Many couples are looking for a non religious marriage retreat that isn't sponsored by a religious organization. Others are looking for a secular marriage retreat, or one that nondenominational, for personalized work with a therapist. Some couples don't care if the facilitator of the retreat is, themselves, a religious leader. They just don't want to be judged for having non religious views. Some religious leaders clear identify themselves as offering a non religious marriage retreat, free of doctrine or prayer. Other couples prefer that the therapist doesn't announce any religious affiliation at all (whether they have such affiliation or not).
This article covers 8 things to consider when you are inquiring about a non religious retreat, particularly when held by religious organizations or those leaders who identify as having strong religious affiliations. You may also want to investigate science-based couples therapy retreats that has extensive research behind it.
1. What makes a marriage retreat non religious?
The specification of a "non religious retreat" distinguishes the individual or organization's efforts to welcome a broad range of couples in troubled marriages. It can get confusing. Some couples therapy intensives labeled "secular" may be run by religious leaders or those with strongly held religious beliefs, but these facilitators do not necessarily offer all couples a religiously-oriented message.
What makes it a non religious marriage retreat, then?
Both the target audience (broad array of couples from any religious or non-religious background) and the content presented by the couples retreat are specifically designed to appeal to a broader more secular audience.
2. Are all secular, non religious marriage retreats the same?
No. Some are group experiences with a set curriculum. Others are run by individuals trained in a particular model of couples therapy. And still other intensive retreats for couples are run by people of strong religious faith who open up their retreats to non-religious or non-Christian couples wanting an intensive marriage counseling experience. The term "non religious" doesn't indicate that the facilitator or therapist is agnostic. Only that the focus of treatment or the presentation involves a secular focus. This work can either be a science-based approach to helping couples or a secular model of therapy, or strictly psychoeducational.
3. Are atheists welcomed in a non religious marriage retreat?
Atheists are typically welcomed in all but the most stringent or orthodox groups who run couples therapy retreats. However, not every person who is atheist or agnostic may feel comfortable attending a retreat with those who have strong non-secular affiliations. In these cases, it is best to look for an organization that emphasizes a science-based approach, or a model that announces itself as either being a non religious marriage retreat or one that has no religious ties.
4. What is the difference between a group and individual couples counseling retreat that is secular?
A group experience like The Art and Science of Love by the Gottman Institute invites groups of couples into an organized educational experience that has a science-based approach.
In contrast, individuals with or without clinical or psychological training may work with couples for several hours or several days in a one-to-one setting. It surprises many people to learn that while words like "therapy" or "counseling" are often regulated terms that can only be used by licensed professionals, many people offer "couples retreats" or "marriage retreats" without any clinical or counseling experience at all! This can be particularly true of religious or ordained leaders who are free to offer pastoral counseling to those requesting it.
5. Does "ecumenical" mean it won't require prayer?
One distressing article in Salon described a couple who went to a retreat labeled ecumenical. Although they had no interest in a religious focus (one was an atheist) they were allowed no TV, no computers, no cellphones, or pagers and expected to pray. Banners with religious symbols were everywhere. They told a comical story of uniting together to "escape" this experience they called "hell." Be sure to ask about whether prayer will be required, alcohol allowed, and electronic entertainment devices discouraged.
6. Can non-marriage couples attend non religious retreat?
Yes. These secularly oriented training or extended therapy sessions don't discourage couples who aren't married or engaged. The focus will be less on one's marital status and more on the quality of the relationship and an organized approach to improving that union.
7. Can Gay, Lesbian, or Non-binary couples attend a non religious retreat?
Yes! In fact, research done by one science-based practitioner, John Gottman, Ph.D., who has spent over 40 years researching relationships, has many relevant findings on his research targeting Gay and Lesbian couples. Those trained in the Gottman Method read and develop particular expertise in helping same-sex couples.
Many same-sex couples want couples therapists who specialize or welcome them, rather than simply "accepting" their affectional preferences. Many couples expect more than "tolerance" or "acceptance" in the sexual orientation. They want a therapist who has particular experience in working with GBLTQ couples.
8. Can a Priest, Minister, or Rabbi really be "secular"?
Yes, in the right context. These religious leaders can also be psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, social workers, or marriage and family counselors in addition to their religious ordination. This training enables them to take a broader look at issues couples present, even ones that could violate their own religious beliefs such as ongoing affairs, non-monogamy or gay and lesbian marriages. But other marriage retreats are clearly labeled religiously oriented, despite accepting those not in or practicing the faith. Phrases like: "non-judgmental Christian Marriage Counselors" or "Open to all couples" suggest that despite labels that identify their services as having a Christian approach, they also work with non-Christians.