A couple of years ago Jay and I started doing a ‘check in’ for our marriage in what I call our Annual Marriage Review. I know…the name is intense and sterile and sounds so formal. However, it’s really not that serious and is actually something that I look forward to. It’s really just an excuse for a date night followed by a healthy and productive conversation. It works well for for us but I know that not everything is for everyone!
I am a big believer in constant communication and talking about what’s working and what’s not in my marriage. As an individual, I am constantly working on growing in regards to my own mental/emotional well being, my career, my relationships, my fitness goals (when I’m not currently recovering ugh), my health, as a person, and so on. I always have a goal that I am working on professionally, personally, and in my relationship so this is just in congruence with that. Before being ‘conscious’ and all of that was trendy, I have always been someone who operates my best (and am less anxious and depressed) when I ‘check in’ with myself and take time to reflect. I’m unsuccessful at many, many things but being in tune with my emotions and practicing self awareness is something that I have always found (at least moderate) success with (and am constantly working on). I think that it’s a powerful mechanism for getting through all of the hard cr** in life (not a solution, just a helpful tool in the tool belt). This practice of being ‘in tune’ has naturally trickled into my relationship with my husband. Naturally, Jay and I communicate the crap out of things!
Needless to say, this ‘review’ practice is very much ingrained in our regular (at least weekly) lives. However, I wanted to do a formal sit down once a year for a full reflection of the year and to be really intentional about our goal setting as a couple. Think about it, I (generally) exercise and eat well (ish haha) in order to avoid gaining weight because it’s easier to maintain my weight than have to work at losing weight. I want to instill healthy practices in my marriage to prevent problems from happening in the same way. This review is like getting the oil changed in the car to prevent it from having problems and not breaking down on the side of the road. Basically, I think that doing maintenance and ‘checking in’ to keep things running smoothly WHILE they are running smoothly is easier than trying to fix things after they’ve begun to break (not that things can’t be repaired after they break). Obviously, I’m still in a relatively young relationship since Jay and I have only been together for 8.5 years and I know that we have a lot to learn still. However, we have been through many really hard things in those 8.5 years and have learned a lot about having a solid partnership through it all. I also know that relationships are so individual and that what works for some people doesn’t work for others. This is just a personal experience of something that I think is good for us!
We set a date on our calendar that we do our review on every year. We picked a date that has significance to us (well the week has meaning to us for many reasons) and marked it in our calendar. I also set a reminder a month before to make a dinner reservation and a week before to get each of us working on our notes. I do not think that a ‘real’ anniversary is a good time to do this. We purposely avoided doing it on our wedding anniversary or our dating anniversary because we want those dates to be purely fun and romantic and magical and not filled with conversations that have the potential to get heavy. We go out to a restaurant and if we have enough privacy at our table then we will discuss things there but if not we will just do our ‘review’ once we get home. The rest of the night is just a typical, fun date night. Scheduling a walk is another good way to do it. Just get away from your phones and chores and distractions to have an uninterrupted conversation. I think that the most important thing is setting a date on your calendar and sticking to it like you would a review at work.
Creating Your Review:
I created a Google Doc and in it I copied and pasted our vows to one another. I want to just read them as a nice little refresher from time to time. However, those are pretty broad strokes and I want to discuss more specific things for this review. I like to keep the goals relatively specific and narrowed down. I also believe on working on one thing at a time so I stick to only 1 goal per ‘category.’ In the document, I put the year and then the following items to review. I think that it’s helpful to write them down so that you can reference them and check in with yourself and how you are doing. Jay suggested that we check in on those goals formally at least once a month in order to track our progress and keep ourselves accountable, which I think is a great idea. Plus, I just think that the practice of writing down goals is a good practice in general. During our review, we each take turns reading our reviews (we really just talk about it and don’t read off the document) and then discuss them and talk about ways to make them happen. The most important thing to remember is that you are not under attack and to not get defensive! Being able to receive criticism from both yourself and your spouse is so important so I think that you have to truly leave your defensiveness at the door and be open to listening and making it happen. The same thing goes with how you discuss things with your partner. Avoid using the words “always” and “never.” Don’t say, “you always do this” or “you never do this.” I also wouldn’t label your spouse as “being” something. I would say that he/she “sometimes DOES XYZ & it can be problematic because XYZ.” You are not badgering, hating on, or blaming your spouse for their area of improvement. I also think that it’s helpful to remember that you are a team and that you are going to help set and accomplish his/her goals just like you want his/her help in accomplishing your own. I try to brainstorm strategies for accomplishing the goals for both of our areas of improvement and work as a team to make progress in them.
Here are the things that we include in our review:
Area that I think I can improve on personally
Area that I think we can improve on as a couple
Area that I think my husband can work on
Jay suggested adding in a category for how we can each improve our finances so we are going to add that in each year as well
Like I said, we discuss these things on a regular basis and often have in depth conversations about them. However, I think it’s a good practice to write them down, track our progress, and really hold ourselves and each other accountable. We all need moments in life to stop and reflect and make positive changes.
I don’t want to splatter our whole review in a blog post but I think that it’s helpful to see one example so here’s my review for the area that I think we can improve on as a couple: I think that we need to set aside more ‘active’ moments to have fun together and enjoy each other and our marriage, even with all of the hardship that we are facing. We have been just burying our noses in the pain and issues surrounding us and not taking enough time to just simply have fun. Even with all of the recovery issues, mourning, and other stressors in our lives, we need to take advantage of this time when it is just the 2 of us at home and have more fun loving moments without the stress. We’ve been drowning and trying to survive these past few months and now I want to make a more active effort to set aside blocks of time to have fun where we are not allowed to talk about those stressful/sad things. I want to schedule more date nights, walks, and weekends away where the whole intention is fun and not responsibilities or coping with hardship.
Give It A Try:
If this at all interests you, give it a try! It’s really not as big of a deal as it seems at all. Obviously, the area of improvement for your spouse is more sensitive but I think its likely something you are already discussing but this is at least doing it in a productive and healthy way. I also think that self reflection is an even more important component of it. Maybe you think I’m nuts and if its not for you then definitely don’t do it! If you try it and like it though, please let me know!