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A Sample Chapter from TimeOut! To Retreat, Review, & Renew

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True story—one year PJ had a thirty-minute negotiation over who is responsible for gathering and recycling all the newspapers they get. Jerry was fully content to allow the papers to pile up, stating that he might want to read them later. Phyllis was aggravated because they were occupying one of the kitchen chairs, sometimes for months. The resolution ended up being that the papers could sit for up to a month on Jerry’s home office desk—and then, read or not, they would be disposed of. Plus, they reviewed their many subscriptions and decided to cancel two of them. Certainly this issue wasn’t on par with world peace, but it certainly made for peace at the kitchen table. As said earlier, it’s sometimes the repetitiveness of small annoyances that cause the most damage to a relationship. Like a little pebble in a shoe, it isn’t immediately crippling but can be very irritating and painful in the long run.

The agenda-building process has evolved for PJ over the years—frankly, in the beginning, it tended to be a list of grievances with a couple of household goals thrown in for good measure. These days, PJ’s agenda starts with standard discussions and activities (see below) that are helpful in maintaining continuity year to year. Of course, there is an ever-changing catalog of opportunities and challenges that make each year’s agenda unique. To give you a sense of the range of topics, here are some random sample line items from PJ’s Timeout agendas over the years:

New computers,

logo redesign,

furniture for the living room,

website construction and content,

daughters college choices,

dog (whethermto get another one),

new windows,

auto repairs,

which business conferences to attend,

dance lessonswhen and what kind,

the electric bill,

business brochures,

refreshing the landscaping,

finding a new doctor,

fee schedules,

vacation plans, and

defining target markets.

Personal and business agenda items are given equal weight. Though the businesses are important, sustained success in that arena can’t happen if the personal side of life isn’t doing well. No one can realistically say that work is great and home sucks, or vice versa, and still claim to be happy with life—it’s one indivisible whole.

Sometimes there are underlying issues running through agenda items that are the actual root cause of feelings. PJ call these “the elephants in the living room”—they are so big, imposing, and disruptive that until they are “tamed” and sent on their way back to the African plains, real and sustainable resolutions to other line items simply can’t happen. Examples of these types of transparent but encompassing items from PJ’s agendas include: one of us not walking our talk, hidden manipulation, broken promises, hurt feelings, resentment, and recurring issues which seem to reach resolution, but show up again on next year’s agenda (ya think we’d eventually learn!). Addressing these “elephant items” during the review phase is where PJ both have had many “aha” moments and gained deeper trust and intimacy with each other.

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