By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — For their first wedding anniversary Bob and Ellen Bassler received a gift certificate from Bob’s oldest brother to attend a Marriage Encounter weekend.
“I didn’t know how to take that at first,” Bob said. “I asked my brother, ‘Do you think our marriage is in trouble after one year? He said, ‘No, it’s not like that. It’s to make a good marriage better by sharpening your communication skills with your wife.’”
Ellen was also taken aback by the gift. “I was not born and raised Catholic; I didn’t think I was religious enough to undertake it.”
But the Basslers accepted the gift as intended, and the Marriage Encounter they participated in 30 years ago in Dubuque was a terrific experience. Through the years, they’ve participated in other Marriage Encounters at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport where they are parishioners. In fact, the Basslers are among five couples organizing a Marriage Encounter weekend planned for Feb. 18-20 at Our Lady of Victory. Their hope is to encourage other couples to participate and to have the same positive experience.
“Marriage Encounter is intended for couples who have good marriages and want to make them better. It’s not counseling for people who are struggling in their marriages,” Ellen explained.
“The Marriage Encounter movement stresses that marriage is a sacrament and a covenant between the couple and God, not just a legal contract between the two of them,” Bob said. “We believe that so many marriages end in divorce because couples forget God’s role in sustaining and strengthening their lifelong commitment to each other. So from this standpoint, Marriage Encounter is a spiritual weekend.”
During the weekend, participants listen to talks other married couples present on topics related to married life; spouses separately and privately compose answers to questions posed during the talks; spouses share their responses with each other; meals are shared as a group; and time is set aside to socialize with other couples. At no time will couples be asked to share private information with the group.
“You start off getting to know yourself and then you move into getting to know your spouse and then you explore your relationship as a couple and your relationship as a couple with God,” Ellen said. The weekend provides time for active listening. “Instead of focusing on what you would like your spouse to do better, you focus on the things they do right and celebrate the goodness and rediscover each other.”
Making such a weekend multiple times has been energizing for the Basslers throughout 31 years of a marriage that has seen its triumphs and struggles.
Ellen, 53, is an admissions representative at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport. Bob, 55, is disabled because he suffers from Parkinson’s disease. They have two grown children: a married daughter and a son who is engaged to be married next summer.
About 12 years ago the Basslers were invited to participate as a team couple giving a talk at a Marriage Encounter. Team couples “talk about things in our lives, the reality of everyday life,” Ellen said. “In order to give these talks and have them be true and honest, we have to deal with issues we’ve glossed over or passed over. It makes our relationship stronger. Then when the weekend comes, we can hopefully inspire the couples by sharing how we’ve overcome those challenges,” Bob said.
“Everyone is there because they believe in marriage and want to better their marriage,” Ellen said. “It provides hope. It also gives a chance to meet other couples who are invested in their marriage and have taken the time to come to make a weekend.”
The biggest benefit of Marriage Encounter, she said, is the reminder about the value of communication. “Sometimes problems get bigger because you haven’t taken the time to communicate.”
Bob said being involved in Marriage Encounter “takes us to another level of helping other marriages while helping our own marriage.”
Marriage Encounter doesn’t end with the weekend. “We have regular monthly renewals so people who have made Marriage Encounter have a support community,” Ellen said. “Beyond the weekend there are still opportunities to keep rediscovering each other.”
IlaMae Hanisch, adult and family formation/lay ministry coordinator for the Davenport Diocese, said, “It is always helpful when a couple takes time to focus on their relationship.”
What: Marriage Encounter
Where: Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport
When: Feb. 18-20
Cost: $95 for couples (financial assistance is available); open to couples of all faiths. No one will be turned away for inability to pay.
Contact: Tracy or Joe Ripslinger at (563) 388-0355 or firstname.lastname@example.org for information regarding the weekend or to have an application mailed to you.
Ministry promotes marriage
The Marriage Encounter offered at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport is affiliated with National Marriage Encounter. Its mission is to promote and encourage marriage and family life by offering Marriage Encounter programs and community support in a spiritually diverse atmosphere, according to its website (www.marriage-encounter.org).
“National Marriage Encounter enables people to discover God’s vision of marriage and family life, thereby leading them to a clearer understanding of their relationship with each other and with God,” the website states.