Married couples coached on strengthening their love and faith

MERRILLVILLE – More than 50 couples hungry for ways to strengthen their marriages enjoyed a Marriage Date Night gourmet dinner as they gathered at Gamba Ristorante on Feb. 17 to hear Peter and Theresa Martin share their recipe for a joyful union filled with the love of God as well as love for each other.
Basing their formula on the insights of St. Pope John Paul II that stemmed from the 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae (On Human Life)” by Pope Paul VI, the Minnesota couple introduced the term “conjugal spirituality” as the relationship between God and the spouses in a marriage, united as one. This spiritual union can be so profound, according to St. Pope John Paul II, that spouses develop “one interior life between you and God,” said Theresa Martin. “Does this mean that I’ll know what Peter’s thinking and that I’ll lose myself in this union?
“No, (because) the more you give yourself in love, the more you’ll become the person you should be,” she added.
As couples grow closer, “You start to recognize the other’s needs. We’ve gone through a lot together, and I’ve apologized for not paying attention to your needs,” Peter Martin said to his wife.
“But the spiritual union we have is because of the unique nature of that sacramental grace, and we need to keep ourselves open to this grace, put ourselves in a place where we can receive this grace,” Peter added.
The sacrament of matrimony is unique among the seven Catholic sacraments, the couple explained, because it is the only one received by two people instead of an individual and because the couple actually marries each other by stating their vows, with the priest as a witness.
“St. Pope John Paul II says that you continue giving of yourself in love every day of your marriage,” said Theresa Martin.
Offered Peter Martin, “As we love one another, that love is available. When I love Theresa, God loves me through her. He wants to love Theresa through me, too. The closer we become to God, the closer we become to each other.”
Theresa Martin admitted, “I always thought, when I was young, that I wasn’t good enough, and it wasn’t until I felt Peter’s love that I felt good enough. In sharing his love for me, it was healing me, letting me know that I’m worthy of love as I am, (and that) God loves me.”
“We continue saying ‘I love you’ through the things we do for each other,” Peter Martin said. “God will take our little gesture of love and make it something great.”
“Sometimes we feel like we are doing so much (in our marriage), but that we are forcing it,” Theresa Martin added. “If we open our hearts, it becomes easier. Instead of him saying, ‘What’s wrong?’ when he senses I am stressed, he brought me flowers and while he thought it was a small thing, it meant so much to me that day.”
Peter Martin said he made that “Day 1 of a Novena of Praises – every day for nine days I told Theresa something I appreciate about her. I learned to make a list, so it was easy.”
By following St. Pope John Paul II’s “Rule for Marriage,” couples find strength in a community of married couples that meet and support each other, explained Peter Martin. 
“St. Pope John Paul II sees the spouses in two moments – real and ideal – and we always try to keep them both in mind. While we are in the real moment, we still aim towards the ideal,” Theresa Martin said.
“I love (Theresa) as you are, but I also want to help you become the ideal,” added Peter Martin. “You are loved for who you are, no matter what, and not for what you do.”
Andrew and Erika Dolder, of Schererville, parishioners at St. Michael the Archangel, attended Marriage Date Night for the second year in a row because he “values learning what more I can do to help my marriage, especially the Catholic ways God gives to us through sacramental marriage.”
Married for nine years with two young children, Erika Dolder said the couple shares date night twice a month. “We usually go out to dinner, but this month we are going to a Chicago Bulls game.” Through parish ministry activities, we tie our marriage into our Catholic lives.”
Andrew Dolder said, “Each one of us has aspects of God that we bring into our marriage. Free will is God’s gift to us, and we can give to each other and build each other up. My role is to keep giving that gift to (my wife).”
Cedar Lake resident Kristine Stewart, who shared the event with her husband of 22 years for the first time, admitted she turned into the teacher she is and took notes. “I came because I wanted to see how our marriage could save the world, as the theme said, and found the idea of conjugal spirituality interesting. You have to make sure you are purposely sharing your love – I recently memorized my wedding vows and said them to him again. We met another couple tonight that we hope to get together with again to form a small community.”
Will Stewart, who attends St. Liborius in Steger, Ill. with his wife, said realizing that marriage is the only sacrament shared by two people was interesting. He also agreed with Peter Martin’s idea of doing things for your spouse to express your love, noting that he makes an effort to share the chores around the house, including cooking dinner and grocery shopping.
Elaine and John Balser, of Valparaiso and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, have been coming to Marriage Date Night since it was inaugurated. “After 37 years, we are still just getting into our relationship, I feel. Every day is a new day. Trust in God, trust in yourself and when you feel something, act on it. Try to focus on her and do something to lighten her load.”
His wife said sometimes it is important to find a balance when one spouse “is up here, and the other is down there. I know that I could listen better to his needs, as they talked about tonight. Basically, you are trying to help each other get to heaven.”
The Martins have started a movement through Wojtyla Community and Institute to create and train small group communities of 4-5 couples who meet in their homes and follow the “Rule” together.  They currently have communities meeting in 17 states and want to expand to include every state. Learn more at


Caption: "Conjugal spirituality is the relationship between God and spouses, united as one, formed through the Sacrament of Marriage," said Theresa Martin, who with her husband, Peter Martin, address the Diocese of Gary's annual Marriage Date Night attendees on Feb. 17 at Gamba Ristorante in Merrillville. "This real spiritual union can be so profound, Pope John Paul II said, that the spouses have but one interior life." Martin hastened to add that this does not mean she can read her husband's mind, "or that I will lose myself in this union, but the more you give yourself in love, the more you'll become the person you should be." (Marlene A. Zloza photo)