In the second half of our interview, Sara and Carolyn responded to questions we have received from colleagues, folks signed up and our own friends and family. Have a look.
Sara: So, Carolyn, continuing our conversation about our upcoming retreat. One of the questions we’ve been asked is: “Why are you making the retreat so small? Why only eight couples?”
Carolyn: I loved that someone asked us that recently! As I remember it, and chime in here, when we developed Secure Connections and began planning the structure of our retreat, we wanted to create an intimate experience, first and foremost. I think that in addition to the learning potential, it also allows us to focus on cultivating a supportive group of couples who can begin to take risks in exposing their relationship challenges to others in the interest of growing.
Sara: Absolutely. With our shared belief that relationship is the most powerful way to positively change the world, I think the connection between partners is further enhanced by building a community of supportive couples.
Carolyn: Yes–each couple needs to be willing to take risks, because the experiential nature of what we’re doing–the exercises themselves–are hard enough with just one couple in a room; smaller group size makes it less scary.
Sara: There’s no hiding in a small group, but there is support. And everyone present wants the same basic things for their relationship–to grow closer, to better understand one another. Gotta take risks to get there!
Carolyn: Totally true! It’s also about the intimacy of a small group allowing us to see and feel how each exercise feels in the order we present them. We’ve used many of these exercises in our practices with one couple at a time, but how will being in a group change that? Are the concepts we’re introducing actually being grasped by couples, and does it make sense how we’re building the case of secure functioning, how we take care of each other, what repair is, all the stuff that matters in terms of cultivating a strong and safe bond?
Sara: So we’ll need to be light on our feet, that improvisational piece Stan always teaches, in terms of responsiveness to what the group needs. Which, actually, is a lot like being a couple! As we find in our session work, we are always learning from our couples–small size allows us to draw from them, and their response to what’s happening in the retreat: where are the questions and stuck points. There’s always commonality, as well as differences that we get to play off and use, We want to facilitate discussion where all have a chance to speak, as well as allow time to attend to couples and their challenges outside the shared time.
Carolyn: Yes! Thank you for adding that. In this setting, We are definitely available to couples as challenges arise. Which reminds me of the other question Geoff (Carolyn’s husband) asked me, about IslandWood and how we chose it, since we looked at so many places. Tell me about IslandWood, why are you excited to be hosting it there? What do you think IslandWood offers that will be especially valuable to the retreat and our couples?
Sara: Well, the obvious piece is that it’s beautiful–the grounds, the architecture, the lodgings, the acres of paths for exploring. But what makes it perfect for our retreat are two things: the fact that we will, as a group, share this incredible, intimate space–lodging, meals, the classrooms, all of it. Kinda like a really awesome summer camp! And secondly, the unique perspective of IslandWood that human potential is enhanced and engaged in the natural setting, how this invites exploration, internally, relationally, externally. What about you?
Carolyn: What I really love about what they offer is the nature aspect you touched on as well as all the different spaces we and our couples will get to be a part of. Not only is the lodge where we are staying and working so warm and cozy, which I think will enrich our time together, but also the outdoor area couples can explore and we can use as part of their structured time alone together. You know the part I am stupidly excited about? The treehouse/campfire time! S’mores around a fire?! Come on! How fun is that going to be?! In all seriousness, though, from our research and visiting, IslandWood is just so much a place that invites people to drop the boundaries–we’re sharing meals, a campfire, a space, and while we are leading the group, we are also part of the group. I think that is really going to enhance the sense of safety and trust for the couples with us and create the richest possible experience.
Sara: What you just said about us both leading the group while being a part of it–that’s what I find truly exciting. Often as therapists our task is to remain detached, and while as group leaders we will maintain an objective view, this experience will allow us to know and coach our couples in a pretty unique way. I think that’s central to the retreat experience. So let’s talk a little about structure.
Carolyn: It has been so fun developing the process of the weekend. Weaving together what we have learned from Stan’s work and our participation with him as assistants at Esalen with what we have adapted and developed in our own practices. I really can’t wait until March! Without giving too much away, can you speak to an aspect of the structure that you are most excited about?
Sara: Everything you hit on, plus or maybe especially, the experiential aspect and all the learning that comes from that. Our approach to working with couples allows people to learn “bottom up,” meaning they feel what happens in their bodies, in the faces of their partners– it makes the learning so real. Even though I was so familiar with Stan’s work from all our years of study, attending one of his Esalen retreats with my husband gave me a whole new level of ah ha–kind of like hearing music live, or attending a sporting event rather than watching it on TV–when your body wants to get involved, and not just your brain. I think we have done a good job creating a felt experience, versus just intellectual understanding.
Carolyn: I know! I am still so jealous you guys got to go do that!! I think the experiential aspects of it are exactly what I am excited about too. I think the only thing that I would add are the playful components that we have developed for this in some of the exercises. I think naturally people are a little intimidated about signing up for a couples retreat-it sounds intense!
Sara: (Laughing)…or like a bad movie…
Carolyn: (Laughing)….so, I really appreciate our attention to that-our care in balancing exercises that really draw out the emotional learning piece for the couples with the more playful exercises that while teaching and deepening connection do so through things that they can laugh together about and look forward to using together back at home!
Sara: Let’s do it!
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