A powerful alternative to traditional weekly marriage therapy is a marriage retreat. For couples in crisis, this format can offer an intensive, highly effective start to a sustainable healing journey.
Selecting a Therapist
Selecting a therapist is an important process for anyone considering psychotherapy. Sometimes the “first impression” of the process can leave a lasting impression that determines whether or not a client continues.
That selection process is especially important and more complex when a couple is involved. Suddenly there are several dynamics to consider — two individuals and the relationship between them. A single therapist may not be able to address the full range of a couple’s needs.
For couples in crisis, it is especially important to choose a therapist or therapist team that specializes in couples and marriages. There is a big difference between being an effective individual therapist and being an effective couples/marriage therapist.
Counseling vs. Retreat
Marriage counseling can follow the more traditional path of meeting once or twice a week for an hour with a therapist. It can also be done in the context of a marriage retreat. When there’s a sense of urgency in the relationship, 2-3 days can cover the groundwork of six to nine months of weekly therapy.
A marriage retreat for couples in crisis can repair damage, provide a path to healing from infidelity, and defuse conflict. It can also ease reactive cycles, tear down emotional walls and sexual blocks, and restore intimacy.
Selecting the right retreat for your needs is essential.
All marriage retreats remove couples from the daily stressors of children and careers, allowing them to focus on themselves and their relationship.
Some, however, cater more to spending valuable time together in a relaxing setting, while others are better at crisis intervention.
Here are some helpful considerations for selecting a marriage retreat for couples in crisis.
Choose therapists whose professional focus is on couples and marriages, not individuals.
As mentioned above, there’s a big difference between focusing on the issues of an individual and focusing on the collective issues and needs of a relationship.
Choose therapists who avoid a “neutral” stance.
The fact that you select a marriage retreat for couples in crisis doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from individual therapy, as well. But a couples/marriage therapist should be committed to the good of the relationship, not the perceived good of the individuals. The “we” should trump the “me” and “me.”
It’s not uncommon for spouses entering couple’s therapy to secretly believe the other spouse is the one in need of help. An experienced specialist will quickly make it clear that the good of the marriage comes first. S/he will also respond to and challenge individuals to create an expanded comfort zone that defers to the entity of the marriage.
Look for a marriage retreat that guarantees privacy and anonymity.
Marriage retreats can be done in a one couple-only or group format. If you choose a group format, you will be interacting with other couples and sharing information in a manner intended to empathize and support.
Privacy is much easier to ensure in a one-couple format. But if you are in a group setting, it is paramount to your own work that there is no public disclosure of sensitive matters.
You are attending a marriage retreat to facilitate greater communication and trust. Being careless with sensitive information like sexual issues can defeat the purpose and shut down important sharing.
Look for therapists who honor your goals for your relationship.
This is your marriage. Hopefully you will have a good idea of what you want it to look like before you search for a retreat.
Even if you feel completely lost in your marriage and “don’t know where to start,” it’s still your relationship. Good therapists can help guide you into expressing your goals for your marriage.
But they shouldn’t impose their values and opinions on your relationship. Their job is to observe the history of your relationship and observe your interactions in an effort to help you achieve your goals.
Be sure the therapists use research-based methods.
It’s only natural to want to like your therapists and feel comfortable talking to them. But if therapists rely on personal anecdotes and opinions to respond to and guide you, your results will be short-lived.
Look for therapists grounded in research-based methods to ensure appropriate applicability and sustainability of skills taught.
Look for a high instructor/therapist-to-couples ratio.
Ideally, a marriage retreat for couples in crisis will be a private, intensive experience. Even in a group format, the most effective experience will happen with a high ratio of therapists to couples. This allows couples the opportunity to practice skills learned with the observation and assistance of trained experts.
Even better, consider attending a marriage retreat led by a husband-and-wife therapy team. The balance of male-female energy and sense of being on a team can break down walls of discomfort and perceived partisanship.
Make sure there is a plan for follow-up care.
A good marriage retreat will send its participants home with homework and the materials to facilitate it. There can be any number of options available — online sessions, mini-intensives, weekly sessions, and the like.
From a neuroscience standpoint, you will achieve more effective results by having several intense doses of learning close together. The objective is to gradually fade out the proximity of sessions.
A marriage retreat for couples in crisis, while intensive, will be only a starting point. How you are guided and supported after that immersion experience will fuel your progress and sustainability.
Choose the Retreat that Meets your Goals for the Relationship
If your marriage is in crisis, considering an intensive marriage retreat with a specialized therapy team can kick-start its recovery. With all the choices available to you, your compass should always be your own values and goals for your relationship.
Devoting the retreat experience to yourself and your spouse is a profound statement of prioritizing your marriage. Selecting the best retreat for your needs will help ensure you get the most out of it.