Retreat Reflections : “Habits of a Very Loving Marriage”

Maggie Stiles is a parishioner at St. Paul Catholic Church in Seattle. She and her husband, John, recently attended our February 16-18 retreat “Habits of a Very Loving Marriage,” led by Fr. Pat Freitag.

        Maggie Stiles

My husband, John, and I will be celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary on March 9th. Ask any married couple and they will say that marriage is hard work, but it seemed to me that our 16 years has been an especially difficult up-hill journey to the land of perfect communication. So when we signed up for the “8 Habits of a Very Loving Marriage” retreat with Father Patrick Freitag, I was curious and hopeful. Maybe we would find some practical insights on how we could better communicate.

We had attended marriage retreats before, but they were more like retreats to reconnect, or to spend time together socially and meet other couples. Father, with his wit and intelligence (in his element, and teaching what he’s passionate about, he is incredibly hilarious), led us through a very faith-filled adaptation of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He added an 8th habit focused on the 5 Love Languages and Languages of Apology as put forth by Gary Chapman. Using video snippets and group interaction, Father kept us riveted.

One of the things we learned is that our top Love Languages (LLs) are completely opposite. John’s top LL is “Acts of Service” (meaning, he feels most loved when I help him with things) while that is the last on my list. My top LL is “Words of Affirmation” (meaning, I feel most loved when I receive positive feedback and am told I am loved), which is his last. That was an eye opener, and we were strongly encouraged to practice learning a new language. To make good communication, therefore, a habit.

Another thing we learned was to “Seek First to Understand”, which, as Father pointed out, echoes the Prayer of St. Francis. To stop, to listen, when someone else is talking to you – especially your spouse – is actually kind of hard to do. Father pointed out that people cannot actually multitask. We can switch between doing things, but we cannot do multiple things at once. And so, when I’m reading, or on my smartphone (or reading on my smartphone), and John starts sharing something, I’m going to work on turning it off and putting it down – a new habit I’m happy to work towards because it will help us in the long run.

Over the weekend, we had time for group discussions, time for quiet reflection, Mass, Confession, and lovely meals provided by the Retreat Center staff. I had a particular experience with the kitchen staff because I was on a special eating program – they were so helpful, having my food set aside for each meal with a smile, that I didn’t feel like I was inconveniencing them.

By the end of the retreat, while John and I didn’t suddenly know how to communicate better, we came away with some tools to help us form new habits. We were very thankful for the experience, as well as the opportunity to spend time at the beautiful Archdiocesan Retreat Center. How blessed we are to have such a place!