| Marriage Meetings--Right for Everyone?
"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 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,” the 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.”
A Marriage Meeting is a Gentle Conversation
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.
"Good Enough" Marriage Has Room to Grow
Another category of folks who aren’t ready to hold marriage meetings: those who don’t think that their "good enough," or their 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.
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
Image: Bigstock/Conversation between man and woman
"I remember walking into the house that I had left clean, and my husband and 5 year old son had made such a mess," says Arlyn Serber.
"I remembered my mom yelling at us all the time about messing up and decided I didn’t want to be like that. So a messy house, or happy husband and child? I went with messy house.
"Now, though, if something goes wrong with the car - hey, Hubby, you take care of it. Not my department." :- ) Sounds like good teamwork!
Amazon bestseller Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted, is a warm, informative, practical guide for engaged, newly wed, and long married couples--and for marriage minded singles. Also available at bookstores and libraries.
Tip for Singles
“Any healthy relationship needs a give-and-take dance. That said, it would only make sense for there to be balanced conversations. However, if your man leads most of the conversations back to himself and shows no interested in you, then chances are that he will mimic the same behavior throughout a marriage.” ― Carin Goldstein, marriage and family therapist_______________________
Note: Above tip published in July 28 Huffington Post article by Carolin Lehmann. More signs that he's not the marrying type to appear in future newsletters.
Services and Programs
Therapy and Counseling for individuals and couples. More information here.
Workshop for couples
Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love
Workshop for single women
Marry with Confidence
Marriage Meeting Coaching
Private sessions in person or by phone or Skype.
For individuals or groups
Corporate Training Workshops
Dealing with difficult people, Mindfulness, Communication
For more information, email mnaomiberger(at)gmail
(dot) com or phone 415-491-4801.
Marcia Naomi Berger is a keynote speaker and presenter at meetings, conferences, trainings, and retreats. More information here.
Marriage Meetings 24/7
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Professional Education and Training Center offers this one-hour online class you can take any time: The Marriage Meeting Program: A Strength-Based Approach for Successful 21st Century Relationships. Professionals earn one continuing education unit. All welcome!
Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, is the author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted. You can see her on Mosaic TV show talking about her inspiration for and process of writing this book.
Marcia Naomi Berger, LCSW