The best thing I do for my marriage

goals intention setting marriage relationships Feb 22, 2024

 

During this month of love, I thought I’d share the one piece of advice I give to every couple, whether they’re married, committed, or considering commitment. After they hear it, they immediately want the details and ask where we learned to do it. But the answer is, my husband and I came up with it organically, in an effort to build a strong, lasting relationship. So here it is:

 

Make a Relationship Agreement. Revisit it quarterly. 

 

That's it. 

 

Allow me to explain. 

 

“Relationship agreement” does not sound sexy, or even terribly loving, but I can’t think of a better term, and it’s what we’ve always called it. It might conjure up images of lawyers and pre-nups, but it’s really just a Google doc that my husband Aydin and I created long before we got married. 

 

How the Relationship Agreement came to pass

I don’t know exactly why or when, but when Aydin and I were seriously dating, one of us remarked about yet another shared value we’d discovered. The other (we’ve forgotten who), said “we should write this down”, and the Relationship Agreement was born. 

 

Flash forward to today, and it’s a 27-point list of standards we live by as a couple, reminders about our weak points, and questions to ask each other. We review the document every quarter, in an event we refer to as the “Dinner and Quarterly Check In”. 

 

Why you should care 

“Lack of Commitment” is the #1 reason for divorce in America, according to Forbes, accounting for 75% of divorces. “Infidelity” accounts for 60%, and “too much conflict and arguing” rounds out third place at 58%. One could argue that all three of those are preventable, if only we engaged in regular, intentional connection, with a focus on the health of the relationship (vs. the kids, the aging parents, work, etc.). 

 

The “Dinner and Quarterly Check In Date” 

Back before we had our daughter, we met every quarter, made an elaborate dinner, opened a fancy bottle of wine, and took our time going through the document line by line. We made it a date night that we always looked forward to, and we never skipped it. We’d stay up late talking, hashing out issues, falling in love again, and we always ended with physical connection.

 

Ah, the freedom of the pre-kid era.

 

Nowadays, after 9 years of being together, it looks a lot different, but we still keep the date every quarter. We get a babysitter, and we go to a hotel room. We don’t care so much about the fancy dinner, though we often do end with a dinner out. A recent meeting involved a bougie room at the W on points at 3pm, where we spent about 90 minutes connecting, going through our document, giving each other space to express our thoughts, followed by a long, steamy romp, and ending with a delicious dinner at the restaurant next door. We were home and in bed before 10pm. It was awesome. 

 

How to check in

So you think this is a really good idea, and you want to do it with your partner, yes? Here’s how, in a loose framework you can adapt for yourself. 

  1. Pick a date on the calendar when you can have quiet time alone, distraction free. Ideally you've got about 4 hours. Make it sexy if you can.
  2. Create your document. We use a Google doc because we can easily share and edit it. See my example below.
  3. Make it a recurring meeting, every three months, at least. If something comes up, reschedule it. Review your document, say the things that matter to you as a couple out loud, discuss, and love up on each other.

 

What’s in the Agreement

There are some basic components that I think every couple should incorporate.

 

1. Gratitude

We start with “What 3 things are you grateful for”? This is a common writing prompt for journaling practices, because it’s hard to feel shitty about your day or your life if you lead with gratitude. The same goes for your partner. If you’re about to bring up something tough, it’s a good idea to feel grateful for what you have, so you can have a balanced conversation. Maybe one of those things is just how grateful you are that your partner is an awesome parent, for example.

 

2. Values statements

These will be very personal. But if you and your partner sit down together for this purpose, you should be able to come up with values that matter to both of you. Here are a few of ours: 



Don’t judge me for #3. I really don’t want a minivan, ever. Every quarter for the past 9 years, we have agreed to not having a minivan and I will die with that agreement in place. 

 

The point is, you can see that we tapped into the most basic principles that guide us. We value minimalism, so when we review this document, we reflect on #4, and make sure we’re adhering to it. The same goes for #5 - we don’t want to air our dirty laundry in public, so we keep our conflicts to ourselves. Interestingly, we rarely even have conflicts. But when we do, we handle them well, because we’ve revisited this agreement over and over again, and we both know what we expect of each other. No surprises.

 

If you’re having trouble coming up with your values, this article has some good guiding principles

 

Essentially, the areas worth exploring may include: 

✦ Communication

 Trust

 Honesty

 Boundaries

 Individuality

 Respect

 Forgiveness 

 Intimacy

 Health

 Finances

 

Some of these may be more important to you than others. For example, if you’ve ever been in a codependent relationship, you may want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Yeah, us too. I’d classify that under “Trust” and “Independence”. So we have a clause for that, and revisiting it every quarter helps remind us that we are responsible for our own happiness. 



Maybe there are other elements from past relationships, or your parents’ relationship, that you don’t want to bring into your marriage. This is a good place to park those ideas. 

 

You get the point. It doesn’t need to be perfect, or to anyone else’s standards but your own. 

 

3. Take your moment

As you’re going through your document every quarter, remember that this is your time to clear the air. If you’re holding something back, air it out. Do it now, or forever hold your peace. Far too many people carry their conflicts into future disagreements, and that’s when you explode at your partner for not turning on the dishwasher. Speak up, and let it go.

 

4. Support each other 

Ask, “How is your mental health?”, and “Are you feeling supported?”. You may never take the time outside of this meeting to check in on your partner, especially if you’re busy parents with careers. 



We added these last items during peak Covid times. They have stuck around because we realized no one else was checking in on our mental health, and we needed a time and place to really talk about our stress. Often the answers are, “Great!”, and “Yes!”, but sometimes things come up that we wouldn’t otherwise address. 

 

Similarly, we added #21 and #22 because we realized that we fall into some destructive patterns when we aren’t paying attention. (We discovered I’m an “obliger” and Aydin is a “rebel” after reading Gretchin Rubin’s The Four Tendencies, which I highly recommend. You can also take a quiz here). Understanding this about ourselves helps to stave off self-defeating patterns that would otherwise lead to bickering and arguments. 

 

5. End with gratitude

Finally, after all that conversation and vulnerability, close it all off with just one more question: What else are you grateful for? We love this question, and it seals our Quarterly Check In with oxytocin and good vibes all around. 

 

Key points:

  1. Never skip your quarterly check in. Reschedule it if something comes up. Your relationship deserves this time, no matter what else is going on. Even if you don’t think there’s anything to talk about…you might be surprised. 

  2. “Dinner and Quarterly Check In” may not sound sexy, but I can promise you that nothing stokes the flames like feeling seen, heard and acknowledged by the person you love the most. Even if you do this in your living room on a random Tuesday, make an effort to physically connect. Shower beforehand. Wear something that makes you feel good (or nothing at all! We once wore hotel robes). Clean the space around you, or go to a hotel so you don’t have distractions. Treat it like a hot date. 

 

That’s it! That’s the best advice I can give for new or established couples. Try it and see how it goes. I’d love to hear about it!

 

Me with my love, after a fabulous Dinner and Quarterly Check-In Date ❤️

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