Engaged Encounter Retreat & lack of marriage prep?!?


For those of you who attended, what was your impression of your engaged encounter retreat experience?

Moreover, what other marriage preparation is required in your diocese?

Some background info: For my fiance and I, we were a bit disappointed with our retreat. The book and material are good and all the couples were very nice. However, many were not Catholic and the faith part of the retreat seemed extremely watered down and almost hidden away in a tiny box. Perhaps the faith aspect is not supposed to be the important part? I guess we were disturbed because for us, this was the only requirement as far as marriage prep courses in our diocese. Also, many couples seemed okay with cohabitation and ABC.

Eventhough we go to an awesome parish, our priest is extremely overworked and does not have time to meet with us individually. We have been reading books together such as Christopher West “Good News about Sex and Marriage” and Bill & Pam Farrel’s “Men are like waffles, Women are like spaghetti”. We have also read and discussed the catechism section on the sacrament of marriage. Anyone else here had to “go it alone” per say, and do their own marriage prep? What did you do?

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday! ~have mercy on us and on the whole world~


Wow, EDC, sorry to hear that! And I reckon that wasn’t an isolated incident. Fortunately, that was not our experience.

We got quite a bit out of our Engaged Encounter, which we did in Columbia, PA. The teaching was all in line with the Church, and we had both a comparatively young couple and an older couple telling their stories. We were prayed over as well. Then all of us hit the playground at the retreat center, but that’s another story. :slight_smile:

I think it was a good experience for couples who were strong in their love and faith to strengthen both, and for couples who were not so much to look at the holes in their relationship and see what effect that could have on their marriage.


Cygnus, thanks for the feedback. Yes, our retreat included all of that too. However, I guess it just seemed really watered down. For instance, the q & a focused more on finances than on morality. When any morality was brought up, it was sort of answered “well, you have to decide as a couple” and no one spoke up for the truth.

It was a great for communication and def. good for us too as far as communication. We were just looking for something to challenge us more in our faith.


In my diocese we are required to do a weekend marriage prep at our parish (Friday evening, all day Saturday, Sat. evening mass).

My fiance and I were definitely the youngest there, and while there’s nothing wrong with being older I know most of them were cohabitating, some for upwards of 10 years, and one couple had 2 kids (started when she was 16), of course this ended up being the most opinionated couple.

There were some interesting discussions on communication, arguments, finances, etc and I did learn a lot there. When it came to NFP we watched a very old video which made every male in the room close his eyes and go, “Please be over, please be over…” :o a bit too graphic, even for my fiance, and that was not his first lesson on it. Plus it was not emphasized at all that NFP was the only approved method of avoiding pregnancy, or why artificial methods were inappropriate.

They arbitrarily assigned us “homework” from the workbook, which was never discussed and prob no one else did. The one facilitating couple, while well-meaning, made us very uncomfortable as the whole weekend felt like a therapy treatment.

We also were required to take the FOCCUS test, which was rather ambiguously worded, so I am thrilled at that therapist guy seeing my results and writing a report on our relationship based on bubble sheets for our priest :frowning:

The whole weekend made FH and I decide that when we are settled at a parish we are going to help with marriage prep- and make sure they come out knowing what the sacrament is all about!
We got Good News about Sex and Marriage on our own and I learned way more from that.


:wave: My bride :heart: and I formerly presented Engaged Encounter Weekends.

It is unfortunate that this impression was made on you (but more below). And I hope it is not your assertion that non-Catholics may not marry Catholics, or that such couples are for some reason exempt from marriage preparation?

(Or do you mean that there were some couples where neither party was Catholic? My bride and I encountered only one such couple on our weekends, but they were certainly welcomed)

Was there a priest on your weekend? The retreat is constructed to be led by two couples and a priest (whose part in the presentations naturally contains much of the spiritual meat). An unfortunate effect of the priest shortage is that their time is more and more in demand, and fewer and fewer EE weekends are able to have a priest for the entire weekend, if at all (I hope your weekend at least closed with a Mass?).

I’m not saying the couples’ parts ought be devoid of spirituality, but remember, their presentation is on the vocation of marriage, which :twocents: is very mundane and easy to miss the spirituality. :twocents:

Finally, it sounds like you and your finacee(sp?) are unusually well-prepared, and I hope you recognize so. Any program other than one-on-one with your priest is likely geared to a more common denominator and will fall short of your expectations.

Perhaps the two of you were an even better witness to the other couples on the retreat than the team? (My bride :love: and I loved to have one or two well-self-prepared couples on a weekend!) Perhaps, once you are married, *you *could become a presenting team couple?




We did marriage prep in my DH’s home diocese. It was not EE, it was their own diocesan program. But, it was similar in format.

DH and I found the experience to be lacking. We knew more than the teaching couples-- who read out of a leader’s manual verbatim. I was totally boring and weak on church teaching.

Additionally we had two meetings at my parish with the Family Life coordinator (mostly about “rules” of the wedding day in our parish-- i.e. when you can arrive, where you can put flowers, etc). We also had the FOCCUS test w/our deacon and would have had several meetings with the deacon except for our long-distance status… so the deacon met with us for a full day on a Saturday instead of 4-5 one-hour meetings.

I think this is the state of marriage prep in most dioceses. It’s pretty sad. Mostly because there are so few couples who come with any knowledge at all. It’s not like you can teach the whole theology of the Sacrament in one weekend.


Dh and I went on an Engaged Encounter weekend. This was about 9 years ago now, and I have forgotten some of the details. I don’t remember anything that specifically contradicted Church teaching there, but I do remember that it was very definitely NOT a place where couples were instructed on what the Church teaches about morality as it pertains to marraige. This was both understandable and dissapointing to me. On the one hand, I think the point of Engaged encounter (and for that matter, ME as well) is very geared towards learning to communicate with each other about the things that are important to you. That is a good thing because so many marriages fail or are stagnant because the couples don’t even know how to do that. On the other hand, I think it is a travesty that so many couples are going into marraige without even a basic understanding of the Sacrament and its obligations. Dh and I talked about NFP on our Engaged Encounter because I brought it up. We covered whatever morality-issues that we weren’t clear on - but this was 100% due to my initiation of the topics. I’m not entirely sure that the Engaged Encounter has room in the program to go into detail about Church Teachings - because there are many couples that would be too distracted by either the Church Teachings part (since it would be new and shocking information to them) or the Communication Part that they wouldn’t be able to pay enough attention to the other. I wish every diocese would require a Christopher West-type class that really lays out all the teachings first, and then allow the couple to deal with all the other (also important) aspects of marriage prep in an EE or other setting.


We already knew the Church’s teaching. I reckon there must have been some couples with us who didn’t, but weren’t necessarily looking for such teaching anyway.

Perhaps at the time more emphasis on Church teaching wasn’t deemed necessary, but it looks like that that may now have to change in EE.


Well not too long ago, I met a wonderful priest in our diocese who also happens to be a widower. When his wife was alive, they were very active in Marraige Encounter. He and I briefly discussed the merrits of NFP, and he explained why they don’t go into that stuff at ME. The focus really was on learning how to communicate with your spouse, and I can understand why it wasn’t the right place to be surprising couples with all sorts of challenging teaching that might take the focus off of the main purpose for the encounters. I think Engaged Encounter is much the same. And I could imagine a scenario where a couple who is clueless (about church teaching AND about a cooperative marriage) might be so floored by suddenly being told they couldn’t contracept that they wouldn’t be able to focus on learning how to dialogue and communicate about all the other stuff. That other stuff can make or break a marraige too, so it can’t be ignored. In my opinion, couples should be required to be taught all the Church Teaching, but it might not be appropriate to have it be too largely emphasized at Engaged Encounter. It would be great to include it as one of the dialogue topics, but it wouldn’t necessarily be fruitful unless couples had already been catechized on the subject ahead of time.


I am so sorry your retreat was disappointing. I know how it feels because mine was too (to say the least). Thank God we were doing research on our own because the classes would have left us with the impression that we were almost foolish to not have engaged in premarital sex, that living together was no biggy, and that being open to children wasn’t important (no mention of ABC’s etc, though the priest did mention that the rules we follow were just made up by some people in Rome:rolleyes: ). Aaaaaaaaaaaanyways, we ended up writing letters complaining etc, but that is a whole different subject. I guess what I am getting at is that no couple should depend on this retreat as their sole source of marriage preparation (as you already know). They would have truly messed us up if we hadn’t been reading books from JPII and other trustworthy authors and Church encyclicals/documents on family and marriage.

I will say we were blessed to have a good Orthodox Dominican Brother that was very smart, faithful, and knowledgeable that we met with several times (my husband then fiance lived 802 miles away so he would travel up to where I lived for meetings). Even if we did have his guidance, and the guidance of a few priests that I was able to talk with when I went home (I was in college at the time), there was no way they could of taught us all we needed to know in those meetings. Instead we would learn on our own and ask them questions and clarify things with them. See if you can find a good orthodox priest or religious person (maybe your busy priest) that you can go to when you have questions on what you are reading. Also, make sure you read good information, not just any books (some books could mess you up rather than help).
As for suggestions, I would suggest you read Church documents/encyclicals on family, marriage, etc. and books by orthodox Catholic authors (like JPII ‘s “Love and Responsibility”, “Theology of the Body”, and numerous writings, Kimberly Hahn’s “Life-giving Love”, Fulton Sheen’s “Three to get Married”, and some of Christopher West’s books). Also, its great to review what the Catechism and Canon Law say about marriage. I always joked with my husband (then fiance) that he had to read canon law with me to make sure we both knew what we were getting into, that there were no impediments to our marriage to make sure there would be no room for an annulment :wink:

I would just say make sure you read about the sacrament and learn about it well. It has made a huge difference in our lives, and a huge impact in our marriage. It has helped us sort our priorities. Just knowing the Truth allows you to work towards it, rather than wander aimlessly.


My dh and I attended EE 18 years ago. At the time neither of us were practicing Catholics, but were being pressured to get married in the Church (thank God, you know, youth and all, we are active Catholics now). I just remember thinking how many of the couples either had children, were living together, etc.

A few thing I remember about EE. We had an older, straight laced couple as the senior leaders and a younger married couple as the junior leaders. The older couple gave us the talk on sex and it just made me feel so awkward. They said something that I think of everytime my dh and I are intimate “You should invite Jesus to stand at the foot of your bed when you make love. If you’re doing something he wouldn’t approve of, don’t do it”. Umm, ok. Just Awkward.

The issue of ABC and NFP were never brought up. Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20.

It also seemed like the questions we had to journal about were things my dh and I were in tune with and had already discussed many many times. I did not learn anything new with EE that has aided me in my marriage.

Now Marriage Encounter, that was a whole different story. Could have been that I was more prepared for it, could have been because we were practicing Catholics when we attended ME, or could have been because I really wanted to improve my marriage after 16 years…not sure, but we got a whole lot more out of ME than EE.

I’m sure the leaders of EE work very hard in their ministry. There is just so much to cover that it’s difficult.


No by no means do I think non-Catholics cannot marry Catholics. In fact, my future father-in-law is non-Catholic and his wife Catholic. I was only bothered by the fact that the Catholic portion was so watered down, to the point where it seemed it was avoided. I would feel totally different if I knew that these couples were receiving more thorough instruction somewhere else. My impression however, is that this retreat was their only requirement to being married Catholic. I think it would be a great beginning or great starting point for “beginners”. I was only dishearthened by the probability that for fear of causing contravercy these couples may miss out on the full richness of our faith and her teachings on marriage and sexuality. If this is going to be presented as a retreat on marriage from a Catholic perspective, then I think it should be that.

I will say that our presenting couple was very good and nothing contradictory was taught at the retreat. It was just disheartening that even though there were 3 doctors there (on the retreat) I was the only one who piped up and said that the pill was an abortifacient. Thats just one example.

Thanks sharing your experience and for your service to the Church! God is good!


I agree. We already knew Church teaching and had pretty much discussed everything that is brought up in the retreat. I DO think the retreat is a great tool for couples to communicate better. However, without being prideful, I would say that it was very remedial for us. When it came time to do the couple prayer, that just came natural. That is something we do everyday. When elder couple came to pray with us the husband said “wow, you must have done this before”. It made me feel both good and bad. It was nice that he recognized how beautiful it is when an engaged couple has a life centered in prayer and in Christ together. It made me feel bad because I realized that we are the exception. We SHOULDNT be the exception, we should be the norm.

We also feel that most couples were very unprepared for the retreat and need at least a minimal level of catechizing and evangelizing before attending.

After the retreat I half jokingly told my fiance that they should have 2 engaged retreats in our dioces. 1 for beginners and 1 for those couples who acutally know Church teaching and want to learn how to be holy couples, living for Christ and evangelizing through their vocation.


I repeat, I do not doubt you were better prepared than most couples – And ideally that ought to be the norm. Likewise, just from your participation in this forum, I would guess you have a better understanding of the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the Mass than, say, 70% of self-identified Catholics. THAT ought to be the norm too, but catecethical surveys tell us it is not. :frowning:

I also repeat my suggestion: Keep in touch with the Engaged Encounter Community and a few years from now, consider becoming a presenting team. This is not a put-up-or-shut-up challenge – You could be a truly fruitful resource. The experience of presenting weekends has its highs and lows. Some couples do come to the weekend just to fill the chairs and get a participation certificate – But many many more at least show signs of nurturing the seeds planted on the weekend (And some come better prepared than their presenters*).

And planting seeds is all we can really do. Ideally, your catechesis in marriage comes first from your first teachers – Your parents. And *that *experience is, naturally, all over the map. You can’t expect EE to change that lifetime of experience in a mere 44 hours.

(* I have sometimes wondered who has a more difficult experience on the weekend – The uninterested couple, or the well-founded couple?)

My impression is that the EE ministry in the Diocese of Steubenville OH serves primarily the student population of Franciscan University – And that it is a *very *different experience from the typical EE weekend. :wink:



Our EE experience was fairly good overall. Even though they presented many things we already knew, we made the best of it. Other, younger couples were glad for the wisdom we offered from being a little older. And we found their fresh, wide-eyed outlook invigorating. DH helped a younger man understand that sometimes counseling was a good thing and that it was not a sign of weakness. I think the “watered-down teaching” is because they have to reach the most uninstructed, without going over their heads.

Like others we found the section on NFP to be severely lacking. We were taking the NFP class at the time. The NFP presentation was a post-menopausal convert couple holding up a book and saying, “This is good. We don’t know much about it, but it is acceptable in the Church.”

Well, we did something about it. A few years into our marriage we became NFP promoters and contacted the local EE group about giving presentations. We were welcomed with open arms! We have given our talk at every EE weekend for the last 2 and a half years. It averages about 4 talks a year. My very shy husband thought he could never do it, but he is getting really good at it! He gets a lot of laughs from his part of the talk. Our EE coordinating team said not to focus on teaching them Church teachings but to focus on getting them excited about learning Church teachings.

Please pray for us, we have another talk this Saturday.


In our diocese, we have the option to do a weekend retreat, or to have 6 or so (I can’t remember exactly now) weekly meetings with the marriage prep team from the church. DH and I both worked weekends at the time, so the retreat was out. I found our classes to be really helpful; I do wish they had spent more time on NFP, though.

My brother and future sister in law decided that they felt they’d get more out of weekly sessions, versus an all in one weekend retreat, so they’re going that route too. They took the FOCCUS test and their priest said that their results were the most compatible of any couple he’d ever seen!


My Engaged Encounter weekend was over twenty years ago so I wouldn’t know if things have changed or not…

But Engaged Encounter is modeled after Marriage Encounter so it is more focused on the communication skills of the couple than it is on imparting Catholic teaching.

Marriage Encounter was never designed to impart everything a couple needs to know about the uniquely Catholic requirements of marriage. That is a hole that needs to be filled by the Church when preparing couples for marriage but it is not really a problem with Marriage Encounter per say.


Good point. Looking back on it, that makes sense. Thanks to everyone for helping me get a better perspective on things. I guess we (we being the Church) need to work harder on preparing engaged couples long before the engaged encounter retreat. With the text they use already in place and with well prepared couples I think it would be an awesome retreat.

God bless all of you!


I didn’t get anything out of it when I went. I just remember them talking about NFP for about 5 minutes while the people at the table I was at were talking about other things. But it was a requirement to go so I went. Otherwise it was a waste of time and money. Sad but true for my experience. I hope others have a better experience.


I went just last weekend with my fiancee. My sister had had a bad experience when her and her husband went a few years back…a lot of Catholics living together and a Nun that said and did things that my sister felt were rather wrong (like Sister being okay with non-Catholic receiving communion and passing the bowl with the Holy Eucharist around for everyone to take, etc).

I was a little hesitant upon going myself, for fear of the same sort of experience. Luckily my experience was fairly nice.

There was an older couple and a younger couple as presenters…both couples were clearly very much in love and Catholic. From listening to their stories it was also clear they were practicing NFP and they also stressed how important it was to wait to engage in pre-marital sex until marriage.

There was a point during the retreat where we had a Q&A session where anyone could really ask any question. Many people were asking about NFP and the difference between that and artificial birth control. There was a little arguing going from couple to couple about the issue but the issue that topped the night was fiancial issues.

Many couples, I came to find out, are actually living together and I was even asked by some where my fiancee and I lived (which is with our OWN families until we are married!)

Needless to say, it was a wonderful opportunity to open up to my fiancee in particular areas…like certain fears or hopes, what I like about him, his family, and what sort of traditions that we carry in our families that we’d like to bring to our children. I feel a deeper appreciation and love for my fiancee now after this, but of course my love and appreciation for him continues to grow day by day and I feel so incredibly blessed to have him as my future spouse.

Another book I’d like to recommend is “Life-Giving Love: Embracing God’s Beautiful Design for Marriage” by Kimberly Hahn. If you feel like you were, somehow, cheated out of your Engaged Encounter this book really covers a lot of what should have been talked about at the retreat.

Another good tip: Fight naked!! (even Kimberly Hahn’s book mentions that!)

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