Partner ‘Council’ Meetings Strengthen Your Union

By Caralee Frederic, LCSW | Certified Gottman Therapist | Couples Workshop Presenter

Turning Towards Each Other

Where faith and science meet it is especially elevating, inspiring and powerful. One of the areas where we see this collusion is in the frequent recommendations by relationship experts to establish a ritual of turning towards one another through regular couple time.

Dr. John Gottman calls these couple meetings a “State of the Union” meeting. In the context of couple recovery from sexual addictions, Dr. Douglas Weiss refers to them as weekly check in’s or “Victory meetings.” Setting aside time for partners to talk about their personal relationship with one another is a concept shared by many faiths, as well.

Happy relationships occur when family members physically and emotionally “Turn Towards” each other. This concept is buttressed by research by The Gottman Institute, which is world-renowned for its science-based methods to discover what couples in happy, long term relationships do, and to develop exercises based on their findings.

Earlier this year, Elder M. Russell Ballard, a respected leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, spoke about the need for husbands and wives to regularly hold “executive family council” meetings, an extension of the State of the Union” concept. In describing both the “family council meeting”, which includes all family members, and an “executive family council” held by the couple, Elder Ballard said:

“A council held regularly will help us spot family problems early and nip them in the bud; they will give each family member a feeling of worth and importance; and most of all they will assist us to be more successful and happy in our precious relationships, within the walls of our homes”.

He also said, “the executive family council is… a good time for wives and husbands to talk about their personal relationships with each other”.

Unfortunately, many husbands and wives get caught up in the busyness of life and put off regular date nights, let alone heart-to-heart councils together. Demands on time and not knowing where to start are the primary obstacles. While each couple will have to navigate their schedules to prioritize couple time, the tips below will help you get started.

Take a few minutes and start by asking your spouse simple questions like:

1. Who are two of my closest friends?

2. What is my favorite musical group, composer, or instrument?

3. What was I wearing when we first met?

4. Can you name one of my hobbies?

5. Who is my favorite or least favorite relative? (not including your spouse/kids)?

Pick just one question and see where the conversation leads.

Such questions enable you to develop what Gottman researchers call “Love Maps” of each other, thereby strengthening and deepening your friendship. These questions also set the stage for deeper, Open-Ended questions such as:??

1. If you could instantly possess three skills, what would they be?

2. When it comes to the future, what do you worry about the most?

3. What qualities do you value most highly in friends right now?

4. What were the best and worst things that happened to you when you were a teen?

5. If you could live in another time in history, when would you choose and why?

Practice taking turns being the speaker and the listener. Ask follow-up questions out of a sense of curiosity and interest. Guard against countering or criticizing your partner’s answers. You’ll get to know each other’s detailed inner world, as well as make new discoveries about yourself.

When you’re ready to move on to more intimate conversations, you might ask:

1. What went well this week?

2. What was hard or could have gone better this week?

3. How can I love you better in the next few days/week?

This knowledge is a foundation for nurturing fondness and admiration for each other, as well as providing insight that will be useful during times of conflict and disagreement. Updating your Love Maps during family councils or your State of the Union meeting will prevent the primary cause of divorce, known as “drift”, where couples drift apart from one another over time merely from failing to update their knowledge of one another’s lives.

Over time, the executive family council becomes an opportunity to know each other, as well as counsel together, openly and lovingly discussing challenges, opportunities, joys and sorrows. Through these counseling “sessions” with each other, partners elevate their homes to higher, happier places.