By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
WESTFORD, Mass. — Designed as a positive and personal experience for married couples, there are three upcoming Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekends being held in the coming months. With an emphasis on communication, each weekend retreat offers couples a chance to reestablish a relationship with each other and with God.
In 2001, Richard and Linda Hufnagel were looking for a way to strengthen their Marriage, and Richard said he went online to see what was out there. When he began to read about WME, he realized that it would be a perfect fit. “I didn’t like the idea of counseling,” he said, “and I thought a weekend away for the two of us might be just the ticket.”
Currently married for 37 years, in 2001 the couple were beginning to see their four children grow and one-by-one move out of the house. “Mom had that little bit of empty-nest syndrome,” said Linda, “a little worry that my job as a mom was disappearing. Then I was looking at Richard and saying, ‘Where’s the connection at this point?’ He was working or I was working with the kids, and now the kids were going.”
During their 2001 WME experience, the Hufnagels felt an instant connection with not just those presenting during the weekend, but a deeper connection with their Catholic faith.
“All of the presentations, in one way or another, really struck home with us,” said Linda. “There’s one on listening, one on communication — so many aspects that we needed help in, in what we were going through. Everybody in their Marriage, as time goes on, you turn the page and you’re in a different chapter. They had so many good things we could apply, and then did apply.”
She added, “It was very faith-filled for us, which was very comforting. We knew that we would be taken care of.”
“Part of the draw was that it was faith-based and a Catholic retreat,” said Richard, who, along with his wife, is a member of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Westford. “I came away from the weekend with a reminder that Marriage is a Sacrament, and that God is part of our relationship. Being reminded of that was good, and a reminder to move forward and to keep working on our relationship.”
By 2009, the couple was ready for another WME experience — “a tune-up,” said Linda — and at this stage in their life, all four children had moved out and the couple was now grandparents. Even though they were at a different chapter in their lives, the Hufnagels admit that reconnecting with the WME faith-filled community once again enhanced their Marriage.
“We wanted to go back again,” said Linda. “Pretty much everything was the same. You get to meet different people, which is wonderful, and you come from different perspectives. Again, we were in a different place and different time, so we heard or saw things we didn’t see at the first one that we could apply to our Marriage.
“It was getting back to the foundation, the community itself; when it comes to the Marriage Encounter community, it is wonderful. It’s really something that you don’t just go on a weekend and it ends there; there is so much community if you want to be involved. The married couples meet with each other and there’s not a lot of places you can go in today’s society that support Marriage. It has such a support base; it’s wonderful. It’s enriched our lives.”
After the 2009 WME, the Hufnagels were asked to become part of the team, and are now the current leaders for the area; “We decided that at that time it was good for us and we wanted to take it a step further,” said Linda. “Every step you take, takes you a little deeper — whether it’s an encounter with self and figuring out yourself, and how that enriches your relationship, whether it be with your husband, children or grandchildren. It comes back at you tenfold.”
The experience or “gift” of the weekend is something the couple enjoys giving back to other couples: “As time has gone on, we realize what a special gift it is and how we can help others,” said Richard. “We see it on the weekends and in the couples, see their growth. When we stay in touch with them afterwards, we continue to see that. It’s pretty wonderful to be a part of that.”
The Hufnagels agree that couples should come with an open mind and they hear from couples who credit the WME weekend for transforming their lives and Marriage.
“They come with these preconceived notions and leave the weekend transformed with a totally different attitude,” said Linda. “You know they see the possibility of what life can be, and it’s such a blessing for them that they’ve gone through this.”
Couples have walked out stating they don’t want to go home, said Richard, “and that’s not uncommon. We receive letters and emails after that fact that blow us away regarding what people received on the weekend. It’s hard to put it into words.”
For those thinking that attending a WME weekend means admitting something is wrong with his or her Marriage, or that it sends the signal to others that something is wrong, the Hufnagels say that train of thought couldn’t be further from the truth; “We never say that,” said Linda. “You’re coming in and we’re giving you tools. It is billed as ‘enrichment’ and that’s exactly what it is because everybody is in different places at different times of their Marriage. These tools that we give you can work for anyone. It doesn’t mean your Marriage is in trouble or you have a bad Marriage. You take it to whatever level you want to be at; it has nothing to do with us.”
Richard offered this advice to anyone sitting on the fence: “Every Marriage has some kind of problem. If you love your spouse and want your Marriage to be better, then go on a weekend. Period. It will change your lives. What you get out of it is up to you. You don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain.”
Three WME weekend retreats are scheduled for 2014: September 19-21 at Betania II, 154 Summer Street, Medway, Mass; October 24-26 at St. Methodios Faith and Heritage Center, 329 Camp Merrimac Road, Contoocook, N.H.; and December 5-7 at the Miramar Retreat Center, 121 Parks Street, Duxbury, Mass. For more information on any retreat, go to the WME website: www.WWME.org.