Sue and John arrive at Rick Husband International Airport at two different times, two different airlines, from two different departure cities. Steve Trafton picks them up and welcomes them to Amarillo with his friendly West Texas smile and draw.. The couple barely looks at each and only politely smiles at Steve. Steve thinks to himself, “They are right where they need to be.”
They are coming from another state which feels like a world away from the flat plans that Steve escorts them through. They take the scenic route through Claude and head west over a couple dips in the road we call hills. Sue and John are not impressed. They have invested time and money to try to save a marriage that is hanging on a thread. Sue had admitted to an affair months ago, but really had checked out of the marriage a year ago. John, in his typical “take charge” manner, convinced her to try this marriage intensive. Both look out their back seat windows, looking at nothing but sky and different shades of brown questioning to themselves what they were getting themselves into.
Steve takes a left turn on a county dirt road. After a few minutes of stirring up dust, they enter the gates of the Hideaway Experience. A few more feet they see the Palo Duro Canyon and beautiful, welcoming lodge that resembles as oasis in a desert. There waiting for them is Steve’s wife, Rajan. They recognize that melodic voice from several investigative phone calls they had made; trying to make sure that this was the place for them.
They are ushered to their private room that is decorated in an elegant rustic Texas style. After getting a little settled they take the short walk to the main lodge where they are now sitting down with three other couples, all wearing the same nervous and protective smile; all wondering if these four days with these strangers are really going to make a difference in their marriage.
I have done marital therapy for over 25 years…the traditional way… the only way I thought you could do it. Hour after hour, week after week, couples would come in to my office, and share their problems and pathological ways of dealing with issues. In turn, I would listen, intervene, teach skills, and send them on their way and then see them a week or two later with the hopes they would follow through with what had been discussed in session. I still do therapy like this. However, as often as possible, I suggest to couples the option of a “Marriage Intensive”; a type of “Boot Camp” for couples in trouble.
The fall of 2006, I was introduced to this new way of doing marital therapy. It had been done in two other parts of the country with great success. I was chosen along with a few other marriage therapists in the Amarillo area to look at this new model; a model that incorporated a group of four couples, two therapists, for four days. We wondered how a group filled with hurting marriages would work because we already knew how much shame ruled people’s lives. Wouldn’t a group be too threatening?
Well, this leads me to a short list of reasons why the marriage intensives are so special. #1 –Group Experience. Your problems are seen in context with everyone else’s. You are not that different or strange. Addictions, affairs, betrayals, control, pain; problematic ways of communicating; forgiveness and trust issues; hopelessness and despair are all typical human conditions. Couples discover that their condition is more common than they believed. There is immediately some comfort in that.
The group experience also offers a unique opportunity to been known deeply by people you will probably never see again. People have come from all across the country and several foreign countries to the Hideaway. We are not meant to live in a vacuum, although many of us do in our society today. Within moments of couples sharing their stories with others, their shame is lifted. Acceptance and compassion of each other is the norm at the intensive. The couples who attend often admit that no one knows them as deeply as those whom they shared meals, stories, and intimate conversations over these four days.
#2-Safety. The hosts & therapists go to great lengths to make sure safety is present for all involved. All emotions are accepted; judgment is replaced with curiosity; respect and honor fills the room. With safety in place, people go to private rooms in their own heart that before they were unaware existed. Once expressed verbally, they are often amazed at the personal impact this has along with the grace with which the group accepts them.
While I was making a teaching point during one of our group settings, it was obvious that what I had said sent Jane into a bad place. (“Jane” is not her real name and this story represents several people who have had this happen to them during the course of a group setting.) I watched her withdraw from the group interaction. During a break I approached to see what was going on. She began to cope with her pain the same way she had been coping in her marriage that brought her to the Hideaway. Gently and patiently I positioned and presented myself as safe as possible for her. It took about 15 minutes, but she worked through the issue. It was the safety of the environment that helped her see clearly how her coping style was causing so much more pain for her.
#3- Sequestered Environment. One of the frustrating elements of the traditional therapy model is that it is squeezed into a weekly, 50 minute session. A couple comes in, we redevelop rapport, proceed with the business of that session, and then they leave. Whatever pains, insights or new skills that was gone over in the session often takes a back seat to the pressures of work, dealing with kids, paying bills, and all types of media clambering for your attention . At an intensive, the couples are in a remote location with limited access to media. Couples are encouraged to refrain from business calls, checking emails, or generally being distracted from the business at hand… their marriage. For four days the couples opens themselves and their marriages up to do the work needed without the chaos of the world. Many people reconnect spiritually to God. Others find a peace they had forgotten existed.
#4-Service. Steve and Rajan utilize their gifts of hospitality from the moment a couple makes contact with them through phone or email. It continues as they carry guest bags to the rooms; provide four star meals; and a variety of other special touches. Everything they do is to emphasize something that many people forget… you are special. How important is this to a person who is ashamed of what they have done to their marriage or is overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness about the future?
If I had my way, I would have every couple that comes to me for therapy to consider investing in a marriage intensive. What that couple receives during those four days takes me 4-6 months to give in private sessions. And still, they don’t get everything the intensive has to offer in my office. It is a great way to help a marriage move from hopelessness to one full of hope.
If you would like more information about this great experience, I would encourage you to look at www.thehideawayexperience.com. There are others out there, but this is the one with which I work closely. Also, I would be glad to answer any questions you might have. Just call me at my office at (806) 350-5867.