Send Your Sex Life to Summer Camp
Just What Is a Couples' Workshop?
Way back in the 70s, my parents went on a weekend getaway with my aunt and uncle. When they got back, I heard the words "marriage encounter" bandied about. Apparently such weekends were all the rage then. The one my parents attended was church-based -- sort of a refresher course on the premarriage education our church required before matrimony. I was just a kid, but I do remember them being a bit more lovey-dovey with each other when they returned. It seemed like their "encounter" gave their marriage, now going strong for more than 40 years, a real shot in the arm.
If my parents -- or any couple -- were looking for just such a shot in the arm these days, they'd have many more options beyond a church-basement retreat. There are day-long, weekend-long, and even longer programs offered by marriage therapists, "sexperts," counselors, and (beware) some not-so-professional self-proclaimed marriage experts all over the country, some probably right in your own neighborhood. The sessions promise everything from repairing a union ruptured by infidelity, to giving your sex life a jump-start, to learning new strategies designed to help you communicate your needs and get them met.
How do you know if your marriage could benefit from such a boost? Usually, say experts, you'll have an instinct. "Couples who head to a workshop or retreat usually feel they are on 'cruise control' in their marriage," says Bridget Brennan, director of The Cana Institute in St. Louis, Missouri, which runs spiritually-based marriage and premarriage programs for couples, as well as programs for single adults. "They're still on the journey, but they're not enjoying it or sharing it with each other."
Other experts agree -- with a caveat. "Workshops can be really helpful for couples, presenting basic techniques, giving them a reality check when they observe other couples in the workshop, and even enhancing their motivation to change and grow," says Tina Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page Books, 2003). But, she says, there are good and bad workshops, and good and bad counselors. So be sure to thoroughly research any workshop or retreat you're contemplating to find one with philosophies that match yours (see the Web sites listed on the last page of this article).
Most couples' education courses are geared towards generally stable unions or sex lives that are feeling a little stale, or marriages where one or both partners are experiencing lingering resentments. That said, there are workshops geared towards couples in serious trouble. If you're dealing with a crisis that threatens your marriage, like infidelity, only the two of you can decide if a course is something that can help. (Your other option is, of course, private marriage counseling).