By Ellyn Bader, Ph.D. and Peter Pearson, Ph.D.
Since 1983, we have worked professionally to provide marriage support and help for thousands of couples facing challenges in their relationships. Each couple we meet has a different story to tell. However, there is usually a similarity in how relationships start at the very beginning: partners report being madly in love with each other, and they experience a great deal of passion. Many say they have found their soul-mate. They share blissful desires and visions for the future, conscious and unconscious dreams and hopes about the kind of relationship they would like to create together.
This glorious start to the relationship is usually followed by the harsh reality of two different people creating and adjusting to a life together.
After about a year or two, normal stress and predictable disillusionments arose. Has this happened in your relationship? Perhaps some event brought on disillusionment that hit you like a ton of wet sand and make you realize your partner is not perfect. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. It just means you have left that temporary state of “love psychosis” and now are beginning to see a much bigger picture of your partner and yourself. So how can you think creatively about your situation? A key piece of successful relationships is your attitude. Couples who fare well during this stage tend to accept the struggles and roll with them together. Can you accept that struggles are natural? Ironically, relationships get a little easier when you accept that there will be problems — no matter whom you are with. Adjusting and coping with differences can be a shock to your system. Worse, talking about differences is difficult. Yet, in order for your relationship to flourish, it is vital to make sense of critical differences and to get to a shared vision.
When working with couples at this stage, we help them create a shared vision. These are some questions we typically ask couples to think about:
· What were your dreams?
· What kind of future did you wish to create?
· What kind of partner did you think you would be?
· What values did you keep and strengthen?
· What values have been challenged and stretched?
· What interests have you let go that are still important?
· What interests and goals have emerged that are surprising to you?
· What has changed that you appreciate and don’t appreciate?
· What areas need new actions and new ways of thinking?
Spend some time with your partner thinking about these questions. Think about your vision for your future together and talk with each other about your responses. Everyone knows that creating and sustaining a great relationship is difficult, but not everyone realizes how much it helps to have a shared vision of your future.