27Jun 2017

Life Lessons from the Dog Beach

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Hugo is 18 months old and weighs about 30 pounds. He’s our French Bulldog (the breed is also referred to as “Frenchies”). Hugo, like many Frenchies, is a big personality in a small package. He loves people and other dogs, and he’s exceptionally playful and affectionate. Hugo brings us endless, unconditional joy and love – and he’s taught me some important life lessons. Spending time with Hugo is one of my favorite coping skills – he’s a black and white, four-legged, tongue-wagging stress management gift.

About a year ago, we started taking Hugo to the dog beach every Sunday afternoon. We live about 2 miles from the beach in South Florida. I was resistant to the idea at first. Sunday afternoons used to be the time I reserved for completing any weekend chores, and maybe carving out an hour or so to relax. I thought that going to the dog beach would be one more task in my long list of responsibilities and demands. The dog beach required permits and fees, schlepping beach chairs, and cleaning up beach sand after we returned home. But Hugo (and my wife) insisted that we give it a try.

I didn’t like the experience – I totally loved it. When we let Hugo off his leash – about 50 beach yards from the ocean – he took off like a bat out of hell. I’ve never seen a dog run so fast, kicking up clouds of beach sand behind him. Watching his little butt wiggle side-to-side as he scooted toward the water brought a huge smile to my face. I laughed until I cried. Hugo became one of my greatest teachers. He taught me how to appreciate life in an entirely new way.

Hugo’s Life Lessons

  1. Change your environment – Like many South Florida residents, we rarely go the beach. We live here, work here, and complain about all of the tourists who clog the roads and restaurants during vacation season. After years of summer beach vacations when we lived up north, the thrill was gone. Now we go to the beach every Sunday, and it’s like I never knew what I was missing. Now I see this environment through Hugo’s eyes – it’s a wonderful playground filled with interesting characters. Changing my environment every week is refreshing and invigorating – it changes my point of view and my emotional state.
  2. Be in the moment – For many years now I’ve practiced and taught mindfulness and various meditative practices. One of the most important functions and benefits of mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. Being in the moment allows us to focus and concentrate more clearly, and to appreciate the value of every experience. Hugo is a living example of this Zen-like principle. He is fully engaged in the moment, without a care in the world. Every Sunday he invites me to join him in each precious moment.
  3. Take a break – Are you in a rut? Are you bored with the “same old” thing? Are you stressed out and overwhelmed by life’s demands? Maybe it’s time to take a break. More specifically, it’s time to prioritize and schedule life-enhancing, rejuvenating activities. I’m not talking about crashing in front of the TV, or escaping into video games or shopping trips. Hugo taught me some unexpected benefits of prioritizing routine, scheduled breaks. These Sunday outings are now a sacred part of our schedule. Our weekly trips to the beach create a true, mentally healthy attitude adjustment.
  4. Disconnect – Research studies show that the majority of adults spend more time on their mobile devices, computers, and TV than they do in direct connection with other people (even their spouse and children). We see a lot of people who bring their dogs to the beach every Sunday. Rarely do we see them using their phones. It’s like some kind of time warp, taking us back to the days when people interacted without texts, tags, or emojis.
  5. Reconnect emotionally – I love the way Hugo scampers up the shore line, in hot pursuit of some dog that’s much bigger and faster – and just when we think we need to run after him, he turns around and runs back to us. This happens repeatedly every Sunday. He knows we’re his people. And the connection is emotionally based. Brain science shows us that we are hard-wired for this type of emotional connection (humans and dogs have very similar brain structures). Our limbic system and amygdala react with danger signals to abandonment and loss – and rewards us with pleasurable sensations when we reconnect. This release of oxytocin (the love hormone) is probably the best stress-buster of all time. Hugo is the embodiment of limbic resonance (we literally feel each other emotionally).
  6. Make new friends – Hugo is my role model. He just runs right up to anybody – a dog or a person – ready to play or to be petted. He’s not self-conscious, and doesn’t worry about rejection or being judged. And if some dog doesn’t like him (all of the people do!), he doesn’t sulk, and he doesn’t take it personally. He just moves on the next animal. It’s what most little kids do before the world teaches them to fear.
  7. Take risks – We love watching Hugo play with other dogs and run into the surf. He knows his limits (most of the time – he’s still pretty young and a little reckless). He can’t swim – he sinks in the water like a bowling ball. But he’s learned to go as far into the surf as possible – he’s even learned to time the waves crashing into the shore. He seems to be quite fearless (although a big pink inflatable raft gave him pause one time – he froze in his paw prints, letting out his characteristic “woo-woo-wooo”). As I get older, I notice that I’m a little more conservative – a little more risk averse. Sometimes to a fault. I’m working at putting myself into Hugo’s shoes – or paws.
  8. Appreciate vicarious joy – I’ve always appreciated the value of positive experiences. A loving embrace, beautiful music, a great movie, travel, a good book. Hugo reminds me of raising children. The joy you get from watching them experience new things. Thank you, Hugo, for giving me the gift of vicarious joy. It’s like every week at the beach is brand new – something he’s never done before. His excitement and passion is no less than it was a year ago – after 52 Sundays at the beach. When I’m stressed out or feeling low, all I need to do is to think about Hugo prancing across that beach without a care in the world.
  9. Be light hearted – (Thank you to one of my clients who talked to me about this today. He’s learning how to get out of his head, and into his heart.) Hugo has the gift of a small cerebral cortex – humans have the gift, and the curse, of a large one. That’s our thinking brain. Hugo never thinks it through at the beach. He just does it – with lots of heart and gusto. I’m thinking (but not too much!) about getting a tattoo with a drawing of Hugo, and the motto “What would Hugo do?”
  10. Run-Play-Rest – Running is healthy and life-affirming. We run for exercise and we run for survival (running to work every day). Play is for kids and for dogs. And for our inner child. All adults need healthy play – it nourishes and restores our youthful vitality. And then we need to rest. Hugo runs, chases and plays with other dogs, and then he collapses, exhausted, resting until the next opportunity comes along. Thank you, Hugo, for reminding us of our essence – our very nature. I’ll meet you at the beach next Sunday!

If you’d like to see more pictures of Hugo at the beach – or if you want more information about stress management and coping skills – please contact us today.

16May 2017

Is He a Narcissist?

And How to Deal with Him

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, PA

Narcissism is on the rise. Millennials may surpass the “Me Generation” – they are often seen as entitled and self-absorbed. And narcissism is in the news every day: Several powerful world leaders, such as Russia’s Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-u are well-known for their narcissistic behavior. Famous entertainers and athletes are almost expected to be narcissistic – and they rarely seem to disappoint.

When people think about narcissism they usually visualize a man. There’s a good reason for that. Studies show that men are about three times more likely than women to show up as narcissists. What about the man in your life? Is he a narcissist? And what can you do about it?

It’s All About Him

Narcissistic men are similar to narcissistic women – but the men tend to be more aggressive, domineering, unethical and socially inappropriate. Many LATE Men are narcissistic. LATE men are Lost, Angry Teenagers – adult men who are developmentally immature (see my articles on LATE Men in this web site). These narcissistic men are lost because they operate on a false, elevated sense of self. But this inflated self, or personality, seems hollow and based in shame and worthlessness. And they’re angry when they don’t get their way – or when they’re “one-upped” by someone else.

The problem is huge. Studies show a dramatic increase in narcissism in the 21st Century. Men are generally more self-absorbed, entitled and grandiose. They’re more arrogant and insensitive to others. Narcissistic men are manipulative and controlling. They use others for their own personal benefit. Relationships and marriages are damaged or destroyed. There’s even been a significant increase in abuse and domestic violence that can be traced to male narcissism. And narcissistic heads of state are insensitive to basic human rights, and dangerous to world peace and stability.

Is He a Narcissist?

√ He’s so self-absorbed that he doesn’t seem to care about your needs or feelings.

He’s selfish – his needs and desires come first.

He complains or protests when you have expectations or make requests.

He always has the right answer. You’re wrong. He knows best.

He has an inflated ego. He’s smarter than others – more talented – the best.

Yet, at times, he seems quite insecure or jealous of others. He always seems to be looking for approval or admiration.

He gets very defensive and argumentative. It’s always your fault (or someone else’s).

He always needs to be in control.

Narcissism can manifest in minor, even subtle ways. This is referred to as narcissistic personality traits. Or it can be a full-blown characterological disorder. NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is estimated to affect 6% of the population. But men represent about 75% of all individuals diagnosed with NPD. At our Center, we estimate that at least 65% of our male clients (including husbands when we see couples) have at least significant narcissistic traits.

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the APA) defines NPD as “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy…”. This is a summary version of the diagnostic criteria:

  1. Grandiosity – exaggerated self-importance and need to be recognized.
  2. Fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, etc.
  3. Views himself as “special” and unique.
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Entitlement: unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or compliance with is expectations.
  6. Exploits others – takes advantage.
  7. Lacks empathy: doesn’t recognize or identify with other people’s feelings.
  8. Envious or jealous of others.
  9. Arrogant, haughty attitude.

Does this sound familiar? If someone you know has 5 or more of these symptoms, he may have NPD. Otherwise, he may have narcissistic traits – one or more of the symptoms listed above, though not as extensive, or pervasive. But these traits alone can be very troubling and cause very serious problems.

Self-Esteem, Confidence, or Narcissism?

  • Normal self-esteem and confidence
  • Self-acceptance and self-assurance
  • Goal-oriented or ambitious with work-life balance
  • Appreciates, but does not need, compliments and recognition
  • Mutuality in relationships (give and take)
  • Feels guilty when his mistakes are hurtful to others
  • Appreciates and values contributions by others (a team player)

Narcissistic Traits

  • Over-confident, self-absorbed or selfish at times
  • Sometimes aggressive to get his own needs met
  • Occasionally controlling and demanding
  • Needs recognition and appreciation frequently (underlying insecurity)
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Some ability to be empathetic and compassionate toward others
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Similar to narcissistic traits, but more exaggerated and pervasive
  • Grandiose with no sense of humility
  • Excessive focus on his need to be recognized and admired
  • Preoccupied with his special personal qualities and accomplishments
  • Highly competitive – intolerant of anyone who may show him up or is “better than”
  • Lack of empathy or concern for others (and may throw them under the bus to look better himself)
  • Manipulative relationships – to obtain admiration and approval; to advance his own goals; and to maintain power and control over others
  • Deep core of worthlessness, well-hidden from others and himself
  • Over-reactive, defensive, “thin skinned” and argumentative – shifts blame to others

How to Deal with Him

Most narcissists don’t believe they have a problem or that they need to change. Unfortunately, research studies indicate that NPD is very resistant to change. Even the less serious narcissistic traits are stubborn, in part because these men can’t or won’t admit that they might be flawed. The good news is that you have choices, and you can often manage the situation effectively using the following approach:

  1. Emotional detachment from the narcissism, not the man. It’s not about you, and you don’t have to take it personally.
  2. Mindfulness – observe his attitudes and behavior from an objective, detached point of view. Avoid judgments.
  3. Use your mature, Adult self (see “Who’s In Charge?”). Your Adult self is loving and responsible – not reactive or judgmental.
  4. Avoid the Victim Triangle – These are the roles we play when we are emotionally reactive and get caught up in the drama: Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer. The only way out of the drama is Adult love and responsibility.
  5. Set boundaries – know when to say no, dispassionately (without drama).
  6. Self-care – Focus on your own needs, but not in service of avoiding or distancing from him.
  7. Suggest counseling or a men’s therapy group (without pressuring him). Or offer to go with him for “couples counseling.” Most narcissistic men can be taught to develop Adult ego skills and strategies. He can learn that it’s in his own best interest to learn how to work and play well with others!

If you would like additional information about narcissism, the LATE Men, coaching and counseling services for men, please contact us today. We’d like to hear from you about your personal experience, and we value your feedback.

04May 2017

Sneak Preview

From Connections: Workbook for Couples

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

This is an excerpt from the new Connections: Workbook for Couples, which is scheduled for publication in July, 2017. This Workbook will include information about love and marriage, the true causes of relationship distress, and tools for relationship repair and creative solutions. The Workbook includes numerous exercises designed to help couples create loving connection
and partnership.

In Section One, “The Science of Love, Marriage, and Relationship,” the concept of love is defined and explained, and current scientific findings about love and relationships are reviewed. The critically important nature of “attachment” is described in this excerpt.

Connections – The Need for Attachment

Is it okay to be dependent – to need someone emotionally? We like to believe that as adults we should be fully independent – that we shouldn’t need a relationship at an emotional level. The idea that “needing” a relationship is neurotic or unhealthy has
been advanced by some popular misconceptions about codependency. Medical science and numerous research studies have proven that this is simply not true. Even Pia Mellody, an internationally recognized authority on codependence says that

There are some needs that can be met only through interaction with another
person, such as physical nurturing or emotional nurturing. But we must be taught that it
is our responsibility to recognize those needs and ask someone appropriate to meet
them. We in turn must learn to meet other’s needs at appropriate times in proper
circumstances, which is called interdependence.

Attachment was first studied by John Bowlby, a British psychologist and
psychiatrist over 50 years ago. In essence, Bowlby defined attachment as the need to
be closely connected emotionally in secure relationships. These secure relationships
provide a safe base of support from which children – and later, adults – can grow,
develop, and become independently functioning adults. Bowlby explains that

All of us, from cradle to grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of
excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figure(s).

Attachment has been studied extensively, and this is a summary of some of the
most important findings:

  • Attachment is an emotionally based bond between child and parent – and
    between adults. Our brains are hard-wired for attachments to others, and we
    need these survival-based connections for good physical and mental health.
  • Children absolutely require safe, consistent physical and emotional closeness.
    These basic needs continue into adult life. Healthy attachments during childhood
    result in independent adults who need relationships with others.
  • Our attachment patterns in childhood can predict our attachment patterns as
    adults. There are 2 major types, or strategies of attachment:

1. Secure – A safe haven based in reliable, accessible, responsive and
attentive caregivers (children) or partners (adults). When something “bad”
or upsetting happens in the relationship, the securely attached individual
can cope effectively with the negative emotions, knowing there is a safe
connection to return to.
2. Insecure – Often the result of childhood neglect, abandonment and/or
abuse, the insecurely attached individual tends to be anxious or avoidant.
People who are insecurely attached may be clingy, isolative or withdraw
from others.

  • Loving, secure attachments protect us from stress, improves our immune
    system, and helps us cope with life. Secure attachments promote independent
    functioning and personal empowerment.

The Connections Workbook will be available through our web site, and on Amazon this summer.

Couples who attend one of our Connections marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives
will receive complimentary copies of the Workbook.

For additional information, or to pre-order a copy of the Workbook, please contact us today

06Jan 2017

The Story of James & Maria

“This Marriage Retreat Saved Our Marriage”

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

This article is the true story of a couple who attended one of our weekend couples retreats & intensives. James and Maria are fictitious names and certain details of their lives have been changed to protect their privacy. Their story is similar to many couples who experience severe relationship distress, such as infidelity and trust issues. Their courage and determination to find the truth and to heal themselves and their relationship is inspiring.

“I made a mistake. I hooked up with someone from work.” James appeared contrite, but not exactly remorseful when he responded to our standard opening question. We usually begin our Connections™ marriage retreats by asking couples to describe the nature of their relationship distress. James went on to say that this hook-up didn’t mean anything to him, and he regrets it. Maria interrupted sharply: “It wasn’t a hook up. It was an affair. You had a relationship with her.” James lowered his eyes, and spoke toward the floor: “She was just a co-worker. It wasn’t a relationship. Maria means everything to me – I want to save our marriage.”

Infidelity and trust issues are central concerns in about 1/3 of our couples retreats and intensives. The other types of relationship distress that we commonly see in marriage retreats include patterns of angry reactivity, with complaining, blaming, and defensiveness. And we frequently see couples who are emotionally and physically distant and disconnected. James and Maria are fairly typical in that they experienced most of these distressing patterns.

Discovery – The First Stage

James and Maria are in their early 40’s and have been married for 11 years. They have 2 young children, Sophia, age 9, and Karl age 4. The couples who attend our marriage retreats range in age from their 20’s into their 70’s. James is ruggedly handsome and intelligent, and he’s a successful small business owner. On the first day of this 2-day program, he had the appearance of a man who feels defeated and demoralized. His eyes downcast, rarely making direct contact with any of us (his wife Maria, my female co-therapist Karin, and myself). James was mostly withdrawn and passive. Maria took up the slack, and was forceful in expressing her emotional pain.

Our couples retreats and intensives are conducted with a unique 3-stage model:

Stage 1 – Discovery
Stage 2 – Relationship Repair
Stage 3 – Partnership & Creative Solutions

During the Discovery stage we asked Maria and James about their relationship distress, including their negative, reactive patterns of interaction, and the feelings and unmet needs that drive these patterns. We also explored their learned relationship styles and beliefs (based on childhood experiences). Maria, a petite woman with delicate features, jumped in quickly, interrupting James’ disjointed and hesitant explanation for his infidelity. “I just don’t get it. You don’t do that to someone you love. I don’t believe you. I can’t believe this even happened. He had to have feelings for her. Everything is a lie!”

James continued to stare at the floor. He seemed to retreat from Maria’s anger, and he avoided looking at her tears. He said “No, I don’t have any feelings for her” and he went on to describe a relationship that he characterized as friendly co-workers. It became sexual only because she became overtly seductive with him. He told us he was under a great deal of stress at work, things weren’t going well at home, and he was susceptible to her flirtatious behavior. In our marriage retreats we’ve observed that infidelity and trust issues are often explained by this combination of personal stress, inadequate coping skills, and relationship distress. James went on to say that “It was stupid. It was just sex. I love Maria with all my heart.” Maria was incredulous. “What he did was unforgivable. I’m crazy to even stay married to him. It’s unacceptable!”

During the Discovery stage of this marriage retreat we were able to piece together a picture of James and Maria’s marriage prior to the affair. Their relationship distress developed early in the marriage and became more noticeable during and after each pregnancy. James was very focused on work, and would become sullen and irritable due to the stress of running his own business. Maria was reactive to his emotional state, feeling anxious and angry. The more she pressured him to talk about it, the more he shut down. He wanted to connect with Maria sexually, but she said she was never a sexual person, and she resented the lack of communication and romance. A reactive pattern of complaining, blaming, and distance developed, culminating in infidelity and trust issues.

Their patterns of relationship distress also resulted from negative experiences they both endured growing up in dysfunctional families. At first, both James and Maria reported that they had “normal” families. Maria even said that she had a “great childhood.” In our couples retreats and intensives we often discover that there’s more to this story. James was spoiled by his mother and sisters – he was given everything he wanted, at least materially. But mother also worked a lot, wasn’t around when he needed her, and he missed her. His father was his “hero” but we learned that he was around even less than mother. In fact, father was “unfaithful” and had a series of extra-marital affairs over several years. Research shows that patterns of infidelity and trust issues tend to be multi-generational.

Maria’s father, who was initially described as “great”, was probably an alcoholic, and he would fly into rages. While she had the “best childhood ever” and was given everything she needed, both parents were very strict, she was punished harshly, and her older brother often protected her from beatings. In our couples retreats and intensives we use a Circle of Re-creation exercise that explains how we tend to repeat, or re-create, our childhood fears and shame in our adult relationships. This was especially enlightening for James and Maria. James could see how his sense of entitlement with Maria – his expectation that she would meet all of his needs – stemmed from being spoiled by his mother and sisters (and he was never expected to be responsible at home growing up). Maria was surprised to learn that her chronic anxiety and struggles with intimacy were based in fears of her father’s anger, and feelings of abandonment due to his alcoholism and mother’s passive behavior with father.

Relationship Repair – The Second Stage

As we proceeded into the second day of this marriage retreat, James and Maria expanded their understanding of what happened in their relationship. Maria continued to struggle with the infidelity and trust issues, and she understandably felt that James was in the wrong. But she was also starting to see how the relationship distress that developed early in their marriage, and grew worse over time, influenced James’ unacceptable behavior.

Throughout our couples retreats and intensives we facilitate “emotionally corrective experiences.” We assist couples to look below the surface of anger, blame and defensiveness. Couples then discover more sensitive, vulnerable feelings that drive the relationship distress and negative relationship patterns. We asked James about his feelings – his feelings about his marriage and himself in light of this infidelity. Like so many men, it wasn’t easy for him to open up about his sensitive, emotional self. When there are infidelity and trust issues it’s critically important to create an emotional connection where the betraying partner is able to authentically express remorse and empathy with the injured partner. With time and patience, early in the second day of this marriage retreat, James began to tear up as he talked about the affair. We asked him to turn to Maria and face her with his tears. James told her about his sadness and shame: “I know I hurt you and I feel terrible about it. I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. I never wanted to hurt you – but I know it’s my fault. I love you more than anything.”

During the Relationship Repair stage of our couples retreats and intensives the cycle of relationship distress is clearly identified using our Relationship Dance exercise. Maria and James answered a series of questions about specific behaviors they use when they react to each other, their underlying feelings and unmet needs, and the way they see each other. James said that when he’s upset about the relationship he “escapes and avoids,” he drinks more alcohol, and he “shuts down” and doesn’t communicate. He specifically identified the feelings that drive those actions: he’s frustrated and angry, but he also feels hurt by Maria’s anger and blame. He was able to connect to his sadness, and a great deal of shame – he feels that he’s never good enough for Maria, and he feels ashamed about his own behavior. He told us that he never had such a deep and clear understanding of how and why he reacts to Maria until this marriage retreat.

Maria acknowledged that she pushed James away sexually because of her deeper fears of intimacy (which she learned growing up). Her complaining, blaming and critical behavior toward James protected her vulnerable, emotional self – while also serving as a type of “protest behavior,” letting him know that she felt abandoned and unappreciated. These are common patterns of relationship distress. Neither Maria nor James were ever taught, or had any experience in life with direct, appropriate expressions of what they needed relationally prior to this marriage retreat.

A breakthrough event in our couples retreats and intensives occurs when we literally diagram each couple’s relationship dance on a large poster – using their own words from our Relationship Dance exercise. James and Maria, just like most of the couples we work with, stared wide-eyed at the poster as we described exactly what happens in their reactive pattern of relationship distress. At first, they were almost speechless. James then said “I never realized that’s what we do. That’s exactly it. It’s so obvious when you look at it this way.” Maria echoed his surprise and sense of enlightenment: “It’s us. It’s what we do. I never saw it so clearly before.” Almost in unison, they both said “So now what do we do?”

Partnership & Creative Solutions – The Third Stage

During the third stage of our couples retreats and intensives we outline an approach that prevents and eliminates the cycle of relationship distress. James and Maria were now very clear about their negative, reactive relationship dance, and how it took over their entire relationship. The dance is the problem – and the enemy – not James or Maria. We helped James to understand his dance steps as the distancer who is reactive to perceived abandonments and other injuries. And Maria recognized her role in the dance as the angry, abandoned victim. After another emotionally corrective conversation with James, as he assured her that he is committed to the marriage, she said that “Now I can see what I did to push you away. I know I hurt you too. That wasn’t fair to you. I want us to be the way we were when we were first married.” The infidelity and trust issues will linger for some time to come, but Maria was able to let go of the anger and blame, and take responsibility for her role in the reactive dance that helped to set the stage for James’ affair.

The next step was to interrupt and disrupt the negative, reactive patterns in relationship distress. We use a simple 3 step guide for reducing and eliminating the reactivity. It’s an approach that’s easy to remember and very simple to use. The approach includes basic awareness (mindfulness), a decision, and simple tools to do it differently. We gave these written instructions to James and Maria, and they told us they will keep it with them at all times. As we do in all of our couples retreats and intensives, we reviewed other relationship tools and resources that James and Maria would take home with them to practice.

It’s been a little over a year since we completed the marriage retreat with James and Maria. They both participated in some follow-up counseling and relationship coaching, and recently we received a lovely card from them. Maria wrote the note and signed it from both of them. In addition to some news about James’ business and their children she wrote:

“We want you to know that we’re doing really great. We’re closer than we ever were, and I’m gradually trusting James more and more. Everything is working out really well. You and Karin (my co-therapist in their couples retreat) are very special to us. You made us feel very safe and cared for. You taught us everything we needed to know to have a great marriage. Thank you, thank you!”

Even the most disturbing and unrelenting types of relationship distress, such as infidelity and trust issues, can be transformed into relationship success and satisfaction at our Connections™ couples retreats and intensives. Couples therapy and marriage retreats are the primary specialty at our Center. For further information about marriage counseling, couples retreats, and our brief intensive couples therapy package, please contact us today.

02Nov 2016

mature happy spanish couple smiling holding each other on the beach

What Are Intensive Couples Retreats?

Marriage Retreats and Intensive Couples Therapy

 By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD


  • Couples retreats are the most effective approach to relationship distress.
  • 6 reasons why intensive couples therapy succeed when other approaches fail.
  • Types of problems addressed in marriage retreats and intensives.
  • 6 goals of intensive couples retreats.

Couples retreats and intensive marriage counseling programs are becoming increasingly popular. These programs include weekend marriage retreats, couples workshops, and intensive programs specifically designed for one couple, or for small groups of couples. At our Center, we’ve learned a great deal about the major benefits of couples retreats and intensives.

Why are couples retreats and intensives more effective?

In traditional marriage or couples counseling, sessions are usually scheduled only once a week, or every other week. Sessions generally run for about an hour or two in length. Couples retreats and intensives are more effective because much more can be accomplished over 2-3 days. It usually takes about 4-6 months of traditional weekly sessions to accomplish the same goals. The unique program components in couples retreats result in a deeper understanding of relationship distress and toxic patterns – and a deeper understanding and appreciation of your partner and yourself.

Many couples have told us that they learned much more, and feel much more hopeful after one couples retreat than after months or years of traditional therapy.

6 Reasons Why Couples Retreats Are Successful

  1. Achievement of therapy goals – Couples complete an entire program of intensive couples therapy in 2-3 days. Research shows that most couples in traditional therapy do not complete a full course of couples or marriage counseling. Their goals for therapy remain unmet. In fact, most couples drop out of traditional therapy within 6 sessions. Most experienced couples therapists would agree that couples are just getting into the middle stages of therapy after 6 sessions. The most important goals of couples counseling can be met during a 2-3 day couples retreat (12-16 hours of intensive therapy). It should be noted that we always recommend that after completing a couples retreat, some follow-up sessions will be helpful to integrate and reinforce the learning process.
  2. Comprehensive program – During couples retreats, a comprehensive program is completed – one that provides a deep understanding of themselves and the distressing relationship patterns. Couples experience and learn to use tools to create a successful and loving partnership, and they feel more closely connected and intimate after just one weekend intensive.
  3. Emotionally corrective experiences (re-connection) – We’ve learned from scientific studies that human beings are capable of significant change only when there is significant emotional investment and connection. During couples retreats and intensives, couples are guided through a series of emotionally corrective conversations – leading to meaningful re-connections.
  4. Depth of understanding – The intensive aspect of couples retreats provides a depth of understanding rarely achieved in traditional couples therapy. Specific exercises during couples retreats deepen understanding and compassion for one’s self, one’s partner, and for the relationship itself.
  5. Commitment to the process – The very act of signing up for a couples retreat is a type of commitment to a comprehensive program and process. In our experience, couples who enroll in this type of intensive couples therapy demonstrate more commitment to following through than in weekly couples therapy.
  6. Answers, tools, and a new start – Couples usually have excellent questions about their relationship and how to do things differently. Couples retreats are designed to provide specific answers to their questions, and provides tools for dealing with communication problems, handling conflict, and creating intimacy. Most couples who complete intensive couples therapy say that this is a fresh new start that brings them hope and a positive direction.

Types of Problems Addressed in Couples Retreats and Intensives

The most common problems addressed in couples retreats and intensives include:

  • Conflict and fighting, anger and blame, and power struggles
  • Negative patterns of complaints, criticism, defensiveness, and “stonewalling”
  • Communication problems
  • Lack of intimacy, disconnection, shutting down and distance
  • Infidelity and affairs (including porn addiction)
  • Parenting problems with children and step-children
  • Trust issues and insecurity

7 Goals of Couples Retreats and Intensives

The overriding goal of couples retreats and intensives is a relationship based in trust, safety, loving connection and partnership, where both partners feel their basic relationship needs are being met. The specific goals include:

  • Intimacy – Improved closeness, connection and affection, physically and emotionally.
  • Trust and safety – The foundation of trust and safety in any relationship is built upon the deep emotional connection that tells each partner that they can count on each other. They can depend on each other to be there, to be responsive to their needs, and to feel valued, appreciated and fully accepted. Couples retreats are designed to repair and enhance basic trust and safety in relationships.
  • Communication – Ability to communicate feelings, concerns, and needs productively and with empathy and compassion.
  • Partnership & conflict resolution – Learning to work together as a team, with negotiation, compromise, genuine interest in the welfare of each other, the relationship, and the family.
  • Compassion and empathy – Non-judgmental acceptance, emotional support and positive regard.
  • Family harmony – Improved cooperation and partnership in co-parenting children and step-children. Creating a more loving and harmonious family environment.

For more information about couples retreats and intensive couples therapy please contact us today. The following links provide additional information about our workshops, intensives and couples retreats: