I've often talked about how I believe that marriage encounters helped save my marriage but I've never really gotten deeply into the mechanics of the thing.
Funnily enough though, the more I talk to aspies in marital crisis, aspies who have survived the crisis and aspies and partners who "crashed and burned", the more I understand exactly what marriage encounters armed me with and why, out of all the various marriage support agencies in existence today, it stands out as the one offering the best chance to couples with at least one aspie partner.
Whether the organisers realise it or not, the marriage encounters programme is particularly tailored for the aspie mind.
As part of this series of posts, I'm going to have to "spoil" some of the secrets of Marriage Encounters. For this, I apologise in advance. If you're already booked in on a course, or if you're definitely going on one, you should probably ignore these posts - I think it's better if you learn via the real event.
If this doesn't apply to you, then read on...
My initial reaction to the whole marriage encounters thing was a shrug. By the time my mother-in-law booked my wife and I on the course, our once proud marriage was in ruins. We were both ready to walk out on eachother - and indeed for a couple of weeks, we had vacated the house.
We'd tried counselling but it really wasn't going anywhere. Sometimes the counsellor would agree with me, sometimes with my wife. It was all a point scoring thing and kind of like an uncomfortable game of tennis.
I'd already decided in my head what marriage encounters would be like. I figured that it would be like an alcoholics anonymous meeting where we'd stand up and say "Hi, my name is Gavin and my marriage sucks". I'd figured that it would be a bit of a joke. I was also a bit dubious about the whole Catholic church bit. After all, I wasn't a good Catholic and neither was my wife. We really aren't the praying type.
The trip down to the venue was nice. It was the first drive that my wife and I had taken together in a long time - the first drive without kids that is... It was quiet and although we weren't exactly engaging in major conversation, I'm sure I rambled about my special interests and she rambled about hers. Neither of us listened to eachother though. We don't generally share the same interests. Back then, she and I saw this disconnection of interests as a drawback - it's amazing how much things have changed in such as short time.
If nothing else, then it was at least good that we managed to not fight over the map and directions. The programme moves around and we arrived in a sleepy looking village as darkness approached on a Friday night. My wife started talking excitedly about whether or not we should pick up some alchohol for later. We decided not to. After all, we were there for the whole weekend and we could always drive into town on the following night.
We never got to the alcohol shop.
We never even got to the town.
By the end of the weekend, my wife and I were totally exhausted. We'd saved our marriage but only by physically dragging it back from the precipice ourselves. Marriage encounters is hard work. Very hard work.
The beginning started out more or less as I'd expected. A whole group of us arrived, started talking to eachother and were introduced to some leaders, one of whom was a priest. I groaned inwardly.
My wife and I haven't had great tolerance for priests of late. The priest who'd officiated at our wedding some six years earlier had thrown a fit when we were five minutes late. He didn't want to be late for his dinner. At the time, we'd all rushed to the church from work and wouldn't be in a position to have dinner for several hours. We'd always felt that priests were very detached from reality and that people who had never been married should never be in a position to give marital advice. It turned out that we were right, but at the time, we didn't understand the pivitol role that the priest had in the group.
After stowing our luggage, we were all made to sit in a circle. "Here it comes", I thought, "group therapy". We were given a couple of questions to answer.
1. Describe one of the best times in your life - how did you feel?
2. Describe one of the worst times in your life - how did you feel?
I filled it in knowing that I wasn't going to be volunteering any info to the group at this point.
Then we were told.
Swap papers with your partner.
It was private between partners, we weren't going to share anything with the group.
We dutifully swapped papers. My wife looked at my paper, burst into tears and fled from the room. In shock, I looked down at her answers. Our wedding was listed as one of the best times and some run of the mill sad event was her worst.
Like a typical aspie (a word that I'd never heard of at the time), I'd taken the question literally.
My best time was a childhood Christmas, to which she couldn't relate - she'd not been there.
My worst time was a bout of suicidal depression, which I'd decribed in detail - and which I'd attributed to our marriage.
What an idiot!
Now... I understand it. Back then, I just thought I was answering a question.
I shook my head thinking... "the whole weekend is going to be like this. We're going to make things worse". I looked around and realised that there was sobbing all around me. At least I wasn't the only idiot.
Not knowing what to do, I started moving towards the door my wife had fled out... I glanced towards the moderator group at the front of the room and one of them smiled at me and gestured to indicate that I was making the correct decision.
I went outside and the door locked behind me.
I'm not sure if it was deliberate on their part or not but the locked door meant that my wife and I had to walk right around the building to get back in. It was a good walk and we smoothed things out as we walked and talked about what we'd written. It was the first time we'd properly discussed how we felt.
It was the beginning of a long process of healing... but, as we learned the next day, it really had to hurt if it was to heal.