Nobody, no Catholic, active in their parish, involved in ministry, an example for others, or maybe just nobody, wants to admit, until it is too late and the divorce papers are about to be signed, that their marriage is in trouble. Troubled marriage speaks of personal failure, of not taking advantage of the graces of the sacrament, of sin, or vice, or moral lapse. Admitting to a troubled marriage is shameful.
I personally think it is fantastic that their are wonderful marriages of best friends who always work things out and would find it incomprehensible that anyone would not have a marriage just like theirs. There are many other married couples who have their ups and downs, but manage to make things right most of the time. But, disagree with me if you will, we live in a disposable society and marriage is one of the most disposable of all throw away relationships. If there is trouble in a marriage--one partner spends too much, drinks too much, has a sexual problem, is unfaithful, is mean, is verbally abusive, has issues from childhood, and on and on, the best first advice that anyone will give you is--get out! Don't put up with that! It is even implied or stated directly that something must be wrong with you if you stay in such a relationship.
But, then, as a Catholic, there is the divorce/annulment problem which at the very least is expensive, and at the worst is the prospect of becoming a wounded person, unable to fully participate in the life of the Church. So, for a Catholic in a troubled marriage, there are no easy solutions. There is marriage counseling, but finding a trustworthy counselor isn't easy, in my experience. And it is expensive and time consuming.
Many Catholic couples through the years have toughed it out in difficult situations. The release through death of one of the partners is the final solution to some of those marriages, sadly. The particulars of my own situation aren't all that relevant, except to say that I was in one of those difficult marriages. There were some tough problems, but anyone looking at my marriage from the outside would judge it wonderful. Anyone who knew my husband and I in the Church or out would say that we were upright, moral, and loving people. And we were.
But, underneath it all, although we didn't fight much, and we didn't treat each other badly for the most part and we were good people, our marriage was miserable. We were in a stage called misery and we had been there for most of our married life. Our strongest shared value, in my judgement, is that neither of us ever wanted to be divorced.
In the midst of a disagreement that got heated one day last fall one of us threw down the gauntlet--either marriage counseling, or Retrouvaille or else we are through with this marriage. The other partner jumped on the Retrouvaille. We had heard of it, like Marriage Encounter, without the encounter part or the lovey dovey stuff. It was help for troubled marriages.
The task seemed insurmountable, fix problems that had been a lifetime in the making. At Retrouvaille, the couple attends a retreat for a weekend at a hotel. We learned a lot on the weekend. We learned more on the follow up sessions that went every other week for what seemed like forever. I learned who my spouse was and I listened to him and he did the same for me. That sounds really simplistic and glosses over the very big problems that we faced. But, that was what Retrouvaille did for us at first, helped us to focus on the ways we loved each other, were gifts to each other, rather than focusing on the problems and areas of disagreement. For us, a key was looking at the differences in our growing up families and how that colored our expectations and reactions to each other. Retrouvaille offers exercises in listening, and in problem solving and in conflict management, but not the disageements are not the first thing to focus on.
It hasn't been easy. It took a lot of tears and hard work and it will never be over, we will practice the things, the techniques, that Retrouvaille taught us for the rest of our married lives, if we want to get out of and stay out of misery. We will probably stay involved with our local Retrouvaille community and we will become the married couple that the rest of the world saw us to be. God willing, and He is.
If you recognize this troubled marriage because you are in it or know someone who is, recommend Retrouvaille. It is easy to find on the world wide web. Most marriages are fixable. Dispite all the many troubles that life can present. Try!
(And I have been very reluctant to share this because some may want to offer sympathy or encouragement, but actually I am doing very well. I can see the problems I have been through as clearly a blessing and gift from God.)