The little meeting with your partner that can make a big difference

What people really need is a good listening to.
                                       -Mary Lou Casey

A good alternative to nagging

I was recently reminded of how beneficial a weekly “check-in and alignment meeting” with your partner can be.  During a coaching session, my client expressed a concern that she was nagging her husband.  This was having a negative impact on their relationship – which was otherwise very good – and she didn’t feel good about that.  She didn’t like to nag yet she was sometimes frustrated around the things she wanted help with or that he had agreed to do.

After some discussion, I suggested that she try having a weekly meeting with her husband – and I shared with her a format that my husband and I developed many years ago.  We began this practice of a weekly meeting when my husband first launched his business and we were raising two young children. Like most young couples, we were juggling many things:  work, kids, household tasks, money, volunteer work, fitness, etc.

At first our meetings focused mainly on the business side of life.  However we soon came to see that meetings needed to include the whole of our lives – the business, the family, our home and our dreams – all of the responsibilities that went with those and that we each carried.  My business-minded husband referred to these as our “Vollett Family Inc.” meetings! We found that setting aside uninterrupted time to organize, brainstorm and create our future together was not only effective; it also contributed to a real sense of shared partnership – even when our daily tasks looked very different.

The benefits are many

Having this designated meeting time means:

  • We put some boundaries around talking about work and household responsibilities so they are less likely to spill over into our romantic and private time.
  • We have a regular time and place to follow-up with each other about what we’ve agreed we’d do – and this cuts down on nagging and misunderstandings.  It also reduces those blaming conversations where both of us point the finger and say “I thought YOU were going to do that!”
  • We feel like creative partners and feel affirmed that what each of us does is important – in work and in family life.
  • Most importantly, we each feel deeply listened to and supported – and gain a much greater appreciation for our respective challenges and stresses.

Find your own style of “meeting”

So with these benefits in mind, I suggested that my client give this a try with her husband.  We discussed how she might approach this idea with him.  For some people, the idea of a “meeting” makes them want to run for the hills!  Fortunately, there are other ways to name and frame it.  (For example: “conversation over coffee”, “a discussion”, “planning time” or “a chance to get caught up”, and so on.)

I stressed the importance of finding a time in the week that made sense and worked for both of them.  Make it enjoyable! My client and her partner settled on making dinner together on Monday nights and having their meeting over dinner, as they discussed the week ahead.  I know another couple that goes out for a coffee date one morning a week to talk over important topics.  They never refer to it as a “meeting” and that makes it more approachable.

My husband and I like to meet at the end of the week, as a way of letting go of our week and experiencing some connection before heading into the weekend. We have had our meeting while walking, driving, stretched out in our easy chairs or over a glass of wine.  When we had young children, our meetings happened during baby-sitting time, school hours or after the kids were in bed.  The timing can morph and change as your family life and responsibilities shift.  What’s important is to make the time.

What should we talk about?

Here’s the meeting format that I shared with my client:

1) Check-in:  Wins and Challenges

Each partner takes a turn sharing on these two questions:

  • What have been my “wins” this week? (What has gone well?  What have I accomplished?  What do I want to celebrate?)
  • What are my current challenges?  (What am I stressed about?  What am I having difficulty with?)

During this sharing time, one person speaks at a time and there are no interruptions, questions or discussion. The other partner simply listens with their full attention. This ensures that both will feel fully heard. Each partner shares until they feel done. Then you’re ready for step 2.

2) Create an agenda.

What needs to be discussed?  Make a list with suggestions from each partner.  Some agenda items will arise from the challenges expressed during the check-in.  This is the time to query something your partner said that you want to know more about or understand.  Your agenda may include individual business/work concerns, joint concerns, concerns about family or the kids, financial decisions or planning, health issues, travel and vacations, relationship time (planning dates, get-aways, etc.) – anything you want to collaborate on or discuss.  Usually just a few things will emerge as the priorities of the moment.

3) Review agenda items and discuss as needed.

After discussing each item, decide on actions to be taken (if any) and who will do what.

4) Scheduling

Look at your schedules for the coming week and make sure you inform your partner of commitments that could affect them.  This is a good time to divvy up responsibility for tasks related to the kids and the household and plan your social/work activities.  In other words, “Who’s doing what?”

When the agenda is complete, you’ll both feel empowered around what is on your plate – and aligned around what is important.

It’s worth it

My client and her husband decided to try this and were really pleased with the results.  They now have a time and place to check-in, make requests and follow up. The concern about nagging has not resurfaced, as my client knows she’ll have a time and space to address her concerns.  She can focus on enjoying her husband’s company the rest of the time.

When you’re already very busy, a meeting time can look like an impossible luxury – or one more thing to do.  That’s why it’s important to make it pleasurable in whatever way suits you both.  However I guarantee that the time invested will save you time and aggravation.  It’s a great antidote when you’re so busy that you feel like “ships passing in the night”.   By meeting regularly, you can experience the joys of partnering around what matters most to you both and foster a deep sense of connection.

Invitation to action

Experiment with trying a weekly meeting with your partner – whatever you choose to call it!  Try it for a month and evaluate the difference it has made.  If you feel the benefit, you can make it a regular part of your relationship care.

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