Lessons Learned: The Secrets of a Happy Marriage

You might think that the owners of a business running highly effective Marriage Retreats would be immune from marital challenges and have learned all the lessons there are to be learned. Not so. Our marriage relationship has been and always will be a work in progress. We continue to stumble; we continue to learn.

The learning is not always as elegant as we might wish for. Our climb to higher ground sometimes has resembled the stumbling and bumbling of the Three Stooges, but climb Mountain Peakwe have and how very fine are the vistas and pure air of those peaks we have attained.

During the recent busyness of the Holidays Margo and I found ourselves knocked a bit off track in our relationship, sometimes  feeling like ships passing in the night, somewhat disconnected. Fortunately we know what it feels like to have our “hearts knitted together as one” and so we recognized the drift and the discomfort of emotional distance in the relationship. Old lessons that we sometimes forget and have to relearn surfaced again. But what a relief to be able to identify what was wrong and to trust one another to do and be what was required to come fully back together.

The difference between you and us might only be that we manage to enjoy the journey, even the inevitable trying times, of our most important relationship. With time and effort our commitment has become strong, our hearts secure, and our tool kit effective, so that no problem seems insurmountable, no obstacle unclimbable. Since divorce was long ago removed as an option we smile at our humanness and our weakness and move forward, secure in the knowledge that we will always be there for one another, that weaknesses can be turned into strengths, and that tomorrow is another day with new opportunities.

As part of the New Year we will share here in the coming weeks some of the rules and lessons we have learned, hopefully with a sense of optimism and a twinkle in our eyes. Your relationship, no matter where it currently is, in the perfect spot to begin a new and joyful journey. We hope that what we offer here will be of help to you on that journey.

Mature Relationships Vs. Mexican Crabs

At a recent Marriage Retreat in San Diego we worked with a couple which had allowed competition in the relationship to tear at the foundation of the peace and well-being of the marriage. This was not simply a case of getting mad at one another over a game of Scrabble, but something that had infected all areas of their relationship as they compared who was contributing the most money to the marriage, who did the most around the house, who got the most laughs at the dinner party, or which one of them their kids liked the most. There is nothing healthy about this sort of competition in a marriage because it rarely leads to better performance in the relationship, instead driving wedges between the most important members of the family team.Once on a dock in Mexico we watched the crab fisherman unload their morning catch. Soon the dock was covered with large wooden crates, each filled with dozens of live crabs. I noticed that the crates had no lids and the fishermen were not paying much attention to the crabs, instead busying themselves with cleaning and securing their boats. As I watched some crabs climbing over their brother crabs towards the top of the crate I expected to soon see escaped crabs all over the dock.  But the fishermen knew they had little to worry about. Each time a crab made it nearly to the top of the prison, another crab would reach out a claw, grab the escapee and pull it back into the writhing mass of creatures. It was as if the crabs stuck in the crate were saying to those making a bid for freedom, “No way, Buster! If I’m stuck in here, you’re staying in here with me!” I felt like saying to them, “Silly animals, why don’t you help one another? If you would only work together you could all make it back into the sea.”But instead they continued to climb over one another, knocking each other from their lofty perches back into the morass.Such is the case with many relationships as partners jockey for position, competing with one another, often taking some perverse pleasure in seeing the other stumble, because it somehow puts them “ahead in the game.” Sometimes the spouses will chip away at one another with comparisons, pointing out how far short the other falls when compared to some other person. And so they remain, trapped in their cage, unaware that a short climb above them lies beautiful sunlight and freedom if they would only give one another a loving boost and encouragement.In our next posting we will look at the opposite of this unhealthy competition and comparing and see how a marriage evolving into a mature and sharing relationship grows in peace and a sense of mutual well-being. To see this shift in couples is one of our greatest rewards as we work with them at our Marriage Retreats and Trainings.

Do All Dogs Bite?

At one of our recent LIFE Marriage Retreats we had the privilege of working with a great couple from a southern state. She is a beautiful woman, poised and charismatic, and owns a successful business. She and her husband had returned to the house from a walk on the beach and in sharing some of their experiences from the walk she mentioned that they had passed a man walking a gentle looking dog. It turned out she had switched to walking on the other side of her husband, well away from the dog because, she said, “All dogs bite.”That really caught my attention and we had fun the remainder of the Retreat applying the belief that ‘all dogs bite’ to various matters of trust in relationships. Her premise was that under the right (or wrong) conditions any dog, no matter the size or breed, can “snap” and bite even a friendly hand, so one must always be careful around them. She admitted that this type of fear and mistrust sometimes spilled over into her human relationships.So do all dogs bite? And are we doomed to be disappointed, at one time or another, by all of our relationships? Well, yes, probably so. After all, we are human and all of us make mistakes. We do or say things that we later regret. Most of us have moments of thoughtlessness or selfishness.But if this potentially painful reality keeps us tied to the trunk of our relationship tree, afraid to risk and climb out, we will never know just how sweet the fruit is that grows at the end of the branch. While trust must, indeed, be earned, never let the fear that “all dogs bite” close us off from the warmth and fulfillment that we deserve in our relationships.If we are occasionally bitten, if our limb is shaken by our partner, remember that we are all human and have probably been the biter and shaker sometimes as well. Some people simply aren’t ready to be trustworthy, but in almost all of our relationships we will, with some patience, kindness, and forgiveness, be able to help one another inch out on that branch a bit at a time where the fruit is sweet and the air is pure. And where not all dogs bite!I am pleased to say that by the end of the Marriage Retreat this woman was well on her way to petting dogs and tasting the goodness of her relationship with her husband.

The Marriage Retreat Difference

In a previous posting we discussed how many couples seem unable to make the necessary breakthroughs in their marriage through traditional marriage counseling. We also mentioned that for many of those couples a well managed marriage retreat, particularly a LIFE Marriage Retreat and Training, leads to the renewal of the relationship. So what is the difference?There are many facets to this particular diamond, but we will focus briefly on just a few of the differences offered in a retreat format (please note that every marriage retreat program is different and I am speaking here from my own experience):1. Time, Location and Focus- There is something extraordinary about being in a place of peace and beauty, focusing on one another and your relationship for an extended period of time, especially when that time is backed up by the couple’s commitment to move to higher ground.2. Rebuilding Trust- Perhaps the greatest gift of this time and focus is the Retreat’s ability to help the couple to rebuild the trust that in virtually every case has been eroded in their relationship. The couple not only learns about trust on an intellectual level but does the things that help to reestablish it in the relationship.3. Training and Coaching- Departing from the general Retreat format to get more specific for a moment, there is great power and effectiveness in the curriculum and processes of a LIFE Training Retreat. A variety of teaching and training methods are used, including innovative experiential training, and great activities that map back to the principles and skills being taught. Combined with the one-on-one coaching each couple receives, the relationship objectives of the couple can consistently be met.One thing to remember is that in many cases a couple can achieve brief moments of peace and euphoria by just spending a get-away weekend together. The key to the effectiveness of the best marriage retreats is their ability to not only provide the atmosphere, but to then deliver the training and coaching that leads to long-term results rather than simply short-term euphoria.

Marriage Training Retreat vs Traditional Counseling

I have friends and colleagues whom I admire that are engaged in the field of traditional marriage counseling. I respect their work and recognize that they experience many successes in working with troubled relationships.But as we work with couples in our Marriage Retreat program we note a great many that have worked with a marriage counselor for months or even years, but have never been able to rebuild the trust that leads to healing the relationship, or establish meaningful communication that leads to effective conflict resolution. One of their common complaints is that they spend 45 minutes in a counseling session that is often acrimonious, then leave with a few things to work on; but the moment they step back into their life environment and stresses they quickly revert to old patterns of behavior and thought. When they go to their counseling session the next week they report that it feels like they are simply starting over again.This is not meant as an indictment of traditional marriage counseling. Not all counselors are created equal (just as all marriage retreats are not created equal). And some couples expect big results from counseling even though the couples themselves are not committed to doing the work that would lead to lasting change.But as we assist couples coming out of a disappointing counseling experience we virtually always see them successfully reestablish trust and heal their relationship through the Training Retreat and post-training coaching experience. While it is possible that their counseling experience has contributed to their ultimate success, the Training Retreat format and objectives simply offer some opportunities and potential benefits not provided by most traditional counseling. We will look at some of those in the next posting.

You Can’t Fake Trustworthy

A couple we have recently worked with provides us an example of one way that trust can be damaged in a relationship in an indirect but very powerful way. In this case the husband was generally considerate of his wife and her feelings and did some of the overt things that one would expect from a caring husband, but it was clear that his wife’s trust in him had declined to dangerously low levels over the years.It turned out that this man had settled into a pattern of negative judgment in regards to most people with whom he came in contact, whether colleagues, neighbors, store clerks, or the guy that annoyed him in traffic. He would spout out his frustrations and comment on the “bad, dumb, thoughtless, mean, etc.” people.His wife realized that as she observed this behavior her trust in her husband was suffering. She not only found this type of behavior toward other people to be personally offensive and upsetting, but she also realized that she was beginning to wonder what he REALLY thought about her. How harshly was she being judged in his heart?In the early stages of a relationship we tend to be careful about managing our words and actions, but with time and a growing comfort level whatever rats might inhabit our “cellars” (and we all have some) become visible to our loved ones and, both consciously and unconsciously, the relationship is affected. The good news is that our best qualities also become more apparent and help to strengthen the relationship.We simply cannot fake our way through an intimate relationship. One of the keys to building a strong and trusting marriage is to be continually engaged in building a better us. As our loved ones see our efforts towards them and others, even though we are far from perfect, their trust and even admiration for us will grow, and the relationship will flourish.

Trust in Marriage

As we prepare for another Marriage Retreat (and Training) in San Diego next week, I note that the constant that links every couple we have ever worked with stays true: There has been an erosion of trust in the relationship. Of the pillars that hold up any relationship, particularly a marriage, Trust is the central one, and we can trace most marital maladies to that pillar losing its integrity.We note that with the vast majority of our clients the loss of trust has little or nothing to do with physical infidelity; most have stayed true to that part of their vows. The erosion tends to be more subtle than that, a slow growing cancer made up of small broken promises, the distractions of the world, and a fear that perhaps our partner really can’t help us meet our legitimate Mental emotional physical and spiritual needs.We have a chicken and egg question here. For example, using the 800 pound gorilla of marital communication as an example, do couples quit communicating at a meaningful level because of a breakdown in trust, or did poor communication lead to the erosion of trust? The bottom line is that they are intertwined but our experience working with troubled marriages indicates that it is the subtle decline in trust that first precedes a commensurate decline in communication that flows from the heart and that resolves hindering issues.I feel secure in this analysis because during our Marriage Retreats as we help the couple to rebuild trust in one another (and in themselves) the rebirth of deep and meaningful communication is one of the natural results.So the first question for virtually any couple experiencing difficulty and decline in their relationship is not “How can we communicate better,” or “How can we spend more time together,” but “How can we gradually rebuild trust in the relationship?” The answer to that crucial question will be the difference between long-term success and failure in the relationship.More on developing trust and its beautiful natural byproducts in future postings.

LIFE Training is here

Welcome to LIFE Trainings and Adventure’s blog. We are pleased and excited to be part of the “blogosphere” and hope you find the content here useful and interesting. At LIFE, we are dedicated to serving families, couples and youth through providing the training, support, tools, and resources to help set their direction and make the course corrections that will result in a stronger, happier family, a Family of Excellence. We use a completely unique and highly effective process to achieve this objective, one that will fully involve and thrill every member of your family.We will use this blog to post information, tips, answers to common questions and anything else that we feel will be useful or meaningful to people who are committed to making their familial relationships stronger and more meaningful.We’re glad you’ve found us, and hope you come back often. Please always feel free to ask questions, leave comments, or suggest possible topics that may be of interest to you and our other readers.