by HARVEY YODER
Marriage is far more than just a business contract between two partners, but it does involve a lot of day-to-day decision-making about things like managing money, sharing household responsibilities and raising children.
How we go about making those decisions makes a big difference in whether our marital enterprise, Jane and John Doe, Inc., prospers or fails. Does each of us try to get our way through heated arguments, or can we work out win-win agreements as a creative committee of two?
Two heads are, after all, better than one, and a well-run committee elicits as many ideas as possible from each of its members, regardless of who chairs the group.
Here is a proposed approach a couple might use to solve problems and reach agreements, adapted from my 2007 book “Lasting Marriage—The Owners’ Manual.”
For Regular Couple’s Meetings
1. Share compliments and appreciations.
2. Review any unfinished business from past meetings.
3. Go over your calendar for the upcoming week, including scheduling a date for the two of you.
4. Discuss financial issues, take care of paying bills, etc.
5. Agree on an agenda of other issues, then tackle one item or problem at a time, as follows:
- First discuss each issue in terms of each of your underlying interests (why this is important), rather than first stating your positions (what you think should be done).
- Don’t interrupt. Take turns being the speaker and then the listener. When you are the listener, make sure you fully understand the other to their satisfaction before you take your turn to speak.
- Take time to brainstorm possible solutions, generating as many new options as possible (no evaluating or critiquing during this part of the process).
- After discussing some of the better options you’ve come up with 1) decide by consensus, 2) delay a decision if you can’t come up with a win-win solution, 3) agree on a temporary or interim solution, or 4) decide to see a mediator or counselor for help. Remember, no agreement needs to be set in stone for all time, but will be honored until it is reviewed and changed.
- Decide how and by whom a decision is to be carried out, and what will happen if it isn’t. You may want to put both the agreement and a friendly, agreed-on “consequence-for-not-following-through” in writing.
6. Decide on a time for your next couple’s meeting, and who will be responsible for making sure the session happens (of course, either can respectfully ask for a special session at any time).
7. Try to make this fun, keep it under an hour and end with some activity you both enjoy.
Harvey Yoder is a family counselor and teaches parenting and marriage classes at the Family Life Resource Center. Questions relating to family concerns can be addressed to FLRC, 273 Newman Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22801 or to [email protected] His blog can be followed at harvyoder.blogspot.com.