Setting aside time as a couple in what we call ‘The State of Your Union’ is not meant to solve all your problems in the first year. In fact, don’t even think of it as a way to solve problems as much as a new tradition for positive communication. Like any tradition, you get to take what parts you like and make it your own. While we encourage you to follow our layout for the weekend (particularly your first year), know that everything is adaptable to best suit your needs.
Here are a few tips for your first State of Your Union:
This is the hardest aspect, especially for couples with young kids. Two uninterrupted hours together is difficult to come by, much less two days. We get it. It’s a luxury to think you’d have that kind of time, and if you did, you’d probably have to spend it arguing about something in Home Depot. Think about it, though. As much as the projects and activities on your list matter, setting aside this time shows that you prioritize your communication with each other.
Look for happy coincidences in your calendars. Maybe a slumber party or school-sponsored activity coming up has the kids taken care of for a night. Family reunion? Let the cousins hang out while you two dash off for a bit alone. One of the greatest things you can give your children is an example of a healthy, loving relationship. Think of this time away as time well spent, and if you can only get those two hours together, be sure to continue reading.
Don’t try to tackle everything at once.
You’ll find it’s fun to add categories over the years, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with just a few that you feel have the most impact on your lives and goals. Finance and careers, as well as health and family tend to be big ones that might also encompass other issues that then come up naturally.
We often have to step away after a long, possibly difficult discussion. If you find yourself just wanting to push through to the next topic quickly, it means you’re tired of working on it. Go do something else for a little bit. A stroll or even more vigorous exercise is great, but any way to tune out for a little while is fine. This is why heading to a new and different location other than your kitchen table is an important part of a successful SOYU.
Being somewhere new or a place you find relaxing helps to better frame positive communication. You don’t want to feel like you’re talking about the same old stuff in the same old place. Taking a break to stroll around a beach or new city gets neurons firing and gives you a “big picture” attitude away from the little, niggling details of normal life. It takes you out of your normal roles and lets you see each other in the world as individuals. If you have to skimp on timing and categories, at least give yourselves the gift of a new location. If funds are tight, consider housesitting for free somewhere, swapping places with another couple or camping under the stars (with wifi). A hotel in town mid-week can be quite a bargain as well. A fancy vacation spot doesn’t necessarily factor into SOYU success, though there’s a lot can be said about hotel sex.
Don’t be afraid to try different techniques for discussing both your individual goals and your goals together. Maybe you write them down individually, and then compare notes. Maybe one of you is a scribe, and you brainstorm and refine ideas before even starting to put anything into the template. One size doesn’t fit all, so try different ways. This is obviously a much bigger topic (effective communication), so we’d love to hear what works for you. Help out your fellow Unionists by letting us know (it can be anonymous), or discuss in our forum on this topic (coming soon).