Meeting Allan and Teresa Sanfilippo Wilcox is a lot like meeting any other couple with more than 25 years of marriage under their belts. Then, you hear their story and realize they’re clearly not like any other couple.
A teary Allan admits that nine years ago he had an affair. And a stoic Teresa agrees that those were rocky days in their marriage. Allan told his wife he was leaving. “I was so floored by it. I was blind-sided. I became really depressed,” Teresa says. “We didn’t really realize that we were in trouble.”
The next day, Allan pulled a FAITH magazine from his mailbox and read an article about another couple who worked to repair their marriage after an affair. “I really believe that magazine was there because it was a sign. God put it there,” he says. “I fell away from my own values system and I thought that Teresa would not forgive me, but I knew that I had to try.” After 24 years of marriage, Teresa says Allan was still her first love. “I don’t know if God was there. Allan was my first love, my only love and I just didn’t want us to end like this,” she says. “I didn’t know if I could let him go. “Something, maybe God, gave me the strength to begin to work it out,” she says.
When most couples would have been contacting divorce attorneys to end their marriage, Allan and Teresa were figuring out how to save theirs. The couple attended a Retrouvaille weekend in Detroit. Though they entered with different expectations, both say the weekend was the start of something magical. “I thought we would go, work on it and everything would be OK,” Teresa says. “The weekend is not about solving problems, it’s about learning how to communicate,” Allan says. Allan and Teresa were one of the couples who “nobody thought would make it.” Teresa says she was angry. And Allan didn’t think she would forgive him. “We started to talk about it and I started to not just blame Allan,” she says. “I had to take some responsibility, too.”
The couple started to heal when they began to listen to each other. “We did what we did to each other and we both share that burden,” Allan says. “I knew that God forgave me, and that Teresa forgave me, but it’s been much harder to forgive myself,” Allan says. They had a strong connection to one of the couples who presented the weekend, and would become good friends. They say that forgiveness wasn’t the only goal, it was healing their relationship. “I knew that just participating would not be enough,” Allan says. “I knew that I wanted to heal and we heal when we tell our story.” Allan and Teresa started presenting at Retrouvaille weekends in Detroit in 2002 and made it a goal to build a Lansing Retrouvaille community in 2004.
They present on weekends in Lansing three (or four) times a year. “We tell it all (during the weekends),” Allan says. “Because God needs us to, we have to be his voice.” Teresa says that leading the Retouvaille weekends helps their relationship every time they present. “We have received so much more than we could ever give back,” she says. “And the best part is that I have my best friend back.” Allan agreed and says that their ability to share their story with others is not necessarily of their own accord. “God really helps us tell our story,” Allan says. “I ask God this: ‘Put your words in my mouth, and let me get out of your way.’ We tell about our journey back to God.” The weekends help couples find different ways of communicating, but they don’t fix all the problems, Allan and Teresa say. “We’re not perfect.
We still argue,” Teresa says. “We apologize sooner,” Allan says. “I always thought that apologizing meant I was weak.” Retrouvaille is designed to take couples on a journey. "We help couples understand why they do what they do,” Teresa says. “We talk about our families of origin and about making personal changes.” Allan explained that Retrovaille teaches couples about being free in their marriages: “It’s about being you, who you are in the relationship,” he says. “Despite the way you may be feeling, you need to make a decision to love each other. Feelings come and go.
If God is love, then love can’t be a flighty feeling. We make decisions to commit, to love, to forgive and to trust.” Communication is more than just passing information back and forth, they say. “You can’t grow intimacy without sharing more than just who’s going where,” Teresa says. In fact, Allan and Teresa say they think every couple should go through a Retrouvaille weekend. “After five, six, seven years, when the pressure hits, Retrouvaille works to help refocus and learn to communicate more intimately,” Allan says. They say they have given a weekend to friends for their anniversary. “They’ve told us that it was the best gift of their marriage,” Teresa says. “It’s amazing to see some people who haven’t spoken for five years before a weekend like this begin to communicate again. It’s a miracle.”