In February, 2011, my fiancee, Kristina, and I attended a retreat in Omaha, Nebraska, sponsored by the Pope Paul VI Institute. The retreat was given by Fr. Jay Szymczak from the Institute of Family Studies in Poland. The retreat was an English language adaptation of the 1st Program for the Development of Marital Relations, called I + You = We, which is presented to couples as part of their marriage formation in Poland. The February retreat was the first time the retreat was offered in the United States.
Kristina and I had already attended the Engaged Encounter retreat prescribed by our diocese, which provided an opportunity for dialogue about key topics relating to marriage, but the I + You = We retreat was much more helpful than the diocesan one for several reasons.
First, the I + You = We presented enlightening content in six areas of married life: Idealistic visions and reality, Respect and acceptance of differences, Gift - not demands, Time for us, Dialogue and communication, and Sexual intimacy. Each area was approached from the standpoint of faithfulness, honesty, and love. A lecture was given on each area, which was summarized in a flow chart in the retreat workbook, a format that was easily understood. Couples had ample time after each presentation to discuss what was heard. Kristina and I appreciated the depth of the material presented. There were many examples given; for instance, six examples were given for what "I take thee" does not mean. Much of the material was presented in the form of questions which prompted us to reflect; for example, "To whom do I make my vow? To an idealistic vision of my spouse, or to a flesh-and-blood human being?" Having the workbook will allow us to re-visit the retreat throughout our marriage, and reconnect by seeing how we answer the homework questions at the end of each section.
As a result of this retreat, Kristina and I talked a lot more about the nature of marriage as a vocation... specific ways that we will need to sacrifice and be humble in order to help ourselves and one another reach Heaven. We benefited from the section about similarities and differences, in that we talked more about our differences and how that affects our relationship. We also had a beneficial discussion on how to prioritize our time and balance our spheres of marital activity. Another topic we particularly appreciated was "defending your spouse," which was an exercise in the importance of interpreting a spouse's actions in a positive light. Now that we are married, we have talked about how we have or have not done this in certain situations!
The I + You = We retreat gave us two things that we did not hear in either our diocesan retreat or counseling sessions with our pastor - specific advice, and a scriptural presentation of the ideal. An example of specific advice was, "If you feel that you are on the verge of wounding your spouse with a word, take his/her hand and embrace them." An example of a scriptural presentation of the ideal that challenges me to think was, "Am I capable of the attitude that the mountains should sooner be shaken than my patience for what my spouse says shall fail?" When I re-read these words which I first heard on retreat, I realize that I often lose patience with my spouse much too early, and that it is a holy thing to be patient. Because of the retreat, I see more specifically how being faithful, honest, and loving to my spouse can help me to practice biblical principles and realize where my priorities should be. Kristina and I appreciated the balance of research and religion provided. We have reflected more on the importance of received not only the Eucharist, but Reconciliation, if we are to be humble and holier and thus become a better spouse to one another.
Another facet of the I + You = We retreat that we appreciated was the fact that we took the retreat with couples in different stages of marriage and from different geographic areas. It was comforting to see that even couples who have been married for many years have some things to discuss and work on, but that a high level of peace, trust, and comfort can be reached. After hearing some experiences of other couples, we began to reflect more deeply on how our marriage will be affected by the addition of children.
Kristina and I strongly endorse the I + You = We retreat and the Program for Development of Marital Relations as offered by Fr. Jay. We have volunteered our assistance the next time the retreat is offered in our area. We think the program is the best thing we encountered out of everything in our formal marriage preparation, and we strongly endorse it for any diocese or organization that wishes to use it!
John and Kristina Pakiz