Many couples come to our marriage retreats as a last ditch effort. One or both are considering divorce. This may be explicit, where actual threats have been made. Or it may be just beneath the surface.
Either way, a retreat provides a supportive place to get to the root of all issues and work with a dedicated focus to best transform any unhappy situation.
Often, one partner may want to stay together but the other is filled with doubt or has all but given up. In the face of such ambivalence, helping a couple gain clarity is a vital step to their decision-making process.
Often partners don’t realize what is really deepest in their hearts until they experience a supportive atmosphere for exploration. Perhaps, due to years of unresolved issues, nobody has felt the safety to explore their deeper feelings with each other.
Of course, that has been a big part of the problem. The gradual disconnect and reduction in communication that occurs when couples do not have the tools to resolve issues — small or large — leaves each person to assume the worst about the other and the relationship.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
In a retreat, we get to the heart of the matter. Confusions get straightened out. Deeper feelings are explored and understood. Rarely have we found that a couple truly knows what has led to their unhappy state.
Each person has some theories about the cause, to be sure. But this typically involves blaming the other person. Yet nobody sees the whole picture. Things are being continually misappraised and misunderstood.
As we clear up such misunderstandings, partners come to see how they were both involved in their downward slide. This removes any inclination to blame. It develops each person’s capacity to be more proactive. Whether or not they choose to stay together, the tools partners acquire with this clarity well serves their futures.
Interestingly, I’ve found when sufficient clarity is gained, most of the couples that work with me do decide to work together to resolve the issues that have divided them. They start to reconnect in ways that are truly satisfying. This happens in a majority of cases, about 95% of the time. Of course, there is no guarantee.
Although I am an advocate of transforming any stuck dynamic into in a healthy one, I do not see my primary job as keeping couples together. That is a personal decision. My job is to facilitate a fully informed decision, where the root causes of distress are clear and partners learn the tools to work through such stuck places.
As a facilitator I help each partner more accurately comprehend how as a couple they ended up in such distress, to take all factors into consideration, remove false assumptions, get beyond blame and fault-finding, grow emotionally and learn crucial relationship skills, and fully understand what it takes to thrive in a healthy marriage.
Is It a Plea for Help?
Often the threat of divorce is an ultimate plea for help, out of a sense of hopelessness that things will ever change. Stuck for years in an increasingly unhappy marriage, it gets difficult to visualize a new, fresh path forward together. What the brain sees is based on the past. And it magnifies the negative aspects. So, as if looking through a distorted lens, partners end up only seeing each other in a negative light.
Many times the primitive survival parts of the brain take over. Partners fall into states of fight, flight or freeze as if there is a tiger in the room. Each has no idea how they are unwittingly triggering such primitive states in the other. They have no tools to reverse this downward spiral. Such survival states can cause blow ups or shut downs. Ringing the deepest survival alarm, things spiral even further down when divorce is threatened.
Many is the time I hear, “I love him (or her), but I no longer feel in love” or “I guess we are fundamentally incompatible.” This is how primitive threat reactions and states of fight, flight or freeze will eclipse a couple’s ability to feel happy together. These states can be reversed, and typically are in a couples retreat.
In a retreat, you can learn tools that promote a new positive feelings of hope and connection. Even after decades of disconnection. Many times what seemed like insurmountable obstacles give way to fresh, joyful solutions.
Knowing how to turn lead into gold is a part of the alchemy of relationship we all need to master for love to thrive. Being stuck in an unsatisfying pattern for years makes it seem like partners are much further apart than they actually are. The real changes that shift negative patterns are often far smaller than a couple ever imagines.
Here’s more about my experiences working with couples on the brink of divorce →