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Bali Relationship Renew Retreat 

30 March 2023 | Maggie O'Shea | Mindfulness

“Clear, spacious and high” were the words used by Jack Kornfield upon leaving the Thai Buddhist monastery where he had been secluded for five years, only to come home to Boston, start dating, join a shared household and quickly discover that “my meditation had helped me very little with my human relationships.  Only the horror now was that I was beginning to see [my same painful] patterns more clearly.” (A Path with Heart pp.6-7). 

 As a romantic partner for thirty-plus years, I can so relate to Jack’s humbling experience, and my own version of this was really what in 2010 drew me back to study for a Masters in Relationship Therapy.

That was the beginning of a long and ongoing process, too complex to do justice to here, but I wanted to at least share the first part, which was waking up to the fact that long-term romantic relationships are actually hard for everyone! Somehow, I’d been accidentally telling myself a number of not very helpful or accurate “stories” about why and how things (mostly my partner) should be different! I remember at one stage being both confronted and reassured to be sitting in a room with 200 therapists and hearing the founder of the Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) Stan Tatkin spend what felt like the first half of a training course repeating variations of the same theme: 

There’s no such thing as an easy relationship. People are low-maintenance from a distance but high-maintenance close up. In relationships, people act first and then make up stories to explain later.”

Why are relationships so hard?

Because not only are we all wired for love and belonging, but we are also wired for threat, which means it doesn’t take much in our closest relationships to be triggered into states of fight, flight, and freeze and all the automatic behaviours that come with those – criticising, blaming, shaming, avoiding, defending, stonewalling, numbing, ruminating and more. 

It’s easy to develop blind spots, fall into reactive patterns, believe the biased stories we tell ourselves, or forget to notice, let alone appreciate and savour all the everyday moments of quiet companionship, generosity, affection or togetherness.

Understanding this leads to more compassion, which then helps us towards more vulnerability – taking the risks emotionally that the newer understandings of adult attachment tell us are necessary for building and sustaining safe and close connection. As founder of Compassion Focused Therapy Paul Gilbert often declares “It’s not our fault that the brain is a mess.” This is why we need compassion. Without it, we tend to exacerbate the stress and difficulty of life. 

“But,” he always goes on to say, while it isn’t our fault, “it is our responsibility.” In other words, to live wisely with the negative bias, there are specific things that we can learn and practice, including relationally. Updated theory and insight helps, but these will likely go out the window when we’re triggered into reactive states if we don’t know how to pay close attention – not just to those biased stories in the mind, but to our emotions and body sensations – and how to “be with” these and more wisely respond. It’s challenging enough to soothe our own nervous system, but in relationships we need to also help our partner with theirs, and work through difference, “misses” or conflict in ways that pull the other person closer, rather than accidentally pushing away.

Despite still being madly in love (at least half the time), I still find my closest relationship to be the hardest place to consistently achieve this and my heartfelt wish to live a wise and compassionate life. However, it is so rewarding to keep trying to practice what I now know works best, and also to share this with others.

Bali Relationship Renew retreat 16th-21st July 2023: 

This winter I’m offering a six-day tropical retreat at a beautiful eco-resort just outside Ubud. A chance to combine holiday with learning, the retreat will be nourishing, transformative, romantic and fun! Along with the daily morning workshops (21 hours total), experience some of Bali’s stunning scenery and culture with excursions to local sights, and enjoy complimentary spa/massage treatments, optional daily yoga and mindfulness and relaxing around the pool. Also included are most meals, a cocktail or two, and free regular shuttles to Ubud if you wish to explore the city during your downtime.

Course content:

Grounded in mindfulness, compassion and neuroscience, this is an extended version of my own Relationship Renew program, drawing together the key themes and practices of evidence-based relationship therapy: Sue Johnson (EFT-C), Stan Tatkin (PACT), the Gottmans, Brené Brown & more. Morning workshop sessions will be 3-4 hours, after which the rest of the day is yours to choose whether you join a group excursion, do your own thing with your partner, or rest and relax at the resort. 

Why a group training?

Because as much as I love my counselling work, many of us don’t necessarily want or need therapy, which can carry with it the implicit assumption that we are deficient, failing or there’s a problem to be fixed. A group format instead conveys that actually we all share the same challenge, and all relationships can benefit from practicing what works. We don’t need to freak ourselves out when those inevitable “misses,” differences or conflicts arise, or if we have reacted not responded, the training provides strategies to circle back and effectively repair. It also provides updated information and theory, including about how attachment experience continues to be incredibly important throughout our whole lifetime and how this relates to enjoying a great sex life over decades too. Importantly, you are not asked to share any of your private relationship experience in the large group. Instead, after each short presentation, you and your partner pair off for the structured conversations, exercises and practices that bring the theory to life.  

Why Bali?

My partner and I met while back-packing in Europe in 1988 and have treasured the special memories we created there and feel they’ve supported us through the harder times and reminded us to keep having fun and adventure together. In a culture renowned for its friendliness, warmth and beauty, Bali in winter is the perfect location to leave behind some of the responsibilities of home and give your relationship the attention and love it deserves.  

Find out more here

Contact Maggie O'Shea [email protected]

Psychotherapist and Mindfulness Teacher Maggie O'Shea discusses common relationship challenges and how these can be addressed ahead of her 2023 Bali Relationship Renew Retreat (July 16 to 21 2023). Hosted by Openground's Timothea Goddard.

Testimonials from past Relationship Renew participants

This course has been fantastic and life changing - I feel so fortunate to have been able to do it! I didn’t think we could achieve change so easily and so quickly. It has given us a chance to learn together and to understand the frameworks or theories behind what drives our behaviour. We can read each other better and I feel much more relaxed and that much less energy is being wasted, now that I feel safe and loved (I was both of those things before, I just wasn’t able to see it).  Tanya, RR participant 2021.

We’ve learnt so much! One wonderful thing was becoming aware of the 'common humanity' aspect of our struggles – that we are all experiencing relationship difficulty/complexity. The main lesson that I took away is the need to invest in those bids for connection, to be brave enough to initiate, and to be present enough to respond. Claire, RR participant 2022.

Thank-you so much for making this relationship course available. 

I have found it truly valuable for improving the quality of how I relate, how I want to be related to and really see the benefits for creating better relationships overall not just with my loving partner. It’s really good stuff!  Daniel, RR participant 2022

Thank you so much for the amazingly helpful course. I am so glad to have been part of this. Jo, RR participant 2022

Thanks again Maggie for a wonderful course - it really has given us so much faith in working through our tricky moments. I love remembering that we are bonding mammals - such a simple thought, but life changing… The most useful thing for me was having the ritual aspect of a practice - to turn up and pay attention to my/our growth. We can learn the theory on our own, but having to show up and be present and practice was so valuable. Claire, RR participant 2022.

We have a pretty good relationship already, but understanding how to deal with each other in a kinder and more compassionate way, backed with the wide range of scientific relationship evidence provided has transformed how we see it and respond to each other. [I learnt] that we tell ourselves stories. That my partner was feeling abandoned because of my behaviour and that we can easily fall into patterns. That I can empathise and don’t need to solve problems. Joel, RR participant 2021.

Much appreciation and gratitude to experience this course and be opened up to relationship skill development in this training. It has been so practical and useful for better relating and more fulfilled pleasure of relationship - Thank you!  Lola, RR participant 2022

We have learnt so much from this course and it has enabled us to draw on skills and information to continue to work on our relationship - gratitude, making special time for each other, empathic listening, fixing the misses quickly, turning towards not away, and being kind to yourself are practices that stand out. [We learnt] that love is an ongoing work of art that we need to work on, not just let idle…The insights that other participants shared was also a highlight. Julie, RR participant 2022

Thank you Maggie from us - we are grateful that you have made a course like this and it has really helped us! RR participants, 2022

Maggie, thank you again for your information and experience - you have helped us greatly in finding our lost connection and allowed us to recognise we are not alone. RR participants 2022


The course has shone a spotlight on some areas of our relationship which have always been a bit of mystery to me. It has enriched our shared understanding of each other and our relationship. Matt, RR participant 2022