The fifth Orthodox Union Marriage Enrichment Retreat, held during the summer in suburban New Jersey, reinforced the skills and tools emphasizing that successful marriages require effort. Organized by the OU Department of Community Services under the direction of Frank Buchweitz, it focused on how specific stressors can create strains on even the best of marriages.
“This retreat was extremely well organized, enjoyable, a time to just bond and communicate and devote to each other,” wrote one participant. “Informative, relevant, uplifting, pleasant and well organized,” responded another.
This retreat was held following the release of the results of the landmark OU Aleinu Marriage Survey, which determined that overwhelmingly, marriages among Orthodox Jews tend to be positive and happy, with a high majority of spouses saying they would get married again to the same person. The results also addressed the perception that the divorce rate is rising, and there is a marital satisfaction down-period starting well in advance of 20 years of marriage and leading up to thirty years, which may precede an up-period in which fulfillment and happiness become more common. Even in the best marriages, the survey revealed and the retreat took notice that conflict is inevitable, with the leading triggers being financial stress; communication difficulties; intimacy concerns; in-laws; and just not enough time for each other.
According to Frank Buchweitz, OU National Director of Community Services/ Special Projects, and coordinator of the Marriage Study and weekend retreat, “The marriage retreat provided an enormous resource of enrichment ideas to participants which they were eager to accept. They came happily married and they went home even more happily married. The couples were deeply committed to the program, open to suggestions and guidelines and enthusiastically embraces the program concept.”
Participant responses included, “making marriage work is hard work and worth it” and “I especially appreciated that some of the topics provided a platform for us to discuss some of the little, seemingly unimportant but nagging issues.”
Marriages of the 256 participants in attendance totaled more than 2,500 years of combined experience, ranging from 10 months to 54 years, and included four remarried couples. Of the couples in attendance, 19 percent were married 0-9 years; 25 percent were married 10-19 years; 18 percent were married 20-25 years; 12 percent were married 26-30 years; 14 percent were married 31-35; 7 percent were married 36-40 years; and 5 percent were married 40+ years.
They Came From Far and Wide
As the retreat has established a word of mouth reputation as an outstanding opportunity to make good marriages even better, participants came from not only the metropolitan New York/New Jersey area, but as far west as Los Angeles and far south as Charleston, SC. The couple from California noted, “We came from LA and were very appreciative of this chance to learn and grow.”
The workshops and lectures at this year’s retreat, were once again organized with an outstanding staff of Orthodox mental health professionals who specialize in marriage and who focused on addressing the issues head-on. According to Frank Buchweitz, the couples were refreshed and reenergized by the forums which openly addressed challenging issues within marriage — listening skills, intimacy, finances, re-marriages and blended families. One husband declared, “The retreat had a great impact on understanding my wife. I regret that such a forum as this was not available when I was much younger and newly married.”
Special time was set aside after sessions to ensure opportunities for couples to reflect on the discussions together. Learning how to recognize and address issues was also strongly emphasized.
A couple declared, “Rather than just going through daily motions, this retreat opened up the lines of communications to allow us to discuss real issues and address them, as opposed to just overlooking them or dismissing them as unimportant to the success of our marriage.”
Couples not only got to know one another, but made friends in the process. According to a woman participant, “I appreciated that there was plenty of time to be with my husband, and enjoyed meeting some of the other couples. It was so nice to be surrounded by happy couples who just wanted to improve themselves and their marriages.”
With the retreat organized around Shabbat, there was no mistaking the fact that the participants covered the spectrum of Orthodox Jewry. “The sessions I attended were very real, though grounded within the boundaries of halacha (Jewish law). I found this extremely inspiring,” shared one of the participants.
Of the atmosphere created, one woman responded, “Of all the Erev Shabbos meals that we have shared together over the years, not one compares to the experience we shared on this Erev Shabbos. We all started singing Sholom Aleichem together, which was beautiful in itself, but what brought me to tears were all the men singing Eishet Chayil to their wives afterwards in unison – it was very moving and beautiful. There was such a feeling of love in that room that it’s hard to describe it in words. But trust me, it was something to experience firsthand.”
As one couple clearly observed, reflecting the thoughts of many participants, “It was clear that a great deal of time and effort went into creating this beautiful retreat. It was so refreshing that the OU is progressive enough to address this vital aspect of marriages. The whole conference was absolutely amazing!”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.