Ten years ago, John and Jennifer Vincent realized their marriage was making them miserable.

Living more as roommates with children than as two best friends in love – as they did in 1981 when they married – the pair was nearing a no-return crossroads: work on their marriage, or live in misery as co-habitating singles who happened to also be married.

“A lot of people would have said, ‘I’m tired, let’s just end this and start over (with someone else),’ but we knew there was hope for us,” John Vincent said.

Through the recommendation of the Rev. Gary Janak, a certified professional counselor and priest with the Diocese of Victoria, the Catholic couple sought one final attempt to save their marriage in a Catholic-founded marriage retreat program called Retrouvaille.

They attended the first retreat and the six follow up post-retreat sessions, and it was enough to not only save their marriage but also propel them into a place of marriage leadership.

“That’s why we’re so committed to it: because of the grace we received from Father Gary,” Jennifer Vincent, who goes by Jenny, said about the program. “We were able to move from a place of pain to a place of joy and a thriving marriage. And we want others to experience what we did.”

Literally meaning, “to find each other again,” Retrouvaille – pronounced “retro-vi” was born in 1977, in French-speaking Quebec, out of the many struggling married couples attending the Catholic Worldwide Marriage Encounter event.

Worldwide Marriage Encounter was not designed or equipped to assist struggling couples in their marriage, and in the 1970s, Retrouvaille – a spiritually powerful and practical program for hurting married couples on the brink of divorce, was designed to save and energize marriages.

“One of the things we teach is how to talk about and to each other with a mindset of respect, and that with your words, how you say it is just as important as what you say,” she explained. “We create a safe realm, a place where our feelings are not right or wrong. So when I tell you I’m angry, it’s not right or wrong, so I’m free to express it and own it.”

Retrouvaille also over the initial retreat weekend, takes a close look at family of origin, to unravel and understand a couple’s early life programming and rituals, and how they may be affecting their ability to successfully communicate or connect.

“It’s two-fold. Retrouvaille provides practical tools for couples to use when they leave the retreat, but it also touches on subjects to help you understand your behaviors, your frame of mind, your ability to trust and how to build trust in a marriage in the modern world,” John Vincent said.

Married couples who lead Retrouvaille must have also gone through the program, and experienced trouble in their marriage before they’re allowed to lead other couples.

“For me, the weekend we went through Retrouvaille gave me hope, I knew it was possible to find happiness again,” she said. “But it was the post-sessions, that’s when it really happened for me because it’s easy to walk away from the weekend and go home and repeat the same mistakes.”

The Vincents said their early years of marriage were blissful and they considered one another best friends. Since Retrouvaille, they’ve returned to the bliss of their early years and have seen dozens of other couples find restoration and healing from marriages heading for divorce.

“If we hadn’t done this program, we wouldn’t be divorced, but we’d be miserably married,” Jenny Vincent said. “We’re both Catholics, and we don’t believe in divorce, but if we hadn’t done Retrouvaille we’d be living an angry, cantankerous existence. And that’s what so many couples believe their marriage has to be.”

The Vincents will lead the next Retrouvaille retreat Aug. 2-4 at the Spiritual Renewal Center. Registration ends Friday, July 26.

Couples can be of any faith, or non-Christians, but must be married or in a heterosexual domestic partnership as defined by the law. There will be a Mass on the final day of the retreat, but non-Catholics are not obligated to attend. It is open to couples who are looking for tuneup, are experiencing life as new empty-nesters, or are suffering from pain, infidelity, verbal and emotional abuse, or other issues.

“We want all couples to know that God doesn’t want you to suffer and the Church doesn’t want you to suffer in marriage. God wants your marriage to be joyful, and this program helps couples find it,” she said.

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Jennifer Preyss-Mathlouthi writes about religion and faith for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at jenniferpreyss.com, or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss.

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Jennifer Preyss-Mathlouthi is an award-winning faith writer and columnist.

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