Why your marriage needs a weekly meeting
Tyler reaches out to me because “There’s no more tenderness in my marriage. We yell at each other all the time.”
“Tell me everything about one of your fights,” I say.
“We come home from work and we’re both tired. And the kids are needy and we’re angry with each other and it’s a wreck.” This smacks of hangry, so I ask about eating. “We always fight about whose turn it is to make dinner.”
It helps to notice the specific subjects that cause the most conflict. “When do you decide what’s for dinner?”
“Almost as soon as we get home. But it’s an argument every time. Whose turn is it to cook? Who’s gonna get groceries? We’re both so tired, we just order pizza. Then we fight about how there’s no money.”
Your marriage meeting allows you to address hunger before you’re hungry
This problem feels overwhelming to Tyler and Olivia, but it’s actually not complicated. If the first moment you think about what’s for dinner is when you’ve all gotten hungry, it’s too late.
One of the first guarantees to set you and your spouse up for a fight is lack of resourcefulness. Hunger and rest are the most basic resources. Get food in tummy now. That’s a desperate feeling. Enough to make you yell. And blame.
“I’m betting you get hungry about every day,” I say to Tyler. He laughs. This is great, because laughter helps to loosen the death grip we have to being right and our spouse being wrong.
Tyler’s pain point was the lack of tenderness. “My wife doesn’t love me anymore.”
“How do you know?” I ask.
“She yells at me constantly. And, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I love her either. It’s just no fun any more. We used to ski and laugh and sleep in. Now it’s all yelling.”
Of course Tyler and Olivia were always yelling! Everyone in their house is hungry and not feeling fed.
Regular marriage meetings provide a system for daily challenges
Let’s drill down. “What’s the system for deciding what’s for dinner?”
“Whata ya mean?”
“Like, do you have a few meals you each know how to make? Or are there favorite things you like to eat?”
This question was eye-opening for Tyler. “No,” he said.
“No, what? You don’t have favorites? You don’t know how to cook?”
“No, I’ve never thought about either of those questions.” He was embarrassed.
But I assure him we’ve gotten to a core issue and that he’s not alone. Most busy parents are in the same situation as Tyler. No one has time to ponder dinner because they’re so busy getting out the door in the morning, or picking people up at the end of the day.
A marriage meeting provides a framework to know your spouse better
We spend the next ten minutes talking about his favorite meals. “Tell me about the first meal you remember eating.” This is a great question to awaken your brain to comfort food. Then I ask, “Tell me about the best meal you ate in the last year.”
These questions help to awaken desire.
Eating quenches a basic desire and when we starve that desire, it’s nearly impossible to be tender and loving with your spouse.
Humans are sensual creatures. We enjoy things with our senses. Joy brings softness. Softness inspires tenderness.
Food, at Tyler’s house, had become the opposite of sensual pleasure. It became a chore. And, as a chore, it was ripe for blame: You’re not doing your part. I do everything, you do nothing.
Food is also a basic resource. When you’re hungry, your temper becomes paper thin. You’re filled with desperation. No wonder you act unkindly.
The way you treat your spouse is contagious
When you are open and tender, you get more tenderness in your marriage. When you are grumpy and short-tempered, you get stonewalling and silence in return.
Enter the basic need for the marriage meeting: Think about dinner before you’ve gotten hungry.
You live together. You might want to eat together. And if you have kids, you need to feed your kids…together.
Are you ready for a newsflash? You and your spouse will get hungry every day.
What happened for Tyler and Olivia is that the dinner fight was so terrible that, once they had gotten past hunger-mode, they wanted to ignore the subject completely. It was so icky: yelling, accusing, blaming.
Your marriage has a dinner routine already
Do you know how I know? Because you eat dinner almost every day. Your routine might be Taco Bell on the way home from work, or your routine might be chopped veggies stir-fried with candles on the table. But you have a routine.
Your marriage meeting is a time to think about that dinner routine when you are not hungry and not trying to get dinner on the table. If you wait until the moment everyone is hungry, you have no pause time for reflection.
When you wait until you’re hungry to think about dinner, your routine is shaping you: yelling, blame, and accusations.
Take time to think about dinner when you’re well-fed, and you have the ability to shape the routine, instead of the routine shaping you.
Routines shape your marriage
We came up with a list of 4 meals Tyler loved and made a corresponding grocery list:
- Tacos you can pick up in your hand but you need a napkin because the sauce drips down your elbow
- Pizza, because, I mean pizza is just great
- Cheese burgers with bacon and guacamole
- Waffles for dinner, or really, any breakfast food
Desire had disappeared because food had become mere function: we need to eat and feed these kids so we can get them bathed and into bed so we can get enough sleep to get up and do it all over again.
There was no fun. No desire. No joy.
The last item on Tyler’s list–waffles–is where he actually smiled. He told me a story about his favorite dinners as a kid and how cozy they felt. “Looking back now that I’m an adult, maybe my mom had just run out of energy and so waffles felt easy.”
Tenderness lives in the moments of joy and desire. Reawaken the desire, you’ll feel the joy and treat your spouse with tenderness.
Yelling and conflict live in the moments of chaos. Pile on multiple responsibilities and you’ll feel overwhelmed and treat your spouse like they owe you a way out of the pandemonium.
Tyler went to the store once. He and Olivia knew what was for dinner and who was fixing it. No more decision fatigue = no more marriage arguments at dinner time.
What happens in the kitchen feeds your sex life
You have three relationships inside your singular marriage: partner, friend, and lover. The weekly marriage meeting is something the partner desperately needs because the partner likes to know the plan. But all that planning can kill the romance for the lover in your marriage.
The partner is often at odds with the lover: I might find you sexier if you’d occasionally empty the dishwasher. The partner gets fearful of life’s burdens and feels lonely when they don’t have help.
But a marriage that is only focused on fairness, chores, and teamwork doesn’t ignite sparks for the lover. Oh! The way you hold that mop. So sexy. Yeah, right. The lover gets bored by life’s details and wants adventure and freedom.
The lover doesn’t want to be a grownup. And good thing. Spontaneity, games, and sexy exchanges keep your marriage vital. But, if you don’t tend to the details of life, your partner-role will strangle your lover-role with lists of do’s and don’ts.
The weekly marriage meeting provides a framework that reassures the partner details are getting handled, so the lover is free to laugh and romp and play.
Look at the basic resources: food and rest.
Notice how you and your spouse are doing with the basics.
Isolate one spot where you could intervene a bit earlier to improve the food or rest you’re getting.
Ask your spouse to sit down with you to make that improvement.
Viola! You just had your first marriage meeting.
After Tyler and Olivia instituted the 10-minute chat about meals for the week, there was a light-hearted attitude in the kitchen. Tenderness returned. They chatted about their day instead of fighting about dinner. That tenderness followed them into their bedroom.
The premise of a weekly marriage meeting is simply to be meta about the day-to-day interactions of your marriage. Take time to talk about how you talk to each other.