The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Successful Couples Retreat with Gottman Method

Let Me Help You Plan a DIY Gottman Couples or Marriage Retreat

Want to strengthen your relationship without breaking the bank? Learn how to create your own DIY Marriage Retreat with this budget-friendly guide.

A marriage or couples retreat is the best short-cut toward relationship health. Marriage counseling can be expensive and while results are often excellent, it can be hard to find the time every week and sometimes couples use the time talking about events of the past week instead of enriching their gratitude and practicing vulnerability with each other.

How to Plan a Couples Retreat

This article walks you through the step-by-step process of planning your own couples retreat, but if you’d rather have it done for you, check out our exclusive small group, Weekend Getaway for Couples in the Poconos.

If you want to strengthen your relationship with your partner, but don’t have the budget for an all-inclusive couples retreat, consider creating your own DIY Gottman Couples Retreat. There are a variety of ways to do it so read on to learn what plan is right for you.

This guide will provide tips and ideas to help you and your partner deepen your connection and improve your communication skills on your own.

Do Gottman Couples Retreats Work?

Dr. John Gottman is a well-known psychologist and researcher who has extensively studied relationships and developed interventions to solve the most common relationship problems. He and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, created a model to help couples called Gottman Method of Couples Therapy. I (the author of this article) have trained with the Gottmans since 2009, am certified in the model, and am credentialed to run the workshops described below.

Download a Communication Workbook for Couples

Several studies have investigated the effectiveness of Gottman workshops in improving relationship satisfaction and reducing relationship distress. Here are a few examples:

A study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy in 2004 examined the impact of a weekend workshop based on the Gottman Method on 52 couples. The study found that couples who attended the workshop reported significant increases in relationship satisfaction and intimacy and significant reductions in conflict and emotional distance.

Another study published in the same journal in 2007 evaluated the effects of a one-day workshop based on the Gottman Method on 61 couples. The study found that couples who attended the workshop reported significant improvements in relationship satisfaction, communication, and overall relationship quality.

A study published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy in 2014 assessed the long-term effects of a Gottman Method couples workshop on 52 couples. The study found that couples who attended the workshop maintained their improvements in relationship satisfaction, communication, and emotional closeness up to two years later.

The Gottman Institute

Overall, these studies provide evidence that Gottman workshops can strengthen relationships by improving communication, increasing intimacy, and reducing conflict and emotional distance. Some of the reasons for this success are that the workshops are interactive, include worksheets for couples to complete together with pen and paper, and motivate couples to carve out time and space to talk about things that might not otherwise come up.

How to Plan Your Couples Retreat Step-by-Step

1. Choose Your Location.

The first step in creating your retreat is to choose a location that feels special and romantic to you and your partner. This could be a cozy cabin in the woods, a beach house, or even your own home. Since you’ll be saving money on the cost of a live seminar or private intensive weekend (which can cost up to $8,000), you might be able to splurge on a rustic inn or bed and breakfast, but your own home is all you need as long as you’re willing to carve out time and space.

2. Mark Your Calendars.

Block off a weekend or even just one full day where you and your partner can focus solely on your planned activities. Make sure to communicate with your significant other about this time and ensure that you both have cleared your schedules and are fully committed to the retreat. This will help create a sense of intentionality and importance around the experience.

3. Order Your Workbook.

When you sign up for a traditional retreat, the workshop leader lectures the entire group and then assigns exercises for couples to complete privately. For the DIY version, you’ll need to purchase a book instead. In lieu of lectures, you’ll each read the chapter content and then complete the exercises.

4. Balance Work and Fun at Your Couples Retreat

The healing might even start before your retreat. Most couples notice that they start feeling better as soon as the planning begins as they both feel good about taking steps to feel closer.

The best way to have a successful retreat is to make sure you balance fun relaxing activities side by side with your communication exercises and conversation starters. It’s tempting to over focus on one aspect of the retreat process (fun and relaxation and work)

Keep reading for a proposed schedule to help you structure your time. Use it as a guide and tweak it according to your needs and preferences.

Why Most Romantic Getaways Don’t Bring Lasting Results

The key to a successful couples retreat using the Gottman Method is to enjoy your fun, romantic getaway while also incorporating the exercises and techniques that lead to long-lasting love. It’s a delicate balance of romance, laughter, self-care, and intimate conversations.

There are two reasons DIY marriage retreats fail:

->Too much work, not enough fun

Sometimes couples place way too much pressure on their romantic getaways. Perhaps they’ve been busy with day-to-day obligations and have been telling themselves they’ll “talk about it later, when we’re finally alone and away together.” Sadly, this can lead to tension and arguments instead of the rejuvenation they were hoping for.

If you work too hard and grind through painful conversations, you won’t feel refreshed or rejuvenated.

->Too much fun, not enough work

On the other hand, once you’re on your retreat, make sure you remember to do the exercises you had planned.

If you keep avoiding your communication worksheets because you’re immersed in rich food and spa treatments, you’re missing an opportunity to improve your everyday life.

A successful retreat is a combination of work and reward; it’s a sanctuary away from the real world, combined with learning new skills. This way, you’ll stay connected once you return to the hustle and bustle of your other obligations while also having enjoyed some well-deserved R&R.

What to Actually Do on Your DIY Marriage Retreat

Your leisure time is up to you. Plan some candlelit dinners, local hikes, or favorite movies if it’s in your own home. If you’re in a fun new location, explore the sights and the amenities.

Intersperse your leisure time with time blocked out to work on your workbook. Some time will be alone, where you’ll be reading and doing your self-reflection exercises, and then you’ll trade so that your partner has the book to do their reading and reflection. Then, the majority of the time will be spent on JOINT exercises where you talk to each other.

Here is a sample of a weekend retreat schedule to start you off. You’ll need to adjust according to your pace and the exercises you are working on.

Friday Night
5:00 PM Familiarize yourself with the resources and plan your weekend schedule
6:00 PM Leisure
7-7:30 PM Work Independently
7:30-9 PM Complete your first set of exercises together. Set a timer and stop working when it goes off.
Saturday7-9 AM Leisure
9-9:30 AM Work Independently
9:30-11 AM Keep working through the workbook
11 AM-2 PM Leisure
2-2:30 Work Independently
2:30-4 Continue with joint exercises
4 PM – Bedtime Leisure
Sunday7-9 AM Leisure
9-9:30 AM Work Independently
9:30-11 AM Keep working through the workbook
11 AM-2 PM Leisure
2-2:30 Work Independently
2:30-3:30 Continue with joint exercises
3:30 – 5 Wrap up your retreat:
Bookmark where you finished and plan your next steps for how to transition to “norma” life.
If things get tense at any time, put the workbook down and take a break. Return when all parties are calm 🙂

Which Book to Use for Your Gottman Retreat

At the time of this writing, you have two choices if you want a workbook based primarily on Gottman’s research. (If you know of others, please let us all know about them in the comments)

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman

Seven Principles is a classic resource couples have been reading together for decades. Dr. Gottman himself writes it with Nan Silver, and it includes in-depth research, theory and real-world examples. The exercises you will receive in this book include exercises from each of the seven core factors that lead to relationship wellness.

You’ll start by building love maps, nurturing fondness and admiration, and practicing turning towards each other. Then in day two you’ll focus on letting your partner influence you, solving conflicts, overcoming gridlock, and creating shared meaning.

Pros of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:

This book is perfect for you if you want to hear directly from the founder of the Gottman Method and the person who conducted, analyzed and operationalized the research. You will learn each of the seven principles in depth, understand how they lead to relationship longevity and dissolution, and you’ll be given practice exercises to complete with your partner.

Cons of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:

One downside of using this book for a retreat is that it requires more independent reading time and fewer joint interactional communication exercises. It is written as a traditionally sized paperback and the exercises are buried in between paragraphs of text.

Love is an Action Verb: Couples Therapy Workbook, by Laura Silverstein

The Love Is an Action Verb Workbook is written by a certified Gottman Method Couples therapist who has used the model with real couples for over a decade. The workbook is grounded in Gottman’s research but has been updated with language more relevant in 2023. The author has been described as a “translator” skilled at taking technical jargon and making it easy to understand. She has tested her communication exercises and worksheets with her clients and published them so that they are accessible to those who might not need or have access to traditional and costly couples therapy.

Pros of Love Is an Action Verb Couples Therapy Workbook:

This book is perfect for you if you are looking for quizzes, conversation starters, flowcharts and diagrams. It is the size of a text book so there is ample space to complete your exercises and take additional notes. The format is visually appealing, the chapters are well-labeled and the writing is casual, positive and action-oriented.

Cons of Love Is an Action Verb Couples Therapy Workbook:

This might not be a good fit for you if you are looking for in-depth descriptions of the research behind the recommended exercises, and you prefer a more scientific writing style. The author of this book did not do any of her own independent research, so it is a second-hand resource, not a primary one.

You Can’t Go Wrong

No matter which workbook you choose (why not splurge for both?), carving out a weekend getaway will likely help you feel a renewed sense of intimacy, connection, and inspiration.

Simply by committing to give yourselves a well-deserved break from the grind of your everyday obligations, you are bound to come home feeling closer and excited to put your new skills to good use

Want a Little More Help Planning Your DIY Marriage Retreat?

Of course, you can plan your retreat on your own with your communication workbook, but for a small fee, you can also get the help of a certified couples therapist to walk you through the process.

You can have your own, private retreat facilitator with an online course created by a Gottman therapist. An online virtual retreat is the best of both worlds because you can watch videos for motivation and accountability. The instructor will explain exactly how to do your communication exercises, and you have help structuring your DIY retreat.

DIY Weekend Retreat Online

The Love Is an Action Verb DIY Marriage Retreat can be completed in the comfort of your own home. You two can transform your relationship in just three days and maintain your progress for decades.


Laura Silverstein, LCSW

Laura Silverstein is a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist, and author of Love Is An Action Verb.  She has thirty years of clinical experience and is the founder and co-owner of Main Line Counseling Partners, based in Bryn Mawr, PA. Laura is a frequent contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog and has appeared as a relationship expert in media outlets such as the New York Times, ABC, and Today. She helps couples find more happiness as a research clinician, speaker, trainer, and writer with a positive, action-oriented style.

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