Celebrating a lifeline for marriages in trouble

Gratitude was a major theme at the celebration last weekend where Retrouvaille, the lifeline for married couples, marked 20 years in Ireland. Couples shared how the Retrouvaille programme had revitalised their own marriages and turned the pain of difficult experiences into a source of hope for other couples.

Nick and Virginia O’Shea brought Retrouvaille to Ireland in 1996. Addressing 50 or so members of the Retrouvaille community in Dublin at the weekend, they told their story (shared here with their consent).

Married in 1957, Nick was Irish and Virginia from the US. They were Catholic, both into having children and “very much in love”, said Virginia. Nick would be the provider, Virginia the homemaker. 

As the children arrived, Virginia’s expectations of Nick grew. “She was forever planning for me and the children like we were toy soldiers to be lined up for battle. Every day and even hours were accounted for. I felt frustrated, trapped in a cage and I turned to others for my fun and good times. Eventually I had an affair.”

Virginia suspected her husband’s infidelity which he denied. In the meantime, another suffering presented itself when their sixth child was diagnosed with leukaemia. Virginia filed for divorce, Nick tried to stave it off. As they watched their daughter deteriorate they decided to stay together for the sake of the children.


After their daughter’s death, life returned to “normal”.

“We did not share our needs or feelings,” recounts Nick. “We shared opinions and defended our actions.” Meanwhile a friendship with a female colleague was developing into “much more”. Virginia was furious. “It was a black, hot anger. I longed for revenge and wished punishment on him. It was a time of great darkness.” 

They went for counselling. Nick retired from work and finally in 1989 went on a Retrouvaille weekend.

“When I began to practise the exercises given by the presenting team I learnt that beneath that horribly full anger, I felt discarded and pushed away,” said Virginia. “But I admitted that I wanted him in my life, not as a business partner but as a lover and spouse.”

The couple learnt to dialogue and communicate. “I am happier than I ever thought I could be and I believe this is due to the fact that we share regularly and stay focussed on the good points of one another,” said Nick.

The couple got involved in the Retrouvaille ministry and planned to bring the programme to Ireland. On a visit, they met the late Fr Martin Tierney who having attended a weekend in the US, organised the first Retrouvaille weekend in Ireland in October 1996. Couples from the US and Canada, including Nick and Virginia, presented the programme.

From the start, Fr Martin – a columnist with The Irish Catholic – encouraged couples to get involved, also in presenting the programmes. “You will never feel you are ready, but Retrouvaille grows out of the ‘wounded healer’,” he explained.

“Retrouvaille can help all married couples to have a better marriage, if that is what they want,” Sallyann Huss, one of the co-ordinating couples in Ireland told The Irish Catholic. “It is not only for people in crisis but can help people who have drifted apart or need a little help in their marriage.”

 A couple with four young children who did the course in 2012 described their weekend as a “turning point”.

“Without it we wouldn’t have been able to cope with what life had to throw at us,” said Tim. Eight months after doing their own programme, the couple presented a talk on Family of Origin – the impact that the family you have grown up in has on your marriage – at another weekend. “Looking into your family of origin, you learn a lot. By how we behave today, we are creating our children’s ‘family of origin’ for the future,” he said.

Since 1996, an estimated 800 couples have attended Retrouvaille programmes in Ireland. 

From US statistics, the organisation estimates that around 80% of couples manage to rebuild their marriages and rekindle their love.

Addressing Sunday’s gathering by video link from Britain, Kathy and Clive thanked the Irish branch for helping to start the organisation in Britain. Underlining how sharing experiences with others, helps a couple’s own relationship, Clive said “God is never outdone in generosity. Any service we give has been amply rewarded.”

The celebration concluded with a healing ceremony where couples blessed each other and prayed. Among the petitions was a thanks to Fr Martin, whose anniversary occurs on May 13. “We are conscious of his presence here today.”

Fr Michael Hurley says Retrouvaille is “ministry at its best”.

“It is helping the people to look at their own situation and find the seeds of hope and build on that.” As a priest, his involvement has taught him how to put his own feelings into words and given him an insight into marriage. “It has shown me the great courage of people to live with difficult times and find new beginnings.”

Pat and Susan, members of the first Irish team, epitomised his words. Pat described his marriage as “a sad, cold, useless piece of barren rock”. Susan said she felt she “was walking in circles in the mist, lost and alone”.

“We thought our love was dead. We found the seeds of hope in Retrouvaille.”


Retrouvaille (meaning ‘rediscovery or finding again’) grew out of Marriage Encounter in Canada in 1977 and is present in 29 countries. Weekends are held twice a year in Ireland. For information see www.retrouvaille.ie