Marriage Retreat » Retreat FAQs » How Is Our Approach Different?

How Is Our Approach Different?

What you get working with us is markedly different from what regular marriage counseling or couples therapy provides.

The most visible difference is our intensive format vs weekly sessions. But that’s far from the most important difference.

It’s not just that you can concentrate months of therapy into a few days. The fundamental nature of the help you get from us differs. Refined over three decades, our core approach to helping couples is different — even from what most other marriage intensive programs offer.

The Format: A Dedicated Timespan for Transformation — The obvious difference from traditional therapy is the intensive retreat format we use. John has perfected this intensive marriage retreat program for over thirty years, shaping it into a powerful process to make significant changes in a short period of time.

As a pioneer of marriage retreats, John recognized early on that the intensive format provided couples with an unparalleled, concentrated focus to transform habitual patterns, overcome reactive cycles, heal past wounds, rebuild broken trust, and reconnect with positive feelings. Over the last three decades, his expertise in using this format has evolved to maximize its effectiveness.

The Approach: Get Tools and Coaching, Not Just Talk — The other distinction is John’s unique approach to empower couples to make substantial changes during their retreat. Leveraging his background as a communication skills trainer and self-help author, he has a tool-based approach.

John gives couples practical, effective tools to communicate well and heal their relationship.

He teaches tools to emotionally repair past ruptures and wounds, to collaborate instead of struggling in win-lose predicaments, to put their partnership on a solid foundation, and to nurture shared happiness and minimize triggering, distress, and upsets.

These tools, along with the positive changes partners experience using them with John’s coaching, equips couples to stay on track in their daily lives after the retreat. This approach sets John apart from programs built upon traditional therapy models.

Traditional couples therapy tends to fall short in being tool-based. Built on a medical model that is more appropriate for individual therapy, it often leans toward giving opinions, judgments, diagnoses, or advice to couples instead of empowering them with effective tools for emotional repair and issue resolution.

Grounded in Scientific Findings, Not Opinions — The tools John teaches couples draws from groundbreaking scientific studies that identify what is required to maintain a secure, healthy, and fulfilling marriage. Unlike opinion-driven methods, his approach is firmly grounded in evidence.

The scientific basis for John’s approach is slowly gaining recognition in therapy training institutions. But it’s an entirely different matter to find the years of training and qualified supervision needed to be able to effectively use this information in helping couples. It’s offered only by a handful of post-graduate, multi-year training programs. And John played a pivotal role in developing the curriculum for one of today’s top programs.

Bottom line, John’s approach combines the intensive format he developed over three decades with scientific research to provide couples with proven tools that catalyze profound changes in their relationship. He positions himself as an educator and coach, emphasizing the importance of teaching couples information and coaching them to use tools to navigate challenges and strengthen their bond.

The Science of Love and Happiness

John’s 55 years of experience in the field of psychology is extensive, starting as a research psychologist at UCLA, continuing to Stanford University, where he received his Ph.D. and subsequently co-founded and -directed one of Stanford’s most prestigious research centers, funded by the National Science Foundation Department of Psychobiology.

John’s work with couples brings together two scientific domains that shed light on the causes of satisfaction versus distress in long-term relationships: neuroscience and attachment theory. He also incorporates the most effective components of contemporary evidence-based models for couples therapy.

Thousands of studies in the fields of neuroscience and attachment research reveal critical factors for nurturing a joyful, mutually satisfying, and intimate partnership.

Informed by Neuroscience — The field of neuroscience provides vital insights into the functioning of the brain and nervous system. Of particular significance is how the primitive part of our brain, geared toward survival, can override our higher cognitive and relational functions. Unconsciously, such triggering and hijacking can take couples into states of fight, flight, or freeze, leading to escalations of anger or withdrawal. These reactions block productive, loving communication and will worsen over time, eroding a couple’s ability to share happiness together.

Drawing from Attachment Theory — The field of attachment theory studies how couples form emotional bonds and what creates a solid connection. It specifies what fosters security and positivity vs insecurity and dissatisfaction. It identifies pivotal factors and behaviors that underpin healthy emotional connections. In such connections, partners share a profound sense of security, well-being, mutual affection, love, and joy. Each person feels understood, accepted, and has their needs met.

Evidence-Based Clinical Models — John is well-versed in current clinical treatment models that incorporate neuroscience and attachment research. His expertise includes Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) by Sue Johnson, Somatic Experiencing (SE) by Peter Levine, the Neuro-Affective Relational Model (NARM) by Larry Heller. He is a recognized expert in the Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) of Stan Tatkin. PACT is widely rated as superior in effectiveness for helping couples in severe distress.

“John’s work is of help to anyone wishing to repair an ailing relationship. With decades of experience behind him, he is a highly intelligent, creative force in the field of science and relationships. His work is inventive and inspiring.” — Stan Tatkin, Wired for Love

John played a founding role as a core faculty member at the PACT Institute, actively contributing to curriculum development and training couples therapists and marriage counselors, teaching them to work with attachment styles and nervous system arousal states, enabling their clients to build secure-functioning relationships.

Tools to Be a Strong Couple

The bottom line for John is that partners who are unable to maintain lasting happiness and connection need to learn new tools that promote secure-functioning. Thus he takes an educational and tool-based approach to working with couples.

With over three decades of experience applying scientific findings, John has developed an extensive body of practical tools that empower couples to overcome reactive cycles, resolve emotional blocks, repair ruptures, manage triggers, rekindle positive connection, and restore trust and hope.

John helps partners to effectively do this healing and growth with each other. That is the bottom line goal and activity in a retreat.

As a coach, John is dedicated to giving you tools to overcome patterns that keep you stuck in negative feelings. You gain power to successfully resolve issues as a team and to communicate in ways that keep you feeling connected and appreciated.

In the terminology of attachment science, this is called secure functioning. But you don’t have to have a scientific background to benefit from the practical tools you get to turn an insecure, reactive pattern of relating into a secure, happy connection.

Shortfalls in Traditional Therapy

Underlying assumptions that guide traditional couples counseling have been dominated by individual therapy models. These promote overcoming codependency and developing healthy differentiation.

Popular ideas like “love yourself first before you can love another” permeate pop culture and the practices of well-intentioned counselors who treat partners as if they were merely two individuals. This is because the field of psychology, from Freud on, has primarily focused on the individual psyche.

Traditional therapy commonly fails to tap into the power partners have to co-heal and grow stronger together. A couple is not just a pair individuals. A couple is a relational system-of-two that has its own unique properties and emotional importance that give partners unique powers to engage in healing.

Helping partners find and use their potential healing power often requires interventions that are the opposite of what’s done in individual therapy. Thus, without knowing it, traditional therapy, whether delivered weekly or even intensively, commonly makes things worse for couples.

For example, therapists help individuals express their feelings and get validation. That’s certainly therapeutic for an individual. But doing this with a couple usually only stirs up negative feelings and upsets. That fails to deliver the most important outcome for partners: to engage in emotional repair. So couples will feel worse over time.

Maintaining Happiness as a Couple

A couple is an interdependent system. While moving beyond codependence is healthy, emotional self-reliance and independence is not a sufficient move if you aspire to maintain shared happiness as a couple.

A Model of Healthy Interdependence — A couple is a significant pair-bonded dyad that is far more than the sum of its parts. It is not simply two individuals. A couple forms its own special kind of animal, a relationship like none other. Partners need to acquire the tools and principles to operate better as a team, not to become more independent.

Empowering You, the Couple — John’s focus is to empower partners to maximize shared happiness and minimize distress. His approach is to relay the principles of healthy interdependence and provide the tools to repair ruptures, to find win-win solutions to issues, and to function securely as a team.

While many therapists act as if it’s their job to solve a couple’s issues, John gives you practical tools to solve your own issues — yourselves! Instead of trying to feed you a fish, he shows you how to fish.

The traditional approach rarely gives couples effective tools to overcome negative patterns as a team. Statistically, traditional therapy has neither lowered our divorce rate, nor raised the level of couples’ satisfaction. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that traditional therapists tend to split couples up!

Intensive Retreat Format to Learn New Tools

Again, the most obvious difference between traditional couples therapy and how John works is his intensive retreat format, which provides ample time, space, and safety to address the root of your stuck places as a couple.

But it’s John’s tool-based approach — and the specific practical and effective tools that he gives you — that truly differentiates him in the field. As a self-help author, John has long been dedicated to coaching couples to help themselves.

Rather than trying to give you solutions to your issues, he coaches you to use tools that help you find your own solutions, together as a team — solutions you both feel good about, that result in more happiness and satisfaction. He shows you how to be a collaborative couple, and to overcome the tendency to be combative or competitive.

Rather than trying to just give you a fish, John’s approach is to teach you how to fish. To learn exactly how to maintain shared happiness as a couple.

Working with John will show you how to successfully build a secure connection, to communicate well, and to maximize mutual satisfaction. He will shows you how to minimize triggering, distress, and insecurity.

The ultimate goal is to heal what needs to be healed and move forward to function securely as a united team, where both of you feel accepted, appreciated, and deeply connected in a thriving and fulfilling relationship.

Read more details about John’s background, training and approach →