success stories

Posted February 14, 2004

A success story in keeping marriages together

Retrouvaille offers a lifeline for hurting marriages

By Irene Voth
Catholic News Service

Each year in parishes of the St. Cloud Diocese, approximately 1,200 couples solemnly vow before God and their guests to love each other all their lives.

Yet, if statistics hold true, one-third to one-half of those marriages will end in divorce.

"None of the couples on their pre-marriage weekend ever think it's going to be them," said Christine Codden, director of the diocese's Family Life and Respect Life Office.

To help couples beat the odds, Codden's office sponsors weekends for marriage preparation, but also provides them with a booklet on resources, including a program called Retrouvaille, to help them through the lifelong voyage that marriage is supposed to be.

The program offers participants who are in a troubled marriage a chance to rediscover that love can be the driving force. Yet, according to Codden, the couples on a pre-marriage weekend don't think they're going to need it.

Kevin and Mary Gorghuber, members of St. Mary Parish in Alexandria, certainly didn't when they married in 1990.

Young, college-educated and Catholic, the Gorghubers found that staying together and in love was a struggle, even as the children were born -- Daniel in 1992, Madeline in 1994 and Joseph in 1996.

But they said they didn't let on to anyone that they were struggling. After all, they really didn't have any serious issues such as chronic health problems, spousal abuse, alcohol or drug addictions or serious financial woes.

"I'm sure we were seen as the happy little family with three kids," Mary Gorghuber told the St. Cloud Visitor, diocesan newspaper. But by 1999 they were considering ending the marriage.

The marriage of Marva and Phil Jorgensen, members of St. Peter Parish in St. Cloud, faced "difficulties almost from the beginning," Marva Jorgensen said.

"There was a strong need on my part to be in control," said Phil Jorgensen, who said he was constantly trying to compensate for being born with only one arm. He said his goal in marriage was "to marry the most beautiful woman I could find, have four or more children and put them in parochial school. The man would be in control, and the woman would stay home and mother the children."

Like the Gorghubers, the Jorgensens appeared to have a happy home and were also blessed with three children. But inside the Jorgensen home, Phil said he expressed his need to be in control by abusing his wife and being, in Marva Jorgensen's words, "very severe" with the children.

The couple sought marriage counseling, and the abuse finally ended, she said. But the kind of marriage they sought was still only a dream.

It was the death of a child that threatened the marriage of Carol and Jerry Jansen, members of St. Anthony Parish in St. Cloud.

"For 86 percent of couples who lose a child, their marriage does not survive," Jerry Jansen said.

Before the death in 1978 of their 18-month-old son, Kevin, in a freak accident, the Jansens' marriage was what Carol described as "probably typical."

"We had some struggles in communication," she said of the early years. "There were a lot of lonely periods and periods of isolation in our marriage."

"Kevin was our first-born, and I didn't get to spend a lot of time with him," Jerry Jansen said, as he began telling the painful story of how he unknowingly backed the car over the toddler as he was leaving for work earlier than usual one morning.

"He must have followed me out," he said. "I must have left the door open long enough for him to slip out."

The couple visited a counselor within 24 hours, which Carol Jansen believes was a vital first step in beginning to deal with the "crushing weight" of guilt and grief. But they didn't seek further help immediately and their relationship deteriorated.

Each of these couples participated in Retrouvaille, which features an initial weekend retreat and follow-up sessions. Retrouvaille (pronounced retro-vie) is a French word meaning "rediscovery."

During the weekend, couples listen to presentations made by "team couples" whose marriages have been saved or strengthened through practicing the communication skills learned when they were Retrouvaille participants. A priest is also present during the initial weekend to offer spiritual direction and the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist to Catholic participants.

After the initial weekend, the Retrouvaille program continues at another site, where six follow-up sessions are held. Couples are asked to make a donation to help cover the cost of the program, but no one is turned away if they are unable to make a financial contribution.

For the Gorghubers, who participated in Retrouvaille in St. Cloud in 1999, it was a new beginning.

"They said you'll know from this weekend if there is hope or not," Mary Gorghuber recalled. "It takes a lot of courage just deciding to go through with it."

"There were 12 couples on our weekend," Kevin Gorghuber said. "And some were on their second or third marriages. They said to us, 'Work it out now or you'll just take the baggage with you to your next marriage.'"

Retrouvaille was created in 1977 in Quebec and introduced into the United States in the early 1980s, so it was not available when the Jansens and Jorgensens took the first steps to rescue their marriages.

Both couples participated in Retrouvaille in 1989 in the Twin Cities after involvement with other ministries, including Marriage Encounter. The Jorgensens and Jansens believe so strongly in what Retrouvaille can accomplish that they began to coordinate Retrouvaille in central Minnesota in 1990 and continue to do so today.

"We gained so much from Retrouvaille," Marva Jorgensen said. "We don't have it made, but we keep working at it, and we're better equipped to handle conflicts more constructively."