Couple knows the goodness of Marriage Encounter
By Michele Chan Santos
Raul and Dora Gonzalez, both 73 years old, have been married for more than 50 years. Their love for one another is clear in their affectionate laughter, frequent embraces and tender glances.
Together, they have built a successful and full life. Raul served as an Associate Justice on the Texas Supreme Court from 1984 to 1998. He was the first Hispanic to hold that position. He is also the first Hispanic to be elected to a statewide office and is currently in private practice in Austin. Raul and Dora have four children (Celeste, Ignacio, Marco Antonio and Sonia), six granddaughters and a grandson on the way. Their son, Brother Ignacio, is a Benedictine monk and lives at St. Anselm Abbey in Washington, D.C.
Yet this devoted couple is the first to admit that marriage can be challenging and requires work and commitment, each and every day. They credit Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a marriage enrichment program, with keeping their love and communication energized and vital. Marriage Encounter promotes a weekend experience for couples who want to improve their marriages.
“Relationships are hard,” Raul said. “Relationships are difficult. Sometimes it is easier than other times. Marriage is a journey, not a destination.”
Dora agreed. “It is clear to us that we are called to love each other warts and all, to love each other even when we do not think the other person is lovable, to love when we don’t feel like it, even when one of us is angry. We are still discovering things about one another. We are very blessed,” she said.
Raul has built a stellar career –– he has been a legal aid lawyer, a prosecuting attorney, a defense attorney and a judge –– but these positions demanded long hours for many years. He credits Dora with supporting him and for her hard work raising their children and managing their household.
“Dora deserves a lot for my success throughout my career,” Raul said. “Not only did she put me through law school (he has a law degree from the University of Houston), but she sacrificed to rear our children, attending to our home while I worked long hours or was out on the campaign trail.”
Dora and Raul were married on Dec. 22, 1963. Their first Marriage Encounter weekend took place in June 1973, 10 years into their marriage.
At first, Raul was hesitant to go on an encounter weekend. “Good friends had invited us several times, and I did not think we needed it … I cancelled twice and we attended the weekend on our third try,” he said.
Dora remembers, “I wanted better communication and the intimacy of our early years to return to our marriage. I couldn’t explain to him enough or thoroughly how I felt inside. I wanted us to go to a weekend where they teach you a technique of communication. That’s what we needed, that’s what I wanted. I yearned for more.”
Raul was not too sure, “I thought what she wanted was not achievable.”
That first Marriage Encounter (ME) weekend changed their lives.
“I found out that I was married to my career, and that I was neglecting our marriage,” Raul said. “I learned that our marriage was like a garden, which needed tender loving care, and for the first time in my life I experienced the love of God through Dora’s love for me.”
Dora said that first weekend led her to discover “that the stagnation in our marriage was not all Raul’s fault, and that I, too, was responsible for the health and vitality of our marriage. The weekend not only rekindled our relationship, but it awakened in us a tremendous desire to put into practice the communication tools we learned on the weekend.”
Faith and family
Raul and Dora credit their parents, now deceased, with instilling a strong Catholic faith within them. Raul’s parents were Raul and Paula Gonzalez. Dora’s parents were Santitos Trevino Champion and Roberto Champion.
Raul and Dora grew up in Weslaco, which is in deep South Texas, near the Mexican border. They first met in the fourth grade at St. Joan of Arc Catholic School in Weslaco, but never dated until three years after their high school graduation.
Raul’s parents were migrant workers. Raul worked alongside his parents, aunts and uncles harvesting crops in the Valley, Arkansas and Washington.
“My mom was a strong Catholic who said ‘everything is possible with God,’’’ Raul said.
Both sets of parents volunteered for Raul on the campaign trail and were able to be at Raul’s swearing-in ceremony for the Texas Supreme Court in 1984.
Today, there is an elementary school (Justice Raul A. Gonzalez Elementary School) named for him in Weslaco.
In the 40 years since their first ME weekend, Dora and Raul have been on more than 100 ME weekends, and have attended another 40 or so enrichments.
They know how challenging it is for today’s married couples to raise children, to work and build their lives together.
“The biggest challenges facing married couples today are complacency, busyness, and the lack of taking time to make an investment in their marriage,” Raul said.
“Some couples are reluctant to attend a Marriage Encounter weekend because they think that attending a Marriage Encounter weekend is an admission that their marriage is in trouble. Nothing could be further from the truth. World Wide Marriage Encounter is for couples with good marriages who want to enrich and improve what they already have,” Dora said.
There are a number of upcoming ME weekends in Central Texas (see box.) Raul and Dora urged couples who are curious about it to give it a try.
“You have a choice to make,” Raul said. “You can stay where you are, or you can make an investment in your marriage and learn new tools on how to ratchet up the fun, romance and passion.”
To learn more about Marriage Encounter in Central Texas, visit www.austinme.org.
Marriage Encounter weekends are scheduled for the following weekends:
Feb. 21-23 at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton
April 11-13 at Wingate Hotel in Round Rock
May 30-June 1 at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton
Sept. 26-28 at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton
Nov. 14-16 at Wingate Hotel in Round Rock
To register, visit www.austinme.org or call (512) 677-WWME.