Can the Church Help Hurting Marriages?

By Fr. Jerry Foley - Catholic Online
Jan 1, 2016

"Loved the wedding. Invite me to the marriage" - God.

This bulletin board message speaks not only to couples but to the churches.

Michael McManus of Marriage Savers calls the churches "wedding factories," noting that the silence of the churches when it comes to maintaining marriages is "scandalous."

Some years ago, the U.S. bishops asked American Catholics where they most needed help from the church. The overwhelming response was in their marriages and family life.

Could it be different? Of course. But marriage is an ideal in the church rather than a value. We believe ideals are very important but we do little to achieve them. We sacrifice to achieve values.

Greg and Kae turned to the church when they were separated and looking for help but were told that no help was available. Frustrated, Kae asserts "There's no shame in asking for help and expecting the efforts of the church to say, "We know you're struggling."

At the end of the last century, a theologian was asked what were the three most outstanding events of the 20th Century and named Alcoholics Anonymous as one of the three. In a world of diminishing neighborhoods and broken families, he said, AA has taught us again that we need each other and is spawning all kinds of peer ministries.

Retrouvaille, a ministry to hurting marriages, is one of these ministries. Retrouvaille consists of a weekend, 12 follow-up sessions, and ongoing support groups led by a priest and couples who have experienced marital difficulties themselves.

A man who participated in Retrouvaille wrote: "I'm telling you this to encourage you that people listen to suffering people, and people don't go to folks who "have it all together" when they have troubles. They go to someone who is not shocked, who has been hurt, and who will listen without passing judgment, someone who has found some answers but doesn't always have all the answers."

It's such sharing that moved Bob to say: "In Retrouvaille, we heard other couples talk about their marital problems. Hearing the team couples discuss their own relationships - the kind of pain they have experienced and the resolutions that took place through the commitment they made to each other at Retrouvaille - really moved a lot of people at that weekend."

Communication between spouses is a strong emphasis of Retrouvaille. When the Associated Press asked divorce lawyers what were the main causes of divorce, the lawyers stated that the major problem was communication difficulties and the only other major cause was couples drifting apart. No wonder. Yale University studies indicated the average American couple communicates only two minutes a day.

Here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, over 5000 couples have participated in Retrouvaille since we begin in 1989. Unofficial studies show that most of these couples will remain married, even though some were separated or divorced when they came to Retrouvaille.


Fr. Jerry Foley works as a priest in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He currently works in hospice ministry as well as with Retrouvaille and Catholic Engaged Encounter. He is the author of five books, including Courage to Love ... When Your Marriage Hurts available from Ave Maria Press.

Fr. Jerry Foley
4736 Coffey Lane
Minneapolis, MN 55406


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