For The Dialog
OCEAN PINES, Md. — When Shawna McCormick learned about a new program for married couples called “Eight Great Dates” sponsored by St. John Neumann Parish, she decided it would be good for her and her husband.
She and her husband are both involved in religious education at the parish and she wanted to see the new ministry succeed. “I figured the best way to do that was to participate.” In addition, “we knew we were getting a great dinner” catered by DeNovo’s Trattoria.
Now halfway through the eight-week program, McCormick realizes the program has helped her and husband John in their relationship with each other. “I don’t think we needed any help, but it is nice to have some tools in case there is a time when we need it,” she said. “I look at it as preventative medicine.”
That preventative medicine comes in the form of a video series that accompanies dinner at Most Blessed Sacrament School. Each weekly session focuses on such aspects of a relationship as communication, understanding each other’s desires and needs, how one’s background and family affect a relationship, and deepening sexual intimacy.
On the eighth week, the seven couples participating will choose their own location for their date night.
The course, offered by Alpha USA, is a Christian-based approach to marriage enrichment. Nancy Groves, religious education director at St. John Neumann, targeted couples in their mid-30s to mid-40s for the course.
“I see so much happening in that group,” she said, as they cope with work, raising children, and the daily busyness of life in a frenetically paced world. Too often, she believes, the couples fail to focus on their own relationship and unintentionally begin to drift apart. “I said, ‘we need to do something for them.’”
Larry and Judy Dunlop provided that something. After moving to the lower Eastern Shore from South Carolina, the Dunlops talked to Groves about how they might become involved in the parish. They mentioned Eight Great Dates, which they helped coordinate at their previous parish.
Making it better
The program focuses on “how to make things better in your relationship … to really listen to each other” in your busy lives, Judy Dunlop said..
The Dunlops learned that lesson early in their 53 years of marriage. Larry was working on a doctorate degree in 1973, on top of their everyday lives, and “there was not enough time for each other,” Judy said. Some friends invited them to a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend, a program similar to Eight Great Dates.
“It literally gave us an opportunity to change our lives and the lives of our children,” Judy Dunlop said of that 1973 weekend. “We decided it was so great for us, we would like to help other couples.” They made marriage enrichment their personal ministry.
They’ve remained involved in Worldwide Marriage Encounter (Larry Dunlop said they will help with a weekend in Rehoboth Beach, Nov. 7-9) and later added Eight Great Dates through their South Carolina parish.
While they’ve never been an Eight Great Dates couple, the experience has helped them in their own marriage as they prepare for the next evening’s session. Every Wednesday, “Larry and I take time to watch the videos and go through the exercises,” Judy Dunlop said. They still learn things about each other by going through the process.
On Thursday afternoon the Dunlops and three other couples transform the cafeteria at Most Blessed Sacrament School into as romantic a setting as possible. Tablecloths are set at each end of eight-foot-long tables to provide a sense of being at your own table and privacy; there is no group discussion, only discussion between each couple. Battery-operated tea lights, flowers and background music add to the ambiance. Babysitting is provided.
After dinner the couples watch the night’s video, which includes time for discussion and raises discussion points to help the couples begin.
As Groves promoted the program, her husband, Joe, asked her “Why don’t we do it?” They are the oldest of seven participating couples.
Now empty nesters with two grown sons, Nancy Groves said they were still in “parenting mode.”
“It’s helping us open up more to each other,” Groves said, revealing “things we let slip through the cracks while raising children. It allows us to review and revise and get back on track of our marriage.”
Shawna McCormick already has realized the benefits of the course. She is “really bad” about multi-tasking – cleaning up or doing the dishes – while she talks with John. She realized how her attitude with John differed from the way she interacts with her daughter.
“I’m a stickler with my daughter to have eye contact when we are talking, but I realized I wasn’t doing the same thing with John. … I find myself devoting more attention to John and making sure he feels cared for and that I am being clear on what I need.”
John McCormick also believes the couple’s communication has improved, and said the program’s benefits carry over to his physical well-being.
“I have an extra bounce in my step the next day as a direct result of the one-on-one time that we have spent together,” he said. “I feel better about us and myself, and more confident in our relationship.”