Most couples stop thinking critically about their relationship after the initial
honeymoon stage. When they start living together or they get married, they just assume that things will work out. Imagine that the co-creators of a new start-up say this to each other: “Well, now that we started the company, we don’t need to talk about it anymore”. And yet, this is what couples often do: They expect the relationship to be stable and flourish, even though they don’t meet regularly to plan problem-solving strategies to meet their goals and review their original vision. As you can imagine, this is untenable.
So, what are the secrets of today’s successful couples?
They schedule meetings regularly to make their own rules, create their own roles, solve some of their problems and discuss their vision.
Successful couples have three kinds of meetings:
- Hang out meetings: These are just for fun. No serious discussions!
- Division of labor and calendar meetings. The more complicated your life, the more you need them! Come prepared to tweak a routine that is no longer working for you, or have a difficult conversation about finances. This is also where you plan who does what, when.
- State of the relationship meetings. This is the one where you create your relationship vision by design.
Here is why you need a state of the related meetings.
Not so long ago, relationships between men and women were based on a hierarchy—a pecking order. Men acted as the primary earners and decision-makers, and women served as the caretakers of all tasks related to children and the home. Roles were clearly defined and rarely questioned, and each half of a couple knew how he or she was expected to behave.
Men and women also operated in largely separate spheres following the known rules, obligations, and duties of their gender and their social class. Divorce in the middle class was unheard of and there were dire consequences for women if they fell outside the norms. The happiness of each member of the couple was definitely not the reason for marriage which was actually based on the need to get good in-laws, combine farmlands, or bear children.
Women often had the company of their mothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors and could confide in them when they needed advice on how to handle their men and their children.
Most women didn’t need to rely upon their husbands for emotional support and their sexual longings weren’t even acknowledged. Men spent their days and many nights with male bosses and co-workers, didn’t necessarily have to rely on their wives to meet their sexual needs, and their emotional longings weren’t acknowledged.
Enormous changes have occurred in a relatively short span of Western history. Women entered the workforce in droves, the pill made pregnancy voluntary, and a same-sex sexual orientation emerged from the shadows. Households and neighborhoods are no longer held together by the fibers of three or four generations. Most families cant survive on one income, roles are blurred, and expectations are high.
Most women (not to mention most men!) I know wouldn’t go back to that old, oppressive system for all the chocolate in Belgium. But, we’re still blindly fumbling our way out of the cave, even 50 years later. Today’s couples watched their parents and grandparents play out those predictable scenes and they have no role models for a 21st century, egalitarian relationship. We know we want equal partnerships, but what exactly does that mean?
We want our partners to be our best friends, fulfill our sexual fantasies, support our dreams, share our financial burdens, and accept our flaws. Sure, the divorce rate hovers around 50 percent, but given all that pressure, isn’t it remarkable how many couples do hold it together?
No longer forced to stay in unhappy relationships, couples of all persuasions wrestle with a myriad of questions day in and day out, the answers to which are individually demarcated and personal, and designed by each couple from scratch.
Take the time to consider what you witnessed growing up. Make conscious decisions about what you want to carry forward and what you want to discard. Some couples can do this on their own, others need help.
Create your own relationship vision. Then, be prepared to stretch and reshape those goals, as some of your partners ideas will undoubtedly differ. Through the years, priorities and beliefs will shift, and you may need to return to the negotiating table a number of times. But, if you devote some energy early on to crafting a mutual definition of an equal partnership, you’ll have your own playbook and relationship rules to draw from.
When couples don’t intentionally think through some of these issues, confusion, anger, and resentment often take over. Operating unwittingly from an old family playbook, partners push to assert their version as the right version. So, it’s worth the time, effort, and sometimes the struggle, to shed light on the following questions to design your own vision, with your own rules and expectations. It’s never too late to examine your own rules and beliefs, even if you have been together for a long time.