“That’s all the time we have for today. Same time next week?” If you have ever been to counseling, you know the drill. And if you have ever shared the couch with your spouse, you know how coveted every one of those 60 minutes is. But on marriage retreat weekends, the approach to time is different. Very different.
First of all, kudos to every person who has courageously embraced the therapeutic process en route to self-improvement. And to every couple that has managed to align the intentions and willingness of two people and attended couples counseling, a standing ovation. Regardless of what has inspired or driven you to therapy, it takes courage, self-love, and care for your relationships to get there.
There is one experience that is common to most, if not all, people in therapy. It doesn’t take the full hour of the first session to wonder, “How long before I feel better? How long before things start to change?”
Whether you start counseling because of a crisis or out of a desire for self-improvement, you want it to be effective. This is your time, your money, the excavation of your deepest emotions and experiences, and your trust in a stranger. It needs to make a difference.
When it comes to couples counseling, that need — that expectation — for timely effectiveness is what distinguishes marriage retreat weekends from traditional couples therapy.
When John Gottman started his “Marathon Couples Therapy,” he did so because of research showing that couples therapy was most effective if multiple sessions were done in close succession. The neuroscience behind this approach is the same as that which makes immersion learning so efficacious: repetition over a condensed time frame.
From Gottman’s initiative, marriage retreat weekends were born.
Here are 4 reasons that marriage retreat weekends can be more productive than nine months of couples counseling.
The time factor.
This is the biggest reason that retreat weekends are so effective. In traditional counseling, sessions are usually one hour on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. By the time you and your spouse get comfortable and “warm-up” your conversation with the therapist, you may have as little as 45 minutes.
That’s 45 minutes to bungee jump into the depths of your problems before being snapped back up and sent home. No time to let the tears flow or get to the “real” reasons behind so many behaviors and issues. No time to practice new skills or role play. One hour out of 168 in a week.
In marriage retreat weekends, you and your spouse get the benefit of an intensive format. If you have a husband-wife therapist team, you have the benefit of witnessing healthy communication and conflict resolution in action throughout your sessions.
You have time to go deeply into the important issues in your marriage because the clock isn’t your nemesis. You actually get to start changing your perspective and behaviors in the context of only a few (but intense) days, not months.
Getting away from everyday stress.
Chances are your current lifestyle, home life, and profession are all contributing to the toxic dynamics that need intervention. You’re certainly not alone in that department, especially if you are a dual-career couple with children.
What are the chances that you are going to have a weekly one-hour session, then go back to that chaos and get to work on your marriage? Exactly. And what are the chances that anything is going to improve anytime soon? Exactly.
On the contrary, you are more likely to leave your sessions with heightened frustration and greater hopelessness. And re-immersing in your daily stress will only add to your list of complaints for your next session.
A marriage retreat weekend intensive pulls you away from some of your negative triggers. Many weekend marriage retreats are held in beautiful, peaceful locations, helping to set the stage for calmness and a sense of “getting away.”
Your focus is now only on your marriage — not where you are supposed to be 30 minutes after your session ends.
Relationship intensive care.
If your marriage is in crisis, or if you have waited a long time to get help, you need help now. You need things to change now, not next year. If you don’t stop that downhill runaway train, your marriage may not be around next year.
Traditional couples counseling may take your vitals and send you home with a prescription to get you through the next week. But it sends you right back into the danger zone that got you to therapy in the first place.
The intensive marriage retreat weekend, on the other hand, stops the bleeding when there is a crisis. And it starts the IV’s that can miraculously bring your marriage back to life and give it hope for continued health.
The role of the therapist(s).
In traditional couples counseling, the therapist is often in an awkward position. S/he has to be on guard against appearing partial to one gender or the other. S/he also often ends up being a mediator or referee in couples’ quarrels.
In a marriage retreat weekend, your therapists are there to guide you. Having a husband-wife therapist team is a plus. It avoids the potential of the “odd person out” phenomenon of the perception the therapist is siding with your partner against you.
Therapists also have and take the time to help you practice the skills they teach you. They can work through the bigger issues with you without cutting you short because of time.
And they may plan specific activities for you and your spouse during the weekend to help with issues like trust, vulnerability, and intimacy.
They essentially become compassionate guides on your journey. And they take a genuine interest in your success.
When it comes to counseling, there are countless approaches. And they all have their place — often in conjunction with each other.
Traditional couples counseling has its place, as well. But it’s important to be honest with yourself about the effectiveness of the work you are doing. Much of that will be dependent on you and your spouse. And much of it will be a reflection of the format and therapist.
Couples who attend marriage retreat weekends often come from traditional couples counseling because they want more…and they want it more quickly. They leave a retreat with more confidence in their marriage and accelerated benefits and more deeply-rooted skills to anchor their work together.
If you have languished in a less-than-it-could-be marriage, imagine — just imagine — what one weekend can do to bring it back to life!