A Talk with Marcia Naomi Berger about Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love
By Marcia Naomi Berger
What is your book Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love about?
The book shows couples how to conduct a weekly meeting that increases intimacy, romance, teamwork, and smoother resolution of conflicts. It includes guidelines for meetings, a four-part agenda, positive communication skills, and couples’ stories. It empowers couples to get the marriage they’ve always wanted — one that fosters the growth and well-being of both partners in all the important ways — emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Why did you write the book?
An obvious need exists for a proactive approach for marriage success. Divorce is epidemic. Fifty percent of first marriages fail. The statistics are more dismal for second and third marriages. Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love
is unique because it provides an ongoing system for creating and maintaining forever, the kind of relationship we all long for — a loving, lifelong one that fosters the growth and vitality of both partners in all the important ways — emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Personally, my husband and I have been holding weekly Marriage Meetings for about twenty-five years. I give them major credit for our lasting happiness together and for inspiring me to share the tool with couples everywhere. Can you tell us who will benefit from reading Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love?
The book is for couples who want to make a good marriage even better. It’s also for people who want to transform a ho-hum relationship into a good or great one. Even the healthiest couples have differences that they can learn to deal with more smoothly, which can be about in-laws, money, parenting, sex, and so on. The book is also helpful for couples who aren’t relating as well as they used to; Marriage Meetings can help them get back on track.
All kinds of people, married and single, can pick up valuable communication skills described in detail in the book that are helpful for any relationship, including with friends, family members, and coworkers. Why can’t couples just talk instead of having to conform to the artificial structure of the meeting?
“Just talking” is fine and certainly desirable on a daily basis. It is easy, however, with all life’s pressures, to communicate in ways that do not foster a positive connection with your partner or resolve issues. You may want to discuss an issue when your partner is preoccupied—watching television, reading, or doing something else. The Marriage Meeting covers all bases; it allows each person to feel heard and understood, without interruptions and counter-arguments. It provides a predictable time to talk about anything--positively and respectfully.
It’s easy to take one’s partner for granted, to forget to express appreciation. Chores can pile up or not be handled well. You may forget to plan dates and other enjoyable activities. By scheduling a time for a Marriage Meeting, you will get to reconnect every week. The meetings foster direct, positive communication that addresses concerns at a time both of you are likely to be receptive. You get to feel appreciated and valued, gain a smoother running household by coordinating chores, and add romance by planning dates. Issues are resolved and challenges are met before they escalate into crises and grudges. What if one spouse wants to try holding a marriage meeting but the other refuses?
The reluctant partner might fear getting criticized. In the book, I say to keep the first several meetings light and enjoyable. Doing this helps you gain confidence about holding the meetings. Part Three of the book shows how to use positive communication techniques to express yourself clearly while being kind and supportive.
Choose a time to bring up the subject of trying a Marriage Meeting when you’re both relaxed and available. You can say, “I would be very grateful to you for trying a Marriage Meeting at least once.” You might mention some advantages of the meetings, such as:
• They help the two of you to re-connect and feel appreciated by each other.
• They increase teamwork around taking care of household tasks and other activities.
• They remind you to plan to go out on an enjoyable date each week.
If your partner is still not convinced, you can always negotiate. For example, if basketball’s not your thing and he wants you to go to a game with him, say okay-- on one condition — that he’ll hold a marriage meeting with you. If he agrees, schedule your meeting right them.
Men tend to like Marriage Meetings once they get used to them. The meeting’s structure makes it easier for the less verbal partner, who is typically — but not always — the husband, to speak up and be heard. Isn’t scheduling a formal weekly meeting unromantic?
Marriage Meetings actually increase romance! They increase communication, which is a powerful aphrodisiac. They foster mutual appreciation and remind you to plan a dates for just the two of you. The meetings clear up misunderstandings. They prevent grudge holding, so romance can flourish. How do we decide who talks first about topics covered in a Marriage Meeting?
Usually, the less verbal partner should talk first. This helps him or her to share ownership of the meeting. Reflect back what you hear your partner saying when appropriate, using the Active Listening communication skill, which is explained in chapter 9 of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love
. So are couples supposed to express appreciation, and talk about chores and problems only during our Marriage Meetings?
Of course not! Spouses should express appreciation daily. If a pipe bursts or if a chore needs to be done immediately, you don’t wait for your marriage meeting to call a plumber or to arrange how to handle the pressing task.
If you feel like you need to express yourself about something your partner did that either pleased you greatly or annoyed you immensely, you don’t wait for your weekly meeting to do this, but still do your best to communicate positively. Your marriage meeting is a commitment the two of you make to provide a time to make sure that all aspects of your relationship are given attention on a regular basis. I’ve heard that some people hold Marriage Meetings less often than once a week. Why do you encourage people to hold the meetings every week?
I like meeting every week. The meetings foster connection and prevent grudges from accumulating about any aspect of your relationship.
Yet, some couples who have attended my Marriage Meeting Workshops reported in follow-up studies that they meet every two weeks. One couple said that they have been holding marriage meetings once a month since they started seven years ago. All find them valuable for keeping their relationship on track.
On the other hand, a psychologist in a class I teach for professionals said, “I know only one happily married couple. They’ve been holding a weekly meeting for fifty years.” My husband and I have been holding a weekly Marriage Meeting for about twenty-five years. Meeting less often makes me feel clogged up! Do we need to keep holding marriage meetings for the rest of our lives in order to keep our relationship on track?
Not necessarily. One wife said that after she and her husband used to hold the meetings regularly and that their improved communication was long-lasting enough they no longer feel the need for formal meetings. This couple excels at going with the flow and at working around each other’s. Both are accepting, flexible, and happy together.
Some other couples similarly report that after they stopped holding marriage meetings, the improvement in their relationship was sustained. They continue to express appreciation often, communicate positively, and deal with issues promptly.
But if you value the intimacy, reconnecting regularly, teamwork, and closure that marriage meetings foster, you will be glad to invest a small amount of time each week in them. Marriage Meetings are a form of insurance. Do you need to be married in order to benefit from Marriage Meetings?
Any two people who live under the same roof, including committed couples, can benefit from holding weekly meetings using the Marriage Meeting format. After reading some of my material about Marriage Meetings, a friend and his roommate began having effective weekly “roommate meetings.” If a couple has longstanding grudges and unresolved issues, couldn’t a marriage meeting backfire?
Ideally, after both partners have read this book, they will agree to try a marriage meeting, or at least the first agenda topic, Appreciation. Possibly, they will be happily surprised. But if they aren’t able to conduct the meeting well enough on their own, because they get stuck on blaming or the trust level is too low, they’ve learned something important. If they want a better relationship, help is available in many forms, including marriage counseling, individual therapy, and/or couple therapy.
Once you are ready to use the positive communication techniques described in Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love
, you are likely to be ready to hold the meetings. What do you say to a couple that asks, “How can we be expected to find the time to hold a weekly meeting when we’re already so busy?”
If you have time to fight or stew, you have time for a Marriage Meeting. They save time and money.
Marriage meetings do not replace therapy for couples whose concerns call for professional help. But if your marriage is basically healthy, you can hold the meetings on your own, and avoid the expense of therapy.
It eats up time and energy to silently ruminate about whatever may be happening in your relationship that is not getting handled. It takes less time to hold a Marriage Meeting.
The meetings also save money also by providing a forum for talking about potential expenditures rationally and respectfully. They help you become more accountable to each other financially and cooperate about spending, saving and sharing money.
By holding effective meetings, you get to reconnect regularly. Each of you gets to wipe clean your slate of mental clutter. Once you get used to holding the meetings, you will probably be able to complete the agenda successfully within about half an hour.
Can any marriage be saved by holding a weekly marriage meeting?
A Marriage Meeting cannot save any marriage. Some people marry for the wrong reasons, such as physical attraction, money, or some other material concern. Later they realize that they are too incompatible to stay together. When their values and goals are too different, there may be no way to save the marriage. Also, some couples have serious issues, such as physical or emotional abuse, addictions, or infidelity. Such people will need to restore their relationship before they would be able to hold effective marriage meetings
But for couples who are basically healthy, compatible, and have similar enough values, marriage meetings are a great way to reconnect every week. The meetings they foster romance and intimacy; teamwork; and smoother handling of whatever comes up.
Don’t some couples just grow apart? We’ve probably all heard that “We just grew apart” comment. The truth is that couples do not grow apart; they drift away from each other either because they lack the tools for staying connected or they have them but forget to use them. Marriage meetings are a weekly wake-up call for reconnecting and growing together.
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MARCIA NAOMI BERGER , MSW, LCSW, is the author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love. She coaches, consults, and speaks nationally, has served on the clinical faculty of the University of California School of Medicine, and lives in San Rafael, California.