Couples will often tell me, “we want to work on our relationship.” Sounds reasonable I suppose, but certainly not very exciting. Ho hum.
How do we “work on” our relationship, without it feeling like a trip to the dentist’s office?
One exercise I encourage couples to do, and that is similar to what this game makes possible, is to ask them to imagine what THEY think a great relationship would look like, and then to share this with each other. That simple.
How might you do this?
Imagine what you would LOVE your relationship to look like. Flesh out some ideas in your mind, share these with each other, and then just try these acting out these vignettes. Morning and evening times together, phone or email connecting, in and out of bed, at home and while out and about. Imagine being that couple who seem to be so easy and kind and comfortable together, enjoying each other and a delight to have around.
I call this “scripting,” as if you were playing a role given to you to play out in a movie scene.
We don’t have to commit ourselves to this completely, or always… but rather, begin by sharing some very specific and practical desires and ideas with each other.
It’s not difficult work; just musing out loud about what you think would be really nice.
It’s a simple and great way to get inside each other’s heads.
It’s a fun way to push the limits a bit; just laying some things on the table.
There’s little room for complaint or criticism or argument.
The mid-19th Century philosopher and psychologist William James was perhaps the first to suggest and to demonstrate how much we can improve on things, simply by behaving “as if” something were true. By simply behaving (for instance) in thoughtful and kind ways, we would enjoy increasing thoughtfulness and kindness. Instead of waiting for us to feel loving, and therefore to act lovingly toward each other, he suggested we “act as if” we felt loving, amorous, unselfish, generous, and so on , AND these emotions and inclinations will take root and change us.
I know. Sounds bogus, and so “modern psychology” essentially ignored much of James’s teaching on this for about 100 years. These past few decades however we have recognized that not only was he on to something terrific; but that it might be much less work, more fun, rewarding, and successful.
Want to experiment with your own relationship?
Take a few minutes this week, (at home after putting the kids to bed, or while out for a walk, or out for coffee somewhere) and simply ask each other a few leading questions about the predictable and routine things you encounter together day in and day out;
– what would the perfect coming home from work, supper, evening and going to bed look like for us?
– what would the ideal Saturday or Sunday morning look like?
– if we were to go out for dinner or coffee, tell me how you’d love us to be together; the way we’d carry on in public; how we talk, how we’d touch, where we’d go, what we’d look like?
Decide ahead of time that you simply will NOT be offended by each other’s ideas or requests; Why? Because you are simply far too interested in the other’s thoughts and beliefs and perspectives on life AND because you know you are “safe” (in a conversation, in life together, into your future together) to talk candidly – experimenting with new ideas; making your requests and dreams clear and do-able.
Back to the examples… you might also ask…
– when you’re sad or tired, what would be the way I’d approach you and care for you?
– when we’re in public together; in the shops, at church, on the streets, at a party, maybe at your work (should I drop by), what would we be like together?
– when we encounter each other sexually… give me some snippets of vignettes… what does some of this look like?
– when you’re working or resting or studying at home for a long Saturday afternoon or evening (or I am); what does this most happily look like?
The sky’s the limit. We all daydream. Some of these are simple “I wish” thoughts that go through our minds as we carry on in often old and predictable and very unsatisfying and frustrating ways.
Tell me what you imagine and would love to experience. Let me try to play that role with you, and for you. Let’s act first; and let some of our emotional world catch up with us, and maybe surprise us.
This is not to reject other kinds of important considering and problem-solving together. But while “acting as if” may not solve ALL the coolness and flatness of our lives and routines, it actually will go a long way toward improving things, sometimes quite a bit!
Define a few activities and vignettes.
Act them out. Enjoy.
And watch things grow!
Carpe diem! Or… the night!