February 28, 2017

Things are about to get real on my blog today.

I’ve talked a little bit about how ever since moving back to Hawaii, life has been great, but it has hard parts. The hard part comes from Nick having a job that requires him to work long hours. Overall I know he enjoys his job and finds a lot of satisfaction from it, so it’s worth it.

At this point, we’ve both adjusted to our own routines, but I still want to keep our relationship alive, especially because I know we haven’t even reached the hardest parts of this tour yet. I don’t want the next 2.5 years to go by and suddenly we are strangers.

When Nick and I first got married, I didn’t understand what people meant when they said marriage is work. Shouldn’t marriage be easy?

Now I understand that some parts of marriage come easy, but other parts are work. That doesn’t mean that you have a bad marriage. Working on your marriage, I think, shows commitment to each other and wanting to do the best you can for each other. I think that working on your marriage, whether it’s through date nights or watching movies together or something like I’m about to talk about, is awesome.

And I’ve never known anything other than my marriage to a military man, so I can’t compare it to any other kind of marriage, but there are definitely unique challenges that military marriages face. The stress of moving, starting new jobs, having one spouse constantly reinvent themselves, being away from family, and being separated from each other are all things that keep our marriage constantly changing and always a little bit stressful. Honestly, I love it this way, but I just try to stay aware of how these things can impact our marriage.

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The Chaplains Religious Enrichment Development Operation (CREDO) is a Chief of Navy Chaplains sponsored relationship enrichment program established in 1971 to help improve job performance and enhance quality of life for active-duty service members and their families.The chaplains in that department run a number of programs for self-development. One of them is a weekend-long marriage retreat for service members and their spouses.

I’ve been following CREDO Hawaii on Facebook for years now, but Nick and I never had the chance to go on a retreat. Back in November, I saw that a retreat was coming up, and I asked Nick to go. He said he had planned to work all weekend to catch up on stuff, so we couldn’t go. I knew that this was the exact reason why we needed to go on a marriage retreat, but he had stuff to do that he could not put off.  One thing I’ve learned to be okay with over the years is that although I know I come first in Nick’s heart, there are lots of people counting on him, even on weekends.

But when another retreat came up in January, we both knew that it was time to drop everything and just do it. We weren’t having any problems, but we felt like now was the time to refresh ourselves and work on strengthening our marriage. Plus, I was just generally curious about what they would talk about.

And did I mention that the entire weekend was free, paid for by CREDO? I figured if nothing else, at least we would get an entire weekend together in Waikiki, away from life.

To be honest, I was a little worried that going into this retreat would uncover some conflict I wasn’t aware of or would be really hard. But none of that happened. The chaplain focused mainly on ways to build each other up, and we both loved it.

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Fondness & Admiration
On Friday, we arrived at the hotel, checked in, and headed to our first session. We each received a copy of a book called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert by John M Gottman, PhD.

The chaplain used Dr. Gottman's methods to guide the weekend. He has studied married couples for decades and uses scientific-backed information to create his strategies and resources. The chaplain explained that she uses Gottman’s ideas precisely because of all of the science and research and observation of married couples that has gone into his work. I want to go back and read this book from cover to cover. Each section has quizzes, discussion topics, and exercises to do together and that’s what we mainly did over the weekend as the chaplain explained the ideas.

The chaplain gently started us off by talking mainly about how important it is to appreciate each other — and to let your spouse know that you appreciate them. She ended the evening by encouraging us to go on a walk on the beach in Waikiki and talk about what we appreciate about each other. She wanted us to be able to list at least 5 things we appreciate about each other.

We were so tired and almost didn’t go, but we were committed to doing exactly what they told us to do all weekend. It sounds kind of corny, but it was a great jumping off point for us for the weekend. We had one of the best conversations we’ve ever had about our marriage during that walk on the beach, something I’ll never forget.

I know that Nick appreciates me, and obviously I know I appreciate him, but it felt really nice to hear him tell me that. During the business of day-to-day life you don’t always get to tell your partner that you appreciate how hard they work or the fact that they did all of the laundry and now you have clean underwear. But maybe you should!

Saturday was the heaviest day. I liked how the retreat was structured. It wasn’t just sitting in a classroom all day. There were workshops, short lectures, and plenty of free time for Nick and I to do different activities together while sitting on the beach. We had to take short quizzes and and at one point the chaplain sent us off to write love letters to each other. Even though there were about 25 couples there, we didn’t interact with them much, the chaplain encouraged us to solely focus on our spouses.

So I wanted to share just a few of the things that stuck out to me. All of these ideas are in the book — and more.

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Being Nice
Nick always says the secret to a good marriage is just plain being nice to each other. Now I know why. The chaplain said it takes at least 5 positive interactions to make up for a negative one. So the less you can snap at each other, the less you can get annoyed with each other, and the more you can be nice, listen, and do random acts of kindness for each other, the easier it will be for you to build up your love and trust.

Enhance Your Love Map
One of my favorite things we did was talk about love maps, which basically means that you keep some space in your brain for knowing stuff about your spouse. Their childhood dog’s name. Their favorite ice cream. What they will want to order at the takeout place. How they take their coffee. Their fears. Things that stress them out. Things that make them feel better. How they like to unwind after a long day. Stuff like that. Since we have been together for about 10 years now Nick and I know a lot about each other and we totally aced the quiz in the book, and I love that we know all of  these little things about each other. So I liked that the book reinforces the importance of something simple – paying attention to your spouse and knowing stuff about them.

The theory is that if you know each other very well, you are able to weather harder times together because you are already in tune with each other’s feelings and the way you think. You build up trust when you show your spouse you have space in your brain to remember the little things about them.

Turning Towards
The book uses this term, which basically means making time to be together and looking for opportunities to connect. If you are sucked into reading the internet, you might not realize that your spouse really needs to talk. If you can tell that your spouse is upset about something but you decide not to ask them how they are feeling, you are not “turning towards” each other. The idea is that we probably have more chances to turn towards each other than we think.

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No Tally System
I really appreciated that the retreat was geared towards military marriages and the unique struggles that we face, but everything we learned can be applied to any relationship. They discouraged us from keeping a tally system. Marriage isn’t 50/50, and especially when you are in a military marriage, sometimes one person just can’t give much. Sometimes you are physically separated. Sometimes I lean on Nick, sometimes he leans on me.

Date night!
On Saturday night, the chaplain encouraged us to go on a date. This was the only portion of the retreat that was not paid for. You could go anywhere you wanted, but you needed to sit down for a meal together. We decided to to go to a sushi restaurant in Waikiki and it was just what we needed. We ended up talking a lot about the retreat and our own takes on stuff they talked about.

It was a good reminder that sometimes you need to ignore everything else going on and just make time for each other.

Resolving Conflict
Sunday morning focused on resolving conflict before we went home. We were asked to come up with an issue that we hadn’t been able to resolve and try to work it out using a very specific method. Nothing that would cause us to leave the room in tears, but something that we could try to work on.

We learned that 69% of all marital conflict will never be resolved. So, I learned, it’s all about how we handle those conflicts. I’ll never get Nick to stop procrastinating. Nick will never get me to stop worrying about little things. One of us will always be neater than the other. We have to find compromise and acceptance instead of trying to change each other.

Life after the retreat
On some level, we all know a lot of this information already. Being nice to each other, spending time together, and accepting each other for who we are are all pretty basic ideas. But seeing it all laid out and using the book to work through things was interesting.

This post is getting too long, so I will have to end it here. These are just a few of the things that we talked about over the weekend and that are covered in Dr. Gottman’s book. So if this topic interests you, I highly recommend the book.

I want to write more about some of the things that we took away form the marriage retreat into their own posts. Of course, we came home from the retreat feeling super close and connected, but we have to work on implementing what we learned in order to really get anything from it. So, I hope to post updates and see how we are doing with the things we learned.

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A Note about CREDO
One thing to note is that although the retreat is run by chaplains, it is not based on religion, and religion isn’t forced on you or talked about much during the retreat so that it can be inclusive to everyone.

If you are a military spouse, I encourage you to look up CREDO in your area and see if they are offering any marriage retreats. In Hawaii, CREDO also offers day-long workshops for people who can’t make a weekend retreat. These workshops are also open to couples who aren’t married. They also offer family workshops, personal residency training for service members, and a ton more.

Would you go on a marriage retreat?
How do you work on your relationships?

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14 responses to “We went on a marriage retreat. Here’s what we learned.”

  1. Natalie says:

    A marriage retreat is a wonderful idea! I know that my husband and I have had our ups and downs over the nearly 14 years that we’ve known one another (and almost 7 years of marriage), and we’ve found that we definitely always have to work at it. I would love a kid- and technology-free weekend to reconnect and delve deeply into our relationship!

    • Carolann says:

      14 years! Wow. One of the things that they chaplain had us do was keep our phones away for the whole weekend. I have to say, it made a huge difference! I really liked the time away from everything else just to focus on each other!

  2. Jen says:

    I am so so glad that you took advantage of this marriage retreat. They are extremely beneficial and you can learn so much about each other and your marriage. Kyle and I have attended them in the past and it was a great time to truly focus and take stock of our marriage. We still use today what we learned during ours.

    • Carolann says:

      I don’t know anyone else who has done a marriage retreat so it’s awesome to hear you still use what you’ve learned. Now that we are trying to do that, there are honestly some times where we are both tired, but putting in that few minutes of effort really has made a difference.

  3. Sarah says:

    This sounds like such a rejuvenating and unusal weekend and I’m so glad you shared it on your blog, Carolann! I love reading deep and personal posts like this. I really like the idea of a love map – I was quizzing myself as I read through it haha. CREDO sounds like a great organization. I recently went to a presentation by a chaplain and realized that their work really isn’t religious at all – it encompasses spirituality in the most broad sense of the word – connecting people. So I’m not surprised that the chaplains leading your retreat were so helpful!

    • Carolann says:

      It was unusual. One of the first thing that the chaplain said to us was, “thank you for being here. You live in Hawaii so there are literally hundreds of other things you could be doing right now.”

      I think you’re right about the chaplains. I felt a spiritual connection from them even though we didn’t talk about religion. Their values came through and I could tell they were really passionate about their work. I want to go to their other workshops now. I’m really that that the military has these programs. The chaplain told us that CREDO is always the program that they go to cut when they need to save money, but it also has the highest ratings out of any other military programs. I hope it sticks around because I can see how valuable it is for people in the military and their family.

  4. Audrey says:

    Huh. I think a marriage retreat sounds really interesting, although I’m not sure I could ever get K to go on one. I’m glad this one worked out for you both! I think it’d be really helpful to have someone guide you through these ideas and practices, even if they are something you think you have a handle on. I’m glad this was a positive experience for you guys!!

    • Carolann says:

      What’s crazy is that Nick is the one who told me about the retreats. He got someone to cover for him for the whole weekend and really made it about us. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe he just wanted off from work?!!

      People definitely had mixed reactions when they heard we were going, like is everything okay?! And while it’s probably not for everyone, we really enjoyed it!

  5. I love that y’all did this! Military spouses really do have unique things that happen in their lives which can make things more strenuous than other marriages. I think that I would be worried about uncovering something that’s wrong if we went on a marriage retreat too, but it sounds like it really did just help y’all to see what you could focus on to help your marriage on a daily basis.

  6. This is an excellent idea. I think with all the life changes going on, my husband and I could do with a retreat like this. Maybe I could buy the book and do a self guided one?

  7. What a great resource. My sister-in-law and her boyfriend are both in the Navy (in different locations) and I’m hoping that they will be able to find something similar for unmarried couples as they consider getting engaged.

    • Carolann says:

      Tell them about CREDO! There is probably something where they are stationed that they can take advantage of. I know in Hawaii they have workshops for couples that aren’t married. I hope they can benefit from this awesome resource.

  8. Rachel G says:

    I think it would be really fun to go to a marriage retreat…haven’t come across any in Malaysia or China, though! I feel like they are a little easier to come by in the USA.

    • Carolann says:

      I think that you and Angel would really enjoy a marriage retreat. If the opportunity ever presents itself, I encourage you to take it!

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