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How one hour a week can strengthen your marriage

In couples therapy, we call them “Sunday Sit-downs”,  “Sat. Chats”, or “Wednesday What’s ups”. You can call them anything you want, just make sure they are a part of your week. We recommend at least one hour of uninterrupted, face-to-face, quality conversation in a private place. These pre-planned one hour talks with your partner can really make a difference in your relationship. 

Why should we be having these check-ins?

We know from the Gottman Institute research that trust and commitment are the two pillars of any strong marriage. When you make a plan to spend time with your partner and stick to it every week, you are demonstrating that you are committed to the relationship and that they can trust that you will be there for them. These conversations are, ideally, private and uninterrupted. You should be facing each other, making eye contact, touching eachothers hands, sharing a cup of coffee. This should not be squeezed in between work meetings or done over making dinner and feeding the kids. That would not be prioritizing your partner and giving them your full attention which is one of the most important benefits to these talks. 

The goal for these conversations is simple: to feel connected. You should not be spending the whole hour talking about chores, past fights, and what your mother-on-law said to you last thanksgiving (even if you STILL can’t believe she said that?!).

So, what should we be talking about?

Life stressors OUTSIDE of your relationship like work, friends, family, personal anxiety, sleep struggles, chores, etc. This is perfect for making sure that your love maps are up to date and that you are still dating your partner. YES, ask the questions you would ask if you were still courting your partner. 

Do you know what their biggest project is at work? Did you know that their taste buds have changed and now they REALLY like pickles? Did you know that they are starting to think of picking up a side hobby? Keeping in touch with your ever-changing partner about these seemingly little things is the key to ensuring that you stay best friends throughout your relationship. You don’t want to look over one day and think “who are you?”

This also created the perfect environment for being on the same team. When your partner shares stressors that have nothing to do with you, you are given the opportunity to show your shared frustrations with the stressor and offer your love and support. It shows that you stand with them, agree with them, support them, and care about them. Remember it is always “you and me v. the problem” and not “you vs. me”. If your partner isn’t open to hearing your different opinion on an issue, now is not the time to offer or push it. You are simply here to listen and share empathy unless more is asked of you. 

Relationship issues that might have been swept under the rug or been unresolved over the last week like your partner forgetting to load the dishwasher, not getting home in time for your children’s time, saying something you felt was hurtful. It is important to have these conversations in a calm and controlled manner! This is a great time to practice your communication skills that you have learned in couples therapy. Be sure to state your feelings using “I” statements, do not rant about past mistakes, ask for what you need, use kindness and empathy when hearing their explanations. It is important to air these smaller issues out as they happen rather than letting them fester and explode later. We like to say “If you sweep it under the rug now, you will trip over it later”. Use this time to air out (kindly) anything that might cause future damage. 

things that you noticed your partner do or say that you are grateful for

preparations for the week ahead to be sure you are on the same page

relationship patterns that are and that are not working for you

Future planning (vacations, pick up/drop off responsibilities for your child’s soccer practices, what you would do if you won the lottery, retirement dreams, etc)

Game plans for the next week like who is picking your daughter up from soccer practice, what events you have coming up over the weekend, what chores you need help with, what night you would like for some alone time. This is part of the conversation that shows you are on the same team for the upcoming week. You now know what your partner’s current stressors are so you can understand what they might need help with or what might be coming up that would make them seem stressed. This also clears up any confusion about who will do which chores to prevent future fights about “the little things”.

Dream together about vacations, what you would do if you won the lottery, who you want to be in 5 or 10 years, what starting a family might look like. This part can be really fun and inspirational. This is where you turn toward the future and imagine the life you want to build together as a couple. Dreaming together keeps you moving together toward the future in the same direction and not “drifting apart”. You get to share your life dreams with one another and think through ways to achieve them. You should end this part of the conversation to walk away from your sit down feeling like you are moving forward feeling heard, happy, connected, and most importantly, moving forward together. 

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