Several years ago, Kate and I implemented a practice that has helped strengthen our relationship. It’s called a “marriage meeting,” and we got the idea from my guest today. Her name is Marcia Naomi Berger, and she’s a therapist and the author of Marriage Meetings: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted. Marcia and I begin our discussion with how she developed the idea of marriage meetings and why couples can benefit from implementing this habit. We then unpack the four-part agenda of the marriage meeting, which includes showing appreciation, discussing household chores, planning for good times, and resolving big issues, and Marcia explains why you need to do the steps in that particular order. She then addresses the possible objection to meeting with one’s spouse in a more structured way, and explains why the format of the marriage meeting is more effective than trying to discuss these things on the fly. She then provides tips and insights on how to execute each part of the marriage meeting, including the importance of being specific with your appreciation, following up on to-dos, and scheduling good times both as a couple and as individuals. Marcia then shares advice on what to do if you want to start the marriage meeting practice but your spouse doesn’t, how your meetings can take as little as 15 minutes, and how best to communicate during the meeting so that each partner will feel good about keeping up this game-changing habit.
If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.
- What is it about modern life that makes marriage meetings more necessary?
- Why do people think meetings aren’t necessary?
- The 4 parts of a successful marriage meeting
- Isn’t a structured meeting awkward and artificial?
- The importance of specificity in expressing gratitude
- Talking about and following up on the “business” portion of the meeting
- What does it look like to plan for good times?
- The importance of individual interests and activities
- How do you successfully address problems and challenges?
- Why your meeting shouldn’t exceed 45 minutes
- What if your partner doesn’t want to participate or doesn’t like the idea?
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- How and Why to Hold a Weekly Marriage Meeting
- How to Strengthen Your Marriage Against Divorce
- Marriage as a Mastermind
- The Spiritual Disciplines: Gratitude
- How to Keep a Happy Relationship Happy
- The Productivity Tool I Use to Get Things Done
- 18 At-Home Date Ideas
- The Art of Anticipation
- How to Communicate Your Needs in a Relationship
- AoM series on honing your listening skills
Connect With Marcia
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Several years ago, Kate and I implemented a practice that has helped strengthen our relationship. It’s called a marriage meeting. We got the idea from my guest today. Her name is Marcia Naomi Berger, she’s a therapist and the author of, “Marriage Meetings: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted.” Marcia and I begin our discussion with how she developed the idea of marriage meetings and why couples can benefit from implementing this habit. We then unpack the four-part agenda of the marriage meeting, which includes showing appreciation, discussing household chores, planning for good times, and resolving big issues. And Marcia explains why you need to do the steps in that particular order. She then addresses the possible objection to meeting with one spouse in a more structured way and explains why the format of the marriage meeting is more effective than trying to discuss these things on the fly.
She then provides tips and insights in how to execute each part of the marriage meetings, including the importance of being specific with your appreciation, following up on to-dos, and scheduling good times, both as a couple and as individuals. Marcia then shares advice on what to do if you wanna start the marriage meeting practice, but your spouse doesn’t, how your meetings can take as little as 15 minutes, and how to best communicate during the meetings so that each partner will feel good about keeping up this game changing habit. After the show is over, check out our show notes at aom.is/marriagemeeting where you find a link to an article that we wrote a couple of years ago where it goes into detail about marriage meetings. Aom.is/marriage meeting.
Alright, Marcia Naomi Berger, welcome to the show.
Marcia Berger: Oh, thank you Brett. I’m glad to be here.
Brett McKay: So you are a therapist, and the author of the book, “Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love, 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted.” And as I was talking to you before we started, I discovered this book, my wife and I discovered this book couple of years ago on Amazon. And we’ve been implementing the ideas in this book, having a weekly marriage meeting. So I wanted to talk about this ’cause it’s been a powerful tool in our marriage. So start off, where did you come with this idea of a marriage meeting? Is it something you sort of do with your own marriage first or working with your clients?
Marcia Berger: Well, the way we first learned about having marriage meetings, my husband and myself, was when we first got married. I was already an experienced couple therapist, and I worked with individuals, couples and families. And I was the go-to expert in agencies where I worked. People who wanted to have training in how to work with couples and families would come to me, and I would give them the tools and techniques. I learned when I got married, that it’s a lot different to be an objective expert than it is to be actually inside of a marriage. And we were getting along pretty well, but I knew there was room to grow. And we ended up, pretty soon heard about a class that we took for couples. It was called, “Time for a Better Marriage.” And it was a wonderful class. We picked up a lot of ideas. There was one idea in the class that only a couple of minutes was spent on and that was the idea to have a weekly marriage meeting. And that was the one thing that we took from it and we continued to implement. We were both comfortable with trying out the idea. And over time, we started refining it and coming up with more guidelines and just filling it out to make it as effective as possible. And then I started teaching it to people in workshops and in individual therapy, where I could coach people through the meetings and eventually started writing the articles. My idea was to spread it around as wide as possible so that as many couples as possible could benefit.
Brett McKay: And what’s powerful about this, it can help good marriages become better. But it can also help marriages that are struggling to become better as well.
Marcia Berger: Yes. And there is a big difference between a marriage that’s struggling and a marriage that’s already good. Couples who have a fairly healthy relationship to begin with can on their own read the book, learn the techniques, and have successful marriage meetings because their communication is already respectful. But in the other kind of marriage, maybe, maybe not they’ll be able to do this on their own. If they’re not able to do it on their own, then that’s a good reason to go to therapy and refine your communication techniques and your general attitude. Because the idea should be, “We’re in this together, we’re not fighting with each other. What we’re doing is really putting energy into making the best relationship we can create together as a team.”
Brett McKay: So something you start off in your book talking about is how marriage and family life has changed in the modern times. That actually makes a marriage meeting necessary. So what is it about modern life that makes a weekly marriage meeting where you sit down with your spouse and talk things over necessary?
Marcia Berger: Yeah, marriage has changed so much since I would say since the 1960s when roles were pretty clearly defined between men and women. Before then, most women used to be housewives or homemakers, and men were the ones, the husbands were the ones who brought in the income. All that has changed now. Women now are working and have a lot more opportunities to develop their professions or their careers. So people are looking for a more egalitarian relationship. And they’re looking for a relationship that’s not based so much on practicality. Of course we want that, but we’re all looking, whether we know it or not, we’re all looking for a relationship that’s emotionally and spiritually fulfilling, as well as satisfying in terms of physical and material needs.
Brett McKay: And what are some myths that people have about marriage that can make thinking that a marriage meeting wouldn’t be useful or productive?
Marcia Berger: A marriage meeting is wonderful to overcome the myth of mind reading that, “I shouldn’t have to ask my spouse for what I want or need. I shouldn’t have to tell ’em how I feel.” For some reason, I think the reason is probably that we grew up with fairy tales that made it sound like we should have an effortless happily ever after once we’re married. But the ceremony is really just the beginning of a life-long experience of growing together as people and as couples, and the marriage meeting gives a structure for people to say what they want, how they feel and also to remember to express appreciation for each other. It might be thought by many people, “Oh my spouse knows that I love him or her, appreciate them.” But marriage meeting has a specific time to say just what you like, just what you value about each other.
Brett McKay: No, and I think too, and you talk about this in the book, I think people have this idea that if a marriage requires work, being intentional about it, then maybe you’re not really in love. That’s not true. I mean, for a marriage to work, you actually have to put some effort and be intentional about it.
Marcia Berger: That’s true. And that touches on the myth that love is all you need, and we shouldn’t have to invest energy in this, it should just all just flow happily ever after. And that’s not real life. We’re different people. And it would be kind of boring if we were the same. But learning to accept and actually treasure our differences is one of the wonderful things that happens in a good marriage.
Brett McKay: And also too, you talk about… The idea of a marriage meeting, we’ll talk about some of the things you do, it’s gonna bring up some conflict. Because you’re gonna express different opinions about different aspects of the relationship. So some people think, “Well, conflict’s bad. You don’t wanna have that.” But you say, “No. Actually, conflict is good. ‘Cause that’s how you can find out what’s actually a problem and then you can do something about it, once it’s there on the open.”
Marcia Berger: That’s right. And I think when people are thinking that conflict is bad, they’re thinking of something that feels like a big fight. But conflict doesn’t have to be a big fight. It can be a respectful discussion about different ideas you have about how things should go.
Brett McKay: Alright, so let’s talk about the marriage meeting and the structure of it. So big picture overview, before we get into the specific steps, what’s involved with a marriage meeting?
Marcia Berger: There are four parts of a marriage meeting. And they go in a logical order that I’d like to think of flowing like a roller coaster where the first part, which is appreciation, that brings good energy into the conversation. Each partner takes an uninterrupted turn, telling the other exactly what they valued, appreciated about the other during the past week. The second part is chores, or the business part of the meeting, where you coordinate whatever you need to that might have to have done. Let’s say, there’s a leaky faucet and either one of the spouses might decide to fix it or they might decide who’s gonna call a plumber. But things get handled that are like routine activities of daily life that needs somebody to take care of. The third part is planning for good times. And most people have probably heard of the idea of having a weekly date. The marriage meeting is a time to make sure that that happens. And that other self-nurturing activities also happen. Because it’s good to fill up our tank ourselves and then we have more to give and we become more attractive to our partners and to the world. The final part is called problems and challenges. And that is when a discussion happens where there may be some strong feelings about an issue. Or maybe some kind of transition is happening, and how are we gonna handle this, how we’re gonna prepare for whatever is gonna come up next in our life.
Brett McKay: And as you said, you said this, you put this in a specific order. So it starts off with appreciation, you have that good energy. Then you go into the not so fun business part of the marriage. And then you go back up to good times where it feels good. And then you go into those challenges.
Marcia Berger: You said it very well, Brett. That’s a roller coaster. And we don’t have to end up feeling like we’re down though, because challenges when it’s handled well, you have a nice sense of completion and resolution. Maybe you don’t finish everything, but you know you’ve made a good start and you can continue the discussion the following week, at your next marriage meeting. And I do encourage people to thank each other for meeting at the end and shake hands, hug, whatever makes you feel good.
Brett McKay: So before we get into the specific, I wanna dig deep into these different parts of it and how it looks. But before we do that, I think someone who’s hearing this for the first time, I know when I first read about the concept of a structured marriage meeting, it’s like, “Wow! That seems kind of artificial.” And I’ll think, “Well I can just do those things on the fly.” Why don’t you think that works, and you need to actually set aside for a marriage meeting and follow a structure?
Marcia Berger: Oh, there are a couple of reasons that it’s better not to do it on the fly or try to do it on the fly. The first reason is it’s usually not possible to do it on the fly in a healthy way. Because one of you may want to talk about some big issue or some little issue, and the other one is involved reading a book or watching TV or on a smartphone, doing research, whatever. So it may not happen if you’re thinking it should happen on the fly. And if it does happen, maybe you’re not doing it in a way that is as constructive as you can when you’re both planning ahead and you’re both in the mindset that you’re gonna have a constructive respectful discussion.
Brett McKay: Got it. Alright, so let’s talk about, dig deep in these different parts. Let’s talk about expressing appreciation. So what sorts of things are you expressing appreciation in this part of the meeting?
Marcia Berger: Well, you can express appreciation for things that are as small as, “Thank you for coming to this meeting with me. I really appreciate that you’re willing to put a little time into keeping our relationship great.” It can be a bigger thing like, “I’m really grateful to you for having listened to me so well and being so understanding when on Thursday night, I was telling you about this big challenge, this big issue that I was having at work with my boss.”
Brett McKay: So it sounds like you need to get pretty specific. You can’t just be like, “Thanks for being you.” That’s not gonna work.
Marcia Berger: Yes, specificity makes a big difference for people. You know it when you’ve experienced it. I can see it with my clients. I’ve seen it at people in workshops. I remember one of the guys when I encouraged his wife to change a global statement, I can’t remember what it was, but let’s say she said to him, “I appreciate how handsome you are.” And that was okay, that’s nice. However, when she changed it to, “I appreciate how handsome you look right now, wearing that blue shirt that matches the blue of your eyes and brings out how great you look.”
Brett McKay: That probably brought a smile to his face, made him feel…
Marcia Berger: Well, that’s what happened. He said, “I don’t know why… ” The husband said, “I don’t know why, but it really makes a difference when she’s specific.”
Brett McKay: And something that can be challenging with expressing appreciation for people who have been married for a while is, you probably take your relationship with your partner, your spouse, for granted. And so you’re not really paying attention to those things. So starting off trying to do this, it can be a challenge for folks ’cause they just… They haven’t done it before.
Marcia Berger: That’s true. Yeah. I would say, “Practice makes perfect.” And for some people it is harder than it is for other people. Some people come from a background where they never saw their parents expressing appreciation to each other. It’s just not part of their repertoire. So it can help for them to say, “Okay, I know I didn’t see it, but I can be different.”
Brett McKay: But one of the nice things about having a marriage meeting and knowing that you’re gonna spend that first part of it, maybe two, three, four minutes expressing appreciation, is it makes you aware, pay attention throughout the week of stuff to express appreciation for. ‘Cause you know you’re gonna have to do it on Saturday.
Marcia Berger: That is a good point, yes, yes. That’s a good point. It becomes a habit. When you think ahead about what you’re gonna say during the marriage meeting, or when you do it spontaneously during your meeting, saying the things that you appreciate about your spouse, your mindset becomes more appreciative just about all the time. You notice during the week what you like and you start commenting. I think it is really wonderful if people can do at least one appreciation every day. It’s not only for the marriage meeting, it’s for a lifetime.
Brett McKay: And would you recommend people writing stuff down if they need to?
Marcia Berger: For sure, yeah, yeah. Sometimes people would write it down ahead of time. Other times it’s spontaneous. It’s whatever really works for the people. It’s very good to write it down ahead if you’re somebody who’s gonna be saying, “Hmm, let’s see,” and not coming right out spontaneously with the appreciative comments. But if you think about it ahead of time, then your spouse is gonna be happy that you’re able to say right away, not have to cogitate for a while about what you liked about the person.
Brett McKay: No, and as you said, whenever… When my wife and I started doing this, it always feels great when we give each other compliments and show appreciation. But I can see it being challenging for some folks receiving the appreciation. ‘Cause that’s not something we get very often. So it can be kind of awkward. Like what do you do? Do you just say, “Thank you.” Is that all you gotta do or is there something else you…
Marcia Berger: Oh yeah, that is another skill that people need to learn if they’re not used to receiving appreciation, or if they come from a culture where either your saying that you appreciate something is just not done, and if somebody appreciates you, you might feel like you’re bragging if you accept a compliment. So again, being aware of that and deciding that it’s really worth changing how I deal with appreciation will make a big difference.
Brett McKay: Alright, so that’s appreciation. And like I said, I think it’s a very… I always feel great when we do this part. It allows, it sets the mood and the vibe for the rest of the meeting, which carries into talking about chores. This is the business part of handling it. Something you make a point is that people forget a marriage, a household, is like an economic unit. There’s a business, it needs to be run like that. You got chores you gotta do; bills that need to be paid. So what does this part of the meeting look like?
Marcia Berger: Well, as you said Brett, these are the kind of things you can talk about in chores. Who’s gonna pay the bills, if you don’t already have a routine for that? A lot of chores, after people are married for a while, they know who’s gonna do this and who’s gonna do that. But if you wanna have something different, one of the things that I did was I realized that I was cooking meals every night for my husband and son, for my family. And I thought I would like to have a night off. So I suggested during the chores part of the meeting that we have a cook’s night off and somebody else cooks that night. So that’s a change. And it could be when repairs are needed in the household. If there is some kind of financial matter, how we’re gonna get the money to pay for this or do we wanna do something different investing? Do we want to hire… Oh, this comes up actually with some of my clients, the kind of arguments that people have about chores or frustration that chores aren’t getting done, should we hire a cleaning person, or should we figure out a different way to do this?
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break, for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show. And I imagine it’d be useful when you’re first starting a marriage meeting that each individual person in the marriage prepares individually, kinda list out the things that they have to do and list out things that they think need to get done so that you can talk about it at this portion of the meeting.
Marcia Berger: Yeah, that’s a good planning ahead.
Brett McKay: And yeah, for my wife and I, we mostly use his time to talk about stuff we gotta get done around the house. What needs fixing, what we gotta do in the garden, the grass, the yard, whatever, that’s… And also, it sounds like this would be a good time to talk about money. Money is one of those things that causes a lot of stress in a marriage ’cause people don’t talk about it. So this, is this, would be the time to talk about money in a marriage?
Marcia Berger: If the money is causing a lot of stress, then the time to talk about money would be during problems and challenges.
Brett McKay: Okay. Alright.
Marcia Berger: But if it’s a routine money matter, like just announcing that the property tax is due and let’s transfer some money from here to there, then it’s fine to do it in the chores part of the meeting.
Brett McKay: So how do you follow up on chores once they’re assigned? ‘Cause that can be a problem in a marriage.
Marcia Berger: Oh yes, because often people think that they have an agreement when they don’t have a real agreement. So you can create a chores agreement by having a timeline for when the chore is gonna be completed. So if it’s gonna be done, say, before next week, or before a week from today, then it gets reported on in the next marriage meeting that it’s been finished. If it’s been agreed on, but it hasn’t been done, then a report is given. A report sounds like a fancy word, but it’s really followup. “Okay I was going to do this, but this got in the way. So I’ll do it by such and such a date.” So you can re-negotiate the timeline. But you don’t have to sit around fretting about why wasn’t this done, because you’re keeping up-to-date with each other.
Brett McKay: This is also a good time, if you have kids, talk about all the stuff that kids have going on. So practices, games, school activities, make sure everyone’s on the same page there.
Marcia Berger: Right, yeah. Coordinating, car pools, etcetera.
Brett McKay: Yeah, my wife and I spend a lot of time doing that, trying to get up-to-date. Well, not right now with the pandemic, the kids are home. But when they were going to school, that was a very useful part of this meeting. Okay, and the key here too, is to do this in a way where you’re not being confrontational, you’re being objective, you’re trying to ride those good feelings you built up with the appreciation part. So you’re not snipping at each other about who’s doing more, who’s doing less.
Marcia Berger: That’s right. Any snipping goes into part four, problems and challenges.
Brett McKay: Okay, alright. So yeah, if something does come up, you’re, “Okay, we’re gonna table that. Come back to that in part four.”
Marcia Berger: Right, we’ll postpone it to problems and challenges.
Brett McKay: Alright, so but before you get to problem and challenges, there’s step three, which is planning for good times. So what are the type of things we’re planning here?
Marcia Berger: A weekly date. Activities that you do individually. Times you want to get together with family members or friends. It’s basically about recharging your batteries as a couple, and also as individuals.
Brett McKay: No, you go into detail about the importance of having a date night. And this is the time you’d plan that.
Marcia Berger: Right. And some people confuse date night with marriage meeting. And I say, “No. You want to have your date night just a nice time like when you were courting, when you were first going out. And you are kind of daydreaming out loud as much as you want to, just enjoying whatever you’re doing in each other’s company. And that’s totally separate, different time from when you have your marriage meeting.”
Brett McKay: Oh so don’t try… So if you’re going out to eat, don’t try to have your marriage meeting during your dinner date, for your date night?
Marcia Berger: Correct.
Brett McKay: Okay. And then this is also the time you’re planning vacations, activities to do with your…
Marcia Berger: Yes, yes. That’s a good point. Yeah, vacations and ideally you get to take some vacations just the two of you. And then there are the family vacations. And for some people, vacations as an individual, if they have different interests.
Brett McKay: I thought this is, the idea that you need to sort of plan for good times for individuals, this has been very useful with my wife and I. ‘Cause yeah, when you get married you kind of forget that part of your life. But that’s what makes you interesting to your spouse.
Marcia Berger: Right, yeah. Maybe that’s another myth that togetherness has to be happening all the time.
Brett McKay: Yeah, so something my wife and I do is like, “Hey, what do you got going on this week that’s fun for you?”
Marcia Berger: Very nice.
Brett McKay: That’s what it is. And sometimes I don’t have anything, ’cause nothing’s going on. But I’d say, “Hey, this week I’d like to do this with my friends.” And she’s like, “Okay, great.” And then she has her thing. Which is great about this. ‘Cause I think there’s a lot of… I’ve seen a lot of conflict in marriages where wife gets resentful that the husband’s out doing something with his buds, or the husband’s getting resentful when the wife’s out. And it’s probably because none of them, they never communicated what they planned on doing.
Marcia Berger: And are they making sure to have time for a weekly date for just the two of them, to nurture their relationship with each other?
Brett McKay: Right. So yeah, I think this can be another powerful tool to strengthen your marriage. And again, it’s fun. It’s fun to talk about doing fun stuff together, individually, and as a family.
Marcia Berger: Yes, when you do these things for yourself, you are filling, it’s like filling up your tank with positive energy. And then you’re bringing it into your relationship because you’re a happy person, who’s exuding good feelings.
Brett McKay: Alright, so you’ve planned for good times. Moving into the problems and challenges, where we’ve talked about a lot of things get pushed into there. So what are… So these are… Are these big problems or challenges that we’re discussing here?
Marcia Berger: They can be little ones, and they can be big ones.
Brett McKay: Okay, so what’s an example of like a little problems and challenge?
Marcia Berger: A little one would be, and I do encourage people when they’re starting to have marriage meetings start with little ones, if you’re doing the meetings on your own, because your goal is to have a successful meeting and feel really good about the process so that you’ll want to have another meeting next week and so on until you get used to the process. Because, as you mentioned earlier, Brett, it does feel awkward at first to be communicating within this kind of a structure rather than just free-flowing or on the fly. So your question about a little challenge you might start with is, one partner says to the other, “I’m really struggling trying to lose weight. It would help me out if you would be willing to hide the potato chips or whatever junk food you might wanna bring into the house or put it somewhere where I don’t see it. Would you be willing to do that?” [chuckle] “I’d really appreciate it.”
Brett McKay: I think that’s interesting. So you’re not only just stating the problem that you’re having, but you’re also asking for help at the same time.
Marcia Berger: Right.
Brett McKay: Okay.
Marcia Berger: Help that’s easy to give.
Brett McKay: Alright. And what would be an example of a bigger challenge that you eventually work your way up to if you needed to?
Marcia Berger: Well, the major ones are, money for a lot of people, sex, parenting differences, and relationships with in-laws or other family members.
Brett McKay: Okay. And I imagine you’re not gonna be able to solve those big ones in a single marriage meeting.
Marcia Berger: Right. But the important thing is to learn how to feel okay communicating about them, talking to each other about them, in a fairly relaxed kind of atmosphere and using good communications skills that are respectful.
Brett McKay: And so speaking… What are some skills that people need to do to be able to do this part of a marriage meeting effectively?
Marcia Berger: These are good skills for other parts of a marriage meeting also, especially I statements. Like when you’re expressing appreciation or when you’re bringing up a challenge, you could say, “I appreciate.” Rather than, “You look good in this,” you know what I mean? That’s a you statement. And when you’re bringing up a challenge, you say, “I am concerned about… Or I’d like to talk about… Or I’d like to improve how I’m getting along with so and so. Or… ” I’m talking about… I made it easy about the potato chips, the I statement. “I’m trying to lose weight.” When we get into the heavier challenges. You still, I statements. And another skill is active listening. I have three chapters in my book about exactly how to use seven different positive communications skills.
So, I statements are one, active listening is another one. Where you really let the other person say what they have to say without interrupting and then reflect back what you’ve heard. Check it out, “Did I get it right?” And it goes forth from there with the end result that both people have a chance to be the listener and the speaker. And both people feel like their position is understood. And what most people really want more than winning or being right is to feel understood by their partner. So active listing is really, really important. And it’s not as easy to do as it sounds, if we’re used to being in a position of wanting to defend our position rather than, say it, but hear the other person’s also. Another skill is using your non-verbal communication effectively. Because believe it or not, only 7% of what’s heard in relationship type conversations consists of the words that are said. Only 7% of our total communication is the words. The rest is body language. Crossing arms, making good eye contact, smiling…
Brett McKay: That can make a big difference. If you’re on your smartphone while your wife is telling her issue, that’s probably not gonna… That’s not good.
Marcia Berger: Right. We wanna put all those devices away during the marriage meeting.
Brett McKay: Well yeah. Speaking of… Something my wife and I do with our marriage meeting is when we start the appreciation, devices go away, computer, smartphones. And then when the chores section comes, we bring them back out, ’cause that’s where we have our calendaring tools, and so we’ll have there… Talk about… We have a to do list that we share, “Here’s what we’re gonna do.” And then for the planning for a good time, still the devices are out, so that we can plan for those good times, calendar it. But then once we get to problems and challenges, devices go away and we’re back to just talking and focusing on each other.
Marcia Berger: Right, that makes a lot of sense the way you’re doing it, yeah. And that is a guideline for the meetings to have a system where you do record what you agree to do, whether it’s a chore or a date, where you’re gonna go, when you’re gonna go, when something will get done. Because it’s so easy to forget to do things if there’s no reminder.
Brett McKay: And so going back to the problems and challenges. I think the powerful thing here is that you’re probably not gonna resolve these issues in a single meeting. But you got it out there. And people will probably feel understood. And that can go a long way into resolving the issue or problem in the long run.
Marcia Berger: Exactly. Because what most problems boil down to are that somebody doesn’t feel valued or appreciated. And when they feel understood and listened to, it just changes the whole atmosphere.
Brett McKay: Changes the tenor. And as you said with the problems and challenges, even though you are gonna have some conflict there, but you can resolve it or handle it in a productive way. You don’t wanna end on a negative note. You wanna end on a positive note with his part, say, “Hey, thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it.” And then end the meeting that way.
Marcia Berger: Yes, that’s really important.
Brett McKay: So we talked about, I think, a good overview of the meeting, what’s involved. How long should this take?
Marcia Berger: The very maximum should be 45 minutes. Sometimes people, when they first start having the meetings they have this whole backlog of issues that they wanna talk about. And it’s not productive when people get tired. That was something that my husband and I discovered when we first started the meeting. Not just to limit the time, we were pretty good at that, but we would have the meeting sometimes really late at night. And we’d get tired and cranky, and not very constructive. So my husband actually came up with the idea that we should have the meeting early enough that we’re both alert and feeling positive. So that’s another guideline is to make sure that when you have the meeting, you’re feeling alert, you’re not tired, and you’re sober and really bringing your best self to the meeting.
Brett McKay: Alright, so no more than 45 minutes. See, our meetings last 15 to 20 minutes usually, sometimes longer for planning a vacation or doing something like, got a lot of chores, but yeah no more than 30 minutes.
Marcia Berger: Yeah, usually no more than 30 is true for us also. And I think that’s for most people, once you get used to the structure of the meeting and you are prepared for what you’re gonna talk about, it… Our’s are also often 15 to 20 minutes.
Brett McKay: But in order to keep them 15 or 20 minutes, in order for these things to be effective, you gotta do them weekly. That’s where the power is at.
Marcia Berger: Exactly. I think so. Some people don’t do them weekly, and they’re still happy. But I think for most people, weekly is good. It’s easy for things to build up, and if misunderstandings are allowed to continue then grudges can build. So it’s just wonderful to clear it up every week.
Brett McKay: Alright, so let’s say someone’s listening to this and they’re like, “I wanna do this with my spouse.” So they present the idea. ‘Cause I’ve heard this happening. A guy reads the book, they, “I wanna do this.” But then their wife’s like, “That sounds dumb.” So what do you do if one person in the marriage doesn’t wanna take part in this?
Marcia Berger: The first thing to do is to recognize why the person doesn’t wanna do it. What’s getting in the way? And often what’s getting in the way is that the person is afraid that he or she is gonna get a long list of demands to do this and that and do it differently, or they’re afraid they’re gonna be criticized and it’ll be just a blame thing and why should they subject themselves to that? So it’s important to assure the person that this is not what happens in the meeting. That it’s to be constructive. And it’s a time that both of them will get to feel valued and appreciated, and they will get to clear up any misunderstandings that happen. And that the marriage meetings actually promote more intimacy and better team work and a respectful resolution of the kind of challenges that come up in any relationship.
So, that’s one thing. Another thing is to try for just one meeting. Don’t say, “Let’s start doing this for the rest of our lives every week,” because that could sound pretty overwhelming, if somebody’s afraid in the first place. So how about, “Let’s just try one meeting, okay?” And, if the person agrees, be sure to load up on appreciation in that first meeting and, remember, the challenge should be an easy one, that the person will be happy to help with. And you plan a date and, again, make the chores simple, too. There shouldn’t be a lot of chores in one meeting. No, maybe 2, 3, but not a whole, long, to-do list because think about what really needs to be done in the next week. And, for the challenges, also, one challenge, maybe two at the most, and, again, really, really important to make it easy and learn how to use the constructive communications skills, preferably before you have your first meeting.
Brett McKay: Have you seen any like the gender dynamics here, do you see wives really appreciating this when a husband’s like, “Hey, I wanna do this”? Because I feel like it’s oftentimes wives feel like they’re dragging their husbands to get stuff done or do these type of things. Does it really mean a lot to a wife when their husband’s like, “Hey, I wanna do this thing to make our marriage better”?
Marcia Berger: Oh, I think it means a lot to the wives to have their husbands wanna do it, and it can mean a lot to a husband to have a wife who wants to do it, too. It is usually the husband that’s dragging feet a little bit at the beginning, but sometimes it’s the wife, especially if she’s not comfortable talking about her feelings, or she’s kind of passive about saying what she wants. So, it turns out that both people will benefit. Husbands are especially appreciative of marriage meetings, in general, because the husbands tend to hear a lot from their wives, and they may not feel comfortable entering the discussion with as much enthusiasm and as many words as the wife. But the marriage meeting levels the playing field. And I encourage whoever is the less verbal person in the relationship to take the lead in the meetings to announce each part of the meeting and to speak first about what they wanna talk about in each part of the meeting because that gives that person a share of ownership, and men really tend to like the structure of the meeting, once they get into it, because it does give them a voice that they might have felt was lacking before.
Brett McKay: I like that. Well, Marsha, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Marcia Berger: They can learn more about my work on my website, which is marriage meetings with an S on the end, marriagemeetings.com. And if they want to get my book, it’s on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and it may be in a local bookstore. It’s in a lot of libraries. And… Oh, and it comes in an audio version now. I just recently had an audio book made of my book, so people can listen while they’re commuting or doing things at home, if they’re not so interested, or if they don’t have the time to read, they can listen.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Marsha Naomi Berger, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Marcia Berger: It’s been my pleasure, too. Thank you very much, Brett.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Marsha Naomi Berger. She’s the author of the book Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love. It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about her work at her website, marshanaomiberger.com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/marriagemeetings, where you can find links to resources, where we delve deeper in this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM podcast. Check out our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives, and if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com. Sign up, use code “manliness” at checkout for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS. You can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast, and if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, it’s Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast but put what you’ve heard into action.