Hi, ladies! Some of you long-time readers may remember our friend Katie, from the wonderful and hilarious blog Marriage Confessions (and some of you might just recognize Katie from MC, apart from SW!). Katie drops by to share her funny, smart, and poignant perspective on life after the wedding, and we know you’ll love her as much as we do!
It’s the start of another new year. I don’t know about you, but I have big plans for 2012. Big plans. I’m going to eat better, organize my linen closet, send birthday cards on time, get my oil changed before my husband lectures me about taking care of nice things… Big plans, I tell you. New Year’s resolutions are a great way to take a look at your life, reevaluate, adjust your priorities, set some goals, and move forward.
But aren’t those all things we should do in our marriages, too?
Each year, before we make our own New Year’s resolutions, my husband and I go out for a dinner date that we like to call the “State of Our Union.” During this meal, we set our goals and make our resolutions for our marriage in the upcoming year. It’s a time for us to talk about the past year, remember the good things that happened, reflect on the bad things, and pat ourselves on the back about how far we’ve come. It’s also a time for us to look ahead, too. Much like a business, a marriage needs a plan to be successful. Good marriages just don’t happen. They are the result of two people who have planned, worked hard, and set goals.
State of the Union talks aren’t as daunting as they sound. In fact, by the time our meal is finished, I feel really good about myself, my husband, and our family. If you’re looking to jump start your new year and your marriage, here are some tips for a successful State of the Union dinner:
1. Location, location, location – Be sure that you go out of the house somewhere for this discussion. For one thing, it keeps you from fighting about anything you might disagree on. You have to be polite and cooperative if you’re in public. Mostly though, going out to eat somewhere gives the dinner and conversation a sense of lightheartedness. Get dressed up, get a babysitter (if applicable), put on your favorite dress, wear his favorite perfume. It’s much easier to talk about your family budget if you look great, feel desirable, and are having fun. Also, be sure you pick a location that is conducive to enjoying yourselves and having an intimate conversation. For some, this might be a quiet booth at a sports bar and for others this might be a swanky hotel bar. Chris and I just went out to a quaint sushi restaurant on the beach for ours this year. Candle light on the table made even discussions about difficult subjects seem romantic.
2. Focus on certain topics – State of the Unions given by presidents are clearly organized, focused, and precise. State of the Unions given by married couples should be the same. This isn’t the time to drag every small issue in your marriage out of the closet. (That’s what holidays are for…just kidding…kind of…) This conversation should be focused on the big picture, not the nitty gritty. Topics that should definitely be discussed include:
a. Make a financial plan for the coming year. Include what you each prioritize for the coming year, goals you want to achieve, and a plan for how to reach those goals. If you have a major event coming up in the new year, such as a wedding or the birth of a baby, this is a good time to talk about how you’ll prepare for those things financially.
b. As uncomfortable as it sounds, you need to talk about how happy each of you were in the past year with your marriage. And then – this is equally, if not more important – you need to talk about why you felt that way. This doesn’t have to be an emotional or dramatic conversation, either. If you have trouble starting this part, ask your partner to score on a scale of one to ten how happy they were with your relationship last year. Then, talk about why they gave it that score. When you’ve talked about their view, give your own score and tell why. The point of this discussion isn’t to change each other’s mind or to point blame about anything. The point is to see where you are each starting the new year. You can’t move forward if you don’t know where the starting line is.
c. Set your priorities for the new year together. If one of you is thinking about how perfect the timing would be in the spring for a new baby and the other is thinking about how perfect the timing would be in the spring for a new roof, you’re going to have some issues. Having different priorities isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but those priorities should be out on the table for everyone to see and work towards. So, talk about them. What do you want to accomplish that year together? If there are multiple goals, then what is the order of importance? You have a better success rate for reaching your goals if you are both working towards the same finish line.
d. Talk about mistakes you made in your relationship last year and how you can avoid them in the new year. We learn the best from mistakes – and, trust me, we all make mistakes in our relationships. But if we never pause to learn from those mistakes, then our relationships won’t grow. Maybe you’ve had a reoccurring fight that kept coming up in the past year, maybe you made a particularly bad decision about your marriage, or maybe you just had an overall trying year in your relationship… now is the time to talk about the causes of those issues and how you can both work better to solve those issues. This isn’t about rehashing the past, but more about recognizing weaknesses in your relationship so that you can strengthen them together. If you can’t have this discussion without fighting, then save this for its own conversation at a different time. State of the Unions should stay on topic and be polite and civil in order to be the most productive. While this topic is healthy to discuss and is an important part of moving forward, if it’s going to stop your conversation flow, then avoid it during your State of the Union dinner and focus on it at a later time.
No matter where you are, what you’re wearing, or what topics you decide to talk about, the overarching rule of State of the Union dinners is to listen. Listen to what your partner says. At our State of the Union dinner with my husband this year, he said that he needed more from me. It was hard to hear and I wanted to immediately snap back with a list of the times that I had needed more from him, too. But this dinner isn’t about pointing fingers or hurting each other’s feelings. It’s about really hearing the needs of your partner and voicing your own needs, and then it’s about making a plan to move forward and meet those needs. So, when my husband said he needed more from me, we spent a little bit talking about exactly what he needed from me. Was it more time? More chores? More effort? Turns out, he just needed more attention from me. He felt like I was giving it all to the kids and he was being left out. I would have never known he felt like that if I hadn’t stopped to really hear him. Now, that’s something that I can focus on changing in the new year.
I think for many married couples, we wait until there is a problem before talking about the state of our relationship, but that is being reactive in your marriage and not proactive. This year, as you kick off 2012 with resolutions of more time at the gym and more organized filing cabinets at work, be sure that you set some good resolutions to help move your marriage forward, too. Knowing the state of your union before the new year begins is the first step towards making this the best year yet!
Love all things Katie? Past columns for Southern Weddings:
Change is the Name of the (Newlywed) Game
My Wedding Registry Changed My Life
Working it Out With the In-Laws
Managing Your Money
Come on Baby, Light My Fire
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