It’s been 10 years since I met my husband and in that time, our relationship and marriage have shifted, changed, and progressed. That’s because, as individuals, we have changed, shifted, and progressed.
Recently, we decided to go on a marriage retreat in Napa Valley called “A Vision for Marriage,” hosted by Brian and Ruthie Kim. The weekend completely transformed the way I think about couples counseling. Did it change my marriage? No. But it did give my husband and me insight into topics we haven’t been discussing. It also presented an interesting question to ask before attending another retreat, “You say this is a Christian retreat. Does that mean it is NOT for secular people?” More on that below.
First, the retreat was only two-and-a-half days and we realized during the weekend that this type of work requires a week if you can swing it. Nonetheless, after flying my mother from Las Vegas to watch our kids, the battle was half over. (One of the biggest challenges in our marriage is that getting childcare in the Bay Area is like finding housing – impossible.) We don’t have family that lives close by, and that in and of itself presents a marital challenge that’s not easy to overcome. So, by the time we got to the hotel, we were already more relaxed, smiling, telling lame jokes, and enjoying one another.
At dinner, we met the 16 other couples we’d share the weekend with. My husband and I are extroverts; we love being around and with other people. During dinner, my husband decided to go around the room and garner high-fives of inspiration from each of the 16 couples. It reminded me of why I love him. He was the same confident man I met 10 years ago.
Did we get a chance to talk about anything of substance that first night? No. We were just having fun, and if there’s anything that my husband and I do well, it’s having fun with other people. But if someone was hoping for a night of legitimate conversation with their extrovert spouse, the large headcount could affect their experience. While we had a great time, I think we would have gotten a lot more out of it if there had been fewer couples.
After a fun first night, we were back in our hotel suite without the kids. Win.
On the second day (and first full day) of the retreat, the schedule included a jam-packed seminar. The day’s agenda was full with questions for our spouse and moments alone to discuss. In this seminar, we realized that somewhere between starting a family and raising two boys, we had forgotten how to re-introduce ourselves to one another. Or, maybe it was realizing that we didn’t know we needed to do just that. The prompts led by Brian Kim (founder of Trellis Family Coaching) were poignant and engaging. They varied with questions about our respective childhoods and questions about our current mental health statuses.
Here’s the thing: for all of my writing about anxiety, in this column, Thriving While Anxious, I never talk to my husband about my experience with my generalized anxiety diagnosis. And, I didn’t realize that we weren’t talking about it until we were instructed to ask simple questions of each other such as, “What’s life like for you right now? And, how are you coping?” I’d go to a million marriage retreats for more profound, eye-opening realizations like this moment on day two.
When I met my husband a decade ago and told him about my experience with anxiety, the conversation focused on preventing and fixing anxiety, something I no longer do. Changing the way I think about anxiety has been a paradigm shift that I’ve experienced on my own — but I hadn’t discussed this shift with my partner. In the marriage retreat, we spoke about acknowledging anxiety and accepting certain character traits as manageable. That’s significant, and the retreat gave us a chance to finally talk about it. Win #2.
It’s not news that raising two small kids doesn’t leave much room for broader conversations about mental health. Sometimes we go on auto-pilot from one day to the next managing the daily challenges that kids present without acknowledging that the other person has had a tough day too. Even when I ask him, do I have the bandwidth to do the hard work of actively listening? Likewise, sitting my husband down when he comes home from San Francisco to tell him about my anxiety experience after a long day seems like a sketch from an upside-down world, not something easily imagined in real life.
So, we’ve managed the kids, the home, the jobs, COVID, and the rest, and it’s been fine. We’re not a couple that fights. We don’t bully one another, and we certainly don’t ever want to hurt the other’s feelings. Toward the end of day two, we both got a huge takeaway. Brian and Ruthie pointed out that when two people avoid confrontation or essential conversations so that the kids don’t see you “fight,” the kids miss out on the crucial experience of watching two grown adults work through difficult situations and come out on the other end better for it.
We jokingly decided to stage a fight just for the kids. The offer is still on the table.
Day three of the retreat happened on a vineyard with a backdrop of God’s country. A place ideally suited for a conversation, well, about God and faith. Specifically, about God, faith, and God and faith in your marriage.
Fun fact, I also had not spoken to my husband about my current state in deconstruction of faith. While that’s a topic for a different post, I admit that revealing this detail was awkward for me at the moment. He asked, well, what are we doing here?
Because of moments like this, I recommend you research the type of marriage retreat you’re considering. Ask for a list of discussion topics before signing up for one of these weekends, and decide with your partner if you’ll be able to benefit from the content. Lots of marriage retreats say that they are faith-based, and none of them exclude secular folks. While my husband understood what I had to say about my current faith experience, it presented an extra level of anxiety for me on day three that wouldn’t have otherwise been there had we talked about why we didn’t attend an Easter service this year. Lesson learned, and that’s another win (#3).
Would I recommend Vision For Marriage? Or any other marriage retreat?
Absolutely! Brian and Ruthie Kim presented a full plate of topics that we’re still working through. However, I would recommend finding a secular retreat if you’re also asking hard questions about your faith. For instance, if your ethnic background is making you feel excluded from the current model of the evangelical white-Christian church, maybe it’s fair to say that this discomfort will also affect your marriage. Marriage and faith are closely connected, and that can really impact conversations about marriage that take place in a religious setting. Marriage can be a complicated, beautiful, and worthwhile relationship to invest in on its own— the aspect of religious exploration might just add too much weight to the conversation.
Last week my family and I attended my sister’s wedding. It was three days worth of family, hugs, and photo opportunities. During the traditional father-daughter dance at dinner, my husband took my sister’s hand with his left, and handed her our late-father’s cowboy hat with the other. I hadn’t seen that hat since 1997, and I had no idea that my husband had been practicing this dance for one month. After eight years of marriage I watched my husband dance with my baby sister and my deep love for him was reaffirmed. Did that happen because of the marriage retreat or all of the work we have been doing? Or was it that my husband is my family, and the family I grew up in loves my husband?
Either way, I got butterflies in my stomach when he walked through the door last night. Whether or not it was because of the retreat, those butterflies mark the biggest marriage “win” by far.
Olga Rosales Salinas is a content writer and freelancer who produces poetry, short stories, and essays. Her debut collection of poetry and prose, La Llorona, benefits The Rosales Sisters’ Scholarship, a scholarship that she co-founded for first-generation or immigrant students on the central coast of California, where Olga and her five sisters grew up. Olga is passionate about all of her creative endeavors, including motherhood, mental health, fitness, writing, and wife life. Learn more about Olga at www.OlgaRS.com.
Olga Rosales Salinas
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