By Marcia Naomi Berger
I believe in marriage. This might sound naïve, what with half of first marriages ending in divorce and even higher failure rates happening in second and third marriages, respectively.
But there is a reason for so many marriage unhappy endings. Huge cultural shifts have occurred in recent decades. These changes have bred new expectations for marriage, which are often unconscious so that people lack clarity about why they are marrying; what they hope to gain from the union.
Until recently, most women needed marriage for financial security and social status. People, in general, are no longer stigmatized for living together and bearing children outside of marriage, or for being divorced. Currently most women hold jobs and a third of married women out-earn their husbands.
Clearly, the rules have changed. The old reasons for marrying, by and large, no longer apply. What looks like a current marriage crisis is the result of a widespread lack of understanding for how to create a satisfying 21st century marriage.
What most of us now really want, whether we know it or not, is a relationship that fulfills us emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically. When these needs are not met, spouses tend to blame their partner. Some blame the institution of marriage, saying it is obsolete.
I don’t think so. I think marriage is evolving—and that’s a good thing!
The vast majority of us can create lasting, loving marriages. We just need to learn how.
I’d like to propose a solution that has worked beautifully not only for my clients, but in my own marriage of over 25 years. You and your spouse agree to hold a weekly thirty minute “marriage meeting” with a simple format that covers all of the important aspects of your relationship. (Any two people who live under the same roof can benefit from holding similar meetings.)
A marriage meeting has four parts: Appreciation, Chores, Planning for Good Times, and Problems and Challenges. During Appreciation each of you takes an uninterrupted turn to say what you liked that your spouse did during the past week. Chores is the business part of the meeting. You each bring in your to-do list. Together, you agree as to who will take care of what task(s). Planning for Good Times is when you schedule a date for just the two of you, and perhaps also an enjoyable activity to do on your own. During Problems and Challenges, you talk about issues or lingering concerns. Start with light matters during early meetings and make sure to use positive communication skills.
An easy-to-resolve challenge might be telling your spouse that you’re trying to lose weight, so could he or she please either not bring home the junk food you find tempting or keep it somewhere where you’re not likely to see it. Once you’ve gained confidence by holding five or six successful meetings, more challenging topics can be introduced, like in-law issues, money, sex, and parenting concerns.
Some people object to the idea of a formal meeting. The trade-off is worth it though, because without an ongoing system for addressing details of our lives that need attention, it is easy to ignore them for too long. You might want to talk about something when your partner is otherwise occupied or decide to wait for a right time that never seems to come. If you do bring up a sensitive matter when your spouse’s mind is elsewhere, you might feel like you’ve entered a mine field.
Similarly, it’s easy to forget to express appreciation or to plan dates and other enjoyable, restorative activities. Chores can pile up or get mishandled. By scheduling times for marriage meetings, you will get to reconnect and feel valued by your spouse every week.
You’ve probably heard people explain their failed marriage by saying, “We just grew apart.” Couples do not grow apart; they drift away because they stop making time for each other. Marriage meetings provide a weekly wake-up call for staying connected emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually.
Soon after our honeymoon, my husband and I took a class for couples that included a brief mention of the idea of holding a weekly marriage meeting. We’ve been holding meetings ever since then. I don’t know how we would have stayed happily married without them.
Every week we have a time to reconnect, feel appreciated, coordinate handling of business, plan dates together, and deal with whatever is on our minds. Because the meetings help to clear up misunderstandings promptly, we don’t accumulate grudges—which is enough of a reason by itself to hold marriage meetings. I give them major credit for our lasting happiness together.
Marriage meetings foster romance, intimacy, and teamwork, and smoother resolution of issues–a golden opportunity for your 21st century marriage!
You can buy Berger’s book Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love on Amazon!
Bio note: Psychotherapist and clinical social worker Marcia Naomi Berger, LCSW, is the author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, where you will find detailed guidelines, step-by-step instructions for conducting each part of a Marriage Meeting agenda, and communication skills for successful meetings. www.marriagemeetings.com.