There’s a lot of pressure on today’s marriages, and people expect a lot out of marriages. People marry for more than just economic or procreative reasons. We expect our spouse to be our romantic lover, our companion in life, and someone in whom we can confide our deepest selves and be accepted all the same.
But it’s not easy. The good news about marriage is that we marry someone different from ourselves. The bad news is that we marry someone different from ourselves ? Different upbringings, external pressures, arguments, stress, miscommunication, and misunderstandings are a sure way to put pressure on marriages. Most marriages require a good deal of commitment, selfless sacrifice, and tolerance. Add to that, as individuals we’re evolving creatures — always changing, and our spouse is always changing. If you want to make the marriage last, you’ll need to keep up to date on your spouse’s needs, desires, goals.
But when done right, marriages can become a never-ending source of joy and life fulfillment. It’s you and your partner, united together as superheros, against the world — building a life together.
As marriage therapist Marcia Berger puts it:
“The art of marriage is really the art of keeping up to date with your partner, of staying on track with your own and each other’s life goals as they emerge, exist, and change. It is about supporting each other and staying connected emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually.”
So how do you stay connected on all those levels?
The One Thing That will put 90% Of Marriage Therapists Out Of Business
Dr Matt Eschler, PhD and family therapist and coach for 32 years, says that if every couple did these three things, it would put 90% of therapists out of a job:
- Go on a date weekly. Dates should be fun and cultivate romance and positive feelings in the relationship.
- Do an activity as a family weekly. This can be a game night, a movie night, or something together.
- Hold a Marriage Meeting.
I want to talk about the third item, Marriage Meetings.
What’s a marriage meeting?
In essence, a marriage meeting is a set aside time to discuss the more “business” side of your marriage. In contrast, a date night is supposed to be an evening of fun and romance. In contrast, Marriage Meetings are times you bring up schedules, chores that need to be done, issues with kids, money, sex, inlaws, or other problems you feel like you need to address. If you don’t make time for the “business” side of things regularly, it can corrode your marriage.
A Time and A Place To Discuss the “Business” Side of Marriage
This is true in our marriage. We tend to bring up issues impromptu, in the heat of the moment, or avoid bringing them up all together. Unresolved issues halt our progress and eventually can be corrosive to even the best of marriages.
This might seem obvious, but every marriage has conflict. The presence of conflict is normal and wonderful. Treating and dealing with the conflict is a skill that happily married couples enjoy. There’s a whole section in this app devoted to communication and conflict. This part deals with creating a safe space to discuss conflict.
But don’t bring up issues on a date night. A date night is supposed to be a time to rekindle romance and help remind each other why you got together in the first place. It’s a time to have fun together and be lovers and friends.
Pick a Time & Place
The first step is to agree on a time and place for a marriage meeting. Marcia Berger, author of the book, Marriage Meetings, recommends setting aside 30 minutes one day a week. These meetings should be completely separate from date night.
The couples that are successful at a regular marriage meeting make a ritual out of the meeting. They treat this meeting seriously. They don’t allow distractions during this meeting.
For us, our place is every Wednesday night at 9:30pm in the bathtub (our kids won’t bother us there!). Besides, the Japanese kanji symbol for Wednesday is water. We can be relaxed and besides, it’s easy to get in a good mood when you’re both naked 🙂
Below is a sample agenda you can follow for your marriage meeting:
- Chores, Scheduling, Budgeting
- Plan For Good Times
- Problems & Challenges
- Update Needs
- Showing Love
I’ll go into depth on each item below.
Appreciation: Open with Positives
Begin a marriage meeting with something positive. We open with prayer, and then take turns expressing appreciation for something the other person did this past week. Sincerely thanking your partner for something they did or something you admire in them sets the stage for the rest of the meeting.
Pro tip: ask your spouse if there’s something that you should be thanking them for that you haven’t thanked them for yet. This gives you insight into what they think they’ve done for you that you may not have picked up on. You learn a lot about your spouse’s inner world too.
Discuss Chores, Scheduling, Budgeting
Next, you need a safe space to discuss most of the “business” of the meeting takes place. This is an opportunity to update each other on what’s going on in each other’s lives for the upcoming week or so. This is where you can discuss who will pick up the kids on what day, remind each other about a commitment you have, and so on.
This is also where you discuss & negotiate chores that need to get done. Keeping a cooperative spirit is important. If this turns into a tit-for-tat session, you’re not going to feel edified. To-do items are also discussed. Future plans are also discussed in this step. This is also a great time to discuss finances and the family budget.
If things get heated or things escalate into a conflict, stop! Table the matter. See if you can decide on another time to discuss the item.
In your next marriage meeting, follow up with each other on the chores you agreed to do.
Plan For Good Times
This is where you discuss plans for your next date night, family vacation, and so on. As Linda Bloom stated:
“Cultivating a loving partnership isn’t just about ‘working on our relationship’; it’s also about co-creating experiences that bring pleasure and happiness into each spouse’s life.”
Make plans for activities that elevate you and your spouse. Decide to live life to the fullest! Carpe Diem!
Discuss Problems & Challenges
This item of the agenda is towards the end on purpose. By this time you should be feeling pretty good. You’ve expressed sincere appreciation to each other. You’ve gotten your chores and to-do items discussed and out of the way. You’ve made some plans for some good times too.
This is also the time you can bring up any concern — about sex, in-laws, parenting, annoyances, money, etc. It’s extremely important that each spouse practice their very best listening and empathy skills, discussed in other areas of the Get Your Marriage On! app. Here are some examples of what can be discussed.
- Parenting style concerns
- Misbehavior of one of your children
- Where to send a child to school
- Sex (such as frequency)
- Concerns about their spouse’s use of their time
- Addressing an anger management issue
- How a change in schedules is affecting the family in a negative way
- The desire to start a new diet
- Whether or not to change jobs
- Phone and internet usage concerns
This is not a time to bring out a long list of grievances and complaints. Limit discussion to just one or two items per spouse. Brainstorm solutions to problems and work together. Sometimes sitting side by side rather than across from each other puts both in the posture being on the same team and looking at the issue as the problem to be resolved together.
And remember the “soft startup” — discuss an item delicately and gently, but directly. Avoid criticism (such as, “you always” or “you never”). Acknowledge your part in the problem. The Clearing Structure tool in the app can be very helpful for sensitive topics you want to discuss here.
It’s also important to note that when you’re new to incorporating marriage meetings into your relationship that you don’t bring up heavy issues on your first meeting. Start with smaller problems & challenges and build up from there or you’ll run the risk that there won’t be another marriage meeting.
Keep in mind that in marriages, 69% of problems can’t be resolved — they don’t have a solution. Seriously, research backs this up. Don’t expect to be able to resolve every problem. You can, though, with love, compromise, and sensitivity, come up with ways to manage problems that can’t be solved.
Because we are ever-changing beings, our needs change, even weekly. Updating each other on our needs help us better understand our spouses so we can love and serve them better. Very few of the needs you list may be things that your spouse can directly do for you, and that’s ok. Just expressing your needs helps the other person know what’s important to you.
Examples of needs that you might express are:
- I need to feel successful at work
- I need sex
- I need a tidy house
- I need time to myself so that I can just think
- I need to get back on track with my diet
- I need a girl’s night out
- I need to get more sleep
- I need more friends
- I need to get this big project completed
How To Show Love
End your meeting by asking each other, “What’s one thing I can do to show love to you this upcoming week?” and commit to doing it.
Introducing the Perfect Marriage Meeting Tool
If you’re like me, ideas about things you need to discuss in a marriage meeting come at random times. If I don’t capture it, it flees away just as quickly as it came. Developing some sort of system where each of you can jot down things you need to discuss for your upcoming marriage meeting is effective.
The Get Your Marriage On! App provides just the right tool, called Marriage Meetings. It helps you organize your agenda and follow along. If you sync the app with your spouse, each of you can contribute to the same agenda. Check it out today!
Have you done a regular marriage meetings? What works for you? Share it in the comments below.