There was a study conducted in Los Angeles County within the last several years. I can't find it for the life of me, but the gist of the study was to film dozens of families throughout the county -- all different income levels, ethnicities, etc. -- at home to study family life. The overall finding was that all families fight (not meaning knock down drag out -- insert "disagree" if fight is too strong of a word), and the main reason for many of the fights comes down to undefined duties for household tasks. If it is not clear who is supposed to take the trash out, it may become a repeated argument as one partner blames the other for not taking charge of this task, and asking why they always are the one to do it (while the other partner points out the times they have taken out the trash, and/or uses another task they feel they have to do every time, e.g. changing diapers, as a basis for a new argument).
We discussed this study when I first read about it, and we were pretty good about outlining tasks that were undefined at the time. Coincidentally, taking the trash out was one of those tasks for us as well. It is now BT's task. If I am cleaning the kitchen and need to take out the trash, I will do it. Otherwise, he knows it is his task, and I know it is his task, so I don't nag him about it. Even if I am stacking boxes in the recycle bin Jenga style, I know he will take it out at some point in the near future, which takes away a lot of stress.
As a result, at wedding showers that ask for guests to provide advice to the bride-to-be, I say something to the effect of Determine who will take out the trash out and divvy up any other less desirable tasks.
As an aside, the best advice I have heard at one of these events is to only use "always" and "never" in a positive way. So true!
So back to recent times. Nobody wants their whole relationship defined by rules. There are some rules that are inherent to a marriage -- those regarding fidelity, etc. Some lesser things may be important to one spouse, but not the other. A few rules were developed through the course of our goal setting. They include:
1) Date night once per month -- It may be cliche, but so important to connect as a couple. We have a line item in our budget for date night, and use all options at our disposal to make it happen once per month.
2) Monday night planning meeting/Saturday planning breakfast -- This one is huge, and the element that gets the most positive feedback from folks I talk to in "real life" about this process. BT and I sit down together Monday nights after the kid goes to bed to look at how we did with the budget the previous week, and what needs to be adjusted. We also plan out on Google calendar as many activities as we can -- family outings, things we are doing on our own, time to do house projects -- so there is less of a surprise when the time comes for guy's night, etc. The bulk of the calendar planning happens at the beginning of the month, but adjustments are made every week. After we finish these meetings, we do something together -- no video games or reading blogs. Usually we just watch TV, but we have played board games.
Then, on Saturday, the plan for the weekend is fine tuned at breakfast. How many hours I need to clean versus the uninterrupted block of time BT needs to work on a house project is determined. This saves us from arguing about whose task gets priority and/or wasting the day away saying we should do something, but never get it started.
3) Easy medium hard house projects -- This is another biggee. Our house is technically a fixer upper. The owner's son made some hasty improvements before he sold the house, but many of those things have already broken, adding to the list of "original to the 1948 house" projects we knew we were getting into when we bought it. Turns out the dreamers aren't too swift on completing home improvement projects. Granted we are doing most of the work on our own, and don't have oodles of money to do said projects, but things happen here in an agonizingly slow way. Trying to kick the renovation up a notch, I suggested an easy-medium-hard goal for each month. An easy project (carpet cleaning, fixing a drain stopper) is easily completed during the month. A medium project (installing baseboard in a bedroom, refurbishing a door) also is completed during the month. This actually turns out to be the more difficult project, though, as it is more time consuming, but should be finished within the month to stay on task. The hard project cannot be finished in a month (fixing up the backyard), but we need to show significant progress on a sub-task of this project. There is more progress being made now on the house, and the progress motivates us to keep going!
4) Intimacy -- A good number of couples find intimacy decreases after kids. We were no exception. Lets not call this a rule -- just a goal to make time for you know what (we actually do have a specific goal, but I'm sure I've said enough already). Also, and this was one of those silly things that was a big deal to me but BT could care less about -- I asked that we kiss each other good night every night. We rarely go to bed at the same time. It is easy to just do our own things, and then truck off to bed when one of us is ready. We each keep to our own side of the bed, so no slumber cuddling. To me it feels more like being roommates then a couple at times. The kiss is a simple way to show we will miss each other during our time in dreamland.
So those are the rules. Next up -- relationship geometry.