Archdiocese of Detroit's new marriage coaching program designed to help couples restore and enhance their marriage

DETROIT — On Valentine’s Day, the marketing of romantic love is all the rage, and Detroit is not immune. Advertisements for heart-shaped pizzas, the sweetheart skate at Campus Martius ice rink, and couples’ chocolate and wine tastings abound. 

For Catholics, however, the celebration of romantic love goes beyond the fun date-nights and food tastings, and instead focuses year-round on the nitty-gritty of deepening relationships. 

For nearly two years, a division within the Archdiocese of Detroit's Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship has been operating a marriage coaching ministry, which lets couples looking to boost their relationship and communication skills connect with more seasoned married couples.

David Grobbel, marriage support specialist for the archdiocese, realized that when couples came to him in need, he had two options: recommend them to therapy or Retrouvaille — a retreat intended for couples in crisis situations. 

There was no in-between option for couples simply looking to enhance their marriage, or who needed help but weren’t quite in crisis mode. 

A priest celebrates a wedding Mass for a couple. For the past two years, the Archdiocese of Detroit has offered a marriage coaching ministry for couples whose marriages could use strengthening, but who aren't necessarily in “crisis” mode, said David Grobbel.

With this in mind, Grobbel, a certified therapist, launched the marriage coaching ministry, a couple-to-couple mentoring program. Couples from all backgrounds, life stages and with a wide variety of needs and issues are welcome to participate in this strictly confidential and no-cost program. 

In total, Grobbel said, approximately 20 couples have made it through some level of the program so far. 

Grobbel screens couples’ requests for help, and upon assessing the level of need, assigns the couple to a coaching couple. As of now, the nearly two-year-old program has five coaching couples — four English-speaking couples and one Spanish-speaking couple. Each of the couples is vetted by Grobbel and their parish priest. 

“They are just seasoned couples who have a heart desire for marriage coaching,” Grobbel said. “We are here to walk alongside you.”

Michael and Sue Barczak, members of St. Regis Parish in Bloomfield Hills, said their passion for the sacrament of marriage led them to become a coaching couple. 

“We also see the attack the secular world is putting on the institution and sacrament of marriage, and in our minds, that is really breaking the foundation of family life,” Michael Barczak said.

The Barczaks' openness about their own marriage of 32 years has been a reassurance to couples, Sue Barczak said, adding coaching has helped them see where they were lacking early in their own relationship and has improved their communication. 

“Early on we didn’t have the faith life we could have had to help us sustain our marriage better through those ups and downs,” Sue Barczak said. “Now that we’ve gotten deeper into our faith, we want to share that with others.”

The meetings are successive and build on each other. The coaching couple helps to supply the couple in need with a “tool belt” for their marriage, Michael said, which includes forgiveness as well as cultivating a Christ-centered life, individually and together. This can be achieved through prayer and sacraments. 

Other tools include healthy communication, an understanding of respect for the body and life priorities. Couples are then invited to practice using these tools with assigned exercises and homework. 

Rose and Dennis Wingfield, another coaching couple, have been married for 17 years, having both been previously widowed. The couple, who attend Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, say they can see the fruits of the coaching ministry. 

The Wingfields say they have been able to see the fruits of the coaching ministry, and have even received heartwarming feedback from some of the couples with whom they worked. (Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic)

In a letter one couple wrote to the Wingfields after finishing the program, they said: “Rose and Dennis, thank you for opening your home and hearts to us in order to make our marriage and lives richer. We learned a lot from our time together with the most important (thing) being our relationship with Christ.”

Dennis said the Wingfields believe they have been able to be effective because Christ is at the center of their own marriage, which puts everything in proper perspective. 

“The sacrificial love that Christ showed on the cross is what we are called (to) in our marriage, as well as to sacrifice for each other, selflessly,” Dennis said.

Both the Wingfields and Barczaks emphasize the program is for all couples, regardless of level of need. And, Rose Wingfield said, couples aren't obligated to continue the program if they give it a try.

“Our experience has been that couples do continue to come back, maybe not to complete the whole program, but they are eager to learn and they want more,” Rose said. “Even if they are not struggling, they will find that their marriage is enriched just by being together.”

Marriage coaching program

To learn more about the Archdiocese of Detroit's marriage coaching ministry, call (313) 237-4680 or email familyministry@aod.org.