How important is honesty in a marriage? And can revealing hidden feelings make a union stronger?
Members of Marriage Encounter, a 39-year-old international organization founded in Spain by the Roman Catholic Church, say yes, and the discussion techniques the group teacheshave helped their relationships.
"We were living as married singles, working on earning money and not taking time to work on our relationship," said Kathy Passeur,a Hampstead resident who with her husband, Fred, serves as public relations chair for the local organization.
"Our marriage was good, but we didn't realize it could be a lot better."
The organization, which boasts groups in 81 countries and in each U.S. Catholic diocese, sponsored its regional convention last weekend in Towson. About 30 Carroll couples attended the event.
"Our purpose is to enhance the marriage and present it as a
worthwhile state of life," Fred said. "Often we lose that broad focus that there are other couples throughoutthe United States that share the same values. Conventions allow you to be excited about the fact that you are flourishing as a married couple."
During the year, the diocese sponsors Marriage Encounter weekends once a month, at which couples are taught ways to discuss their feelings and thoughts.
Many participants say they leave the sessions with a stronger
marriage and eager to share more of themselves with their spouse.
"Most couples have gained a closeness and a renewed love affair," Kathy said. "They've grown closer and continue to share the good as well as the bad."
Although the group is sponsored by the Catholic Church, couples from any faith are welcome.
"Other faiths also believe that marriage is a promise you have made forlife," Kathy said. "They get something out of it as well."
Organizers say religion is not the weekend's primary thrust. Couples hear others tell their stories about marital problems, such as poor communication.
Individuals then consider a question, such as "In what waydo I hinder communication in my marriage?" and discuss the question privately with their spouse.
Only the final discussions deal specifically with the couple's dedication to God.
"If you asked 100 couples who made a weekend, 70 would say the focus was on their relationship to one another," Fred said. "The other 30 might mention that, inaddition to that, they discussed how God had a place in their marriage.
"The only barrier to coming without some kind of faith would be if the person resisted what was taught in the whole weekend be
cause God was mentioned in it."
Although Marriage Encounter attempts to strengthen marriages, the weekends are not counseling sessions to help troubled relationships.
"We're not professionals to solve problems," Fred said. "This makes a good marriage better."
After the weekend, many couples join "circles" that meet in members' homes. Meetings are similar to the encounter weekends, except that couples share their ideas with the group.
Regional and national conventions in alternate years give couples a chance to reunite with those with whom they shared an encounter weekend and strengthens commitment to the marriage.
"It's easy to lose track of the techniques and communicating with one another," Kathy said. "Conventions challenge you because you see others who are making their marriage work."