Strengthening Our Marriage Muscles

“Love isn’t an emotion or sentiment wrapped in pretty words to make us feel good.

It’s active.

It’s intentional.”

Over the weekend, my darling husband and I attended our first marriage enrichment retreat. It was something he’d applied for a few weeks ago after we’d found out about through some online forums. I’d heard nothing but good things about the program from all different kinds of people, and despite not knowing exactly what to expect, I was excited when we got that confirmation email. Something I’d struggled with when we first mulled over the idea was that the retreat wasn’t exactly for us; we’ve been in an incredible space within our marriage for a good while now. In fact, I honestly believe this is the best place we could hope to be overall. I’d assumed (as had a handful of others I’d mentioned our impending attendance to) that this type of getaway more so catered to couples seeking counsel in times of distress; as a last ditch effort, so to speak. But through my research, I was assured that that didn’t appear to be the case, so we went ahead with it anyway. A weekend away with the love of my life and the opportunity to more intimately focus on our relationship was too good to pass up.

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Friday came and once we got our sweet pups taken care of, we were on our way. The event had us booked at a room in the fabulous Renaissance Hotel in downtown San Diego. I’d never been to the city despite living so relatively close, so that alone was a treat for me. We checked in that afternoon and had some time to kill until around 5 or so that evening. We walked down to the waterfront and found some ice cream to eat to help pass those few hours. When we returned to the hotel, we found our seats in the conference room where the retreat itself would be taking place. Our speaker and host was a Navy chaplain who was insightful, engaging, and respectful. There were about 30ish couples in attendance along with us. We were sent downstairs for dinner after a brief introduction, then reconvened to complete a group activity and lay out the timeline for how the rest of the weekend would go. Once we were finally released for the night, Tim and I went for a leisurely stroll back down to the pier. We had sweet, intimate conversation with our arms wrapped around each other and it was so simple yet so perfect.

Saturday morning, we had an early breakfast and then met again to begin our day. We discussed valuable daily tools and rituals we could perform to maintain and strengthen our bond. We’re normally pretty good about that, but life does get chaotic and will undoubtedly only continue to, so I really took in the breakdown of these tips and tricks to keep our connection going strong even through the small stuff. A couple of the things we went over I did have some knowledge on already, but there was so much my eyes were opened to, as well. Marriage isn’t a one size fits all kind of deal, but there are a lot of qualities and components to it that do apply pretty universally. There were personality tests we completed, too; I always thought Tim and I were very different, but based on our scores, we were actually very similar in all aspects but one. This test and its results opened our eyes, too, to how the other takes in information, responds to under pressure, etc., which also helped us to understand why or how the other does things (And no, believe it or not, it isn’t just to be difficult. Who knew?

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IMG_4294After lunch, we were given most of the afternoon and some of the evening for “couple time”. Being in the heart of downtown San Diego with access to so much, the possibilities were seemingly endless. I’m the planner between us (and we both have a love/hate relationship with that fact), but I really wanted Tim to be the one to pick what we’d be doing with our time. He quickly decided on touring the USS Midway, one of America’s longest serving aircraft carriers. There were countless exhibits with an impressive number of aircraft on board and the view from the flight deck was unlike anything else. He was like a kid in a candy store as we explored all throughout – history, this kind of stuff especially, is right up his alley. I’m not as well versed in things of this nature, but Tim is an awesome and patient teacher, who never made me feel negatively despite my obvious cluelessness. He signaled that he loved me in Morse code in one of the interactive activities, we got into a couple of the restored aircraft ourselves, and even witnessed part of a retirement ceremony during our time there. All-in-all a wonderful time that I enjoyed more than I even anticipated. Upon finishing up there, we returned to the hotel for one of our favorite pastimes: a well-deserved nap.

Our session later that night was based more upon conflict resolution, which I appreciated for the knowledge of how to handle those at home, but since we haven’t faced any serious issues in quite some time, we didn’t have much to discuss or resolve in that moment. I relished the closeness we got to experience anyway – we talk all the time, but there’s something about being face-to-face, knee-to-knee, and holding each others’ hands that makes it more intimate. There were exercises that made us laugh, a handful that made us really sit back and think long and hard, and one that made us cry (Okay, it made me cry). We were told at the start of the retreat that if we “did things right” aka as instructed/intended, we would go home emotionally exhausted, but relieved and ultimately very happy. I wasn’t sure how much that would apply to us, but we put our all into it anyway and it showed when we did get that end result. After wrapping up there, Tim and I checked out the hotel’s rooftop bar and sat and talked some more for a while. In our typical nature, before long, we were hungry and desperate for food (pizza, specifically). Fortunately for us both, we were a short walk away from San Diego’s Little Italy. We did a quick Yelp search for what would fit our needs and we were off! We decided on Landini’s Pizzeria that fit the bill for what we were looking for and it could not have been more perfect; it even satisfied Tim’s freak show desire for pineapple on his pizza and all.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetBefore I knew it, Sunday was upon us. We had a couple sessions following breakfast, and they again provided some more simple yet tried and true tools to strengthen a couple’s oneness that could fit couples from all walks of life; young, old, newlyweds, 20+ anniversaries, parents, etc. What surprised me the most is how minuscule these exercises seemed in the grand scheme of things, but the monumental impact they had anyway. We won a goodie bag filled with valuable reads and other treats during a review game and just like that, our retreat had wrapped up. Not yet done with our time downtown, we rented a couple bikes and went for a ride around the area and took a few pictures before departing and heading for home.

For a couple who went into this without any definitive end goal in mind other than general improvement, I cannot say enough positive things about our experience at this enrichment retreat. It wasn’t a “make or break” effort to repair what has already been exposed to damage or is rapidly dwindling that way for us, nor does it have to be. Instead, we made it a proactive endeavor together to keep our marriage in the positive, loving place it is so that we don’t reach that point at all. It’s kind of startling to me how unfortunately too easy it is to put your relationship on the back burner for the million other things we have to juggle in life. We are currently at a stage in ours where our primary focus is on each other, and that is why I personally feel that things like this are especially pivotal right now. Our relationship and how we invest in it today will be the foundation we build off of going forward into future relocations, new careers, children, etc.

Like anything else in life, you will reap what you sow on the marriage front, too, and I adore the fact that we are both fiercely protecting ours by putting in the necessary work it requires. Love is a choice you make every day. As good as a relationship may be, there will always be ways to better ourselves and become even better together. I’m glad we’ve discovered that fact so early into it, and I genuinely believe we’ll continue to be successful as long as we keep on that pursuit. It isn’t anticipating bad times, it’s building us up to combat them before they even happen. I look forward to making workshops like this as much of a regular part of our life as they possibly can be – in fact, Tim has already signed us up for another this weekend.😉 We’ve come so far over the years, and I can’t wait to see what our life together going forward brings, too.

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