How do newly married couples spend their weekends

Marriage as a source of strength for the church

If I spend so much time keeping our house in order, so much time doing laundry and grooming, why shouldn't I also spend time cultivating relationships? Sieglinde Haubner and her husband Peter accepted an invitation from the Marriage Encounter Association (ME) to a weekend of encounters for married couples for the first time a good ten years ago. Since then she has seen her marriage and her relationships with other people in a different light

"After eight years of marriage, we were suddenly in love again," says the Chemnitz woman, looking back on her first ME weekend in Magdeburg. The days together were actually quite unspectacular: three married couples told the other participants about their efforts to keep their love alive in everyday life: How they try to listen to the other with all their heart and to hold back with hasty judgments, as they do Always discover partners in their otherness as a gift. A priest shared his fellowship with couples who lived this way. In addition, all couples had plenty of time for one-to-one conversations

Before that, the Haubners had considered it unalterable that a certain routine creeps into a marriage over the years, that conversations become shorter and more and more revolve around the organization of everyday life, that everyday disputes leave injuries. Meeting couples who were just as different as the two of them, but whose relationship was bursting with liveliness, was a pleasant surprise for both of them

The ME weekend brought

practice them for thought

their marriage, but also made them more aware of the role God played in their partnership. "At that time I understood completely new what the sacrament of marriage actually meant," remembers Peter Haubner. Gradually, his view of the Church has also changed. For him it has acquired a more lively dimension. He feels more and more responsible for his community and for the whole church

The two teenage children also confirm that the Haubner family has changed a lot through contact with Marriage Encounter. Parents have become more hospitable, approach strangers more spontaneously, and the family atmosphere has become warmer

But that doesn't make the two Chemnitzers feel like the perfect married couple. As is likely in any marriage, they have ups and downs. They perceive it as a constant training field to remain in dialogue, to listen to one another well and to accept one another with the respective feelings and viewpoints, to pray together. "We always need external impetus," emphasizes Sieglinde Haubner

So after their first ME weekend they were already pleased about the offer of a so-called "bridge evening", where the participants could refresh their experiences of the weekend and reflect on it again together with experienced married couples. Since then, they have repeatedly sought contact with other couples and priests in the community and made use of a wide variety of events. For several years now, they have been part of the "team pairs" who run ME weekends

Every 14 days they spend an evening together with the Dessau Marist Father Bernd Kordes, who has been part of the management team of ME weekends for many years. His first weekend, which he experienced as a participant in Ireland, is unforgettable for him: "Never before had I felt so accepted. I understood that God was the first to love me and that I can respond to this love." He was amazed by the loving manner in which the married couples treated each other and by the appreciation with which they treated him as a priest

"Since then, I have never doubted that the priesthood is the right calling for me," says the father. The intensive exchange that the married couple practice with their partner is primarily practiced with his confreres in the religious community, first in Ireland, later in Passau, and now in Dessau. "If everyone lives their calling to the full, great things can grow out of it for the Church," he says

Marriage Encounter has neither developed new piety nor new liturgical forms. Outwardly, Bernd Kordes lives the way he has always lived, but experiences many things more intensely, such as the greeting of peace at Holy Mass. Since he has tried to listen to other people wholeheartedly, he has also understood scriptures more intensively, for example

The Gospel text about the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, for example, used to be a sober healing report for him. Now he tries to read between the lines: "She had a fever. Peter, who was actually married to her daughter, had been roaming around with a certain Jesus for weeks. She was probably angry about it. I have often seen the same thing myself The personal encounter with Jesus, the experience of his love, then, to a certain extent, disarmed her.

He has already seen around 2000 married couples at ME events over the years, Father Kordes estimates. In the new federal states, ten to twelve couples usually come to the weekends. The impressions that the spouses express at the end of a weekend are similar

They feel inspired because they regain the basic security of being liked and loved by their partner. The prospect of growing in their relationship is a fulfillment of deepest longings for them. They find it beneficial to "not mince words, but also not have to do a soul striptease"

Even couples who have already had their golden wedding anniversary experience themselves "freshly in love". Obviously, it is not a question of age to rediscover your relationship. Bernd Kordes remembers a couple in the 70s who had changed at the end of the weekend: "The man discovered his caring and suddenly treated his wife very tenderly." All these experiences, says Father Kordes, strengthen in him a hope that carries him through everyday life

During the ME weekends, Sieglinde and Peter Haubner also become aware again and again of what they owe to their faith and their community. "In God, freedom and closeness are not a contradiction in terms" they learned. That is why they are always happy to invite other "couples who like to be married to each other" to their weekend get-togethers

Dorothee Wanzek

This article was published in issue 24 of the 47th volume (in 1997).
Included in the online edition: Sunday, June 15, 1997