Couples Retreat

A friend of mine once told me that thousands of years ago in Israel, newlywed couples would retreat for a year to get acquainted with one another. They’d be isolated from the people they knew, leaving behind the former ties and making new ones with their spouse, before re-emerging in their society as a couple united in mind and purpose.

I don’t know where she got her information, and whether it was historically true or not, and generally I thought something like that was kinda unnecessary in the day and age (and the type of society) where couples actually do know each other very well before getting hitched. But something about it drew me to the idea because I was in the kind of long-distance relationship that didn’t allow for us to be around each other very much in normal everyday experiences. We talked a lot on Skype, and I was sure that he was the right guy for me, but I knew that sharing a home and a life would be a hard transition for a couple who couldn’t act like a couple most of the time and who essentially turned back into independent people as soon as the computer screens closed or as soon as one of them got back on a plane to go home.

I am also unfortunately very sensitive to other people’s comments and unwitting criticism, and the distance from my friends and family meant I could block out their comments and criticisms (of me, of him, of us) and their “worry” while working out the kinks in our relationship that most people get to work out in their dating stage. We could always move back closer to home (his or mine) later, but it’d be much more difficult to repair the damage to our marriage if I surrounded myself with and absorbed other people’s opinions instead of learning to find my own. Grant it, moving away caused a bit of criticism and “worry” in and of itself, but it was better for me to deal with that from a distance and to gain some resilience so that I could re-engage at some future date with more confidence and better (and loving) boundaries.

If you’re in a similar kind of relationship, don’t move away just to avoid people back home. If you’re going to move, it is better if it is for the sake of developing the missing ties with your new spouse and having the time and space to work on your suddenly short-distance relationship. A few bonus reasons are: getting to know a new city/state/country, exploring different jobs or higher education possibilities, experiencing a different climate, and the kinds of adventures that are possible if you don’t yet have kids.

A few tips:

  • Keep an open dialogue with a couple people back home so you still feel connected to the people who know you.
  • Process the transition repeatedly (with a friend on the phone, with a therapist, or in your own journal) to help give you clarity about all the changes happening at once and help you move forward if you feel “stuck.”
  • Make a few in-person friends where you move so you don’t let life become just about the two of you.
  • Add more to your social calendar (as individuals and as a couple) incrementally and slowly, gradually re-emerging from your “Couples Retreat” as you gain more of an equilibrium and rhythm together.

If you need one, may your “Couples Retreat” be helpful, may it be satisfying, and may it be temporary. May you grow together in love and purpose, ready to face the world with joy and grace.