Having a weekly couple’s meeting could save your marriage.
What is a couple’s meeting?
A couple’s meeting (or marriage meeting) is where you meet with your spouse on a weekly basis (generally) to discuss issues and other logistics in your marriage and family.
How can this help?
This can help your marriage by:
Having a set time to deal with the planning and logistics that happen with your family
Things such as chores, dates, getting kids from here to there, etc.
Protecting friendship, fun, and support time
It provides a set time where you can discuss issues constructively instead of bringing them up during these times.
Taking some of the day to day pressure off of your marriage
Knowing that there will be a set time when you will deal with issues and plan can help keep you from feeling like you are walking in a minefield, afraid of the next issue and argument that will come up and explode.
Helping with the withdrawing/pursuing behavior in some relationships
Holding weekly couple’s meetings helps the pursuer know that there will be a time to talk about the issue and helps the withdrawer know he/she doesn’t have to worry about issues being thrown on them suddenly.
Helping make dates a priority
During these meetings, you can plan and prioritize when you will have your dates.
Helps you show appreciation for one another
Depending on how you run your meeting, it can also be a time where you shower appreciation on each other, which builds each other up.
Some general principles for couple’s meetings
Here are some general principles for holding couple’s meetings.
Make it a priority
It can’t be something that you do “if you get to it”. It has to be a priority.
Have a set time every week
If possible, you want to do it at the same time every week.
That helps it become more of a habit and part of your weekly routine.
But do be flexible. It’s okay to adjust as your schedule changes.
Also, doing it on a weekly basis helps prevent grudges from building up and from issues lingering too long.
Do it even if things are going well
One reason things are going well is likely because of the couple’s meetings. Don’t stop doing them just because things are going well that week. It can help prevent issues and problems from rising up.
Do it at home in private
According to Marcia Berger in her book Marriage Meetings for lasting love, it can be detrimental to have meetings at places such as restaurants where you are likely to get interrupted, be overheard, and lose your train of thought.
Remove all distractions. Turn off your phone. Make sure the kids are taken care of or in bed. Make it a time where you can focus completely on the conversation with your spouse.
Sit next to each other
Berger says that sitting next to each other builds a sense of connection. If you have a table between you sitting across from each other, it puts a barrier between you and makes you more opposite each other.
Think as a team
Think of yourselves as a team working together to plan and solve issues – not as two people working against each other.
Berger recommends making the first few meetings positive. Deal with the easier issues.
This helps make the experience more positive and leaves you wanting to keep doing the meetings. She suggests getting to the bigger issues after 4-6 meetings.
Anyone can initiate the meeting
It doesn’t matter who initiates the meeting as long as someone does.
It’s okay if it seems unnatural
Many of the destructive ways we communicate and argue feel natural. You want it to be unnatural if arguments and communication are frequently negative and ugly.
Have a notebook and calendar (or electronic version of them) with you
Have something with you to take notes, write down who is going to do what, and to schedule activities. When you two agree on something and the steps you will need to take, make sure to write it out.
It can be helpful to let the person who speaks less speaks first
Berger recommends letting the person who is less verbal speak first on issues to help them speak up.
Seek outside help when needed
If the situation is too unsafe to meet or there are deeply entrenched issues, getting outside help can be beneficial.
Limit the meeting and issues
Berger suggests limiting your meetings to 45 minutes and limiting the issues you bring up.
This may vary depending on the situation and issues, but it can help keep the situation from being negative or overwhelming.
Limiting the time also helps keep the meeting focused.
How to conduct your weekly couple’s meetings
There is no one set way to conduct your meetings.
However, Berger in Marriage Meetings for lasting love gives a suggested outline that we will go through here.
Feel free to take from this and adjust it to you as a couple. The important thing is that you meet every week to discuss the issues in your marriage.
Berger says there should be four parts of your couple’s meeting: Appreciation, Chores, Planning, and Issues.
Berger says, “During Appreciation, each of you takes an uninterrupted turn to tell the other what you appreciated about him or her during the previous week”.
It can be very easy in a marriage to stop seeing the positive things that each person does. Often they become “normal” and we take them for granted.
By looking for and acknowledging what you liked and admired about your spouse for that week helps you focus on the positive, and it helps your spouse to feel appreciated (everyone wants to be acknowledged and appreciated).
By focusing on appreciation first, you start off positively and make each other feel acknowledged.
So how do you do that?
Start off one person at a time listing what you appreciate about the other person. Then switch to the next.
Berger suggests asking “did I miss anything” when you finish seeing if your spouse feels like there is something they did they would like to be appreciated for.
Here are some other tips Berger gives in her book:
Keep a list throughout the week and write down the positive things your spouse does.
Don’t forget the little things
Even stopping by the store or sweeping the floor can be worth mentioning.
Don’t do subtle accusations
Don’t say things like, “I appreciate you finally…”
Say statements such as “I liked it when”, “I appreciated it when”, and so on.
Watch your body language
Make sure your body language is matching what you say. Smile and give good eye contact. If you are frowning, showing disgust, and not looking at your spouse, it negates what you are saying.
Listen when the other person speaks
Don’t interrupt the other person when they are talking.
Don’t use vagaries. Be specific about what your spouse did and what you appreciated about him or her that week.
For some ideas of what to be appreciative about, check out:
The chores part of the meeting is where each of you discusses what you think needs to be done, agree on what’s most important, the timelines for what needs to be done, and who will do the different tasks.
One important point to mention is that if a discussion about a chore becomes an issue, move that to the issues part of the meeting.
The chores discussion is meant to be done calmly working as a team to decide how the different tasks and responsibilities in your marriage will be handled.
Also note, Berger says that “couples who share household tasks have sex more often than those in which one partner slacks off in the chores arena.”
So how do you discuss chores?
Take turns talking about everything that needs to be done.
Write everything out on paper.
Then discuss what is most important, when it needs to get done, and who will do what.
Mutually decide what tasks can wait till another week.
Here are some more guideless Berger gives in her book:
Have written down the tasks that you feel need to get done, whether this week or in the future.
Always, ALWAYs, be respectful. Never put down, criticize, or be sarcastic with one another.
Remember you are a team working together. Being negative only hurts you and the relationship.
Don’t tell each other what to do
Work together, give and take.
If someone is not in agreement with something, they are less likely to do it. And no one likes being bossed around. Each person should volunteer what to do.
Instead, if it is a task that no one wants to do, negotiate, or work on it together. Maybe hire someone to deal with that issue, depending on what it is.
Don’t take too much on
Some things can wait. Don’t take too much on that you feel overwhelmed and stressed. Don’t be a “martyr”.
Don’t attack or blame if a chore isn’t done
Don’t attack or blame the other person. Just move the task to the top of the list and set a new deadline. If it becomes an issue, talk about it during the issues part of the meeting.
Show appreciation for what each other does and when someone volunteers to do something that neither of you wants to do.
Avoid a 50-50 mentality
If you are focused on making sure everyone does the exact amount, you are hurting your marriage. That leads to scorekeeping and nitpicking, and that can be deadly.
Instead, focus on you and what you can do for the relationship.
This doesn’t mean you be a martyr and take too much on, but you should focus on your contribution versus making sure the other person is doing exactly what you are doing. (And truth is, it’s easy to exaggerate what we do and diminish what the other person does).
Planning for Good Times
During this time, “you schedule dates for just the two of you, individual activities, and family recreation.”
This is the time where you plan fun times.
It’s vital that you and your spouse spend one on one time with each other outside the house.
It’s called a date.
Make sure you schedule it.
It can be as a simple as a walk together or going to a local play.
If you can’t think of what to do, take time listing ideas or think about what you did before you got married that you enjoyed. (By the way, watching tv together is not considered a date, it needs to be away and out of the house).
It’s also important that each of you has some time to yourselves.
Berger says that “by depriving yourself of individual, self-nurturing activities, you are likely to start feeling uneasy. Your self-esteem will drop. You may resent your partner.”
You also may want to plan family vacations and outings as well. This is the time to do that.
So how do you do it?
First, discuss the topic (such as a date).
Then brainstorm ideas with no negative comments.
Then both of you decide on the activity or activities that both of you want to do.
Some general principles for planning for good times:
Make dates and individual time a priority
Both are important. Stop making excuses and find a way to make them happen.
Brainstorm for ideas
When coming up with dates or family outings, brainstorm ideas. List every idea out without comment, then go back through them and decide on activities everyone likes (or a combination that makes everyone happy).
Don’t be a martyr
Don’t always sacrifice yourself to make everyone else happy. That builds resentment over time.
Instead, give and take. Work together for ideas that you both can enjoy, or work it out so that over time everyone’s interest is met.
For ideas for date nights, check out:
Problems & Challenges
During this time, “each of you can bring up a concern – money, sex, in-laws, parenting, changing schedules, or something else.”
Berger suggests sticking with 2 issues at a time, or 3 if you can stay constructive.
Whatever you do, don’t just come with a laundry list of complaints that you drop in your spouse’s lap. That won’t turn out very well.
Either person can bring up an issue.
Here are some possible steps for dealing with conflict.
First, one person brings up an issue.
The other person listens and does not argue. The other person paraphrases the speaker to make sure they understand the issue.
Then the other person takes a turn talking, with the original speaker listening and paraphrasing.
This continues until each person feels understood and validated.
After that, then you can move on to problem-solving.
But you don’t problem solve until the entire issue is discussed and everyone feels understood.
Do note that not every problem is resolvable. Some problems you may have to live with. It’s not the problem that will hurt your marriage in the long run; it’s how you both manage it that matters.
Here are some general guidelines and principles for dealing with issues and problems:
Dr. John Gottman in the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work says that research shows that when a conversation starts harshly, it will inevitably end on a negative note.
It’s important to make sure you start soft.
Don’t start off blaming, accusing, or attacking (and don’t do that at all). State your needs using an I message, taking responsibility for your part of the issue.
Use an “I message”
An I message doesn’t blame, it just states how the behavior affects you.
“I feel X when you do Y because Z”.
“I feel sad when you talk over me because it makes me feel like what I’m trying to say is unimportant”.
Attack the issue, not the person
The person is not the issue. A certain behavior or action is the issue.
Don’t attack your spouse. Talk about the issue. Blame never solves anything.
Start with the facts
Facts are least controversial. There’s a difference between what happened and why we assume someone did something.
Start with what happened. Then share how it affected you, how it made you feel.
Use an object to determine who is speaking
Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan Blumberg in Fighting For Your Marriage call their variation the “Speaker Listener Technique“.
Basically, you have an object, whether a stick a remote (or a spot on the floor), where the person who holds it (or stands there) is the speaker, and the other person is the leader.
The person listening does not argue or speak if they do not have the object. The only talking they do is to paraphrase back what the speaker just said.
Markman and the others recommend paraphrasing after every statement.
The two then can switch back and forth who is talking and who is listening by switching who has the object.
But that’s not natural
Is that “unnatural”, especially so much paraphrasing? Well, yes. But if what is “natural” is causing so many problems, the unnatural is probably a good idea.
In most cases, you have some fault, too
In most situations, everyone has contributed to the problem somehow. Acknowledge your contribution and apologize where necessary.
Have a team mentality
It’s not a “his or her” problem. It’s an “our” problem. Face the problem together as a team.
Don’t hit the heavy, hard, sensitive issues first. Start small.
Start with easy to resolve issues first.
Then, over time, move to the harder issues. Practice having successful conversations first.
Don’t be a martyr
Don’t sacrifice yourself always to accommodate the other person. Often people who do this do it to be indebted to or for a sense of “look at me, always the sacrificing spouse”.
Always accommodating builds resentment. It should be give and take, working together to solve a problem, not you sacrificing to “keep the peace”.
Focus on the relationship above yourself
Focusing always on “me, me” is a recipe for disaster. Put the relationship first. Look for ways to bless and please your partner and benefit the relationship.
Don’t think “what can I get from the relationship” but rather “what can I do to benefit the relationship.”
After you finish
After you finish, Berger recommends doing a fun activity together. This way you end on a high note versus a possible negative one.
A couple’s meeting is a powerful tool that can keep your marriage on track.
It provides a time for issues to be dealt with, as well as time for planning and focusing on the relationship.
Though there is no one set way to hold a couple’s meeting, one possible solution given by Berger in her book Marriage Meetings for lasting love is a good starting point.
In it you start with appreciation toward each other; deal with chores and to-dos; plan for dates, individual time, and family events; and then deal with problems and issues (then do something fun together to end it).
If you haven’t had a couple’s meetings before, start this week. Plan a day with your spouse to start.
Remember, start slow. Start with the easier issues to deal with the first few times, then move to the harder issues.
Now to you:
After you’ve tried a few couple’s meetings let us know how it goes. I
If you have been having successful weekly couple’s meetings, do you have any more tips or suggestions to help others?
If you would, please share this article with others. You can use the buttons below.