Marissa Nelson is the founder of IntimacyMoons, a new retreat that blends therapy and luxury vacation for singles and couples.
A licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified sex therapist, Nelson operated a private practice in Washington, D.C. before founding IntimacyMoons. The retreat combines group workshops and individual counseling with snorkeling, spa treatments and luxury accommodations.
Splitopia caught up with Nelson to talk about the motivation behind her new venture.
Splitopia: Why did you decide to create IntimacyMoons?
Marissa Nelson: I was finding that a lot of clients would come in and say, “I went through a breakup and then I went on vacation to find myself.” I decided that I really wanted to create a program that would blend the tools you get in therapy with a luxurious vacation.
You can definitely go to workshops in the U.S., but it’s sterile. You’re in a room all day. There are handouts. Sometimes people zone out. I wanted to make it fun and relaxed, but still have people learn some tools and create a program that would enhance self-awareness for singles—and intimacy for couples who want to come.
Splitopia: Why is a retreat good for divorced or divorcing people?
MN: I think it is important, when you are on the heels of a divorce, to reassess who you are as a person, where your journey has taken you, and what new possibilities you want to create. The retreat lets you examine your current beliefs about yourself, what you need in a partner, and what messages or feelings you are holding on to that don’t serve you. This experience of self-reflection and discovery will help those going through the transition of divorce start the road to healing, begin redefining their lives, and let go of shame, doubt and pain.
Splitopia: Does that self-reflection also help people have a better next relationship, or are these tools more about feeling comfortable with oneself and with the divorce?
MN: The retreat is really about examining your family of origin. This is about you, and moving forward from the inside out. I think it’s really important to look at the relationship that your parents have, the relationship that you have with your parents, and the messages you got. Do you have narratives around how men should treat women, how women should be in relationships with men, gender expectations? How did you learn to negotiate differences and conflict?
Before we can say what we really want from someone else, we have to examine these other questions. Once you have this awareness, you can begin to say, “Okay, what’s best for me now? Is it best for me right now to unpack some of this stuff on my own when I go home after this retreat?” Or, it could be: “Cool. I’ve learned through some of this. Now I can go into the next relationship with more confidence and tools under my belt."
Getting a boyfriend or a girlfriend and getting a date is easy. But staying in a relationship, being able to nurture that, to get reciprocity, to love and receive love and not push it away—that’s what’s hard.
Splitopia: What does the retreat offer when it comes to sexual intimacy?
MN: Part of the retreat is about understanding what your sexual template is and how you can be sexual in a way that honors who you are when you’re dating. You want to understand what your relationship to sex is and how you use sex. Do you use sex as a means to communicate your wants, your needs, and your desires? Do you use sex as a means to connect? Do you disengage emotionally but connect sexually?
Splitopia: If you had three pieces of advice for someone going through a divorce, what would they be?
MN: Here are three pieces of advice for handling divorce:
1. Take your time.
I see a lot of women and men rush though it. They say, “Okay, we have to divide our assets. We have to come up with a custody arrangement. We have to do this. We have to do that. We have to sell the house.” Things move so quickly, that they really don’t have the time to go through what they need to go through. They completely numb out. It makes it really hard, especially if you’re a co-parent, to communicate your feelings, needs, wants and desires. You need to be able to communicate in an open and amicable way because there’s so much going on you haven’t dealt with yet. You’re still in the thick of it.
2. Don't judge yourself.
I see so many people who say, “How could I have not seen it going wrong? How could I not have seen this before? Shouldn’t I have chosen better? Couldn’t I have made a better choice for a partner? Why didn’t I end this sooner? Why didn’t I see this coming?” I think there’s a lot of questioning that kind of turns inward. “Did I make the wrong choices? Is there something wrong with me? Am I damaged now? Am I broken?"
No. Forgive yourself. This is an experience. This is all a learning experience. It might be a painful one, but that's okay. You can use this situation to transform. You take the good from it, take what you learned from it, and use it as an experience and a lesson to move forward.
3. Honor the connection that you had.
While you’re no longer romantically involved, there’s still some tie. There’s still communication that has to be had until things transition and move on. If you have children, that’s an ongoing connection. Children really watch what’s happening. Children are very intuitive. Even though they may not know all the facts or all the details, kids watch.
Splitopia: This is really sound advice, and the retreat sounds great. I hope to see you in Barbados!
A four night/five day trip costs between $3,500 - $3,700, depending on the room you choose. For more information, visit IntimacyMoons.
Read here for more advice on going through divorce.
Laura Brienza is the author of two nonfiction books for Globe Pequot Press: Discovering Vintage Washington, DC and New York's Historic Restaurants, Inns, and Taverns. Her writing has also appeared in Flavor & The Menu, Feminine Collective, 1st Amendment Media/IndyBuild, The Date Diaries, and she is a Weekend Reporter for Obsessed With Everything. Her plays have been produced and developed by The Lark Play Development Center, the Kennedy Center, and Luna Stage, where her most recent play Old Love New Love was hailed for its "sharp writing" and "poignant moments" by The New York Times.