Last weekend, Keith and I spoke at a FamilyLife Canada Marriage Conference in beautiful Mont Tremblant, Quebec.

And I brought along a bunch of the TLHV team. Because they work on the blog, I really want to make sure that their marriages are supported, too. So I paid for them to come along and have a weekend away, just the two of them. Except that Joanna and Josiah brought their toddler. Which was awesome (and more on that later!)

Staff Marriage Conference - 10 Things We Learned by Going to a Marriage Conference

Left to right: Connor, Rebecca, Sheila, Keith, Tammy, Steeve, Joanna, Josiah (and their daughter, Mariana), Emily, Alex

All the women plus Connor work on the blog, Joanna’s husband Josiah works at a law firm and Emily’s husband Alex is in the Canadian Military. (They are posted to the same base as my daughter Katie and son-in-law David!). Tammy’s husband Steeve is a chaplain in the military, too, and spends a lot of his life doing marriage counselling, so we’re all kind of in this together.

Something that hits us at these marriage conferences is that there is always something new to learn about your spouse. It can often be difficult in the day-to-day routine of marriage to sit down and really talk about heart issues–what is it really that makes you feel loved? What is the best way to speak into that? What we love about marriage conferences is that they don’t just set the scene to ask the questions, they help guide you through finding the answers, too!

So I asked the TLHV team who went to the conference to send in some things that they learned from this weekend. Their answers are awesome! Check it out:

1. Much of success in marriage isn’t about being “lucky”–it’s because you set yourself up for that success AND you keep at it

“When you’re married it can be easy to just kind of settle in and stop trying. But what we were reminded of is that it’s not enough to just be buddies, even if it is fun and breezy right now–you have to be intentional partners.”

“We hadn’t taken our relationship very seriously in the past, and we wanted to work on it now while we’re still early in our marriage instead of trying to fix it 10 or 20 years down the road!”

2. Give yourself credit where credit is due

“Often when we think “marriage conference” we think it’s only helpful if you’re at a really bad place in your marriage. But that’s not true at all–if you’re in a really good place, it’s also nice to be able to say, “Hey! Here’s what’s working for us. Thanks for being such a great spouse.””

“It was an encouragement to us that we are on the right track! It is so important to be literal in our actions to put priority on our marriage.”

Joanna Marriage Conference - 10 Things We Learned by Going to a Marriage Conference

Joanna and Josiah

3. Men have deep emotional needs, too!

“I realized that my husband wanting sexual fulfillment meant so much more than just him wanting sex often and that it was more emotional for him than I had thought!”

“I realized my husband and I have the opposite of what you would expect with some emotional needs–he needs a lot of affection and cuddling whereas I’m the one who has sexual fulfillment as an emotional need. I don’t tend to show a lot of affection naturally, and it was a good reminder that I need to feed his emotional needs based on him personally, not just what I would want or what I previously expected based on gender!”

4. We need to say what we feel

“I need to say “I love you” to my wife more! It’s like oxygen to the heart.”

“If you and your spouse are in a healthy place, this advice is for you, but if you’re struggling, it may feel like nitpicking, and it’s likely better to work on the big issues first. That caveat aside, If there’s something small that’s irritating you, tell your spouse. You both want to know and you both want to make each other happy, too. Leaving small stuff can fester, gentle honesty is ultimately the kinder approach.”

5. You don’t have to do a marriage conference like everyone else

Joanna: “We live far away from family and the people who we would have asked to watch our one-year-old daughter for the weekend… well… they were at the conference with us. So we showed up to a marriage conference with a toddler in tow. Tremblant had a daycare center we enrolled her in, so that we could attend the sessions, but we spent our date night swimming with our baby. We had a BLAST. Obviously it’s inappropriate to bring a seven year old along, but we figured it was better to go to the conference and bring the baby than to miss it all together. You are a unique couple with a unique set of circumstances, its okay if you’re not stereotypical.”

Baby looking out the window e1554770127207 - 10 Things We Learned by Going to a Marriage Conference

6. It takes a village to make a marriage

Joanna: “I know when I think “marriage conference,” I think of going to a retreat with my husband and spending time… with him. And just him. We had some absolutely lovely walks together and really enjoyed connecting together as a couple, but honestly, my favorite parts of the weekend were spent with the group of us who went together. Laughing during sessions, spending time in the pool together, getting food out, and just having time to visit and reflect as a group was so life giving to me. As we drove home, I said to Josiah, “the reason I loved being with our group so much is that every one of them is REAL.” Getting to be with people like that, friends with whom you can really be yourself, working together to build marriages that thrive, is really a special gift. I’m grateful. While I thought we were unique in going to a marriage conference with a group, we found lots of other couple clusters throughout the event. Apparently we aren’t the first!”

7. Reminders are important, too

“I don’t think I learned anything particularly new, but it was nice to be reminded of the building blocks that have helped us build up our marriage.”

“Going to the conference felt, largely, like a really affirming and life giving New Years Resolution making session. We talked through the elements of a good marriage and then had the opportunity to come with ideas to try to make things better. We’re in a good place as a couple but were glad to get back into some habits that we’ve let slide recently.”

8. We talked about issues we had never really discussed before

“We learned that there were quite a few things that we never talked about that are actually super important (like sex, or where we were spiritually).”

“We found it a really nice time to bounce ideas off of each other, especially since we are (finally!) in a quiet season after a lot of busyness. FamilyLife also brought up spiritual pathways (which Rebecca wrote about) and it was a great way for us to talk about how we each relate to God, especially the areas in which we do that differently. We’re excited to intentionally feed my husband’s primary pathway of spending time in nature more intentionally.”

Becca Connor Conference - 10 Things We Learned by Going to a Marriage Conference

Connor and Becca working through an assignment. Connor is grinning because of a joke he made.

9. My husband really is my neighbor

“I don’t snap at people. Unless “people” is my husband. I’m embarrassed to report that, once or twice while packing, hurrying to get to a session on time, or in the midst of a brief moment of angst, I used my “I’m annoyed and snippy” voice with my husband. Ugh. Here I was, surrounded by a bunch of other couples,  none of whom I would DREAM of using that tone with, AT A MARRIAGE CONFERENCE, and snapping. It isn’t a huge and horrible problem, but I was reminded again that it is so much harder to be kind to those you are closest to. As Sheila said in “9 Thoughts that Can Change your Marriage”, my husband is my neighbor. I’m supposed to love him as I love myself. If there’s a tone of voice I wouldn’t use with my friends, why do I use it with my husband?”

What’s holding you back from a GREAT marriage?

51ARlATfBaL - 10 Things We Learned by Going to a Marriage Conference

Do you find yourselves taking each other for granted?

Has marriage lost that “spark”?

Learn how to feel connected again–and how changing the way you THINK about marriage can make all the difference.

10. It really is a getaway

“We all spent our weekend in Mount Tremblant, which Joanna referred to (constantly) as “looking like a playmobil set”. We enjoyed the mountain air, eating out at all kinds of different fun restaurants, exploring the pedestrian village, and (especially) spending time in the nordic spa pools. While conferences happen all over the place, they really and truly are mini vacations and getaways for you to relax and recharge as a couple. That, in and of itself, is a true gift.”

Marriage Conferences are great ways to renew your marriage!

The three speaker couples praying at the end of the conference.

A Plea: If you’re an employer, or if God has blessed you with money, would you consider sending others on a marriage retreat?

I remember meeting a couple when we were speaking in Niagara Falls once who were so excited to be at the conference. They openly told us that they weren’t Christians, but their boss had told all 60 of his employees that if they ever wanted to go to a marriage conference, he would pay for it. And he let them all know about the different dates around the province that year. So he and his wife of 3 years took him up on it, and they had such a good weekend and learned so much about each other.

I don’t know what company he works for, or who his employer is, but think about how he was blessing that young family.

Maybe you’re an employer and you could do this to bless your employees. Maybe you have younger relatives or someone in your church you could bless with a conference, too. Or maybe you’re on a church board and you could put it into the budget to bless your pastor with a marriage conference. I’d just encourage all of you who have more resources or who have employees to think about it. Marriages really are the bedrocks of our communities, and if we can strengthen the marriages of those around us, we’d all benefit.

If you live in Canada or you’re in the United States along the border, the FamilyLife Canada conferences are amazing (they’re different from FamilyLife conferences in the U.S., and honestly–I think the material is better, if I do say so myself). They’re always held at a beautiful resort location on off season, so the price is lower. Keith and I also have put our own marriage conference together, and if your church would like to host, you can contact Tammy!

Have you ever been to a marriage retreat? What did you learn? How has it impacted your marriage? Let’s chat in the comments!

SheilaSidebarAboutMe - 10 Things We Learned by Going to a Marriage Conference Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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