Build Your Own Marriage Retreat

My husband and I have enjoyed the gift of marriage for just shy of five years. We're still married babies, in married preschool, you could say. But wow, what a rich and full five years it's been!

We got married as seminary students, moved states twice, sought and found direction for ministry from the Lord together, endured a miscarriage and death of a parent, became parents to two precious children, and entered into what we hope, Lord willing, is a decades-long local church ministry in a small New England town. We've had to learn how to work together as new parents and church revitalizers while deepening our own friendship, and working to master the great art of marital communication.

We are up to our necks in "good busy." Our lives are full of work and gratitude. And more often than not, it's run by the tyranny of the urgent. Have you ever felt this way in your daily/weekly/monthly life?

So when Jeremy began his work as solo pastor at this small historic church, we determined that we would do our best to make time for some form of a marriage retreat twice a year.

This retreat would give us designated time and space to evaluate ourselves, all aspects of our relationship, our habits, our systems, our hopes for our life together, and beyond. Let me tell you - once you begin running through a list like this, there never seems to be enough time to work through it all.

This biennial marriage retreat has already proven to be a great gift to us. This summer, we were able to enjoy an overnight retreat while traveling to see family in Texas.

Here's an overview of the topics we covered during our most recent marriage retreat in San Antonio, and a few spots we visited.

Props go completely to my husband for setting the agenda for our retreat. He framed our conversations using helpful questions we'd answer together in each session.

Session 1: Long term vision - What is our hope for our family 30+ years out?
Meaning that if the Lord gives us health to old age, what do we hope for our family life to look like with adult children?

Without sharing the intimate details of our discussion, this question led to fruitful reflection on our own lives as adult children to our parents and family dynamics on both sides. We quickly acknowledged how little ultimate control we have over the final state of our kids' salvation or future decisions, and it led us to discuss what we specifically could do to cultivate our children toward a life of walking with the Lord. It led us to a list of ways we can pray, beseeching the Lord of mercy, more particularly in our work as parents. 

Session 2: Devo from Proverbs 18
Rarely does it seem that J and I get to sit down for extended devotional time together, but one of my favorite things about our friendship is getting to hear each other's minds open up about Scripture & theology.

Take the time you don't normally have to sit and sink a bit more deeply into the wisdom and truth of God's Word together. It won't be time wasted.

Session 3: Recounting God's kindness & providence over the past year.
We brought up things we ought to praise God for circumstantially in the life of our family, with our kids, with the people in our church, and in our own personal walks.

Break down different categories in your own lives together, and begin making a list the ways God has sustained, provided, and even taken away for your good. Consider any ways he's grown you spiritually. Write these things down and pray in thanksgiving together.

Session 4: Areas for personal growth
Then we asked each other to make observations about areas we need to grow - a humbling exercise and a healthy dose of reality. We pointed out unhealthy personal habits, areas of character weakness, and talked about practical steps we might take to strive toward holiness. 

Our spouses see everything. If you are both Christians, inviting one another to weigh in on your areas of weakness is to take steps in your commitment to humbly growing into greater Christlikeness.

Session 5: Assessment of the kids
We took some time to discuss how both kids seem to be doing - their gains, things that delight us about them, aspects of their unique personalities we're noticing, ways we might better care for their needs. It was an endearing thing to do together.

Session 6: Profiles of arrows launched from our home
Not sure if this is nerding out on parenting, but we found it immensely helpful and inspiring to sit down and paint a portrait of the type of young men and women we want to be launching into the world out of our home. Though we can't control for everything, what is the ideal profile of the types of people we want to send out into the world? Toward what goodness should we strive over the next 15 years?

Make a list of the character qualities they might embody, the intellectual acumen they might possess, the life skills they might be equipped with, and the perspective on the world they might have as they are sent out to live in and influence the world. Few of these things are gained by accident.

Session 7: Review of our home routine
We discussed the rhythms of our home - what's serving us well, and what habits/patterns need to change. We shared our plans for the coming season in with a newborn and more intentional patterns for homeschool.

Session 8: Ministry burdens and plans
The good burden of ministry never seems to be lacking in both of our thought lives. It is always helpful any time we can brain dump what we're thinking and to better understand the weight of care/concern the other is carrying. It equips us to better understand each other's priorities and ways we might support each other.

Whether you are in full time ministry or not, every Christian family is called to build up the local church. Share your burdens and hopes for practical ways you need to order your time and energy to build hospitality, discipleship, and personal care for other saints in your local church.

Spots and activities in San Antonio we enjoyed

We stayed on the San Antonio Riverwalk with grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins. So staying close to home base, we explored the nearby sights, restaurants, and cafes. Here's a summary of the things we enjoyed (and considered doing!).

Local Coffee | Pearl District
A cute little coffeeshop, perfect for morning for our morning sessions. We tried their coffee, pop tart, and chorizo empanada. 100% recommend that empanada.

The Twig Book Shop | Pearl District
An independent book store stocked to the brim - books on every topic, stationery, souvenirs, and children's books. Jeremy treated me to a new journal for marriage retreat purposes + beyond.

Japanese Tea Garden & Jingu House
A beautiful garden to visit for a stroll - filled with vibrant florals, a large waterfall, stone bridges, koi pond. Sit under the large pergola for respite from the sun and a gorgeous view of the garden.

The Jingu House is a grab-and-go menu restaurant that serves a simple assortment of Asian food items - bento boxes, fried dumplings, udon noodle salad, spring rolls, sandwiches, espresso drinks, and boba (always a plus anywhere).

The Garden is a stone's throw away from the San Antonio Zoo, which even features a train! Our kids enjoyed the train with their Gran while we strolled the Garden close by, unbeknownst to them.

Hotel Emma | Pearl District
A 19th century brew house converted into a modern hotel. We grabbed a few cold drinks from its in-hotel grocery store and found a comfortable spot among the couches in the bar. The lobby, library, and public spaces offered a lot to look at and enjoy during the hottest part of the day.

Fig Tree Restaurant | San Antonio Riverwalk
We've wanted to try French fine dining for a while now, and our marriage retreat was the perfect time. This little restaurant is nestled in along the San Antonio Riverwalk, and has been operating since the 1970s. It was recently reimagined and reopened in 2021.

Our friendly waiter informed us that the menu would be moving from fine dining to more upscale casual shortly after our visit. I really hope they don't remove their gnocchi au gratin from their menu. The smokiest, most delicious cheesy gnocchi I've ever had.

Marriage retreating has been a game changer, and I imagine it will continue to be an integral part of the health of our marriage and home. 100% recommend all married friends to do the same, if you aren't already!

I've created a simple guide for building your own marriage retreat that you can pull up and customize to fit your marriage and unique family.
Download the Marriage Retreat Guide

Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:13-14, " Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

Truly hoping this is a blessing and encouragement to you!