Couples say prayer, sacrifice key to healthy marriages


Zack and Heather Hamilton experienced a breakdown of their marriage within the first 18 months after their wedding. With help from sources like Retrouvaille, they were able to get back on track and realize that “love is a decision.”

Metro Detroit — Marriage in today’s society is not easy, say Zack and Heather Hamilton, whose marriage nearly crumbled after only 18 months post-wedding.

They spent all their time together when they were first married, from exercising to attending church to volunteering. But 18 months after their June 2007 wedding, they found themselves living a “married singles lifestyle.”

“During this time, Zack was working 80-plus hours per week, often bringing work home, and always on his cellphone answering emails and taking calls,” said Heather.

Heather’s attention switched to their first pregnancy, and then to raising their first daughter, Madison: “Being a mother was the only thing on my mind, and this caused a new distance to be put between Zack and myself as our emotional and physical relationship became non-existent.”

Zack’s need for an emotional and physical relationship led to an emotional affair detailed out over text messages with a coworker. Heather discovered the messages after her husband upgraded his phone one day, and told him “I want a divorce.”

“I realized I had hit rock bottom and destroyed everything I had wanted — my family,” said Zack. “That night, I placed ‘healing marriage weekends’ in a Google search, and ‘Retrouvaille’ was the first response.”

The Hamiltons live south of Indianapolis, and the closest weekend wasn’t for another six months; he knew their marriage wouldn’t last that long. Zack talked Heather into attending a weekend in Detroit only four days after she discovered his affair.

Their marriage was saved, but they continue to heal. Today, they have been attending a C.O.R.E. (Continuing Our Retrouvaille Experience) weekend every month for the last two years, “understanding that acknowledging your struggles, and not being afraid to ask for guidance.”

The Hamiltons said they had learned that “love is not a noun, it is a verb.”

Ken and Signe Castel had been married for more than 30 years before learning the value of praying together.

The Castels, who coordinate the locally based Couple Prayer Series, (, said one of the most overlooked, yet most important, components of a healthy Catholic marriage is prayer.

“It changes the style of communication as a couple, changes how you respect and love each other,” said Ken. “It intensifies the relationship.”

The six-week Couple Prayer program, created by Deacon Bob and Kathy Ovies, focuses on helping couples learn to pray with and for each other, from the heart, on a daily basis.

The Castels said the program starts with small steps: scheduling five, 10 or 15 minutes a day.

Signe said they have hosted the series many times at their parish, with a great turnout.

Ken said there is a one-in-six divorce rate among churchgoing couples, supported in Shaunti Feldhahn’s book “The Good News About Marriage.” On the other hand, a study by Retrouvaille indicated that “divorce among couples that pray together is one in 1,105.”

Couple Prayer is not meant to save a troubled marriage — “though it can oftentimes help,” said Signe — but aims to help couples become comfortable praying together.

“We recognize that many of us have grown up in the faith saying memorized prayers such as ‘Bless Us O Lord’ before meals, the rosary or bedtime prayers with the children,” said Signe. “These are all good and beautiful prayers. But there’s something very different in praying from your heart as a couple or as a family.”

“The most important thing that a young couple can do is make sure that both of them individually have given themselves over to a personal relationship with Christ and are pursing that,” said Ann Arbor-based therapist Randy Cirner, who with his wife and fellow therapist, Therese, hosts “More For Your Marriage” seminars.

“Our experience is that most Catholic couples go into marriage with probably no more of a sense of that than their secular counterparts,” Randy said.

The Cirners cited a 2011 secular study by the National Marriage Project at University of Virginia, called “The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America in 2011,” identifying five foundations crucial for a healthy marriage, which include religious faith; commitment; shared values; love, expressed as generosity, self-sacrifice and forgiveness; as well as intimacy, seen as another aspect of love and referring to the sexual relationship.

Randy said other components include having “supportive relationships from family and friends,” and thinking positively about one’s spouse. “If you’re thinking negatively, you’re going to speak negatively,” he said.

He also said parishes must focus more on having support groups and programs for young married couples — “we are supposed to be part of a faith community” — so that young marrieds do not feel alone.


The First Years and Beyond

What: Valentine’s Day marriage-enrichment evening for young couples within first 10 years of marriage. Evening begins with Mass in St. John’s Chapel at 4 p.m., continuing with marriage enrichment talk by marriage experts Randy and Therese Cirner, dinner, DJ music and dancing.

When: Saturday, Feb. 14, from 4-11:30 p.m.

Where: The Inn at St. John’s, 44045 5 Mile, Plymouth, 48170

Contact: Stacy Gillette at (734) 414-1104 or

Note: Registration is $70/couple. Register online at

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World Marriage Day in Troy

What: A day to celebrate the sacrament of marriage, featuring Fr. Ben Luedtke on “Marriage and the Family,” Zack and Heather Hamilton on “Going the Extra Mile” and emceed by Deacon Dom and Teresa Tomeo Pastore. Dinner followed by speakers and dancing.

When: Sunday, Feb. 8, from 3-8 p.m.

Where: San Marino Club, 1658 E. Big Beaver, Troy, 48083

Contact: Rich and Fran at (586) 979-0192, Mike and Donna at (248) 635-7543, or

Note: Advanced registration is required. Registration by Jan. 30 is $55/couple; after Jan. 30 is $65/couple. Register online at