Recently, I have been helping a few premarital couples get ready for the wonders, the work, and the woes of marriage. They have been reading through my book Marital Intelligence. But as I was praying about how to take these couples through the best way to lay a foundation for a great marriage, it seemed like the Lord was directing me to just tell this one couple what habits to embed in their weekly life — just the short and dirty version of what needs to be done to have a great marriage.
I observe eight fundamental habits in great marriages, which tend not to be present in bad ones. So over the next eight weeks, I will take you through them, one habit at a time, with the hope that they will fundamentally change the way you engage in your marriage. I also hope that if you have someone in your life who is about to be married that you might pass these habits on to them, so they can start off toward having the great marriage they hope for when they say “I do.”
The first habit is the Daily Debrief.
The daily debrief is a consistent quality of great couples where they regularly take time to talk about their day when they see each other in the evening. Sometimes this is over the phone because of travel schedules, but usually, it is a face-to-face interaction asking for a run-down of the people, problems, and pleasures of the day. When I was growing up watching my parents do this, it was as soon as my father got home from work; he and mom went into the back bedroom to talk. They would emerge about thirty to sixty minutes later with a renewed sense of understanding and support of one another. This is a focused time of listening to how the other person’s day went and can and often does include the problems, feelings, and challenges of the day. This is where a couple bonds together even though they have not been together all day.
As there will be lots of topics and lots of issues brought up, your job is to follow each one with rapt attention. Ask questions about what the other person says, even though you may not really want to know. Paraphrase what the other person is saying so that you can reflect back what you are hearing. Summarize what was said and ask if that is what they meant to say. There is nothing more important than this communication. Stay at this every night for sixty minutes or so. Don’t think about the dinner. Don’t think about the game you are missing. Don’t wish they would get to the point. Listening to your spouse talk is the point.
When our children were really small, Dana and I used to sit on the couch in the living room and have the kids be in their bedrooms. They were not allowed to come out until we came and got them. Yes, it was a training process, but it became clear to the kids that mommy and daddy’s relationship was very important and we needed this time.
It is important for both parties to save enough of themselves for this debrief so that they can give significant attention to their spouse. It is not okay to give all your energy to other places and people and have nothing left when the most important person is in front of you. I have sometimes suggested that a person pull over and take a nap before they get home so they have enough energy for this debrief time!
What would this look like?
- Say: “Tell me about what happened in your day! I want you to start at the beginning and tell me everything that is interesting to you.” It is usually best to let one person get through talking about their day before the other person starts sharing.
- Have a chronological discussion and exploration of people, events, thoughts, and feelings:
- The morning: people, events, ideas, feelings
- The afternoon: people, events, ideas, feelings
- The evening: people, events, ideas, feelings
- Ask questions about each person, event, idea, and feeling. Try to learn more about it. Asking questions shows interest and helps you be present in their day.
- Paraphrase what they say, especially the emotional elements.
- Summarize what they say and ask if you got it right.
- The point is to show interest in the person and what is interesting to them, not just to get information. Set aside 30-45 minutes per person.
Some other things to keep in mind:
- Don’t take what the other person is saying as a personal attack. Yes, they may say something that could be understood as a suggestion that you should do something different, but don’t take it personally — they are talking and you are listening.
- They don’t need solutions from you, they need attentive listening. There will be time for solutions and action, but a daily debrief is often a lifeline to a reality that isn’t about solutions but being heard.
- Keep listening and keep drawing them out on the various subjects. It is important to give enough detail and color about your day so the other person can feel that they were present.
Remember, the daily debrief is one of the fundamental habits that are observed in great marriages. It is entirely in your control to work toward a great marriage and this is the place to start. If you are the one reading this, then let it begin with you. Don’t just read about it and say… “Yes, that would help us!” Actually set up the time and do it. Begin tonight.
Join me next week for the second habit of great marriages.
You’re reading this here first! This series is an excerpt from Dr. Gil Stieglitz’s upcoming book on marriage.