Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Definitive Guide to Planning a Solid Marriage Retreat Part I

Our church's annual marriage retreat is approaching and I have the privilege of helping to organize it!  It's something I am passionate about since I truly firmly believe that marriage does not come easy nor can it be left to blossom on it's own.  Like a well-manicured garden, spring does not come and the garden instantly looks beautiful. Aside from sunshine and good soil, it needs constant care and attention, weeding, watering, fertilizing, deadheading etc.  Every day.  Every season.  Every year. 

Certainly it needs more than just one weekend away as this retreat is, but as I've found in attending and helping out over the past five years, even one weekend is hard for most people to commit to.
Yet, it's a start, a really good start.

In any case, this organizing has kept me busy and so instead of just letting the blog slip again to the wayside because of it, I thought I'd write about it.  After all, a quick Pinterest search actually came up fairly empty.  Not blank empty, but just empty of realistic, practical information, that wasn't too touchy-feely, geared toward a fairly small group as we have.   As it turns out this post is actually a series of posts dedicated to planning a solid, successful marriage retreat.  I'm sure there are many improvements to be made and it won't work for all groups due to differing numbers and economics, but I've kept the information fairly general so it should apply to most or be easily adapted for others.

First off, I'm no marriage expert, having only been in mine for ten years, and holding neither a psychology nor a counseling degree.  But this isn't about therapy, this is about preparing a successful retreat from start to finish, so to that organizing end, I AM an expert!  (Mother of three, teacher, volunteer, and if you knew who I am married to, you'd value my credentials immediately!  Here's your one piece of marriage advice in this article - opposites attract. Yeah, so I'm the organizer and he's the....the opposite of all things organizational, so that should qualify me for some respect!)

And the first item up for bid, errr...major point to consider is...

Location Location Location
One of the most important aspects of the retreat and pretty much the first thing you need to secure, is a good location so you can plan for travel and give your attendees a cost estimate.  Now, as much as I'd like to find myself with my spouse "working on our marriage", on a white sandy beach in Hawaii, that whole plane-ticket- triple-zero-price-tag-thing, would likely do more damage to our marriage than the retreat could hope to repair, so here are the important points to consider about location, sans white sand, if you live in the 95% of the world without white sand.

A good location for a marriage retreat needs to be:

  • Far enough away that couples can't race home to take the kids to soccer practice.  No, you can't run away from your problems, but a little space can give perspective and a much needed  break.
  • Close enough that the gas money isn't a consideration and couples can race home should the baby swallow a quarter at Grandma's house.
  • Beautiful enough that couples can forget the heaps of laundry, stacks of dishes, and piles of bills littering their house.  Nobody needs the Ritz, after all, the getaway (time alone) should be good enough, but there needs to be a balance between feeling a bit pampered and not paying through the nose for it.  Everyone's idea of pampering is different (heck I went to the dentist the other day and after reclining for 10 minutes in their padded ergonomically correct chairs - uninterrupted - with the fish tank bubbling at my side - with my eyes shut - aside from the drill buzzing in the next chair (I pretended it was a skin buffer) I almost tricked myself into thinking I was at the spa!)  So perhaps my idea of beautiful isn't a great standard, but you get my point - there needs to be some degree of serenity, cleanliness, peace and quiet. 
  • Private!  Self-explanatory.  Couples need their own space to do their thing.  At minimum, they need a private bedroom.  A private bathroom is almost as important and certainly adds to the feeling of pampering if it can be offered as well.  Private areas in and around the property are important too, for discussion, heated or cool!  (Make no mistake, a good disagreement - fight even! - will often crop up!  Worry not!  It isn't a bad thing to have at a marriage least it can almost always be resolved without life interrupting!)  Privacy for the group is also essential to creating a safe, comfortable, distraction-free atmosphere where conversation can flow. Which leads me to...
  • Group friendly.  There needs to be a central meeting place where videos can be watched, books read together, discussion ensued, board games played, munchies eaten, and music played.  These are not definitive actions for a retreat but a large open area, preferably with couches, is necessary for them to occur if desired.
So all that is well and good but does a place like this actually exist?  I think it can just about everywhere if you're creative and willing to make some calls.  A summer camp could do the trick or even a floor of a college dorm residence (although usually the beds are singles which isn't exactly conducive to a great night's sleep...yeah, sleep, that's it, wink wink)  While a hotel is okay, it can be a bit too isolating for a good retreat to happen, plus there are usually other people milling about so distractions are plentiful.  A small, clean, well maintained motel that the group could take over, would be also an option. That being said, the location is what you make of it and if it can offer these five things above, it will certainly work.

As for an example, we've been extremely lucky with our location as most years we've been able to convene at a private guest house in a picturesque little village near the mountains.  The Mountain View Inn and Retreat Center has eight bedrooms in the main house, and for times when there has been more couples attending, it also has a more rustic cabin a few feet away that sleeps another three couples.  This is has been sufficient for our fairly small group but the quantity of couples will dictate your final destination. In case you're a local reader in Southern Alberta and are actually hunting out a place, I've included a few pictures from thier website just to let you know how perfect this location is.
Group area in the middle of the house.  Also has TV and WiFi to watch videos or stream video.

One of the bedrooms.  Even though it has two queen beds, we don't share rooms to save money.  Privacy is essential on this trip!

We usually go in the spring so we're not paying high-season rates so the grass isn't always this green. But, the grounds do allow for some lovely strolls and lots of little private areas to talk or play football or sit around a campfire. 

Food Glorious Food

Not much to say on this topic other than I highly recommend you include catered meals in your total cost.  Food buying, planning, prepping and the subsequent cleaning of it all, can be a monotonous chore that can cause some stress in our daily lives.  Eliminating that stress goes a long way to providing that feeling of being pampered and lets folks focus on the reason they're there.  

At our retreat, which runs from a Friday afternoon/evening until Sunday noon, we offer two breakfasts, and a catered dinner as part of the retreat fee.  The Inn also provides a full kitchen that can be used for everything else.  Some couples bring their own Friday night supper and we've also organized everyone to bring appies to share that evening.  Same goes for Saturday lunch and snacks in between.  Others eat out at at the nearby touristy town for a little bit of added luxury. 

Wine, beer or other spirits are something you may or may not want/need to address but we find it best to encourage couples to consume any "potent potables" within the confines of their own room.

You now know my "where" and and a few extra tips. Stay tuned for the "how" to put this altogether (with PRINTABLES!),  "what" a marriage retreat should cover (itinerary) and lots more suggestions in the next few blog posts!

How to Put it Altogether with Practical Printables!

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