The Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter is dedicated to improving the Richmond Community and to supporting local churches by strengthening marriages. The organization pursues this goal through Marriage Encounter Weekends in which couples reconnect, reaffirm the sacred covenant of marriage, and learn communication skills. While Worldwide Marriage Encounter has Catholic roots, it is inclusive of other expressions of the Christian faith. In the Richmond area, denominations such as Methodists, Episcopalians, and Baptists hold weekends for members of their own faiths. In addition, the Catholic weekends reserve a percentage of their available spaces for couples of other faith traditions.
The Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter does not have an articulated doctrinal position on individual articles of the Christian faith, but it assumes a theology compatible with the Apostle’s Creed. The only position taken by Worldwide Marriage Encounter that in any way differs from that of traditional Christianity, especially traditional Catholicism, is its treatment of sexuality. The group and its literature honors sex as a vital element of a healthy marriage and as an expression of God’s love. Couples are encouraged to dialogue about sex and are encouraged to make love as a part of the weekend’s activities. The procreative role of sex is not emphasized, and there is no mention of the church’s position on birth control. Part of the philosophy of The Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter is that communicating emotions and listening without judgment are the pillars of intimacy. They believe that husbands and wives become disillusioned if the marriage is not routinely infused with intimacy. The group teaches that unfortunately, after the initial courtship period, most couples stop sharing emotions and concentrate on the tasks associated with marriage and family. Maintenance of the relationship slips to the bottom of the list of priorities.
The Marriage Encounter Weekends are held in hotels, with couples staying in rooms rented by the organization. Organized sessions held in conference rooms. For Catholic weekends, the group is usually led by three couples and a priest; for groups of other faith-expressions, weekends are led by four couples. The leaders share their own experiences of marriage and of learning the techniques proposed by Worldwide Marriage Encounter. They present Worldwide Marriage Encounter materials and handle the weekend’s logistics. The leaders do not counsel couples, nor do the couples discuss their marriage or any problems they might be experiencing with anyone except each other. The weekend ends late Sunday afternoon, and couples are encouraged to meet regularly with other “encountered” couples and to continue the communication method learned during the weekend.
The weekend is divided into approximately ten sessions. Each session starts with a presentation in which leaders introduce a topic and teach from the WWME’s curriculum. The couples return to their hotel rooms to communicate about the assigned topic using a prescribed method of communication called “dialoguing”. Each dialogue takes about twenty minutes and involves three steps.
- Each member of the couple writes a love letter for ten minutes, describing his or her feelings about a particular subject such as, “What I appreciate most about you is ____” or “In what ways do I find it difficult to listen to you and how do I feel about that?”
- At the end of ten minutes, the couple exchanges and reads each other’s love letters. They then decide which person’s emotions are strongest and therefore the one that they will continue to dialogue about.
- The person who is now the listener, asks questions, trying to get clarity about the other’s feelings. Follow-up questions can include “Is it like the time __________?” or “Have there been other times when you felt this way?”
The Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter encourages couples to express feelings during this time, not judgments. A feeling is thought to be neither right nor wrong and has no morality attached to it. More importantly, perhaps, one cannot really argue against another’s feelings. To encourage couples to share feelings, Worldwide Marriage Encounter provides a list of words associated with feelings, such as happy, angry, tired, sad, overwhelmed or excited. The group also provides couples with feelings prompts, such as asking them to rate the intensity of the emotion and how it feels in their body, and suggests sense-metaphors for describing the emotion. Examples include: “My anger would taste like a bitter lemon. I feel affection for you that feels like soft silk. My joyful feeling has all the colors of a sunset at sea.” Couples are encouraged to avoid engaging in discussions about old hurts that are off subject, blaming, being critical, interrupting their spouse or giving up and walking out on the discussion.
At the end of the weekend, each couple is encouraged to make dialogue a part of their daily routine. Possible topics for dialogue are offered, and the couple is encouraged to remain active in the Worldwide Marriage Encounter community. Since the weekend is free for participants, couples are also offered a chance to make anonymous donations at the end of the weekend.
Like all of the leadership, the leaders of Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter are trained volunteers. Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter is a non-profit, volunteer organization. Leaders are neither clergy nor marriage counselors but rather are couples who have found that their marriages have been transformed through the marriage encounters and wish to share the experience with others.
Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter
Bill & Mary Dingler
Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter materials
Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter website
Richmond Diocese of Worldwide Marriage Encounter group leaders
Profile prepared by Christine Woodman