For couples who are recovering from a long stretch of serious denial or who are in a crisis state, it does take a period of concentrated work to get back on track. There are many things that need to be in place to create a functioning team. This includes a common vision, ground rules for fighting fair, an understanding of individual/relationship needs and an ability to take time and space apart from one another (next week's post is about space).
While some couples avoid their troubles through busyness and television, others "work" too hard at cleaning up what isn't working in the partnership and trying desperately to make it better.
When they are no longer in crises, one of my favorite ways of helping couples build strong teams is to establish maintenance structures that work for them. These structures set specific chunks of time set aside for processing and assessing. I recommend having one or two major talks a season to allow couples assessment and constructive conversations. These will allow couples to explore how the relationship is going and what needs to happen to keep moving forward. This requires both partners to keep an eye on things and contribute to the relationship's health. Sound a little like a quarterly review? Well, if it works for business partnerships, why not romantic ones?
A scheduled maintenance structure requires couples who avoid talking to each other to move towards conscious teamwork. This allows couples who work too hard to make the relationship work all the time to just enjoy each other. Having quarterly reviews doesn't mean you can't have talks as necessary in between. The scheduled maintenance simply invites each partner to be reflective, and gather information about what works and what doesn't on their own. This prevents one person from getting stuck and overloaded in the role of "relationship manager"— the one who keeps tabs on the state of the union and its progress. The default set-up is that it is one person; usually, the woman.
In addition, men who hate relationship talks can understand the need for maintenance in any working system. Software, cars and businesses all need to be serviced and updated on a regular basis in order to be effective.
I recommend these reviews be done someplace inviting; preferably but not necessarily out of the house, like on a long walk, or a sailboat.
Useful questions for these reviews are:
- What is working?
- What would we like to change?
- What requests do you have?
- What questions do you (we) have about the relationship?
- What needs to be planned?
- What needs to be aired?
The tone should be loving and without strong emotion. If you find yourself getting all "charged" up or defensive, back up.
After the talks, I recommend having something fun to do. This ensures the session actually ends. Those who are addicted to those kinds of talks can find ways to keep them going on and on in the false belief that it will bring them closer. One couple I know ends their quarterly talks by going to the movies.
Quarterly or semi-annual reviews work for very close friendships as well. Once the deal-breakers are ironed out in relationship transitions, a couple can grow together using seasonal meetings. This will create new ways of being with each other, in the spirit of making the team stronger and the relationship the best it can possibly be.
More effective communication from Yourtango: