A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. ---Mignon McLaughlin

Can you imagine your partner and yourself holding a weekly formal meeting? The idea might intrigue you, but what if it turns into a gripe sessions or a series of demands?

Knowledge is power, so it's best to learn how to hold a successful meeting with your spouse before actually trying one. I wrote Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted to provide this information.

Making Room to Grow

All relationships, including great ones, have room to grow. Follow up studies of participants who attended my Marriage Meeting Workshops since 2005 show a significant increase in marital happiness for all couples who subsequently continued to hold marriage meetings--both those in already good marriages and those in "so-so" ones.

Marriage Meetings foster romance, intimacy, teamwork, and smoother resolution of issues. A rationale for meeting weekly is that closure gets achieved regularly, misunderstandings are cleared up promptly, and grudges do not accumulate. I can vouch for such results personally too, as my husband and I have been holding a weekly meeting (with rare exceptions) for more than twenty-six years.

Below are some details to familiarize you with the procedure for an effective marriage meeting, starting with its simple agenda:

Agenda Covers all Relationship Bases

During Appreciation, each of you takes an uninterrupted turn to tell the other what you valued about him or her during the previous week. By doing this, you create a warm climate and positive energy for the rest of the meeting.

Chores is the business part of the meeting. Each of you says what you think needs to be done. You agree on priorities, timelines, and who will do each task. Teamwork is promoted and jobs get handled.

During the Plan for Good Times part of the meeting, you schedule dates for just the two of you, individual activities, and family recreation. Intimacy and romance are fostered, batteries get recharged, and family harmony is promoted.

In Problems and Challenges, each of you can bring up any concern -- money, sex, in-laws, parenting, changing schedules, or something else. As you learn to resolve issues with kindness and respect, your marriage happiness will grow.

Some people ask whether it is all right to break the meeting into two sittings -- for example, to conduct part of it before dinner and the rest after. If you do this, you are likely to compromise the meeting's effectiveness. As noted earlier, good momentum is generated by the order of the agenda topics. Picture a roller coaster. The forward motion gained on one part of the track carries the rider along to the next; stopping in the middle jeopardizes a good ride! By following the guidelines that I offer in Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love, here, you will be equipped to hold effective marriage meetings.

Keep Your Meeting Short

Once you are routinely holding marriage meetings, you will probably be able to finish most of them within about thirty minutes. When you first start holding the meetings and are getting used to their structure and are developing communication skills, you can expect them to last a bit longer. This is true also for meetings held at any time when a topic calls for more discussion than usual, such as when a difficult challenge is being addressed.

In any case, adhering to a maximum time limit of forty-five minutes will help keep the discussion focused and productive.

Meet in a Private Place

Your marriage meeting is a private event for just the two of you. Ideally, hold your meeting at home. Choose a room where you both feel comfortable and where interruptions and distractions are unlikely to occur. You may be tempted to hold the meeting at a restaurant while eating, making it part of an evening out. While that might sound like efficient multitasking, there are potential pitfalls to this approach.

For example, just when you are on your way to resolving a situation you had to brace yourself to bring up in the first place, a server refills your water glass, or a friend stops by your table. Alas, you have lost your train of thought. Interruptions in a restaurant are likely to interfere with your concentration. Kathy and Walter, along with other participants who attended the first session of a Marriage Meeting workshop, were told to conduct their first marriage meeting at home, where they could keep distractions to a minimum.

During the second session, a week later, this couple reported that they had decided to hold their meeting in a restaurant because they liked the idea of combining it with a date. "We were interrupted too often to stay focused, and it was hard to enjoy the meal," Walter said. "Next time, we'll meet at home." His wife agreed.

Another reason not to meet in a restaurant is that you may experience stress during a marriage meeting, particularly when discussing challenging issues that arouse emotions. This is not a bad thing. Some conflict is normal in marriage. However, for good digestion, a relaxed mood is optimal. So avoid conducting a meeting while eating, even at home.

Do meet at home, at least until you establish a pattern of successful weekly meetings.

Where Will You Sit?

Where each of you sits affects the tone of a marriage meeting. Sitting next to each other on a couch or at a table fosters a sense of connection, as opposed to sitting across the room or table, which can create a confrontational mood. Marriage meetings are a wonderful way to increase collaboration. So sit close enough to feel like partners handling a project together. A successful marriage meeting requires both partners to communicate their thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs.

Physical touch can cause some blurring of boundaries and make it too easy to lose a sense of oneself and one's own priorities in the moment. Touch is wonderful at the right time. But cuddling up together while trying to communicate about your relationship can be a way of ignoring conflicts instead of addressing them constructively.

Be Supportive and Respectful

Marriage Meetings should have a pleasant, supportive tone. For the first few meetings, it is best to avoid discussing sensitive topics. Do not use the time to make demands or criticize your partner. A good goal for each meeting is that it should inspire you to want to meet again a week later. If you have a big or long-standing issue you want to resolve, set it aside for after you have established a pattern of successful meetings.

For an optimal experience, apply the common sense guidelines and the positive communication skills explained step by step in Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love.

Get Started Now

It's never too soon to take a proactive approach to keep your relationship on track. About thirty minutes a week, sometimes less, is a small investment of time that's likely to yield a more--or an even more--rewarding relationship.


Note: This article is adapted from Chapter 1 of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014): "Marriage Meeting Basics; Overview and Techniques."

Author's Bio: 

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014).

A licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in San Rafael, California, she leads marriage and communications workshops for the public and communications seminars at corporations. She has been teaching continuing education programs for therapists for the National Association of Social Workers, and at the UC Berkeley Extension and Alliant International University.

A former executive director of Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay and clinical faculty member at the UCSF School of Medicine, she has held senior level positions in the fields of child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry. She earned her master’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan. www.marriagemeetings.com.