Find Enrichment and Support for Their Partnerships by Participating in Retreats
Special to the Star Tribune
Minneapolis - St. Paul,
Sunday, February 20, 2011
WAYS TO RECONNECT
Evaluate who you are as an individual and as a couple. Talk to your partner
about how and why you both believe communication between the two of you has
Make time to spend together as a couple as often as possible.
Consider what your partner and you individually bring to the relationship.
Write a letter to your partner about your feelings regarding the relationship —
not an e-mail — and mail it.
David Woolley and Cyndie DeRidder had been in a
long-distance relationship for a couple of years when DeRidder
moved to Minneapolis in 2004. The couple soon found themselves struggling and
decided to separate, although they still weren't convinced about their
At a very tenuous point
in their relationship, they attended a Heart to Heart couples
enrichment weekend at Koinonia Retreat Center in
Annandale, Minn. The deeply personal stories shared by the lead couples had a
"It was really
amazing how open the presenting couples were about their own
relationships," said Woolley. "They really laid themselves bare.
Their experiences opened the door for us to look into ourselves and our
relationship." The couple married a year ago.
Heart to Heart, a
nondenominational program for opposite-sex and same-sex couples,
married or not, was founded in 1994 by three local couples, including Eric and
Laurel Lein of St. Paul.
together for 41 years and married since their early 20s, participated in a
Marriage Encounter group in 1990 and found it so beneficial that they wanted to
start a similar program to also welcome gay and lesbian couples.
"We wanted to offer
this kind of program to a community that was not represented," said
Laurel. "I think one of the best things about our weekends is that we
respect people from many different backgrounds."
Unity Church-Unitarian in
St. Paul serves as a sponsor for Heart to Heart; the program guidebook is
similar to one used by Marriage Encounter, but with a diminished focus on the
Heart to Heart weekends
are offered twice a year and include presentations on topics such as finances,
parenting, intimacy, relationship crises and communication.
couples, we take turns telling the group about our own difficulties," said
Sue Harrington of Edina, who has been a leader with her husband, Terry Miller,
for nine years. "We are not offering disillusionment, but rather tools for
couples to find their own way together."
There are no group
sharing sessions; the structure of the Friday-Sunday event revolves around
presentations by the leaders and then time for individual couples to
communicate privately, sharing their thoughts in conversation and journaling
"We can definitely
see a lot of emotions in the couples, but we never know what is causing their
pain because we don't ask," said Laurel. "One of our experiences
might have just touched a nerve for them."
The retreat leaders, all
volunteers, are quick to point out that Heart to Heart weekends are not
intended to serve as a replacement for couples
therapy, although they do occasionally have couples attend who have been
referred by a therapist.
"I think people are
hungry to spend time together as a couple, and these weekends offer that chance
to be face-to-face," said Nancy Gossard, who
with partner Susan Hoffman has been serving as a lead couple for the past year.
The pair, who live in Minneapolis, have received positive feedback from
other same-sex couples at the retreats for their willingness to share the story
of their own relationship, which began 29 years ago.
"As Nancy is fond of
saying, it is great to have an opportunity to have your relationship validated
by others," said Hoffman.
After the Heart to Heart
retreats, participating couples are encouraged to form small groups and
continue to meet on a regular basis, and many do.
"I know that Laurel
and I wouldn't be a couple today if we hadn't followed up with an ongoing
group," Eric Lein said. "Our story has had
many ups and downs, but that is what it is like to be in a relationship."
a West St. Paul freelance writer.
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