Well functioning relationships are about successful navigation of challenges. They are able to in some way re-negotiate how they will be together.
Typical areas that require care and attention are sex, money, roles, family, children, decision making, and communication.
The challenge is that we do not enter any relationship without certain per-concieved ideas about how it should be. These things are part of our family of origin, and often we are not even conscious of them. In other cases we might be over focused on them and be too determined to be different than our parents.
To add spice to the mix, none of us are concrete settled identities. We age. We change. We think and act differently. So not only does a person have to deal with the ghosts of the past. A person must manage ongoing change.
What this means for a couple is that the process is never done.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Like gardening, the work is part of the pleasure. For others it might just be dreary. Since change is unavoidable, it is wise to learn how to navigate it together.
Successful couples who are engaged in the ongoing process of discovery and friendship, still have to figure out a way to manage their changes and differences.
Here is a technique I learned from an unexpected source for having that uncomfortable but necessary talk. I learned it in the book “Thank God for Evolution” by Michael Dowd. He calls it “Heart to Heart”.
1. One of the partner asks for a heart to heart.
2.The couple sit close facing each other.
3.The person who asked for the Heart to Heart begins by saying, “It is important for me to say…” The hearer listens closely and is to respond, “Thank you.”, “I understand”, or “I heard you.”
4.Continue until the first person has said everything they need to say. Then switch roles and respond back again.
5.When the second person has said everything they need to say the couple moves to the “appreciations.”
6.The first person says, “I appreciate…. about you/us.” The other person listens and replies, “I heard you.”
7.When the first person is done with their appreciations, it is the other persons turn. Then “Heart to Heart” is finished.
There are many good things about this formal practice. It extends permission to say difficult things. It starts gently, and this is very important to reduce emotional flooding that aborts the communication process. I trains both partners in the loving art of listening. It is a two way street. Both get their turn. And it ends with a recognition of the value of the relationship.
This is a good practice for every married couple to have in their relationship tool kit.