Elena Angel’s Ultimate Connection retreat, for people seeking to better their relationships, is no place for my usual inhibitions and anxiety. On the second day, couples, singles, men and women of all ages and backgrounds are dancing with varying degrees of enthusiasm outside in broad daylight to Abba. Acknowledging a quizzical look from a nearby horse, I ease myself into the throng, shrugging off my usual sardonic shell.

The weekend retreat is being held at the beautiful Inner Guidance retreat centre, near picturesque medieval village Lavenham. The owner of the retreat, Jo, was a warm host and we were treated to delicious gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, everything-free menu, three times a day. I promise; it actually was delicious. I haven’t felt healthier in a long time.

In our first couples exercise I am paired with a man who I am invited to see as the ‘love of my life’ despite our having just met yesterday. We are told to gaze at each other, to take each other in, to imagine them without their clothes, then without their skin, to see their organs, and then their skeleton, to reach inside their skeleton and see a bright light. Then to put their skin and clothes back on, but to keep hold of the light, to see it shining through them. 

In another similarly intense exercise, we settled into eye contact, before being invited to imagine the smell and taste of each other’s essence. I thought imagining a stranger with their clothes/organs/skeleton off was intimate, being asked imagine their smell and taste is an entirely different matter. You might not believe it, but he smelt kind and he tasted like lemons... I know; I was surprised too. We were no longer strangers and I felt intimately yet innocently connected to these new friends who otherwise would have seemed worlds apart from me.

These exercises are intimidating, but effective and well-led. Elena’s teaching is highly spiritual, but grounded in accessible philosophy and she equips her clients with some valuable tools to enhance communication in relationships.

By being secure enough to have honest, frank conversations with the people we care about, we can learn how to best communicate with them and in so doing we can avoid those misunderstandings which so often get blown out of proportion. Here are a few ways to get to know yourself and your partner better:

Are you:

Visual – someone who notices the way things look, who pays attention to detail

Auditory – sensitive to tone of voice

Kinaesthetic – aware of texture, how things feel, spatial awareness

Auditory Digital – concerned with having lots of information, you sometimes with emotions as they are hard to quantify

Whilst we may all display each of these flavours, most of us have a preference. It’s valuable to know which because it enables better communication. A visual person will respond well to being spoken to using visual prompts: ‘imagine if’, ‘look at it this way’. Auditory Digital people need all the information about a given situation: the why, the how, the when – all these questions might well frustrate an Auditory person – but if we know our partner needs a lot of information, we can work with that and remain calm under incessant question fire.

What means the most to you?

This exercise can be used to ascertain how someone expresses their love, and therefore how they would likely appreciate receiving love. Based on Gary Chapman's 5lovelanguages.com

Words of affirmation: for those who fit into this category, vocal affirmations mean the most – saying ‘thank you’, ‘I love you’, ‘Girl, you look beautiful today’

Acts of service: for these people, actions speak louder than words. Doing the shopping will make this person feel more loved than saying ‘I love you’.

Receiving gifts: Some people feel the most loved when they receive a gift

Quality time: This is all about undivided attention, spending quality time doing things together

Physical touch: For this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate physical touch

Again, though we might all like all these things – we tend to have a preference. It’s good to know what means the most to someone: you might constantly be whispering sweet nothings in your partner’s ear, when you’d get your message across much more clearly by doing the dishes. Knowing one another’s preference means we are able to communicate our love in the way it will be best received and understood.

If the above goes wrong and it’s time to say sorry…

No more confusing leftover bad feelings about your loved one not having apologised ‘properly’. Ask yourself and your partner which of the below styles of apology would mean the most.

Expressing regret

“I am so sorry for speaking the way I did. I regret being insensitive to your feelings”

Accepting responsibility

“I didn’t explain my thoughts and fears to you and was then angry at you for how you behaved not knowing. I might have talked to you more openly from the start”

Making restitution

“How can I earn your forgiveness? What can I do to help the situation?”

Genuinely repenting

“I am very sorry for what happened. I will make sure to be more forthcoming about my concerns in future and will pay more attention to your feelings”

Requesting forgiveness

“I hope this won’t damage our relationship. Will you accept my apology?”

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a pretty good toolkit. Go forth and connect!

To watch: Alan Watts - We are not separate