How We Consciously Designed Our Relationship at Our Two-Week Intimacy Retreat
“The stake for our retreat is to lovingly create clarity in how we intertwine our lives,” I read aloud. The backbone of any retreat was the stake — the central purpose that we were gathering for. And we’d just settled on one that resonated with both of us.
This is part 2 of a 2-part story that started with me calling off my wedding. Read part 1 here.
“The stake for our retreat is to lovingly create clarity in how we intertwine our lives,” I read aloud.
I smiled as I looked up from what Candace and I had written, feeling proud for us.
We’d been lying for the past hour in our open air yoga pavilion, brainstorming our intentions and what mattered to us in our private intimacy retreat.
The backbone of any retreat was the stake — the central purpose that we were gathering for. And we’d just settled on one that resonated with both of us.
Just one day into our two-week intentional intimacy retreat in Costa Rica, and our experience so far had already felt so creative, warm, and loving.
Acres of lush and private rainforest surrounded us, complete with cricket sounds and toucans and monkeys. A few steps from the pavilion was our Balinese-style Airbnb villa, with folding glass doors and even a plunge pool.
I felt hopeful that by being in our own slice of paradise, we’d have the time and space we needed to consciously design and workshop our relationship.
The month prior to our trip, I'd been busy as I ran five leadership workshops, attended four coach trainings, and worked on launching my new website.
As we watched the sun set that first evening, something shifted in my awareness.
Our relationship had felt dreamy and magical for so long. We were so well-equipped at consciously and intentionally communicating our feelings and needs.
And a part of me had assumed that we could coast our way to our elopement.
I was wrong.
Having to call off my own wedding was a wakeup call.
I needed to take ownership and responsibility — that was always the first step toward making any shift.
“My contribution to us not getting married was not giving our relationship the attention and intention it needed,” I said to Candace the next day, as we drove to the nearby Dominicalito beach.
Our life partnership was more important to me than anything else I could be spending energy on. And for it to thrive, I needed to bring my A game.
For much of my life, I’d thought about my legacy in terms of things that I’d produce.
But what if my relationship wasn’t just an element of my life but a crowning achievement? I wrote in my journal.
If that were true, I’d bring my whole self into understanding the beliefs, behaviors, and patterns that formed the basis of my most important and intimate relationship.
We dreamt of starting a business together to awaken life-changing connection in the world.
But for now, we were focused on consciously designing a retreat for the most important relationship of all: our own.
My left shoulder turned away from her, almost as if my body was turning away to protect my heart from being hurt.
My body felt tense and hardened. Hers looked stiff as well with her arms crossed. I noticed myself avoiding eye contact, as we stood in the common room of our villa.
We were in the middle of another tense argument. It turned out that just flying to a jungle paradise in another country wasn’t enough to leave our argument pattern behind.
“Will you turn toward intimacy?” she asked.
My gaze still averted, I took a deep breath. A part of me wanted to be right — even though I knew that being right wouldn’t get me back to a loving connection.
A few days after designing a stake for our retreat, we had brainstormed values and how we wanted to feel in our relationship. And we had designed a stake for our life partnership.
The stake was the single most important element of intentionally designing any gathering, event, or relationship.
When we planted a stake in the ground, we made a shared commitment about what we stood for.
We created a North Star to orient us and to remind us whenever one or both of us got lost.
And that was exactly what we needed now in the midst of our argument.
Turn toward intimacy, I reminded myself, of the stake we had created.
It represented our ultimate agreement for what we committed to doing whenever we felt separate, tense, unloving, unsupported, or otherwise at odds.
Intimacy, or “into-me-see,” meant choosing to let the other see into our hearts.
It meant choosing to turn our bodies toward the other person in the moments that we wanted to avoid or hide or run away.
It meant taking responsibility and asking ourselves, “What's really going on?” whenever we spiraled into a reactive pattern.
It meant choosing to open our hearts and to let the other see the pain or anger or grief or fear that we were holding — rather than staying protective.
What's really going on? I asked myself.
I knew that I was always at choice, to stick stubbornly to what I was doing or to shift gears to produce a different result.
And I knew that I was always at choice in our marriage as well. Because even though we might only have one marriage ceremony, marriage wasn’t a one-time choice.
It was a choice we wanted to make every single day for the rest of our lives.
Every day we woke up, we wanted to look into the other’s eyes and recommit and choose again to be married to this person.
That was what our stake of “turn toward intimacy” represented to us.
And that was the choice in front of me at that moment.
“What's really going on is that I feel hurt, and I'm resisting the feeling of sadness underneath.” I responded.
I dropped my shoulder and felt my body soften. I closed my eyes, and let myself be held as I cried.
“Uninhibited vocal expression of desire, pleasure, during sex and in any moment.” I said.
“Feeling secure in our partnership to support attraction being natural and to allow jealousy or any emotion to be held.” She replied.
Lounging naked by the plunge pool of our Airbnb, a colored pen in hand, we took turns adding desires for our sexual relationship to a purple page in our colored workbook.
Each day of the retreat, we added something more to the $3 colored workbook we’d picked up at a local supermarket at the start of our trip.
Little did we know, our workbook was slowly becoming a co-created handbook for our relationship.
There was a page for beliefs we held about marriage.
Another page for beliefs we held around commitment.
One for the key elements we wanted in being married.
Another for our dreams for a future ceremony once our loved ones felt comfortable traveling and gathering again.
One for the stake for our prenup, which we had lovingly renamed our heartfelt agreement — and our needs and wants behind it.
Another for the beliefs we wanted to hold around sex.
And now, perhaps the most fun, what full sexual expression looked like for each of us.
I felt playful, happy, tender, loving, and so grateful.
Sure, I loved our beach time and jungle hikes and horseback riding and snorkeling adventures we did as part of our adventure. And I loved even more the intentional time we spent consciously designing our life partnership.
Each workshop session deepened our level of intimacy.
Each belief we elicited created more understanding and compassion for where we were each coming from and what drove our behavior.
Each dream painted a clearer picture of the shared life we wanted to co-create as we intertwined our lives.
Away from the energy of our city lives, we finally had the time and the space to invest in our love and our life partnership in a way that we couldn’t before.
One morning, I’d even woken up with a breakthrough realization. Most of our recent arguments — particularly the most insidious ones that had resulted in calling off our elopement — had followed the same 4-step pattern:
- She’d make an assertion about me.
- I’d defend myself or argue the validity of the assertion.
- She’d shut down the argument saying, “You’re being defensive.”
- I’d point out how she was doing it too.
Every time we danced that pattern, the outcome was the same: we’d spiral and escalate and harden toward each other. We tracked down the beliefs that led to our individual behaviors at each step. Each belief was reasonable and valid on its own, but they interplayed together in our relationship in a particularly painful way.
Creating consciousness around the pattern meant that we could catch ourselves, “We’re in step three of the pattern right now. What do you want to do about it?”
That one shift in the intimacy retreat changed the entire trajectory of our relationship.
We broke out of the spiral trigger pattern that we had been stuck in for nearly a month. And had we not had the spaciousness of our retreat, we would've likely been stuck much longer.
Each day on the retreat, we invested loving attention and energy into nurturing more understanding in our relationship.
Each day, we intertwined our lives ever more deeply.
Each day, we strengthened what it meant to turn toward more intimacy.
“I take you, Candace Erin Sauve, to be my life partner, my growth partner, my adventure partner, my lover, my beloved, my wife,” I began.
We cuddled naked, in bed, feeling heart open, as I gazed into her eyes.
“I promise to listen when you’re afraid, to hold you when you’re sad, and to soften when you’re angry. I vow to adore you and gently love all parts of you, especially the parts that you’re hard on,” I continued.
A year ago, I had proposed to Candace on a spontaneous whim on a different Costa Rica trip, when the moment had felt right.
And so it seemed apt that we were also exchanging our soul commitment vows in another unplanned moment — when things just felt right.
On the first day of our intimacy retreat, we had asked ourselves how we wanted to feel by the end:
Clear and aligned. Open-hearted. Compassionate. Rising in love. Alive. Grateful. Appreciative. Energized. Understood and understanding. Loving. Radiant. Nourished. Rested. Awe. Creative. Connected. Inspired. Fully expressed. Free and sovereign. Worthy. Awake.
And looking back, that was how we felt at the end of the retreat. Every one of those outcomes came true.
We flew to Costa Rica having let go of the attachment of getting married. We didn't pack her wedding dress, our wedding bands, our “We eloped” sign, or any number of things we had prepped for our ceremony.
It turned out we didn’t need all those things. We have yet to sign our legal paperwork or to celebrate with family and friends, but after our two-week intimacy retreat, we consider ourselves married in our souls.
If intimacy workshops and retreats resonate with you, let me know. Our dream is to awaken life-changing connection in people to themselves and to each other.
Thanks to Elenna Mosoff, Henry Kimsey-House, and Candace Sauve for reading early drafts of this post.
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