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Our Retrouvaille Couple’s Introduction

6 Sep

*I wrote earlier today about the process of penning our personal couple’s introduction.  You can catch up on that here if you haven’t read it yet.  The only changes I made were to remove our names and replace them with the pseudonyms I use on my blog.  Beautiful Mess is me, and my husband is Mr. Mess.  This is a fairly long introduction to who we are, how me met and fell in love, where things went wrong, and where we are now in recovery as a couple.  For that reason, I will not include a lengthy introduction.  Enjoy our story. 

I.  The Beginning

Intro (Mr. Mess):

Hello, my name is Mr. Mess and this is my wife, Beautiful Mess.  We have been together for five years, and married for the last two.  Both of us were born in Virginia.  We have no children.  We made our Retrouvaille weekend on July 13th, 2012.

When my wife and I met I was just getting back on my feet from losing my job and my prior relationship.  It was a weekend night in the fall of 2007, and I was out to celebrate my new job.  We met at a local bar, and hit it off from the beginning.  We started talking to and texting each other on a regular basis.  Our first date was at one of our favorite night spots.

We started doing a lot of things together.  Two months into our relationship New Year’s Eve was upon us, and I invited her mother to my house for a party that I was throwing for my family and friends.  I was very nervous because I knew that Beautiful Mess’s mother was religious and I was not.  Neither were the people that were going to be at the party.  To make a long story short, the party went off without a hitch, and I was given her mother’s approval to date her daughter.

Not long after that, Beautiful Mess was over my house and we were outside in my front yard.  As we were heading into the house, Beautiful Mess stepped into a hole that was concealed by grass.  I heard something crack.  I immediately got her up and took her to Patient First, where it was determined that she had severely sprained her ankle.  Prior to this we had made reservations at one of Beautiful Mess’s favorite restaurants, and I was sure that it would have to be cancelled.  However, she was determined to keep our date, and went to the restaurant on crutches.  That was special to me because it showed that she was really committed to our relationship.

Me:

The beginning of our relationship progressed somewhat slowly.  Both of us had come from long-term relationships that had ended badly, and we didn’t want to jump into anything without really getting to know one another.  We enjoyed each other’s company a few nights per week, and started opening up and having great conversations.  I was in college at the time, about 3 semesters into a demanding course of study.  I remember bringing the exam questions for my Japanese and Chinese History course over to his house, and working on all of my essay outlines and rough drafts while he watched TV.  After my spring exams were finished the two of us decided on a whim to take a weekend trip to Atlantic City as a reward for my hard work.

That trip was the first time I thought I could be in love.  It was about six months into our relationship.  I remember walking down the boardwalk as a slight drizzle started.  We huddled together on a bench and watched a street performer and an artist who were both on the other side of the street.  Even without talking, I felt close to him.  I wanted so much to tell him how I was feeling, but then the rain picked up and the moment was lost as we sprinted into a nearby casino.  There, he taught me how to play Blackjack, and we walked away with $1200.

The next weekend I finally got up my nerve and blurted out “I love you” rather unceremoniously after watching a movie together.  To my relief, he felt the same way.  He declared his love for me to his brother and best friend on a camping trip the next week.

From that point forward we spent more time together.  We shared activities and attended family events together.  Late that summer I had to attend a conference for work, and he offered to stay at my house to care for my dogs.  He did a good job, and after I returned the things he had brought over for that week never left.  Soon after, about a year into our relationship, we had a formal discussion and decided to take the next step and move in together.


II. Trouble that led you to Retrouvaille

Mr. Mess:

It was during our dating that I showed my ugly side to Beautiful Mess.  She had seen glimpses of my addictions, but I had done everything in my power to keep the real me covered and hidden.  It was after we had moved in with each other and started to combine our lives that she discovered my dirty secret.  I was an addict on multiple levels.  Not only did I use drugs and alcohol excessively, but I was also involved in pornography, sexting and online chatting with other women.

When this blew up on me I promised to stop and never do it again.  I was very convincing, and she forgave me.  We moved forward.  I was a master liar.  I lied to everyone.  I lied to Beautiful Mess, and most of all, to myself.  I did stop with the online chatting and sexting for a while.  However, I never stopped my use of porn, and I hid it from her.  Instead of being open or turning to her sexually, I isolated and pushed her away.  I even went so far as to go to strip clubs several times and spend large amounts of money, then lie about it.

I kept up the lies for many months.  It wasn’t until after we were married that my lies caught up to me and ruined my marriage.  My wife had started to suspect something was up due to my secretive actions.  As she started to investigate she found out that I had been using my phone to access online porn and chat sites and to sext other women.  When asked about it, I went straight into lying mode.  It was at this point that my new wife gave me a choice.  Get help or get out.

Out of pure fear of losing everything, I agreed to do whatever it would take.  However, I was still lying to myself and Beautiful Mess.  I didn’t believe I had a problem, so I did what I thought would make her happy while not really believing I needed to change.  It has been a long road for me to admit openly and honestly to myself that I have a problem.

When Beautiful Mess mentioned the Retrouvaille program to me, I was all for it.  I knew that I needed help with communication, and this seemed like the right start.  As the time of our weekend came closer, I started to become afraid.  Was I going to be able to share my problems with complete strangers who by their own admission were not professionals?  I remember arriving at the hotel where our weekend took place, and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

Me:

Once Mr. Mess and I moved in together I started noticing a few things that made me uncomfortable.  I discovered that he was viewing pornography a lot online and then trying to hide it from me by clearing the history.  I tried to watch it with him, to have an open discussion, to figure out if something was lacking in our relationship.  He kept lying and hiding and using every opportunity to push me away.  Literally every opportunity – he would reject me in the morning, then surf porn when I ran to the store for15 minutes to pick up eggs.  When I tried to confront him about it, he denied that he was doing anything, and I chose to let it go.

After discovering that Mr. Mess was having an online, phone and text affair with another woman I was devastated.  When I realized he had stayed in her area for work several times, I felt literally sick to my stomach, helpless, inadequate and incredibly heartbroken.  I sat across the living room from him in a chair, asked a few questions, and listened to his responses in a calm, disconnected way.  I was in shock.

My reaction to the situation was to try to “fix” things.  I now realize that I was deeply codependent.  I asked Mr. Mess to go to therapy and do a few other things, but when he didn’t, I again let it go.  I convinced myself that if I were better somehow he would be, too.  I felt panicked and uncertain, but I kept those feelings contained, thinking that if I showed too much of my hurt it would drive him away.  I tried to control the situation in very unhealthy ways – like trying to monitor his phone and computer use, obsessively checking behind him, and bottling my feelings up inside.

After a while, things returned to “pretend normal.”  Our relationship seemed happy.  We went out with friends together, watched movies, and talked about all sorts of things, except the elephant in the room.  My intense fear and anxiety about his behavior started to fade over time, but I still felt a tightness inside my chest every time I thought about the possibility that he could be engaging in behavior that made me uncomfortable.  I went on a vacation with my family that August, about 6 months after the affair discovery.  I was nervous about going, but thought we had built up trust and that I should be more positive about our relationship.  I rationalized that one week away wouldn’t be a big deal.

We had talked about my feelings on strip clubs – how I was uncomfortable about him going to them and how it had hurt my feelings the times I knew he went with his friends and lied about it.  He quickly agreed that he wouldn’t go, and said that he could understand my concerns.  Unfortunately, upon my return I found a $300 charge on our bank statement from a strip club while I was gone.  On a night where he (of course) said he was somewhere else.  I was thrown back into that despair from 6 months prior, but this time I was also furious.  I woke him out of a dead sleep, and after an hour or so of screaming, yelling and crying, I threw him out.

Once things calmed down a few days later and I was more emotionally stable, he said that he had gone for a friend’s birthday.  He apologized for lying to me that night and swore that the money was spent for his friend, not for himself.  Despite my misgivings and doubt, I again pushed my feelings aside.  I let him back in the house, and continued our relationship.

About 7 months later things seemed to be going smoothly.  We hadn’t gone to counseling or really addressed our deeper issues.  However, it had been several months since I caught him in a lie, and we had grown comfortable.  Those problems seemed like a distant memory, and even if our relationship wasn’t perfect I thought we had grown from those experiences.  It was around this time that we started seriously considering marriage.  It was a topic that was brought up on more than one occasion, and in April of 2010 he proposed.

What followed was a whirlwind.  We made our wedding plans together – picking out the cake, choosing invitations and decorations, and going over our wedding vows.  Mr. Mess was very involved in the process.  We even had premarital counseling sessions with the pastor performing the ceremony.  Our wedding occurred on September 18th, 2010.  Mr. Mess cried more than I did.  Our honeymoon was fun, and we settled into marital bliss.

Or did we?  Just six months into our marriage those nagging feelings that something was off returned.  I tried to ignore them, but one night I picked up his phone on a whim.  What I found there wounded me to the core.  There were pages and pages of pornographic websites, some of them highly disturbing to me, pictures, and messages.  I felt like our marriage was hopeless and broken.  I wondered how this could be happening to me, to our marriage, after only 6 months.  I decided that I just could not go through this unhealthy cycle for the rest of my life.  This time I put my foot down.  The only way I could continue in this marriage is if he got help for himself and we sought counseling as a couple.

During the next year we both went to therapy off and on.  He found a specialist.  I found a group for betrayed wives, and started finding support.  I realized that this issue wasn’t about me, but that I did have issues on my own.  The unhealthy coping mechanisms I had developed contributed to our communication breakdown, and made my life unmanageable.  I started addressing my behavior and learning to find my confidence and self-worth.  During that time I joined an online forum dealing with infidelity, where I learned about Retrouvaille.  Although things were improving slowly in our relationship, I realized that we really needed to work on communication.  We decided together that this program was vital to the continuation of our marriage.


Life Now

Mr. Mess:

Both Beautiful Mess and I knew that we needed work on our communication.  As we settled into the first phase of our weekend we found out just how intense this was going to be.  We worked late into the night that weekend.  We were taught the process of dialoging and told that everyone is entitled to their feelings.  As we worked our way through our weekend I could feel us moving closer to each other emotionally and physically.  It was on this weekend that my wife and I started to understand how each of us was feeling about certain aspects of our marriage.

We are now doing the work needed to better our marriage.  I am now seeing an individual counselor to help me deal with my issues.  We are going to a marriage counselor to work on us as a couple.  I have become much better at communicating how I feel, even when I think I don’t deserve those feelings.  I am better able to empathize with my wife, and I think she can see the change in me.  We are still a work in progress, but thanks to this program we are on our way to a happier and more harmonious life together.

After our weekend we made the decision to go to the post sessions.  On the night of our first post session I got angry at the fact that we had to drive for hours through heavy traffic to get to the session.  Half-way through the drive I turned around to go home.  It was at that time that I knew if I did not go to this first session it would be the beginning of me reverting back to my old behaviors.  So, I turned back around and arrived at our first post session about an hour late.

As we worked through the post sessions we learned a lot about what have been the major things in our lives that have made us who we are.  We also learned how to work through our differences and find ways to accept or change whatever it is causing our difficulties.

Me:

The Retrouvaille weekend was positive experience.  We were coming off of a rather heated fight, but decided to put that aside and focus on rebuilding our marriage, connecting, and building our communication skills.  I was surprised that the first night went so long, and apprehensive about what the rest of the weekend might hold.  I have always enjoyed writing, though, so I dove right in.  Very quickly I discovered that this process made me feel closer to Mr. Mess.  I found that I understood things about him and his feelings that I didn’t know before.  We left the weekend feeling renewed hope.

Even though the post sessions were a long drive from our home – at least 2 and a half hours, but sometimes much longer in traffic – we committed to going.  It was in that part of the program that we saw progress.  Continuing to dialog and learning the additional tools from the post-sessions improved our communication skills by leaps and bounds.  Understanding the feelings behind the other’s actions diffused arguments before they began.  I could empathize with his feelings and see things from his point of view, without immediately jumping to the conclusions that I had already formed based on assumptions.

Many of our original marital problems still exist.  Retrouvaille is not a cure-all or a quick fix.  It does help us to deal with obstacles better, though.  Rather than blaming each other or getting sucked into unproductive cycles we are reaching out and supporting one another.  Learning to communicate honestly and share our feelings is the way to do that.  Who knows what may be ahead.

Last Retrouvaille Post Session – Writing to Heal

6 Sep

The writing is on the wall!
© Copyright Alan Bowring and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

I know that I have been absolutely horrible with describing our Retrouvaille experience.  So far I have only told you about our first night.  Bad me!  The main reason is that there is just so much involved with the program.  I have literally filled an entire notebook with notes, writing, and letters.  I will try to go back and give more details.

However, today I want to share a bit about the last post-session.  It was a long session that took place on August 25th beginning at 9:00 am.  Since we have a long drive to the post-session location, Mr. Mess and I had quite an early morning.  We decided that it was a good investment in our marriage, though, and worth a little lost sleep on a Saturday morning.

The entire first half of this post-session was called “Writing to Heal.”  I have pulled information from the Retrouvaille of Northern Virginia blog about what this day entails:

Purpose and Goals of the Writing to Heal Day
• Promote personal and couple healing through deeper exploration of our stories and a deeper understanding of the Retrouvaille concepts.
• Provide an environment for spiritual growth
• Experience the healing power of our unique story

The session will focus on helping couples write their Personal Introduction, but couples who are working on other presentations–including Weekend and Post Weekend Presentations–will have individual help and time to write as well.

The “spiritual growth” bullet point makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth, but the actual day was great.  There wasn’t anything religious about it at all.  In fact, it was all about coming up with your personal story as a couple.

We were asked to create an outline with one another, decide who would write what parts of our story, and work together to create a snapshot of our life together so far.  They provided us with a general idea of the various sections we should include as well as guidelines for how to write the personal introduction.  The outline they provided us with was:

Couple’s Personal Introduction

I.        The Beginning

A.    Start by telling your names, where you are from, how you met.  (Husband or Wife)
Include the number of years married, children, when you made your weekend, etc.
B.    Talk about how you felt in the beginning of your relations.  (Husband and Wife)
This could include the romantic stage

II.        Trouble that led you to Retrouvaille
Remember to be brief and to the point, but give sufficient information so that the couples can connect with you and realize you have something to share.  This is a very important part where you need to be sure to share deeply and honestly enough for the couples to get a believable connection with you.

A.    Briefly talk about how your marriage deteriorated and how you were led to Retrouvaille.  (Husband or Wife)
Remember here – the one who did it, says it!
B.    Other spouse shared how they felt about their relationship before going to Retrouvaille.
Share your feelings here and describe them fully: abandonment, devastation, crushed, etc.

III.        Life Now
Share about your weekend and post sessions.
  (Husband and Wife)
Share your vision and inspire the couples to continue working at their marriages.  Tell what you learned during the weekend and post sessions and what happened in your relationship.  Share your struggles.  What kept you going?  Share your feelings and desires. State that you will share your journey since the weekend during the rest of these post sessions.  Explain that you continue working on your relationship and remind the couples that it is a continuous journey, and the journey is made much easier with support and dialog!

The great thing about the Writing to Heal day is that we were allowed to bring laptops.  Score!  I can type waaayy faster than I can hand write.  Typing our story also meant that it would be much, much easier to blog about.  Instead of having to type and format pages of hand-written notes, I could just copy and paste.  If laptops has been allowed during the weekend and other post-sessions you would already have those details.

So, Mr. Mess and I went about the task of trying to summarize our relationship so far.  We talked about what to put in each section, and I have to admit that we had some disagreements.  He thought everything before we were married should be in “the beginning.”  I felt that since our troubles started before we were married, they should be included in Section II.  He didn’t understand me.  I couldn’t picture how we could make his idea fit into the outline they gave us.  Finally, he went and asked the instructor.  He confirmed what I thought – the point of the first section was to stick to the gushy, romantic, happy memories.  If the trouble started before the marriage, then it should be discussed in Section II, but Section I should be all about the butterflies.  Unfortunately, there weren’t a whole lot of those.

We also had a few formatting hitches when it came to who was going to write which section.  Since the person who “did it” was also supposed to “say it,” that meant we had to work the back and forth so that he introduced the topic of his affair and addiction.  He wanted to do the very beginning of our story, so we were able to make that work pretty well by picking a half-way point in “the beginning” and having him write about everything before that and me write about everything after that up to our “trouble.”  From there the back and forth story-telling really worked itself out.

Just to make sure that this is clear, the personal story we were writing was intended to be read out loud by both of us.  It can be used if you want to be a couple who leads a Retrouvaille weekend or post-session.  It can also just be done for the two of you and kept private.  Whatever the final purpose, the initial goal is to interact with one another, collaborate, remember the positive memories and great things that brought you together, open up about what went wrong, and see how far you have come as a couple through better communication.

During our writing to heal day, I typed my section, and Mr. Mess gave me his as he finished them.  I then added them into my sections to complete the outline with indications of who wrote and was to read each part.  By the end of the post-session, we were done.  We had added all of the sections, figured out a way to make them flow, and edited it together.  All of the couples were given the opportunity to share their personal story at the end, but no one volunteered.  I was ready, but Mr. Mess felt a little more reserved, so we held back as well.

What we did do, however, was approach the lead couple at the end of the day.  They were one of our weekend presenting couples, had led a few post-sessions, and helped to coordinate the entire thing.  We had been emailing with them from the beginning.  We asked if we could email them a copy of our outline and get their feedback.  They said they would certainly be willing to do that.  In fact, they did that with most of the presenting couples before they came to the weekend, so they already had a process down for recommending edits, areas that should be elaborated on more, etc.  Mr. Mess was very willing to do that, so when we got home we sent them our personal story.

So far I haven’t heard back from them.  I’m sure they’ve been busy with the holiday and preparing for the upcoming Retrouvaille weekend.  I was going to wait for them to give their feedback before I posted it here on my blog, but I’m starting to get antsy.  You guys have seen some works-in-progress before, and I haven’t been beat up too much.  This post has already become much too long to also include our detailed personal story, but I will be publishing it very, very soon for you all to read.  I look forward to your honest opinions.

Our Emotional Lives (Retrouvaille – Friday Night, Part 3)

18 Jul

So, where did I leave off?  That’s right…  Friday night and presentation #2.  After we all came back down from dialoguing a new couple was at the front of the room with the priest and ready to begin their presentation.  This one was about our emotions.  The first thing they wanted to give us is a definition of emotion.  Here it is:

Emotion – A spontaneous inner reaction to a person, place or situation.  It is the feeling that I have within me when I come into contact with something outside of myself, or even with a thought that I have.

Likewise, they wanted to differentiate between emotions (feelings) and thoughts.  Thoughts can cause emotion, but they are not feelings.  The rule they gave was this:

If in a sentence you can replace the words “I feel” with the words “I think,” you have expressed a thought, not an emotion.

If you can substitute the word “am” for “feel” then you have expressed a feeling.

That’s a pretty neat little trick.  They also said that we should avoid the statement “I feel that…”  Again, this is not an emotion.  It is the beginning of an opinion.  Light bulb!  So very true!  Finally, they said to avoid using why, because, or any other explanation for your feelings.  We are not looking to talk about the situation, we are just looking to talk about how we feel about it.

So, how do you do that?  So far it sounds like a lot of “don’t”s.  To help with that they gave us a few tips on how to be specific about our emotions.

  • Rate the intensity of the feeling on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.
  • Make sure that you use the right word – be precise.  Utilize the list of feeling words on the handout and stretch your vocabulary.
  • Go beyond/ below the surface, like peeling an onion.  Find your first feeling (anger) and then dig deeper – what is underneath the anger?  Fear?  Insecurity?  Doubt?  Now, be even more specific – is the fear more like terror, dread, horror, anxiety, panic, distress, etc.?
  • Describe your feeling in as much detail as you can.
  • Identify your emotions alone, not your thoughts or opinions.
  • Try to communicate in a way that your spouse can understand.  Knowing your audience can help you get your point across more effectively.  Think of ways that they can relate to your feelings.
  • Use analogies for your feelings such as images, similes, metaphors, and examples from nature.
  • Utilize shared memories or experiences.  Think of a time when you and/or your spouse had that same emotion.  Call on past events to help you explain what you are feeling now.
  • This is not a time to blame.  The point is what you feel, not why you feel it.
  • This is not the time to change your spouse.
  • This is not the time to make a decision.
  • Exchange books in silence.  Avoid negative body language.
  • Remember, this ability is not innate, but it can be learned.  Practice!

A little more organized (and using an anagram), the process is:

  1. Find the word that most closely relates to your feeling
  2. Rate the feeling on a scale of 1-10.
  3. P –> Identify the physical feeling that you have
  4. I –>Describe the feeling in terms of an image or something you can compare it to
  5. M –>Recall a shared memory – an incident that you both experienced and can relate to.

They then gave us a mini-example.  Here it is, step-by-step:

  1. They asked us to think of a specific moment that day.  The moment I picked was writing my blog about our last counseling session.
  2. They then told us to look at the feeling words list and pick the one or two that are closest to what we were feeling at that moment.  The emotions I was feeling were lost/confused and frustrated
  3. Then they asked us to rate the feeling(s) on a scale of 1-10. I rated them both at a 7.
  4. Next, they wanted us to describe the physical sensation we had at that moment or a physical sensation that describes that emotion.  The physical sensation that these emotions gave me was fatigue.  My body and mind were both exhausted.
  5. Next, they asked us to come up with an analogy.  Mine was, “I felt like I was in a swirl of thoughts and feelings that I couldn’t differentiate, like walking through an unfamiliar place in the dark.”
  6. They then asked us to elaborate on our feelings and find a way to speak to our audience (our spouses).  I wrote, “I couldn’t remember the exact order of things or specifically what we had said.  I could finally relate to how not remembering would feel for you.”
  7. Finally, they asked us to come up with a way we can relate to our spouse using a shared memory.  I wrote about a time that we got lost.

Finally, they provided us with barriers to open communication.  They told us to be aware of them and try to avoid this type of behavior:

  • Fear of rocking the boat
  • Defeatist mentality (there is nothing I can do, our marriage is already over)
  • Withdrawing
  • Overanalyzing
  • Not keeping an open mind
  • Not following directions
  • Burying emotions
  • Falling back into old patterns from our culture or background
  • Dwelling on the past (acknowledge, but focus on the present) – what are your feelings NOW?

Before we were allowed to go to bed, we also had three more questions to answer, this time focusing on our feelings.  The questions were:

  1. What do I like best about you?  How do I feel about my answer?
  2. What do I like best about me?  How do I feel about my answer?
  3. What do I like best about us?  How do I feel about my answer?

Just like Friday night, I am already starting to feel exhausted.  Our writing and dialogue went well on this topic.  I’m going to save you all of the details of my answer.  I will add, though, that given we had one bed in our hotel room, the couch was more like a loveseat, and most importantly, I now felt closer and more safe with Mr. Mess we shared a bed again that night.  It felt like the right thing to do, especially since we were going to be leaving all of the recent mess behind us for the weekend to focus on repairing our communication and overall marriage.  It was a good decision that I do not regret.

Retrouvaille Weekend – Friday Night, Part 2

17 Jul

As promised, I will now continue with the experience on Friday night.  I already told you how we got there, what our first experience was like, the initial notes I made on the program, and the initial three questions that they asked us to write about.  Here they are again with my answer following each question.

1.    Why did I come here this weekend, and what do I hope to gain?
2.    How can I make this weekend a disappointment for us?
3.    What can I do to make this weekend a positive experience?


My answers (completely unedited except for names):

1.    I came here this weekend because I really want this marriage to work.  I am willing to put in the work, and I like the idea of having a program that can help.  I am hoping that we will both learn tools for communicating that will make that goal easier to reach.

I am also sincerely hoping that something we learn here will make it easier for Mr. Mess to talk to me.  I want to find a way that helps him be more comfortable sharing.  I feel like if that can be achieved out battle is more than half-way over.

I heard that this weekend involved a lot of writing, and that is the best way that I communicate (at least I think so).  Mr. Mess has also said he was going to start journaling but he never did.  I know that my blog helps me to process my thoughts and feelings so I can make sense of what is going on.  I want that clarity and release for Mr. Mess as well.

2.    First, I have to say that I really dislike the negative phrasing of this questions.  Maybe analyzing things like that is something I do that could impede progress here.  Complaining is not really productive and could take away from this experience.  I can’t help thinking that I really, really, really wish I had a computer and keyboard right now, though, because my hand is already killing me.

But I digress.  If I want to make this weekend a disappointment I suppose I could mock, whine, moan and refuse to participate.  I don’t see the point in wasting our time and money by doing that, though.

3.    Participate!  Not be sarcastic or mocking.  Try to be open.  Stop judging.

If you can’t tell already, I ran out of time for the last question.  I jotted down a few quick thoughts as Mr. Mess was coming through the hotel room door.  It turns out they only gave us like 10 minutes to write down our thoughts.  The time varied throughout the rest of the weekend, but we discovered that writing for 10 minutes, then dialoguing for 10 minutes is the goal.  20 minutes total.  At first we felt incredibly rushed and like this definitely couldn’t accomplish anything with such strict time limits.

The process isn’t about “accomplishing something” in the traditional sense of things, thought.  It is designed so that we can each understand the other’s feelings.  Dialoguing is NOT about solving a problem.  It isn’t supposed to be the last word on an issue or topic.  It can be the foundation for truly resolving conflict, though, because it allows each person to be open and unreserved with their emotions so that the other person can really try to understand what those feelings are.  In this way, when we actually do try to solve the problem our defensiveness will hopefully be disarmed since we will know the other person’s heart – their feelings, fears, desires, hopes, and all of the other emotions surrounding the topic.

Photo Credit – I have to say that I love, love, love this picture!

But we weren’t there yet.  We still didn’t really understand the process.  Now that I do know the process, my answer above shows that.  Still, that first discussion (because that’s what it was at that time) went well.  We were able to read and accept each other’s answers.  I also discovered that the second question was helpful to him, even though it seemed like an entirely pointless, negative and rhetorical question to me.  That helped me to actually let go of my judgments and go for the rest of the ride.

As I mentioned earlier, we certainly weren’t done there for the night.  I think the most productive thing for me to do is recount and describe each presentation we received and the dialog that followed.  I do this NOT so that you can try to follow the program from my directions.  I wouldn’t recommend that at all.  It really works much better as an experience and process that the couple shares as intended.

However, I do think it will help me to really absorb the information by re-telling the events as I remember and using the extensive notes that I wrote down.  I will also be glad to share my part of the dialoguing as well as additional thoughts, feelings, and experiences I had during this process.  My hope is that it could influence someone to give the program a shot if they feel this format and process could work in their marriage.  Remember, I am still early on in this program, so I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination.  I simply intend to share my insight and how the weekend (and later the post-sessions) affected me and my marriage.

Retrouvaille Weekend – Friday Night, Part 1

17 Jul

The Retrouvaille logo – It was at the top of our name tags with the slogan “We are not alone.” Mr. Mess and I quickly decided that was due to the aliens – a running joke that got us past all of the religious propaganda.

This weekend Mr. Mess and I attended the Retrouvaille program.  It was intense.  It was looonnng.  It was immeasurably helpful.  By the end of the first night we already felt closer.  It helped us both to understand one another’s feelings.  The process they taught us was like a light-bulb coming on for Mr. Mess.  Even the super-religious sessions brought us closer as we came up with an inside joke to help us laugh at their fundamental perspective instead of getting frustrated.  I would highly recommend it to any couple who needs help communicating effectively with one another and understanding their partner’s point of view.

Let me back up just a bit.  We are about 2 hours away from where the program was being held – provided there is no traffic.  I was convinced it was going to take us at least 3 hours to get there because of the direction we were headed.  We left in plenty of time and surprisingly hit only one stretch that was significantly slow.  The car ride was somewhat awkward, but there was only one incident where I got frustrated.  He handled himself well, and we got there with almost an hour to spare and no major issues.  That left us time to have a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Dinner was already a step in the right direction.  We talked about the Boundary Agreement.  He went over the items I had put down, asked a few questions, and said that he doesn’t have any problem with agreeing to any of my boundaries.  There were a few that he didn’t understand why they would be necessary – like not keeping a secret email account or phone.  He has never done that before, but I have fear surrounding it.  I will take a look at those items and really examine my feelings about them.  Part of the boundary agreement will be really deciding what is an actual boundary and what is an unrealistic fear or attempt to control him.  I think I can pare down the list a bit and still be true to myself.  He also said that he will think of a few things that he would like to add to the agreement.

Back to the original point of this post.  We got to the hotel during the designated “check in” time, and headed over to the Retrouvaille table.  The couple there handed us our room key and said to be back down by 8:00 pm.  That’s it.  I asked if we were going to get an agenda or anything to help us know what to expect.  He said “No” and that we should just “trust the process.”  Already I was feeling leery and apprehensive.  As a planner, I do not do well with a “just trust us” mentality.  I wanted to know what we were going to be doing, what time I could expect to get to bed, when I would have to get up, and what I should expect.  Challenge #1 to my controlling mentality was not well-received.  Mr. Mess, however, was already stepping up.  He told me that we would figure out what to expect when we got down there, and that all we were giving up was one weekend if it didn’t go well.  I agreed, calmed down a bit, and said that he was right – I could commit to let go for one weekend and see what happened.

Down in the conference room at 8:00 we found tables set up with two notebooks and pens for each couple.  We choose a table and sat down…  Looking around the room at the other couples, they also seemed just as nervous and unsure of themselves.  None of them appeared to me to be “troubled.”  I found myself wondering what had brought them here.  I was almost convinced that we were the only ones there with real, hard-core marital problems.  Everyone else seemed so normal.  I’m sure we seemed normal, too, though.  On second inspection, I noticed that no one seemed to be holding hands or even touching.  There was an air of tension and questioning in the air.  After a few minutes the room settled down into almost absolutely silence.  In the front of the room was a table with sound equipment and three chairs – two were filled by an elderly couple and in the third sat a tall middle-aged man.

Finally it was time to begin.  The people at the front of the room introduced themselves.  The elderly couple had gone through the Retrouvaille program several years earlier.  The middle-aged gentleman was a priest.  The couple introduced themselves individually, gave the name of their spouse, and one positive quality about their husband/wife.  Then they asked everyone in the room to do the same thing.

Panic set in immediately.  My brain was completely blank…  What was one positive quality about Mr. Mess?  I know the answer to this, I told myself, yet I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.  The train of introductions was winding itself through the room.  We were in the second row of tables directly in the middle.  There were just enough couples in front of us for me to get a chance to breathe, hear a few of the other people’s answers, and allow myself to get even more worked up.  The first couple had raised the ante and said TWO positive things about their spouse.  Everyone else after had felt pressured into doing the same.  Now I needed two things?!?  Oh gosh!  I couldn’t be the only person who said nothing, staring blankly at the presenters like a deer in headlights…  A few couples before us the presenters chimed in that we only have to say one thing, not two.  Phew!  But I still had no idea what I would pick.

All too soon, it was out turn.  Mr. Mess had to go first because of the direction these intros were headed.  He said that my best quality was that I am forgiving.  I felt a little embarrassed that he would be airing our problems so soon… everyone else said things like “kind, generous, a good mother, etc.”  I am just forgiving?!  Doesn’t that say more about you than me?  I didn’t have much time to think about his answer, though, because it was my turn.  I mumbled that he is hard-working and has a good sense of humor.  I thought of two after all.  I let out the breath and tension that I had unconsciously been holding in.  The introduction train continued, so I must have done okay…  I tuned out the other answers in the room, too caught up in my relief and simultaneous fear that we would be put on the spot like this the entire weekend.

At the end of the introductions, the presenters said that would be the only time we were asked to speak to the group.  I let out a huge sigh of gratitude.  They then went on to read from papers in front of them to describe the program.  I took some notes in my newly, provided notebook.  After a few minutes I wrote a note to Mr. Mess that said, “These people have no personality!”  It was double underlined.  The woman of the couple was reading from her paper in a monotone voice, not making any eye contact.  They explained that they are not professionals, and it is easier for them to read from prepared statements because it ensures that they don’t forget anything.  It also helps with their nerves.  Okay…  I could understand that.  I vowed to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to curb my sarcastic tendencies.

Here are some of the things I wrote on my first page of notes:

  • We will be learning dialog communication technique
  • Writing is the best was to get your thoughts and ideas down! (my blog)
  • Other Rules:
    • You will receive a question after the presentation.
    • Answer and reflect (separately, then swap)
    • Read your spouse’s answer twice.
    • Silent time is silent: no talking, socializing, distractions, etc.
    • No snacks during presentations, writing or silent time
    • No maid service
    • No cell phones
    • No right or wrong answers, just honest ones (don’t hide things)
    • Be gentle (no attacking)

I did not know then, but this was the first of nearly 60 pages I would write that weekend.  I thought I had the rules down pretty well after that first session, but I learned later that I had plenty to learn and absorb.  We were given our first dialog questions:

  1. Why did I come here this weekend, and what do I hope to gain?
  2. How can I make this weekend a disappointment for us?
  3. What can I do to make this weekend a positive experience?

The women were asked to go up to our rooms to write while the men stayed in the conference room.  We weren’t told how long we would have to write.  We were just told to write for as long as we needed on each topic.  We were also given a little booklet that had an outline of the dialog process and some good “feeling words.”  There were two pages, one for positive and one for negative feelings, and basic headings under each like angry, sad, happy, and loved.  Under each heading were more feelings and words that express specific, more descriptive emotions such as furious, despondent, ecstatic, and tender.  We were to use those to help us find the correct words for our feelings.

I will share my answers and more about the process later.  I also need to talk to Mr. Mess to see how much he is comfortable with me sharing on my blog.  I would like to say that right off the bat, once I allowed myself to participate and leave my judgments at the door, we started being more connected.  I will also add that I wasn’t nearly prepared for what was to come – including sessions that lasted until 11:00 pm that first night!

Photo Credit

Retrouvaille Weekend

13 Jul

Today we are going to Retrouvaille.  It is a weekend program that is designed to help couples in distress.  On the website it says, “Retrouvaille attempts to re-establish trust and communication in damaged relationships… It operates from the premise that most marriages can and should be saved.”  Here is a more extensive description:

What is a Retrouvaille Program?

The word Retrouvaille (pronounced re-tro-vi with a long i.) is a French word meaning rediscovery. The program offers tools needed to rediscover a loving marriage relationship. Thousands of couples headed for cold, unloving relationships or divorce have successfully overcome their marriage problems by attending the program.

The Retrouvaille Program consists of a weekend experience combined with a series of 6-12 post-weekend sessions over 3 months. It provides the tools to help put your marriage in order again. The main emphasis of the program is on communication in marriage between husband and wife. It will give you the opportunity to rediscover each other and examine your lives together in a new and positive way.

We signed up for this program in early May.  We were doing really well in our recovery then, and this seemed like a really great tool for strengthening our marriage even more.  Now it feels like a lifeline that might get us back on track.

Communication.  Such a simple idea.  Talking.  Sharing.  Confiding in each other.  Yet Mr. Mess’s lies are like a brick wall between us that we have to scream through to hear one another.  Maybe this weekend will help with that.  At least I hope so.

Despite reading just about everything on their website and speaking to other couple’s on forums who have gone, I still don’t have any concrete idea of what to expect.  I do know that this is a religious-based program, which makes me worried since both of us are on the agnostic/ atheist scale – me more so than my husband (I’m a full-blown atheist to the core).  I’m a little worried that I may shut down if they try to ram religion down my throat as the solution to all of this.  Others who have gone say the religious tone is very subtle, but subtle to them may not feel subtle to me.

I have decided, though, that I’m willing to come out of my protective shell for this weekend and be emotionally naked.  One weekend can’t hurt me but so much, right?  All I can do is give it my all and hope for the best.  I don’t know what the result will be.  I’m not sure what I have to offer.  I wonder if I’m too far gone to reconnect to what we had before all of this.  But I’m going to try.

We will be departing around 4:00 pm Eastern Time on this journey.  Wish me luck!

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