“I’ve been married 38 years. Are you saying my husband and I need to hold a formal meeting when we’re doing fine?” a radio talk show host challenged me.
Up until this point her tone had been contentious while I focused on practicing active listening (1) and on staying composed. I couldn’t blame her for being contentious. Her job is to inform and entertain listeners. Who doesn’t enjoy hearing a little skirmish now and then along with some good sound bites?
“Are you saying there’s no room for growth in your relationship?” I asked, in a puzzled tone.
Whoa! Suddenly, the tone of the interview changed. We were laughing together about how to stay happily married, given all the differences spouses experience and how it helps to have a sense of humor, and so on. The game of “get the guest” changed into something like a couple of girlfriends gabbing and appreciating each other.
Marriage is Ultimate Growth Experience
My point, of course, is that any relationship, regardless of its duration, has room to grow. The radio host sensed this instinctively; my question was simply a reminder. It’s easy to forget the truth that all relationships can become more and more fulfilling if partners are willing to invest energy into them. Marriage is the ultimate growth experience for people open to doing this. Growth happens when each partner is willing to focus on her or his own self-improvement instead of on wanting to “fix” the other.
On the radio show, I gave this example of how holding weekly marriage meetings is likely to foster both personal and relationship growth: After attending one of my marriage meeting workshops, Stan and Ellie (not their real names) held weekly meetings. “At first it felt contrived,” Ellie told me in a follow up study, “because the structure is so different from how we usually talk. But as we got used to it, it began feeling more natural. I learned that it is better to communicate with intention than to communicate without intention.”
The couple had been holding the meetings for ten months. They reported a 100% increase in marital happiness.
Yet, many people, like the radio host did at first, resist the idea of holding a weekly meeting. “We’re fine,” they say, implying, “If it ‘ain’t’ broke, why fix it?” Or they say, “We’re too busy.”
Marriage Meetings are Gentle Conversations
The real reason many people balk at holding a marriage meeting is a fear that their partner will view it as a chance to criticize them or make demands. Yet in a good meeting, the opposite is likely to happen. Effective marriage meetings are actually gentle, supportive conversations. They foster a respectful, collaborative discussion.
Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted is a concise book which provides guidelines, a simple four-part agenda, and positive communication techniques for marriage meetings. It also includes stories of how real life couples gain more intimacy, teamwork, romance, and smoother resolution of issues.
What We Talk About
The meeting’s agenda starts with Appreciation, a time when partners tell one another what they are grateful for, citing positive things each noticed about the other’s actions during the past week. Doing this sets a nice tone for the rest of the meeting.
During the next part, Chores, the business aspect of the meeting, spouses decide together what needs to be done and who will do it. Typically, one or two chores get mentioned. The list should be short enough the partners can comfortably make time to do what they offered to do within a week or so.
The third agenda item is Plan for Good Times. Spouses now plan a date for just the two of them, a time for just the two of them to go out together and do something both enjoy.
The last part of the meeting, Problems and Challenges, is the time to express and resolve concerns. Solutions can occur quickly and others may evolve over time.
Effective marriage meetings help partners to reconnect every week and to gain a sense of closure about pending matters. They prevent grudge holding, which sucks the life out of a relationship. They save time and energy that can otherwise be frittered away by ruminating about unresolved issues and misunderstandings.
Why Marriage Meetings Aren’t for Everyone
So why aren’t marriage meetings right for everyone?
Marriage meetings are wonderful for couples whose relationship is basically healthy. They help keep their relationship on track and grow in the important ways.
Yet they are not for everyone. Couples who, sadly, have allowed their relationship to deteriorate to the point that they do not show each other enough respect to follow the agenda and communicate positively, will sabotage the meetings. They will need couple or individual therapy first if they want to improve their relationship enough to hold effective marriage meetings on their own. Many of these couples can hold marriage meetings in the presence of a therapist or counselor who teaches them to use effective communication skills and reminds them, as needed, to stick to the meeting’s guidelines and agenda.
Another category of folks who aren’t ready to hold marriage meetings: those who don’t think their good enough, or not-so-good marriage, can improve. Many who grew up without seeing a healthy adult relationship repeat patterns in their own marriage that they witnessed as children. They may complain about their spouse but they’ve become used to their dysfunctional relationship and tell themselves it’s normal or as good as it can get.
But as the radio host realized, every relationship has room to grow.
Life offers one challenge after another, to help us gain wisdom, self-understanding, and a more fulfilling relationship with our intimate partner. Marriage meetings bring out the best in people who put their minds and hearts into holding them.
1. Step by step details for practicing Active Listening are in Chapter 9 of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted .