonderful marriage for the work you’re putting into it. God blesses that way.

  13. We have wanted to go to one of these, but have yet to find the brave soul willing to take on our children for a weekend. Lucky you for having someone step up!

  14. That’s really great that you guys were able to go and have your kids be cared for by your sister! CB and I went on one (Campus Crusade’s Family Life weekend) shortly after we started dating and again when we were engaged. Funny that we haven’t gone to a marriage conference while married! I think that they are beneficial for everybody! We all need to be reminded of what it takes to make a healthy marriage. Glad to see that you guys are moving in the right direction with His guidance.

  15. I am so excited for you guys!! Thank you for being so open and honest with us. I love you and am praying that you find the transition is smooth!!

  16. a coworker attended the same thing. she said it was awesome, but I didn’t think to much about it because she is of that older generation. . .I’ll have to check it out.

    You’re right. Marriage takes a lot of time and work, and it’s easy to blow that off every once in a while OR to criticize those who are having a difficult time. . .

  17. which we all do at some time

    (though that last sentence sounded a little sanctimonious. . .which is not what I meant. . .) ignore me today. I’m a little discombobulated. . .

  18. Thanks for sharing your experience. After 17 years of marriage I have realized that a marriage is a living breathing thing and if you don’t take care of it…it will die.

  19. WOW – thank you for sharing this . . . what an amazing experience for you

  20. I think it is awesome whenever anyone identifies a need within the marriage and works within the marriage to fix it! Good for you guys:-)

  21. I have heard of marriage encounters and I’ve always been curious! Love the 5 love languages… my hubby and I reference it all the time. Another good one is Love & Respect!
    Found you on Wordful Wednesday!

  22. I’m so glad y’all were able to find someone to watch the Flash and Marvel Girl. The husband and I attended a marriage conference about six or seven years ago. It was a good thing. Praying y’all continue to use what you learn that weekend. (((hugs)))

  23. I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with all of this behind the scenes. I’m so glad that you have been so proactive about mending things. That is a huge step. Wishing you and your hubby the best.

  24. I am so happy to hear that you and Prof X are sharing the love of your relationship out loud, and working on tweeking the hardships. I wish you all the luck in this venture. *hugs*

  25. sounds interesting. marriage is so much harder than I realized it would be. My hubby and I have been married 10 years and we’ve had more hard times than good. Our daughter was born with disabilities and I am so thankful that rather than tearing us apart as so often happens in that situation, we’ve hung in together. We laugh and say we have a common enemy (the outside baggage that comes with disability, not our daughter!).

  26. It sounds like it was run by the same people that ran the Catholic marriage counseling retreat weekend we had to endure before our wedding. The same hokey tactics; the same unwitting life lessons.

    I’m saying a prayer for you and your family.

  27. That is so great. Praise God for using this as a tool to strengthen your marriage and help you re-connect!

  28. I think sometimes we forget that our marriage is something we need to keep working on too! I try to remember to call my husband at work once a week and tell him that I think he is awesome… for some little thoughtful thing he did, or for just being there for me!

  29. I’ve heard of this, even been encouraged to try it from other couples. It really is so hard to stay connected, and when you feel that foundation crumbling, it’s scary and hard.

    This post was inspiring. Thank you.

  30. Wow what an interesting weened it sounds like you had. Marriage is work and it is hard work at that. I have to agree that the first step to fixing the troubles is admitting there are troubles and getting to work fixing them. way to go! May your relationship continue to improve and thanks for sharing this program with all of us.

  31. Thank you so much for sharing this! I wish we lived closer, to get together for a cup of coffee, go to garage sales/goodwill, and just talk. So glad that all the “good has floated to the top!!” Please have a wonderful weekend!!

  32. Thanks for visiting my blog today. I look forward to reading more of yours.

    We attended an Engaged Encounter 28 years ago. Totally recommend it. We came from 2 messed up, divorced families … and knew we wanted to learn a better way than we’d been shown by our examples.

    Then, about 10 years ago we attended the Family Life Today, marriage retreat. Totally something I would recommend.

    We’ve been married 27 years. While we have walked some tough journeys, we are more in love than ever … our communication is better than ever … and we look forward to the next 27 years.



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