Have the Conversation
Another great insight from How to Not Die Alone:
When people ask me what makes a relationship work long term, I often refer to this quote about Charles Darwin’s findings on natural selection: “It is not the strongest of the species which survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Even if you have a strong relationship today, your relationship may fail if you don’t adapt. Your life or your partner’s life might take an unpredictable course. Creating a relationship that can evolve is the key to making it last.
Psychologists Jesse Owen, Galena Rhoades, and Scott Stanley observed that couples who take the time to talk through big decisions are happier than those who don’t. I’ve led workshops around the country to help hundreds of couples do just that by creating a Relationship Contract.
When you fill out this Relationship Contract, you should be honest, vulnerable, and willing to compromise. This is absolutely not a time to dwell on your partner’s shortcomings; nor is it the moment to make demands. The focus should not be transactional—“I’ll do the laundry if you’ll do the dishes”—but, rather, value-based—“We commit to supporting each other’s dreams and making the sacrifices necessary to enable those dreams."
Some couples reevaluate their contract annually. Others do it after five or seven years. This conversation forces a decision point when the couple can ask: What does our relationship need now? Then they’re able to amend the contract to reflect how they’ve changed as individuals. It also allows for consistent relationship tune-ups, well before there’s a breakdown. As John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”
I love this quotation from psychotherapist Esther Perel: “The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life. Relationships are your story, write well, and edit often.”
How often does she mean? I’m a fan of the weekly Check-In Ritual, a short conversation in which you and your partner discuss what’s on your mind. The Relationship Contract helps you set the direction for your partnership—and the Check-In Ritual ensures that you keep it on track. Many couples are afraid to speak honestly about what they want, whether it’s about having kids, opening their relationship, or even ending it. All relationships have issues, and almost all of us feel awkward about bringing them up. The Relationship Contract and the Check-In Ritual are tools expressly designed to make it less awkward.
We ask each other these three questions: How was your last week? Did you feel supported by me? How can I support you in the coming week? Sometimes this Check-In flies by in under five minutes. But when we’re having an off week, the Check-In turns into a long, intimate conversation. Sure, these discussions can be difficult, but they’re frequently important and illuminating. We try to deal with problems as they arise. It’s how we stay connected and discover new things about ourselves and our relationship. Creating this ritual lets us address what’s going on before too much time passes and too much resentment has built up.
Some of these couples shouldn’t work at all on paper, yet because they are intentional, their lives are filled with pleasure and joy. Some of these couples have lived through tragedies like rare cancers and multiple miscarriages. But they work through it by putting tremendous energy into their relationship every day. They are determined to beat the odds, to be part of that too-small percentage of couples who are happy and thriving.
I have to admit, I'm not exactly the type who feels comfortable having these conversations, which might explain why I'm in the situation I'm in right now. But anyway, I imagine this is something most people struggle with as well. Regardless, it's definitely something I need to work hard on from now on.
Don't just let it slide, have the conversation. Do it often. Do it before it's too late. Do it because the long-term happiness is worth the short-term pain.