How do two people create a partnership that can withstand the ups and downs of living?
It may be news to you that the unbelievably high divorce rates in the U.S. have finally tapered off. This is mostly being attributed to the fact that fewer people are getting married.
And yet, with all the choices and information about relationships we now have available to us, I am still surprised by how many people jump into serious partnerships — business, close friendships and yes, marriages — without laying any groundwork to see if the other is on the same page about the future.
I know you’ve seen it: Friends who confuse a good business idea and camaraderie with a working partnership, and end up losing a great company and the friendship. Co-workers that become friends or lovers through shared experiences on a work project, but without clearly defined expectations for relating outside the workplace, soon crash and burn. Romantic couples who assume that wanting a family is enough commonality to create a satisfying relationship, only to discover gaping discrepancies in shared values after the children arrive, or in the best cases, when the nest is empty.
How do two people create a partnership that can withstand the vicissitudes, the ups and downs of loving and living?
A simple leadership skill: Arrive at a common vision.
Businesses need a vision or mission statement for success, why not valuable personal relationships? Although it is essentially simple, sometimes creating a satisfying vision for your business or personal relationship is a lengthy process. Shared vision may also require ReVision every few years.
You can create a shared vision in three steps:
1. Establish values: Because Shenee and Mike met at a nutrition/health retreat, both assumed the other was into a healthy lifestyle. 10 months into dating, Mike was shocked by Shenee’s unwholesome, sedentary lifestyle. She had gone to the retreat via a friend’s prodding to explore; he had gone because it was in line with his life values to do so annually. They parted ways.
Their story clearly illustrates how assuming common values can be a costly mistake. If you are already in or moving into a committed relationship, I invite you into an engaged discussion about what each values most in life. Listen. Ask questions. Note the differences and find the bridges between you. Notice places where there are clear divergences that could be or are problematic.
2. Ask the BIG questions: When approaching major life mergers, we seem to have mastered little questions, like What kind of food do you like? Do you want a TV in the bedroom? But in our haste to get to the business of marriage or get a business off the ground, we overlook the BIG Questions that need to be asked in order to arrive at a Common Vision for the venture.
Questions like: How do we want to feel in this relationship? What do we want our lives / interactions to look like? How do we, as a couple, want to think about time, money, sex? What structures will we put in place to keep the system running well?
3. Come up with a joint adventure or common task that captures the essence of what you are doing together that you could not do alone.
Andrew and Jane each had big visions for a family, and by the time they met and fell in love, they got to it, boom, boom, boom! Wedding, pregnancy, three kids, extended family — life was busy. When the kids were in high school, they began to have more time without them. They felt like strangers. They realized they had little if any conversation that wasn’t about their three kids. They courageously saw that their initial venture for the relationship was ending, and that if they were going to make it, they had to create a new one.
They decided it was time to help each other “raise” the potential of the other. They took the skills they were already good at and focused them on nurturing each other’s talents and buried dreams.
Other vision tasks I have heard from couples that move me range from the practical to the esoteric: Create a beautiful home; explore the nature of togetherness and aloneness; create a community and / or serve a community; travel the world; explore the connection between spirituality and sexuality.
You may be in a successful relationship with a vague sense of why you are together, but have never articulated it. You may be struggling in a relationship that you value. If you are reading and resonating, I encourage you to invite your partner into a rich dialogue about what you each think the common vision / shared task in the relationship might be. If you feel totally overwhelmed at the prospect of having these conversations, well, there’s a reason why many avoid them. But taking the risk, having these conversations and really fleshing out the answers is a bond enhancing / team building process.
Once you have arrived at a common vision, it can become the constitution of the relationship. Both partners can return to it again and again when things feel off. In drawn out fights, in crisis, you can be a leader in any relationship by remembering and serving the vision first. It will remind you of what you have really signed up for, bring you back on task, or signal that a new vision is needed.
And if you need help articulating and establishing a vision, don't hesitate to reach out.