Whether you’re experiencing marital distress or just temporary gridlock, it can be difficult to know where to turn for help. With online therapy and a wealth of marriage retreat options available across the nation, separating the wheat from the chaff can feel like an overwhelming task. Moreover, New York Times articles like “Does Couples Therapy Work?” highlight the importance of choosing your couples therapist wisely.
As Weil points out in the article above, being an effective marriage or couples therapist is a lot different from being an effective individual therapist. Also, most couples and spouses reach a point of crisis before they turn to a third party for help.
However, study after study indicates that evidence-based marriage and couples therapy provide immense benefits for both parties involved. In fact, Psychology Today outlined five basic principles that effective marriage and couples therapists use to bring about change.
We thought we would go one step further to identify the seven key elements that will help you find the most effective marriage counseling retreat for you and your spouse.
With a properly trained and focused staff, a private marriage counseling retreat will provide you with the equivalent of 12 weeks of marriage therapy in 2-3 days. The intensive format is also proven to be more neurologically effective than weekly therapy sessions alone.
Just be sure to consider the following points before signing the dotted line.
1. Look for Marriage Retreats with Therapists who Avoid a “Neutral” Stance
The most effective marriage therapist is not a “neutral” party. Instead, they avoid taking sides altogether and align themselves with a third party called the “We.” A trained clinician will always seek out the good of your marriage over the perceived good of you or your spouse. They will view every interaction through the lens of what is best for your relationship and the strength of your bond.
While a “neutral” therapist might think to themselves, “What about this person’s side?” or “What about that person’s point of view?” the effective marriage therapist would ask themselves, “How good is this particular line of dialogue for the relationship on the whole?”
Taking a relationship-focused stance could mean the therapist challenges you or your spouse more than another at any given time. However, it does not mean the therapist is aligning themselves with the other person. Instead, they are choosing to intervene and communicate things they believe will serve you best as a couple — both now and in the future.
It is a perspective adopted by the most seasoned clinicians who understand that aligning with “We” is necessary to change the larger dynamic between both individuals. The end goal is to benefit the couple, the partnership.
2. Seek Out a Practice that Avoids Glamorizing “Hot-Button” Issues
There is a tendency in our culture to label certain relationship behaviors as “bad” or “worse” than others; this is especially true when it comes to affairs or issues related to money or finance.
While a shocking number of spouses have affairs, with emotional affairs occurring at even higher rates, there are countless ways spouses betray one another on a daily basis — some of which can be as or more harmful than a physical affair or even financial secrets. For example, failing to be physically or emotionally responsive to your partner in their time of need can be just as detrimental to your bond.
The concept of betrayal extends far beyond the zone of extramarital connection.
Sure, daily betrayals and emotional dismissals might not attract the same notice as something like infidelity. But through the lens of a trained clinician, they are just as damaging. It’s death by a thousand cuts versus a big blow to the head.
Seek out a marriage retreat or marriage therapists who understand the intricacies of daily betrayals and who treat these roadblocks with the same amount of care and concern.
3. Find a Practice that Understands the Power of Time Intensity
Originally started by John Gottman, the first private marriage or couples retreat intensives were called “Marathon Couples Therapy.” They were developed based on research that shows that couples therapy is more effective when it’s done in intensive doses. Sessions that are conducted in close time proximity to one another, then faded out over time, will net much better and longer-lasting results for your marriage.
This concept applies whether you are in crisis or are experiencing temporary gridlock with a singular issue, such as “Do we relocate for a job promotion?” or “Do we want to have a third child?” No matter what issues you and your spouse are facing, the intensive format will help you reach a resolution more rapidly and will help you sustain your connection for a longer period of time.
Neuroscience shows people are more likely to absorb new behaviors and translate them into change if they learn those behaviors in the context of an immersive experience. It’s a concept called rapid succession learning, in which a person is exposed to something repeatedly over a short window of time. Research demonstrates this is how human beings learn and change best.
Our marriage retreats are structured entirely around this principle. They are designed to provide you with numerous reparative, healing experiences that foster the acquisition of new skills in a condensed framework of 2-day or 3-day intensives. Therefore, whether you are navigating everyday issues, such as “Should we move my our mother-in-law into the guest suite?” or overcoming years of relationship tension, studies show the intensive format to be more effective.
Will you still get results from weekly therapy sessions? Absolutely. However, with the intensive format, you will get results much sooner, and they are likely to be longer-lasting.
4. Choose a Marriage Retreat that is Respectful of Personal Boundaries
An experienced clinician knows how to walk the fine line between vulnerability and personal comfort. Always seek out a therapist or marriage retreat that understands this delicate balance. The nature of the work we do is to stretch each partner outside of their comfort zone. We strive to help people act, behave and communicate in new ways that may make them feel more vulnerable.
However, we are always careful to do so in a way that still respects personal boundaries. It is a lot like going to the gym. On the one hand, you don’t want a workout that feels too easy. You want to know it’s having an impact. However, you don’t want to push yourselves to the point of injury.
We apply that same philosophy to our retreats. We are very respectful of each partner’s boundaries and continually check in with each person to make sure they are okay with the work we are doing. Our therapists also come from diverse backgrounds and bring a wealth of experience and training to the table. Using the most advanced modalities of couples therapy, we utilize nonverbal cues as well as physiological tools, such as heart rate monitors, to gauge exactly where you or your spouse’s stress level stands at any time.
There are also strategically scheduled breaks throughout the day, which will allow your mind and body to rest and digest the new information coming your way. Always seek out a marriage retreat or marriage intensive that respects your comfort level and paces the progression of their retreats thoughtfully.
5. Find a Marriage Retreat that Will Honor Your Goals for the Relationship
The vision of your relationship is a decision unique to you. If you want the most from your marriage retreat, look for therapists who will avoid imposing their values or opinions about how long you should continue to work on your relationship. Instead, find a practice that will encourage you to invest in the process and leave no stone unturned in your personal development.
One of the primary tenets we subscribe to is that any marital problems you are running into are problems you will face in any future relationship as well. So, we focus on creating change on an individual and relational level.
Our retreats include a very well thought-out protocol, which includes meeting with you and your spouse together to assess the history of your relationship and observing interactions, as well as working with each person individually. We find it equally important to understand you and your spouse’s personal histories, childhoods, and prior relationships. That way, we can discern what individual changes you need to make for personal growth.
This is revolutionary for most couples.
Suddenly, it becomes less about changing your partner and more about changing yourself and setting yourself up for future success — no matter which relationship you are in. Once you subscribe to this perspective, there is the potential for healing more deeply. The question becomes, “What is my responsibility in this relationship? What is my 100% to own? And how do I change those patterns so that I can thrive in the future?”
Once you look at your romantic life in this way, it becomes a win-win, with the focus being placed squarely on cultivating health, skill building, and healing. Anything that is a byproduct of your work at your retreat will benefit you and those you love for years to come.
6. Look for a Practice that Utilizes Research-Based Methods for Change
Most likely, by the time you decide to invest in a marriage retreat or marriage intensive, you are in need of real, expert intervention. Instead of a band-aid, you might even need a relationship emergency room. This is where research-based methodologies, such as the Gottman Method and Emotionally-Focused Therapy shine.
Look for a couples therapy practice or retreat center that utilizes leading research-based methodologies for couples therapy. Also, seek out a team of therapists who are focused solely on couples and who have the years of experience to prove it.
At NCCT, our therapists have over 150 years of combined experience in couples therapy. We are also the only center in the Northeast — and most likely the country — that is entirely dedicated to serving couples and expanding our knowledge and expertise of couples therapy on a daily basis.
Our therapists all engage in weekly “think tank” sessions to understand and apply new advances in couples therapy research. Moreover, every week, each therapist meets with couples between 15-40 hours a week.
Nowhere else will you find a team of therapists collectively working under the same roof supporting couples and families to this degree. NCCT is truly a one-of-a-kind center and has earned its reputation as the go-to place for couples in crisis.
7. Choose a Practice That Provides Real Follow-Up Care
True success from a couples therapy intensive is just as much about what you do after the retreat as it is about what you do during. Look for a practice that has a real plan for follow-up care, whether in the form of online sessions, mini-intensives, homework or weekly couples therapy.
At NCCT, we treat couples from all over the United States, so our follow-up plans are just as varied as the clients we serve. Nothing ever ends with the retreat. You will go home with books to read, worksheets, concrete tools and skills and the option of continuing with your licensed therapist via phone calls, regular sessions or shorter versions of our intensive retreats. In fact, 80% of the couples who attend our retreats come back for mini-intensives.
No matter what you do, find a way to revisit the tools and strategies you learned on a regular basis, especially if you are in crisis. Marriage and couples retreats are effective, but they are not a magic bullet. If you want to retain the gains you’ve made, you must invest the time. Thankfully, our clients get the support they need to make that a reality.
Also, for our out-of-state clients, we go the extra mile to help them find qualified therapists in their community. However, most decide to come right back to us as needed.
At NCCT, our marriage and couples therapists are true experts in the field. They have been published and syndicated across the web, from the Huffington Post to the Good Men Project, and are among the leading experts in subspecialties like stepfamilies, domestic violence, and family therapy.
Want to learn more about how a 2-day or 3-day retreat can transform your marriage?
Contact us, and our Retreat Coordinator, Martha Reeves, will help you create a customized plan unique to your relationship needs. She’ll even give you tips on fantastic places to stay and great places to dine while in the Pioneer Valley.
Best of all, once booked we’ll give you access to The Gottman Institute’s online Gottman Relationship Checkup, so you can begin your journey towards healing before you arrive. If you are having trouble coping with marriage challenges, reaching out to a licensed couples therapist might be the way to go. We apply science-based methodologies to every couples retreat, relationship retreat and couples therapy weekend we offer. We also offer weekly sessions for those who can find time to break away during the week.
Take the first step towards saving your relationship and schedule your free initial phone consultation now. We promise to be in touch within one business day.