Is Going On A "Relationship Retreat" The Secret To Lasting Love?

Is Going On A "Relationship Retreat" The Secret To Lasting Love?

You two are NOT on the same page, but who has time to sort it out? (Hint: Make the time!)

As a couple, are you are feeling overwhelmed, burned out and seriously disconnected? If you're like most couples, the answer is yes! When pressure like this mounts, it's easy to want to yell "retreat!" and run as far from your partner (and reality) as possible. But what if "retreating" is actually a great idea. What if it's exactly what you and your partner need. No, I am not talking about retreating, as in backing away from life and each other. I'm talking about going on a retreat with your significant other.

Think retreats are just for big corporations, tech start-ups, spiritual groups, or yoga gurus? Well, think again. The "retreat" concept is actually great for couples who need to get away from their stuck, normal routine with an intention of rediscovering (and reconnecting) with each other and with what they both really want moving forward together. If you are like most people, everyday conversations are focused on everyday details and decisions (Did you pay that bill? What do you want for dinner?). On weekends, you feel frazzled and spend your downtime frantically catching up on errands and obligations overlooked during the week. And so it goes. Life is spent handling the immediate moment and little time is left for looking at (dreaming about and planning for) the bigger journey you lovebirds are on together. 

Instead of waiting for the "us" time to magically appear, claim that space deliberately and go on a "relationship retreat." 

Couples sharing the business of raising a family, unmarried partners who collaborate on important projects, couples soon getting married, and older couples facing retirement can all benefit from taking time out of life (and away from home) outside of the parameters of their normal environment. Carving time out of to discuss things that are important to both of you and to the "business" of living and loving together (however you define that) might be the greatest and most important thing you ever do for your relationship!

Sounds great, but how does a "relationship retreat" work? 

My husband and I started planning our annual relationship retreat about 5 years ago, because we just couldn't (read: didn't) make time during the craziness of everyday activities to sit down and talk about our life together. We found ourselves focusing much more time and energy on our lives apart, on our individual work, goals, etc. and we were not really on the same page for most of the decisions we were trying to make that affected our life together.

Even though we've been married for several years and have similar backgrounds, I realized that we each have very different "ways we do things", unspoken rules that we follow (and assume the other person is following too), ways of thinking and reacting that we inherited from our very early family experiences—like how we each talk about money, deal with conflict, express emotions, experience sex and even how we each view the world. So planning time together to get on the same page and create our own "the way WE do things" is one of the great pluses that comes from our retreat.

Unlike a vacation where we are tempted to take a "let's do it all" approach and fit in as many exciting activities as we can, on a relationship retreat we intentionally slow down and focus on "us". We look at all aspects of the past year (how and where we invested our time, together and apart): work and community involvement, personal and spiritual growth, financial decisions and other various priorities. We also take time for dreaming about how we want to enrich our lives in the year(s) ahead and how to evolve our work apart so that it really satisfies as many aspects of both our professional and personal needs, and our life together.

Of course, half the fun is planning the retreat! 

I delight in searching for the coolest little getaway places—researching inns and bed and breakfasts; AirBnB, Homeaway and VRBO sites, picking just the right place where we can have no distractions, cooking our own meals if we choose to, and still being able to enjoy the local scene wherever we are. Once I've gathered some fun options, my husband and I sit down to review them together and pick the location which seems the best balance of adventure and comfort. Once we've agreed, we reserve our time and book our spot! Then we begin savoring the thrill of building anticipation, visualizing how our retreat week might unfold based on the photos of the place we've chosen and what else we've discovered about the immediate surroundings near it. 

Part of our planning process is developing a relationship retreat outline—an agenda for our time and intentions that includes a schedule of what we'll likely do in the morning, afternoon and evening, including separate entries for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since my husband has a different view of "being on retreat" than I do, I made sure to include him in outlining the schedule for each day—when we will work or talk about our goals, when we will relax, where we will eat, and what we might do for entertainment. This schedule helps us set expectations for our retreat in advance and gives us some idea of how much time we will really have for the "working" part of the retreat (which is the most important part and the whole point of going, after all).

Year after year, our retreat feels like a happy reward for the effort we put into both our work lives and our life together. We leave the retreat with a clearer picture of how our individual efforts in life combine and enhance our relationship, what our individual roles and responsibilities are and how our separate paths intertwine—all through focused and purposeful conversations during your retreat. 

So, what do we actually do for the "working on us" part of the retreat? 

The retreat "work" starts with a general check in with each other—where are you each now in terms of satisfaction, fulfillment and energy? Try to identify when you each feel at your best (in life and in your relationship), what values are important to you, how you feel about the various parts of your life (like your intellectual, recreational, financial, community/environmental, spiritual pursuits and your health and well-being). A key point to remember—the goal of a relationship retreat is to reconnect not fight. So, stay focused on what you DO want to feel and experience together versus using the retreat as an opportunity to harp on each other for every misstep you've made. Celebrate what you want to see more of! 

After exploring the "state of the union" inside your relationship, go outside of it to joys and concerns you may have about your job, community and maybe even the world. By connecting the inside and outside, you may find inspiration, purpose, or a prevailing theme and decide to make that the main focus of your remaining retreat conversations. Remember, the best outcome of this exploration is that you both agree upon a vision for your personal and professional lives together. Don't get hung up on "doing it right"—what you are trying to do is uncover a hunger for doing something bigger together than each of you could accomplish alone as individuals, and then tapping into your collective strengths and talents to make that happen.

With all of this reflection and sharing on the table, you can now begin to sculpt your ideas and feelings into a defining vision of what you both want to take away from the retreat. Sounds easy, but this may take longer than you imagine as you sort through each of your priorities and concerns and understand the interconnections. 

Be patient. Be curious. And be willing to hear what the other person is really saying.

Don't let these in-depth conversations derail your connection. You are here because you love and value one another. So breathe and lean into what your partner is sharing. Rephrase, restate and re-frame where you see the connection between your point of view and your partner's, even when it feels like you are miles apart. In the end you both want to feel as though you have agreed upon a plan that will satisfy you both, without one feeling as though they have been steamrolled by the more dominant personality.

To keep our thoughts and goals straight, my husband and I have developed a grid for talking about all aspects of our joys and concerns on a 1-year, 2-4 year, and 5-year timeline. Since we know that not everything we want to do is a 1-year proposition, we've develop this process to keep sight of a longer term view. If we can agree on the longer term view, we can start to build the foundation, and identify the action we need to take today, allowing us to have much more deliberate say about how our future evolves, unfolds, and how our individual roles play out in our family.

We then focus on how our desired results could be accomplished, starting with the furthest reachable goal and working backwards. If this is what we want in five years, what do we have to have in place in year four, three, two and one to make it happen? 

You can have your castles in the air, now put a foundation under them. 

Once you and your partner identify your big picture plan, focus on the results you want in the coming year to bring that vision to life and define each result. These questions can help: 

• What would this goal look like (and how would it feel) when successfully achieved? 
• What resources do we have and need to accomplish this result?
• What other people might you engage in being part of this?
• What circumstances or mindsets might get in the way of our success?
• What actions might we take in to overcome those challenges?
• What thinking or behavior might have to change to do that?

This part of the retreat (which can happen in one day, or in smaller sessions across several days) is where you may need courage, and inspiration from each other to step out of your respective comfort zones and move beyond your fears toward the road ahead. What actions do you need to take, what information do you still need, what expert perspectives do you need to tap into, and how will you generate the resources you need—not only financial resources, but also expertise, technology, and people who might be good supporters?

As you begin to see the whole picture of what the next year could look like, you will want to establish some order to all of these exciting (yet possibly daunting) ideas or you will soon get overwhelmed and the whole plan will go straight out the window. Also (and equally important), you may have to look at what you are doing now and decide what you have to give up or change to make space to accomplish the goals you, as a couple, decided are the most important results for this year ahead. Remember to show some appreciation to your partner for their willingness to make sacrifices or changes (which is never easy, even when toward a positive goal).

Pulling this part of the retreat together by creating a list of actions with due dates attached to them to begin implementing as soon as you get home; and include in that plan a way in which you will both keep these action steps alive and moving forward for the next year. Then, go have some fun and celebrate the loving work you just completed together. 

How do we keep the retreat alive once we return home? 

When you get home it will be very easy to slip back into the habit of "business as usual", remembering your retreat time fondly but not taking any actual action on the goals you committed to. To help keep the spirit of the retreat (the energy of your ideas and the "bigger picture" you are committed to) vibrant in a physical way, find or create a visible reminder. Collages, art work, photographs, or any other graphic representations that powerfully remind you both of what you want to create together (perhaps even a visual timeline which you can both annotate with pictures or gold stars when you accomplish something).

Most importantly, agree to regularly celebrate every accomplishment toward your shared goals, no matter how big or small. And then, set a date to express appreciation to each other and honor what you accomplished at your next relationship retreat.

This is the beginning of a beautiful (re)-new-(ed) partnership together!

Pegotty Cooper has been working with motivated professionals since 2001 in navigating the challenges of work life and personal life balance; creating a purpose-driven life; and developing effective communication through conflict and divorce. For a complimentary consultation to generate some ideas for you, contact her through YourTango.

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