Most relationships have a set of “built in” rules. These rules define your relationship “default position,” such as what can and cannot take place between you and your partner (and others in your life), and what constitutes that which is normal. When you “break” those rules, you and your partner are likely to come into conflict. Generally the rules fit into three different categories: rules that are spoken, rules that are unspoken, and those that are automatic.
One key to avoiding the doldrums in your long-term relationship is to honor its uniqueness. The best relationships are custom jobs, which take the distinctive traits, needs, concerns and idiosyncrasies of each partner into consideration. For example, some couples need to work on ways to spend more time together, while for others spending less together time will optimize their relationship. For some couples, taking a nice vacation together will do wonders, while for others, taking separate vacations sometimes can be a relationship saver.
To develop a climate that goes a long way to keeping your unique relationship fresh and exciting for both of you, try this exercise — alone or together:
Create a vision. Make it a shared vision of what you would imagine your ideal relationship to each other would he like. Be as specific as possible about exactly what you would like to your relationship to be. In other words, if things were to work superbly for both of you — if you were able to get past all of your difficult issues and problems permanently, and were then able to take things to the level that you might first have imagined they could be when you originally got together:
What would be present for you that now is missing?
And what would be gone, that now stresses you as a couple?
Make your lists as long or as short as they need to be. But most importantly, make them comprehensive. Agree beforehand that nothing should be off the table, until it is thoroughly discussed.
Next, compare your actual relationship — as it now exists — to the one that you have visualized. Identify every specific thing you can that separates where you now are, from what you have envisioned as ideal. Once again, this can be an individual vision or a shared one, but the more you both participate, the better. Is there an ideal vision that both of you can live with? If you have identified anything that makes this vision impossible, note what that is and keep tweaking it until it is as “ideal” as it can be. Note where your relationship is working well, where it needs to be different, and what changes must occur for those problem areas to be completely addressed. This is an exercise that can be done anytime you wish to focus on the big picture. It is well worth the effort.
Set goals. Write a “job description” for the role of ideal partner. (Important: a job description focuses on what your partner does for you — never on who your partner is. Thus each thing in your description is something that is realistic and possible given who your partner is.) After both of you have done this — made them as thorough and detailed as you can– exchange your descriptions and then talk about them. Most couples surprisingly find that there is little, if anything, that is not doable or negotiable in each other’s ideal “job descriptions.”
Next, discuss and write down some specific goals for what you would like to see your relationship become with respect to specific periods of time. Just as in business, any important project, your finances or your career — relationship goals with time lines bring the exercise to a better level of reality and do-ability. Where would you like to see yourselves a month from now? Six months from now? In a year? Five years? Ten years? Ultimately? As you talk and/or think this through, pay special attention to anything that comes up which may he standing in the way of the goals you’ve identified for your relationship.
Some questions to discuss to help you clarify your goals include:
Where are we going? (With respect to our goals together, our communication, our sex life, our finances, parenting our kids, our careers, our lifestyle, etc., etc.)
Where would we like to (in all the important areas of life together and separately) to be?
What obstacles are there that separate where we are now from where we want to he? (Be as specific as possible.)
So talk it over, try these tips from my book Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go, and begin to take action to customize your unique relationship and thus make it as ideal for both of you as it can be.
Ambivalence is a feeling that we all have experienced at one time or another in some important aspect of our lives — I know I certainly have. But if you’re ambivalent often or in a lot of areas of your life, the feeling of ambivalence itself can actually destroy your quality of life more than you know. Theoretically, if you had everything you could possibly want going for you, but were ambivalent about the decisions you make — particularly with respect to your life direction — no matter what you did have going for you, no matter what you choose to do, you could be dwelling on the fact that you should be doing something else. Thus, no matter what kind of life you have made for yourself, being chronically ambivalent could ruin the quality of it all!
So let’s first acknowledge that we all have at least some degree of ambivalence. Since life itself is such an extremely complex process, and certain aspects of it often get more complicated as they evolve, a certain amount of ambivalence is actually normal. In fact, a tiny amount of ambivalence might even serve to protect you sometimes from being thoughtless about certain things that need to be reasoned out more carefully. But the problem is with the degree that you allow yourself to operate under the all-too-common myth — that there is one and only one absolutely right answer that will contain no shades of gray. The myth continues when you believe that by being indecisive and holding out long enough, some indisputably certain and absolute answer will come to you. And when it does — you fantasize — it will come with the ironclad guarantee that you will never have any regrets, nor will you ever second guess yourself. Since this standard is so incredibly high (not to mention cartoonishly black and white), it then follows that you will resist making tough decisions at all that you are the least bit ambivalent about.
Some people actually have a fear of making decisions altogether. If that’s you, it is likely you have many regrets about things that may have passed you by, simply because you didn’t act decisively when you had the opportunity to do so. If you think my statement that “ambivalence can ruin your life” is a little too strong, perhaps you may even take comfort in the ambivalence. But my stand on ambivalence is rather unambivalent; to the extent that ambivalence exceeds prudent caution it will generally serve to hold you back, and that can be in any area of your life. Here are a few ways to attack this problem that I have offered for people who have ambivalence about love relationships in my book Can Your Relationship Be Saved, but these simple tips can be applied to absolutely any area in your life.
Remember that just about all of your important decisions are, to one extent or another, educated guesses. And most of them have factors that would pull you in the opposite direction. After all, a decision without conflicting factors — to one degree or another — is simply a no-brainer.
Forget about certainty. The concept of certainty itself is a myth. Instead believe in yourself. Hindsight — as we all know at least intellectually by the cliché — is 20/20. There are many things every one of us would do differently “if only we knew then what we know now.” But that’s never an option. So stop pretending it is! Where do you have unlimited power (even if at times you are not in touch with it) is in making changes that will affect you from today on, and for the rest of your life — beginning right now. By focusing on your power you can start looking upon decisions not as burdens, but as empowering challenges.
Think of some significant important life choices you have made in the past — recently or even a long time ago — of which you are most proud. Make a list of them and continue to expand the list. Make sure to include those choices that may have led to major life changes. Keep this list as a frame of reference that you can refer to for a shot of empowerment, anytime you find yourself thinking that you’re incapable of bypassing that ambivalence.
Regardless of which area of your life where you find yourself most ambivalent, you won’t move forward until you allow yourself to take charge and make the best decision you can with the information you have available to you. So resolve not to waste another moment with the decision to not decide.