Let me present you with two concepts, side by side, to see what you think. One: Island holiday. (Turquoise water swooshing onto white beaches... exotic flowers swaying in the hot breeze… flowing rum.) Two: Couples therapy. Read that again. Couples therapy. It’s like making a chocolate fudge sundae and topping it with shredded rutabaga.
In truth, what my wife and I were offered was described as a “romance retreat” or, at worst, a “relationship workshop,” set in the swank Cambridge Beaches resort in Bermuda. But words like those all just sound like marriage counseling to me. Dr. Pepper Schwartz, Cambridge Beaches’ resident sexologist and relationships expert, is a renowned therapist with an impressive resumé that includes appearances on Dr. Phil and The Oprah Winfrey Show. We cringed: Are we really TV-therapy cases? Truth be told, although we do have a great marriage, our conflicting work schedules make for some rough patches. And here we were, being offered a getaway that worked with our calendars and had therapy thrown in to boot. We decided to keep an open mind (the better to pry into, my dear) and pictured the mix of sun, sand and surf with stirred-up latent emotions. (Just add ice, two parts rum...)
I looked outside and saw an elderly man in Bermuda shorts, knee-high stockings and a dress jacket balancing a cocktail in each hand. Inexplicably, I filled with envy.
When our airplane landed on the island, we exited right onto the tarmac, palm trees bending in the gentle breeze, and entered the small airport to the sounds of a Bermudian band’s funky-mellow rendition of “Bermuda Is Another World.” We smiled and made our way into line. I alone applauded after the band was done, garnering strange looks from our fellow travellers and apparently embarrassing my wife in the process. This moment will come up later, I thought to myself. My wife looked at me and smiled contentedly, confirming my suspicions.
We settled into our comfy cottage room and considered the romantic possibilities of its trimmings: giant bed, whirlpool bath, transporting view of the marina. Why, we were even next to the croquet field and mini-golf course! Surely, this was how Gilligan’s Island’s Thurston Howell III must have vacationed. I looked outside and saw an elderly man in Bermuda shorts, knee-high stockings and a dress jacket balancing a cocktail in each hand. Inexplicably, I filled with envy.
When it came time to set off for our first session with Dr. Pepper, as everyone seemed to refer to her, we expected the worst: sitting in a room full of strangers, talking about all kinds of sensitive, personal issues, splayed open like Portuguese rotisserie chicken. You know, vacation stuff. Instead, we found ourselves in a homey cottage overlooking island foliage, alone save for an ebullient, diminutive Dr. Schwartz. Coffee, tea and a giant platter of pastries and fruit sat invitingly on a table, but we were still too apprehensive to eat; this had to be some form of deception. I imagined myself processing painful childhood memories, bawling with cheeks full of custard Danish.
We argued after the workshop on arguing. In an effort to resolve our spat, we revisited some of what we’d learned that day, and it occurred to me that the fight was all my wife’s fault.
Dr. Schwartz talked about her sessions and gave us a sense of what to expect over the next few days, all the while munching on a mille feuille and sipping coffee. She focused on research (chew), dialogue (slurp) and exercises and was affable, funny and informed. The twice-a-day workshops that followed actually suited us pretty well; the program is designed for functioning couples interested in giving their relationship a refresher against an idyllic island backdrop. (What’s not to like?) We chatted about communication, conflict, intimacy, sensuality and sexuality and were occasionally joined by other couples. Some topics affected us more than others; we did argue after the workshop on arguing, for instance. In an effort to resolve our spat, we revisited some of what we’d learned that day, and it occurred to me that the fight was all my wife’s fault. Oddly, she disagreed. But, oh! The sun was brilliant, and the rum cocktails were close by at the Port O’ Call bar. Off we went, hand in hand; the therapy was working wonders.
Stumbling back to our room after a farewell dinner at the resort’s Tamarisk restaurant that involved sugar-sweet lobster and enough bubbly to bathe in, we agreed the experience had been worth the bickering and the Bermuda shorts. In addition to Dr. Schwartz’s insight, we’d had a full week of nothing but time together. At that moment, a magnificent crescent moon shone brightly in the starry sky, boats bobbed in the tranquil night water, leaves rustled in the warm wind and tree frogs chirped a froggy melody. We looked at each other lovingly, took each other’s hand, hit the king-size bed – and fell into a deep booze-and-seafood-soaked, coma-like sleep.
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Couples programs far and wide
- 1. Wrangle your partner (literally?) into attending Elkin Creek Guest Ranch’s three-day Couples Bootcamp and Fall Getaway Weekend, held every fall in B.C., where “togetherness” means learning how to rope and handle livestock à deux.
- 2. Get deep with Miraval Arizona’s couples connection program and learn all about “intentional dialogue.” Then head to the spa for side-by-side massages.
- 3. At the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, ironically where the flick Couples Retreat was filmed, the real-life romantic package (sans Vince Vaughn) involves a private bungalow, award-winning cuisine galore and champagne.
On Elkin Creek at the south end of Vedan Lake, British Columbia, 877-3GO-WEST, adventurewestresorts.com/elkin
5000 E. Via Estancia Miraval, Tucson, Arizona, 800-825-4000, miravalresort.com
Motu Ome’e, Bora-Bora, French Polynesia, 689-607888, starwoodhotels.com/stregis/index.html