Like many of you out there, my wife and I have a small child, both work, attempt to have hobbies and friends, and are always drowning in housework. Being really, really busy is often just part of being a parent (or just part of being a person), but it can also add strain to a relationship. We love each other to bits, but we just don’t have the time to spend hours and hours talking about every single one of our feelings like we did back when we were just dating. And if communication is what makes a marriage work, than all of the shorthand we use to make it through yet another busy day can easily add up to marital difficulties. It’s still a challenge, and our relationship will probably always be a work in progress, but there is one — totally boring and utterly unsexy — thing that we do to keep our marriage strong: regular, scheduled, sit-down, meetings.
To be honest, I’m the type of person who actually really hates meetings. When I worked for a not-for-profit, years ago, team meetings drove me absolutely bonkers. I tend to feel like, when you have so much to do, taking time out to talk about how much you have to do is beside the point. My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t mind meetings so much. And despite my initial foot dragging on the subject, I’ve come around because, despite my feelings on the issue, meetings work. Prior to marrying me, my wife lived in several different collective housing set-ups. Living collectively (rather than just having roommates, which is a different thing) requires making decisions collectively. And that requires getting everyone together. And thus, meetings have to happen. So she was already used to having regular weekly or bi-weekly meetings with the people she lived with, long before I even entered into the picture.
For me, sitting down to have a formal meeting with only two people seemed absurd, especially because we lived together. Couldn’t we just talk about things as they came up? Weren’t we always talking to each other anyways? But the thing about talking about things “as they come up” is that sometimes things come up at a really, really bad time. Especially if you have to have a Big Serious Relationship Talk, finding the right window to do it can be really tricky and uncomfortable. It meant that when there was something important to discuss, we were forever looking for a “good time” and once we had a child, “good times” to have serious discussions literally stopped existing altogether. And so began our life of semi-formalized sit-down family meetings.
Meetings give us time and space to discuss the things that are bothering us in our relationship, as well as time and space to plan for happier things in the future. They help us avoid letting important things fall through the cracks and allow us both to feel respected and heard.
This is what it looks like: Once a week, usually on a Tuesday but not always, we sit down together to have a meeting. The format is very simple, but it’s pretty much always the same. First we do “check-ins,” which is just where we both have a minute to, uninterrupted, say how we are doing and what’s on our mind (examples are things like “I’m really struggling because I haven’t slept well” and “I’m doing pretty good this week!” and “I’m really stressed out about work, but I’m looking forward to this project being finished.”) After that we both have a chance to add things to the Meeting Agenda. Agenda items can be things like our household budget, or “I feel like I’m the only one who ever does the dishes,” or “my mom wants to have dinner next week; can we schedule that?” And then we go through the items on the Agenda, in chronological order, while taking notes. It is boring as hell a lot of the time. And it also totally works.
Meetings give us time and space to discuss the things that are bothering us in our relationship, as well as time and space to plan for happier things in the future. They help us avoid letting important things fall through the cracks and allow us both to feel respected and heard. Simply put, we run our household as a collective, but it just happens to be a collective with only two adults.
I know the meetings are working because of what happens when we miss one. While I was working on this story, we went through a period of time in which we were intensely, amazingly, busy. We were both burned out. And we let our regular meeting schedule slide. We both know it’s a bad idea, but we just didn’t seem to ever have time to sit down with a notebook and a laptop together, and so we didn’t. After two weeks, we were practically at each other’s throats.
After a meeting, I feel closer to my partner, more grounded, and confident in our plans and our ability to carry them out.
Meetings give us space to talk about all of the things that can get lost in the shuffle of daily life. When you both work, and the baby is in constant need of care, and when you barely feel like you have a chance to feed the cat let alone talk to your spouse, it is a gift to give yourself that time. It may not seem very exciting, but meetings help us establish our to-do list for the week, make sure our bills get paid on time, and make sure our emotional needs are being met. They also help us to stay on the same page as parents. It’s so easy to just run on autopilot while caring for a young child, so easy to just assume that what you want is what your spouse wants. In meetings we find ourselves saying things like, “oh, that never occurred to me,” and “I just assumed we’d do it this way; I don’t know why that is.” After a meeting, I feel closer to my partner, more grounded, and confident in our plans and our ability to carry them out.
I don’t know what the future of The Family Meeting looks like for us right now. As our kid gets older, it will start to make sense for him to participate in meetings more actively. I’m excited for that time, but it also means that meetings will necessarily be less marriage-focused. Will we need to have a separate meeting to discuss our independent relationship with each other? Or will we have more time to talk about those things once he’s out of diapers? Only time will tell. But for now, I’m busy Tuesday afternoons pretty much indefinitely.