Renaissance of Marriage Conference
|Kathy and Ron Feher address conference delegates.|
By Virginia Knight
The Renaissance of Marriage Conference, held in Sydney in October 2010, focussed on the gift that is marriage, to help couples work together to enrich their relationships.
Convened by the Parish and Marriage Resource Centre (PMRC) Australia, the conference was attended by 150 leaders from Celebrate Love, Marriage Encounter, Embrace, diocesan agencies, fertility services and parishes. Speakers from Australia, the US and the UK were among the presenters.
Conference convenors Francine and Byron Pirola said there was no other gathering like this in Australia, one that brings together leadership working in all the different quarters in the Church who have a mission for marriage formation. “It’s a unique opportunity to celebrate and learn from our different approaches to this incredibly important area of the Church’s mission.”
At the conference, workshops presented by Ron and Kathy Feher offered practical strategies to help couples apply Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body* concepts into everyday life and included their Top 10 Tips for Living in Love.
Ron and Kathy have been married for 41 years and are directors of the Pastoral and Matrimonial Renewal Centre in the US. The centre offers one-on-one mentoring for young couples preparing for marriage, and its programs formed the basis of their workshops.
“If you take an engaged couple and put them with a married couple who are joyfully in love, they hang on every word,” Kathy said. She explained that the curriculum is very experiential and features practical techniques that can be both powerful and life changing, and which couples can easily apply to their own lives.
“It frees them up from things that they didn’t even know were holding them back to allow them to be more generous with each other,” Kathy said.
The couple draws on their own experiences and through a series of exercises help other couples to explore their relationships. They identify three or four key concepts to help enrich married life and change the way couples behave with each other in order to release joy into their relationship.
“When you are in love nothing is really difficult,” Kathy said. By nurturing that atmosphere and putting more of it into our relationship, we make it easier, she explained.
The first concept is to embark on a ‘proactive mission to love’. Accepting this mission means a life journey to convince the other person that they are loved and lovable.
“Marriage is not a situation, it is a life vocation,” Ron said. Couples should learn to ‘love smarter’ and realise that we are a ‘gift’ to each other. Accordingly, one of the practical exercises they use is to have couples exchange a ‘gift registry’ of what the other can say or do to make them feel loved.
The second concept is to affirm each other every day as a man and a woman and allow ourselves to be attracted to the difference. Ask ourselves ‘Why this man?’ or ‘Why this woman?’ What is it that is unique about this person and which attracted me to him/her in the first place?’
Love making should be a powerful ‘language of the body’ that witnesses the permanent self donation of the wedding vow. “Making love should be something we are saying to each other, not just doing,” Kathy said.
“How do we turn this experience into an intimate communication which is meaningful, which takes it from being not just an empty activity or performance, but to become a real experience, communicating powerful things to each other.”
Forgiveness and the old adage of ‘never going to bed angry’ is very important. Kathy said the aim is to teach couples how to reconcile quickly and with each other so well, that each person forgets what they were hurt about and, through forgiveness, strengthens their bonds of love.
In the early days of marriage preparation programs it was believed divorce happened because couples were conflicted, when actually they get divorced because they are not in love anymore. “Love is not a stage we grow out of but a very mature spirituality we grow into,” Kathy said. “We grow out of selfish love and focus on the other only. And as, such it becomes a source of unbridled joy.”
Finally, it is essential ‘to be a couple first’ and value decision making in the best interests of the marriage. To ask yourself, ‘How do I make what is important to you, important to me?’ Ron and Kathy said that a couple in love will set the level of love at home and in their parish and be a resource for others.
Kathy said that most of their work is about trying to set couples up for success. Learn not just to settle for getting along, but to really raise the bar and be passionately in love; because if you are, you prioritise.
Couples need to celebrate the fact that they are in love. “Prioritise your marriage to take time each day to be a couple in love,” she said. “When you are in love, you find time for each other and get very creative in expressing that love. You want to be with each other.” For more information about the Parish and Marriage Resource Centre (PMRC) Australia visit http://www.theprmc.org/
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