When Jared and I were engaged, we went through a marriage mentor program through our church. It was the best thing we could have ever done for our marriage in those early days. We spent time weekly with a couple who had been married for 25 or so years and they helped us prepare for all things marriage. One of the many things that our mentors mentioned to us in the program was taking time to check-in with each other on a regular basis–monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, annually (whatever we could make work). Jared and I loved the idea and originally aimed for quarterly check-ups. Since then, we’ve found that semi-annually works best for us, between baseball and football seasons.
I posted about this on facebook and a few friends wanted to know how we approached our check-ups, so I thought I’d just post it on here on the chance that it could help others, too. I’m going to post how we do this, but we make changes each time as we figure out what works best for us and I advise you to do the same.
WHAT IS A MARRIAGE CHECK-UP?
First of all, a marriage check-up is a time where you and your spouse get away from the house to pray together, safely discuss any issues, set goals for your future, and renew your relationship.The idea is to never go too long without reconnecting and making sure our marriage is headed in the right direction. Keep in mind that if you’ve been married for 10 years and have a lot of undiscussed baggage or if you are hiding major secrets from your spouse, you may need more than one afternoon and you may need the help of a counselor. Our prayer is that these weekends will prevent us from becoming so disconnected that reconnecting seems hopeless. If you find that after a check-up, you need help resolving some issues, I can’t encourage you enough to find a counselor or a mentor couple to help you work through them. That is a perfectly good resolution to a problem you may discuss in your check-up–resolve to get help.
Jared and I typically get a hotel in Dallas or Fort Worth (the closest cities to us) for a night so we don’t have any distractions like laundry at home. Make sure to check the travel sites for the best deals. Ask for the earliest check-in and latest check-out they will allow. We don’t tend to go anywhere too fun or exciting, because we will be spending much of the time in the room. If you can find a suite for a good price, it’s nice to have the extra space to stretch out, but not necessary. If you have kids, you could find somewhere for just the day, but I suggest leaving them for the night with a trusted sitter or family member. I know it’s hard, but the best thing you can do for your child is invest time in your spouse. Please hold me accountable to this in about a year! We typically keep the whole weekend under $125, but it can be done for less, especially if you get creative.
We usually eat lunch at home to save money, check into our hotel around 2:00, spend the afternoon in the room, then plan a late dinner out at a nearby restaurant. Plan on talking at least four hours. It doesn’t feel that long, I promise! I also pack snacks, bottled waters, and breakfast foods for the room to avoid any mood swings due to hunger and to keep expenses down. WARNING: Do not try to talk about deep issues in your marriage or finances on an empty stomach!
THE PACKING LIST
*Snacks — See warning above
*Paper & Pens
*Laptop for typing up goals (if you have one and can restrain from checking email)
*Any marriage books or workbooks you have that you think might be helpful to reference if you get stuck or need some help with a topic
*A prepared list of topics you don’t want to forget to discuss (individually prepared)
*Ipod & dock with songs that remind you of the best times in your marriage (the song you danced to at your wedding for example; some of our favorites are simply from a relaxing playlist we listened to on our honeymoon on the beach)
*An agenda — see example below
I’m including here the agenda we used most recently and some notes on each item on the agenda, but feel free to change it up. We’ve changed it up a bit as we’ve gone along.
*Set or review ground rules. These are the rules we’ve set for ourselves:
- Start with prayer. End with prayer. Sandwich prayer in between if needed.
- No name calling.
- No cussing.
- No yelling.
- No belittling.
- This is to be a safe place where anything can be discussed in a calm manner.
- Use the sandwich method when possible (sandwich negatives between two positives — see example in next section).
- Forgiveness is a requirement and needs to be expressed by the end of the day for all hurts.
- Issues that are discussed and resolved are just that, resolved, and not to be used as ammo in future arguments.
- Be honest and open. This is your chance to get out everything. Don’t hold onto an issue so that you have it for ammo later or because you’re afraid of bringing it up.
- Share any unconfessed sins and ask for forgiveness from your spouse and God.
- If things get heated or resolutions can’t be found, go to prayer alone and then rejoin with prayer. Then discuss again.
*Pray out loud with each other.
If you aren’t sure what to pray, try thanking God for your spouse, ask Him for guidance as you discuss your marriage, ask that He would reveal to you areas that you personally can work on. One of the prayers He really answered for us this last time was a prayer that He would help us tap into our gift of creativity as we come up with ways to improve our marriage.
*Review goals and notes from the last check-up (if it’s not your first).
We made some observations from our last check-up that were somewhat surprising. We found that several areas that were on our positive list last time had worked there way onto the need-to-improve list. Oddly, we met all of our long term goals already, yet struggled on some of our short-term goals, reinforcement that we needed this check-in more than ever.
*Individually write a list of positives and negatives in the marriage or areas you are happy with and areas you feel are struggling.
Some topics to consider including are spiritual life, household chores, kids, career/job, finances, sex, friendships, in-laws or extended family, fitness/diet, affection, respect, recreational activities, alone time, and communication. This isn’t just to rate your spouse; you may feel you aren’t happy with your own contribution in some ways, too, or that there is an external situation you’d like to see changed.
*Talk through your lists one at a time.
Go through each list and openly and honestly discuss them. We like starting with the positives to set the tone, but it’s up to you. Be sure to express gratitude for the areas you are happy with and approach the struggling areas that involve your spouse without an accusational tone. The sandwich method is especially helpful here. “I’m so thankful you’ve been taking care of our finances, but sometimes I feel so disconnected from them and like I’m frustrating you, but I never know when I can spend and when I can’t. I know I haven’t made this easy on you, but I’d like to feel more connected to our finances again.” (This was an actual discussion that led to me taking over the finances for the next 6 months. Be careful what you wish for!)
*Set Goals Together
Now that you’ve discussed areas that are working for you and areas you’d like to see improvement in, it’s time to set some concrete goals. Some of these may have been hashed out while discussing your lists, but you want to write them all down in one place so you can quickly reference them periodically. If you brought your laptop, you may want to type them up so you can easily print copies and save them for reference at your next check-up. Here is how we broke down our goals with a few samples from our list. Obviously, these are very personal and meant for the two of us, so I’m just listing a few that I’m okay with the world knowing.
- example goal: This is obviously one of those “personal” areas I mentioned, but I wanted to mention that one of our revelations this time was to add prayer into this area of our life, maybe not a revelation for you, but it was for us.
- example goal: Attend Saturday night church services and spend time on Sunday mornings reading and a book out loud together on marriage or spirituality. Right now we are finishing up Intimacy Ignited and talking through the discussion questions at the end.
- example goal: Jared will cook one meal per week so he can learn to cook for us before the baby gets here and to learn more about vegan food preparation and nutrition.
- example goal: Decorate the bedroom/bathroom by March 15, office by April 30, baby room by June 15.
Career / Job
- example goal: I will try to make xx amount of money this year, approximately xx per month.
- example goal: Add a weekly marriage check-in. Print off goals and put them in the car. Review them every week on the way to church and discuss any other issues that may have popped up that week.
- I will take over finances at least until July 15.
- Exercise at least 3x per week each.
- Invest in our friendships with couple friends nearby.
End your discussion time together by praying out loud again. You can spend time praying on your own, too.
Share a meal together. You’ve worked hard on your relationship today, now go and enjoy it! We usually don’t do anything too fancy, but you can go all out if it’s your style or order room service if you want to play it low key. We enjoyed a quiet casual dinner at a little Mediterranean restaurant last time and it was a perfect ending to our day.
I hope you find some of this helpful and will consider regularly checking in with your spouse. Jared and I postponed our last check-up by about three months and I have to tell you, they were the toughest months of the year. It certainly didn’t help that I was in my first trimester during those months, either. We desperately needed to reconnect and our marriage check-up weekend did that for us on such a deep level. It always does. We feel like newlyweds again!
At the Mirage Dolphin Habitat in Vegas three months after our wedding.
Just a note to the guys who think spending a weekend talking sounds awful, just know there is almost always a reward at the end for you. ;) Oh, and if you are that guy who would rather not talk about problems, you have more to say than you realize and your relationship is likely suffering due to your “peace keeper” mentality. Anyone who knows my husband knows he is the ultimate nice guy, and he’ll be the first one to tell you how important these weekends are for him. He hates confrontation, so he really needs that safe place to talk where he knows it won’t turn into an argument or that I won’t turn defensive on him.
And look at the good things that have already come from our check-up:
Jared made a fabulous vegan meal the other day as his weekly challenge to cook a meal. He picked what he wanted to make, researched the recipe, passed his ingredient list to me before grocery shopping, and prepared the meal. He followed the recipe from Chow Vegan’s baked falafel, so it was very healthy, too. I decided to make the hummus instead of buy it, per his ingredient list. I peeled the chickpeas and it gave it such a smooth consistency. The best hummus I’ve made yet. Here’s the recipe.
Simple Smooth Hummus
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed, reserve liquid
1 1/2 small lemons, juiced
1 teaspoon tahini paste
3 cloves fresh garlic finely diced or minced
1/4 & 1 tbs cup good olive oil
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put the chickpeas in a bowl of luke warm water and rub them between your palms to get the skins to come off. Pick out the skins. Rinse in a colander. Repeat until all skins are removed. Add chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini paste, and garlic to food processor. Process while drizzling oil into mix. Add reserved chickpea liquid until desired consistency. Add S&P to taste. Continue to process until very smooth. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.
Here’s to smooth hummus and even smoother marriages!!