Tom and Madeline McCully
We’ve been married for 46 years, and 39 years ago our lives were transformed when we made a Marriage Encounter Weekend.
We were seven years married and like many a happily married couple found ourselves in a bit of a rut. While still very much in love we knew that our marriage could do with an overhaul. We prayed about this and God answered our prayers.
Firstly, we moved to California, confident that a change of lifestyle would give our marriage the boost that it needed. However, the move did not fulfil that hope. Just before we decided to return to Ireland we read an announcement in our church inviting couples to attend a Marriage Encounter Weekend. We had prayed for a boost and this weekend for married couples sounded exactly that.
The weekend was presented by three couples and a priest. Each presenting couple shared the testimony of their own lived experience on different aspects of married life.
The priest universalised what the presenting couple shared and revealed that he too was on a journey of relationship, namely with the people that he was called to serve.
For us participants it remained a deeply private experience in that whatever we talked about with each other remained private to us.
The weekend highlighted the benefits of making romance and conversation our priorities. Looking back to our early marriage, these were the things that we had gradually neglected but now we are very much aware of their importance.
We heard that our feelings often dictate our actions. We learnt how important it was to encounter oneself and recognise how, despite our best intentions, our pattern of behaviour often interferes with our communication as a couple. Each of us comes to marriage from different backgrounds.
Madeline had often heard “Least said; soonest mended”, so, therefore, her way of dealing with anything that annoyed Tom was to remain silent until things were back on an even keel again, whereas Tom’s way was to forgive, forget and move on.
This meant that we often buried our differences and didn’t always share how we really felt. The weekend gave us the chance to reflect on different areas of our life and how we could enrich our experience of them by expressing our thoughts and feelings to one another.
We were reminded on the weekend that everything that we had wanted for our marriage was what God wanted for us too. We also realised how much our Church honoured and respected us and other married couples as living examples of the Sacrament of Matrimony, and that we had an important calling to help make Christ’s love for his Church real and visible in particular to our children and grandchildren.
That our family was a ‘Domestic Church’ became clearer and challenged us to become more open to reach out to others. We discovered too after the weekend that support from other couples was an important aspect of our continuing to strengthen our relationship.
The whole experience made us realise that every day is a new day in our marriage that we can choose to live in the best possible way.
After the weekend, we found it important to meet with other couples and we have become part of a support group that meets monthly, shares a light meal and explores different areas of relationship, such as family, spirituality, work, romance, health and many other topics.
Meeting with other couples on a similar journey helps us to re-energise our love for one another. We’ve also come to appreciate the support that we receive from our priests and bishops over the years.
Tom and Madeline McCully live in Derry and are members of the Council for Marriage and the Family of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
They are past leaders of Marriage Encounter in Ireland and have been missionaries for the movement to Africa and Europe.
Marriage Encounter also offers couples preparing for sacramental marriage the Engaged Encounter experience which is designed to enrich communication in all aspects of their relationship. Details of both weekends can be viewed at www.marriageencounter.ie or phone 087-784 0408.