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Erin Stewart shares tips to setting aside time to focus on planning to help making marriage feel less like a business transaction.

I’ve always been a little jealous of the cute “check-in” texts that some of my friends get from their husbands during the day. I’ve seen the little kissy-lipped emoticons to say, “I’m thinking of you.”

These are the last three texts my husband sent me:

5:06 p.m. Send me a list. I’ll go after work.

6:54 p.m. Whole milk, three toothbrushes, anything else?

7:10 p.m. Home in 3 minutes

Talk about keeping the romance alive! Don’t get me wrong, there are few things more romantic than buying me dairy and dental products, but when I scroll through our daily phone communications, I’ve noticed that there’s not a lot of, well, interacting. We’re more like colleagues or partners who work efficiently together without all those pesky emotions getting in the way.

I didn’t even realize how clerical and sterile our exchanges had become until I was in a marriage communication class recently and the instructor asked us to look at our phones and decide whether our texts to our spouse were mostly transactional (groceries, scheduling, etc.) or transformational (communication that brought us closer together as a couple).

As you can imagine, I had a hard time coming up with anything non-transactional. In fact, the closest thing to transformational I found was this: Are you OK?

So, clearly, we have some work to do. My first instinct was that we need to stop doing so many transactional exchanges and focus on being romantic with each other. But the course instructor said the best way to beat a transactional rut is to make time specifically for these necessary, but insanely boring, planning items that every couple has to tackle.

Instead of trying to squeeze them in throughout the day, she suggested we have a regular marriage meeting where we work out all the schedules and grocery lists and details of the week in advance. Sure, things will crop up throughout the week, but our exchanges during the week are then freed up to be transformational and personal.

For us, these weekly marriage meetings started out a little awkward. OK, a lot awkward. It felt very strange to sit down like business partners. But once we got over ourselves and admitted it’s crazy to try to run a home, a budget, a marriage and three kids’ lives without regular planning time, we got into the flow of the meeting and felt like there was a lot less hanging over us all week.

We’ve fine-tuned our process, and our meetings usually have a few main topics:

1. Weekly/monthly planning. At the beginning of the month, we do a rough plan for big events coming up that month. Then each week, we sync up our schedules to make sure we have carpools covered and know who is doing what each day. This is also the time to divvy up the responsibilities so there’s no resentment or unmet expectations.

2. Planning for fun. With everyone’s schedules, quality time has to be penciled in on the calendar or it doesn’t happen. We take time to plan a few activities for each month like an outside-the-house date for us, scheduled one-on-one time with each child and a family outing.

3. Address concerns. The marriage meeting is a great time to express frustrations or problems. In a low-stress situation, we can talk about things that are bothering us in a direct, but loving way. To make sure this doesn’t become a gripe session, we limit ourselves to one issue about our spouse or the marriage. We can also brainstorm together on family issues like how to address a child’s misbehavior, how to better run chores in the home or ways to rein in the family budget.

4. Show appreciation. We added in this final portion of our marriage meetings to try to end on a positive note. We keep it short because I’m not big on cheesy proclamations of undying love, but it’s a nice time to say one thing that you noticed or appreciated about your spouse that week.

If you’re going to try a marriage meeting, these parameters have helped ours be successful:

• Bring your notepad or calendars or whatever you need to write notes. Treat it like a business meeting.

• Be equal partners. No one person should be “in charge” of the meeting or simply doling out assignments.

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• No kids at the meeting.

• Seriously. No kids.

• Cap the meeting at 30 minutes — 20 is even better. Bonus points for having something fun to do together once you’re done.

Time will tell if our marriage meetings can get us out of our transactional texting rut. We are not the kind of couple that will ever be sending heart-eye emojis to each other, but maybe, just maybe, with our meetings paving the way, we can slip in a few “thinking of you” and “how’s your day?” love notes in between the grocery lists.