Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Couples Retreat

A tool that Monica and I use to strengthen our marriage is a monthly couples retreat.

We head off, just the two of us, and spend 48 hours together. I (try to) pull the plug on the internet and she gets to choose all our workouts. We get a heck of a lot done and it's a highly effective tool for our marriage.

M flew down to Tucson on Monday - which gave me 24 hours to clear my inbox before pulling the plug on the net for the next 48 hours.

Tip #1: Don't let the office (in my case the internet) reach you when you are on a couples retreat. It's only 48 hours, they will be OK!

One of the golden rules of our marriage is "clear small issues while they are small" - I tend to steamroller through life, especially when pushed, so we've fallen into a pattern that seems to be effective for us...

I present the issues and various options.... M thinks things over and comes back with ideas after I have settled down and am not so attached to the plan that I presented.

I'll illustrate with how we tackled finances - a topic that can cause stress due to our emotional connections to money.

The first thing we did was gather up all the financial information required to make a budget for the next 12 months (April to March). I then whipped up a summary that showed everything line-by-line and we reviewed each line figuring out where we could save, or where the expense was unnecessary. We split up the agreed points that required action.

The next day we took action! Calls were made, bills were cut, services were renegotiated. Our "retreats" are where we take action free from the distractions of kids, work and family obligations. It's very much a working holiday. Probably a good thing that our "long weekend" together was Monday to Wednesday!

That evening, after we had dealt with everything required to sort the next 12 months, we sat down and I laid out a couple of scenarios for Monica's old age. As you can imagine, she loves this part!

We started the conversation on opposite sides of the restaurant booth and ended side-by-side holding hands. Financial talks are emotional times -- especially when your husband is older than you.

Tip #2 - Sort your present finances, first.

Tip #3 - Demonstrate to your partner how they have a stake in future financial prudence.

When we laid everything out, it became clear that a big part of our spending was tied to me, not Monica. I earn most the money in our relationship so it's easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking that I don't spend anything. It's also easy to undervalue the contribution that Monica makes to our lives by taking the lead with our daughter.

She didn't point any of that out to me - rather she said that she didn't need some discretionary expenses that I had added to the budget. We took 15% out of our expenses the next morning and it's the closest that I've been to financial balance since 2008.

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Those of you with young kids will know that they take a ton of time and energy. Whenever we visit friends, they are amazed at how much we sleep! This trip was the same, with naps and long nights of sleep.

The sleep, mixed with AM/PM training sessions, had us both feeling relaxed and in love with each other - the perfect mood for sorting out our life plan.

Other areas of potential friction are: vacations schedules; travel schedules; hours spent at work; hours spent on sport; contribution to the household; spending time with family...

For us, the main area that we need to watch is my time away from home. I travel a lot. If I am traveling for work, Monica knows that she has a stake in that. If I am on a solo vacation... ...it is less clear why that makes sense for her.

Tip #4 - get your potential friction points out in the open and talk about them in a low-stress environment.

Within our marriage, we don't keep score and we each let the other person change their mind. In fact, M often waits until she's sure that I'm planning to do something before offering her opinion.

I can't remember either of us ever saying "but we agreed that already"... if something is on the other partner's mind then it's fair game for discussion.

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Summing Up:

  • Make time for just the two of you.
  • Go to an inexpensive place were you won't be disturbed.
  • Share things that you both like doing.
  • Each person get to run through their "list".
  • Deal with finances, family and time -- these seem to be the issues that can create underlying stress.
  • Focus on the near term, and the long term.
  • Agree points, take action, follow up.
  • Have fun, don't keep score.

Hope this helps,
gordo

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