Choosing Between Marriage Retreat Options, Article, Associates in Couples Counseling

Choosing Between Marriage Retreat Options

Seth 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 accessible.

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 orientations.

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 Psychologist-Master &

MaryAnn Bock, MS, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

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:

©2007, Associates in Couples Counseling, 431 Pine St, Burlington, VT, 05401, 802-865-9886