T + J Wedding Diaries: CEFAM's Discovery Weekend Manila.

T and I just made ourselves Facebook official by changing our relationship status from 'engaged' to 'married' (honestly, we just forgot to change it because we're not very much into the social media-couple thing). I'm placing an emphasis on the word married for my post today because sometimes couples get so involved in the wedding preparations that they forget to prepare for what's really important.. The marriage itself. 

One of the requirements of getting married in a Catholic Church is undergoing a pre-cana seminar at the diocese of the parish where you are getting married. Instead of doing this, T and I attend Discovery Weekend, a three-day retreat conducted by the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM).

Before signing up, I consulted T about it but I got a vibe that he didn't want to attend.  I found that very unusual though because he has been very hands on with wedding planning and in anything that has to do with our relationship. I find out later, before our Discovery Weekend starts, that it's because he doesn't see the need to attend this retreat.  He thought the retreat is akin to a "self help book" for relationships and he felt we didn't need one because we are doing more than ok.

I totally agree with his sentiments but I've read stories of couples (even those together for a long time like us) who, after going to Discovery Weekend, realized there were issues they still had to settle between them.  So even if we've worked hard to where we are now, I just want to make sure that there isn't a stone left unturned in our relationship.

Our wedding was scheduled in November but I sign up for an early August schedule. It was actually a struggle for me to attend because I was still recuperating from back pains. Friday was the first time I was going out of the house and I was so thankful to God for healing me even just for this weekend so I can attend the retreat.

The retreat was held at St Camillus Pastoral Healthcare Center in Quezon City.  Of course we all aren't married yet so participants were roomed in with other participants. Males stayed in one floor while the females stayed in another.

Discovery Weekend has a fee of P7,500 per couple covering accommodation and full board meals. Snacks and coffee are also included but you are welcome to bring your own. Someone in our batch brought three boxes of matcha Kitkat and shared it with the group (thank you!). Actually, almost everything will be provided for you, even towels and toiletries in the room and notebooks to use during the retreat.

Before the start of the first session, we were all given rules to follow but the ones worth noting are: (1) no bringing of mobile phones in the classroom, (2) no wearing of watches, and (3) no leaving the premises for any reason within the three-day period. I'm mentioning this now so you know what is expected of you. If this is too much then maybe you can join the other retreats that last only for a day or those which allow you to go home.

When I blog, I usually go into detail but not this time because I don't want to ruin it for those who are planning to attend. But let me share one activity during Discovery Weekend that I felt was a turning point for me and T.

All of us were each given a list of common issues in relationships and were told to choose those which we feel we still want to dialogue with our partner through a letter. When I looked at the list, there was nothing on it that I feel like I still need to talk to T about.  I look at T expecting him to be writing already but I saw him just staring at the list also.

"Parang wala akong maisip (I can't think of anything)," he said.

"Me too," I answer him back.

So we go to Raffy, one of the older Discovery Weekend graduates in charge, and ask him what to do.  He told us that maybe we have minor issues and that even a tiny bit of concern should be a cause for a dialogue or maybe we have other issues that weren't on the list that we want to talk about. I look at T, he looks at me, and we both say, "None really". Raffy said that's a good sign and to just write each other a love letter for this activity.

Before writing in his notebook, T squeezed my hand and I got what he wanted to tell me, "We are really ready for this". It doesn't mean we didn't go through any of the issues. We actually did go through a few. We are not perfect, we always don't have the same opinions about things but we don't really fight, FIGHT. Early on in our relationship, I told T that all I ask for is honesty and open communication. That's it. Whatever it is, even if it's something he thinks we will fight about, we should talk about it like adults. And that's how it was for the last nine years of our relationship and even until now. Material things I can buy for myself, I don't need anyone to do that for me, but working on our relationship is something I can't do alone. I need a partner who is willing to work on it with me. I use this word sparingly but I think it's appropriate to say that I feel blessed that T and I seem to have tackled even the 'taboo' topics and almost all of the whats, the whys, and the hows in relationships. From that day we officially became a couple, "honesty and open communication" was our golden rule and in turn, T and I became each other's best friend, in the truest sense of the word.

So as the first day went on, T understood what Discovery Weekend was all about.  Yes, it could act as a "self-help book" for couples who need it, but for us, it was an reaffirmation of how strong the foundation of our relationship is. However, it's going to be different for every couple. No experience is the same. But what's important is that the activities and the dialogues will allow you and your partner to talk about things that are usually not talked about during the boyfriend-girlfriend stage.

Aside from our personal experience in the retreat, it was also inspiring to hear the stories of the other couples in our batch. We were all in the brink of tears or already crying when couples shared the struggles they went through in their relationships. You can feel the pain but you can also feel the love emanating from the room.

The next day, I was so sleepy.  I wanted to participate but my eyes wouldn't stay open.  I told T I had to go up to get even a 5-10 minute nap while the class was having a snack break because I was literally falling off my chair. I expected T to leave the room as well but he stayed the whole time.  By the time I came back, they just started an activity and I saw T busily writing in his notebook.  It made my heart melt.

I slept early Saturday evening so when I woke up Sunday, I was happy because I feel like I can give 100% that day.  But I suddenly had a bad cold and sneezed non-stop.  Whatever it was, whether it's a virus or an allergy, it made me feel so tired again and I felt the pain in my back recurring with all the sneezing.  Oh, the struggles I had to go through for this retreat. But T just comforted me and told me it was going to be ok. And I felt so much better because he was there.

There were so many activities we enjoyed doing during Discovery Weekend but if we had to choose, I love how we ended the weekend by celebrating mass.  And instead of the priest giving Holy Communion, we were allowed to give each other the body of Christ.  T said the feeling he got from this activity was indescribable.

Just a warning, you may fight during the retreat, maybe even leave altogether because of anger. We know of people who actually separated and didn't push through with their wedding because of Discovery Weekend. But at least these people knew early on and saved each other from the pain of having to live together for life despite the incompatibility or worse, having to separate midway through their married life.

But knowing this shouldn't mean that you should just keep quiet during the retreat to save you from this kind of dilemma. Be honest to both yourself and your partner. Like in any exam or game, if you cheat, you are only cheating yourself. In this case, if you remain quiet, you are cheating yourself, your partner, and your marriage. Be open and talk about anything and everything, even issues in wedding planning. This maybe the only chance for you to talk about the things you can't or won't talk about before you get married.  Don't let this opportunity pass you by.

Like what T and I always tell our friends who ask us how to determine if he/she is ready for marriage.. We have been together for nine years and that seems long already but looking at the bigger picture, it's not even half of 'the rest of our lives', which is give or take at least 50 years. So going into marriage is no small decision. You have to be 101% sure that this is the person you want to marry and to spend the rest of your life with.  I repeat, THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Discovery Weekend can be one way to figure that out.

For those who are interested to join a Discovery Weekend retreat this year, here is their 2018 schedule.  And if you need more information, you can visit their website at http://discoveryweekend.org.

On a final note.. We spend so much on our wedding but sometimes we forget that it's only a celebration of what is the most important thing of all--- marriage.  Discovery Weekend is the best investment you and your partner can make for your relationship.  T and I highly recommend going through this retreat.  And if you have any questions about our experience, feel free to email or message me. Happy weekend!

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♥ joei