By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “Put God first in your lives,” Pete Larson told 35 couples during a Marriage Booster retreat Oct. 27 at the Best Western Steeplegate Inn. Larson is the co-founder and executive director of Family Fest Ministries in Bloomington, Minn. St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport sponsored the retreat.
Prior to the retreat, participating couples completed a marriage survey. Questions covered a variety of topics: children, attending church together, praying together, disagreements/arguments, romance and intimacy. Couples also ranked the importance of career, kids, God, spouse, friends, hobbies and other things.
Larson began Family Fest in Minnesota with retreats and a camp for families. Requests for a “couples” day inspired creation of the Marriage Booster retreat. “It’s tough for couples to spend time together — without children,” he said. “Marriage Booster gives couples time to think and talk about topics they may not have the courage to do so otherwise.”
Couples often respond that children are their first priority. “It should be God, spouse, then children, jobs and everything else,” Larson said. He noted that child-rearing is the issue that couples argue about most.
Larson and Beth Ulrich, a member of the Marriage Booster team, spoke throughout the day and gave time for couples to talk with each other privately on the topics presented. Couples also participated in Marriage Booster Bingo, one of the retreat’s icebreakers.
Larson talked about the poisons of marriage and the antidotes. The first poison is criticism, not saying anything positive about the other person. Encouragement is the antidote. “We want what is best for our kids. Why not our marriages?” Larson said. The power of encouragement “makes all the difference in the world.”
Contempt, tearing down a person through words, mockery, rolling of eyes or condescension is another poison. The antidote is honor, respecting one another. “Focus not on your needs, but your spouse’s needs.” A third poison is defensiveness, not admitting to your own faults. Its antidote is humility. “Own up to it,” Larson said.
The poison of withdrawal involves not entering arguments, working late or getting too involved in coaching or activities to avoid the relationship. The antidote is connection, through intimacy and closeness. “Look out for each other. Learn what their wants, needs and dreams are.”
Ulrich shared her story of marriage and how she put her career as a real estate agent first, before making the decision to change her priorities. One day her husband asked why they could not be like other couples and go to Home Depot together. She thought to herself, why would I go to a home improvement store? “I totally didn’t get what he was saying. He was lonely.” Her husband suggested counseling. She didn’t think it was necessary but went anyway.
Afterwards, she worked for her husband. “That’s not always the best choice,” she laughed. But they felt something was still missing in their marriage. So they attended Larson’s family camp. “Our priorities were not God, each other and everything else.” The couple started spending more time together, going on walks and date nights without the kids. “We built each other up.” Ulrich encouraged participants to “let your kids see you kiss.” Speak positively about your spouse and say you love each other in front of the children. “Actions reinforce words.”
Other topics at the retreat covered communication, expectations, intimacy and the language of love. Couples received homework, too: go on a date night without the kids.
Rob and Laura Broughton of St. Paul the Apostle Parish have been married for 11 years. “We attended the retreat because we feel it is important to do a marriage ‘checkup’ on a regular basis. Even when things are going well in our marriage, it is always good to get a sense of where we are at and how we can grow. Originally, we were not going to attend the retreat because Rob was scheduled to be out of town for the weekend with a college friend. That weekend ended up being canceled because his friend was going through marital difficulties. We took that as a sign that God was opening the door for us to attend the retreat and that we should be investing in our marriage,” Laura said. “We have three young kids and getting away for the whole day was not easy, but it was something we felt was worthwhile. We enjoyed the whole format of the day.”
St. Paul the Apostle parishioners Andrew and Sarah Kahler have been married for 13 years. “We decided to attend the Marriage Booster to help us refocus our marriage and take some time for us. With busy schedules and families it’s so easy to get stuck in a routine. The Marriage Booster was exactly what we needed. We were able to come away with some great tools to use in our marriage to keep us anchored in our relationship and in our faith.”
Organizers Brad Merritt, Ryan Burchett and Lorene Knobbe said the retreat idea came out of the parish’s marriage enrichment programming. Burchett said the retreat shows that “all marriages need a boost from time to time and I think everyone who came left with a great energy about their relationship.”
A highlight for him was simply seeing the smiles on the couples’ faces. “People were really enjoying each other.”