That’s probably why people say that young love is the most innocent, the most trusting. Younger people enter into relationships with the purest of intentions and brimming with goodwill in their hearts.

Why is it that we have to do everything while we’re young?

Whether it’s falling in love, mastering a sport, learning a foreign language, and focusing on what we want to be when we grow up – our elders say do everything while you’re still young and it’s not too late. Such demands they put on the young!

Our mentors are aware that as we get older, our opinions and ideals take a 360 degree turn. To put it matter-of-factly, we become so jaded. So very jaded. Like Dorothy Parker who said:

“By the time you’re his,
Shivering and signing,
And he vows his passions is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.”

We start out as love birds and the whole world envies us. As a once famous crooner sang, “Hello, young lovers, wherever you are, I hope that your troubles are few; all my good wishes are with you tonight…” But then time, money problems, children, personality differences and career difficulties begin to gnaw at us – slowly at first and then intensify with the passage of time.

The nagging feeling is: what’s happening to our marriage?

Or the more serious question: is this the person I married and vowed to spend the rest of my days with?

Marriage Retreats: Not Really Spiritual

If the idea ever crossed your mind that marriage retreats are like those retreats organized by the nuns in school where we’d spend hours alone so that we could meditate on our sins and ask for forgiveness, banish that idea from your thoughts. Marriage retreats are unique opportunities for couples to rekindle a love that was once alive and so full of hope. They are a prelude to an impulsive decision to file for divorce or serve as a tonic for bitterness and desperation.

Couples don’t retreat in silence; on the contrary, they’re encouraged to break the wall of silence between them. They don’t spend hours praying or trying to mend broken spiritual paths either. They work on doing damage control to frayed relationships that are teetering on the brink of divorce. The individual who runs a marriage retreat makes sure quality time is spent with the couple so that a proper assessment can be made as to what aspects of their marriage could use some improvement.

Married partners who prefer to go into a marriage retreat rather than sit down in the stifling – and sometimes intimidating – offices of marriage counselors want to break the monotony of their daily routine and spend it away from the home – usually the place where most martial problems brew.

Marriage retreats therefore aren’t exercises in walking in silence towards the path of a higher being. With the help of marriage therapists, these retreats are intended to tear down the barriers of silence and to unearth the deep-seated anxieties and resentments of each spouse, with the aim of salvaging something larger than life. Because it is in saving a marriage that lives are saved.

Marriage Retreats: How They Work

There is nothing scary about marriage retreats. Majority of them offer a very relaxed, non-intimidating setting (usually out-of-city limits and in the “wild”), and couples won’t get that “courtroom feeling” even when they’re in session with the marriage counselor or therapist.

Before we describe the dynamics of marriage retreats, let’s look at the advantages that couples gain when they decide to sign up for a marriage retreat program:

  • Couples will re-visit their love for one another and assess how their relationship has brought them to where they are now,
  • Develop a shared vision of the future of their marriage,
  • Re-explore the joy and happiness they once knew by thinking about their mutual interests and value systems,
  • Examine why the intimacy and closeness are no longer present in the relationship and think of creative ways they can bring these qualities back into the marriage,
  • Think of ways they can build upon to stay connected with each other.

Most marriage retreats are usually intensive in nature. They last anywhere from a weekend to a week, but it is more common to have three-day intensive sessions. The sessions are private and spent with one adviser or a couple-adviser. More and more marriage retreats are managed by a husband and wife team who are both experts in marriage and relationships. They have had solid experience working with couples who are thinking of divorcing but are making one last attempt to save their marriage.

It is surprising to hear couples say that the time spent away from home and work commitments plus the new surroundings are sufficient to make them resolve to inject new life into their marriages. With valuable insights learned from counselors and new tools placed at their disposal, couples become receptive and willing to re-think their relationship. After the retreat, some say they are eager to go back home and start fresh. The intensity and brevity of the session make it conducive for couples to come to a decision to jump start their marriage, compared to the lengthy marriage counseling programs that can drag for months which tend to diminish the interest of couples to “kiss and make up.”

In a marriage retreat, husband and wife make a genuine effort to put aside their sad experiences involving infidelity or the bitter arguments over trivial issues and are trying to focus on only one thing: reconciliation.

Before or after the couple arrives in a marriage retreat (procedures vary), the counselor will ask them a few questions that might help pinpoint areas that need work. A review of their backgrounds is imperative, their ideas and opinions, and their educational attainment as well as family history.

If the counselor determines that the infidelity committed by one spouse was the motivating factor that brought them to counseling, the reasons and circumstances of that infidelity will be discussed, as well as to get a feel of how the partners felt when the infidelity occurred and why it occurred. A meaningful dialogue between the couple and the adviser can bring to light some issues that the couple never thought of before. The adviser, as an independent third party, can offer perspectives and valuable insights about a relationship that has gone sour.

The couple spends half-day sessions with the counselor, and then they are left to themselves to flesh out issues. The husband and wife are encouraged to take long walks in nature while dialoguing, participate in a sport, or do things they used to enjoy – go for dinner, take in a movie, or visit antique shops.

Marriage Retreats: What‘s Next?

When the three day session is completed, the couple can go home and start re-building their lives. They have the option to continue with the counseling sessions so that they can make the retreat experience an integral part of this new chapter in their lives or simply to refresh their minds about what they learned. Some counselors will even phone the couples periodically to see how they’re doing and what progress has been made. Couples also have the option to take another marriage retreat after six months so that they ensure they maintain that emotional connection between themselves.

Conscious effort – that’s what it usually takes for a marriage to stay afloat. Life has too many distractions that can alienate spouses, even when there is no intention to establish a “disconnect.”

In each of us, there lives a “chorus of voices” that push us into diverse paths. The hardest pill to swallow is that relationships are fragile no matter how emotionally mature the spouses are. Fortunate are those who have the will to fortify relationships, but there will always be pocketfuls of people whose relationships have to carry a sign saying “handle with care.” And this state of fragility is not entirely their fault. We’ll simply call it being dealt a hard blow or just plain bad luck.

Happily, we see echoes of Cinderella’s story and her Prince Charming in couples who want to love again. In the University of Minnesota, for example, the Family Study Center has given enrichment sessions to over 600,000 couples since it began. The university has designed a communication matrix, divided in two courses for couples to use in trying to fill the gaps in their marriage.

It’s reassuring to know that couples with relationship difficulties have marriage retreats as an option. Perhaps a lot of it has to do with the natural setting – a refuge from the annoying urban routine that can erode good intentions. A retreat on the mountain, by the lake, in the wilderness or in a rustic village – these are certainly much more conducive to reflection than the formal, antiseptic offices in the city of most marriage counselors.

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