The Rapidian

Help for Marriages in Crisis

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The story of Julie and Tony, participants of Retrouvaille, which is a marriage intervention program with a proven 80% success rate.

/Photo provided by the Gessner's

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Next Retrouvaille Weekend

The next Retrouvaille Weekend will be held on September 16 through September 18 at the Grand Rapids Hampton Inn & Suites. Cost is $250 per couple and includes lodging, meals, instruction and 12 follow-up sessions. A goodwill offering will also be taken. For more information please call 616.752.7004 or visit

Julie had her eye on the cute boy with long dark hair all through high school. They were friends, but it wasn’t until the end of their senior year that Tony Gessner thought Julie had actually turned “hot.” By that time she had given up on this nice boy who was never interested, and she had set her sights on someone else. 

Tony persisted and Julie finally agreed to a single date. They shared their first kiss at the musical fountain in Grand Haven and the magic was set. Tony left town for Ferris State University shortly after that, but found he couldn’t keep his mind off of Julie. Six months later he asked her to marry him, and a year after that the “kids” were married.

They had three children in 8 years. Tony had a good job. Julie was working a day care out of their house.  They appeared to be the perfect couple. But between them things were not good.

“Communication had broken down,” Julie said. “We just weren’t connecting anymore.” They found it difficult to talk about finances and their sex life. They saw a counselor for over a year, and things were getting better, but the emotional connection still seemed to be lacking.

Then in 2007 Tony came across a Catholic-based marriage program on the internet called Retrouvaille. An offshoot of the more well know Marriage Encounter, whose tagline is "make a good marriage better," Retrouvaille is instead designed specifically for couples whose marriages are in crisis.

Retrouvaille started in 1977 as a French speaking program in Quebec, Canada. Over the years the program has spread internationally and is currently in 27 countries and presented in nine different languages.   

The program consists of a weekend where communication is rebuilt between the troubled couple and then 12 post-sessions which provide support while couples discuss concepts like forgiveness, intimacy, conflict management and many other topics.

Three presenting couples and a priest put on the Retrouvaille weekend. The presenting couples are not professional counselors but instead are couples who themselves have been through the program and have found it helpful in their own lives.

“It’s real people. Real examples. Real stories of how to get past the problems and get to the answers,” Julie said.

Although Catholic in foundation, no attempt is made to convert attendees. The priest is there as a spiritual support for those seeking help from God.

The weekend program was a turning point in the Gessner’s marriage. They aren’t alone: the program boasts an 80% success rate among couples who attend the weekend program and all 12 post sessions.

“It took what we had learned at counseling and gave us the tools to make things work on our own,” Tony explained. “The communication we learned that weekend allowed us, over time, to be able to address the big, bad, ugly problems.” 

The Gessners have stayed involved with Retrouvaille ever since their weekend. Currently they are serving as secretaries on the Grand Rapids board and as enrichment and development coordinators of Region 9 which encompasses Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and parts of Canada. Since 2007 they have personally seen over 200 people go through the Grand Rapids based program alone. 

"This isn’t just if your marriage is in misery,” Tony said. “But no matter where your marriage is, even if you are in apathy, it can help your marriage be great no matter where you are.”

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