It’s January. Almost the end of January. The excitement of Christmas and New Year’s is past. The reality of keeping those New Year’s resolutions is kicking in, and most likely you’ve been back in your “daily grind” for several weeks now. But with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it seems like a perfect time to refresh your joy in your marriage!
My husband worked as a youth pastor for about 8 years right after we first got married. We had the privilege of serving at a small country church in rural Michigan under two of the most wonderful, godly, and wise people we have ever met, our lead pastor, Jim, and his wife, Kim. One thing they organized faithfully about twice a year was what they called a “Marriage Maintenance Retreat.” Although my husband has now returned to his work as a mechanical engineer, we have been talking for a long time about bringing this idea to the church we now attend. We haven’t made it happen in “real life” yet, but we want to share it with all of you! So, let’s get to it!
What is a “Marriage Maintenance Retreat”?
Basically, it’s a short retreat for you and your spouse, with the specific goal of finding your strengths (and identifying weak areas) in your marriage, and coming up with a plan for how to move forward and continue making your marriage the very best it can be. You definitely want to address your weaknesses, but it’s best to try to also focus on the positive. You don’t want your marriage “maintenance” to turn into your marriage “nitpicking” session in which you both dwell on all the negative stuff about each other!
My marriage is fine – why do I need a retreat?
Everybody’s marriage is fine, at least to begin with! Let’s use a car analogy. When that shiny new car rolls off the lot, it’s fantastic. Not only does it look great on the outside, but the engine purrs like a kitten and it performs exactly as it should. But what would happen if you were to do absolutely no maintenance? Never change the oil, never put on new brakes…It would look fine on the outside for quite a while. In fact, it would probably look just fine on the outside right up until the day it breaks. See what I mean? Our marriages are no different. Without regular maintenance, even the strongest of marriages are at risk of losing their joy and becoming weak.
What does the retreat look like?
When we did these mini-retreats with our church, we went to a nice local hotel with a restaurant and conference rooms. We usually had about 10 couples that would participate. The actual “retreat” only lasted about 5 hours or so. We would arrive at the hotel around 8:30 in the morning and have a light breakfast together in the conference room. We usually did some ice breaker-type activities, and our pastor would share a short interactive teaching on a topic that would be the theme for the day. Then we would all spread out in the hotel as couples and go through our worksheets together. Usually, there were some personal individual questions, and then we would go through our answers together as a couple. The questions addressed the big, important things, like effective communication, love languages, intimacy, and parenting and decision-making strategies. After that, we would all come back together and share a little bit about what we discovered, and make a plan for how we would celebrate our strengths and grow in our areas of weakness. Then, we would all sit down together to a nice buffet-style meal in the hotel restaurant! We were typically all done by 1:30-2:00.
But I don’t have time to organize a big group – how can I adapt this practice for my husband and me?
First off, I would say you definitely could do this with just you and your husband, but if you can find even just 1-2 other couples to do it with you, it will be much more effective. You might be surprised by how having someone else’s input can help you see new solutions or find new ideas for refreshing your marriage! Our setup at the hotel was great, but I also realize that renting a conference room doesn’t make a lot of sense for just a few couples! Here are some other ideas for locations:
-a coffee shop with plenty of cozy seating
-someone’s home (you could even share babysitters at one couple’s home and have your quiet retreat at the other’s!)
-the park (if the weather is nice, of course!) Pavilion rental is usually pretty reasonable, although it might not even be necessary!
-shopping mall food court (maybe not so romantic, but it could work!)
-Ikea (I’m not kidding – you’ve got a restaurant right there, plus all kinds of comfy seating to try out. And if you fall in love with the chair you’re in, you could take one home with you, haha!)
Wherever you choose to go, I would recommend making it a place you enjoy and has a positive “vibe”. You want it to be a place where you and your spouse can make good memories and look back on as a fun, relaxed, and fulfilling experience.
The nitty-gritty: what to discuss?
If you’re planning this for just yourselves and a few couples, chances are you’re not going to have a pastor there with a lesson prepared for you! If one of you is feeling ambitious, that person could prepare something ahead of time, or you could make it a group effort! A great starting point might be a book on Christian marriage – many of them include discussion questions or even have workbooks available to go with them. Here are a few book suggestions:
Or, if you’d rather have this part done for you, we are offering a free download of our mini-retreat guide! You’ll get a scripted group discussion guide, ice breaker ideas, personal reflection questions, couples’ “breakout” discussion questions, and more! This guide is free when you subscribe to Worshipful Living and Full and Generous Life!
Action Steps: Let’s make this happen!
Set a date. If you’re including other couples, maybe choose a couple dates and see what works for everyone.
Invite a few other couples to join you. Make sure they’re people you would enjoy spending a whole day with…
Decide on a time and location. Make your time specific so that everyone knows how long they’ll need child care.
Download and print your Marriage Maintenance guide* and choose a discussion facilitator. This person doesn’t need to “have all the answers”; just be willing to keep the discussion moving.
Go have a good time growing in your marriage together!
I hope you all find your Marriage Maintenance mini-retreat to be as helpful as we have! If you choose to do your own mini-retreat, we would love to hear how it went, as well as answer any questions you might have. Leave a comment here, or you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook!
*Feel free to print as many copies of the discussion questions as you need for your group, but please don’t share the PDF document. It’s intended for subscribers! If someone else wants it for their own group, send them this way…feel free to share this blog post with as many people as you want!
About the author:
My name is Jill, and I blog regularly at Full and Generous Life. I’m married to Dan, my high school sweetheart, and together I think we make a pretty awesome team. We have five adventuresome boys, ages 14, 12, 9, 6, and 2. We homeschool using a combination of Charlotte Mason and classical approaches and are learning together to cultivate a home that is restful, nurturing, productive, and loving. You can connect with me by subscribing to the blog. My favorite place to hang out online lately is Instagram, and you can also find me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.