Many couples come to an intensive retreat as a result of a mid-life crisis or a big life change that impacts the relationship. When someone experiences a significant change it can radically shift the dynamic in their marriage. Mid-life crises are a classic example of this, where someone starts re-evaluating their life.
Different things can initiate this process of questioning things. For some, it happens if they lose their job or retire, or their work loses its meaning. This can trigger a crisis of “who am I now?” and “what is really meaningful anyway?”
This process of self-questioning can be set off by a variety of other circumstances —the death of a close friend, relative or parent; changes in body chemistry, hormonal levels, libido; a medical condition or physical injury; protracted states of anxiety, depression or other shifts in mood. The kids leaving home can also do this, resulting in the all too common empty nest crisis, where someone suddenly realizes how disconnected they are as partners and questions staying together.
Whatever initiates the process of re-evaluation, it can result in one or both people withdrawing and becoming more self-isolated. Or it could cause new expectations, complaints, or demands to be put on the other person. There may be an increased sense of frustration or pressure that the relationship is now not meeting each other’s needs or that new and upsetting conditions are in effect.
All of this will put deep stress on a marriage or long term relationship. It is tempting to look at this as being caused by one person. But that doesn’t really help. How couples handle stress makes all the difference. This is one of the things we explore in a retreat. As a couple, do you handle stress together, as a team? More typically, couples don’t do this. So a sudden stressor often reveals that partners never had sufficient tools to stay well connected and handle distress or each other’s deeper needs. Thus, rather than feeling like they are in the foxhole together, mid-life crises and other big life changes can tear a marriage apart.
The tools you acquire in a retreat can address the two fundamental issues around these kinds of crises. First is to truly understand what is happening in each person on a deep enough level. And second, is learning what to do to stay connected and work together to address each other’s needs. Sadly, most couples do not have the tools to understand distress and assist each other to overcome it. So when there is some big shift, neither partner knows how to integrate it into their relationship and keep moving forward as a team.
A couple is meant to be a team, helping each other through the challenges of life. It’s a matter of having the right information about what is really going on. And having the right tools to work with it. In a retreat we get to clarify what is needed to work together as a couple, to feel like you are on the same team.
Of the hundreds of couples I’ve helped through such situations in my intensive marriage retreats, I have never found a couple who correctly understood what was really at the root of the distress that was tearing them apart. Each partner had theories about what was going on. But usually that involved blaming. Nobody saw the larger picture. And typically there was a whole lot of misinterpretation that prevented each person from truly understanding the other — or feeling understood themselves.
Without an accurate understanding, it is virtually impossible to do anything to change things for the better. Combine a correct understanding with tools to communicate well and reconnect emotionally, and a couple can work as a team with anything that stresses either partner. Coming to fully know and empathetically understand one another — and getting the tools to work together through issues — are typical outcomes of an intensive retreat.
I am honored to be a part of helping couples discover how any crisis can be the launching pad for more deeply understanding each other and feeling more connected than they had ever felt before. No matter how many retreats I have led, I am continually amazed how just a few days of dedicated focus in a supportive environment can bring partners back together, even if they have felt miles apart for years, or even decades!