2021 Marriage dreamscaping weekend retreat

In 50 days, we got over 30 hours of snow. Talk about glorious days to be on the mountain.
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Henry

This past weekend my wife and I began a new tradition we’re calling Annual Marriage Dreamscaping.

We are both inspired by natural landscapes and, when done thoughtfully and tastefully, deeply appreciate the stewardship of landscaping arts.

In a similar way, “dreamscaping” is the intentional shaping of our dreamscape - the inner landscape of our dreams and aspirations. It’s in the same family of rituals as annual review and goal-setting but has more of a focus on evoking experiential qualities instead of projects, tasks, and to-do lists.

I bow in reverence to Jadah Sellner who inspired us to dreamscape by sharing her own variant with her husband. Thank you. 🙏🏼

My wife and I found so much warmth and meaning in our weekend retreat that we agreed it may be valuable to write up our format and share it in case it may be useful for you. If you end up doing something similar or improving on the format, do let me know!

Quick overview

For those of you that want the short version, here was the general breakdown of our weekend. Times weren’t quite so precise (we didn't end on the dot every time) but this offers a directional perspective on our flow.

Friday

  • Leave early AM and arrive on-site early afternoon.
  • Play outside for the afternoon, get groceries for the weekend, then share a home-cooked meal that evening.
  • Go to bed relatively early.

Saturday

  • Get up early to play outside.
  • Back to home around 12:30. Set up our space, eat lunch, get comfortable.
  • 2 - 3pm - Global intention + core values exploration
  • 3 - 3:15pm - break (tea and snacks)
  • 3:15 - 5:15pm - Writing & sharing qualities
  • 5:15 - 6pm - break (stretching, dinner, solo downtime)
  • 6 - 7:45pm - Evocations
  • 7:45 - 8pm - break (starting to get tired and loopy)
  • 8 - 9pm - Tasks and calendar scheduling
  • 9 - 9:30pm - Clean up and prepping for bed

Sunday

  • Slow morning with pancakes for breakfast (yum!)
  • Mid-morning - Pack up and clean our space for check out
  • Later morning / early afternoon - leisurely stroll through the charming downtown
  • Afternoon into early evening - drive home

Stepping out to drop-in

First and foremost, to feel the expansive space to really drop in and connect, I believe it is critical to get out of the daily flow.

Practically, that looks like booking a small getaway for a weekend that is an accessible distance from home. It should be far enough that there is no temptation to “run home to get XYZ” but close enough that it’s not stressful to make the journey and there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy.

For us, that looked like booking a cabin in a mountain ski town with <4 hrs of driving. We like to get out into nature to play, so we brought our snow gear and made the most of the epic blizzard we found ourselves in. Having a hot tub is a luxurious bonus and our space had that as well.

Such a long drive may be hard to swing for others, so I think it could be as simple as an AirBnB within 15-30 min of the house. As long as the space is sweet, tender, enjoyable, and a good container for rich connection then the location doesn’t matter too much. Indoor fireplaces and candles can help set the tone of warmth and light.

Dreamscape on a full stomach before dark

This probably goes without saying, but it won’t hurt to reiterate - dreamscaping is best done after a lovely shared meal.

For us, that meant a meal we cooked together because we can make something healthy and infuse it with kindness and well-wishing intentions toward one another. For others, it could mean ordering from a nice restaurant and relishing the culinary artistry of professionals. Whatever format resonates within your partnership is fine as long as it’s a meal that you can both thoroughly savor and enjoy together.

Another worthwhile point is to allow for enough space and time when both of you are alert and awake. We were done eating and started our workshopping at 2pm and, without feeling rushed and taking plenty of breaks along the way, we found it took us 7 hours total. Ending at 9pm was a bit late for one of us, so when we do it next year we’ll probably aim to start in the late morning or break it up over two days.

The overarching point here is to set up the weekend for success (as defined by care, love, respect, and connection). When the container is set so both parties feel well-rested, well-fed, and well-resourced, there is a much higher chance (though never 100% and it is best to approach without expectation or attachment) for a transcendent experience.

Best year of marriage yet

Once we felt content with playing in nature (morning activity) and sharing a meal (lunch activity), we opened with a very simple and clear objective: We want to nurture the best year yet of our marriage.

That is a bold objective and one that we could both rally behind. Neither of us knew, at that moment, what that would mean or look like, but we both liked the idea of looking back on our next anniversary and confidently proclaiming “Wow, that was the best year yet!”.

With that objective agreed upon, we dove deeper to figure out what that could look like and how we get there.

Value-based conversation

A romantic relationship and partnership is an emergent quality that arises between two individuals. It is more than the sum of the parts - the relationship is a third entity that must be cared for and honored in addition to the individuality of the participants. So it’s important to start by acknowledging the respective values and aspirations of the individuals before bridging the space in between.

I was forever changed by the seminal negotiation book Getting To Yes so I often start exploratory conversations with speaking to relevant core values. I find that starting with core values instills understanding and respect from the get-go, and creates a sort of love map. With that map in hand, I find it is easier to gracefully navigate our overlap instead of getting lost in our differences.

After we explored our respective core values and discussed whatever we sought to clarify, we felt ready to dive into the key objective for this year. Before transitioning to the next segment, we took a break for some tea and snacks.

Write before you speak and share

For our next segment, we explored what it meant to reach for the Best Year Yet (BYY).

To start, we did a 10-minute time-boxed writing exercise:

  • 5 min to jot thoughts on “What do I imagine BYY looks like for you?”
  • 5 min to jot thoughts on “What does BYY look like for me?”

The reason we started with writing instead of jumping straight into sharing is because of anchoring. Creating space to jot our notes in the absence of being influenced by the other allows for a much cleaner and more honest share. It's not that either of us is actively trying to sway the other - but that's what happens unless we take the (short) time to write concepts and thought snippets first before either party speaks out loud.

With our personal notes in hand, we took turns sharing:

  • Wife shared what she thought BYY meant for me
  • I shared what I thought BYY meant for her

We each reflected on what resonated and what didn’t feel as aligned. This prompted a natural springboard into our personal concepts of BYY.

Our last round of sharing:

  • I shared my vision for BYY (switching it up just for balance, but doesn’t matter at all)
  • Wife shared her vision for BYY

We again took a moment to reflect where we were aligned with our individual guesses, as well as any overlap from our guesses for each other. Finally, we discussed what we really enjoyed and appreciated in the other’s vision for BYY.

A standard to qualify and measure Best Year Yet

Our individual specifics aren’t relevant for the structure, but I’ll offer one piece we both found compelling.

My standard for whether a concept or idea fit for BYY was “If that thing doesn’t happen, can we still have the BYY?”.

For example, we both really enjoy traveling together and have not been able to do much of that recently. So I wrote down travel and then asked “If we don’t travel at all, could we still have the BYY?” and immediately I knew “Of course!”. So travel proper isn’t the final answer and it was pointing toward something more root or more basic. In fact, every one of the dozen or so bullets I wrote down failed that test. Which ultimately begs the question: what is the one thing that must happen for BYY to be possible?

For me, the answer was moving toward our peak expression of relational harmony. I realized that, if we do not find ourselves closer to our peak expression in one year’s time, I will not be able to say this was the BYY. The key piece here is "moving toward" - I do not expect that we'll get to peak expression in the coming year (or even in this lifetime), but as long as we are moving toward that north star then I am content. That realization helped inform and guide the next section of our exploration.

But before diving into the next segment, we again took another break for stretching, bathroom, hydration, and dinner. Gotta fuel the dreaming!

Calling forth our evocations

The first few segments were all conceptual - speaking and bearing witness to our individual core values and our collective vision for our Best Year Yet. In this chunk, we brought the high-level concepts down to the practical plane.

The core question here was "What can we do individually and together to evoke the qualities we discussed earlier?”. Simply put, now that we know what we want, how do we make that happen?

To offer an example for clarity, one of the qualities we agreed was important was “support”. We both felt that a peak expression of our relationship includes the feeling of being fully supported plus genuinely and lovingly supporting one another.

We observed that we are OK at that in a spontaneous, haphazard way (i.e. bringing a glass of water when we notice the other hasn’t hydrated recently), but not so great in a scheduled, regular way. So a practical next step was to schedule a 15-minute check-in on Sunday during dinner to ask “Is there anything coming up in your next week? Anything, big or small, that I can do to support you knowing what you know now?”

We are both capable, independent people so I suspect most of the time the answer will be “Thanks, and I’m all set” for both of us. And, somehow, it still feels meaningful and supportive to have the regular check-in knowing that, if ever a need or desire arises, we are there for each other fully and completely.

Dates, deliverables, and next steps

As a professional project manager, no meeting feels complete (yes, even with my wife) until I’m clear on dates, deliverables, and next steps.

The home stretch of the evocations step was to open up our calendars and block out time for the pieces we both agreed we wanted. We looked ahead for the known items in the coming year and scheduled out our new regular conversations (like our weekly support check-ins) as well as our bigger, one-off items (like tentative travel dates for weddings and other trips). We also marked down any non-calendar / no action qualities and concepts that we want to be aware of for future reference.

The absolute last step was to schedule our next dreamscaping retreat in roughly one year’s time. We didn't want to wait this year, but moving forward, we'll likely combine this with our anniversary celebration.

Dreamy parting thoughts

At the end of a long day, we were both tired and ready for bed. Most importantly, we felt much more connected and clearer on how we can pour ourselves into making this the Best Year Yet for our marriage.

In short, our dreamscaping retreat worked exceptionally well. Reflecting back, the elements that made this so meaningful for both of us were:

  • Stepped out of the rhythm of our daily lives - this was truly a treat and a retreat
  • Our living space was comfortable, clean, and very enjoyable
  • We both came without any preconceived agendas or expectations. We were present with whatever came up and didn’t force any personal agenda into the dreamscape
  • We were well-rested and well-fed before we dove in
  • We did not rush any section and patiently gave as much space as either wanted to speak anything that came up
  • We approached each other with love, care, and warmth

Overall, this was an awesome experience and we thoroughly enjoyed each other and our time together. If you’ve made it thus far, I’ll humbly offer that dreamscaping may be a meaningful weekend retreat for you and your partner as well.

If this is a resonant concept for your partnership, I hope this writeup proves useful to cultivate greater depth and connection for you. I look forward to hearing how you shaped your dreamscapes, and most importantly, how they shaped you.


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For my fellow Roamans, here is the JSON file for import.


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