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DIY Marriage Retreat

Just before Christmas I went to confession with a priest I’d seen a few times in the past.  I went through my standard litany of sins.  Basically, I’ve continued to screw up in the same ways over and over again since I was about 19.  This particular priest is very free in his counsel and rough with his penance (fast every day for a week?).  That day he “strongly advised” that my husband and I go on a retreat together.  I protested.  Between our special needs seven-year-old and our nursing-on-demand co-sleeping 14-month old, we’re not exactly at the stage of life where we go away for marriage retreats.  He pushed back, “Do something.  Get away for a weekend?  I won’t make it your official penance but you need to try to do something.”

I relayed the advice to my husband on the drive home from Mass.  He immediately wondered what I’d said to  make him think our marriage was in trouble.  Really, I hadn’t said much of anything but this priest has apparently heard enough confessions that he can sense when investing time in the family’s primary relationship is in order.  My husband scoffed at the idea initially, just as I had.  But by the end of our ten-minute drive home we had come up with a plan:  The One Day DIY Marriage Retreat.

The very next time we saw a pleasant forecast for a Saturday we booked an all day babysitter for our three older children.  Believe it or not, we’d never both left them for that amount of time before.  But they were thrilled at the prospect of an entire day with a fun babysitter.  We packed up our easygoing baby who was a week shy of his first birthday and hit the road.

We’d prepared carefully for our day together.  We both immediately agreed that we wanted to spend the day in Manhattan.  We love New York and seldom get to enjoy it unencumbered with small children and a wheelchair.  I left the details of our day up to my husband who had fun designing our itinerary.  We wanted the day to include Mass, good food, fun, and honest, productive conversations.

Several years ago I read, and enjoyed, Holly Pierlot’s A Mother’s Rule of Life.  I never very successfully incorporated her scheduling ideas into my life but her hierarchy of priorities, the Five P’s, has stuck with me over the years and has always been a useful tool when I need to step back and take stock of my life.  Briefly, the Five P’s are Person, Prayer, Partner, Parent, Provider.  The idea is that if you give those areas of your life priority in that order, things will fall into place.  I have found this to be true for me over and over again on both the “macro” and “micro” levels.  We decided to organize our retreat around the Five P’s and we spent a few days beforehand writing each other one-page letters on each of the Five P’s.  Eric had scheduled five 75-minute conversation slots for each area and the idea was to read the letters silently and let them guide our conversation.

We opted to drive into New York to save a little time and give us flexibility as to where, exactly, we went.  We left at 8:00 in the morning and the day proceeded, roughly, in this order:


Breakfast at a diner (Person conversation)

Go for a walk

Coffee (Prayer conversation)

Go for a walk


Lunch (Partner conversation)

Go for a walk

Coffee (Parent conversation)

Walk back to car

Drive home (Provider conversation)

Dinner in our neighborhood

We spent almost the entire day in Greenwich Village and we could have eaten dinner there and used that for our final conversation.  But we knew we could eat just as well but for far less money in our own neighborhood.  And we wanted to keep dinner free of any scheduled conversation.

How did it go?  It was an amazing day.  We both spent a lot of time mentally preparing for a difficult day.  We both wrote very honest letters about the various areas of our life together.  Some of  the things we brought up were new, some were old, worn-out disagreements.  Some things were huge and some things were small, but significant.  We knew that it would take a lot of energy to be productive.  But each time of conversation worked well.  We silently read each other’s letters and, more often than not, found that we shared the same concern or that one of us had completely misconstrued a problem.  But the letters allowed each of us to “say our piece” without getting interrupted and it was a good use of our limited time.  Between reading that and ordering food we typically had about an hour left to talk about the things we’d written.  We found that to be a pretty good amount of time.  Of course, we could have spent hours and hours discussing some of the things that came up but our goal was to “get the conversation started.”  We wanted to get any festering grievances out into the open and touch on things that we could then return to later.  We found ourselves naturally returning to various points on our “fun” walks throughout the day.  And, of course, things in some conversations were closely connected to things in other conversations.

I’m very glad we included Mass in our day.  Because of our baby we sat in the entrance but it was still one of the most quiet and recollected masses we’d been to together in a long time.  We’d been stuck in a rut for awhile by that point of not getting to daily Mass as a family much at all and going together on our retreat day was a good reminder that Mass is something we do.  Even if there are seasons when it is more of a challenge, we wouldn’t dream of planning a day like this together without Mass.

Our “fun” times in between turned out to be very typical for us.  We wandered around window shopping and chatting.  We ended up running four or five small errands but checking things off our “to-do” list together was actually a pretty nice way to spend time together.  And it gave us a few spots of needed downtime in the day when we engaged in parallel play more than intense focus on one another.

Having our baby with us was no trouble at all.  He was a tiny bit fussy by dinner time but not so much as to make the meal less enjoyable.  Having one child along, instead of four, felt like an enormous break.  And the other kids didn’t miss us one bit.  They had a fantastic time with their babysitter.

If we had it to do again (and I hope we will!) we wouldn’t change much.  We were a bit tired of talking endlessly by the end of the day but we persevered through the last conversation.  We didn’t try very hard to be frugal.  The cost for the entire day, including babysitting, was less than we would have paid for a marriage retreat so we felt the expense was worth it.  We didn’t fight–or even come close–at all, though we were both very honest in our letters and each of us brought up hard things.  We hadn’t had the sense that our marriage was in any way in trouble or suffering but our day together did bring forward many small ways that things were a bit frayed on the edges.  The most important take away from the day was the importance of making time to invest in our marriage relationship on a regular basis.  That said, we haven’t even planned an evening date since then, though we promised ourselves we would.  Perhaps my deciding to write this post today was my sub conscious reminding me to get on that already.


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