Ministry offers help to marriages in trouble - Retrouvaille uses weekend retreats to help couples rediscover a loving union

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ministry offers help to marriages in trouble - Retrouvaille uses weekend retreats to help couples rediscover a loving union

Dave and Sherri Foran on their 25th wedding anniversary, two years after their first Retrouvaille weekend. (Photo provided)
Joyce and Jan Nahorski (Photo provided)

Joyce Nahorski was furious when she found out her husband of 35 years, Jan, was having an affair.

So furious that when asked for a divorce the next day, she said no. She wasn’t about to give him anything he wanted.

Now, seven years later, the couple is still married — much more happily — and working with Retrouvaille, a ministry for marriages in trouble. The French word “retrouvaille” means rediscovery. The program offers couples tools needed to rediscover a loving marriage relationship.

Joyce Nahorski said the affair might have been the catalyst that led her to call Retrouvaille, but it was more a consequence than a cause of the poor state of their union.

“We didn’t have a very good marriage,” Joyce Nahorski said. “And we weren’t taking care of it.”

“We forgot how to communicate,” Jan Nahorski said. “Life happens — raising kids, money problems, jobs. I felt like I was working to provide for my family and that was enough. I started living what we call the ‘married single life.’”

Joyce’s sister suggested Retrouvaille, and she pushed Jan to go. He agreed, if only to make her happy.

“I said after 25 years of marriage and four kids, it was the least I could do,” Jan said.

They were able to attend a weekend only a couple of weeks after the initial inquiry. While there are separate Retrouvaille groups in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the dioceses of Rockford and Joliet and Northwest Indiana, the groups work together to make sure there are about six weekends scheduled every year in the greater Chicago area, meaning no one should have to wait longer than two months.

People who can’t wait that long are free to travel to other areas; in their time working with group in the Diocese of Joliet, they have had people come from as far away as Cincinnati.

The weekend, which starts Friday night and ends with a Mass on Sunday afternoon, was a first step for the couple, but only a first step. The weekend session — which includes presentations by a priest and three married couples who have been through Retrouvaille — helped them see how much they both had been missing.

“I was wrong in what I did,” Joyce said. “I was so angry all the time. I was wrong in my interpretation of what was happening. But we were stymied by this lack of communication.”

“I was humbled and ashamed of everything I did,” Jan said. “I realized God’s plan for me was to be happily married.”

It’s fairly common for at least one member of a couple to be resistant, the Nahorskis said. People who are considering it call an 800-number, and their inquiry gets routed to a volunteer couple for the next available weekend in their area. Both members of that couple get involved in talking to people who are considering Retrouvaille.

“I would usually talk to the wives and he would talk to the husbands,” Joyce said, “They would ask me, can you tell him he has to go?”

“I can’t tell anybody they have to go,” Jan said. “But I would say, if they call me, I’ll talk to them.”

Sherri and Dave Foran, who volunteered for four years as a registration couple, said they appeal to anything they can when one half of a couple is reluctant to try Retrouvaille to save their marriage.

“Most of these couples have been married five, 10, 15, 20-plus years,” Dave Foran said. “And I ask isn’t it worth just another two days to give it a try? If they divorce, a lawyer wants a $5,000 retainer up front.”

“If they have kids, I tell them that they will be in each other’s lives for the rest of their lives,” Sherri said. “Even if they do end up divorcing, wouldn’t it be better if they could get along? If they could be better ex-spouses? And for some of them, it’s like, OK, I don’t have to stay with him. I just have to get along with him.”

The Forans don’t have a dramatic story about how they came to Retrouvaille five years ago. It was more a matter of not communicating and growing apart. They’d tried marriage counseling, but it hadn’t worked. Five years ago, when their two daughters were still teenagers, Sherri went to their parish to ask about maybe doing a couples retreat and the parish secretary — a Retrouvaille veteran recommended it.

Dave said he was initially reluctant, just as Jan Nahorski was, but that’s common. “I’d say it’s north of 80 percent” of men who don’t want to try Retrouvaille. “We can be pretty stubborn. There’s a thought process we go through, where a lot of the time we think she’s trying to manipulate us or something.”

For some couples, the Forans said, the light clicks on when they listen to the presenting couples share their stories. “They can see they’re not alone, and these people got through it,” Dave Foran said.

For others, it’s after the presentations when the couples engage in dialogue, starting with writing down their feelings about the topics they’re going to cover, and then exchanging letters.

“That way you can get a whole thought out without someone interrupting,” Sherri Foran said. “When we did that, he was talking about feelings I never knew he had.”

Couples who register in northern Illinois are asked to pay $200 up front, which covers some of the cost of the weekend and also makes it more likely that they’ll actually show up, Dave Foran said. At the end of the weekend, they are told what the actual cost is per couple — which can vary, based on the number of couples who attend — and asked for a donation to cover the difference.

Sherry said she knew Retrouvaille had made a difference when Dave, who said at the start he wasn’t going to pay more than $200, pulled out the checkbook.

That doesn’t mean everything was easy. Couples participate in six “core” meetings after the weekend, both to support the work they are doing and bring them together with other couples who are working on their marriages.

At that point, Sherry Foran said, she felt they were off the “divorce track” but it was another three years or so before she felt their marriage was healthy.

Joyce Nahorski said she can only ascribe what she sees at Retrouvaille to the Holy Spirit. They have had couples come in with divorce papers ready to file in their suitcases. They’ve had couples already separated.

“It would be wonderful if they all came in with an open heart and both wanted to come, but sometimes they come in so negative and they still leave in a better place,” Joyce Nahorski said. “That’s the blessing that we have — that we are making a difference in marriages. We had it rough when we started. But we kind of like to see miracles happen.”

For information or to find a retreat, visit www.retrouvaillenoil.org or call 800-470-2230 or 708-802-1830.


  • marriage
  • family life
  • retrouvaille

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