It’s my firm belief and experience that a marriage retreat can make someone not only a better spouse, but also a better person. I’d like to share my own marriage retreat experience to encourage Christian couples who might be on the fence about investing the time, money and effort to attend one.
First, a bit about me: I’ve been married to my husband a little over 15 years, and most of that time we have served in leadership positions in church. Currently, we’re stationed as missionaries in a country that does not look favorably upon missionaries or Christians, so I’m going to leave out the specifics to protect our work there!
Life can be a stressful, amazing, scary, beautiful and full of both trials and blessings living overseas. On the one hand, my husband and I feel that being foreigners together the last few years has helped us gain a camaraderie that we didn’t fully develop when we were comfortably ministering stateside. On the other hand, as our schedules fill up with various encounters to spread the gospel, meetings with new believers and, for me, homeschooling our three children, our marriage can feel the strain of busyness and a lack of connecting deeply.
It wasn’t like our marriage had come to a crisis point. In fact, most people would think we got along really well. But because our daily life was so busy, it seemed like we had fewer and fewer moments to be fully present with each other. What this looked like in daily life was me being easily annoyed by some of his habits, and him being harsh with me for my pessimism. We were still able to function like a normal Christian couple in the presence of others, but I didn’t like who we were becoming in our private interactions. We had some fellowship with a trusted mentor back home who recommended attending a yearly marriage retreat to give us the support we needed to keep our relationship healthy.
After some prayer and research, my husband and I made it a priority to attend at least one marriage retreat each year. Committing to a plan is half the battle! This past summer while we visited the U.S., we attended a small marriage retreat put on by our sending organization.
From the moment we arrived, I could sense God’s presence. He was there in the practical details– the coordinators of the retreat had fun outdoor activities for our children, so my husband and I could really focus on our marriage without the distraction of taking care of our little ones.
The first evening, our group of about 20 missionaries spent time around a campfire singing, praying and worshiping together. It was a little bit like a throw-back to church camps of my youth, except everyone was fully invested in the time. After the worship, we were directed to find a solitary spot where we could tell God what we hoped to gain from the marriage retreat and listen for His answer. I was reminded in this simple activity how much I missed having quiet time in prayer. I’m ashamed to admit it, but even though I was devoting 24/7 to the godly calling of being a missionary, I had struggled to make time for meditation and prayer since we’d moved abroad. Since this reminder, I’ve been carving in more time to ask and listen to God.
The second day, the real work began. The intense schedule included time for working through a relationship inventory together and a lunch with one of the retreat trainers– a sweet lady with 30 years as a marriage and family therapist under her belt. The coordinators of this retreat worked really hard to create spaces for every couple to get a one-on-one chat with a Christian counselor or therapist. Both my husband and I felt that our conversation with her was affirming and goal-oriented. Instead of just leading us to criticize one another, she helped us identify our strengths and how we could support one another.
Perhaps the best lesson I learned at the retreat, and one that surprised me, was how good it can be to be honest and vulnerable with other Christian couples. We had several break-out sessions over the weekend. During these times, we were paired with two other couples. We were encouraged to bring to light our fears, failures and weaknesses. We were also given ground rules on how to respond in love, without judgement and without jumping to offering some kind of solution. My husband said this rule was particularly challenging for him, since he’s a bit of a “fixer.”
For me, this time was kind of an epiphany. I realized that my husband and I had been holding back on sharing our problems with the other missionary couples in our village. I think many Christians, and especially those in leadership, feel that they have to hide their weaknesses in order to be effective ministers, to not stumble others or burden people. But in truth, all of us have weaknesses and sin. If we do not, as the Bible instructs us, “confess one to another,” there is no way for the light to shine in and for God to heal us. From this open, honest small group time at the marriage retreat, I learned the value of being vulnerable with trusted friends where I live.
Bringing back these key lessons from the retreat has revolutionized not only my marriage but my Christian walk. My husband and I have learned to be less quick to judge each other, those whom we serve, and the other missionaries. We’ve both prioritized making space for quiet time in prayer. And most importantly, we’ve dared to let down our guard and share our real burdens. We’ve learned to humble ourselves and be ministered to by our fellow missionaries.
Special thanks to Refreshing Mountain for sponsoring this article.