Marriage Retreat » Retreat FAQs » What Happens in a Retreat?

What Happens in a Retreat?

vineyard near retreatsOur intensive marriage retreats are structured to give couples new tools and to guide partners to make positive changes. 

People who have had poor experiences with traditional marriage counseling might worry that working with us will involve the typical stirring up of upsets, only more intense!

Not so. If you read our testimonials, you will see the wide variety of couples who report how valuable their work was with us. And how many say how our approach is entirely different than traditional counseling — in that we give them useful information and positive results instead of stirring up more bad feelings.

Logistically, a retreat is a series of sessions, each 3 hours in length. In a standard retreat, there are two sessions per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, separated by a lunch break. With our virtual retreats, we have flexibility to spread sessions out over a week or more to best fit a couple’s specific scheduling needs.

Preparatory Work Before Your Retreat

Before your retreat begins, depending on the amount of time you have, you are encouraged to do some preparatory work. This includes clarifying your goals and what your highest hopes would be for the results you could get.

We also recommend that you take an online personality test, to better understand things about yourselves and each other. This will help us more quickly get to know you as the unique couple you are, based on your personality styles and the specific ways these styles interact with each other.

Other prep work, if you have the time for it, includes reading John’s latest book on relationship repair and doing self-assessment exercises. This preparatory work is voluntary, of course. It is not so much for us as it is for you, as it is designed to get your retreat started long before it officially begins!

Clarifying Goals & Understanding Personality Differences

We usually start by getting to know you a bit. We may explore your history as a couple and your present challenges and situation in more detail, in order to clarify what you want to accomplish in the retreat. We spend some time discussing your goals for your retreat, what you would like to accomplish in the time we work together.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Gibb

We will also explore your personalities. Hopefully, you have done the prep work on this, but if not, we can still delve into it as we begin the retreat. Each couple is different, based on their particular combination of personality styles. There is no “ideal” pairing of personalities. Every combination has its unique challenges.

Knowing your particular pairing will help us more rapidly understand the underlying factors for what causes stress in your relationship. It will also suggest more precisely how to remedy these factors. Personality patterns are generated unconsciously. They are a bit like a box. To get out of the box, you first have to see the box.

So our goal is to help you better understand each other’s personalities on a deeper and more useful level. You will learn things you didn’t know about each other. You will see how this impacts you as a couple and get a new perspective.

This also will point to what would constitute a positive change for you as a couple. It will help us determine the tools you will need to move back onto a positive track, and how best to apply these tools to achieve the goals you have.

Acquiring the Tools for Secure Attachment

The next phase of the retreat involves learning the tools and strategies that enable you to transform your relational dynamics as a couple to become secure functioning. You will learn the factors that underly distress in your relationship and block productive communication. And you will get the tools to overcome these negative patterns.

The information you get will give you the means to change how you interact, opening you up for positive connection, understanding, and rebuilding trust. You will get scientific, evidence-based information about the keys of how to repair upsets, how to collaborate as a team, and how to thrive in your relationship.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Gibb

You will learn the specific strategies that are relevant to your personalities, your particular situation, and how you want to improve. You will learn to see and work through the underlying reactive cycles and negative communication patterns that have overtaken your relationship.

In this process, you will learn to master new tools and strategies that help you to resolve your particular issues, to get your true needs met, and to function securely as a couple.

We focus on what is relevant to you, be it getting more clarity, improving communication, healing past wounds and ruptures, building a stronger, secure emotional attachment, or negotiating new agreements that keep you moving forward on a positive track.

Making Positive Changes & New Agreements

We will coach you to apply these new tools and strategies to make positive changes. You’ll learn to overcome unconscious reactive patterns and vicious cycles, resolve your real issues, heal relational wounds, and collaborate as a team.

Your retreat is devoted to going into depth with regard to your specific situation, needs, issues, and goals. That said, retreats often involve the following themes:

  • Learning the keys to a secure functioning partnership, where shared happiness is maximized and distress minimized.
  • Gaining tools and using them to repair unresolved ruptures, emotional wounds, mistrust, and lingering insecurities.
  • Acquiring tools and strategies that will enable you to overcome triggering, upsets, negative patterns and reactive cycles.
  • Getting tools and using them to collaborate as a team and reach win-win outcomes where both partners’ needs get met.
  • Making solid clear agreements on how you will move forward, keeping the gains you made and staying on a positive track.

As a result of making tangible progress that meets your goals and resolves your issues, your retreat concludes with future planning. You will make agreements for using the tools you have learned, to continue your progress after your retreat.

And, by the way, if you need more help, follow-up coaching is available. We can tailor sessions to help you integrate and master the new communication tools you have learned as you apply them to your daily lives.

Our style of coaching is unlike traditional therapy, which often only stirs up more upset for couples. The goal of coaching is to guide you to be productive and resolve places you are stuck. It’s about making positive changes that you can feel.

If you would like to see a bit of how we work, here are short clips from a documentary movie that shows John working with a couple. Also, if you like, you can read in more detail on how our approach is different than normal couples therapy as well as most other retreat programs.

A 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 nervous, wondering how they will spend so much time focused on their relationship, especially if previous efforts in traditional therapy failed to produce good results. But once a retreat begins, a couple’s increasing enthusiasm for the results they are feeling keeps the work moving forward, and time seems to pass quickly.