What people say about the
Heart of Relationships Retreat
How a relationship retreat cured my dating fatigue
Remember the early days of app dating? The novelty of it, the excitement. I clearly recall when Tinder first launched, a little over a decade ago – it coincided with me being newly single after the breakup of a relationship I thought would go the distance. I was heartbroken and a little lost in life, and discovered that the gamification of dating was a fun distraction. Every new match came with a little dopamine hit and a glimmer of hope that maybe, this time, I had hit the jackpot.
My early thirties are a blur of drinks, dinners, gigs and gallery visits that rarely led to much more than another few dates, if there was even a second one. Occasionally I felt a connection with someone, yet things never progressed beyond a summer fling. Meanwhile, the years passed and I grew increasingly frustrated that finding my person should be this tricky. Dating felt like a game I couldn’t crack, and I desperately wanted to figure out where I was going wrong.
In my search for answers I had so far turned to the plethora of advice offered by dating coaches and matchmakers that somehow made their way into my social media feeds. I watched their YouTube videos, read their books and listened to their podcasts, all of which was helpful up to a point, but I was still chronically single and now suffering from a serious case of dating fatigue. I suspected I would need to delve deeper into my own psychology if I were to have any sort of breakthrough in my love life.
I found a retreat called The Heart of Relationships, run by British husband-and-wife relationship coaches Emma and Matthew Pruen. Reading about how they help people transform their relationships with a unique combination of techniques including constellation therapy and shamanic rituals, I was intrigued. And so, one sun-soaked afternoon last summer, I arrived at the Pruens’ retreat centre in France, an old manor house surrounded by sunflower fields a couple of hours’ drive from Bordeaux. A converted barn was the setting for our workshops and also where I slept in a rustic-chic ensuite bedroom overlooking the peaceful countryside. I felt myself relax, both mentally and physically, intuitively knowing that coming here had been the right choice. Any qualms about signing up for group therapy were put to rest as I received a warm welcome from Matthew and Emma and met the other participants. Knowing we were about to bare our souls to each other, we quickly ditched the small talk and opened up about why we were there.
I wasn’t the only single person, but mostly our group was made up of couples in their forties who had been together for many years and for different reasons had hit a bump in the road. Listening to their stories and sharing my own as we sat in a circle and took it in turns to introduce ourselves, I felt a sense of trust and understanding form between us. We were about to share thoughts and feelings we had perhaps never voiced before, and relive memories we normally did everything to suppress. “I’m massively outside my comfort zone right now,” one guy admitted. We all were, we reassured him, and that was the point.
Over the next few days Matthew and Emma guided us through exercises designed to help us better understand our relationship patterns and underlying needs, and – crucially – how to express them effectively. The most tangible way we explored this was through constellations, a form of therapy that uncovers the dynamics between people, such as family members. It reminded me of doing improvisation theatre in drama school, except this time we were portraying real people in order to help each other revisit past experiences.
One by one we were invited to share an issue that was troubling us, for it to be acted out by the rest of the group guided by Emma. When it was my turn, I asked for help figuring out how I could date more intentionally. To get a sense of the core issue, Emma probed me about my dating history, my family and childhood. She asked me to pick someone in the group to represent me, and then picked out a male participant to represent a potential love interest. He approached my alter ego, smiling. “How do you feel?” Emma asked her. “I feel a bit nervous, like a horse that wants to bolt”, she said. Sitting among the rest of the group, I held my breath as I watched the scene unfold, which now also included my unhappily married parents. I couldn’t believe how aptly two virtual strangers were portraying my mother and father, with barely noticeable direction from Emma. Somehow their improvised lines recreated real-life scenes, poking my deepest wounds. I was in floods of tears, but also felt the support of the group around me. By the end, when the girl portraying me told her potential boyfriend that he would need to be patient with her and take things slowly, and he happily agreed, I felt calm and relieved. It was like watching the happy ending to my own story, which may sound cheesy but was actually a powerful way to learn that while we can’t change the past, we can break old patterns and let go of limiting beliefs.
By the end of my stay in France, I felt a lot more optimistic about the future. I had arrived at the retreat hoping to find out what was wrong with me, but came away with greater self-confidence and the tools to approach my next relationship more maturely. I feel ready and excited to date again, but this time I’m ditching the apps in favour of seeing who I might meet in the wild.
Other Feedback from participants of our relationship courses
"What a treat. What most precious weekend this was.
Thank you. Thank you.
E and myself are still in awe.
You have created such a special place in France. I envy you. Very special indeed.
Thank you for the profound interest on all of our relationship issues. Thank you for the tools that we so much embrace. Thank you for being so much yourself in sharing your love and wisdom and honesty in what living live in harmony is all about.
We love you 😍 "
""How to find the words to thank you. Simply put, you saved our relationship in one gentle, powerful and life-changing weekend. We woke up on the Monday morning so in love. It honestly felt like someone had waved a magic wand. The programme felt so gentle but so profound at the same time. As we listened and shared and did the exercises it was as if the sludge of years of resentment, misunderstandings and being in almost constant stress and power struggle lifted and we finally saw one another clearly from a place of love. And two weeks later that is still going. The tools we learnt were so powerful and easy to use and we’ve been using them ever since and it has transformed our communication. Who knew it could be this simple! Everyone in a relationship needs to do this course. I had high expectations of the course as it came highly recommended and I had heard of Matthew’s wonderful reputation, but I could never expected to have walked away feeling so deeply back on track and in love. Nothing short of miraculous. I wouldn’t change a thing. Thank you thank you thank you xxx ps I had been suffering from gastritis for 9 months and medication was doing nothing to help. When we did the visualisation on day two I felt anger and resentment in my stomach. Well after the course my gastritis disappeared. Just like that. Alfonso says thank you too - he thought it was excellent - life changing - and that from a man whose worst nightmare is group therapy and he hadn’t read the part about it being GROUP therapy so almost had a panic attack in the first hour. He ended up loving it."
"By the end of my stay in France, I felt a lot more optimistic about the future. I had arrived at the retreat hoping to find out what was wrong with me, but came away with greater self-confidence and the tools to approach my next relationship more maturely. I feel ready and excited to date again, but this time I’m ditching the apps in favour of seeing who I might meet in the wild."
"Matthew and Emma were beatiful facilitators. They really demonstrated that all relationships needs work - even theirs! I learned so many new tools and techniques that we even put to work on the second day of the workshop and already used more now at home. If you feel a bit out I sync with your partner, unheard, not loved and struggling to have a conversation then this course is for you. Truly a breath of fresh air."
"We were looking for a re-set, chance to melt the build-up of bad feelings and to remember what made us a good couple. The sessions gave us that, and the tools are easy to use in the moment when the proverbial is hitting the fan! Amazing facilitation, made all the difference to have an actual couple demonstrating the tools and showing that no relationship is constantly easy."
"Thanks to you both for a truly useful course & for your hospitality.
I have a Question: Roughly how often do you run the course I attended ? Both for singles and couples? I’d like to recommend it and also gift it to my kids at some point!
Loved the weekend and got what I came for & more! Yippeee….