An Alternative to Therapy: Consider a Marriage Retreat

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“I’m not crazy!” Ralph protested, “I’m not going to therapy!”

“You don’t have to be crazy to go to therapy,” Cindy grumbled. This was so trying. All she wanted was to make their marriage better and it was like banging her head against a wall. Ralph would not budge on the subject of therapy and he didn’t think he needed a self-help book either.

This is a common problem and frankly, therapists have brought it on themselves by utilizing a code of diagnosis which practically guarantees that when you go to therapy, you will get some sort of label.

But there is an alternative and I experienced it this weekend. Its called the OU Marriage Enrichment Program. It was started ten years ago by a far-seeing person named Frank Buchweitz. I’m guessing that he felt that couples deserved something more fun than being “fixed” in therapy. He created a really pleasant summer weekend out of this idea and it has become an OU staple.

First, they feed you. There is no end of food. (Of course it’s under strict supervision.). And it is delicious. They put you up in a really nice hotel an hour or so outside of New York, complete with Shabbos services. Finally, three workshops run at the same time so you get to choose which one you’re interested in attending. And then three more are offered and then three more and so on. The weekend was chock full of interesting new information – and food.

Audience participation was encouraged, the presenters were knowledgeable (if I say so myself), and the staff couldn’t do enough to accommodate people. Topics included:

and many others. There were 27 workshops offered in all.

The three that I offered were called

The Five Towns boasted two other faculty besides me: Rachel Pill and Dr. Michael Salaman. When I wasn’t speaking myself I was delighted to attend other people’s workshops and found them informative. Judging by the questions from the audience, they gave plenty of food for thought to go along with the catered kind.

This year, the program was geared just for alumni, so it wasn’t promoted. Nevertheless, sixty-nine couples attended. The fact that these people have been coming regularly is an indication of how valuable they thought it has been.

The good news is that as soon as the program ended, OU Director of Community Engagement Rabbi Judah Isaacs and the one-woman dynamo who organized it this year, Hannah Farkas, started planning with the hotel for next summer and they will open it up to new attendees.

And that’s why I’m writing about it now. Going forward, you may hear of local presentations in which you will get an chance to interact with faculty and ask questions of staff. I would suggest you definitely take advantage of this great opportunity by going, listening, and asking.

As much as I favor therapy and truly believe there is nothing like it for taking a good look at oneself and trying to make life better, the OU Marriage Retreat was a great alternative for people who are gun-shy about therapy.

What I have discovered about people who come to therapy for their marriages, their children, or their own general happiness is that they are “normal” just like you and me. But life has a habit of throwing us all curveballs and sometimes they are difficult to catch. We can be bright, caring, and loving, and still miss the ball. In other words, we don’t have to be “crazy” to go to therapy and benefit from it.

I truly believe that Hashem has given these curveballs to us in order to help us to learn and grow. When we utilize the help of other well-intentioned people to be able to grab those balls, it’s exciting and wonderful. We suddenly feel capable, competent, and in control of our lives – to the extent that any of us actually has control. Oddly enough, the difficulties may seem in retrospect as gifts because getting through them has taken us to a much better place.

I myself would go to therapy should such a curveball fly my way; I’m an advocate. But I also think a weekend retreat in the country in a relaxed and friendly environment can go a long way toward strengthening one’s batting arm.

(Ladies, I hope you don’t mind the male metaphor. I’ve got something different just for you: a talk at Aza Hair Salon in the Gourmet Glatt Plaza on July 22 at 11 o’clock. It will be called, “You’re Beautiful – Now Feel Beautiful!” Gourmet is sponsoring refreshments, too!)