One key to avoiding the doldrums in your long-term relationship is to honor its uniqueness. The best relationships are custom jobs, which take the distinctive traits, needs, concerns and idiosyncrasies of each partner into consideration. For example, some couples need to work on ways to spend more time together, while for others spending less together time will optimize their relationship. For some couples, taking a nice vacation together will do wonders, while for others, taking separate vacations sometimes can be a relationship saver.
To develop a climate that goes a long way to keeping your unique relationship fresh and exciting for both of you, try this exercise — alone or together:
Create a vision. Make it a shared vision of what you would imagine your ideal relationship to each other would he like. Be as specific as possible about exactly what you would like to your relationship to be. In other words, if things were to work superbly for both of you — if you were able to get past all of your difficult issues and problems permanently, and were then able to take things to the level that you might first have imagined they could be when you originally got together:
What would be present for you that now is missing?
And what would be gone, that now stresses you as a couple?
Make your lists as long or as short as they need to be. But most importantly, make them comprehensive. Agree beforehand that nothing should be off the table, until it is thoroughly discussed.
Next, compare your actual relationship — as it now exists — to the one that you have visualized. Identify every specific thing you can that separates where you now are, from what you have envisioned as ideal. Once again, this can be an individual vision or a shared one, but the more you both participate, the better. Is there an ideal vision that both of you can live with? If you have identified anything that makes this vision impossible, note what that is and keep tweaking it until it is as “ideal” as it can be. Note where your relationship is working well, where it needs to be different, and what changes must occur for those problem areas to be completely addressed. This is an exercise that can be done anytime you wish to focus on the big picture. It is well worth the effort.
Set goals. Write a “job description” for the role of ideal partner. (Important: a job description focuses on what your partner does for you — never on who your partner is. Thus each thing in your description is something that is realistic and possible given who your partner is.) After both of you have done this — made them as thorough and detailed as you can– exchange your descriptions and then talk about them. Most couples surprisingly find that there is little, if anything, that is not doable or negotiable in each other’s ideal “job descriptions.”
Next, discuss and write down some specific goals for what you would like to see your relationship become with respect to specific periods of time. Just as in business, any important project, your finances or your career — relationship goals with time lines bring the exercise to a better level of reality and do-ability. Where would you like to see yourselves a month from now? Six months from now? In a year? Five years? Ten years? Ultimately? As you talk and/or think this through, pay special attention to anything that comes up which may he standing in the way of the goals you’ve identified for your relationship.
Some questions to discuss to help you clarify your goals include:
Where are we going? (With respect to our goals together, our communication, our sex life, our finances, parenting our kids, our careers, our lifestyle, etc., etc.)
Where would we like to (in all the important areas of life together and separately) to be?
What obstacles are there that separate where we are now from where we want to he? (Be as specific as possible.)
So talk it over, try these tips from my book Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go, and begin to take action to customize your unique relationship and thus make it as ideal for both of you as it can be.