Sunday, 13 April 2014

Planning a Marriage Retreat part II - Practical Printables!

Now for the "how".

How to put a successful marriage retreat together involves a bit of planning and a bit of prayer in equal parts.

If marriage maintenance is something you place as a priority in your church, let's not forget about praying for the married couples within your congregation.  Pray for their growth and maturity and willingness to learn more about each other and the institution they've committed to.  This is ongoing and can be as informal as printing up a little reminder from time to time in your church communications to something much more organized like having prayer couple partners - people matched up committed to praying for each other, asking each other how things are going, gathering specific prayer requests and being available to help one another plan date nights, act as babysitters for said date nights etc.

In any case, if you've prayerfully determined that a marriage retreat is something you'd like to offer, and you've managed to find a great location, here are some ideas that will help it come together.

One month before the retreat

Hand out a flyer or brochure giving couples all the information they need about the weekend. Be sure to include:

  • Location with driving directions and/or map
  • Check-in times/dates, Check-out times/dates
  • Topic or theme and short biography of the book/video/speaker
  • Contact information of organizing people and/or pastor
  • Itinerary
  • Packing list
  • Cost
Since our retreat is set up to be a proactive, enriching weekend, not necessarily a troubleshooting and repair retreat, I always write a little blurb about the getaway being a non-threatening chance to get away with your spouse that DOES NOT involve being put on the spot, confessing mistakes or group therapy.  I also try to encourage, how shall I say this politely?, the more "mature" couples in our congregation to take part too.  Often, people assume that since they've been married 10+ years, they can't  be taught anything new so attendance may be low for the "mid-lifers".  I believe marriage is a constant evolution and even if they do have it down to a fine art, they then become valuable fountains of wisdom for the younger ones.

Don't forget to post a sign-up sheet in the church somewhere where people can put their names and contact info down so you have a running total of interested attendees.

As promised, here is the link for this year's information brochure.  Feel free to tweak and modify for your own purposes!  Click here for the free EDITABLE & PRINTABLE version of my brochure.

The Weekend of the Retreat

If you opened the brochure you will have noticed a very general timeline of events.

Since it begins on a Friday and people have different work commitments, we try to make this portion very casual.  The one thing that we stick to is the first video segment series set to begin once everyone arrives.  Sometimes this is as early as 7pm, sometimes as late as 9:30pm.  You'll also remember, that Friday night food is each couple's own responsibility.  This makes it easy to keep the check-in time flexible as long as one of the organizers can be there at a set time to get the paperwork with the property owners out of the way.
It is helpful for guests to have a slightly more detailed version of this itinerary once they arrive. Things like catered meals that have set times and approximate times for video watching and informal discussion need to be listed, as well as packing/clean-up/check-out time.  However, be intentional about leaving gaps in the planning and therefore printing of this itinerary.  This may be the only "unscheduled" weekend many of these couples will have in their year and the freedom to wake when they want, eat when they want and sleep when they want goes a long way in feeling pampered.  

No matter how well everyone knows each other it's kind of nice to start the retreat off with a mixer.   People usually aren't comfortable sharing about themselves right off the start so I would highly recommend encouraging some mingling to start and once everyone feels a little safer, conversation will inevitably flow. There are lots of group ice-breaker ideas out there ( The National Healthy Marriage Resource website has dozens here but I've only chosen two below) and I've included a few that I have created and modified to work in the marriage retreat setting.

Toilet Paper Tell
I could see this being modified by first having a very sober leader launch into a serious announcement saying, "The lodge we are staying in has run out of toilet paper.  This roll is all we have left," he could explain, "So take what you think you'll need for tonight and hopefully we can get more by morning!" 

Then, when people have torn off their appropriate squares (which of course has nothing to do with how much they will actually "need") instead of talking about themselves, (one tidbit of info per square) they have to say some positive attributes about their spouse.

Getting Acquainted Card Game (need to click on the pdf link on the right to see full instructions)
Basically, you use a set of playing cards to try to get four of a kind.  When someone has acquired four of a kind, they must share four things about themselves.  I would adapt this, as above, to sharing four great things about their spouse.

Scavenger Hunt (need to click on the pdf link on the right to see full instructions)
Possibly done before guests even take their bags to their rooms as many of the required items may be found in their purses/suitcases/toiletry bags. Work in couples, 2 couples per team.  May also be comical if it is limited to just the men who must do the searching as (not to be too stereotypical but...) sometimes women have a tendency to pack for the men.  A rule could be added that the women on the team are not allowed to talk or search themselves but only nod or shake their heads.

Marriage Quote Match (click here to download the editable word doc from my google docs page)
Positive quotes about marriage are printed on this sheet but divided up into halves.  The quotes are cut apart into strips and all put into a bowl.  Each person then takes one strip, reads it and once everyone has their paper, the group mingles and shares their halves of the quotes attempting to put the halves together to make a full sensible quote.  It's a good idea to keep a master copy of this document to check at the end to see that the quotes are indeed matched up correctly.  There are 16 quotes on this document so enough for 32 people. 

Give Something Away!
Our thoughtful and generous Pastor and his wife, have always ensured that there are a number of marriage-friendly resources on display to give away throughout the weekend.  Titles have ranged from Sheet Music - Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy by Dr. Kevin Leman to Great Parents, Lousy Lovers by Dr. Gary Smalley and Ten Cunningham to your basics like The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  An introduction to these resources - particularly the books on sex - seem to break down some taboos right off the bat, get some nervous giggles out and by giving one away right away, seems to put people at ease.  After all, who doesn't love free stuff?   Everyone can put their name in a hat, or perhaps their set of keys, and the lucky winner whose name or keys is pulled either gets a pre-determined book, or gets first choice. 

Sheet MusicGreat Parent Lousy LoversThe 5 Love Languages

Back to giving away free stuff, a nice little welcome gift left on guests' beds goes a long way to making guests feel special.  For these ideas I turned to The Dating Divas, who have no shortage of creative and economical ideas to keep the marriage fires burning.

Click on the pics to go directly to the printables!
Suite Retreat Kit Printable pack

Do Not Disturb printable
Do Not Disturb door hangers. Scroll down through this link to find printable!

With a pack of "Extra" Chewing Gum, I'd put the following quote on instead: "The difference between an ordinary marriage and an extraordinary marriage is in giving just a little 'extra' every day, as often as possible, for as long as we both shall live." Fawn Weaver
Stay tuned for more details on the "what".  What are the best themes for a weekend?  What are some great topic series? What is a fool-proof way to moderate a group session for maximum results?  What really goes on at a great marriage retreat!?


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