Marriage Retreat

redwoods near marriage retreat

© Charlotte Gibb

For over 25 years, John Grey, PhD has helped couples build healthy, happy relationships. He offers a uniquely powerful marriage retreat in beautiful Sonoma County, California.

A marriage retreat with John offers a fast track to positive change — an intensive, supportive place to achieve profound results. In a concentrated program, your relationship will be transformed. And you will take home new tools to keep your love growing.

An Intensive Marriage Retreat to Transform Your Relationship

Our marriage retreat (also called a couples retreat) is unique in how it creates deep, personally meaningful change. It isn’t a standardized workshop. It isn’t like the one-size-fits-all marriage seminars and marriage counseling retreats. It isn’t based on religious beliefs. John tailors your marriage intensive program to meet your specific goals, needs and circumstances. The tools you gain, and the work you accomplish, is personalized for you. John’s retreat supports you to achieve highly practical goals. Couples frequently come on the brink of divorce. And save their marriage. In fact, most go home more connected and more in love than they ever dreamed possible.

John Grey, PhDYour marriage retreat is led by Dr. John Grey. John received his Doctorate in Psychology from Stanford University, one of the top psychology departments in the nation. In your marriage intensive, John masterfully draws from a broad range of state-of-the-art strategies and tools. He has the skill to help you achieve the positive change you want.

After attending their marriage retreats with John, couples report that they return home with renewed spirits. They have vital new tools and strategies to keep building on positive changes they make in the retreat. Their relationships grow in visible ways: marriages are saved, trust gets built, commitments for moving forward are made.

John offers married couples retreats throughout the year in the charming small town of Sebastopol, in rural Sonoma County, California. It’s near the Pacific ocean, redwood forests, and wine country. Photos on this page show the natural beauty of our area. Located about an hour north of San Francisco, the retreat takes place in a warm, comfortable, peaceful and healing environment.

The Marriage Intensive Format + Coaching by Dr. John Grey = A Powerful Combination for Change

The standard length for John’s marriage retreats is three days. However, a four day retreat is available for couples who can afford the time, or who are especially distressed. A two day length is also possible, but check with John first. Most couples have said they got more in a few days with John in his marriage intensives than in months or even years of regular marriage counseling or couples therapy! What makes John’s married couples retreat so unique and powerful?

The Dedicated Timespan of Your Marriage Retreat — Time spent away from daily stress, to focus on you and your relationship. The committed timespan allows clarity and change to emerge more strongly and deeply than in week-to-week counseling sessions. This intensive approach supports you to get rapid and profound results. Having worked with over a thousand people, John has found that a three day long program is ideal for experiencing a deep transformation.

You Get Relationship Tools, Not Just Talk — Couples often report how traditional talk therapy and marriage counseling did not help. At our retreat they realize they didn’t need that type of talk at all. What they needed was new tools. Weekly sessions and the conventional model of couples therapy typically cannot provide these tools. But at a marital retreat with John, the emphasis is to learn a powerful set of tools to make positive changes. You will get results-oriented, versatile and highly effective coaching. And you will take home new tools that will keep you growing on a positive track.

John Has a Uniquely Different Approach — Having trained hundreds of therapists in postgraduate programs, John knows how traditional marriage counseling is often lacking in its ability to help couples. His marital retreat offers you a qualitative difference in learning how to resolve your issues. The range and effectiveness of the tools you will get is vastly broader than the standard couples therapy repertoire. Because of this, John regularly trains couples therapists and marriage counselors in the the paradigm of couples therapy based in scientific research on couples satisfaction.

Aimed at Practical Results, Not Just Theory — Before he started coaching married couples, John was a research psychologist at Stanford University. He was trained to know the difference between practical results vs. someone’s personal theory. What you get in a marriage retreat with John is based on current findings in neuroscience and attachment research. What you learn has been informed by studies on the factors underlying lasting happiness vs. relationship deterioration. This goes far beyond what traditional couples therapy and marriage counseling approaches have to offer.

Two Types of Married Couples Retreats — Choose from two powerful formats for your marital retreat. By far the most popular one is the Private Retreat for one couple. This offers a rare level of personal coaching and a profound depth of impact to make meaningful changes. By far the most frequent type of retreat John leads, a Private Retreat can be set up to meet your scheduling needs. The other format is the Shared Group Retreat. More details here »

Contact Us About a Retreat — to ask any questions or sign up.

John’s Seasoned Approach Provides the Right Tools for You

vineyard near retreatJohn works in a highly supportive way, respecting and responding to your individual needs. He tailors his coaching to match your specific personalities, circumstances and backgrounds. This enables you to make rapid progress toward achieving your goals.

Standardized programs and typical one-size-fits-all group workshops are not able respond to the different personality styles of each individual participant. But in reality, each of us is different, so each couple is different. John’s marriage retreats are customized to match your needs and your particular styles. So you can get deep, personally meaningful help.

Over a 25-year span of helping couples, John has mastered a broad repertoire of couples coaching and marriage counseling techniques, which allows him to flexibly address your specific wants and needs. He has learned how to understand and effectively work with different personality types. And to appreciate how each couple is a unique combination of two personality styles.

John has trained counselors and medical professionals in effective communication and change techniques that address the needs of each individual, including NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP). As a workshop leader, he has presented relationship skills programs at the University of California, Stanford University, Scripps Medical Center and the Esalen Institute in Big Sur.

coastline near retreat

© Charlotte Gibb

Having spent over a decade as a Stanford research psychologist, John closely follows scientific research on relationship satisfaction and integrates this knowledge into his marriage retreat program.

He also utilizes the latest research in neuroscience and attachment theory — fields that are clarifying the underlying factors in relationship dynamics that promote long term happiness or distress in an intimate partnership.

John is on the Core Faculty of the PACT Institute (Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy) where he trains couples therapists in current methodology based in neuroscience and attachment research. He teaches marriage counselors to effectively work with all different types of couples having the widest range of presenting issues.

Relationship expert Dr. Stan Tatkin — founder of PACT and author of Wired for Love — says: “With decades of experience behind him, John Grey is a highly intelligent, creative force in the field of science and relationships. He is a master therapist. His work is inventive and inspiring.”

John has authored four relationship books that give couples tools to diffuse conflict, repair upsets, communicate effectively, build a positive connection, and maximize happiness together. As well, he developed a popular online interactive self-help system used by hundreds of thousands of people.

In John’s marriage retreats, you know that you are getting effective coaching. John has a reputation for his versatility, skill and effectiveness. John’s retreats are frequently attended by therapists, marriage counselors, and doctors, who come for help in their personal relationships. John’s retreat format, combined with his broad experience and background, offers you a uniquely powerful opportunity to make a fundamental breakthrough in your relationship.

Next Steps for a Marriage Retreat

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a marriage retreat right for you?

couple boating near marriage retreatWhat kinds of couples will benefit from our marriage intensive? We work with a wide range of presenting situations, and our retreat is an excellent fit and will meet the needs of most couples. Whether you’ve been together for years unable to overcome certain issues — or you’re a new couple wanting tools that ensure lasting happiness — a marriage retreat can well serve your needs and goals.

A retreat with John is a powerful, supportive place to acquire new skills, to get unstuck, to resolve issues, to heal past wounds, reconnect, to deepen intimacy, and to learn how to prevent reactive cycles and downward spirals. You will learn how to operate as a securely functioning couple, who act, feel and communicate in ways that enable you to maximize shared pleasure and minimize distress or upset. All of us, both old and young, can benefit from knowing the language of lasting love.

Here some typical kinds of couples that come to our marriage retreats:

  • Married Couples vs. Unmarried Couples — Whether you are married or not does not matter. Couples are couples and relationships are relationships. All couples deal with the same kinds of patterns and issues, to one extent or another. All couples need to have certain skills to thrive in long term love. Couples in all stages can benefit from John’s retreat.
  • Pre-Marital Counseling — John offers premarital counseling to acquire effective communication tools, to learn the language of lasting love and intimacy, and to discover how easy it is to prevent the typical reactive cycles and other mistakes that damage long term relationships.
  • Relationship Tune-Up or To Reconnect — John’s marriage retreats are great for a marriage tune-up. It’s always easier to catch potential problems in your dynamic earlier than later. All couples will benefit from learning the tools in a retreat to deepen intimacy and know how to best operate as a couple so that you maximize shared pleasure and minimize distress.
  • On the Brink of Divorce or in High Distress — Most couples who come to a marital retreat are in trouble and suffer significant distress. In many cases, one or both partners are contemplating divorce. Often they have been stuck in reactive cycles or distancing for years. Some have been living like roommates or suffering the empty next crisis. For levels of distress like these, we strongly recommend a three or four day private marital retreat to transform a stuck dynamic, re-establish trust, hope and connection, and integrate new tools.
  • Filed for Divorce or Considering Getting Back Together — John’s marriage retreats are a place to heal the past wounds, really learn what went wrong (it’s never what you thought it was), reconnect more authentically, and find out how to operate differently if you do choose to get back together. Given the depth of past difficulties, a four day private retreat is recommended.
  • Couples Not Suited for a Retreat — If you suffer from any of the following, discuss with us if a retreat would be helpful: physical abuse, substance addiction, or an ongoing current affair. In general, these conditions are better worked with a local therapist than in an out-of-town intensive program like ours. Also, if one partner has fully given up on the relationship and has zero motivation to make it work, a retreat probably will not change that.
Contact Us About a Retreat — To ask any questions or sign up.

What results can you get from a marriage retreat?

sunset view near retreatYour marriage retreat is aligned to your personal goals and circumstances. Unlike one-size-fits-all marriage seminars, marriage counseling retreats, or religion-based marriage encounters, John’s program will be tailored around your specific agenda — to meet your particular needs, goals and circumstances — and to do so by working with your unique personality types.

A marriage retreat offers you new clarity, and increased effectiveness in communication. It helps you move beyond stuck places, make new agreements, renew positive appreciation and connection, and develop a deeper sense of shared vision. John will help you acquire the key tools and strategies you need to get your relationship moving in a positive direction. And to keep it growing positively once you return home.

Relationship aspects normally covered in a retreat include the following:

  • Change patterns that do not work — Learn why relationships get stuck, how couples polarize over differences, and why issues build up over time. Find out how your specific personality patterns interact, and recognize the key challenges and paths for positive growth in your relationship. Learn what to say or do to avoid getting stuck, and to keep things on a positive track.
  • Transform the core distress cycle — Learn about an unconscious pattern that erodes your ability to connect and be happy. It makes solving issues impossible, and leads to blaming, attacks, withdrawal or shutting down. See how this cycle is your mutual enemy, and get tools to exit its painful grip. Discover you can get your needs met, reconnect and share positive feelings together.
  • Effective positive communication — Learn a set of key strategies to prevent poor communication under any circumstances. Know how to communicate very well, even with difficult matters. Gain tools that enable you to have your views heard, to make effective requests, to set healthy personal boundaries, to avoid emotional gridlock, and to truly resolve issues.
  • Get tools to heal negative feelings — Emotions are at the root of relationship problems. Learn tools to resolve emotionally charged issues, to develop new choices, and to release old baggage. Gain tools for inner peace, self-confidence and healing. Learn to center yourself in any situation, to soothe your feelings, and to more easily support your partner to work with their feelings.
  • Start collaborating instead of fighting or separating — See the big picture and get broader perspective on how to move forward. Establish a solid foundation that gives vital strength to your relationship, one which creates a sense of shared purpose, and helps you work through challenges. Make specific new agreements to support increased harmony and positive growth.
  • Build trust and positive connection — Gain essential tools to be proactive in your relationship — with constructive behaviors that increase trust, mutual understanding and satisfaction. Rediscover positive shared feelings that got buried behind unresolved issues or emotional walls. Learn to strengthen appreciation and positive heartfelt connection on a daily basis.

rocky sonoma coast near retreatThe work in the areas above, and the focus that is held in your retreat, will be tailored to match your personality styles and agendas. Each couple and each person is different. What works for one person does not work for another. That’s why standardized approaches, found in normal therapy and group workshops, so often fail to produce results. The coaching you get in this retreat is flexible and skillful enough to address the particular wants and needs of each unique individual.

Your couple retreat is devoted to going into depth with regard to your goals and issues. And doing so in exactly the way that best supports you to succeed. Depending on your specific goals, you might acquire tools and strategies to achieve any of the following — or even more:

  • Gain clarity and take positive action
  • Increase positive feelings and satisfaction
  • Turn problems into opportunities and solutions
  • Communicate skillfully and effectively
  • Change unsatisfactory interaction patterns
  • Break impasses and get unstuck
  • Gain new strategies to resolve differences
  • Build trust and a strong foundation
  • Handle charged issues without sinking into negativity
  • Make effective requests and agreements
  • Release and heal old emotional baggage
  • Renew appreciation and affection
  • Gain tools to soothe and heal upset feelings

The above is a list of possibilities. Your marriage retreat will be designed to go wherever you want to go, and to help you acquire the tools and strategies to make whatever breakthrough that would serve you, and move your relationship forward in a new, positive direction.

Contact Us About a Retreat — To ask any questions or sign up.

What is our marriage retreat like?

vineyard near retreatBottom line, it’s about getting new tools and making positive changes. Many couples have bad experiences in traditional counseling or therapy, and worry that a couple retreat is going to be like that, only more intense. Not so…. Couples often say how pleasant and valuable their marriage retreats were. Even unexpectedly fun. And how different a retreat is compared to therapy in giving them useful results instead of stirring up more upset.

Before you get to your marriage retreat, you will do a few hours of preparatory work at home. This includes clarifying your positive goals for coming to the retreat — what it is you really want to accomplish, what your highest hopes would be for the results you get. You will also take an online personality test, to see and better understand things about yourselves and each other. This will help us more quickly see specific remedies foryou as a couple, based on your personality styles and the specific ways these styles interact. There is also an emotional attachment style online test, and a few pages for you to fill out.

Once you arrive, here is an overall picture of how a retreat progresses. A marriage intensive can be thought of as a series of sessions, each one being about 3 hours in length. There are two sessions per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, separated by a lunch break. Generally, we start around 10:30 AM and end between 5:30 and 6:00 PM. You may also have a bit of optional work to do outside of sessions.

A marital retreat starts by clarifying your goals and learning about your personalities, your particular style as a couple. It then moves on to giving you new tools, information and strategies, and coaching you to apply these tools to make positive changes. You will learn about the underlying dynamics are causing the real distress in your relationship and blocking your communication. And you will be given powerful tools to overcome these negative patterns. This process will give you new means to transform how you interact, opening you up for positive connection, understanding and the start of rebuilding trust.

  • Clarifying Goals and Getting to Know Your Personalities — Our marriage retreats start by getting to know you. We all get comfortable together, as we explore your situation and clarify what you want to accomplish. You learn things you didn’t know about your personalities. Each couple is different, based on personality styles. We see how this impacts you as a couple. There is no ideal pairing of personalities. But knowing which pairing you are helps us better understand the keys to what causes stress in your relationship, and how to remedy it. You have to see the box — to get out of the box. So our goal is to start to better see the way forward to new positive growth together for you as a couple.
  • Learning New Tools — Our marriage retreats are educational, You will learn new information, tools and strategies. You will gain tools to help you achieve your goals and resolve issues. You will get specific strategies that are relevant to your personalities, your particular situation and how you want to change it. You will learn to better see and work with the underlying dynamics or distress cycles that may have overtaken your relationship. We address what will improve your communication, heal difficult feelings, build a stronger, secure bond, and negotiate new agreements that will help you maintain progress on a positive new road.
  • Coaching for Positive Change — You will receive intensive coaching to apply the tools, information and strategies to make positive changes. You will learn to resolve your issues, get out of the unconscious distress cycle or vicious circles that you suffer, and make positive changes you can feel. The style of coaching is unlike traditional therapy, which often only stirs up more unhappiness in a couple. John is committed to coach you to discover positive ways to interact and resolve stuck places. Then, as a result of making tangible progress in your goals and solving issues, a marriage intensive concludes with future planning. You will make agreements for using the tools you have learned, to continue your progress once you return home.

green fields near retreatA marriage retreat is intensive but not overwhelming. The work we do together is highly meaningful, and will go toward resolving real issues that have blocked your sense of connection and happiness in the past. Many couples arrive wondering how they will spend so much time together, focused on their relationship — especially if previous efforts to do this in regular therapy have not yielded good results. It is a couple’s enthusiasm that keeps the work going. Time seems to pass in a state of flow.

It is a couple’s growing interest in what they discover in their marriage retreat — and the progress they are making — that motivates the length of time we spend together. And despite the intensity of the learning, there is still ample time to take stretch breaks and have long, relaxing lunches.

Contact Us About a Retreat — To ask any questions or sign up.

How is our marital retreat different?

What you get in a marriage retreat with John is markedly different than what traditional marriage counseling can provide. This is not merely due to the intensive retreat format. It is also a product of John’s unique approach. John’s work is deeply informed by ground-breaking scientific research on what couples need to build and maintain a secure, happy connection. This vital information along with the practical tools to help couples is just beginning to make its way into traditional marital therapy training programs. In fact, John is on the core faculty of a nationwide educational organization that provides postgraduate training to marriage counselors and therapists.

Developing a solid scientific background was a big part of John’s initial training in psychology. For over a decade, he was a research psychologist at Stanford University. After receiving his Ph.D. at Stanford, he went on to co-found and co-direct an internationally prominent research center there. His research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Psychobiology. Given this background, he has closely followed two areas of research that objectively reveal what underlies distress in relationships — and more clearly than ever show what couples truly need to build a happy, mutually satisfying, intimate partnership.

One area is current brain science and the neurobiology of emotional reactivity. It reveals critical information about how the primitive parts of our brain, wired for survival, will hijack our higher brain. This is what unconsciously pushes couples into states of fight, flight or freeze — where partners ultimately blow up or shut down — and where productive, loving communication becomes impossible. The other important area is attachment theory. The last decade and a half of scientific research in this area makes clear the factors that are needed to build healthy emotional bonding in couples, where you share a deep sense of secure connection, well-being, mutual positive regard, love and long term happiness.

sandy coastal sunsetJohn has accumulated extensive experience in applying this information to create practical tools that help couples transform their relationship into a secure and satisfying intimate partnership. Trained in a wide range of state-of-the-art tools to resolve emotional blocks, heal old wounds and inner triggers, overcome insecurities and traumas, John helps couples do this healing with each other. Traditional therapy has overlooked the enormous positive power couples have to self-heal their own blocks and reactive cycles.

As a coach, John is dedicated to giving you the tools you need to get beyond reactive patterns that keep a relationship stuck in negative feelings. His coaching utilizes the most recent findings in research on what increases couples satisfaction and decreases reactivity. He gives you tools to successfully work out issues together as a team — and communicate in ways that help you feel more connected, accepted and valued by one another. In scientific terms, this is technically called “secure attachment.” But you don’t have to have a scientific background to benefit from the practical tools you will learn to turn an insecure, reactive pattern of relating into a secure, happy connection.

The typical view found in most counseling is still missing this vital information. Traditional therapy is just beginning to notice the significance of findings from neurobiology and attachment research, and has not yet fully put this information to practical use in helping couples. This critical information are just beginning to show up in a few educational systems and training programs for therapists.

In general, the assumptions that have guided the field of couples counseling for the last 40 years have not helped lower the divorce rate — suggesting the inadequacy of the traditional approach. Statistics actually indicate that many therapists tend to split couples up — because they lack specific training to support couples to overcome core reactivity and help them to build a happy, secure bond. The latter is John’s main focus in how he works with you. While a majority of therapists act as if they have to solve couples’ problems, John gives you tools to help you solve your own problems, yourselves. Instead of trying to give you a fish, so to speak, his approach is to show you how to fish.

dusk at coast near retreatThe most obvious difference between the traditional model of counseling and how John works is his intensive marriage retreat format, which provides ample time, space and safety to discover what is at the root of your stuck places as a couple — and learn tools to get unstuck.

The tools you get in a couple retreat are also quite different. John helps you transform what is missed by typical counseling. He coaches you to get to the root of and heal the reactivity and negative cycles you fall into. The latter is what triggers couples into states of fight, flight or freeze in their nervous systems — and makes solution-oriented communication impossible.

New, more powerful approaches for healing triggers, unresolved upsets, and reactive communication patterns have been developed from the findings of brain science, neurobiology, and studies on attachment and bonding. These are what you will receive in working with John. The traditional view of seeing couples in terms of power struggles and the need for conflict management misses giving partners what they really need. They need effective tools that are simple and practical to use, that work fast and get results.

John’s work is focused on the tools that enable you to successfully work as a team to heal triggers and reactive patterns, and resolve your issues. Due to shortcomings in the traditional view, counselors typically miss helping a couple repair underlying negative cycles that keep them reacting in an insecure mode of connecting — what scientists call “insecure attachment.” Unless a couple has the tools to shift into a secure mode of relating, they will continue to suffer from underlying feelings like a sense of unfairness or injustice, not feeling good enough, not feeling cared about, feeling trapped, or feeling alone and disconnected.

John’s approach is to coach a couple to successfully work together as a “team-of-two” to build a secure connection. The goal is to communicate well and increase mutual happiness. His teaches you the tools to decrease triggering, insecurity, stuckness and reactivity. The point is to minimize stress or upset within the team, so you can maximize shared good feelings. The aim is to become a secure team-of-two, where you each feel fully accepted, valued, connected, and happy in your intimate partnership.

Contact Us About a Retreat — To ask any questions or sign up.

Are religious or other beliefs involved?

redwood forest near marriage retreatSometimes couples ask whether the marriage retreat is based in any religious sets of beliefs that pertain to love, relationship or marriage. It is not. Some couples have reported about certain religious approaches where it was attempted to “guilt” them into staying together. It is highly unlikely such a tactic could stand the test of time. Real change needs to happen. To stay together, couples need to be happy together. You can only get there by using new, effective tools to communicate in a way that creates positive closeness. Only that will change things for the better.

Are John’s marriage retreats based in religious beliefs? No. This is not a marriage encounter. It is not based on pop psychology or the latest popular ideas of celebrity authors. What you will get is strictly based in practicality. It comes from a synthesis of over two decades of working with couples, seeing what works and what does not work — as well as what a broad spectrum of scientific research has found over the last 20 years in looking at couples and what is really going on when they succeed or fail. You will learn useful, practical tools. And you will get results-oriented coaching to apply these tools to make positive changes in your relationship and resolve the issues that seem to divide you.

Here are the explicit beliefs and principles of this marriage retreat:

  • Everyone can build a rewarding and satisfying relationship — This is true regardless of past history or current circumstances. Two motivated partners can change the way they interact and achieve lasting happiness.
  • Being successful requires certain strategies and tools — These can be acquired. You can learn how to operate as a couple to maximize shared happiness and minimize distress and upset.
  • We need to learn these key strategies now — Most of us don’t acquire them growing up, so we unconsciously repeat what we did learn. Thus our high rate of dissatisfaction and divorce.
  • Relationship problems are important opportunities — They tell us it is time to learn the right tools to succeed. The more distressing the problems, the more deeply we can heal and learn.

Seen in a positive light, relationship problems — as unwanted as they are — are what will ultimately push each of us to grow as individuals to learn to communicate better. The problems we come up against, in our meaningful relationships, ultimately move us to learn new strategies and tools — ones which will lead us back to the shared happiness we want with our partner.

You can change things for the better. It’s a matter of learning the right tools. You can develop within yourself all the resources you need to get the positive changes you want in your relationship. This marriage retreat is designed to help you do that.

Next Steps for a Marriage Retreat