One of the most effective ways to create problems within your relationship is to not spend time talking about your relationship. Most of the people I see in my practice have spent little-to-no time talking to their partners about their expectations, desires and needs before getting married or having children. Why? These are difficult conversations to have! Or maybe it's because we are all hopeful and optimistic that we will just work it all out as we go. We think, "of course if I have a problem, I will tell them and they will adjust. We love each other! They are great!"
But Honey, You Never Told Me!
What happens however, is not just that the other people does not adjust their behavior, but many times, it's because we haven't ASKED them to do it! So many of my clients award me with a blank stare when I they tell me something they don't like and I ask them "how did your partner respond when you asked them to do it differently?" For many people, it's in that moment they realize they never told their partner. Or they did tell them, but in complaint mode, and they didn't tell them what they would like them to do instead.
The Magic of Mind-Reading
We often give our partners magical powers. We give them the power to be mind-readers. We think if they love us, OF COURSE they will know when something bothers me and OF COURSE they will know just how to fix it. And when they don't? Well that can only mean one thing then. Maybe they don't love me as much as I thought they did. Then we water that little seed of a thought every time they miss this opportunity again, and we let that seed grow into full-blown plant that gives off resentment instead of oxygen to the relationship. A poisonous plant.
So that brings me to the thing I want everyone to start implementing into their relationship IMMEDIATELY.
This doesn't have to be a written contract between the two of you but what it does need to be is a conversation. A hearty conversation about our expectations, for us, for them, for the relationship and for the family. A conversation that includes our needs and our desires. And then I want you to make this a habit in your relationship. You "re-negotiate" it every few years. Or every time you have a big life transition. Because things change. You are not in the same relationship you were in when you were dating, before you got married, when you were newly-weds, when you first had kids, when you got a new job, etc. The relationship is constantly changing as you both grow through life. Sometimes one person might need a little more support than the other. Sometimes the other person may need more affection than the other during this moment in time. I'm sure you get the point.
Knowing is Half the Battle
The key is to make time in your life to have these conversations in your relationship so you are both on the same page. It's easier to know when you have crossed a line when you know where that line is. Before having a Marriage Contract conversation, you are guessing where the line is. As we have all experienced in our relationships, we often draw the line in a different place than the other would. This is basically the entire premise of the newly-wed game. We think we know, but in reality, we have know idea. Not because we do not know our partner but just because we are different people. We assume a bit too much. But I suggest, draw the line together. Understand the line. Understand where each person is coming from. You will be better for it. Your partner will be better for it. Your relationship will be better for it (yes, I consider your relationship a separate person within your family), and your family will be better for it.
In my next post, I'm going to give you a sample of marriage contract questions and topics that I want you to cover.
Until next time!
Corrin Voeller is a relationship therapist in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She does in-person and online counseling and coaching with couples and individuals to improve the relationships in their lives. She lives with her husband, children, and extremely fat dog.
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