Have you and your partner thought about a marriage retreat? Perhaps you both decided it’s time to finally focus on each other. You may be ready to work through a long-standing challenge that has impacted your relationship. Maybe you long for the passion and the fun that got you and your partner together in the first place. If you’re exploring a marriage retreat, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will help you and your partner decide which type of marriage retreat is right for you and what you can expect from the experience.
The 2 most popular types of marriage retreats
While traditional marriage therapy is a tried-and-true modality to help strengthen your marriage, there are alternatives. Many couples therapy or couples counseling therapy alternatives are condensed in time or part of a group experience. The two most popular types of marriage therapy alternatives are a marriage intensive and a marriage workshop. These options are excellent for couples who are looking to work on their relationship, but not ready for “couples therapy.”
One option that has gained popularity is a marriage retreat, also called a marriage intensive. A marriage intensive is a structured and concentrated approach to working on your marriage. This type of retreat often takes place over one to three consecutive days. Private retreats are customized and tailored to your relationship, and you work directly with a licensed marriage specialist. One advantage of a marriage intensive is working directly with an expert. A licensed marriage specialist has the expertise to work therapeutically with trauma, betrayal, communication patterns, and emotional triggers. Marriage intensives tend to be more expensive because it is customized just for you.
If you and your partner need a little more help deciding if a marriage intensive is a good fit for your relationship, check out our previous article here.
The other common type of marriage retreat is a marriage workshop. A marriage workshop or couples conference, as we’ve heard it described by our participants, is a psychoeducational workshop formatted for a group of couples in a classroom-like setting. This workshop helps you and your partner learn skills to enhance your marriage. It may not be customized to address your specific issues, but the workshop offers you evidence-based skills to apply more directly to your situation.
Couples who have attended our virtual Art and Science of Love workshop frequently comment that they enjoy being part of an event where they see a group of couples “in the same boat” as them. Couples find comfort in knowing that other couples share the struggles they do, have a shared lived experience, and they “aren’t the only ones.” While the cost can be $499+ (depending on event hosts), it is less expensive than a marriage intensive and typically less than multiple traditional therapy sessions.
To travel or not to travel?
There are advantages and disadvantages to finding a marriage retreat close to home or planning a vacation to focus on your relationship.
If you find a marriage retreat close to you, you save on travel costs and enjoy the overall ease and convenience. Additionally, a marriage retreat close to home may be easier if you have child care to consider. However, going back home during the retreat may be distracting. Typical home maintenance needs like laundry, making dinner, and cleaning can prevent you and your partner from continuing the conversations from the day. Finding time to relax and decompress together can also be more difficult.
If you decide on a vacation destination, you’ll likely experience the benefit of including excursions and playful activities for an overall experience. While the issues discussed in the intensive can stir up complex emotions, having an activity to unwind can also be part of the healing process. The disadvantages of a vacation marriage retreat include the cost, time away, and additional planning and coordination.
We’ve seen couples choose either option and get positive results. Our Arizona office is a popular destination for couples seeking marriage intensives because of our amazing winter weather and incredible vacation additions. Our Arizona marriage intensives include destinations like resorts with spas and golf packages, and desert hikes with unbelievable natural landscapes. Our Charlotte office is a charming destination for marriage intensives because of its convenient access to the airport and non-stop flights from practically anywhere in the Midwest or East Coast. Charlotte is a vibrant city with Southern charm full of incredible restaurants, shopping, and gorgeous parks. If you’re considering a vacation marriage intensive, we have delightful, locally focused itineraries for our Charlotte, NC and Carefree, AZ locations.
What to expect from a marriage retreat
Once you decide a marriage retreat is a good fit for your relationship, there are a few expectations to keep in mind.
You won’t resolve all of your relationship wounds
It does not matter if it is a 1-day or 2-day event — a marriage retreat is not a one-and-done process. Marriage retreats do not work like magic. Instead, a marriage retreat is a focused approach that may stir up suppressed, unaddressed feelings. This intense and concentrated approach allows your feelings to be recognized, to safely address those feelings, and the experience of holding the space for one another’s emotions together.
You and your partner will develop an approach to discuss your feelings where you both feel heard and understood. The focus is on developing a healthy way to process events. When a couple learns to process events this way, they can avoid returning to unhelpful strategies that have kept their relationship distanced or stuck, such as quickly jumping into “fix-it” mode.
It will be difficult
You will feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and raw. During a marriage retreat, specifically a marriage intensive, your therapist will know when to lean into your emotions, when to slow down, and when to help you better understand your feelings. It is not a bulldoze approach to get through “to the other side” in a matter of days. A marriage intensive is about customizing your approach and working through important feelings together.
You and your partner will begin to create a new pathway for repair
Many couples who attend a marriage intensive talk about a historical event that has never been fully resolved. Couples often hold on to these unresolved feelings for years. A marriage intensive is a supportive format to go back to the event and process it. The intentional processing allows the couple to express and explore the emotions from the event, inviting real understanding and healing to begin.
You may want and need follow-up sessions
A marriage retreat, whether an intensive or workshop, is not a one-and-done approach, as your emotions use repetition to heal and build security with your partner. Thus, you will most likely leave the marriage retreat feeling relieved that you and your partner finally addressed a long-standing issue. You may want to find structure or support that will help you and your partner keep the momentum going.
How to get the most out of a marriage retreat
Ideally, you and your partner will be motivated to work together. You’re both ready to be open and prepared to slow down conversations and invite emotions to have a “seat at the table.” In addition, it is helpful to have a clear idea of what each of you would like to accomplish during the retreat. For instance, it is not uncommon for the therapist to ask the following questions:
- If the next two days were to be successful, what would you like to happen?
- How would you like to feel towards your partner?
- Specifically for an intensive, is there a specific issue, such as a relationship wound or relationship injury, that you feel is unresolved that you’d like help working through?
- Specifically for a workshop, is there a skill that you’d like to learn or improve?
The Do’s and Dont’s
It’s important that you do a bit of legwork before committing to a marriage retreat, whether that is an intensive or workshop. Here are a couple do’s and don’ts to consider to make sure you are ready to commit to the experience.
- Do your homework – Who is the therapist? What is their experience? Logistically, what makes the most sense for you? (Read What do I need to look for to make sure the Couples Intensive is credible?)
- Know your personality and that of your partner. Could you focus on your relationship for two days, six hours at a time?
- Come prepared. Have a specific issue or an attainable goal in mind for the 2-day retreat.
- Don’t rely on your therapist to choose a topic or bring up your issues. You must initiate, and your therapist will help you and your partner through the process.
- Don’t threaten your partner to “do this or else.” When a partner instigates a marriage retreat through a threat, the retreat tends to be ineffective, and everyone will feel frustrated.
Your Marriage Retreat Checklist
If you have been feeling like your relationship is stuck and you’re ready to try something new, take a look at the guide below. Try using a softened start-up to discuss this with your partner. For instance, “I’ve felt lonely in our relationship and I’d like to feel more connected. I care about you and want to strengthen our relationship. I’ve done some research on ways our relationship can get support. Can I share some questions with you for us to talk through?”
- Which marriage retreat are we willing to try? Does a private marriage intensive sound like a good fit? Or would we rather participate in a psychoeducational group workshop?
- Can we carve out two days to concentrate on our relationship? If yes, when would we like this to happen?
- Are both of us motivated to attend a marriage retreat? If not, who is reluctant or ambivalent? If there is reluctance or ambivalence, can we talk about it?
- Do we have a specific problem that we need help working through?
- Does the therapist specialize in relationships?
- Have we considered our budget? Can we agree on a location — virtual, local, or destination?
Let’s get to work on your relationship.
- In-person in Carefree, AZ with either Dr. Drew or Dr. Bitar.
- In-person in Charlotte, NC with Brittany or Kelsee.
- Virtually via Zoom (for residents of AZ, NC, SC, TX).
Contact us to get scheduled for our next available intensive.
You can also register for our next virtual Art and Science of Love 2-Day Couples Workshop.