I have an amazing wife. I can still say that after a dozen years of marriage. Seriously, we barely argue, and I can honestly say she is my best friend. The issue is, we try so hard to make each other happy that we often aren't open about what bothers us about the other person. They are little things, but little things add up.
I know we aren't alone. I can't imagine a couple who has been married for any length of time not going through something like this. We actually realized what we were doing. To prevent a pressure-cooker type explosion down the road (the angst has to go somewhere after a while!), we became proactive.
Once a week we have a "marriage meeting." This is a time that we set aside once a week to talk about things that might be bothering us, or to just tell the other something that we appreciate about them. There are some rules that sound easy, but can be a little more challenging than you would think.
1. SCHEDULE IT-- IN INK
The meeting should be held at the same day and time every week. No skipping! Because if you skip one, they will start to become optional. That defeats the whole purpose.
2. BACK AND FORTH
Each partner has one turn to state something that is on their mind or bothering them.
One partner talks, the other listens. This is not a discussion; anything said is to be listened to only.... no responding. This gives each person time to think about what the other has said and then work on a solution.
4) POSITIVE VIBE
If there is nothing bothering one partner, then he or she should use the meeting as a time to tell the other something that they appreciate about them. Talk about, for example, something great the partner did during the past week. Positive feedback can only make your relationship stronger.
5) KEEP YOUR LIPS ZIPPED
Again, NO RESPONDING! This can be somewhat difficult, because the initial, knee-jerk reaction is to defend oneself. But this is a meeting not an attack and anything said should be given time to resonate.
6) ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Each partner should take what was said and try to work on it the following week. At the next meeting you can discuss what you did about the issue or how you tried to resolve it -- if in fact there was an issue to be resolved.
These meetings have been great for us. They have allowed us the opportunity to A) discuss issues that we would normally suppress and B) voice our appreciation for things that might otherwise go unrecognized.
I believe these are fantastic tools for any relationship at any stage. Give it a try and let us know how it works for you.
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