Dear the 100 Hour Board's Rating Pending,
Numerous times you have mentioned that you and your wife do something akin to a companionship inventory each week or so. Having never been a missionary, I don't really know what goes into that sort of discussion. Having been married for a little over a year, I kind of want to try this out! So, what kinds of questions/issues do you and your wife go over? How do you keep from simply getting mad/resentful at/with one another? Any additional advice on keeping open communications on both the big issues and the little issues in a marriage and also simply making the time for this sort of thing?
As you say, I've mentioned companionship inventory as the best relationship and marriage advice to give to people. (A quick search shows that I've brought it up in Board Question #56424, Board Question #66339, and Board Question #69800 to list a few.)
My now wife and I started dating soon (less than a month) after she got home from her mission and the idea of a weekly companionship inventory derived directly from the companionship inventory that missionary companionships are supposed to have every week. The section in Preach My Gospel that relates to companionship planning says this about how to have a successful weekly planning meeting:
Conduct companionship inventory: At the end of your weekly planning session, share with your companion appropriate goals, and ask for his or her help to accomplish them. Discuss the strength of your relationship with your companion. Discuss any challenges that may be keeping your companionship from working in unity or from being obedient. Resolve conflicts. Share with your companion what you think his or her strengths are. Ask for suggestions on how you can improve. If needed, set goals that will improve your relationship. Conclude with prayer.
We do our inventory on Sunday night before bed. When we first started, it was a weeknight, but eventually, especially after getting married and having kids, Sunday nights were the most logical time to do it. And there was no magical formula for getting into the habit of doing it, we just made sure we found time to do it. I approach it a lot like Family Home Evening - do it once a week and it's important for the family. The basic format of our inventory follows this same outline:
- Start with a prayer.
- Take turns talking about specific good, kind, or helpful things that you have seen the other person do that week. Especially when you have something important to talk about, or something that's been bothering you, it's actually really helpful to balance that out by focusing on good things your spouse/significant other has been doing. We don't have a set number of good things we say about each other, but typically we get a good sense of the general mood of the relationship (and if we're a little annoyed or bugged at each other) based on how sincere those nice things are. So be sure that this is an important part of the inventory.
- Mention specific concerns or problems. Even though inventory is a specific time to mention things that you think the other person needs to work on, it's still important to mention and phrase things in a kind and sensitive way. For example, using "I statements" or phrasing things in response to specific plans or goals that the other person has mentioned. For example, saying, "I feel like I'm the only one cleaning up the house lately" is much less accusatory and confrontational than "You haven't been cleaning the house." Alternatively, we sometimes discuss specific points of concern by asking about someone's general philosophy or feeling on a certain topic. For example, "I get the feeling that being on time for Church isn't as important to you as it is to me. Is that true?" That way, instead of assuming that the other person is willfully disregarding your feelings, it might be that you just don't value the same things equally. It's also good, if things haven't changed on something it's perfectly reasonable to bring it up again.
- Bring up personal goals or plans. Besides pointing out things that your significant other is doing or not doing, it's a good time to elicit active support or talk about things you're working on. My wife is actually really good about this, making a personal goal (anything from being kinder and not talking about people to being better about exercising during the week) and asking for my help in following throught with that.
- Make a plan to address any problems or deficiencies. Usually, just bringing something to the other person's attention is sufficient, but sometimes, it's helpful to set a specific plan. For example, we had a family goal to do more missionary work and decided one way to do it was to have people over for dinner ever week or so. Inventory would be a good time to talk about who and decide when we'd do the asking.
- Close with another prayer.
I think the reasons why this is a good system are fairly self explanatory but here are a few of the biggest ones. First, it provides a scheduled time where you know you'll be able to bring up concerns or problems. One of the things that became clear after having a long-term relationship is that it's very easy to take things personally and to blow them out of proportion. This way if one of us does something to hurt the other person's feelings, during the week, we don't discuss it right then when feelings might be close to the surface. And then, if it turns out it's not even important enough to remember on Sunday, then maybe it wasn't worth bringing up at all. That safety valve also keeps things from festering and building until they explode. Second, it gives you a chance to actively think about your relationship. Before we got married, there was some list we got from someone, perhaps from a member of a bishopric, with an enormous list of questions of things that should be discussed before marriage. It was an enormous list and while we made some headway into it, I could not tell you now what was on the list, much less what our answers were. While I think before marriage is an important time to find out things about your potential spouse, their priorities and feelings, for some reason people think that after being married the deal is done, the decision made and now you just live your lives in the same house. Obviously this isn't the case and you are always finding out new things about your spouse. And, honestly, I don't understand (or care) that guys typically don't like talking about feelings or relationships. Marriage is the most important relationship you have and your feelings about it influence how you approach it. Getting in the habit and developing the ability to rationally discuss your feelings and areas where you can personally improve isn't easy, but it is critical for becoming a good spouse and parent. Third, the idea of having regularly scheduled time to work out problems is, I'm sure, not unique. But being honest, straightforward and sincere with complements, observations and feelings, not to mention doing your best to have the Spirit present, makes companionship inventory more than airing a list of grievances or complaints.
To answer how you do all this and keep from just being resentful of the other person, I had my wife (Eleven Outa Ten) write an answer:
The best way to keep from getting mad/resentful at one another during these inventories I think is to be really sincere with your compliments BEFORE discussing any grievances. It's really easy when we're both happy and on a peak of our relationship to shower with compliments, but when we're in one of those troughs (all marriages go through peaks and troughs regularly) it requires more forethought. Especially if I have something big to bring up or something I know will be hard to bring up, I always try to really ponder and consider what I've appreciated about my husband that week. Inventory is also great because it really helps you to notice and remember the nice things your husband does for you throughout the week that you otherwise wouldn't remember. The other reason I really appreciate inventory is because it becomes a great self-check. If three or four weeks go by and at every inventory I struggle to find compliments and have many grievances to discuss, it's a big red flashing warning sign to me that I need to get in line spiritually. Me, not him. And then I work on it myself and reassess next week. Over time it has become abundantly clear that most, if not all, of my grievances with him can be solved by working on my attitude, behaviors and spirituality. Truth. Anyway, inventory is wonderful and I firmly believe it can help any marriage.
It's kind of funny reading through this answer, because it really makes it seem like our relationship must be so idyllic and serene that, naturally we would never have to deal with anything serious in these inventories. But, honestly, there have been times when I would hope that my wife would forget so that we wouldn't have to have inventory and times when one or both of us is too tired (or pretending to be too tired) to deal with some obvious problems that we have to do. It really does take work to make this work. But all in all, it has been a great and helpful thing in our marriage and I highly recommend it.
- Rating Pending (who was sure to get the wife's seal or approval for this message)