In my time as a digital nomad staying at co-living spaces around the world, there was one that stood out in terms of its ability to create a strong sense of community, even in an inherently diverse and transient demographic: Sun and Co. in Javea, Spain. One of the lynchpins of the Sun and Co. community building process was the weekly family meeting. Every Monday evening, the community organizers would lead an hour-long roundtable with all the residents where they introduce new people in the house, figure out the weekly agenda for the community, and share anything that’s emergent for those staying there that week. It’s a time to reflect, share, contribute, and receive.

While you and your partner may not have the same level of week-to-week dynamism and novelty as a 20-person co-living space, I’ve found that a weekly catch-up can be extremely helpful and connective for couples. In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman recommends a “State of the Union” meeting:

Select one hour a week to talk about your relationship this week. Keep this time sacred. Begin by talking about what went right. Then give each other five appreciations you haven’t yet expressed. Try to be specific. Next, discuss any issues that may have arisen. Use gentle start-up and listen nondefensively…. End by each of you asking and answering, “What can I do to make you feel loved this coming week?”

Expanding on the Gottman approach, I’ve used the following agenda:

  • (1 minute) Perform a short grounding exercise (e.g. body scan meditation) to become present-moment focused and heart-centered. This is a transition time from whatever you were previously doing to a space of reflection and connection.
  • (15 minutes) Journaling and reflection on the relationship, sometimes with a guiding question. This could include sharing admiration and appreciation:
    • Sharing admiration:
      • “I’m proud of the way you _____.”
      • “I’m attracted to your _____ (inside and out).”
      • “I am impressed that you _____.”
      • “I like how you _____.”
    • Sharing appreciation:
      • “I appreciate that you are _____. I noticed it last week when _____.” (As a bonus, explore why the quality that you chose to appreciate in your partner is meaningful to you!)
  • (15 minutes) Discussion of reflections
  • (5 minutes) Calendar / logistics sync
  • (5 minutes) Ask each other: “What can I do to make you feel loved and supported in the coming week?”

While a meeting sounds (is?) bureaucratic for a couple, there are a few things that I love about this practice:

  • It makes you keep a sharp eye out for things that your partner is doing right, and generally compels you to see them through a lens of appreciation rather than criticism.
  • It relieves the anxiety of initiating a conversation about tougher issues. If something comes up during the week, we can just compartmentalize it for our family meeting without having to worry about when and how we’re going to bring it up.
  • By the time the weekly one-on-one rolls around, you tend to only remember the bigger obstacles that have come up, so there’s a natural smoothening over of the minor bumps on the road. Also, any “hot state” irritability around triggering events is gone, allowing you and your partner to talk through things more calmly.
  • It prevents a backlog of resentment from building inside the relationship. In his excellent post, Visakan Veeraswamy outlines this pernicious feedback loop: “You’re tired, so you hit snooze on difficult conversations / Your backlog from 1 is overwhelming / You start spacing out in each other’s presence… You’re not really there for each other any more. Life is now just a series of tedious chores you have to do. / The “spark” is gone. / Since it’s all chores and the spark is gone, you’re subtly colder and more uncharitable towards each other…/ This buildup of resentment and frustration ends up being ignited in a fight over some trivial thing like dishes or laundry.. / Everything gets worse…. The fight leaves you feeling exhausted, which brings us back to the beginning.”

The State of the Union creates a space of intimacy for us to connect on a deeper level. The ritual of setting aside sacred time for each other, expressing gratitude, opening up about struggles, syncing calendars, sharing what we may need our partner’s logistical and emotional help with in the coming days, and generally talking about the what the week ahead has in store for each of us has made us feel more connected to each other. It gets us into healthy habit of making sure our relationship is worked on and built on each week – without fail.