10 Things We Learned by Going to a Marriage Conference

by | Apr 9, 2019 | Marriage | 12 comments

lessons from a marriage conference we attended! 10 things we learned about marriage from a marriage conference!

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!)

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 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.”

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.”

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?

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!

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


Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Kate

    Sheila, would you advice for single people to attend a marriage conference? I mean what better way to learn about marriage then to be around married people, right?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Kate! I think it would depend on the marriage conference. Our conference is really focused on the two spouses doing a lot of projects together. The talks are peppered with moments when the two are supposed to turn towards each other and discuss something. So it’s almost less of a teaching conference and more of a “discover what makes your mate tick” conference. Other conferences that are more focused on teaching may be good, though!

  2. Maria

    One of the most amazing things I’ve learned since having a baby is that you really can take them anywhere. My husband and I work together, and we went to a work conference in another state when our daughter was 9 months old. Like Joanna and Josiah, our parents live far away and all of our usual babysitters were going to the conference, too. I was pretty nervous about bringing a baby, but it turned out so much better than I expected! Dad and I took turns holding her through the talks, and the other conference participants (and especially the conference photographer) loved having her there. To any new parents who worry that a baby means you life is over, you can do so much more with them than you think you can. And most people around you will be thrilled to have an adorable baby at the table to break up the monotony of boring adults!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s awesome, Maria!

    • Lisa

      I have brought a baby to so many places! A few years ago I brought my non-mobile baby with me to a women’s retreat. It was lovely and all the women loved taking turns holding her. I have 5 children and no family that can babysit. Hiring someone to watch 5 children overnight, especially when one has special needs, is outrageously expensive. The cheapest I’ve found, to hire a person qualified to care for special needs children, is $30/hour. When people suggest hiring someone I feel like asking them if they’re offering to pay for it!

      This is the main reason we’ve never gone to a marriage conference and are unlikely to ever go to one. The second reason being is that it seems like they are all run by complementarian organizations.

  3. Phil

    Grace and I attended a marriage conference early on in our marriage. We found out that we talked differently in the sense that I would say blue and she would say yellow and we both meant red. So essentially we agreed with each other but we couldn’t communicate it properly so we fought. We have been planning a private marriage conference with a friend of ours but it hasn’t materialized …juts yet….but would love to do another one as that was 18 years ago or so….except this time what we want is nothing so serious. There were these silent serious times….which I get are good and helpful but I like the idea of doing some fun activities and listen to a speaker and then going out as a group as was mentioned….and of course some one one time with the wife….sign me up Im in….

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really is a great experience, Phil! What I like about the conferences we do is that it’s more facilitating than teaching. We tell stories and make some important points, but each talk is geared towards giving the couple a chance to talk together and learn some things about each other, and then do a quick project. You go home with concrete action steps. So it’s not really about head knowledge as much as it is about mapping out a marriage path for you going forward. I find them really fun!

  4. Tiffany

    This is great! We’re in Texas, but are considering doing a trip to Canada and a conference for a vacation that’s also refreshing our marriage. We’re in that lull after a baby where we’re kind of ‘off’ and know we need to reconnect better before it becomes a problem. If not FamilyLifeCanada we’re looking for ones closer that have good principles! I’m scared of a love&respect feel that’s more damaging than helpful!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, Love & Respect is definitely more damaging! I hope you can make it to a good conference. There are lots of other great ones around, but if you want to come to one of the awesome ones in Canada, the ones in Alberta are in breathtaking locations. Just amazing!

  5. John

    I went to one and learned that no matter who says it or what book says it or how many people say it, my wife still refuses to make sex a part of our marriage.

    Oh, and that I better just accept it and move on.

  6. Lisa

    My understanding of Family Life marriage conferences is that there is a lot of complementarianism and encouragement for wives to submit to their husbands (without mention of submitting to one another). Is this what you experienced? As recently as 2018 I read another blogger writing about how she felt “beat over the head” with such “encouragement.”

  7. J. Parker

    What a fabulous experience for all of you!


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