In the UK, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church both offer a weekend retreat for couples called ‘Engaged Encounter’. These weekends are aimed at couples who are engaged to be married, to provide them with tools to carry into their marriage so that their relationships can grow stronger within themselves and as a part of their communities and the Church.

I learned about Engaged Encounter through some friends of mine, and the concept of “love as a choice” really resonated with me. I am not Christian, although my partner is, and I wanted us to be able to experience Engaged Encounter so that we can enable our relationship to be as strong as possible, and to explore how we can grow our relationship in a Christian context.

Unfortunately both the Roman Catholic and Anglican providers of Engaged Encounter define marriage as “one man and one woman”, and when I enquired with Anglican Engaged Encounter to ask if they were inclusive to queer couples, I was told their weekend would not be “comfortable, helpful or appropriate” for us.

My friends have allowed me to look over their workbook from the weekend and below I have written up the notes and questions from the booklet, so that my partner and I can work through this in our own time. I’m sharing this here for others because no people should be excluded from exploring and strengthening their relationships.

I have lightly edited the notes to be more inclusive of queer relationships, although the word ‘couple’ is still pervasive throughout because this is the most appropriate term for my relationship with my partner.

You can copy and paste the content below into a Word document, or you can access the original Markdown through the linked ‘last modified’ date at the top of this page.


Engaged Encounter

Introduction and Welcome

  • Theme of the Weekend
    • Knowledge of self
    • The meaning and value of Engagement
    • The couple and their relationship with God
    • The couple and their relationship with Church and community
  • What do we call a Dialogue?
    • Writing and Talking = Dialogue
    • Dialogue helps for Deeper Communication
  • Pattern of the Weekend
    1. Write about the question
    2. Exchange notebooks
    3. Read twice: once to get the message, second to think about the person writing (no commends on spelling, grammar or handwriting)
    4. Talk to discover more about the person who has written to you

Questions

Why have I come here this weekend?

What do I hope to gain?

What do I like most about you? How do I feel telling you this? Describe the feelings as fully as possible.

What do I like most about myself? How do I feel telling you this? Describe the feelings as fully as possible.

What do I like most about us? How do I feel telling you this? Describe the feelings as fully as possible.

Who am I?

Acceptance of self is essential for building relationships. I cannot love you as long as I do not love myself.

  • The way I present myself
    • Almost everyone lives with the fear of not being acceptable to those who are important to them
    • We have learned to behave in a way that gets us love and acceptance

Image: An iceberg

I show how I like others to see me (iceberg above water). I have the “me” that I do not want others to see (iceberg below water).

  • Consequences
    • This behaviour hides part of our true self
    • People struggle to accept those aspects which they believe are unlovable or unacceptable
    • Keeping parts of me from my partner will have negative effects on our relationship, making it superficial and incomplete

You never know… all those things that you do not like about yourself… your partner may well find them most endearing?

  • Unconditional love
    • Being loved and accepted by our partner frees us to accept ourselves and helps us to discover all the qualities that are in us
    • We do not have to be perfect in order to be loved
    • What we see as our faults and flaws can be equally attractive qualities
    • We also have qualities that we do not recognise or refuse to see

Questions

How do I like to be seen or experienced by others? (Imagine yourself in concrete situations: in your family, in a group, at work, with friends, in an interview for a job)

What aspects of myself do I hide and why? (Fear, embarrassment, tenderness, etc.)

How do I feel about my answers? Describe these feelings as fully as possible.

Being Engaged

Engagement is a special time of preparation for marriage. It is an opportunity to deepen your commitment to each other based on a true evaluation of unspoken fears, as well as an acknowledgement of joys.

  • Fears
    • Of not being always first with the other
    • Of not being able to accept my partner as they are
    • Of getting into the routine of marriage
    • Of losing my freedom
    • Of the future: can we live together?
    • Of being unfaithful
    • Of a life-time commitment

We all bring our own attitudes and expectations to our marriage. We will always be different from each other.

To love is a decision

To love someone is more than the expression of a feeling. Deciding to love enables us to go beyond feelings, towards realising our deepest dreams for our relationship.

Romance eventually leads to disillusionment as differences tarnish our romance. At that point we can either move into living separate lives, or make a decision to love and to live our dream together, returning to romance. This process is a cycle: the decision to love is an ongoing one.

Questions

Why have I decided to get married to you?

What are my hopes and fears?

What are my feelings sharing this with you?

What does “to love is a decision” mean for me in our relationship, and how do I feel about that?

Listening

Being listened to is once of everyone’s deepest longings. We all need to experience being listened to, which requires active participation, concentration, and hard work.

  • Barriers to listening
    • Reacting: when it seems I am being criticised
    • Giving advice: when no solution is being sought
    • Flight: I change the subject rather than listen to you
    • Information gathering: when I register what you say without trying to appreciate whet you are feeling
    • Consoling: rather than joining in your pain
    • Analysing: what the other is saying
    • Indifference: what you are saying does not touch me
    • Being fragile and going to pieces: when what I hear is different from my expectations
  • Listening is not:
    • Repeating or storing information for future use
    • A weapon to change the other person
  • Listening is:
    • Entering into the other person’s experience, to feel the depth of their emotion
    • Accepting the other person as they are

Listening helps us deepen our relationship.

When I truly listen, my partner experiences love and acceptance.

  • To listen is a decision to love
    • Listening is a gift we can offer to each other
    • “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”
    • To experience being listened to in this way is to experience being truly loved and accepted
    • We all, each one of us, desperately want to be listened to because we all want to be heard and seen as important

Being open and honest

While it is important to listen, that is only part of the story, it is equally important to reveal myself to the one I love.

  • Open communication
    • Opening myself to the person who loves me and in turn accepting the other person just as they are
    • Communicating openly means letting you know me and welcoming you as you are
    • Openness means making myself vulnerable, telling you about myself, as I am without defences, without hiding, even risking that you might take advantage of that
  • Barriers to communications
    1. Expectations
      • Can arise because at no time are we a ‘blank sheet’ – deep attitudes and superficial tastes are formed by our past: we find it difficult to believe that others have different approaches.
    2. Wanting a Quiet Life
      • Can arise because we are perfectly aware of our differences but want to avoid rejection or being hurt.
  • Good communication
    • The way to keep communication open is to decide to trust the other person
    • To trust is a decision… just as to love is a decision
    • Choose openness and honesty as a way of life

Questions

How deep is your relationship?

How often do I talk to you about things that matter deeply to me? (frequently / occasionally / rarely)

One thing I find difficult to talk to you about is…

The reason I find this difficult is…

Money

Money is one of the most significant challenges that all couples face in their everyday lives.

Money is a means to an end and we all have different attitudes towards money.

It is a very intimate subject and differences tend to generate tensions and strong feelings in particular fear of:

  • lack of money,
  • overspending,
  • becoming enslaved to money,
  • making wrong financial decisions.

Sharing about our different attitudes helps us deepen our relationship

Questions

Which of these statements do you agree/disagree with. Compar your answers with your partner and discuss.

Having a joint bank account is a good idea

Bills should be paid promptly

Job satisfaction is more important than wages

Credit cards lead to financial problems

Money is for enjoying now whilst we have the chance

Careful bank balance tracking is important

Saving a regular amount each month is reassuring

It’s OK to splurge on an expensive holiday whilst having credit card debt

The one who earns more is allowed to spend more

Being the only breadwinner is too stressful

Having a life insurance is important for financial security

Regular donating to good causes is a good practice

Briefly identify which of the previous statements create the strongest feelings in you. Describe your feelings as fully as possible.

Harmony despite tensions

Dealing with differences and tensions in a positive way helps to build a closer and positive relationship.

Differences lead to tensions. There are two ways these tensions can resolve. First, they may lead to arguments and conflicts, and this requires forgiveness and healing. Second, they may lead to confronting the issue in an open and honest way, and this can lead to intimacy.

Confronting issues together, rather than confronting each other, helps build the relationship.

  • Guidelines for confrontation
    • Being right is not as important as your relationship
    • Choose the right time – both have to be in the same open mindset
    • Don’t bring in a third party: this is between the two of you
    • Try to put the issue on the table
    • Try to stay physically close
    • Absolute remarks such as “you always” or “you never” are just not true
    • Endeavour to focus on your partner’s good points and affirm them
    • Dialoguing on feelings and thoughts first helps the focus stay on the issue
  • How hurts occur
    • Insensitivity
    • Thoughtlessness
    • Negligence
    • Forgetfulness
    • Lack of control
    • Criticism
  • How we avoid the necessity for forgiveness
    • I minimise
    • I deny
    • I make excuses
    • I compensate
    • I let time pass
    • I try to make up be doing something nice

Pain should be shared, acknowledged, and truly forgiven.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with justice.

Granting forgiveness is a “decision to love”.

Asking for forgiveness is a “decision to trust”.

Questions

In what ways do I avoid seeking forgiveness? How do I feel about my answer?

What have I done or omitted to do, which has caused you pain or harmed our relationship and for which I ask your forgiveness?

Marriage as a Sacrament

In the sacrament of Matrimony, your love goes beyond yourselves, a sacramental couple are a visible sign of God’s Love in the way they love and forgive each other.

It carries the love of Christ, which is without condition.

It is precisely this which makes it indissoluble.

Receiving this sacrament is entering into a covenant freely, knowingly and willingly, it is a gift of self, agreeing to 3 pillars of a married relationship:

  • Faithfulness
  • Indissolubility
    • Lifelong union, a lifetime commitment to work through the difficulties, and build up their relationship.
  • Fruitfulness

[I’ve not added the original definitions for faithfulness and fruitfulness because they normalise monogamous allocisheterosexual relationships to the exclusion of other types of relationships. Instead you and your partner may want to try and define what faithfulness, indissolubility, and fruitfulness mean for your own relationship.]

Wedding vows:

“I __ take you __ to be my lawful wedded partner, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.”

“Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity”

Questions

Why have I chosen to get married in the Catholic Church?

What new understanding have I gained through the way in which the sacrament of marriage has been presented to us?

Having read through the vows, how do I feel about the commitment I will make on our wedding day?

Am I looking forward to making these vows? Am I hesitant? Is there something there that frightens me?

Adult choices

In our relationship, we are called to live as adults, not children or parents.

Part of being adult in our relationship is the way we show respect for each other in our daily lives. We respect each other as equal adults and equal partners in this relationship.

VAST:

  • Valuing – accepting, listening, putting you first
  • Affirming – recognising good points and stating them
  • Sharing – talking in a deep way, dialoguing as a way of life
  • Touching – everyday gestures of affection

VAST makes up the pillars of a couple relationship: knock down one pillar and the foundations of the whole relationship become wobbly.

Make decisions together after sharing feelings and thoughts.

Stages in decision making:

  • Tell your partner what you are really thinking and feeling
  • Listen to what your partner is telling you without being judgemental
  • Seek advice to see if you’ve overlooked anything – not to make the decision for you
  • Examine the values you both want to live
  • Decide together

Questions

Select the question which generates the strongest feelings. Write fully on that first before going on to any other questions.

In our relationship, in what ways do I behave as a child and in what ways do I behave as a parent? How do I feel about my answer?

In what areas of our life am I uninvolved with decision making? Be specific (e.g. purchases, visits to family or friends, leisure, organising our time, weekends, etc.). What is my strongest feeling as I write this?

In what areas do I think I am better at making decisions? What feelings do I have as I think about this?

What do I want to do differently when it comes to decision making in the future?