SWM 128 – Relationships require recalibration

There’s an old quip about how men get married expecting their wives to stay the same, and women get married expecting to be able to change their men, and neither gets what they want. It’s funny because often, there’s an element of truth to this, which frustrates both spouses.

Of course, it doesn’t apply to every marriage, and sometimes the dynamic is reversed, but what is expected of every marriage is that something in the marriage will change.  It may be the wife, it may be the husband, it’s likely going to be both in some ways, and it’s also going to be your surroundings and context.  You’ll get pets, you’ll have kids, you’ll move, you’ll change jobs, change churches, experience illness or injury, suffer losses or experience big wins – whatever it is, things will change.

Those changes require a recalibration of the marriage, communication, and a discussion about what it means, what needs to change, and what should stay the same.  

So, today, we’re going to talk about how to deal with the inevitable changes that come and how and when to talk about them so that you can keep your marriage calibrated rather than running on old habits and patterns that no longer suit your life.

Understanding Change in Relationships

As I said, change is inevitable.  We’ve been through quite a few changes in our marriage.  Right off the bat, the marriage itself was a change.  We both moved straight out of our parent’s homes into marriage.  We had no experience living with anyone except our own immediate families.  We’d never had roommates other than siblings, and even then, not for a few years for either of us.  

Moving in together was a huge change.  It was the first time we had to pay rent, utilities, or anything else that wasn’t 100% disposable income.

While we came from very similar backgrounds (both Dutch-Canadians from the same church denomination—CRC), we were raised differently. Christina grew up with chores, doing baking, cooking, cleaning, and more. I grew up with a mother who, to this day, will not let me wash clothes in her washing machine because she’s afraid I’ll break it. Christina had to teach me how to do laundry.

I had never washed dishes, cleaned a house, or dusted anything, and while some of you might be thinking, “Oh, lucky you,” you’re wrong. I grew up without many of the disciplines and skills that would have been helpful in a marriage.  It’s something I’m trying to fix with my kids – they all know how to cook, clean and do laundry.

Anyways, that was a massive change for both of us. Christina went from a family where everyone knew how to clean up to having me — who was relatively useless when it came to household chores. On the other hand, I went from having everything done for me to being expected to do half of the chores without even understanding what they were, let alone how to do them or how often.

That caused some fights and hurt feelings.

And those weren’t the only changes we went through. I was in school full-time when we married, and Christina was working.  Then we switched, and I was working, and she was in school.  

I was self-employed for years, then took a job and largely shut down my business. Later, I started this blog, podcasting, and coaching as well.

We had five kids in nine years, which comes with a lot of changes, some new, some repeating with each child.

We moved across the country from the city and started a farm, and now Christina has about 200 pets across eight different species of animal – so lots of new things to learn.

We now have kids who are growing up, finishing high school, and getting licenses. One day, hopefully, we’ll see them get married themselves and start the cycle all over again—hopefully better equipped than we were.

The importance of recalibration

In short, we’ve had a lot of changes. Some of them we handled well, and some we handled very poorly. Most of the changes we handled poorly were earlier, while we’re handling changes better these days. 

Things are constantly changing and evolving in our lives, and we can’t keep using the old metrics, habits, expectations and more that we used to.  We need to take time to take a step back and recalibrate.

This is a habit that we’ve tried to instill off and on again during our marriage, and it’s hard. We’ll do well for a bit and then forget. Recently, we’ve been trying to pick it back up again with some areas that we’re trying to work on.

You’d think it would be easier to remember because I often have my coaching clients engage in these recalibration behaviours as well—to take time to do this.  I generally suggest weekly meetings to help them make faster progress.  Also, weekly is nice because it’s consistent.  It’s also why I tend to prefer weekly coaching sessions.  You can make a lot of changes quickly when you’re working to achieve goals and then reporting and calibrating every week based on the outcomes of those goals.  

And yet, often, I need to remember to do it myself.

So, this post is half a reminder to me to keep going with it and half a hope that it will help you in your marriage.

So, what does this weekly recalibration look like?

Establishing some sort of formal framework often helps, especially when you’re trying to institute something new. Yeah, it’s going to feel awkward and weird, but it’s less weird if you can simply point to something, like this post, and say, “Let’s try this.”

So, here’s a basic outline for one of these recalibration-type meetings, which I often call “State of the Marriage” meetings with my clients.

1 – Schedule it

So, first thing first – schedule the meeting.  How often do you want to recalibrate?  I suggest scheduling it rather than simply going with “whenever things change” because things are constantly changing, and you’ll forget because you’re in the middle of the change.  How do you determine when the change is done, and when is it ever that all the changes are done and you’re not in the middle of yet another change?

Our lives are constantly in flux, so rather than trying to pinpoint moments of stability, instead create a time of stability when you can step back from it and take it all in.

Like I said, I prefer weekly because it’s easier to remember, and I see that when my clients set time aside weekly to focus on their marriage, they improve faster.

And in some ways, that’s what our coaching calls are – it’s time for them to step out of the craziness of life and think clearly and logically about that craziness.  If you can do that once a week, and ideally at the same time every week, you’ll find it a huge help.  

If you’re struggling to stick to it, book coaching sessions. It’s hard to make excuses for not doing it when it’s on the calendar, you’re paying to be there, and I’m going to ask you what happened if you don’t show up.

2 – Celebrate the wins

Start the meeting with going over what went well in the last week.  What wins did you have?  They can be big, they can be small.  Even if you’re in a rough patch, you can probably find something.

I’ve had a coaching client say, “I didn’t threaten to leave this week,” which was a win for them because they had a habit of threatening divorce in every fight, and fights happened multiple times a week.  That was a big win for them.  For others, that would be considered a regular week.

If this isn’t your first meeting, this is a good time to also go over your goals for the last week – did you make them?  If so, celebrate that.

Want more fuel to keep you going?  Write them down so you can look back and see everything you accomplished.  In a year, you can look back and see what you used to consider a hard-won win, which is now a typical week’s expectation.

3 – What could have been better?

Look back at the week and look for the pain points. What could have been better, what could have been improved, and what could you have avoided if you had a plan?

For example, in our family, we used to get annoyed because we’d say, “Oh, we’re out of peanut butter” or whatever, but no one would write it down, and someone would go shopping and not buy it.  Eventually, we decided that maybe we should keep an ongoing shared grocery list, and as soon as someone says, “Oh, we’re out of x,” someone will yell, “Put it on the list!”

The next time I’m in town grocery shopping or have time to kill, I pull out my list and see what I can check off.

That’s a new habit that came out of a pain point that we decided to do something about rather than just sweep it under the rug and continue on.

And often we can find little tweaks that will make things better, but we don’t often think about them in the middle of the pain.  It takes that sober look while looking back at it to go, “oh, yeah, I guess we could have done x instead and that would have been better.”

Then you make a plan to do that either the next time it comes up, or beforehand so that it doesn’t come up again.

The point here is not to point fingers at who did what but rather simply to look at pain points and make a plan for how to improve the situation, or mitigate the pain. 

Again, if you’re struggling with a pain point – book a call.  I love finding solutions to problems.

4 – What’s the goal for the next week?

Set some goals – I’d say no more than three.  If it’s your first week, maybe just set one and see how it goes.  They shouldn’t be things you already do or will do anyway, but rather things that would make things better and might be challenging. These things will stretch you so that it feels like a win when you do it.

So, for some, “going through the week without fighting” might be a huge stretch. For others, that’s a typical week and not worth writing down. I’ve had a couple who actually made fighting a goal because they tended to be too passive and ended up building resentment and frustration, so they wanted to start fighting about things when they came up and were still small rather than waiting until they blew up after festering.

Whatever it is, set a goal or two to stretch you.  If you have a lot on your plate already, just put one.  Make it something attainable but that you’ll need to work at.

The point is to figure out something that would move the needle forward for your marriage, even if it’s just a little bit.

5 – Have grace for yourselves and each other

If you didn’t achieve a goal, recognize that you missed it – don’t just let it slide.  Then re-evaluate the goal.  Should you make the same one this week and try again?  

If so, what can you do to make it more attainable?  What obstacles can you clear that are in the way?  

If not, then scrap the goal.  Maybe something else has a higher priority.  Maybe whatever the goal was died because you didn’t do it.  

But be kind to yourselves and each other. Don’t beat yourselves up because you didn’t make it, just take responsibility, adjust and move forward.

Run your own “State of the Marriage” meetings.

Marriage recalibration meetings
1) Schedule it
2) Celebrate your wins
3) Take responsibility for misses
4) Set your goals for next week
5) Give each other grace

If you want to move your marriage forward but don’t know how, try using the framework above. In coaching, I’ve seen couples go from separated to happy by using it. I’ve seen couples where one is ready to leave the marriage to turn it around. I’ve also seen good couples become amazing couples with the same process.

Yes, there’s more to those stories; there always is, but this is a core element.  

And if you’re struggling with your own progression, let me know. Even if your spouse doesn’t participate, you can do your part until they’re ready to join. I’ve had many coaching clients who start as one spouse and later their spouse joins because they see the changes.

So, let me know in the comments below – do you do this?  What have been your experiences?  If not, can you give it a try?  

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