Couples typically don’t structure their lives around a regular planning meeting, one where they deal with all the accrued issues around the decisions and logistics they are responsible for in their daily lives. However, this type of meeting is imperative to have on a regular basis – ideally weekly – particularly for long-term relationships.
The frequency and duration of these meetings varies from couple to couple; for example, if you have kids, there is a major escalation in the amount of things to talk about and figure out.
Similarly, if you don’t share a household, the type of logistics you have to figure out will be different. The problem usually isn’t about knowing what to talk about; instead, most couples end up being undisciplined about actually scheduling and sticking to these meetings (myself included!).
Set aside space
Planning meetings have to be protected from all the other intervening, competing responsibilities or things you want to do instead, and treated as a professional obligation.
One of the main reasons I find people avoid these meetings is out of fear – fear that they will make the relationship too business-like, or transactional, or formal.
However, it’s important to understand that if you don’t discipline your daily lives in a concerted way, all of the issues you’re dealing with on a small scale end up trickling into your relationship as a whole.
Ultimately, you end up undermining your ability to have fun and intimacy in your relationship, because your mind is distracted by all of this accrued stuff that you haven’t taken care of or come to an agreement around. These are all things that cause us to not be fully present with our partner.
Presence is key
The key to a successful relationship lies in the degree to which you can be fully present, to yourself and to your partner. If you’re not really concertedly tackling the things you need to talk about, and making decisions clearly before they pile up, then you’ll start feeling a chronic stress in your system.
This is not dissimilar to a situation where you’re in an organization that has been mismanaged, there’s a lot of unattended things that keep popping up, and everyone’s putting out fires. In a relationship, you are your own mini little organization, and the degree to which you are staying current on the things you are responsible for is the degree to which you can be relaxed and focused on the things that matter in your life.
The potential issue I see happening, if these issues are not dealt with consistently and concertedly, is the “death by a thousand paper cuts” of the relationship. It’s the overtaking of relationships by all of these little mini conversations that are never completely decided on or clearly resolved. Whether it’s about which school your kids will go to, or what your traveling budget is for next year, these inconclusive conversations start to make you associate the relationship with unmade decisions. This undermines the morale of each partner and creates a low hum of resentment about things that aren’t being addressed.
Treat this meeting as you would any other
I’ve already kind of alluded to the solution to this problem – it’s obviously open to modification, but I’d like to provide a beginning point.
My wife and I have a set planning meeting on Mondays at 11:00am. We do our best to treat this meeting like professionals. We’re putting on those hats as professional co-managers of our household and co-parents of our child, and we try to treat our meeting as though it is a true professional requirement.
Make it a positive space
I recommend trying to start off each meeting on the right foot with appreciation, celebrations around what you’ve been doing well, and things you can be proud of. It’s a way to bring in some positive morale before you start delving into some more difficult subjects. There’s really no substitute for heartfelt appreciation in setting the mood for the rest of the conversation.
Along these lines, do your best to turn the meeting into an event that has a positive association. For example, you could bring treats to the meeting, or make the space a bit more inviting and beautiful. I also recommend that you do it in the morning – there’s a fair amount of research around our ability to be present, flexible, and alert in the mornings compared to the afternoons or evenings.
Keep a running agenda throughout the week
It’s a good idea to have a working agenda where you can capture different things you need to talk about, to ensure you give it its due time rather than trying to hash them out half-heartedly or too quickly over dinner, or during the morning crunch getting kids to school. You can spend some time figuring out which morning will work best for you and your partner, and use that time to give space for all the little things that came up over the last 7 days.
One thing to keep in mind as you go through this process is that it’s normal for these meetings to get overtaken by unexpected landmines. You may bring up something that you think is innocuous, but it brings up something completely different and much larger for your partner, which leads to a heated conversation. This is common as there is a tendency for more emotionality and sensitivity to exist in these types of conversations. If you hit a rough spot and can’t find full resolution in the moment, find your way to feeling like the reality you are on the same team and come back to that hot button topic later (It ain’t going anywhere).
I hope you’ve found this helpful. Give the weekly meeting a try for a few weeks and see what it does for the quality of your weeks. And tell me about it!
If you need help working out how to schedule and maintain weekly planning meetings in your relationship, reach out to me here: https://ryanginn.com/contact/.
I’m always happy to help!