Share this story

 | Dr. Sarah Bartel

Praying as a Couple

We could see the night sky darkening through the retreat center’s big dining room windows that overlook  the Puget Sound. Little lights from houses across the water began to twinkle as evening deepened. The cheerful hubbub of the engaged couples in the next room socializing during their break provided a warm background. It was the first evening of a marriage prep retreat my husband, Nathan, and I were leading.

In this romantic atmosphere, we were deep in conversation with our friends and fellow retreat presenters, Fernand and Debra Ricard. The Ricards are as passionate about marriage ministry as my husband Nathan and I are, and they contribute a wealth of experience with marriage prep and leading marriage enrichment retreats. The four of us were leaning in, animated and excited as we shared with each other our observations about what transforms couples most in their marriages.

“Couple prayer! It’s so important to teach to engaged and married couples,” Fernand was saying, and we all nodded and agreed. Both of us couples know firsthand how a marriage changes for the better when husband and wife pray together, one-on-one.

“In fact, you can just about tell how well the marriage is doing by whether a couple is praying together or not,” he observed.

Fernand is right. When we think about the couples we know that are struggling — even Catholic couples that are strong in their faith, deeply committed to the Church,  and intentional about raising their children Catholic — they are couples who are not praying together, They might go to Mass together every Sunday and pray grace before meals with their family. They might even have a family prayer time together. But they don’t pray alone with each other.

Why is that? Why is couple prayer so powerful, and why is it so rare?

It’s powerful because you must literally bare your soul before your husband or wife when you pray together. That’s also part of why it’s rare, as well. “Prayer is such an intimate thing,” we hear, “that special, inner relationship between you and God.” Exactly. Being able to share that with another human requires vulnerability. Praying aloud to God in the presence of your husband or wife allows them to glimpse what’s deep in your heart as you thank God for what you’re grateful for, ask for help for what you’re worried about, or who you’re worried about, and call on His help to strengthen you. This is exactly what creates the spiritual intimacy that is so bonding and healthy in marriage.

It’s true that we don’t often see examples of other couples praying together, and it’s not often talked about or taught. We can’t pull back the curtains on someone else’s marriage to see how they may be praying with their beloved.

We need more stories, examples, and encouragement to married couples to tap into this powerful means of communication — with each other and with God. That’s why Nathan and I created a free digital booklet that shares the real-life examples of seven other couples who are leaders in Catholic marriage and how they pray together. These are “high-performance” couples in professional Church ministry, entrepreneurs, and academic theologians. (In fact, my own theology grad school mentor at The Catholic University of America and his wife agreed to share for this guide!) We also offer several examples of how to design a customized prayer practice together. The booklet is available at

May all married couples experience the power and the blessings available through prayer together.