We were an office scandal for a considerable length of time before we started dating. It was a classic case of “Something to Talk About.” When we found out people were gossiping about us, we thought it was dumb. Then we thought it was funny. Then we realized they might have a point. Then we spent a few weeks arguing about it. By that point, we had a solid collegial relationship, which stood us in good stead when it was time to spend a year negotiating whether to a) live together without getting married or b) get married without living together. We still negotiate everything. We also have a formal grievance procedure. Most things get resolved at our weekly status meeting, which probably sounds grim but is actually a relatively cheery part of our marriage.
Status meeting started as an offshoot of our annual New Year’s planning. One of the things that helped me choose this man was his willingness to spend New Year’s Eve doing resolutions with me. I make a giant hairy deal out of it. It takes hours. This last year, we decided to keep a spreadsheet and check in on our progress every month. We set up a calendar appointment to have breakfast together at Starbucks and review our plans. It was really fun, and we decided to try it on a weekly basis. We very quickly realized the benefits of having a formal agreement and a set schedule for all the bureaucratic underpinnings of a marriage, which is like a business partnership with a roommate who walks around naked all the time.
What do we talk about?
Planning events, for the upcoming week, or anything in the near future. This is the time we lock down whether we’re boarding our pets or getting a house sitter; whether we have enough travel miles to cover our tickets; whether we’ve booked all the relevant hotel rooms, rental cars, etc. We put business trips on the calendar. We make decisions about wedding invitations, graduations, and other distant family events. We try to figure out what we’re doing for the holidays. We look at movie times for the current weekend.
Money. We look at our account balances. We talk about moving stuff around in our retirement accounts. We fist-bump when we hit any kind of financial milestone, however tiny. We talk about our credit reports. We decide on things like whether to renew the lease on our rental house or go month-to-month. We price out purchases we intend to make, often months before we finally get off our wallets.
Career planning. We are each other’s sounding board. We strategize about various places where we could lean our career ladders. We give and take advice. He’s a convergent thinker and I’m a divergent thinker, so we both have a good track record for bringing totally unexpected insight to each other’s problems. Whenever I hear his advice, it’s so practical and sensible that I really have to ask why I couldn’t have figured it out for myself, though I never have... The only advice I can really offer him in return is usually an educated guess about someone else’s possible motives, interpersonal dynamics, or ways to phrase a delicate communication.
Health. We made an agreement when we got married that we would be “accountability partners” for our health. We’ve lost 100 pounds between us, and we’re usually in different phases of being on or off a fitness plan, ignoring something like a sore knee, pretending we’re not gaining weight, or being on a diet. It is really, really hard to walk the tactful tightrope here. I sometimes resort to crying and wailing “Don’t leave me a widow!” For my part, I’ve had to receive some stern (and accurate) lectures that I’m uncoachable and doing something that will lead to poor long-term training outcomes. We’ve had to change each other’s bandages, wait on each other due to sports injuries, and see more of each other’s blood than we would prefer. But we stick to it, sharing our lab reports and annual health assessments and weigh-ins and all that stuff.
Major decisions. We’ve had to have more conversations about relocating than we ever thought possible. We’ve been married six years and we’ve already been through four major job changes and five moves between us. My step-daughter is in college, so her name comes up a lot. We’ve had to make some veterinary decisions, some pretty bad ones, in fact. Usually, we’re lucky enough that most of our conversations about future events are hypothetical, so that we’ve come to conclusions about many things well in advance.
Gossip. Family drama comes up, more than we’d like, but you marry each other’s family, too. We talk about the news, including celebrity gossip. We gossip about our friends. Gossip is a very handy way to bring up something important by a circuitous route. Circumlocution, don’t you know. It’s helped us navigate all sorts of issues, from step-parenting to cleaning the garage to how to plan separate vacations. (I “let him” go on a five-day motorcycle trip with his friends that included time in Las Vegas; he “let me” go backpacking for three nights with my girlfriends and *gasp* no male chaperones!)
The thing about our Saturday status meetings is that we have a built-in valve for issues of any description that have the power to disrupt a relationship. Most of the topics on the agenda are relatively trivial, boring, or predictable. We always discuss some silly, inconsequential things, such as the meaning of the more cryptic emoticons. We reminisce about some of the week’s better jokes – having a thousand inside jokes is the bare minimum for a good marriage. When the scary or frustrating stuff comes up (i.e. “I’ll be on a different continent on your birthday and you can’t come with me”), we have a structure that helps us figure it out together. We agreed early on that we would commit to root cause analysis, and immediately resolve anything that had the potential to become a perpetual problem. On a scale of 1 to 10, annoyances are to be brought up before they intensify to a 3. This means our calendar and finances are always up to date. We’re fully informed about whatever is on each other’s minds. We have a system for most things, like housework, so we can focus on the anomalies. The majority of the time, we can just enjoy each other’s company, which is the whole reason we got married.
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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