Is a couples retreat for you?

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We believe that God created man and that He created them male and female. As such He created them different so as to complement and complete each other. God instituted monogamous marriage between male and female as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. Therefore, we perform and mentor marriages in accordance with Biblical guidelines. (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6; John 4:16-18; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:9-11. 6:18-20, 7:1-3 and 7:8-9; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-7; 1 Timothy 1:9-11)

June 17, 2014 By Richard Asa, Special to Tribune Newspapers

Couples can reap big benefits by attending a retreat — but
first, they both need to agree on one

There are hundreds of options for
couples retreats — and as many different approaches and 
environments. Some are based on reducing stress in
beautiful natural surroundings, others are faith-based, still others focus on
improving communication and intimacy, provide practical tools to apply in
specific situations at home and teach techniques such as yoga, meditation and
tantric rituals. Some are for married couples, others for those considering a
permanent commitment.

It’s very easy to find one.

It’s harder to find the right one.

“Couple’s retreats come in all
different flavors,” says Jon Caldwell, a psychiatrist with The Meadows
treatment center in Wickenburg, Ariz. “Some are quite general in their
approach, while others are specifically geared toward certain problems,
processes and goals.” The retreat leader or therapist, he says, can make
or break the experience.

“Of course, the retreat
leader’s technical skills are important,” Caldwell says, “but equally
important is his or her perspectives and personality. It is wise to do your
homework and find a retreat that is right for you.”

Caldwell says retreats generally are
focused on identifying and practicing practical solutions for greater
communication, respect, trust and intimacy.

“They tend to be hands-on and
solution-oriented,” he adds.

But we’re getting ahead of
ourselves. Before finding a retreat, both partners have to agree on attending
one, says Judi Cineas, a Palm Beach, Fla., therapist who often runs couples
retreats. She says reluctance stems from discomfort with the unknown.

“Once they start to realize
that it is about (helping) them, (skeptical partners) tend to start
relaxing,” she says. “Many individuals hesitate because they worry
this puts them and their issues at the forefront, which adds to the pressure
for things to change.”

Sean Horan, assistant professor at
Texas State University and a relational communications expert, says issues
surrounding communication are the key reasons to seek help.

“The content of these
(retreats) should focus on communication. Things like conflict, maintenance,
affection, support, etc.,” he says. “Your relationships are
initiated, created, sustained and maintained by verbal and nonverbal messages;
thus, (retreats) should focus on communication.”

Who can benefit

Prime candidates for a couples retreat?
You might be surprised. Longtime marriage and family therapist Terri Orbuch, a
research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of
Michigan, says longtime couples who have gotten into a lifestyle groove can
benefit big-time. They’re the ones taking care of everything, from bills to
kids — everything, that is, except their relationship.

“When the relationship gets put
on the back burner, a couples retreat reminds us about the importance of our
partner and relationship,” says Orbuch, author of “Five Simple Steps
to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great.” “It teaches us again how
to pay attention to our partner and our relationship. It is like a relationship
tuneup; we all need a relationship tuneup now and then no matter how happy
or healthy we are in our relationships.”

Orbuch encourages couples to
consider retreats that focus on education rather than therapy and are designed
to help them learn tools to enrich and strengthen their relationship. This
gives them quality time together away from home in a nice
setting, and joining other couples learning the same material, such as
remembering how to reignite the excitement in their relationship.

Solving big problems

Not everyone, of course, goes to retreats to simply shore up a healthy
relationship. In fact, many couples are desperate to keep their relationship

A Boca Raton, Fla., couple on the
verge of divorce after 16 years of marriage signed up for a retreat on the
recommendation of Cineas. They did not want to be identified. Structure and
specific exercises opened the door to what they were not seeing.

“Something as simple as
creating a collage of our relationship to share how it started, where it is now
and where we want it to be brought us so much closer,” the wife says after
attending Cineas’ retreat. “We were looking at each other more the way we
did at the start (of the marriage).

“A year later we still feel
that it was a good decision. We understand each other and communicate much
better. I really wish we had done something like this before we got married or
earlier into our marriage because we would have saved ourselves many years of
pain and turmoil.”

The weekend included a focus on
communication, mindfulness, active listening and mutual respect and compassion.
It was on the high end of such getaways: $15,000 including accommodations in a
hotel setting, which begs the question of cost.

A good couples retreat doesn’t need
to cost thousands of dollars. A recent weekend workshop conducted by Caldwell,
for example, cost $300 per person and was offered to both couples and
individuals. The setting was a rec room in the basement of a convent. Suitable,
but hardly beautiful to the eye.

No one cared about amenities. As
Caldwell says, it’s more about the facilitator than the setting.

Cineas agrees with Caldwell that
retreats need a leader with a plan. “When you have more
than two people together it is easy for things to just drag along when there is
not a plan in place. … Structure allows for maximization of the limited time
that you have together.”

Buyer beware

Advice on couple’s retreats
would be incomplete without a word to the wise, or unwise. As in any cottage
industry that can appeal to the vulnerable, snake oil salesmen abound,
the experts agree.  “Susceptible
and sometimes desperate couples are drawn to retreats — one weekend to fix a
problem? Sign me up!” says Ramani Durvasula, professor of psychology at
California State University.

“They are often hawking a
singular point of view, and my experience with couples is that one size
rarely fits all,” she says. “My favorite brochure was for a
$1,200 tantric sex seminar (it didn’t include a lodging, and the hotel where it
was held was $400 a night).

“Listen, for that cash I
can take a couple to the Holiday Inn Express and for $100 show them how to slow
down when they have sex and burn some incense.”

Finding a retreat

However, experts say the best
way to find a retreat is by word of mouth and from therapists familiar with
those that meet their approval. Even if you don’t see a therapist regularly, it
can’t hurt to make an appointment with one to talk about options for couples
who need that tune-up or want to solve more serious problems.

DIY for you?

What about creating your own
couples retreat? Therapist Judi Cineas says it is feasible when they are
researched and thoughtful, well-planned in advance, have a leader among the
couples who can keep things on track and focus on issues, and offer education geared
toward the couples.

To that end, it’s a good idea
to invite like-minded couples to participate. While you want to have differing
viewpoints, inviting couples with similar interests in fostering a healthy relationship
is important.

Advantages to a DIY retreat
include the obvious: minimal or no cost, the choice of setting, a built-in
comfort level that tends to keep the program moving forward and the ability to
get back together at any time and any place — maybe everyone, maybe not. Cineas
suggests inviting no more than five couples to prevent too much of the static
that can build up with more people.

More tips from Cineas:

Select locations that require
all attendees to be away from their everyday environment. If a site is too
close to home, it’s easier to be distracted by the everyday happenings of home.

Merge fun, bonding and
learning, and have a schedule that includes opportunities for all three. You
can read books in preparation and address them at the retreat, bring in a professional to
run a seminar, engage in some relationship-building activity.

Plan the event with ample time
to prepare, and avoid dates that conflict for participants. People are more
likely to be responsive when they are not feeling like they are giving up
something they wanted to do.

Even if you don’t see a
therapist regularly, it can’t hurt to make an appointment with one to talk
about options for couples who need that tune-up or want to solve more serious