Most couples can maintain sholom bayit – peace in the home – with a practical, easy-to-implement system: the Marriage Meeting Program. Couples who conduct Marriage Meetings report a twenty to eighty percent increase in happiness with their relationship, as these meetings foster a loving connection, a sense of teamwork, and a respectful resolution of conflicts.

Typically, men are likely to resist scheduling a meeting, but once they try, they are pleased with the results. One husband said this approach was "direct, refreshing, and sorely needed." Another stated that when his wife urged him to try a meeting, he was petrified, but he went along with it. He was very pleased with the results, and planned to keep scheduling meetings. Personally, I can vouch for Marriage Meetings. My husband and I have been holding them for 21 years, having started as newlyweds. I cannot imagine a better way to keep a relationship on track.

Here is how a Marriage Meeting works:

The meeting has a four-part agenda: Appreciation, Chores, Plan for Good Times, and Problems and Challenges. Set a time limit of 45 minutes to decrease the likelihood of fatigue. Meet when both of you are alert, not tired or hungry. Try meeting in your living room with your appointment books nearby. Avoid any interruptions. After you have established a routine, you can experiment by meeting in different settings.

The Appreciation part of the meeting comes first. Each partner takes a turn, saying specific things he or she appreciated about the other during the week. A few Do's and Don'ts to keep this part of the meeting flowing smoothly:

  • Do use "I" statements here and throughout the meeting: "I appreciate your calling me to say you'd be late getting home, and greeting me with a smile when you came in."
  • Do remember to express appreciation for positive character traits: "I appreciate your patience in listening to my complaints about my job."
  • Do say that you like what he or she has done to keep your home a peaceful sanctuary, whether by keeping the appliances in working order, scheduling needed repairs, attending parenting classes, or engaging in other activities that bring out the best in each of you.
  • Don't omit the obvious. Everyone wants to know, for example, that his or her financial contributions to the marriage are appreciated, that their spouse finds them physically attractive, etc.
  • Don't criticize. Stick with appreciation during this part of the meeting, even if sometimes the considerate phone call doesn't happen.
  • Don't fall into the trap of thinking there is nothing to appreciate. What about the time he picked up the children from school? Took out the garbage? And what else might you be taking for granted? How about the time he cooked your favorite dinner? Or that moment when she looked across the room at you and smiled? Or when he visited your aunt with you? That was kind, wasn't it? Tell him! Tell her!

Some of us hesitate to express appreciation. Do it anyway. Even if you blush! Before the meeting, write down a few things you want to mention so you won't forget. Stay with the positive. As you conclude your complimentary remarks, ask, "Did I leave anything out?" Your spouse may reply, "Did you appreciate that I picked your mother up at the airport last Sunday?" Of course! You appreciated that too. How could you have forgotten? You both smile, feeling good and ready to continue with the meeting's agenda.

Chores comes next. Here you discuss what needs to be done and you each report on what you have already done. Keep it simple:

  • Do list chores and agree on who is responsible for doing what, along with timelines. For example, if it's time to replace the toaster-oven, one of you mentions it. Either one of you can offer to pick up a new one by Thursday, or within any mutually agreeable time.
  • Do set priorities together, once the list is complete, so that what's important to each of you will get done soon.
  • Do put some chores on hold to make time for higher priorities. New linoleum for the kitchen can wait until after the leaky roof gets repaired or replaced. The checkbook can get balanced after the tax receipts are organized.
  • Don't wallow because you wish you'd taken care of something sooner, just move it up to the top of your to-do list.
  • Don't criticize. Maybe he says he'll fill out the forms for your child's new school by next week but you don't believe him, knowing his past record. Zip your lip and accept his good intention; progress reports will follow at future meetings.
  • Don't waste energy blaming yourself either for something you haven't done yet.

You will like knowing that your priorities are mutual, that you two are not working at cross-purposes. So if your home needs repairs, money needs management, or a wedding gift needs to be bought, when you both take care of business, each of you feels good.

Sometimes discussion about a chore becomes emotional, such as when one partner is feeling upset with the other about something relating to a chore. Instead of saying "I'm tired of having to remind you so often," save this part of the conversation for the last part of the meeting: Problems and Challenges. Keep the discussion around chores crisp, positive, and business-like.

Plan for Good Times follows the Chores part of a Marriage Meeting. Plans take energy; good times restore us, recharge our batteries. What if it's been so long since you've planned any enjoyable activities that you think you've forgotten how to have a good time? Perhaps you'd like a bubble bath or a workout at the gym, a walk in the woods, or a visit to a friend? A watercolor class you'd like to take? Would you enjoy camping or a different sort of vacation? Some Do's and Don'ts:

  • Do take time to think of activities you enjoy.
  • Do plan good times for yourself, dates with your partner, and family outings.
  • Don't fall into the martyr trap. You feel guilty about taking time for yourself? The happiness you feel after investing time in yourself will reverberate to your partner and children.
  • Don't forget to plan vacations – sometimes a getaway for the two of you, other times for the whole family.

Problems and Challenges, the last part of the meeting, is the time to bring up any issue for discussion. It can feel intimidating to say what's on our minds, not knowing how the other person will respond. Speak up anyway! This is the time to clear the air and seek solutions.

You love the idea of overnight guests, but you're feeling exhausted from having had so many lately. Talk it out and remember to use "I" statements, such as, "I want to host guests but I'm exhausted from how much company we've had recently." Maybe it's time to say "no" to potential guests for a while; alternatively, it may work fine to have them if others will agree to pitch in with the extra chores. Together, work towards a solution.

This is the time to talk about changing needs, transitions, and intimacy concerns. How will a new work or volunteer schedule affect your routines and relationship? Are you considering having an elderly relative come to live with you? Does one of you want more intimacy or crave more alone time? Concerned about money? What new challenges are you anticipating? Keep talking.

  • Do start small. Try to keep this part of the meeting light the first few times by only bringing up issues that are fairly easy to resolve. Once you have established a pattern of successful meetings, you can move on to more sensitive matters.
  • Do use "I" statements. They help prevent the listener from feeling criticized.
  • Do speak up, even if you are afraid of how your partner may respond.
  • Do brainstorm for solutions. List and consider a number of alternatives until one emerges that works for both of you.
  • Don't allow yourself to feel overwhelmed by seemingly unsolvable problems. Change takes time, especially for the bigger issues. Be patient with the process.
  • Don't blame. Attack the problem – not each other!

Here's an example of an easy problem for an early meeting. Ask your partner if he or she is happy with the meals you're preparing or whether something different is preferred, such as more vegetarian and fewer meat meals, or similar meals but with less oil, sugar, or salt. The answer is likely to emerge in the same meeting. Some of the more emotionally charged issues mentioned above may take weeks or months or even longer to resolve.

One of you may be more motivated to schedule meetings than the other. One partner may have a stronger need for closure than the other, feeling stymied when unresolved issues are allowed to fester. If that sounds like you, understand both your need and your partner's reluctance. Either way, express appreciation to your spouse for participating. Do something pleasurable right after the meeting, as simple as sharing a special dessert.

End the meeting on a positive note. Jerusalem wasn't built in a day; not every issue will be resolved immediately. Appreciate yourselves for hanging in there together and be confident about the process. Solutions will emerge in time.

To summarize, the structure of Marriage Meetings helps each partner feel accepted, appreciated, and heard by the other. It offers an assurance that virtually any issue can be discussed effectively and resolved over time, if not immediately. The meetings provide a supportive environment for the airing of different opinions. Regardless of how much any couple has in common, each partner is an individual with a unique personality, wants, and needs. While some people try to whitewash conflicts that defy their fantasy of "togetherness," noticing your differences is crucial, and doing so helps keep relationships thriving, so long as your differences are accepted in the positive spirit that well-conducted meetings generate.

Some of those differences are exactly what attracted you to each other in the first place, right? If you think your relationship has deteriorated to the point where a Marriage Meeting wouldn't be feasible, consider consulting a psychotherapist skilled in working with couples who can provide you with tools to improve your communications.

But try a meeting anyway – you never know. Regardless of how good you may feel about your relationship, there is always room to grow. Wouldn't you like to have a special time to hear how your partner appreciates you, to plan good times, to organize chores, and to address challenges successfully?

45 minutes. A small investment for a huge return.