My husband and I both have a big project this year. We’ve always been that way. He’s an Eagle Scout, and when I met him, he had a big cardboard box full of trophies and ribbons and badges. It would drive him crazy to think I’m bragging about him, but hey, it’s objectively true. I introduced him to my wacky, convoluted New Year’s Eve goal-setting ritual early on. Doing that kind of annual planning together has cross-pollinated both of our project styles. How can we both keep doing bigger and bigger stuff every year without getting in each other’s way?
A couple of years ago, we started a new habit that we called Status Meeting. It was meant to be just for New Year’s Day, but we liked it so much that we decided to do it every weekend. Then it started feeling routine and maybe unnecessary. We gradually quit doing it in the second year. We realized that we were starting to talk about household business every night again, rather than saving it for that one weekend morning. Status Meeting was reborn!
The point of Status Meeting is to treat our household business AS business, to handle all the boring details of our lives with professional courtesy. Since we originally met in the workplace, it comes naturally to us. We find it amusing to use workplace jargon and to role-play. “As CFO, I recommend that...” “Status me your status.” We use this time to segregate what could be heavy or dark topics. Are we on target for our savings goals? Is that card getting paid off this month? Should we relocate again? Are they talking layoffs at work? The dog doesn’t seem to be feeling very well. Obviously we prefer to use Status Meeting to talk about travel, redecorating the living room, or finding more time to take Spike to the bark park. Sometimes, it’s big.
We had Status Meeting on New Year’s Day again, as per tradition. On the table:
His goals to work on a robotics project, start a blog, and write a book
My goals to start martial arts training and become a Distinguished Toastmaster
There were other goals on the table, but we’ll keep it simple.
Our starting assumption is that anything new will impact our schedule, our mental bandwidth, the physical distribution of space in our tiny apartment, whether our pets are in their crates, and probably our finances. We’re not so much “asking” each other or getting “permission” as we are keeping each other informed and opening the door to ideas and feedback.
He says he wants to do a book. Awesome! I immediately offer to help with the outline, basic copy editing, and a non-technical layperson to read. I’ll do it, or I’ll connect him with someone if he’d rather I not be involved. My role is to be supportive but unattached. This is HIS project. I think it’s cool but I cannot claim ownership.
It turns out that the best way I can help is to brainstorm how he can divide his mental effort between the robotics, which he does at the level of professional mastery, and the writing, which is fairly new to him. I point out that he really needs three separate things. 1. Physical workspace setup, because he’ll be using the same computer and desk space for two mutually exclusive tasks. He has to move the keyboard while he solders and vice versa. 2. An outline. It probably won’t take very long, and it will give him a lot more clarity about what he wants from the project. 3. Division of mental labor. He can spend the weekends working on the robotics part of the project, taking photos and video, and doing anything physical. He can do the writing on weeknights, which are my nights to cook dinner, thus breaking up the mental concentration into natural 1-3 hour blocks.
Helping him talk through how he’s going to do something really cool is fascinating and fun for me. It helps me to feel like I’m participating.
A different person might be frustrated that her mate plans to spend such a huge chunk of his evenings and weekends focusing on schematics and chip boards. I’m a Quality Time person. I’d much rather spend one hour a night having an intriguing discussion with a happy man than endless dull evenings watching TV next to a bored man. Besides, while he’s busy, I have carte blanche to do as I will. How’s a girl supposed to get any reading done when this husband character keeps wanting to talk?
Now we talk about my martial arts thing. I already know that I married a man who is drawn to the badass superhero type. We were both fat when we met (we’ve lost a hundred pounds between us), and I always felt that he found me attractive. It wasn’t until I found my inner athlete that I discovered this other side to him. He was fine with the chronically fatigued, obese me. He was charmed by marathon-training me. He appears to be absolutely smitten with the new kickboxing version of me.
The big question was whether he wanted to train with me. Should I take morning classes alone and keep my evenings free? Or should I go in the evenings and meet him there? This decision also impacted my choice of gym, since there were two radically different options at the exact same price.
Due to the robotics book project, the decision was fairly clear. He’s a little “jelly” but training with me this year means no book this year. Maybe after he finishes it, he can join and we can take classes together. He has a fair amount of martial arts experience and would inevitably work through the beginner levels much faster than I will.
My public speaking goals most likely won’t have much impact on his schedule. I’ll just keep attending the same meetings I have been for the past two years. It’s really more about whether he wants to take his own membership to the same level or not. I check in with curiosity, not with pressure.
My new fitness class schedule has ripple effects on us. I hold up my end of our household bargain, doing my chores, running my errands, and cooking on my nights. I’m ravenous and exhausted and bruised up, though, and grumbling about my delayed onset muscle soreness. This is amusing to both of us, largely because, as I said, I uphold my end of our bargain. If I used my choice to take boxing classes as an excuse to manipulate him into doing more housework, that would be an issue for Status Meeting.
I can dimly imagine a few scenarios where we fight about all of this. Where I demand that he pay my gym fees for me, even though it would mean giving up another financial goal. Where I am “too tired” to go to 9 AM class, and instead we fight because I’m never home at night and there’s no food on the table. Where we don’t have a system for running our ship smoothly, and he can’t concentrate on his book, while I cry because he’s “ignoring” me. Where we’re both “so busy” that suddenly our shoebox apartment fills up with dirty dishes and piles of laundry. Where we jump on every whim and impulse, only to look up years later and realize we are tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Where we both do what we want, living parallel lives of disinterested freedom, little more than over-scheduled roomies.
Negotiating makes everything easier for everyone. We start with policies, basic agreements about how we want to communicate and spend our time. What baseline emotional reality do we want to live? We’re friends. That’s why we got married. We want to act like allies and partners, people who find each other fun and interesting. It’s our job to do fun stuff together, and also to do fun stuff separately. This is how we eventually turn into cool old people. How do we make the best memories and stories today?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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