Marriage Enrichment Retreats: What They Are (and Why You Need One)
Written By CounselingWise
Life is hectic; you have work, bills to pay, the kid’s soccer games to attend, and between all of that it’s hard to find time to spend alone, let alone with your partner. Your schedules don’t always match up, and by the time everything is done, you’re both too exhausted to do anything together.
Your busy schedule doesn’t just add to your stress levels; it also means that smaller problems and arguments are starting to fester. Little things—such as your partner not helping with housework or worrying too much over small details—are starting to bother you.
Every relationship has problems. Whether you’ve been married for years or are just starting out, whether you’re close to divorce or you just want to strengthen your relationship, you’re looking for a way to fix problems fast and that will last a long time.
You may have considered—or already participated in—couple’s therapy before. Now, however, you’d like to supplement or speed up the process. If so, there’s a perfect option for you:
A marriage enrichment retreat. In this guide, we’ll be covering the differences between a retreat and standard couple’s therapy, as well as the many benefits of a retreat: how they work, how they help, and how to find the right option for you as a couple.
The Difference Between Weekly Marriage Therapy and Enrichment Retreats
When it comes to relationships, we can find ourselves too close to the problem to see things clearly. Sometimes we need outside help to really understand and work through issues.
That’s where workshops, retreats, and counseling come into play.
All involve professionals taking a close look at the relationship and the problems facing it. However, there are several key differences between each approach.
Workshops are group-oriented. Several couples will meet with a therapist together to discuss ways to improve their marriages.
Workshops have several benefits. They tend to be very educational, they’re less expensive than some forms of counseling, and you can learn from the other couples present.
Unfortunately, there are also several downsides. Most workshops are led by educators, not necessarily licensed therapists. And because of the group format, the educators present can’t create an individualized program. They can provide the group as a whole with tools, but you’ll have to implement them yourself. It’s not an ideal method if your relationship needs direct attention and personalized support.
Some popular workshops are Hold Me Tight and The Art of Science and Love, which use Emotionally Focused Therapy and the Gottman method, respectively.
Private retreats are a lot more hands-on. As the name indicates, the couple would travel to a private location to work one-on-one with a therapist, usually for a span of two to four days.
You’ve likely heard of private retreats under several different names, including: Intensive Marriage Counseling, Marathon Marriage Counseling, and Immersion Therapy.
Relationship retreats for couples tend to have more intensive therapy, and can go through months of work in just a couple days.
Enrichment retreats allow partners to spend one-on-one time with each other away from everyday life.
Your relationship gets personalized attention, and the marriage retreat may accelerate or enhance a normal weekly session (though it’s not necessary to attend weekly therapy to attend a private marriage retreat). On the downside, private retreats tend to be expensive, and you may need to travel a ways to reach them.
Weekly therapy is exactly how it sounds: a weekly session with your therapist to help you work on relationship problems. You may know it by another title, such as marriage therapy, couples counseling, pre-marital counseling, or marital counseling.
Some couples prefer weekly therapy because it’s cheaper and involves less travel than a marriage enrichment retreat while giving a more personalized approach. However, there are several reasons that a retreat can be a better option:
– Your schedule or location may not allow for weekly sessions. You can plan for a 2-3 day retreat, which acts more like a mini-vacation than weekly office visits.
– Retreats allow you to take serious action fast. They can get the results of 12 weeks of therapy in just a couple of days.
– You might be a busy working professional or travel a lot for work, and so you only have a limited amount of time to work on your marriage.
Retreats aren’t a fix-all, though. Your relationship problems won’t magically disappear by attending one.
However, they are a great first step toward rebuilding and strengthening your marriage.
The Benefits of Marriage Enrichment Retreats
If you’ve been on an improvement retreat before, such as a yoga or health retreat, then you probably have an idea of what you’re in for. Marriage retreats are designed to improve an aspect of your life; in this case, your marriage.
Marriage enrichment retreats, like the therapists who run them, differ depending on what you’re looking for. When you find the right one, you can achieve in days what would normally take months of traditional counseling.
There are certain benefits that apply to almost any enrichment retreat, and each one is an important part of growing and strengthening your relationship.
Get Away from Daily Stress
Marriage enrichment retreats are almost more like mini-vacations than therapy. You’re doing serious work, sure, but you’re doing it in a space that gets you away from the stress of everyday life.
By getting away from home for a time, you’re reducing the noise in your life—the things that consume and distract you. You don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning, taking care of the kids or pets, or working on your job. And this freedom allows you to focus more on the bond between yourself and your partner.
One of the major reasons marriages struggle is because of a lack of communication or attention. Taking away all the extra can help you get back to what really matters.
Getting away from everyday stressors can help you feel like you have a little more control in your life, as well. Work, social obligations, and personal dilemmas can easily consume and control your life, absorbing your time and leaving your partner—or yourself—with only the scraps. By stepping away from the situation, you’re able to talk with your partner again, and can work to bring sources of stress and conflict under control.
While reducing stress is a major benefit of attending a retreat, you may want to give yourself a little time to prepare. After so long focusing on things besides your relationship, it can feel a little awkward to be alone with your partner again.
A retreat, unlike weekly therapy, gives you time to be alone with your partner without daily stressors. You aren’t coming straight from work or rushing back to the office or hoping the kids aren’t destroying the house. By spending more personal time together and away from sources of stress, you can rediscover the spark that drew you together in the first place.
You’ll be provided with activities to help ease the pressure of working on your relationship. These make it easier to notice problems that would otherwise be overlooked, and allow you to see the strengths of both yourself and your partner.
By spending personal time with each other, you can also feel more connected physically. Sex becomes special again, instead of an obligation or something you could only sneak in once the kids were sleeping.
And if spirituality is important to you, marriage enrichment retreats can help you and your partner reconnect to your shared beliefs. Some retreats even plan activities and speakers around strengthening your spiritual connection.
Ultimately, a marriage retreat helps renew feelings of “we” instead of “me.” When you think of the relationship in terms of yourself, conflicts arise quicker and are more difficult to resolve. When you think of both of you together, as a couple, it becomes easier to work out such problems.
Because of a marriage crisis retreat’s intensity, it shows your family you’re dedicated to making your marriage work. You’re putting your family and your partner first by taking the time out of your busy schedule to really work things out. Plus it gives your kids a sense of security, knowing that their parents are committed to each other.
Share Experiences Together
Marriage enrichment retreats, much like weekly counseling, give you valuable tools that you can take home with you. However, they also give you something that you won’t find in traditional therapy sessions.
When you’re working for just one hour at a time in an office setting, the clock can stop in the middle of an important conversation. You can go home with unresolved issues, and then there’s tension between you until you can talk the following week.
At an enrichment retreat, a professional counselor will design and lead exercises so you can work through issues and then enjoy time off together. Each exercise is created based on science-backed approaches to help benefit you, your partner, and your relationship. Instead of just talking about the issues, you’re able to see them from a new perspective and work through them in real time.
The activities and roleplays are wonderful tools because they break a lot of the tension normally involved in weekly meetings, which allows you and your partner to communicate more openly and honestly.
Learn Practical Skills and Tools
Various discussions, speakers, and activities help you learn practical skills and tools that you can take home with you. You can learn how to recognize issues, communicate your needs and understand your partner’s needs, and deal with specific problems (such as money concerns or sexual frustrations).
Because of the unique setting, you’ll be able to focus on learning and applying all these skills without the drama of everyday life. Moreover, you’ll have more time to practice them.
Neuroscience shows that when people are immersed in a situation, the habits and behaviors they learn are more likely to stick.
A good retreat is led by an experienced, licensed marriage counselor who uses research-backed approaches to help you and your partner become a stronger couple. That means you can trust that you’re getting advice and support from an expert who really understands what you’re going through.
The type of support provided is unique to each couple. Whether you need support on an individual level, as a couple, or in a group setting, the therapist can tailor their approach to give you the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. This differs significantly from weekly therapy, where you’re given tools that you don’t have time to practice, then have to implement at home on your own.
The retreat gives you time and support to help you understand how to implement new tools and skills, so that when you go home, you won’t struggle to figure out how to put the advice into action.
Learn From Other Couples
Some retreats are private in order to give couples more individualized attention.
Others are group retreats, where you can observe and learn from other couples in the same situation as you. In others, you’ll see couples at earlier or later stages in their relationships, facing different problems. Both types of groups let you see your relationship from multiple perspectives, and allow you to learn not only from the therapist, but from the other couples present.
Strengthen a Loving Relationship
Attending a marriage retreat doesn’t mean you’re on the verge of a divorce. It might just mean you want to improve on what’s already there—no relationship is perfect, after all. Going to a retreat allows you to strengthen the bond between you and your partner, and allows your relationship to become all that it can be.
Finding the Right Marriage Retreat for You and Your Partner
Just like no two marriages are the same, no two retreats are the same. Each will offer different approaches, treatments, settings, and intensity. It’s important to look at what makes a good retreat, and then choose one that’s best for your relationship.
The best marriage enrichment retreats are the ones that use methodologies that have proven to be effective and are backed by peer-reviewed studies. The most popular of these methods are known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and the Gottman Method.
EFT is a form of therapy that focuses on attachment and bonding. It looks at patterns in a relationship to help identify and address challenges and make the relationship stronger. About 70-75% of couples recover after receiving EFT, and 90% make significant improvements.
The Gottman Method looks closely at the couple’s relationship, and employs research-based solutions to help strengthen the relationship in three key areas: friendship, conflict management, and creation of shared meaning. One study shows that it’s most effective at helping with the different components of a marriage, such as emotional connection, trust, compromise, commitment, and quality of sexual relationships. And another shows that couples who received therapy that incorporated the Gottman Method had greater marital satisfaction up to a year later.
A good marriage rescue retreat—such as the one at Inside Passage Relationship Counseling—will have therapists who specialize in one or both areas.
As a note, this doesn’t preclude spiritual retreats! It just means that the retreat should practice research-based methodology in addition to incorporating spiritual practices.
Experienced, Fully-Licensed Therapists
If you want to get the most out of your retreat, make sure you’re working with a therapist who has the right training, experience, and practical skills to really aid you.
A full-licensed therapist not only runs a more effective retreat, they can provide the one-on-one support you need to really dig deep into any relationship problems. For example, many issues that crop up between partners are related to a person’s unique experience, such as unresolved conflict from childhood. A therapist can help you recognize and address these individual challenges as a path to better your relationships.
Therapists Who Prioritize the Relationship, Not the Individual
Having a therapist who takes the middle ground seems great in theory, but can actually be somewhat problematic. What you want is a therapist who’s going to ask what the relationship needs to survive—which creates a sense of teamwork and shared goals. You’re still unique individuals, and you’ll have a therapist who listens closely to both partners’ experiences, but now you’re working together toward a common purpose. You’re learning how to connect and support each other despite your differences.
These professionals won’t just focus on the hot-button issues. They understand that how you relate—from the most mundane to big picture issues—is the focus of change. And by prioritizing the relationship and your goals as a couple, the therapist can help you recognize and overcome challenges together.
Built for Your Needs
Because of the wide variety of retreats, you’ll want to take a look at the options available and see what fits your current situation. You can find retreats for couples in crisis, premarital retreats, and ones designed to help regardless of relationship status.
If spirituality is a key part of your relationship, then you may want to find a retreat that incorporates that into the work you do. Remember, however, that this shouldn’t ignore research-based approaches.
It’s also a good idea to know beforehand whether you’d prefer a group retreat or a private one. Some couples feel group retreats draw attention away from the fact that this is still therapy; others prefer the personalized one-on-one attention of private retreats.
Make sure that the retreat places a high priority on maintaining confidentiality, respect, and emotional safety. This will make it easier to take emotional risks and try out new ways of relating. There’s a fine line between being vulnerable and becoming so uncomfortable that you become defensive. A good retreat will allow you to stretch your comfort zone while also respecting your personal boundaries and relationship goals. If a therapist is trying to fit your relationship into their version of “healthy,” then the work can still be unsuccessful, despite you and your partner’s best efforts.
Includes Follow-Up Support
While a great marriage retreat can offer 12 weeks-worth of support and growth in just two to three days, they aren’t a cure-all. You’ll still need to work on problems at home, and hold yourselves accountable.
Different retreats may offer different methods of follow-up. One may create a customized plan for you and your partner to use at home. Another may provide ongoing in-person or online support.
The important thing is that you find a retreat that helps you maintain and build upon the work you did together.
Considering that you’ll be staying a few days at this retreat, it’s important to know what kind of setting you’d like it to take place in. Are you trying to get away or stay close to home? Does the location provide the amenities you need to relax and feel comfortable (are you looking for a couples therapy resort or something a little more rustic and charming)?
If you’re looking for something a little more like a vacation, Lopez Island offers world-class beauty in a private, tranquil, and unplugged setting. Located in Washington State’s San Juan Islands, Lopez Island offers lots of stress-relieving activities, such as kayaking and hiking.
Whatever marriage retreat you decide to attend, the most important thing is finding one that will work for you and your partner, so you can get the most out of your marriage.
A Healthier, Stronger Marriage
Whether your relationship is on the verge of collapse or you just want to improve on what’s already there, marriage enrichment retreats can be a great option. They provide the same support, training, and skills as weekly therapy in a shorter amount of time, while allowing you to escape everyday stressors and really focus on your relationship.