I’ve been married for 10,000 hours, which makes me an expert.
Ten thousand hours is a little over a year.
That’s about how long it takes to get good at Angry Birds—not marriage.
But while I might not know much about marriage, over the last 10 years I have asked hundreds of people the same question:
What is your advice about marriage?
From those in the twilight of their lives to empty nesters, newlyweds, divorced, and single people (*gasp* yes...they do have great advice about marriage), I’ve taken their answers and adapted them into one simple conversation you can have on a weekly basis. My wife and I have done this every Sunday since we’ve been engaged, and it is the only piece of marriage advice I feel qualified to give because much of the happiness in my marriage so far I attribute to this one weekly 30-min conversation.
I call it Marriage Inventory.
The Marriage Inventory conversation includes the following topics: finances, plans, appreciation, improvement, and goals.
Take a few minutes to talk about where you are at with money, debt, savings, net worth, vacation fund, etc.
If you have a budget, review how you are doing in the month as far as staying under or on par with what you’ve decided together.
My wife and I like to use the Mint budgeting app, but there are lots of other tools you can use together—even just opening bank statements is a step in the right direction.
One of the hardest things for me when I got married was sharing my calendar with someone. I spent so many years being single, only trying to coordinate my time with a list of first dates, that I frequently forgot to let my wife know when I had places I needed to be or deadlines that I needed to meet.
Taking a few moments to share what the week holds for each of you, reviewing who has the plans for family night, scheduling date night, and, in the case of my wife and me, scheduling when we’re going to work on our side-businesses is critical to setting expectations for that week. It also makes sure that you have time for the most important things and helps avert feelings of neglect or frustration.
It is easy to assume that your spouse feels your love and appreciation, especially as life gets chaotic.
As Thomas S Monson has said, “We should not let [the stresses of life] get in the way of what is most important—and what is most important almost always involves the people around us. Often we assume that they must know how much we love them. But we should never assume; we should let them know. Wrote William Shakespeare, ‘They do not love that do not show their love.’ We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown” (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” general conference, Oct 2008; William Shakespeare, Two Gentleman of Verona, act 1, scene 2, line 31).
Start this part of the conversation with something like, “One thing I appreciated about you this week was…” and get specific.
For example, tell your wife that you appreciated the way she kept the house clean that week or tell your husband you were grateful he did the dishes.
Ask, “What can I do to improve?”
That’s right; it must be a question. We must ask for ways to improve...and be willing to hear an honest response.
The wonderful days are when you are able to hear the response, ‘I think you’re doing great! Just keep it up.’
But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way and there are things you are doing that are frustrating your spouse.
Take their observations in stride, apologize for any misunderstandings, and don’t get defensive. Don’t fire back with things that they need to improve on, but instead, wait until they have completed their thought and you’ve recognized their pain or frustration before responding. Make plans to rectify the situation.
Then, when they ask what they can do to improve, never say "never" or "always," because you'll always be sure to be wrong. Instead, make sure you phrase your answer kindly and constructively: “When you do ABC, I feel XYZ.”
“When you don’t do the dishes, it makes me feel like you don’t appreciate me” instead of, “You never do the dishes!”
If you remember to ask sincerely, listen, apologize, and respond to their asking with kindness and a genuine desire to help you both improve, this can be the most productive moments for your marriage each week.
You and your partner can be a great team. Support each other and ask for support.
By sharing sincere goals and asking for accountability, this simple topic can make you feel more open to suggestions throughout the week and keeps you both focused on a common purpose and gives you one more opportunity to support each other.
FINAL THOUGHT: More than Marriage
Please keep in mind that while this conversation is tailored for a marriage, I’ve used it with roommates and friends at times when it was needed even before I was married. It is for any type of relationship and probably sounds familiar to any returned missionary who has participated in comp inventory.
There is no silver bullet for a great marriage, but by taking just 30 minutes each week to go over these topics, it will be like a breath of fresh air that will strengthen your relationship and dispel unrealistic expectations.
At the very least, it’s better than playing Angry Birds by yourself.