For Valentine's Day this year, my husband and I didn't exchange gifts. Instead, we took ourselves to a marriage retreat. It seemed fitting, after eight years of marriage, to get away and invest some time into our relationship. This wasn't our first retreat, but it was our first one since surviving a move, job changes, and two extra children. Needless to say, it was much needed. The first time my partner and I attended a marriage retreat, we treated it more as a weekend getaway, a chance to leave the distractions of home and work behind and connect with each other. This time, however, we went for encouragement. Marriage is tough. It's worth it, but there's an immense amount of sacrifice that goes into a marriage partnership. And sacrifice day in and day out can really wear on everyone involved.
The event was hosted by our church at a hotel two hours away from home. I first read about it in the church bulletin; my husband was simultaneously reading his and we briefly made eye contact and nodded in agreement. We hadn't been to a retreat in a few years and it seemed like perfect timing that we'd be able to attend one now. The retreat was far enough from home that we felt like we were actually getting away, but close enough that we didn't have to stress much about the travel aspect. It took me two days to prep for the trip. My husband works long hours and not only hates packing, but usually forgets something important, so I knew he'd find it helpful if I prepped his bag. Then I had myself to pack, the baby who was tagging along with us, and finally, my two older kids who were headed to their grandparents for a sleepover.
I was tired even before we pulled out of the driveway. We left on a Friday afternoon and made it south without any major mishaps. On the way down, my husband even offered to stop at Starbucks for me when I lamented about an oncoming cold. It made me grateful that after eight years married (almost 10 together) we're still making it, still reaching out and doing the little things. That counts for so much.
Over the course of the weekend, we attended four sessions (our favorite being "Married With Kids," because that is so our season right now) led by two couples who have accumulatively been married for almost 50 years. They've been through a lot: job changes, cross-country moves, children, loss, adoption, and health concerns and scares. They've seen peaks and valleys and they've lived to tell about it — together. To catch a glimpse of two people who've overcome all of that, to see that two people can weather rough times without parting ways, was inspiring, to say the least. But the sessions and their stories were only the catalyst for what really mattered: reconnecting, recommitting, and re-inspiring my own marriage.
I was reminded of all the reasons why I chose him.
We sat at round tables with other couples and talked. We heard stories similar to our own and shared bits of our history. We celebrated in a newlywed couple's bliss and laughed at the funny tips from parents, now grandparents, who had nine children in 10 years. My husband and I asked and answered questions we had for one another — things like, "What do you appreciate about me?" and "What do you wish was different in our marriage?" — during pauses in each session. They were hard questions, but really, really good ones to process.
We put our hearts on the line. We shared vulnerable things. We made ourselves open to change. And it was worth it.
In the busyness of life, especially life with kids, it's easy to let our relationship fall by the wayside. When there are diapers to be changed, appointments to be made, dishes to do, kids to carpool ... our relationship has often had to take the backseat, at least for survival's sake. Attending the retreat forced us to pause on everything else and focus only on each other. Asking and answering questions is just the beginning. From there, we found ourselves telling stories, encouraging one another, and being encouraged by other couples, and most of all, my husband and I remembered why we fell in love in the first place. Getting away and being together outside of our regular day-to-day life reminded us that we are each other's best teammate.
We played laughter-filled games and ate delicious meals. When my cold got worse, my husband bought a $9 glass of orange juice from the hotel restaurant for me to mix my Emergen-C into. He told our table what a great mom I was. I shared with them all the sacrifices he makes to provide for us. He thanked me for letting him sleep. I thanked him for waking at 3:30 a.m. each day of the week. He told me he loved me and appreciated all I do for our family. I told him that without his leadership, I'd feel lost. His words filled my heart (and I hope mine filled his). Through our conversations I was reminded of all the reasons why I chose him.
Like any relationship, a marriage deserves sacrifice and an investment. Going to a retreat, for us, fulfilled both of those things. We gave up weekend. We traveled, spent some money on gas, food, and a hotel. We put our hearts on the line. We shared vulnerable things. We made ourselves open to change. And it was worth it. When we made the decision to spend the rest of our lives together in our early 20s, my husband and I only wanted to dwell on the highs of what we would experience together. Life would be good, easier together. But, alas, life doesn't only deal "good" cards. Frankly, we've been through some really sh*tty things together. Things that could have easily killed our marriage. But we've made it through. Pressing on year after year isn't possible without intentionally choosing to pour into our relationship. For us, that just can't be done in our regular schedule at home. We have to get away and seek counsel.
We didn't move mountains on our marriage retreat. We walked away with tidbits of wisdom and lots of encouragement. We realized that no matter what, we are doing this, and we are doing this together. We were reminded that we can keep up amidst the sleepless nights, long work hours, and countless ups and downs. My husband and I voiced our appreciation for one another and committed to this marriage thing for one more day, one more week, one more year. Because for us, that's what marriage is: the decision that every day, every hour, we are in this for better or for worse.