Nearly five years ago, my husband  asked me if I would listen to a podcast with Jay and Wendy Papasan discussing “The Couple Goal Setting Retreat.” After learning more, we decided we wanted to try out the concept and take the chance to get away together.

We didn’t know then how much busier we would be as our kids grew older and took on more outside interests. We didn’t know things in our country would become more chaotic and divisive. And I didn’t realize how critical it was for us to take time to work on our marriage intentionally.

For our first retreat, I embarked on the journey like it was a vacation. We merged it with our anniversary celebration, and my mom willingly watched the kids so we could make it an overnight trip. At dinner that night, we started to work through the guide. While not everything was relevant, we found the categories helpful and the pre-written questions a good starting point. Questions that seemed innocuous often turned into jumping off points. We spent a lot of money on that dinner, working slowly through every course, savoring the time to just focus on our relationship.

We continued our goal-setting the next morning, a process that I found eye-opening. We took stock of our finances, and talked about our physical, relational, and spiritual fitness as well. We talked about what we needed to improve and set out concrete steps. When we talked about personal goals, I was surprised to learn new things about my husband’s hopes and dreams. I was surprised to find ambitions of my own, that felt too elusive to voice until we were working intentionally. We had the chance to revisit all those qualities in each other that first drew us to become one, before we worked out who would do the laundry and who would change the oil in the car.

As parents we spend much of our time raising our children and dealing with the job of parenting in the moments we have together. As a homeschooling mom, emphasis on the kids can often push my relationship with my husband to a back burner. While I know that he is my priority, the person who will still be around when our kids are grown, the tyranny of the urgent can prevent me from taking the time needed to grow in our relationship. Taking this time away together to actively work on “us” redirects my focus.

We’ve seen significant changes come from our retreat time. Two years ago, I realized I was neglecting female friendships and feeling lonely. I made a goal, took steps, and built new friendships. Last year, my husband realized our kids would be grown and gone soon and made a goal to take each of them on a special trip during the coming year. The times he had with each of them are treasured memories for him and our kids.

This month, we head off on our fourth annual couple goal setting retreat. The first year, my husband took a half-day off from work and we went for one night. Then it became two nights. This year, we are going further than a drive away and going for three nights. Each year we bring along the notes from our previous retreats to review. Now I know to plan a little better, and I hope I’ve become a little better at active listening.

I’m really looking forward to a good expensive dinner, a change of scenery, a break from grading and handling sister fights. I’m excited to see how we have made progress toward goals I didn’t even know we had five years ago. I’ll find it interesting to see what goals we set aside and even discarded as other things became more important. But mostly, I’m looking forward to knowing how better to come alongside my husband and help him, and to rediscover how he wants to do the same for me.


 For more: You can download the free guide the Papasans developed from this list of resources

Mike and Rachelle Reitz, Windsor, Ontario, Canada, February 2020 (Detroit in the background)

Photo credit: First image, iStock. Following image courtesy of author.