21st century marriage — crisis or opportunity?

21st century marriage — crisis or opportunity?

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.

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.

by Marcia Naomi Berger — 

I  believe in marriage. This might sound naïve, since half of first marriages end in divorce and even higher failure rates happen in second and third marriages, respectively.

But there is a reason for so many unhappy marriage endings. Huge cultural shifts have occurred in recent decades. These changes have bred new expectations for marriage. Because these are often unconscious, people lack clarity about why they are marrying or 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 about how to create a satisfying 21st-century marriage.

What most of us really want now, 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 partners. Some blame the institution of marriage, saying it is obsolete.

I do not think so. I think marriage is evolving — and that is a good thing. The vast majority of us can create lasting, loving marriages. We just need to learn how.

I would like to propose a solution that has worked beautifully not only for my clients, but in my own marriage of more than 25 years. You and your spouse agree to hold a weekly 30-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 which 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 discuss 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 are trying to lose weight, so could he or she please either not bring home the junk food you find tempting or keep it somewhere you are not likely to see it. Once you have 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 as if you have entered a minefield.

Once you have gained confidence by holding five or six successful meetings, more challenging topics can be introduced, like in-law issues, money, sex and parenting concerns.

Once you have gained confidence by holding five or six successful meetings, more challenging topics can be introduced, like in-law issues, money, sex and parenting concerns.

Similarly, it is 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 have 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 have been holding meetings ever since then. I do not 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 do not 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.

 

Marcia Naomi Berger, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, clinical social worker and the author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted. marriagemeetings.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 33, Number 2, April/May 2014.

 

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