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 | Mitchell Palmquist | Photos by Maddie Dobrowski

Help for marriages

When you are having serious problems in your marriage, you’ve lost your best friend. The fact is, there is nobody there to help you. You might go to a friend who tells you to walk away, or who gives you an easy answer. Or you attend 15 therapy sessions that you can’t afford, which may or may not work. You don’t have any answers and you feel so alone. Your pain is all-encompassing. I think the only thing that can help, the only thing that can reach you, is to see that pain reflected in someone else’s experience. I don’t think we take the pain of broken relationships seriously. 

– Don Morrison

The pain of a broken marriage is sadly all too common; but those who have experienced a Retrouvaille retreat know brokenness need not to be the end. Don and Sherry Morrison’s story did not start or end in the place Don describes. However, when they present their story at Retrouvaille retreats, they open their own story to all the couples struggling to make their marriages work and show that a couple can move from a place of pain to health and happiness.

Don and Sherry met in 1994. They quickly struck up a friendship when they started new jobs at the same law firm on the same day. They were dating other people at that time, but they maintained their friendship for the next few years. “Eventually,” Sherry said, “I heard he was in a car accident, and I was like, ‘What happened, I heard you were in this terrible accident.’ So we ended up meeting up for drinks.”

“Sparks flew,” Don interjected. Both smiled as they told this story, and Sherry said they began dating in 1998. They were married in 2000. “It was nice having a relationship with somebody that I had a history with as a friend,” Don said. “That was kind of a new experience for me.”

As with so many marriages, after-marriage life became busy. After a few years, Don and Sherry were living in Seattle. They began to feel the need to move to Spokane to be closer to Don’s parents. The decision was made for Don to keep working in Seattle. The decision to split their time between Seattle and Spokane soon caused a split between Don and Sherry.

“We were physically separated for a number of years ... almost all of the time,” Don said. “About five years,” Sherry interjected.

“During that time, things came apart in a number of ways. We never really had the skills for conflict management. I think we were both afraid of conflict,” Don said. Sherry added, “We did lots of avoidance. We never fought.”

“I got to a place with our separation, and with problems that developed, that I had basically left the marriage emotionally,” Don said. “After the big blow-up, I made a decision. I was not going to let that continue, but I didn’t know how to get back on track.”

Around this time, Sherry went online and searched for “Catholic marriage help.” Retrouvaille came up, and a retreat was happening only a week or so later. Don and Sherry decided to go.

Both Don and Sherry were apprehensive. “I went into the weekend not knowing how to fix anything, not knowing how this was going to help me at all. And just kind of afraid of what was going to happen,” Sherry said. “I went into the weekend with a question mark. I was willing to do it, but I was afraid nothing would really help.”

“I knew it was going to be a group setting, and I was very concerned about having to speak, having to go into issues. They reassured me that wouldn’t happen,” Don said. “It was a revelation to me that we could have a situation where you maintain your privacy and your personal space and work on yourself and your relationship in that group setting.”

Both Don and Sherry said that seeing the presenter couples sharing their stories of pain and healing provided hope to couples on the weekend. Sherry said walking into their own retreat, she thought, “If they can get through this, well, we can certainly try.”

The weekend itself can be likened to opening a space to work on your relationship. “I left the weekend and I was like, ‘Here I thought I knew how to communicate but had never communicated really.’ To talk about our feelings, Don and I had never done that before,” Sherry said. “And I was like, ‘Holy cow, there is this whole new way where we can actually make some progress, and it is not that hard to figure out.’”

After the initial weekend retreat, couples attend a series of post-sessions to continue the work of the weekend. “The post-sessions deal with discrete, separate issues that you might be facing,” Don said.

“Once you open the door and improve your communication, then you can begin to use tools to help your marriage,” he added. Speaking to their own experience of the post-sessions, Don said, “Every time we came away with something we could implement and make more progress.”

The ongoing support of the community is a big factor for many who attend Retrouvaille retreats. “Retrouvaille is not just a weekend,” Sherry said. “It’s not just the post-sessions, it’s a vibrant community. We get together each month. It’s a great community.”

Don and Sherry now present at some retreats, both in the local area and throughout the region. Participation in ongoing work on their relationship is important to both Don and Sherry. “You should never really stop working on it,” Sherry said.

When asked who would benefit most from Retrouvaille, Sherry replied, “I really think Retrouvaille can help anyone; but I think because of the way the program is structured, people who are having trouble or people who feel lost or alone, those are the people who I think would benefit the most.”

Is your marriage hurting, lonely and lacking hope? Find a Retrouvaille weekend here:

The next retreat in the Spokane area is Feb. 14-16, 2020, at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center.

What is Retrouvaille?

Our primary goal is to provide help for couples who live in the disappointment and pain of marriage problems. The Retrouvaille weekend provides a safe setting, encouraging couples to learn communication in marriage in a respectful manner.

The post-session phase of the Retrouvaille program is as critical to a couple experiencing marital problems as the initial weekend experience. We know that the degree of disappointment, deterioration, and despair in hurting marriages cannot be healed in one weekend. Restoration takes time. The post-weekend sessions provide support as couples discuss concepts of the importance of communication in marriage, intimacy, handling conflict, and many other topics.

The final phase of the program, CORE (Continuing Our Retrouvaille Experience), allows for casual, supportive small group meetings each month to continue to reinforce the communication tools learned on the weekend as couples continue to heal their marriages.

– From the Retrouvaille website: