Beyond "I do" - Worldwide Marriage Encounter puts marriage front, center, and sacramental
Marriage, just like life, has its ups and downs. And with the challenges of a national pandemic, families are undergoing stress in ways they have not experienced. Sometimes couples need help getting through tough situations. Other times they just need to reconnect and find intimacy like they shared during their dating days.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter offers a remedy. For more than 50 years, the experience has helped more than 3.5 million couples in almost 100 countries listen, share, and connect more deeply, enriching marriages in ways unimaginable.
Ron and Judy Pekny, parishioners at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Keller, are one of 12 to 15 couples in the North Texas area who facilitate the experience. The couple recently chatted with the NTC about WWME.
How WWME has blessed your own marriage?
Ron: “Our Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend provided us with another means of communication where we can share more than our thoughts and attitudes and judgments — where we can share our feelings. It gives us another way of finding out what motivates and drives our partner, thereby knowing more than just what we can see. Once that happens, it brings us closer together, giving us an awareness of each other that we didn’t have before.”
Judy: “We were the typical happily married couple when we went on our Marriage Encounter, busy with home, family, work, and tons of outside activities that often had us traveling on separate paths. Our marriage was background music to our hectic lives. Going on the weekend helped us to put our marriage front and center and see our sacrament in a whole new way — to realize that God had a real, personal love for the two of us.
“Marriage Encounter also gave us the tools to communicate in a much more effective, life-giving way. We’ve been able to share with each other in a much deeper way and listen without our own attitudes or judgments getting in the way. We’ve also learned the value of forgiveness and healing.”
How does this experience differ from marriage counseling?
Ron: “In a Worldwide Marriage Encounter experience, the couple listens to presentations by the facilitators, and then has the opportunity to discuss what they have heard in the privacy of their room, using the communication technique that they have learned throughout the experience. This communication technique provides guidelines for listening, which allows couples to listen differently, thereby allowing them to discuss issues and come to resolution themselves.
“During the experience, the Worldwide Marriage Encounter team, which is comprised of three couples and a Catholic priest, share how their lives have been changed by using the communication technique, and how their sacraments and Catholic faith has been enhanced and strengthened.”
Judy: “Worldwide Marriage Encounter should never be confused with marriage counseling. The presenters are not professional counselors, simply couples and priests who have had an extraordinary experience and want to pass that gift along to others.
“The presenters’ sharings become the catalyst for couples to have private time with each other to discuss their own experiences. This type of dialogue allows them to reconnect in a new way, since it’s not focused on solving problems, but on rediscovering the person they fell in love with.”
What kinds of things do people take away from WWME that play a big role in strengthening their relationship?
Ron: “Couples have come away from the weekend telling us that they have never realized how our priests have a genuine stake in their marriage, or how our priests have a need for relationships with their people. Couples finally recognize that they are actually the sacrament of Matrimony.
Judy: “I can’t count the number of times someone will say ‘I never knew my husband or my wife felt that way.’ Or, ‘We never knew how to talk about this.’ Honest communication is the lifeblood of a marriage and being able to walk in each other’s shoes opens up a whole new world of intimacy and understanding. No matter how long a couple has been married or how well they communicate, there’s always more to discover.
“The couple who invited us to Marriage Encounter told us we didn’t need the weekend — we deserved it. And they were right — every marriage deserves this kind of attention.”
How is this year different, with Covid-19 restrictions?
Ron: “Worldwide Marriage Encounter has utilized a virtual environment to present the WWME experience. Numerous locations around the country have used technology to present the traditional experience, beginning on Friday evening and continuing through Sunday afternoon.
“Other than that traditional timetable, Marriage Encounter presents the very same Worldwide Marriage Encounter experience on weekday evenings, spread out over several weeks. We have been part of the presenting team for one of those, which was conducted on Monday and Thursday evenings, over the course of three-and-a-half weeks. Each of these experiences provides the same content and allows for couples and priests to attend from the privacy of their own home.”
Judy: “This has been a life-changing year for couples, families, churches — and certainly for Worldwide Marriage Encounter and other ministries. Seeing the stress couples and priests are under made it more important than ever that we offer them an opportunity to hit a reset button for the benefit of their relationships.
“WWME is very conscious of the need to honor all local Covid-19 restrictions, while at the same time continuing to offer the gift of a WWME experience. That’s why we have been quick to switch from in-person to virtual experiences while we are in the midst of this pandemic. … Even though couples may have been spending far more time together during this Covid crisis, it’s usually not quality time to benefit each other. We’re grateful for the technology that enables us to continue to reach out to couples and priests in this way — until, we hope, in-person experiences can begin again.”