I have been enjoying the dog days of summer, and haven't posted in a while, but that hasn't stopped me from hearing from many women (and a few men!) about their marital situations. It's been interesting. One of the questions I have heard a lot this summer is this, "How can I make my marriage stronger?"
What's prompted this? I think it's "trial empty-nester" syndrome. A number of the women with whom I have spoken this summer have had their kids heading to sleep-away camp for a week, or two, or even four! They realized that they are facing a look at what life will be like when their kids finish high-school and move out.
Several of the women I spoke with were excited about the idea of a few weeks of alone time with their husbands and planned dinners out, quiet nights in, and perhaps even a night or two away themselves. These women had no trouble coming up with a list of things to do with their husbands, and while I know they missed their kids, they also loved the time alone together.
Sadly, I spoke with a few other women who were somewhat panicked that their kids were going to be gone. It wasn't worry for the kids. Rather, it was worry for themselves. What were they going to do alone with just each other for two weeks? That's a mighty long time! What would they talk about without kids activities and events dominating every day? I think for several of these women, this summer became a time of "uh-oh!" It became a realization of, "we've drifted apart and we better get back on the same course quickly." This is where the question came in: "What can I do to make my marriage stronger?"
We took it on as a challenge and made it a game. Our goal was to create a list of 10 "table topics" that each woman could discuss at night with her husband to create great dialogue, bring them closer together, and create intimacy. The order wasn't important. The idea of "togetherness" was the end-game. Of course, once we got on a role we could have kept going and come up with 100 days worth of questions, but our goal was simply 10 different questions to stimulate different discussions! Here's our list:
1. What do we want to accomplish within the next 12 months, both individually and as a family? Think small things like stain the deck, or big things like go on a European vacation! One woman found out her husband has always wanted to compete in a triathlon. They agreed he should go for it, and she agreed to help him train. One woman told her husband that she wished he had a stronger faith and that they would become more involved at church over the coming year. That sure opened a powerful discussion!
2. What are your favorite three memories of our time together from the day we met until now? Why? What makes those moments stick in your mind? Note, your wedding day and the births of children can't count! Too obvious!!
3. If you could change one thing about yourself and one thing about me, what would it be? What trait of mine do you both love and hate simultaneously? For example, "You're so organized, which I love, and you are so anal, which bugs me... sometimes it's OK to leave the bed unmade!"
4. What is your idea of the perfect romantic evening? Spell it out ... in detail! Don't assume I know anything! Then, the fun part, is executing the plan a few nights later!
5. How do you think we are doing financially? Where should we be saving more? Spending more? Are we feeling good about where we're at with insurance coverage? Retirement planning? College planning? We agreed this wasn't a sexy topic, but one that needed to be discussed. And most women really enjoyed this conversation because it stimulated a sense of confidence that things were where they needed to be (or soon would be!).
6. Who are your best friends? Who are those go-to people in your life? Which of our friends do you admire most? Have the least respect for? Why? We found this allowed people to share what kinds of attributes they most respected, or disrespected, in others, and led to a subsequent conversation about whether they were exhibiting those same qualities. It also led to conversations about why some marriages were perceived to be stronger than others. Interesting!
7. If you could start over, what would you do differently? This could be going to a different college, choosing a different career, moving internationally while still "young," having more (or less!) children. This is the "if I had to do it all again ..." question. For several couples, this was a tough one, as I think both parties had some regrets that they still wondered about. The question, however, did was it was intended to do and opened up some honest dialogue.
8. What do you feel is missing in your life and our lives? What would you like me to do more of or less of? This was interesting in that several couples agreed that they were missing "fun" -- not excitement, not drama, but just simple fun and laughter. Life had gotten so caught up in the kids and their activities, that activities for mom and dad had ceased to exist. A few couples made commitments to begin to pursue their passions together (e.g., a commitment to once a month Saturday night Ballroom Dance lessons in Buckhead together, and another to buying a kayak -- a two person kayak -- to spend lazy time paddling together).
9. If we won the lottery this weekend, what would we do with the money? I know, a silly question, but it's always fun to daydream! This also turned into a discussion about the importance of family and caring for others as conversations turned to things like, "We would continue to tithe, and then pay off our parents' mortgages."
10. Where do you see us living and what do you see us doing when we retire? It was surprising to me how many people had never even discussed the when's and where's of retirement! It's not that far away people!
What do you think? Try the questions. Any good stories to share?
What other questions would you add?