Couples at retreat explore how to ‘keep the love alive’

Mila Grady
Engaged and married couples share a laugh during a retreat at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City earlier this month.

By Mila Grady
For The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — What do successful marriages look like? More than 50 couples contemplated this question during a retreat at St. Patrick Parish earlier this month.

At least four in 10 marriages in the United States ends in divorce, speaker Doug Hinderer told guests. The Illinois-based licensed marriage and family therapist is host of Relevant Radio’s call-in show, “Marriage Unhindered.” “All of us have been hurt by our spouses,” he said. “Anger and resentment can rob us of our joy. No marriage can last long without forgiveness.”

Conflict is inevitable in marriage and couples need to learn to manage it in a healthy way. He observes that couples thrive when they embrace the many opportunities to grow in virtue each day. Living with a spouse’s shortcomings can encourage growth in patience, gentleness, perseverance, charity, humility and kindness.


Hinderer reflected on how to express four biblical forms of love in marriage. Philia, the love between friends, points to the importance of trust and of enjoying time together. Being vulnerable with a spouse strengthens the emotional connection and engenders the sense that “my heart is safe with them.” Maintaining eye contact deepens the connection.

Storge, the love of affection, encompasses “performing small acts of kindness for our spouses,” Hinderer said. It means regularly doing “little things” to express appreciation and gratitude, such as offering compliments, filling a coffee cup and giving hugs.

Physical love, or eros, “may begin with infatuation and the rush of emotions that we feel when we are first attracted to our partner,” Hinderer said. Over time, this love can continue to grow through regularly expressing affection, engaging in fun activities, surprising one another with a gift, vacationing together, weekly dates and prioritizing opportunities for intimacy.

Agape love is sacrificial and represents the love Jesus demonstrated during his passion, Hinderer said. “Yielding cheerfully in matters of personal preference is an important habit that brings happiness and joy into the world of our spouse,” he believes.

Hinderer concluded the talk by sharing his “secret recipe” for a happy marriage:

  • Take 15 minutes daily to connect with your spouse without the use of screens.
  • Enjoy a date night outside the house once a week.
  • Get away once a year with your spouse for at least two days.

Brian Lehmann, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, said Hinderer “planted some very helpful principles related to communication in marriage that are easy to put into practice and yet may have a strong impact.”  

“Doug skillfully blended humor with practical insights, offering us a glimpse into the habits of strong married couples,” said Lisa Dutchik, a member of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City. She and her husband, Bern, enjoyed discovering what makes relationships resilient. “Doug’s tips have added a new layer to our journey together, making us appreciate each other even more.”

Katherine Weiner, a member of St. Patrick-Iowa City, attended the retreat with her husband, Josh. “Doug is a great speaker; he is smart and funny. We left feeling encouraged with ways to continue to nurture our relationship.”

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