Couple turns to stone for help with troubled marriage

| November 4, 2016 | 3 Comments
Greg and Carol Langan laugh together today thanks to the forgiveness in their relationship. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Greg and Carol Langan laugh together today thanks to the forgiveness in their relationship. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Final installment in a 14-part series highlighting local Catholics who live out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Carol Langan of St. Peter in Mendota was sitting in a room sizing up a bunch of rocks on a table during a meeting for separated and divorced Catholics in 2003.

The nun leading the session asked participants to pick a stone that represented the hurts caused by their spouse. They were to hang onto the rock and, when ready, present it to their spouse as a symbol of forgiveness.

Carol had one problem — the rocks were too small. “You don’t have any boulders up there,” she remembers saying to the nun.

Why the need for such a large stone? Just a few months earlier, her husband of 28 years, Greg, had decided to leave. After Mass one Sunday, they discussed their plans for the rest of the day. He told her he was going to move out.

Carol was stunned. She meekly accepted, then could only sit and cry later that day. Eventually, she found out about the group for separated and divorced Catholics and started going.

A big part of healing their relationship and restoring their marriage would be forgiveness, which, they point out now, works both ways. Instrumental in the process was attending a Retrouvaille retreat in May 2003. The program is designed to help couples who have troubled marriages. It features a three-day weekend retreat and 12 post sessions that take place on the following six Saturdays after the retreat.

The retreat’s Saturday night session deals with forgiveness. Just days later, Carol decided it was time to present to Greg her rock, which ended up being one of the smallest on the table and fit into her pocket. By that time, he had moved back into their Mendota Heights home. In fact, he moved in just hours after the retreat ended on Sunday afternoon.

For Carol, reaching that decisive moment took several months of soul searching. Seeking divine help was at the center of the process.

This rock symbolizes the forgiveness Carol Langan offered to her husband, Greg, in 2003, helping to restore their troubled marriage. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

This rock symbolizes the forgiveness Carol Langan offered to her husband, Greg, in 2003, helping to restore their troubled marriage. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“I took the rock and I prayed that I could forgive him for leaving, and [for] the pain that I had gone through,” Carol said. “After Retrouvaille, I knew I was ready to forgive him. I gave him the rock.”

That simple act deeply touched Greg.

“To know that she had been carrying this rock around in her pocket for three or four months and that she was finally ready to give up the rock, the symbol of her anger and pain, and tell me that I was forgiven, was really incredible,” Greg said. “It was emotional. On my part, I was in tears by that point, knowing that she really meant it.”

He also knew that it required something of him — a change in the hurtful behavior he had inflicted upon Carol. Self-examination helped him to identify three key areas where he had hurt Carol: making work too high of a priority, ceasing to talk to her about anything substantial, and being overly critical of her.

One thing he learned during the Retrouvaille weekend was just going back to old behaviors wasn’t going to cut it. Carol took a big step in offering her forgiveness. Now, it was his turn.

“To know that all that stuff is [forgiven] is liberating,” he said. But, “it reinforces in you the fact that you better pick it up and straighten yourself out because I don’t know how many more rocks she’s going to be able to give me. So, better take advantage of this rock. I carried the rock around with me for probably three or four months, then I decided that I don’t want to lose this thing [it now permanently sits on their bedroom dresser].”

He knew the way to make the rock mean something was to treat Carol in a new way — concretely. That led to a conversation with her about it, and a decision.

“We have this deal that, if I screw up, I owe her three affirmations,” he said. “And, they can’t come right after [the forgiveness is granted]. They’ve got to come spaced out during the day. So, if I screw up, I need to recognize what I did and ask her to forgive me, but know that I have the penance [to do]. I’ve got to demonstrate that I’m serious about this with the three affirmations sometime during the remainder of the day.”

This formula has proven successful for the Langans over the last 13 years. Eventually, their marriage strengthened to the point where they became Retrouvaille presenters at weekend retreats and post sessions. They now point the way to forgiveness for dozens of couples every year. And, they also serve on Retrouvaille’s international board.
Today, there’s a visible spark in their eyes when they look at each other, and forgiveness is given and received with ease, partly because offenses are fewer.

But, they are firm in pointing out that forgiveness was not a one-way street, meaning it only involved Carol forgiving Greg. She admits there were things she did to contribute to their drifting apart.

“I’m a stuffer,” Carol said. “I don’t want any arguments. I run away from [conflict] instead of having a fight. I won’t [argue] because I grew up that way with this constant fighting with my family and my parents.

“I figured that the way to have a happy marriage would be to never have a fight. So, every time [a conflict arose] I would back down and not have a fight. We never argued. I didn’t want it. And, by doing that, he resented my behavior and it kept building. By my holding in and not telling how I felt about things, he was resenting that and [feeling] that he had to leave.”

Greg and Carol say that it’s critical for each spouse to both offer forgiveness and seek forgiveness. And, they also note that there’s an effective way to word such requests.

“I used to say, ‘I’m sorry if I did something [wrong].’” she said. “Now I say, ‘I’m sorry I did this.’ And, I name the thing I did [and say] ‘Please forgive me. Will you forgive me?’”
Naming the offense is critical, and so is the request for forgiveness rather than simply saying, “I’m sorry.”

“To say, ‘Will you please forgive me?’ is stronger,” Carol said. “It has more meaning than to say, ‘I love you.’”

Yet, when the exchange of forgiveness is made, there’s more work to do. That’s where Retrouvaille’s “48-hour rule” comes in. It has to do with burying the hurts after they’ve been dealt with.

“If you’ve been forgiven, you have to let it go,” Greg said. “We understand that people have strong emotional reactions to negative behaviors on the part of their spouses. And, [according to the rule] you’ve got 48 hours to fuss, rant and rave, do whatever you want to do about it. But, after 48 hours, you need to find a way to be on the track to forgiveness and to letting it go.”

Said Carol: “One person carries the pain, and the other person carries the guilt. And, therefore, if you’ve been forgiven, then both parties are free. The pain doesn’t disappear, but you made the decision [to forgive]. That’s what forgiveness is. You’ve made the decision to forgive. And by doing that, then you’re working toward something instead of living in the past.”

What supplies the power to forgive is faith. That runs deep in both Greg and Carol and in their marriage. They are quick to credit God for the forgiveness and healing in their marriage.

“All you have to do is look at the cross,” Carol said. “Jesus forgave every single person for every single thing they ever did [wrong]. Even things we haven’t even done yet, we are forgiven for. I see that, without the help of Jesus, we would not be forgiven, and we could not forgive each other.”

And, Greg credited the help of another member of the Trinity.

“The Holy Spirit was there guiding us, helping us understand [what forgiveness is],” Greg said. “This stuff just doesn’t happen without the Holy Spirit doing a lot of the heavy lifting and pushing us in the direction that we needed to go.”

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Category: Featured, Year of Mercy

  • Mole

    I would suggest to hold crucifix instead of rock in time of trouble. Title of this article “Couple turns to stone for help with troubled marriage” suggest that couple ask STONES for help. Is this some sort of pagan tradition?

  • Mark johnson

    Many statistics say over 50% of Catholic marriages end in civil divorce. It is common knowledge that EVERY marriage has at least some struggle. SO WHY THE HELL ISN’T THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TEACHING PEOPLE HOW TO DEAL WITH MARITAL STRUGGLES?

    My husband doesn’t feed me emotionally any more so I’m going to find someone who does. My wife doesn’t satisfy my needs any more so I’m going to find someone who does. My wife gets a new pimple every week so I’m going to find someone with a clear complexion. My wife is a drunk and sleeps around. My husband screams at me when he doesn’t like my cooking. IT’S ALL THE SAME.

    Our priests have forgotten the meaning of the Cross of Christ and how to apply it to suffering in our world. When we have the choice to follow God’s law–even through gritted teeth–THAT IS SANCTIFYING. That is how we become holy–through our spouses.

    Of course, if there is REAL danger then Canon Law does allow separation–but only with bishop consent within a reasonable time and only with reconciliation as the desired end. NO PRIEST TEACHES THAT. Most priests encourage a person to “get an annulment” but they never ask the person if they think their marriage is valid. I would bet that most priests don’t even KNOW what a valid marriage is. NO TRIBUNAL CAN INVALIDATE A VALID MARRIAGE!!! They issue declarations of annulment for valid marriages all the time though. SCANDALOUS!!!

    We’re in a sad state and our enemy loves it.

    • Michelle N

      I wish I could have liked or responded to your comment on the Catholic marriage vs secular culture article. Your comment doesn’t appear to be on there anymore. I agree there is so much to be done to educate on this topic starting especially by our priests talking about it and sharing the Church’s teaching in homilies so that an understanding of the beauty of the sacrament of marriage, even in the times where there is suffering, can begin in childhood through attending mass. The teaching of marriage is so beautiful yet so misunderstood and often misconstrued. Thank you for standing to defend the sacrament of marriage. I truly appreciated your reply.