Marriage and couples’ therapy is a unique and specialized niche in the world of psychotherapy. And the marriage retreat-with-counseling is an even more specialized niche within the realm of marriage and couples’ therapy.
While individual therapy may be ideal when working through your personal history and issues, if your relationship is what ails you, a couple’s therapist might be the right medicine. Couples’ therapy focusses on the relationship- the interpersonal and interdependent space between two individuals.
Every person is complicated. Relationships are even more complicated. How you and your partner relate to one another is a complex web. Each person brings into an intimate relationship his/her psychology, family and cultural background, relationship experiences, needs, wants, and expectations. Couples have trouble positively relating when problems go unaddressed, communication and problem-solving skills are weak, and the relationship isn’t nurtured.
Benefits of an intensive marriage retreat with counseling
While traditional marriage counseling is most often done once a week, John Gottman and other marriage experts pioneered a trend in intensive relationship work which has caught on. As a result, marriage retreats with counseling and intensive weekend retreats have become more widely available.
The condensed and intensive format of marriage retreats with counseling has the potential to yield accelerated and intensified results. Rather than one hour per week over several weeks or months, a private marriage counseling retreat, often accomplishes the equivalent of six-to-nine months of weekly counseling over two-three days of five hours per day.
It’s understandable that 10-15 therapy hours throughout two-to-three days would provide an absolute amount of uninterrupted therapy time, and build focus without the distractions of daily life. A relatively unknown added benefit of the immersion approach of intensive weekend retreats is an enhanced neurological efficiency and efficacy of learning not available in the traditional weekly sessions.
Why immersion works
Research reveals that people are more likely to absorb new behaviors — and translate them to changed habits — if people learn the new behaviors and apply them in an immersive experience. The learning associated with an intense experience like a marriage with counseling retreat gets lodged into one’s cerebral cortex.
Intensive marriage retreats with counseling create an experience where natural behaviors will surface as the couples talk about their problems. The couples’ counselors then engage the pair in reflective conversations that trigger realizations. These light bulb moments lead to change as the couples acknowledge that their behaviors are counterproductive to their goal of keeping conflict discussions calm and constructive.
In real time, couples learn to recognize the unhelpful behaviors and move quickly to replace them with more effective behaviors. Through repetition and practice, couples start to apply these new replacement behaviors during the retreat, and lock in the learning before they leave for home where the behaviors can be integrated over time. The more the couples practice the new behaviors over 30 days, the more fully integrated they will become. Before long by consistent and persistent application the behaviors turn into habits.
So assuming you understand more clearly why a marriage retreat with counseling can benefit your relationship, let’s look at 7 things to know about choosing a marriage retreat.
1. What are your goals?
You may not have a clear view of whether there is even a way forward for your marriage, especially if you’re digging through the wreckage of relationship shattering issues like infidelity. Your goal might be to get clarity about the trajectory of your relationship or to understand the costs and benefits of saving your marriage. If your situation is not dire, you may be motivated to polish up your communication or conflict-resolution skills. Perhaps you have issues in the area of physical intimacy and haven’t been able to talk about them. Knowing what you want to achieve, even in a general sense, will increase the impact of what you learn on your retreat.
2. What’s best – a private or group retreat?
There are many different kinds of marriage retreats. Often group retreats focus on relationship education and enhancement. Couples learn communication and conflict resolution skills. Others are geared toward stress-reduction, reconnecting, and revitalization, and can be both group and private retreats. Intensive retreats with marriage counseling are private and emphasize saving/repairing unhappy, troubled relationships.
3. What is the optimal length of time?
Marriage retreats can go from two- to three-day intensive weekends or as long as a week, depending on the length of the marriage, and the complexity and the number of issues that need resolution.
4. How much does a retreat cost?
The cost of a private three-day retreat with marriage counseling ranges from $4500 to $15,000, exclusive of travel, meals, and lodging. Generally, health insurance does not cover these costs.
The cost of group retreats depends on the number of couples and the format. Prices can vary from $400 to $1500 for a weekend.
Remember that a marriage retreat with counseling is designed to give you the maximum benefit in a condensed period. While three days can pass quickly, the days you spend in this immersive environment will have exponential effects on your relational journey. You will spend less time in weekly therapy and be back on track more quickly and enjoying your life. Keep that in mind as you weigh the costs and benefits.
5. Who are the professionals leading the retreat?
If you plan to attend a marriage retreat with counseling, you are taking a courageous and intentional step toward creating a more satisfying marriage. The leaders of your experience should be qualified, capable, and devoted to your goals. They should also specialize in working with couples.
For most couples, having a team of counselors is beneficial. The dynamic of an even number works well and avoids the “odd man out” or “three’s a crowd” phenomena. Couples waste less time trying to curry favor which inevitably happens with a solo counselor configuration.
For heterosexual couples, having a male-female counseling “team” is especially conducive to balancing potential gender-bias and gender-based issues and fears. For same-sex couples, it is smart to interview potential retreat leaders about their views on gender and if/how their treatment approach for same-sex relationships differs from their approach for heterosexual relationships.
Working with a married couple team adds value to the marriage retreat by keeping it real and for the opportunity to learn through example.
In addition to the counselors’ skills, their perspectives, values, interests, and personalities are worth considering. A good match will enhance your experience and confidence level.
Personal referrals can direct you to an intensive marriage retreat with counseling that will be compatible with your level of trust, values, and personal styles. Take the time to read about the counselors, read their blog, and customer reviews. Ideally, the counselors will be open to a phone call so you can take a “test drive”. The information you gather and your phone contact will increase your familiarity and comfort level when you start the real work together.
6. What’s the focus of the counseling model?
It is essential to know if the counseling model is ‘neutral’ or not. If you are going to invest in your marriage by attending a retreat, shouldn’t you want the focus to be on the relationship itself?
Counselors who take a non-neutral stance will place the relationship over the individual. They will align with the “we” (the relationship). Counselors who take a non-neutral approach will be direct and challenging. They will show you how you’re getting in your own way and what behaving skillfully looks like. You can expect help in becoming aware and understanding how unhelpful behaviors impact the relationship and adopting replacement behaviors targeted to increase relationship happiness.
7. What’s the follow-up?
A marriage retreat with counseling is an intensive intervention that clears the air of negative emotions and reconnects you with your spouse. The best retreats will ensure that you leave with a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the marriage from a more solid foundation. The plan should embrace a fresh perspective, and provide specific and measurable goals for new behaviors and habits that will foster relationship growth.
Another consideration is whether you will have the option for progress check-ins and follow-up care, as needed.
If you are considering a marriage retreat with counseling, take time to identify your goals, to explore the options, and to talk to the counselors about the retreat. Next, ask yourself these questions: Did you feel “heard” and relatively comfortable during the initial call? Does the counseling approach feel like a good match for your situation? Were you were satisfied with the answers to your questions? Above all, trust your gut in making your final choice.