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:
- Why did I come here this weekend, and what do I hope to gain?
- How can I make this weekend a disappointment for us?
- 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!
- Retrouvaille Weekend (beingabeautifulmess.wordpress.com)
- Retrouvaille: Why It Can Help A Troubled Marriage (marriage.about.com)
- retrouvailles (french-word-a-day.typepad.com)