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5 Lessons Gleaned from 28 Years of Relationship Retreats

husband and wife at wedding
Meet Amanda and Richard!

So, picture this: once a year, my Hubby and I embark on a weekend getaway. And what do we do? We dissect our relationship from top to bottom. Sounds like the premise of a horror movie, doesn’t it? Trust me, there were some years I was more terrified than enlightened. But amidst the terror, there were moments of sheer awesomeness. These DIY retreats have yielded some interesting results, and certainly some lessons over the year. And guess what? I’m about to spill the beans!

Sometimes You Need a Safe Word (And I’m not just talking about the bedroom)

At our retreats, no stone is left unturned – finances, goals, even the juicy bits. With such candor, you bet we’ve had our fair share of tough talks. Tough talks. Tears? Check. Raised voices? Double check. But eventually we mastered the art of peaceful resolutions. How? Well, think of it as setting boundaries – our version of a theoretical safe word. We had time limits (because who wants to discuss money for hours on end?), and an unspoken agreement not to hit below the belt. And if things got too heated, there was always the actual safe word (no, you can’t know it, nosy reader!). It was our cue to hit pause and cool off.

Man and woman dressed to go out

Never Say ‘No’ to a Dance (Or an Offer)

Our retreats are like our own little Festivus, complete with an airing of the grievances. And let me tell you, some of those grievances sneak up on you like ninjas. Case in point: Have you ever said to your partner, “did you hear about what happened with Taylor Swift (or insert the subject of interest here),” and they responded with something akin to, “nope.” And they just left it there. They didn’t lean in to find out more. They rejected your offer, and I bet that hurt. You felt like they didn’t care. Because it wasn’t really about Taylor Swift (or whatever your kink is), it was about you wanting to share something that interests you, and they didn’t accept the offer. Just like being turned down if you ask someone to dance, it feels crappy when you offer something in conversation and it isn’t accepted. So the next time your partner asks if you want to hear about something that you don’t really care about, remember that it sucks to be turned down, and go ahead and dance.

Always Have a Joke Up Your Sleeve (Laughter > Drama)

Believe it or not, we’ve had fewer blowout fights than you can count on one hand. Not shitting you. Crazy, right? True confession time: we are both conflict avoiders. BUT, that isn’t what is 100% responsible for our low fight: years of marriage ratio. It’s all about the humor. We’ve mastered the art of cracking each other up. Usually, it’s some dumb comment or a cringe-worthy pun (definitely not my doing – blame the Hubby). When things get too intense, a well-timed joke can work wonders. Sure, the issue might not get resolved right away, but at least we’re not googling divorce lawyers!

man and woman on pier
Keep laughing together!

You’re Not Your Partner’s Keeper (You’re Just Along for the Ride)

Now, this lesson wasn’t exactly plucked from a retreat, but rather from years of marital bliss. I’ll admit it: I’ve got high standards and a fragile ego to match. In my younger days, I’d lose sleep over what others thought of us. If Hubby cracked a bad joke or wore something questionable, I’d freak out, and probably be pissed for days on end. It took years, and some conversations with very good friends, for me to realize that my husband is his own person. I didn’t mold him, I only chose him. And, in fact, no person is perfect. My friends were able to do what I could not – to separate me from him and treat us as individuals. When I embraced this knowledge I was able to let my concern about his behaviors go. So what if he wants to wear mismatched socks? It’s his prerogative!

Woman and man at winery
Along for the Ride!

Get Kinky (Because Why Not?)

Yep, we even discuss our sex life at these retreats. Awkward? You betcha (the conversation, not the sex). But after a while, we realized we were chasing some elusive standard society set for us. How many times a week? How hot and steamy? It was exhausting – emotionally and exhausting (kudos to you women who can do it with gusto every day!). So we said screw it and focused on our sex life. We tried what we wanted, ditched what didn’t work, shared our fantasies, and did what WE wanted. And you know what? It’s been a game-changer.

So there you have it, folks! Five lessons from our relationship rollercoaster. Maybe you’ll snag a nugget of wisdom for your own journey and save yourself a trip to the therapist (though typically the furniture’s comfy and it’s 50 minutes of someone just listening to you for once, so maybe do that too.)

Author: Amanda Adams-Barney is a speaker, stand-up comedian, and author of The 48 Hour Relationship Retreat: Your Step-By-Step Guide to Finding Your Dreams and Planning for Success Together in One Fabulous Weekend. She lives in Germantown, Maryland with her co-author and husband of 27 years, Richard.


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