When my husband Pat and I met, I was so miserable that I thought I was done with men for good. He, on the other hand, was in in a calm, open, happy place that's the exact opposite of desperation. In the decade since, we've switched those particular roles several times in various contexts.
Negotiating these shifts hasn't been easy. Especially because we're wired so differently.
Like most couples, we have certain labels we've come to own over time. I, for example, am the visionary, the queen of creative chaos. I bring fire, optimism and 10 ideas a minute to each conversation. Meanwhile, Pat is producer, the king of structure. He is organized, dependable, a genius at follow through and has an appetite for doing the stuff that isn't glamorous but still needs to be done.
In other words, when we're on the same page, we're the dream team. But when we're not, things can escalate from "I have an idea" to "DEFCON 1" in a matter of minutes.
We now work together.
And we run our own company, so "structure" is something we're constantly working on.
Which brings up the interesting question: how do you stay on the same page when you have no dang script?
Or when the only script you have runs something like this:
Me: "You know what would be awesome? The Baby Got Booked podcast."
Pat: "How can you be thinking about podcasts when you still haven't finished your book."
Me (getting annoyed): "Who says one has to exclude the other?" (I hate hearing "no" even when it's implied rather than explicit.)
Pat: "In fact, you haven't even finished your income statement from first quarter. How can you run a business if you don't know what your numbers are?"
The worst part is that, at some level, we each agree with the other person. It's just that hearing the other person disagree seemed to push us deeper into opposite corners and pretty much everything that happened next felt like an argument.
The answer came to us via our couples' therapist. Yes, we have one. We've been seeing her for years and continue to do so every time the growth required of us exceeds our ability or skill set. I like to think of it as continuing education.
What she told us basically changed our lives.
"Each time you two sit down to a meeting," she said, "You're actually having two separate meetings at each other instead of the same meeting with each other. So have two separate meetings. And ideally have them on two separate days so there's zero chance for overlap."
The Vision Meeting
As you can imagine, this one's my favourite. This is where we get to let our imaginations run wild, blue-sky about the possibilities, look under unusual rocks for solutions and generally pretend we rule the world. Or at least our corner of it.
The purpose of this meeting is to ignite passion, excitement and connect us to the "why" of what we're doing. No one is going to work balls-out at something, especially when it gets rocky, if they don't have a firm emotional grasp of their end goal.
Here's the rule though (and it can take a few tries to get it right): The emphasis is really on the possibilties and not on whether or not they are realistic and doable in the immediate term. You know you're getting this right when everyone at the meeting realizes that the timeline stretches past the next few weeks or months. This is your "At some point we should..." list with no obligation to committing to a timeline or choosing which bits to work on. That's for the production meeting.
Then you take a break that's two hours long at the minimum.
This step is crucial. It allows the emotions generated by first meeting a chance to settle so everyone returns to the table with fresh eyes and a willingness to relinquish or drastically modify a goal or idea if it doesn't really work.
The Production Meeting
This is the one where Pat shines. We start by picking up the most promising pieces from our visioning meeting. Since we now both understand our agenda is to take each idea and map out the steps required to make it real, we have a very different energy and approach in this meeting.
Lots of ideas that seemed unbearably precious to me at that first meeting now get unceremoniously slashed from the list. In fact, half the time, I'm the one doing the slashing!
Though new approaches often come up at this stage, we're not allowed to explore whole new directions to go in (because that belongs in the vision meeting). This is really a meeting about getting stuff done.
Why This Works
You work from a place of strength: It's frustrating to be part of a process when you feel like your biggest gift is not being fully utilized or recognized. When we mixed our meetings, that's usually how we each felt. Having separate meetings allows us the space and permission to really explore our business using our superpower.
You rediscover your partner: For too long, we'd been typecast. Having separate meetings allows Pat to really get into the visioning (which he actually rather enjoys and is shockingly good at). Likewise, I love being recognized for my ability to be a ruthless implementer.
You feel loved and validated: So much of our emotional angst (that bled from the office into the rest of our marriage) came from feeling like our favourite parts of ourselves were not recognized or valued by our beloved. I fall more deeply in love with Pat when I see his eyes light up during a vision session or when he compliments me on a production suggestion I come up with. I'm the most independent business badass you're ever likely to meet, but I'll tell you it rocks my world when my honey thinks I'm smart.
Have you ever felt like you were having a meeting at your partner instead of with them? What did you do to make things better? Share in the comments below.
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