Note: This exercise is for couples, but can also be adapted for families and individuals.
1) Sit quietly and consider the following questions:
What is great about your relationship?
What needs improvement? What do you long for?
What do you know about your partner’s needs? About your needs?
What things do YOU do (or fail to do) that produce tension, upsets, or dissatisfaction in the relationship?
What would you rather experience?
Consider too, these areas: Personal and relational growth; Closeness; Shared Time activities; Autonomy; How you take care of yourself; Including partner in decisions; Taking responsibility for open communication; Ability to put your own ‘movie’ aside long enough to truly understand the other person’s experience; Faithfulness, loyalty and trust; romance and fun; Sexuality & sensuality; honoring and prizing each other; Support; Listening Skills.
2) Now write down a series of short sentences that express elements of your vision of a fulfilling, and deeply satisfying relationship with your partner. What would that relationship look like?
Be sure to write each sentence in the Present Tense (even if it’s not happening now), using Positive Wording:
Instead of “Stop all criticism,” you might write, “We express our opinion respectfully after we listen without interrupting.”
Instead of “We don’t argue,” you could write, “We settle our differences calmly and respectfully.”
We laugh a lot with each other. We fight fairly. We feel safe with each other. We communicate openly and constructively. We enjoy a satisfying sexual life. We share a rich spiritual life. We have daily ‘alone’ time. We have financial security. We work to make the world better. We take weekly walks together. We have family time every day. We have a weekly date night. We share in the house chores.
3) Share your statements with your partner. Put a check mark next to the items you and your partner have in common (even if you use somewhat different words to express it). If one of you has an item the other didn’t think of, but agrees with, put a check mark next to that one too. Then, each of you put a star next to the 3 checked items that are most important to you.
*** Ignore the items you don’t agree on or weren’t on both of your lists at this point. ***
4) Together write a common vision, using the checked items and putting the starred items at the top (3 top starred from both your lists – though they may be the same).
5) Then, rank from 1 to 5 how easy or difficult the goal or vision statement feels to you. (1 is easy or we already do it, 3 means it sometimes has happened or feels like a stretch, 5 would mean it’s never happened and not sure how it can).
6) Then EACH day, read it and DO one action that will help you realize something on that list.
Example: “We settle our differences peacefully.” One action step for a day might be to commit to listening without interrupting and checking your understanding of the other person’s point of view before offering your own viewpoint. Keep in mind the motto: “Seek first to understand before being understood.” You might do the same thing the next day–some people like to commit to one action for at least a week. Then try a new action. You can always repeat actions!!!!
7) Perhaps at another time, brainstorm some action steps you could do to get yourself from a 5 to a 4, a 4 to a 3, etc. This is not an opportunity to critique your partner. It’s YOUR STEP toward the shared goal.
8) Every 2 months, revisit your individual rankings and see what progress you’ve made. Have and send appreciations to your partner about their efforts.
9) If the above feels like too much to do on your own, set up a session with me and we’ll do it together. This is a highly powerful process. Sometimes, having a third party to help you craft your Ideal Relationship Vision, can speed up the process and lead to lasting changes you seek.
***The above exercise has been adapted and written using Imago Relationship Couples Therapy resources and can be found in the Resource Section at the end of the book, “Getting the Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix.