The Sober Dad Weekend Checklist: Nine Ways To Make Your Marriage Great

Seventy percent of the time a married couple spends together takes place on the weekend. This means that calls to sponsors, and topics in AA men’s meetings on Sunday nights and Mondays, typically have to do with what went wrong in the relationship over the previous few days.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I’d like to share with you a nine-point checklist that, if followed thoroughly, will make your weekend not just bearable but great.

Pilots have checklists before they take off to ensure safety. Surgeons have checklists before they operate to ensure success. So why shouldn’t we husbands have a checklist as we go into the most delicate part of the week from a relationship standpoint?

Keep in mind that relationships aren’t a game of perfect. It’s just about showing up, being the best possible you, and making amends when we say and do the wrong thing. Which happens.

Okay, here goes.

(PC alert: Sober Dad is old-school, and some of the thoughts he offers will not match up with what people consider politically correct. Sober Dad doesn’t care. These are the tools for a successful relationship; as always in 12-step land, take what you like and leave the rest.)

#1 – Have a plan.

In most relationships, the man’s job is to be the “Minister of Fun.” That means it’s our job to think through in advance exactly what we’re going to do as a family this weekend. Depending on the ages of your kids, there may be little league games, practices, rehearsals, or other school- or athletic-related activities. But if your kids are young, you should take advantage of every opportunity you can to go out and do family things.

Like what? The zoo. Children’s museums. You can even throw your little kids in the car (not literally) and head over to the local firehouse and introduce them to the firefighters.

Firefighters are cool guys who love kids, and this is a no-cost way to entertain your little ones. It’s just a thought.

The main thing is that you have a plan. A woman loves a man with a plan. This is true whether it’s date night or family activity day. If you’re not sure of what activities there might be in your area, go online or buy a book.

When our kids were little, I had a guidebook to 200 activities for kids in southern California. We didn’t do all of them, but we did a lot of stuff. You’re creating happy memories, you’re involved, and you’re giving your wife a break.

Remember that all week long, she has to be the domestic goddess, ensuring that the kids get out the door on time to preschool or regular school, that there’s clean clothes in everybody’s closets and drawers, and food in the pantry. So it’s time to stop thinking about the weekend as “days off.” Let your wife have the days off, and you figure out the plan. She’ll love you for it, and so will the kids.

#2 – Quit playing golf.

            There’s nothing more quietly infuriating for a wife than seeing her husband tossing his sticks over his shoulder, heading out to the car, and vanishing for the next five or six hours. There’s a great expression—”You can be a great husband, a great earner, or a great golfer—pick two.” It’s not just golf—it’s any activity so time-consuming that your wife will think that you’re putting that activity ahead of your family.

When the kids get older, knock yourself out. Do whatever you want to do. But when they’re little, this is not the time to work on your handicap. This is the time to bond with your kids, to show up, and to demonstrate to your wife through your actions that you really are the man she hoped you’d be. As the great motivator Earl Nightingale used to say, “What you’re doing speaks so loudly, I can hardly hear a word you’re saying.”

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have hobbies. It’s essential that you have hobbies—things that allow you to blow off steam. Go to the range and hit a bucket or two after work. Join a bowling team. Do whatever you want to do. But just don’t let it be an incredibly time-consuming activity that you perform on a regular basis.

When my kids were young, I stumbled into triathlons, half-marathons, and ultimately marathons. It turns out that you can train for these things in about an hour a day, with the occasional long run for marathons. I never did more than four races in a year, though. This way, I was able to get out and do what I wanted to do without disrupting the natural flow of family life.

Bottom line—it’s not the right time for 18 holes. Just deal with it.

#3 – Don’t argue.

            Here’s the scorecard for measuring how you do in arguments with your wife—if you win, you lose. If you tie, you lose. If you lose, you lose. Any questions?

There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by introducing anger and argument into a marriage. There’s just nothing worth arguing over. I’m going to say something that the politically correct among you will find upsetting, but remember that Sober Dad is 58 and has been married for a very long time.

Here goes: Men run on logic, and women run on emotion. Don’t go sharing that at group level in your meetings, because you will find your tires slashed. But trust me. It’s a fact. This means that you may be right from an intellectual perspective, but from an emotional perspective, your wife may see things very differently.

Years ago, Apple laptops and computers didn’t communicate especially well with PCs. It’s better today, but it’s still not perfect. That’s a great metaphor for men and women. We just have different operating systems. If you try to use logic with your wife, you are not going to win an argument. You’re only going to make things worse, because she will think that you are trying to mindf**k her. So just don’t go there.

The other day, my wife told me that I was putting stamps incorrectly on an envelope. I could have reminded her that I was a stamp collector from age seven, and few people know more about stamps than I do. Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut, and the world kept turning.

As my sponsor says, you only get in trouble when you open your mouth. You cannot get in trouble if you keep your mouth shut.

Try it sometime.

#4 – Never question her spending.

            I have made many mistakes in my marriage. But the one mistake I’ve never made is to question a penny my wife has spent. If you don’t like what your wife does with money, too bad. One of the dumbest things that couples can do is argue about money. If you think she’s spending too much of the family money, just go out and make more. Keep in mind that couples that stay together and couples that break up had the same issues in their marriage. It’s just that couples who stayed together minimized those issues created by finding smart workarounds, while the couples who broke up simply did not.

Behind every argument about money are issues of power and control. Just let her be. How she sees money was hardwired into her long before you met her. You’re not going to change her patterns, anymore than she will change yours. So make it a point of honor never to question a single penny she spends. By the way, she’s the one who went through pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Maybe you can cut her a break when you think about all the things that she did that you never will.

#5 – Don’t just sit there—clean something.

            Ever heard the expression, “A woman’s work is never done”? Truer words have never been spoken. Running a home presents an absolutely endless task list. If you go to work, you get to come home at night. But your wife’s “office,” even if she also works outside the home, is your home. As a result, everything—absolutely everything—triggers thoughts in her mind of work that has not been done.

The kitchen? There are meals to be prepared, food to be purchased, dishes to be cleaned. I don’t see you running to the supermarket to stock the shelves, big guy. I’m not even sure if your dishes make it to the sink.

When she’s in the bedroom, it’s just a reminder that there’s clothing to be washed and put away. In the den, while you’re busily watching the game? Scan the floor and you’ll see a whole lot of kids toys that aren’t where they belong. Who is going to pick them up and put them away? The kids aren’t, and neither are you. No wonder she might be a little cross with you.

Ever been on a Navy ship? You can only get in trouble if you stop doing something. There’s always something to paint or clean, or someone to salute. Take that attitude into your own home. Instead of just sitting there and idly checking your Instachat or Snapface, clean a dish. Pick stuff up and put it where it belongs. Small gestures like that are endearing because they signal your wife that you “get it”—that there’s a ton of stuff to be done, and she’s not the only person who has to do it.

#6 – It’s not your house—it’s her house, and she lets you live there.

            I don’t care if you’re the primary breadwinner. Home is a woman’s domain, and a man is essentially a regular guest. This means that she wants things where she wants them, and not necessarily where you want them. I know it can be frustrating, because you want your stuff in its place. My suggestion: go colonize the garage. The last thing she wants is to have anything to do with the garage. Put down some astroturf and put in a couple of La-Z- Boys. (You can probably find them gently used for $150 on Craigslist.) Hang your tools on the wall. Have a party. Do whatever you want to do. Just remember that when kids are born, a woman’s nesting instinct takes over. It’s her nest, even if you bring home the twigs, straw, and other stuff the nest is made from. So respect the fact that she sees the home as her house, not just your house. Be a good guest!

You might be saying, “That’s not logical.” Hey, Mr. Spock. Get over yourself. Didn’t I tell you that men run on logic and women run on emotion? In other words, don’t let your marriage turn into a battle of your facts versus her feelings. You will lose every time.

#7 – Ask for help when you walk in the door.

            You have a higher power. You take him to work. You probably ask for help to make you a safer driver and to stop giving all the other drivers the finger. So if you have your higher power accompany you everywhere, why not ask him to come with you when you enter the house at night after work, and all through the weekend?

I was told that if you bring your higher power with you, it’s now two against one. You’re going to need all the help you can dealing with your wife and kids. For years when my kids were small, I would take a deep breath on the doorstep, and ask my higher power to accompany me into the house. This helped me practice restraint of tongue and pen. I think you know what I’m talking about.

#8 – Have your quiet time every morning, especially on the weekends when you’re with your family.

When I was new in sobriety, the oldtimers emphasized over and over again the importance of having a quiet time first thing in the morning. This is your chance to have what they call “the most important meeting of your day”—the meeting you have with your higher power to go over your feelings, your fears, your concerns, and even your gratitude. There are dozens of different ways to structuring a quiet time. How you do it is your business. Just make sure you do it, because this will allow you to process whatever hidden emotions might be dominating your thinking. By dealing with them in this manner, you don’t have to allow them to leak into your day, causing you perhaps to lash out at other people, simply because you’re upset over something that happened at work the day before.

I’m a early riser, and it turned out, so is our first child. She would get up at 5:30, and we would watch the Goodnight, Moon video twice during the time that I had previously set aside for my quiet time.

I mentioned this to a guy I consider very spiritual who is actually not in the program. “I don’t get to meditate anymore,” I told him. “I’m watching Goodnight, Moon with my daughter.”

“Maybe watching Goodnight, Moon with your daughter is your meditation right now,” he said.

You know what? He was right.

#9 – Treasure the moments.

Your kids will never be this small again, and you will never be this young again! So don’t look at the weekend as something to endure before you can get back to the safe and friendly confines of your workplace. Instead, treasure the opportunity that your higher power has given you to be a father, to be a spouse, to be a responsible man. It’s not easy. If it were, every marriage would go great. Nobody tells you about the fact that many women fall into fits of depression after they give birth, and that your relationship may never be what it was in those halcyon days before your first child was born. If something like that is happening, go get help, because it’s too much for an individual to bear by himself. If your wife will join you in therapy, great. If not, get it yourself. But along the way, don’t miss out on the beauty, innocence, and charm of early childhood. Take all the pictures and videos you can.

There’s a great suggestion from Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker, to create a file called Magic Moments on your laptop. Every time something wonderful happens, your kids say something cute, you go somewhere fun, or whatever, put it down in your Magic Moments file. I started mine ten years ago and now it runs 17 single-space pages. Sometimes the kids just crowd around and I read them the list, and everybody laughs at the things they remember and the things they don’t remember. Otherwise, it all goes down the memory hole.

So there you have it: your nine-step weekend checklist to having a great Saturday and Sunday, and as a result, you have a shot at a great marriage.

Your higher power has entrusted you with these beautiful children. Enjoy them. Make the most of the opportunity. And above all, be the best you that you can be.

Your wife and kids are counting on you.