Vacations often serve as a go-to solution for struggling couples, who may hope that some time away from the daily grind might revitalize their marriage. Unfortunately, spending a week in close quarters with someone — especially someone with whom you’re already at odds — often only makes the problem worse. A purpose-driven counseling vacation, however, is a different story. The Marriage Restoration Project in Costa Rica is the brainchild of Shlomo and Rivka Slatkin. It’s designed as a therapeutic marriage retreat centered on identifying the root causes of your marriage or relationship issues, having open dialogues, healing emotional wounds, and hopefully reconnecting with your partner.
What’s the philosophy behind the Marriage Restoration Project?
On a superficial level, the Marriage Restoration Project is a five-day, four-night retreat at the El Mangroove Resort in Costa Rica, with an itinerary encompassing educational workshops, meditation sessions, spa treatments, and movement exercises.
Delving a bit deeper, the marriage retreat is founded upon the principles of Imago Relationship Therapy — a form of therapy focusing on relational counseling.
“We have found over the years that couples need more than just weekly therapy sessions,” says founder Shlomo Slatkin. “Whether a couple is having a stale marriage in need of a jump start or is in crisis and at a crossroads, a serious intervention is necessary to provide real clarity. We have found that a couples retreat is just the right vehicle to accomplish that.”
The marriage retreat’s itinerary consists of five days of wellness-oriented activities designed to transform conflict into progress. There are guided meditations, sessions dedicated to exploring your personal relationship history, intimate dialogues geared toward unearthing relationship pain points, workbook exercises, and blocks of time set aside for rest and relaxation.
“It is a crash course in relationships,” Slatkin says, “and provides tremendous insight to why couples choose each other, why their unique conflict is not only inevitable, but it is tailor made for their personal growth and healing. It also teaches couples valuable tools that they can easily replicate at home.”
He lauds Imago Therapy as a breakthrough tool for couples looking to revitalize their relationships. The therapy style, he says, “views conflict as expected and as an opportunity for connection instead of a reason to call it quits. It helps couples heal from old childhood wounds and unmet needs and it helps couples reconnect by teaching them how to communicate and listen in a way that allows them to feel safe with each other. Couples experience a dramatic shift in a very short period of time.”
The Costa Rica effect
Theoretically, couples could gather anywhere to hash out their differences. They don’t have to board a plane and travel to Costa Rica. Shlomo would argue, however, that the setting is a huge part of what makes the Marriage Restoration Project successful.
“Many couples need a change of scenery,” he says, “especially after this past year with COVID. If you’re looking to reset your relationship and get a fresh start, it’s imperative to get away and really focus. There are so many distractions in the home environment.”
And then, of course, there’s the obvious: Costa Rica is beautiful, and it’s harder to be angry in a beautiful environment. According to Shlomo, Costa Rica “is a tropical destination that facilitates romance. For couples who are looking to rekindle the spark, it is a renewal of the relationship through the retreat and a honeymoon all in one.”
What do couples ultimately take away from the marriage retreat?
Many couples who sign up for the Marriage Restoration Project are looking to improve their communication. Infidelity, parenting, finances, and in-law complaints are other common struggles couples often bring to the retreat, but Shlomo believes that communication is the common thread that binds all the rest together.
“Our retreats teach a proven and structured communication process,” he says, “that allows couples to feel safe to open up and share about the most difficult issues as well as truly feel heard without reactivity. This allows for greater vulnerability and connection.”
While each couple’s individual struggles differ, their stories are more common than one might think. Communication — truly hearing and understanding and learning about the other person — is the underlying key to sending the vast majority of couples home happy.
Indeed, according to Slatkin, “They all have similar stories: couples who fell in love with each other once upon a time, only to grow to become more and more dissatisfied. The bottom line was the pain and disappointment, and the longing to reconnect. When they learned about each other’s childhood stories and began to see the parallel between their marital conflict, they developed compassion for each other. They saw their conflict in a new light. When they felt heard, they regained hope that their relationship could be the way they initially dreamed it to be.”
The Marriage Restoration Project has workshops in January, February, March, and April 2022, and you can book in advance online.