Weekly Couples Meetings (and why you should consider having one!)

By Debbie Quackenbush, Ph.D.

Anyone in any business knows that assessment and planning meetings are necessary for a company to flourish. But couples rarely put this kind of time and energy into a relationship, relying on luck and goodwill to asses status and circumnavigate pitfalls. Consider the following two scenarios:

Example #1: Robert and Belinda

Robert and Belinda had full lives. Belinda ran an architecture firm and had five employees. Her business was growing as they won more bids to design local and international spaces. She worked a great deal and was grateful that Robert’s job allowed him more time at home to take care of their young son and Golden Retriever. When she got home, after their son was in bed, , they often lay together on the couch, streaming their favorite shows. Belinda often fell asleep on the couch for the entire night. Robert would pull the throw blanket over her, give her a dry kiss on the cheek, and shuffle himself off to bed.

Robert was an artist who enjoyed his career, but he had grown lonely over the years. Early on, he and Belinda had enjoyed travel, and creating a cozy and stylish apartment that they had managed to purchase when the prices weren’t outrageous. They had made quite a bit of money on it over the years. He had taken to confiding in a friend– Katja– someone he had met at a Science and Cocktails talk. Sometimes when Belinda fell asleep, he and Katja would send text messages to one another– both silly and serious, and confiding and intimate. He knew he had crossed over an emotional line, but his need for companionship left him vulnerable to a careless blurring of boundaries with a female friend. He knew he should talk to Belinda about his loneliness and his relationship with Katja, but didn’t know when and how.

Robert and Belinda have grown distant over time, failing to prioritize their emotional relationship in a meaningful way. They lived together, and raised a child and dog together, but little more. They would have benefitted from weekly meetings where they could have caught this emotional deficiency before it became a crisis.

Example #2: Monica and Sue

Monica and Sue woke up differently– Monica tended to roll out of bed and get right into the shower when the alarm rang at 6 am. Sue, on the other hand, her head buried beneath the quilt, would hit the snooze button with the palm of her hand and burrow deeper under the covers. By the time Monica came out of the bathroom, fresh and towel drying her hair, Sue finally was sitting on the edge of the bed, her t-shirt disheveled and her eyes still bleary and bewildered.

*Good morning, hon’ Monica would say, kissing the top of her head and adding “ I’ll get breakfast going”. She made her way into the kitchen where she began preparing bowls of oatmeal, for the two of them and for the baby. ‘Baby’ is how she and Sue referred, still, to their 2 yo, who had recently started going to daycare (‘Vugguestue’ in Danish). By the time Sue emerged from the shower, they could both brave getting the kids up from their slumber on the morning slog to getting everyone ready to go, for the day.

As the kids sat down at the kitchen counter and Monica started spooning food to the baby, Sue offered ‘You’re picking her up from vuggestue, right?’ There was a brief silence and pause and then a tension: ‘You agreed to, yesterday’ said Monika. ‘I was talking about Friday,’ said Sue. The baby started crying and threw the spoon to the ground. ‘You always do this’ remarked Monika, dark and tense. ‘Do what?’ Sue’s voice became shorter. ‘You always promise one thing and then act as though you didn’t. It’s like you gaslight me’. Their oldest looked up from her oatmeal, alert.

Monika and Sue are now having a completely avoidable fight. This fight could have been avoided with careful and thoughtful planning and the morning would have gone much more smoothly. All too often, couples solve minor problems ad hoc– on the run, on the fly, when things are most tense and time pressures are looming.

Monika and Sue could have benefitted from having weekly meetings where they carefully planned the week’s activities, leaving less room for error and problem solving when people are already overwhelmed. Mornings with kids are common tension times, trying to get children, whose frontal lobes are not advanced enough to stay focused on simple tasks, ready and out the door, on a grown up schedule.

Couples group at the Little White House

At the Little White House, we often have a couples group that is designed to support you in learning how to have these meetings as well as how to maintain them. Dr. Debbie Quackebush and the psychology interns will coach you about what you are doing well, and where you can improve. For more information, contact Debbie at drdebbieq@debbiequackenbush.com

Weekly meetings for couples not only can serve as a place to plan the week (and month, and finances and future vacations, for example) but can also serve as a valuable time to ‘check in’ and reflect on how they are doing as a couple and individually. More information can be found here, about the Gottman’s version of the ‘State of the Union’ meeting, for couples.