Can A Retreat Save Your Marriage?

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A couples retreat can bring intimacy, renewal and healing if you've been neglected or feel betrayed

Laura was contemplating the end of her marriage. She and her husband Bill had been married for eighteen years, and had two young children. The marriage was not in a major crisis, but was definitely in ‘maintenance’ mode. Sex was once a month unless it was someone’s birthday. They barely spoke to each other unless it was about the kids And once lately she had walked in on Bill looking at pornography on the computer.  aura wondered if their relationship was in a rut, or if her marriage was heading for divorce like half of her friends and neighbors. 

They had tried couples therapy, but after several sessions, Bill felt like he was being blamed for their problems and had "promised to be a good boy." At this point Laura felt hopeless and confused. She wondered even if having an affair would change things. Is a failing marriage a result of long term monogamy or was there something deeper happening?

Then she saw Hope Springs, the movie with Meryl Streep where she and her husband attend a five day Intensive retreat with a couples therapist, that focused on both getting away from their daily lives and taking an intensive look at their marriage. Laura had an idea.

Maybe, like in the movies, she and Bill could go on a couples retreat. "Maybe somewhere tropical," she thought. She talked to Bill about a retreat destination that could offer a couples workshop as well as a beach, golf or scuba lessons, any incentive that might convince him to go with her. She wanted the therapy component as well, and hoped that if there was a sex therapy or sex enhancement class it might help them work on their dysfunctional communication.

Bill, to her surprise, agreed. "Of course I want to work on our marriage. And if we can do it in a week, and take a vacation too, why not?"

Laura and Bill found a Couples Workshop — mine. They came and spent the mornings in a small, intimate group with two other couples and worked on their marriage issues, and found ways to communicate about their needs. In the afternoon they went to the beach, took naps, and went sightseeing. 

The tropical environment helped bring back the romance in their relationship and reminded them of why they loved one another and what made them come together in the first place. And with a seasoned guide to help them with their personal frustrations, they used the time to increase their intimacy and connection. 

The workshop helped Bill and Laura. Can a couples retreat really help any couple looking for help?

A good couples retreat is basically a good couple’s workshop. It is most often run by a professional who has experience in the field of marriage and couple’s therapy and is licensed and certified to provide good therapeutic intervention. A couple’s retreat is different than a vacation or a luxury cruise, although they can be combined. Many times a couples retreat can be in an office, but it can just as easily be on a beach in Mexico or in a hut in Fiji. A real relationship retreat means spending time away from your regular life and working with a therapist to help the two of you focus exclusively on your relationship. Increasing your erotic connection, working through affairs and other hurts, or getting help for any relationship issues you are suffering from. The goal of the week, along with relaxing, is decreasing your overall stress levels.

Ellen and Bill really needed a retreat. Bill had recently admitted that he was unhappy in the marriage and was considering divorce for the second time. He suspected Ellen had been cheating but wasn’t sure. They signed up for a week long retreat. The couples retreat gave Ellen and Bill a chance to focus all of their energy on the relationship, got them out of their routine and moved them in the direction of a happier future. By day three of the retreat they decided to stay together and by day five were having sex for the first time in almost three years.

Deciding to save a marriage takes clarity. When you are close to home, trying to go to couples therapy once a week, the hour long interventions may not be enough. A week away from home where you can be totally focused on each other may be more effective at first. Going home and following up with couple’s therapy can then be the key to long lasting satisfaction. 

The idea of retreat is important. A workshop can be a spiritual renewal that both of you need, particularly if there has been excessive strain on the relationship and stress in your life. A retreat in a beautiful and relaxing environment can reduce stress and give you a chance to decide if it is life that is stressing your relationship, or if it is the relationship itself that is causing the problems.

Why go on a couples retreat?

A week away to focus on your relationship, whether it is in town in a therapist’s office for three hours or far away in an exotic locale for a week is a journey into intimacy and a more connected partnership. In a setting designed to bring you closer, you can work through trauma; betrayal, hurt, anger, abandonment and fears. You may re-connect after years of distance and neglect. Or maybe you simply miss each other and want to spend some real quality time together improving your connection.

Nina and Peter were not in a crisis, but they didn't spend enough time together. Because of their work schedules they felt distant and spent very little intimate alone time because of their work obligations.  

They decided to go on a couples retreat because it felt totally different than their everyday life. They found that the focused time together helped them to rebuild trust and created enough safety to share their feelings, something they hadn’t done in a long time.  It was easier with a therapist and on the beach and in the tropical air.

To find out more about Couples Retreats, you can go to my website at www.drtammynelson.com. There are options. I offer a week long couples retreat in September in Fiji, and another in March in Puerto Vallarta, and there are other therapists that offer shorter or longer excursions around the world, in many beautiful destination places.  Some have excursions included, some are ala carte. 

The important thing to look for is the combined experience of good therapy for your relationship and a good environment where you can feel healed, relaxed and renewed.

You might also consider an Intensive — three hours to three days right here in my office in Connecticut, in New Haven or Ridgefield.  Or find out more about how to get me to come to your area, I might be convinced to travel to you.

Most couples come back from couple’s retreats feeling whole and rejuvenated. Maybe it’s just what you need to get through your relationship issues. Put it on your wish list for this year.

Dr Tammy Nelson is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together and The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity.  She speaks internationally on sustainable relationships and renewable monogamy.