Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Enriching the marriage

Last weekend, we made a haul-butt trip down to Hilton Head Island, SC for a marriage retreat put on by the Army chaplains. It's a benefit to being deployed. You only get one retreat per deployment and I think you have to attend within a certain amount of time. Neal booked it for March - maybe to coincide with his birthday, maybe because it was going to be our first "slow" weekend since his return. But it turned out not to be so slow. We didn't get to leave until Thursday afternoon and we had to be back by Monday morning. It's a 10-hour drive each way, you do the math.

My family has been vacationing in Hilton Head since I was a teenager. Neal and I got married on the beach there 2 1/2 years ago. It is my home away from home. Or perhaps I should say that Sea Pines is my home away from home. Hilton Head Island is divided into "plantations" with each plantation offering dining, lodging, shopping, and a fair amount of resident alligators sunning around the lagoons. Sea Pines is by far, the largest and most well-known plantation. It's home to the Salty Dog Cafe, HarborTown, the Lawton stables, Guiseppe's pizza, Truffles Restaurant, and it hosted the Family Circle Tennis Tournament back in the day. It has NEVER crossed my mind to stay anywhere except in Sea Pines. The Army, as usual, had different plans. We were staying on the Shipyard Plantation - a destination that we had passed many times on our way to Blockbuster or Wendy's but had never actually been in.

Shipyard, itself, is a fairly nice plantation. More homes and less shopping than many other plantations. It had excellent beach access and if we had been looking for a less expensive house to rent, we most certainly would have looked there. The retreat was being held at the Crowne Plaza, an older hotel with a strong nautical theme. I have always been more partial to the subtle beach theme of wicker furniture and sand dollar windchimes. The Crowne's bold blue and white vertical-striped wallpaper and anchor print carpet was too much. And that was only the beginning. Stars and stripes everywhere with brass elevators. It felt a little like being on the LoveBoat. As Neal opened the door to our room, I heard "WHAT?" I was almost afraid to look. 2 queen beds set against the left wall with an unmoveable table between them. How can you miss the irony of attending a marriage enrichment retreat and sleeping in separate beds? What we learned is that the Crowne had run out of King non-smoking rooms. So, our choices were smoking or wheelchair access. Don't you go to hell if you take a wheelchair access room away from a disabled person? I don't need another reason to fast-track it to the land down under...so...

But perhaps this is a good time to mention that on our first wedding anniversary, Neal was pushing troops at Ft. Jackson, SC. After a week vacation in Hilton Head (and sleeping in my own queen-size bed), I stopped by Ft. Jackson to spend a couple of nights with my favorite husband...in his one dorm room bed. So, while sleeping side-by-side in a queen bed is not the ideal situation, it was much better than sleeping head-to-foot in his dorm Army bed.

The marriage retreat kicked off with a workshop on forgiveness. I looked around the room and noticed that Neal and I were almost the only couple cuddled up together. Apparently, some of these people REALLY needed forgiveness. The retreat was not intended to start fights or delve into deeply-seeded marital issues but to give us tools to attack these issues when we get home. The only thing is, we don't have any issues. Maybe it's annoying when he forgets to rinse the sink after he shaves or when I accidentally leave towels in the wash for 4 days...but we don't have any knock-down, drag-out fights. Well, not yet, anyway. So, with all forgiven, we head out for dinner on the town. Refer back to paragraph 1 where he says "where would you like to have dinner?" and because we aren't staying in Sea Pines, I have NO IDEA. We ended up at Catch 22 - a seafood place (obviously) that my stepmom had told me about a couple days earlier. Great raw tuna, fantastic wine, and decent scallops. Unfortunately, our meager Army per diem didn't exactly cover the tab and we made a pact to eat more cheaply the next day.

Saturday was jam-packed with workshops on communication, being friends, having fun, fighting fair, resolving issues, problem-solving and 30 minutes on sexuality and sensuality. That last one was actually of most interest because honestly, I didn't really know the difference between the 2 - although I definitely knew there was a difference! And somewhere in there was lunch at The Smokehouse near Lagoon Road. If you're looking for slap-your-mama BBQ, that would be the place to go.

Saturday night was "date night". Apparently, when you have children, you no longer do anything except cook dinner, give baths, and talk (or sometimes fight with mad, scary rage) about the kids. We have date night about once a week - whether it's ice cream at Coldstone or an 80's movie with the gang, or all-bean burritos from Moe's...there is no shortage of date nights for us. So, we traded in our romantic date night for dinner with the officiant at our wedding and his wife, who is a wedding planner. This was the first time we'd seen Rich since our wedding, although I've kept up via email with him for the past couple of years. Dinner at Marley's with this fun-loving and in-love couple was exactly what we needed. They are around couples, both loving and not, everyday and it doesn't have any effect on how they are with each other. Three hours passed like three minutes and we parted with the promise to meet up again soon. We had packing and springing forward to do.

The final day of the retreat ended with a renewal of vows by the beach. It was like coming full-circle for us. We said "til death do us part" under the warmth of sun and with a chorus of crashing waves. To end the weekend, Neal agreed to lunch and shopping in Sea Pines, even though we had a 10-hour drive waiting for us. We paid the $5 and hit HarborTown first. After stopping in Nell's, Planet Hilton Head and Camp Hilton Head, we walked around the harbor to catch a glimpse of the Murdered Millionaire's yaht. For the full story, check out www.islandpacket.com but basically this couple owned a couple of yaht clubs and parked their boat at HarborTown. They disappeared suddenly after a meeting with their accountant, who was under suspicion for embezzling millions from their companies. They were never found and the accountant slashed his wrists with a steak knife in one of their rental units. But the yaht is still parked there and as red-neck as it was, I snapped a picture. I have my moments. Then off to Guiseppe's for lunch and back on the road for the long drive.

I know that Neal and I have a strong marriage. I also know that sometimes I drag the past into our future - feelings and thoughts that don't have anything to do with him. And I know that we are blessed to have such a strong bond, even after being separated for over a year. It gives me hope that regardless of what we face, we will have the tools to address it. After this weekend, we have even more skills to discuss a hot topic without getting hot ourselves. We can "share the floor", "take a time out", and go on issue-free date nights. It may seem small, but when 50% of marriages end in divorce, it could just be huge.

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