Laughing and fighting back, Danielle looks across the desk at me.

“You see?” she asks me, her voice smiling. “You see what I have to put up with?”

Isn’t There More Than This?

Couples like Garrett and Dani walk through my office door almost every day. They arrive shy and uncertain, sit down in comfy chairs or nest together on a large overstuffed sofa, and begin the process of looking for answers. Very few of them can articulate what they’re looking for. Words like more or deeper sprinkle their conversations with me. They’re not particularly searching for more sex (okay, some are) but rather more meaning, more value, more connectedness.

They’re trapped in the routine, but they’re chasing the magic.

Is there more to it than this? they wonder. Shouldn’t marriage be a unifying journey that bonds two people in the deepest, most meaningful connection and love?

They know what they want, but sometimes they’ve grown afraid to hope.  

Couples like Garrett and Dani sign up for our “Marriage Enrichment Weekends” and “Renewing Your Marriage” retreats and seminars we travel to speak at. They file into church basements and high school gymnasiums, into community centers and large metro hotel ballrooms.

Some of the couples who attend our seminars share a ministry as pastors, missionaries, or church leaders. Their points of contact and areas of commonality with other marriages cut sharply across and puncture the differences. Regardless of age, years married, geographic region, socioeconomic status, and many other variables, sooner or later every married couple gets around to the same goal: We want more.

When we first began speaking to married couples at weekend retreats and family conferences, we discovered something that deeply surprised us. We were amazed to learn that many couples end up attending marriage retreats and marriage conferences more than once. They are repeat visitors to this strange four- or five-session alchemy of doctoring a relationship toward better health in the space of a few quick hours.

Early in the opening session of a weekend seminar or family conference, we often throw out this question: “How many of you have attended at least one marriage retreat or marriage enrichment seminar before coming to this one?”

Almost always, somewhere between one-fourth and one-third of the audience raise their hands. We’ve had a few seminars in which it appeared that half the crowd had come with previous experience at marriage enrichment or marriage renewal retreats or seminars. It’s always shocking to see how many people have tried this before and have decided to come back again. After all, how many times can you hear that you need to communicate better, or that you need to learn how to resolve your conflicts?

Let’s face it, marriage retreats (which are wonderful things, we enjoy them) involve a nice mix of laughter, relaxation, as much socializing as you like, time away from the kids, and lessons about how to communicate better and how to fight fair. The curriculum for most of them—no matter who is teaching and what book they’re selling—is pretty much the same. By the time you’ve attended three or four of these kinds of sessions—or presented forty or fifty of them—you already know the drill. Whether you’re watching for clues on a Power-Point presentation, laughing at silly video clips, or filling in the blanks of a workbook, when it’s all said and done the material is pretty much the same.

Fight fair. Communicate better. Go on date nights more often.

The messages are often the same, definitely repetitive. So why do couples keep coming back for more of this?

We ask them, and from one coast of North America to the other, they tell us. Across Europe and Asia, they say the same thing.