Why are couples retreats powerful? How do couples begin to get unstuck from their gridlocked and dug-in positions in just a weekend?

The answer is… Generative Conversations.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was trained in the Developmental Model during my internship.

In the Developmental Model, there’s a procedural intervention designed to improve communication called the “I” to I” (Initiator-Inquirer.)

The Gottman Method has a very similar process called Dreams Within Conflict.  The object of both of these interventions is to help couples develop a higher order of interpersonal skills.

During a couples retreat, these interventions become the “exercise machines” we use to train you to build emotional muscle and restore a deeper connection.

In each intervention, our client-couples are taught two distinct roles. In the Gottman Method, they are called the Speaker and the Listener. In the Developmental Model, they are the Initiator and Inquirer.

Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy employs a similar concept to the Generative Conversation. It is called an enactment. While it lacks the more formal structure found in the Gottman Method and the Developmental Model, it is incredibly powerful as well. I will discuss Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy and enactments in a future post.

The Speaker or Initiator

In the Developmental Model, the Initiator (Speaker) is taught how to:

  • Bring up one and only one issue/problem at a time.
  • Use “I statements” to describe the Initiator’s thoughts and feelings about the issue.
  • Describe the issue completely without assigning blame or shaming their partner.
  • Become curious instead of furious. The Initiator is invited to be open to learning more about themselves, and their feelings and values around the issue than they have been previously.

In the  Gottman Method, the Speaker (Initiator) is taught how to:

  • Focus on one essential issue or “dream.”
  • Honestly discuss your feelings and beliefs concerning the issue.
  • Tell your partner the origin of this dream or belief. Why is it so important to you? What does it symbolize?
  • Avoid arguing. Just put all your thoughts and feelings about the issue on the table.

Why are couples retreats powerful?

Structure, time, and the building of emotional muscle through these generative conversations.


In the Gottman Method, the Listener asks questions and allows their partner (the Speaker) to answer in paragraphs with little or no interruptions.

The Bader/Pearson Developmental Model operates a bit differently in one respect. It is more forgiving of polite and appropriate interactive exchanges between the couple.

In the Developmental Model, the Inquirer (Listener) asks questions and allows their partner to answer in paragraphs, but brief conversation is allowed. THe Gottman Method is a bit stricter about giving the speaker the floor.

The Listener’s (Inquirer’s) job is to:

  • Make the Speaker (Initiator) feel safe enough to tell you what’s behind their Dream, belief or story.
  • Listen in the way a sympathetic friend would listen.
  • Ask a question similar or identical to a structured list of exploratory questions.
  • Suspend judgment.
  • Do not attempt to solve the problem. Stay interested. Be curious. Do not interrupt. ( as I mentioned previously, where the Speaker (Initiator) is concerned, the only difference is that the Developmental Model is a bit more forgiving here.)
  • Move from emotional gridlock, and into a more nuanced understanding of the contours and landscape of the problem.

It’s all about the results

Science-based couples therapy is 70-90% effective. We blow up the old patterns of sticky stuckness. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds.

We avoid the “who’s gonna have their hand held this time” trap.  And we gently blow up the old song and dance that typically happens when the “dream” or gridlocked issue comes up.

Both models clearly define who is the listener, and who has the floor. Each role has specific responsibilities.

One thing is for certain. You’re not gonna talk about this issue the way you usually do.

What makes both of these interventions so profoundly powerful is that in a weekend-long couples retreat, there is ample time for both partners to begin to build the emotional muscle and learn specific skills to regulate their emotional volatility during these powerful, and sometimes tense discussions.

Both of these interventions provide the positive outcome of much clearer boundaries and a more empathic connection between the partner’s vulnerabilities and aspirations.

Why are couples retreats so powerful? Because we have the time and space to clear the decks, go deep, and stay there for a while.

What do couples learn in a couples retreat?

Why are couples retreats so powerful? Because unlike 45-minute weekly therapy with an all-purpose therapist, you leave with a whole new toolbox. When a couple communicates with each other differently during the “I” to “I” or Dreams within Conflict exercise, specific skills are developed.

During a couples retreat, a couple learns how to:

  • More fully develop their tolerance for anxiety.
  •  Enhance their ability to become more patient and delay gratification.
  • Increase their capacity to self-reflect on their values and beliefs, and self-define with increased clarity and specificity.
  • Develop a much greater capacity to self-soothe and regulate themselves when receiving challenging feedback.
  • Increase their ability to hone in on exactly what they want. And describe with clarity why it is so important.
  • Restore their intimate capacity to express and accept empathy. To talk with love and respect once more.
  • Yes.. you can do it! You will acquire new confidence and clarity. You both deserve to love better!

Originally published January 2, 2017.

Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}