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How do you build a lasting marriage?

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SAN DIEGO — Joey Pontarelli, the speaker for the next installment of the diocese’s “Healing Pathways for Families” workshop series, hopes to provide attendees with “a practical roadmap for building love that lasts.”

His talk, titled “How to Build a Thriving & Divorce-Proof Marriage,” will be offered via Zoom at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 21. (A link will be provided after registration.) The presentation is part of the Office for Family Life and Spirituality’s ongoing series that equips parish leaders and parishioners to better minister to today’s families.

“There’s so much wisdom out there when it comes to love and marriage … but, sometimes, it’s not very practical or it’s not very accessible, and in this talk we’re going to make it both,” said Pontarelli, founder and president of Restored, a ministry that helps teens and young adults find healing and wholeness after their parents’ divorce.

The Family Life and Spirituality Office has partnered with the diocesan Office for Young Adult Ministry to present Pontarelli’s talk.

Pontarelli’s own parents separated when he was 11. (Despite a temporary reconciliation, the couple ultimately went through a “really messy” divorce about a decade later, he said.) In the wake of their separation, he struggled with anger, depression and feelings of abandonment, turning to pornography in an unsuccessful attempt to numb his pain.

Through the influence of Jason Evert, of the Chastity Project, and the friendship of a group of devout Catholics, he was able to turn his life around. But, even then, he was wounded by the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. He had what he described as “a paralyzing fear of love and marriage” and was “deathly afraid” that what had happened to his parents would happen to him.

That fear was not entirely unfounded: Children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced themselves.

“If we don’t deal with our brokenness, then we’re just going to end up passing it on,” said Pontarelli, who married his wife, Brigid, about three years ago.

Children of divorced parents represent a large but “hugely neglected” demographic, he said, and he was baffled to find that little practical support was available.

He started Restored about two years ago, describing his ministry as offering what he wishes he had access to when he was younger. It provides guidance and support through a podcast, a blog and speaking engagements.

In his upcoming virtual presentation, Pontarelli said he will provide “actionable stuff” and “not just theory,” drawing from Church teaching, marriage research, and the lived experience of “time-tested couples.”

Pontarelli’s Restored ministry is geared toward teens and young adults, ages 13 to 30, who are dealing with the impact of their parents’ divorce. However, his talk for the Diocese of San Diego is intended for a much broader audience: everyone, whether single or in a relationship, who wants to build a lasting marriage.

Janelle Peregoy, associate director of the Family Life and Spirituality Office, and Pamela Poe, associate director of the Young Adult Ministry Office, will be setting the stage for Pontarelli’s presentation.

Peregoy and Poe will reflect on their own experience as children of divorced parents in a video that will be uploaded to the Facebook pages of both of their offices on Friday, Feb. 5. The video is intended to serve as a conversation-starter, encouraging viewers to delve deeper into this topic by attending Pontarelli’s talk.

“I think there’s been this expectation that children are so resilient and that they can get through divorce, but the loss of your parents’ marriage is just as devastating as losing a parent,” said Poe, who was 17 when her parents divorced. (She went through counseling during her 20s to deal with the emotional pain.)

Peregoy, like Poe, challenges the notion that children emerge from their parents’ divorces unscathed.

Her own parents divorced when she was 7 years old and, as she began dating as a twentysomething, she did so with concerns that she might be “predestined” to share her parents’ fate. Later, she came to realize that their divorce had given her a resolve to make her relationships work and a recognition of the importance of open communication.

Both Peregoy and Poe are now in their 30s and, within the past six years, have married and started families.

Peregoy hopes that viewers of her and Poe’s online conversation will take inspiration from how the two women went through a difficult experience but have “come out on the other side.”

“It’s acknowledgement that it’s a challenging journey,” Peregoy said, but also that “we eventually got there.”

For more information, visit www.sdcatholic.org/familylife, email nmendez@sdcatholic.org or call (858) 490-8299. Register at https://tinyurl.com/thrivingmarriage. Watch Peregoy and Poe share their experiences, beginning on Friday, Feb. 5, at https://www.facebook.com/sdfamilylife or https://www.facebook.com/SDCatholicYA.

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