By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special to the Bulletin | Published November 3, 2017
ATLANTA—Married couples at all stages of life can benefit from a weekend away that will take already good marriages and help shape them into lifetime love affairs.
Annie and Roger Borrello testify to the life-changing benefits of a Marriage Encounter weekend, referred to as the “Weekend” by those who have experienced it.
Before their encounter weekend 13 years ago, Roger’s consuming work schedule had spiraled out of control to the point of becoming an absent father to their then 5-year-old daughter. Although he was working to provide a comfortable life and nice home, their family life suffered.
Annie confided, “What was most important was that our relationship was affecting our child.”
While the family attended Mass regularly, Roger admitted he was mainly “clocking in and out.”
It was at Mass where Annie heard a short presentation about Marriage Encounter and signed up as a Valentine’s Day gift to Roger. When the weekend came, Roger was reluctant.
“I was the guy sitting there with his arms crossed,” he said.
However, their weekend brought them closer and provided them tools to “curb bad behaviors,” said Roger.
Annie agreed with her husband’s assessment.
“God’s timing was perfect. We learned about the joy we can have in our relationship,” she said.
Annie emphasized, “It’s a very private weekend. There is no group sharing.”
Marriage Encounter weekends, which first began in the United States in 1967, take place at a hotel or facility where presentations are given in the conference room. Couples stay at the hotel for the entire weekend.
A presenting team, consisting of a priest and three married couples, leads the programs. During the weekend, couples learn five tools of communication they can use daily to better understand themselves, their spouse and the gifts God calls couples to experience in marriage.
Jack and Angel LaBate, parishioners of St. Brendan the Navigator Church in Cumming, have been crusaders for Marriage Encounter for decades, having experienced a weekend in 1975. After more than 40 years of ministry to married couples, their zeal for Marriage Encounter and passion for each other and family remains evident.
The LaBates had been married for 14 years before attending a Marriage Encounter weekend. They were living in Massachusetts at the time and had three children.
“We definitely left with a fuller understanding of the greatness of our sacrament,” Angel said. “It opened our eyes to how to communicate more effectively.”
One component of the weekend is to better understand behaviors and what drives them. The goal is to realize how feelings are neither right nor wrong; it’s the behavior behind them that matters. Jack explained how this played out in his marriage prior to the first encounter weekend.
“We were on parallel tracks. I had my job and Angel worked part-time while taking care of the household and children,” he recalled.
Looking back, Jack explained that he was “a little jealous of the children” because they received all of Angel’s attention.
“On the weekend, I realized that it was OK to have that feeling but not to act on it,” he said.
Awareness is key and nurtures trust, allowing couples to recapture intimacy on an everyday level.
“Marriage Encounter gives couples a chance to push the world away and have time for each other,” said Jack.
Both of the LaBates understand that younger couples today face added challenges since both spouses often work and come home to tend to their children’s needs and activities. At a recent parish event for married couples, Angel noted that many couples said they missed the special time they used to have with their spouses.
“They wanted to know what they could do to share time together,” she said.
The weekend provides an opportunity to establish a daily 20-minute ritual to improve communication and recapture that intimate connection.
The Borrellos, members of St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta, wish more married couples knew the joy that comes from experiencing a Marriage Encounter weekend.
“It’s a gift to yourself, to your spouse, to your children, whether you are young or empty nesters,” Annie said.
Roger added, “The thing that has really clinched it for us has been to stay involved with the community and to be challenged to use the tools we learned on the weekend so we don’t fall back into bad behaviors.”
Annie sees the fruits of their labor when they converse with each other, finding how much joy comes from it.
“Communication is different for men and women and can depend on the way you were brought up,” she said.
Stepping back and listening to Roger is an area she has worked on, and they can see the benefits in their relationship.
The weekend has also deepened their faith and participation in their parish, added Roger. They are more generous and apostolic as they see how their love for each other mirrors God’s love.
“On the weekend you experience unconditional love, healing love, life-giving love. It’s how God loves us, too,” he said.
The next Marriage Encounter Weekend in Atlanta is Feb. 23-25, 2018. To register, or for more information, contact Annie and Roger Borrello at 678-242-WWME or visit www.wwme.org.