AARP Eye Center
Want to rekindle your marriage — or overhaul it completely? A marriage retreat may help.
Whether private and customized or offered in a group setting, marriage retreats are designed to give struggling spouses practical tools to communicate better, overcome conflict and connect on a deeper level — away from troubling patterns at home.
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Some are held seaside, others in rural farmhouses. Some are faith-based, others incorporate tantric philosophies. There are as many different approaches to marriage retreats as there are approaches to marriage.
No matter the format, these intensive getaways allow couples to truly focus on their relationship and nothing else.
"I refer to this as warp speed therapy,” says Israel Helfand, 66, a licensed marriage and family therapist who, with his wife, Cathie Helfand, facilitates Marriage Quest retreats at their homestead in rural Northern Vermont. “We're getting a lot of work done in a short period of time, and in the majority of cases, we're figuring out whether this marriage can survive and thrive. Some couples are happier in the long run if they let go and move on."
Addressing sexual dissatisfaction
10 Reasons Marriages Fail
People struggle in their marriages for a variety of reasons. But a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information examined why marriages failed and found these to be some of the most common factors.
1. Lack of commitment
3. Arguing and conflict
4. Getting married too young
5. Financial problems
6. Substance abuse
7. Domestic violence
8. Health issues
9. Lack of family support
10. Religious differences
Depending on the setting or length of stay, marriage retreats can range from several hundred dollars to $10,000 and up. Typically couples will work with trained professionals — look for those who are licensed — on how to identify issues affecting their marriage, communicate effectively and set goals for the relationship. Some retreats work only with one couple at a time; others are held in group settings. Some have nightly homework; others don't. Most last from two to five days.
For example, Marriage Boot Camp in Allen and Plano, Texas, advertises that it uses more than 120 “interactive games and drills designed to help participants address and deal with their baggage, damage and issues."
Experts, like Kathy McMahon, founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc., which hosts marriage retreats in 32 states and in Canada, Ireland and Australia, suggest working with professionals who focus on couples therapy, and who are listed in well-respected directories, such as the National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Therapists and the Gottman Referral Network.
The Helfands host guests in the tiny village of Cabot, Vermont, on a working farm with lambs, calves and chickens. Their three-day program, which includes 10 hours of intensive work, costs $12,000 on weekdays and $15,000 when dates straddle a weekend. A family history for each partner is collected to help clarify goals and prepare couples for the experience.
Uninhibited straight talkers about sex, the Helfands say that sex is a topic that comes up most often. Between 60 percent and 70 percent of the couples have dealt with some form of infidelity. Others deal with performance challenges, low libido or lack of interest.