Marriage Encounter

Marriage Encounter

Marriage Encounter (M.E.) is a religiously-based weekend program designed to help married couples by reason of discovering or re-discovering the need for God in their lives, to improve their marriage, grow closer to each other and improve commitment to each other. Originally a Catholic marriage renewal program for the enhancement of the Sacrament of Marriage and encouraging conjugal spirituality, Marriage Encounters are now offered by a variety of Protestant, Jewish, as well as Catholic faith expressions. Most all of them are open to couples of any or no religious persuasion.

The weekend programs usually begin on a Friday evening and conclude Sunday afternoon. Although they are not retreats in the classical sense, everyone stays the entire time at the hotel or other lodging facility where the program takes place. Meals are provided on-site.

Over the course of the weekend, attending couples are encouraged to communicate with one another with mutual respect, but always based upon the essential premise of inviting God into their lives. Organizers say that a Marriage Encounter is not a traditional spiritual retreat, marriage clinic, group sensitivity training, or a substitute for counselling. Team members are not marriage counsellors. Couples may benefit from learning the communication methods that may parallel some counselling methods.

A further attraction of Marriage Encounter weekends is the opportunity for M.E. alumni couples to meet periodically for renewal meetings after the weekends, called "spirals" or "continuing dialogue groups" in many Marriage Encounter programs.


Structure and process

The leaders, called a Presenting Team, typically consists of three trained married lay couples and a clergy person or couple (priest at Catholic M.E. weekends). The team couples share on a series of topics about specific issues, usually framed within some Biblical or religious text or concept and based exclusively on their own lived experiences, and not on learned ideas. The participating couples write out responses to questions handed out and then share their answers with their respective spouses. In the terminology of many Marriage Encounter programs, this process is called "dialogue". This process helps the couples learn to listen attentively to their partners, and then ask about things that are not clear in the supportive environment of the weekend experience.


Founded by Father Gabriel Calvo], [1] a Diocesean Laborer priest. Marriage Encounter began in 1961 in Barcelona, Spain, as a Catholic marriage renewal program in Spain. It eventually came to be known as Encuentro Conjugal. The Movement that played a key role in spreading ME in Spain and later in the world has been the Christian Family Movement/Movimiento Familiar Cristiano. Fr. Calvo and a group of "encountered" Spanish couples first brought Marriage Encounter to the United States in 1966.[2] The first M.E. Weekend in English was held on the University of Notre Dame campus in summer 1967. A national organization was founded in 1969.

In the early 1970s, Marriage Encounter split into two separate organizations. A group based in Minneapolis which came to be known as “National Marriage Encounter” had split from a group based in New York under the direction of Father Charles (Chuck) Gallagher, S.J and known as “Worldwide Marriage Encounter” Although the format and methodology remained the same, the reason for the split was to open up Marriage Encounter as a more ecumenical experience.

The programs presented by National Marriage Encounter and Worldwide Marriage Encounter are very similar, but Worldwide Marriage Encounter claims that it has a greater concern for its asserted mission of renewal of the Roman Catholic Church. Both expressions seek to elicit positive change in marriages, and in turn to help “change the world” by preparing and motivating couples to be open and outreaching as they continue to strengthen their own relationships.

In some countries the Original Marriage Encounter with its clear original vision is available, along with the subsequent FIRES Encounter programs by Fr. Gabriel Calvo (Sons and Daughters Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Self Encounter, Family Encounter, Priest Encounter, Eucharistic Encounter etc.) The programs are regularly organized in Japan, Hungary, Slovakia, The Philippines.

It is estimated that more than 5 million couples in more than 100 countries have attended a Marriage Encounter or other "expressions" [3]

Other "expressions"

While the program began in the Catholic church, both National Marriage Encounter and Worldwide Marriage Encounter organizations have provided generous assistance to help in the formation of Marriage Encounter "expressions" for other "specific faith believing communities". In addition to Catholic M.E. groups, today there are many Marriage Encounter "expressions" affiliated with Protestant denominations and nondenominational groups. There is a Jewish Marriage Encounter as well in both the United States and Israel.

Founded in 1961 by Father Gabriel Calvo, a Catholic priest, from the start Marriage Encounter was meant to be open to anyone of any faith. Faith was not an issue in the original vision. And the experience was never intended to be a Movement in itself, but rather a service – initially to the Catholic Church but subsequently to other religious denominations and to society itself. In time it began to encompass not only Catholics,  but also Protestants, Jews, and other non-Christians– all as children of God, with love as the connector of all human souls. In the course of time, “Worldwide Marriage Encounter”  began to feel that its asserted mission to utilize Marriage Encounter as a tool for renewal of the Catholic Church could be jeopardized if people not of the same Faith were to hold places of responsibility; so a decision was made that only Catholic couples could hold an office or any leadership position within that organization. This disturbed those inclined to open up Marriage Encounter to those of other Faiths - people who wished to experience the benefits that Marriage Encounter had to offer. And that was the beginning of the separation that resulted between what are now known as National Marriage Encounter (open to people of all Faiths, whether as participants or people with leadership responsibilities) and Worldwide Marriage Encounter (ostensibly having regard to renewing the Catholic Church). In point of fact, neither organization is in full accord with the original vision.

Father Calvo has spoken of: “One Marriage Encounter, with many different faces”. This obviously pre-supposes the possibility of a “Catholic Face” also, among the many other faces. Ironically, this uniquely Catholic face is very difficult to find in most countries, despite allusions to the contrary.

Similar programs

Similar programs, called Engaged Encounter and Pre-Cana Encounter, are available to couples considering marriage.

Some groups have changed the meaning of the initials "ME" to "Marriage Enhancement", while retaining somewhat the same goals and program.

Priests and vowed Religious are also encouraged to attend Catholic Marriage Encounter weekends. The same principles of love, commitment and communication that help married couples stay together can be applied by the priest or Religious to his or her parish or community.


  1. ^ Calvo, Gabriel. Face to Face: Becoming a Happier Married Couple. Intl Marriage Encounter, 1988. ISBN 0936098570
  2. ^ Conference Archives
  3. ^

External links

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