Dean and I just completed our last week of participating in a program called “Re|Engage” this past Wednesday night. Re|Engage is a marriage enrichment program developed by Watermark Community Church, and churches all over the country offer and host the program. We participated in Re|Engage at Highland Church of Christ in our hometown of Abilene, Texas.
So, what is it?
I’ll put the link to their website below, but basically it’s a 16 week program that you and your spouse commit to, and you work in a small group with other couples to share and grow together in your marriage. It is based on biblical principles and encourages you to work on your relationship with God, to really turn your focus inward on what YOU need to do to change.
That being said, I know some reading this right now may be thinking this sounds like so many other marriage programs already out there – and for some the idea of having a religious/spiritual component may actually be a turn-off to you. If that’s you, don’t stop reading yet! This was the best and most unique marriage-building experience that I have ever done and I want to share some of what we experienced.
This program was recommended to us by our therapist (Dean and I have been going to marriage counseling for the past 2 years) and our therapist is amazing. I was definitely more interested in trying the program out because a licensed professional recommended it.
How it works
The first few weeks of Re|Engage, you just go to see what it’s about. There is no pressure to commit at this point. We all meet in a large group and get some information about the program. But the thing that really sold me about Re|Engage was people sharing their own marriage stories and struggles. Most nights that you go, you will hear a marriage “testimony.” The very first night we went, a couple talked to us about their marriage, about their past and current struggles, and about how their marriage had changed after going through Re|Engage. I had never heard anyone be so real and raw when describing their marriage, especially not in a church setting where it’s easy to try to make it seem like we have it all together. It was refreshing to find that much openness and honesty (at a church of all places!) and it definitely made me want to come back.
Once you decide to sign up and commit, you are given a workbook and placed into a small group with about 4-5 other couples. One couple leads and facilitates your group. Each week we start out in the large group to worship together and hear more marriage testimonies from couples who have gone through the program. We then break up into our small groups for about 1 hour to share and discuss the week and the corresponding chapter of the workbook.
The workbook has 16 short chapters and you complete one chapter a week. A chapter contains a short reading, and about 4-5 questions that you answer by yourself. Before you meet with your small group, you are supposed to meet with your spouse and discuss your answers together. So it does take a time commitment each week in addition to the actual Re|Engage meetings.
What I loved about Re|Engage
So, I’ve described the logistics of how Re|Engage works and what it’s about, but I really want to get to what I love about the program. If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be authenticity. This is not a time where everyone just comes to talk about how great things are going in their lives, it’s a time to let your guard down and share and be honest with other couples. I cannot describe how powerful this was. It was powerful to hear what other couples were dealing with, and it was also powerful to share what things Dean and I were working through in our marriage. We were all there to support each other, and there was no judgement from anyone. To me, this is the biggest reason to do Re|Engage – you become part of a community where honesty is valued and where you do not have to feel embarrassed or judged for not having a perfect marriage. I looked forward to this experience every week.
The book and “homework” – having “homework” each week outside of the meetings really makes you become more purposeful about having conversations with your spouse – about anything and everything. Each week focuses on a different subject, and if you really answer the questions honestly, it makes for some really rich discussion when you talk to your spouse. Not always easy discussion, but rich. Dean and I decided that we would try to get together for coffee or lunch once a week to talk about our answers to the questions, although it got a bit harder as we moved into late November and December, and occasionally we would quickly share our answers while driving to Re|Engage (because, hey, life happens)!
Each week you are given an ACTION item to work on for the week, something to put into practice. One example of an action item we had to do was to think of 2-3 things we needed to ask our spouse forgiveness for, and confess those to our spouse and ask for forgiveness. We were challenged from then on to not only just apologize for things, but to specifically ask for forgiveness. The action items were there to challenge you to change old habits and develop healthier ones. Again, not always easy, but really good to do.
Small groups – small group was where you got to share with others how the past week went, and what successes or struggles you had during the week. I loved that one of the rules for small group time was that you should not talk too much or too little. Our group seemed to be very diverse, as far as ages, life stages, and personalities. Being an introvert myself, I sometimes worry about group dynamics and worry about not being vocal enough. This rule really helped us to think about others as we shared and balanced the dynamics between the natural talkers and those who might be more hesitant to jump in.
Another rule for small group time, and for the whole program really, was to “stay in your circle.” This means that I work only on myself and I don’t try to change my spouse. When I share in the group, I can talk about my feelings and experiences, but I don’t speak for my spouse. Our group would frequently remind each other about this rule, it became kind of a funny thing because it really was so easy to unintentionally start getting into someone else’s “circle!”
Dean and I shared things in our small group that we have only shared with a handful of other close friends, and other couples shared things they had never shared with anyone. It is funny how easy it can become to share such intimate things with people who a few months ago were complete strangers. I said it before, but this was the best and most powerful part of Re|Engage and the real reason to do it, in my opinion.
What has changed now that we’re done?
So, now that we have completed the program, you might be wondering about the status of our marriage. Did it make a difference? The short answer is yes, it has made a difference.
The honest answer is that our marriage is still not perfect. A few weeks ago, I actually felt really discouraged at how hard things could still be between Dean and I. How hard it can be to compromise and how hard it can be to not be selfish. I felt discouraged that I had put so much work into doing Re|Engage and that we still had arguments and moments of hurt. So, the honest answer is that doing Re|Engage will not “cure” your marriage problems. And the book itself in the last chapter states that marriage will never be easy, it will always be something that takes work.
But Re|Engage reminded me that each day I can choose to love Dean, and I can choose to forgive him for the same thing over and over again. And he is choosing to do that for me, too. Re|Engage helped me see things in myself that are hurting our marriage, and challenges me to work on those things, and to pray for help to overcome those things. Re|Engage gave us better ways to communicate and ways to be purposeful and proactive in keeping our marriage healthy. But it is up to me to choose to do those things and continue to be purposeful.
I’m really interested to see how the next few weeks and months will go for me and Dean as we continue on this journey, without the weekly small group meetings. I hope that this 16 week experience becomes more than just an “experience.” I hope we come to look at it as the beginning of a new chapter in our marriage, that will continue to get better with time.
I want to continue to find a place where I can be totally honest with others, and experience support and love. I want to continue to be transparent with others about my struggles as well as my successes. Blogging is one place where I can do that – I hope to get back into the habit of writing more next year.
If you are married and live somewhere that this program is offered, I would highly encourage you to consider trying it. It doesn’t matter what status your marriage is at, whether you feel like it’s in a good place or a bad one, you will benefit by participating and will encourage others you meet in the program.
If you have any more questions about Re|Engage or about our marriage story, our struggles or successes, please ask! Thanks so much for reading, hope you all have a Merry Christmas and wonderful holiday season!
(Here’s the date for the next Re|Engage session at Highland for those interested!) *see below*