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Old 8th January 2013, 11:54 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Couples' retreat and revive

Couples' retreat and revive



by Tee Hun Ching


Steal away with your spouse for one carefree weekend without the kids - sounds like heaven?

That was what my husband and I did last month, as we prepared to mark our eighth wedding anniversary.

But rather than jet off to a nearby island paradise, we drove to a remote spot in Punggol and joined 18 other couples on a two-night retreat, where children were barred and the use of mobile phones and other gadgets gently discouraged.

Lest you get your hopes up, sorry, this is not a news flash about an under-the-radar resort.

Far from being a five-star hideout, the spartan Marriage Encounter House offers few amenities besides basic, clean twin- sharing rooms. No ensuite bathroom, no swimming pool, no room service and no TV.

The Marriage Encounter Weekend, an affiliated programme of the Family Life Society, aims to remove all possible distractions so that husband and wife can focus on each other.

The rationale is: Get to know each other first as husband and wife and the rest, including your roles as dad and mum, will fall into place.

Organised by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, an international Catholic movement, the programme won the Best Marriage Workshop category last year in the annual Readers Choice Awards held by online resource site Ask.com.

Started in 1962, it is now conducted in more than 80 countries and, while grounded in Christian teachings, is open to couples of all faiths.

We were hooked by its promise to help "turn your good marriage into a great one", a booster shot of sorts to turbo- charge a marriage whose peaks have been sanded down over the years by the daily grind.

Together with four pairs of couple friends, we signed up for 40-odd hours of uncertainty and arrived in Punggol on a Friday night brimming with both anticipation and apprehension.

No schedule was given beforehand, only the repeated assurance that we "won't regret it".

As it turns out, the weekend is as good as what you make it to be.

It is not a counselling session, a group therapy exercise or a magic pill that would cure all ills. In fact, we were told more than once not to use the weekend to thrash out any simmering disputes.

Over two days, guided by three presenting couples and a priest, we penned love notes to each other on a series of given topics, exchanged them, then shared our thoughts and feelings on what we'd written in the privacy of our rooms.

So what you reap really depends on how much you are willing to open up to your partner.

The awkwardness was palpable at first. Some of us had not written letters to our spouses since those distant courtship days. But with practice, words - and sometimes, tears - began to flow freely.

It was a reality check. Despite managing to keep up a weekly date night, I couldn't remember a time when conversations with my husband did not touch on work, kids or the minutiae of life.

For many couples long past the initial throes of passion, such functional interaction has come to pass off for meaningful communication.

When the day winds down and the kids are in bed, you might sit together in companionable silence but decompress in your own ways, such as by watching TV or reading the papers.

You might exchange a few words or a joke but you are mostly absorbed with your own little world. This is how the rot starts.

But for most of that weekend, my husband and I had no other crutch or buffer, only each other for company. Being made to put pen to paper gave us the time and space to organise our thoughts and share feelings that we may not have had the chance or courage to say aloud otherwise.

For example, I aired my fears about him being too harsh on our five-year-old son and rued how he often seemed quick to see the worst in him. In turn, he was bothered by how I always seemed to take our son's side.

We gave our side of the story, tried to listen objectively, then came to a compromise.

That weekend, we bared our souls on topics we had not thought to discuss before and learnt the importance of putting each other first.

It seems antithetical to today's child-centred mode of parenting but some family experts advocate placing your spouse above your kids, as they say both children and parents derive comfort and security from a strong marriage.

In The Seven Secrets Of Effective Fathers, author Ken Canfield, founder of The National Center for Fathering in America, advises: "Love your wife first and foremost, so that the children can grow up in the healthy surroundings of a vibrant relationship."

As that weekend drew to a close, we were sent off with reminders not to let it fade into just good memories.

Armed with notes on the dialogue techniques we had been taught and a book on topics for daily discussion, we were to meet again for three more sessions to help keep us on track.

We have not been very diligent about keeping up with the homework - it is so easy to get sucked back into life's routine - but "keeping the flame alive" would be one good New Year's resolution to keep this year.

Source: http://www.divaasia.com/article/19595

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