Choosing Between Marriage Retreat Options
Brownstein, MA, Licensed Psychologist-Master &
MaryAnn Bock, MS, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
Marriage retreats are a great way to enhance your
marriage, get through a crisis, or get moving on long term problems. Most
marriage retreats provide a way to step away from your daily routines and
concentrate on your marriage. To do a retreat, you must first decide between the
different retreat formats and options. What are the advantages and disadvantages
of each kind of marriage retreat?
In religious retreats your marriage is understood
within the context of religious beliefs about marriage. Most religious marriage
retreats are run by clergy and are group format. They tend to be affordable and
These marriage retreats are at their best only
when you both have very similar strongly held religious beliefs. Problems can
occur if the needs of one or both partners conflict with the religious tenets.
Another possible downside can be that while some retreat leaders are very
skilled in marriage counseling, others are not.
These non-religious retreats are usually run by
therapists, and may be group or individualized. The advantage here is that most
of these therapists are trained, experienced marriage counselors who are
supportive of marriage but incorporate a wide variety of participant needs and
There are disadvantages of course. Secular
retreats are harder to find, frequently require travel, and are generally more
expensive. Further, therapists vary in quality, theoretical approach, and
personal style - and it can be tricky sorting this out.
The advantages of group retreats include positive
modeling, support offered by others and by their example, and a reduced sense of
isolation for participants. Group experiences often help open new insights for
participants. Group retreats also tend to be less expensive.
One of the main problems with group retreats is
the time spent on group exercises or other couples’ concerns. Some of these may
not apply to you or be helpful because groups are not focused on your unique
needs or obstacles. Additionally, many people feel that their marriage problems
are just too private to share openly in a group format.
The central strength of these marriage retreats is
the singular, concentrated focus on your problems and concerns. Other positives
include enhanced privacy, comfort for reserved people, and in depth focus. The
downside of individualized retreats is that they tend to be more costly, are
harder to locate, and may require travel.
Obviously, we are big proponents of the
individualized marriage retreats. We value the focus and depth. We find that
they provide a great structure for couples just beginning to address difficult
or long neglected issues, for refining or enhancing closeness, or to address
major crises like infidelity.
However, if expense is an overriding concern,
consider group format retreats first. If one or both of you are hesitant to
share in a group, or if you just want the retreat to focus solely on your
marriage, consider only the individualized marriage retreats. If you both share
equal, strongly held religious beliefs, include religious retreats in your
search; but if you have differing religious beliefs, or differing intensity of
belief, focus in the secular non-religious direction.
Whichever options you choose, spend time
interviewing the therapist or leader to assess whether you are comfortable with
their style, skills, and approach. Ask plenty of questions and make sure you’re
both comfortable with the answers. The skill of the therapist or leader, and
your comfort with them, are the most important factors.
Seth Brownstein, MA, is a Licensed
MaryAnn Bock, MS, is a Licensed Mental Health
Together, they operate Associates in Couples
Counseling, a Burlington, Vermont Marriage and Couples Counseling practice that
specializes in relationship and couples counseling, intensive personalized
marriage retreats, and practical marriage advice. You can find more information
about their services on their website at:
Associates in Couples Counseling, 431 Pine St, Burlington, VT, 05401,