Staying in sync takes some effort.

This summer, life seemed to be getting the better of us. My husband’s office was short-staffed, and he worked every weekend, which left me home alone with three little kids trying to pick up the slack. He was stressed. I was burnt out. Things didn’t get done. Worst of all, we were totally out of sync. We needed a change.

Then came a phone call with my dear friend, Jackie. She mentioned offhand the Saturday morning check-ins she and her husband had begun as part of a marriage group they had joined.

“Wait—go back, tell me more about that,” I demanded.

“It’s like a breakfast date,” she told me. “We make coffee and eggs and have the kids go play. Then we have our little meeting.” She explained that there was a list of items to discuss together, designed to enrich their lives as individuals and a couple. It fostered connection, spiritual growth, communication.

She had me at breakfast date.

Thus began my foray in the world of marriage meetings. A simple Internet search brought me to a book called Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love by Marcia Naomi Berger, who preaches the importance of proactively strengthening your marriage through weekly, planned connections. Perfect! I bought the book, then told Kyle we could talk about the budget if he would try the meetings.

Two months later, we are very poor examples of a really great process, and still better off for it. Here’s what I’ve learned about marriage meetings through our (mostly) weekly check-ins:

How a Marriage Meeting Works

While we have tailored the program a bit to our own style, Marcia Berger advises organizing the meetings into four specific parts that come in a specific order.

1. Appreciation

The meeting begins with each partner taking time to express what he or she liked or admired about the other that week.

2. Chores

Each partner talks about chores on his or her to-do list, and the couple determines a timeline for each project and who will handle what. We also talk about our schedule here.

3. Planning for Good Times

Yay! In part three, you plan a date for the week, family outings, individual “self-nurturing” activities, vacations, and get-togethers.

4. Addressing Problems and Challenges

Finally, the couple brings up issues to be solved or addressed. Problems and Challenges comes last for a reason. You’ve created a feeling of “we’re in this together” through the first three parts of the meeting, so you’re ready to face the harder issues as a team.

Who are Marriage Meetings for?

When I first started asking other friends if they did or would do anything like a marriage meeting, the response was almost universal: “No. It sounds cool. But it wouldn’t work for us; that’s not really our style.” The process sounded too business-like, and scheduling time to discuss appreciation and relationship issues seemed a little contrived.

To be honest, I was afraid of that, too. Kyle and I are not really planned-out, structured types; we’re more flow than routine. Here’s what I think, though. We go-with-the-flow types need structure, especially when we find ourselves managing a family. And for those organized couples (I envy you) who thrive on routines, a scheduled marriage meeting might feel just right.

Regardless of your productivity type, proactive work to strengthen your marriage and family life will always be beneficial.

Marcia Berger makes this point in her book: “In any relationship, there is always room for growth. If a relationship is not growing, the opposite is happening. When you conduct effective marriage meetings every week, your communication will continue to get better and better.”

Why Meetings Make Us Feel More Connected

In the book, Marcia Berger advises meeting side by side, maybe on the couch, for greater intimacy. I can’t tell you how nice this felt when we tried it. These days, we usually only sit next to each other to watch TV. Sitting close to talk about our life and marriage feels a little like those romantic days of being engaged, and we’ve launched into some interesting and unexpected conversations from this place.

I have also been pleasantly surprised by the appreciation section of the meeting. Yes, we laugh a little as we deliver our words of affirmation, but I have found myself thinking of things my husband does for me that I don’t usually acknowledge. And I have loved hearing things he admires in me, as well. Appreciation just feels good and encourages more thoughtfulness and goodwill.

How Meetings Help with Communication

In marriage you have to communicate about some sensitive stuff, clearly, and being mindful of timing and approach with the hard topics is good for any relationship.

In the chores section of a marriage meeting, you address that surprisingly tricky subject: division of labor. Discussing who will do what ahead of time alleviates some of the stress that comes in the daily grind of managing a home.

For example, I have a hard time when Kyle springs on me a chore he’s going to do, “I’m off to the hardware store!” (two kids crying in the background). When I know ahead of time what’s on his list, I’m better prepared mentally.

Berger also points out that couples who feel they share household chores fairly benefit in the romance and intimacy department as well, so there’s a nice bonus.

For other conflicts, a little time to process, a little warming up, and a well-thought-out approach can make for a better discussion. Kyle and I have still preferred to talk about issues as they come up, but I do see value in putting off more difficult conversations to a scheduled time, when both spouses are ready to talk.

The Bottom Line

You know what they say, marriage takes work. I dislike everything about that phrase, except for the fact that it’s true. What’s also true is this: I don’t ever want my marriage to come after careers and kids’ activities. I want it to be the heart of our family life. So, at this crazy stage of our lives, a planned, weekly check-in to remind ourselves that we are a team—a great, timeless partnership—sounds good to me. We are just a little more connected and a little more on top of life for our Saturday breakfast dates.