Do you remember the game “20 Questions”? You could ask 20 questions to elicit and eliminate and finally discover what animal, vegetable, or mineral the other person was thinking about. We use a variation of this game to enrich your love life and build a stronger bond in your most intimate relationship.
In our work with couples we like to help them formulate a vision of the kind of life they would like to create together. A powerful vision involves recalling and revising the important dreams you had when you first got together and identifying new hopes as well. Sometimes this means exploring “little buds” that are unconscious, but waiting to blossom. A vision contains something you really want and evokes enough passion that you are willing to invest sustained effort to bring it about. Your vision contains strong desires that are aligned with your values and supported by a plan.
In order to think creatively about the type of relationship you desire, ask each other a few of the following 20 questions on a dinner date, or set up a special time to explore these together. They will help you connect on a deeper level than the usual topics of careers, kids, vacations, politics, and movies. They can illuminate areas of joy, passion, and connection. Most couples ask each other questions like these when they first meet, but as time hurtles by, these meaningful questions get neglected and then abandoned. They’ll be the starting point for an interesting and stimulating conversation that will create the foundation for your vision.
Developing Your Partnership Vision
What things in your life bring you the greatest pleasure?
What things do you look forward to each day?
What excites you about the future?
In what settings are you the happiest and most comfortable?
On your drive to work, what consumes your mind the majority of the time?
In a regular day, what do you find yourself thinking about the most in addition to work?
If you could change one or two things in your life, what would they be, and why?
What accomplishments do you value most in your life so far?
If you had three wishes that would come true, what would they be?
When you reach the rocking chair stage of your life, what do you wish you had done that you didn’t do?
Is there a belief or attitude that seems to interfere with creating or pursuing a big dream?
What activities do you most like to do by yourself?
What are a couple things that you appreciate about our relationship, and why do these things seem significant?
How strong is your desire to do something together?
Describe a memory of a time when you felt like we collaborated well.
What kinds of projects or activities would you consider doing together?
What projects or activities do you think we do well together?
What talents or strengths do you believe we each bring to a future project?
What question would you ask that we have not included?
Bonus Question: What would be the next step you suggest we take from here?
Here are some guidelines to help you get the most out of these conversations. Treat your partner’s answers with respect. Please don’t argue or negatively judge any of your partner’s responses. Be like a compassionate reporter who is exploring an unknown subject. Ask your partner to do the same for you. Approach it like the game of 20 Questions. You will be delicately ferreting out the overlap in all the answers to arrive at what is most meaningful to each of you. Don’t simply race through the questions. This process takes time and dedication, yet returning to these questions will pay huge dividends in your life together.
The More Detail Your Vision Has, the More Compelling It Will Be
Sarah and Jim used this exercise repetitively over time. From the beginning Sarah answered what excites her about the future by saying “leaving a legacy.” Jim responded to the question of what kinds of projects or activities he would consider doing together by saying that he’d like to work on something together for the well-being of their children. As they asked each other these questions again and again, their responses evolved. Their answers would incubate and stimulate additional ideas. One session would prove to be a springboard for the next. Sara and Jim eventually decided they wanted to do something for their children, which also met Sarah’s desire to leave a legacy.
Their answers kept returning to doing something that reflected their interest in teaching and also strengthening the family. They both believed the old saying that if you really want to learn something, then you should teach it. They decided to begin with teaching a Sunday school class together. After sitting through some tedious Sunday school classes when they were children, they decided they would make it enjoyable for themselves and the kids. They became increasingly passionate about creating a very different learning experience for kids in Sunday school.
Alert! Alert! In the beginning stage, do not discuss potential obstacles. The best way to kill a budding dream is to ask, “Well, how is that going to happen?” or “Are you really serious about wanting that?” Asking these questions will surely strangle emerging desires before you see the bigger picture.
Rather, Sarah and Jim jumped in and discovered they enjoyed teaching together. Through trial and error they learned a lot about collaborating and how to better negotiate when they had sharp differences of opinion. However, they also discovered they did not like the bureaucracy telling them what to teach. Over time they kept returning to their vision questions. Eventually, they started a small, interfaith Sunday school with other families who had a similar vision. The project was more work than they had anticipated. Much more. But the work they had put into building a collaborative vision and learning to negotiate sustained them through the tougher times.
You will know you have accurately described your vision when:
the results are hard to achieve; success will require “stretching.”
you are excited when you think about it.
the results of the vision are meaningful to you.
the results make a difference in your life and your partner’s life.
the results are visible, can be written down, and, at least to some degree, can be measured.
the results will reflect your strengths and core values.
Your vision will evolve as you move toward it. You will meet obstacles along the way. Ask yourself an important question: “What will I have to do that I don’t want to do to realize this vision?” Every worthwhile vision carries with it some undesirable tasks. Don’t let these make you believe your vision is wrong. Accept that your vision will involve some challenges that you won’t enjoy.
Realizing your vision as a couple will require new skills in problem solving, negotiation, and decision making. They’re not always intuitive. And remember: you can’t create a flourishing relationship just by fixing what is wrong. You achieve your vision by building on the best in each of you.
** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit http://www.selfgrowth.com/greatways2.html.
Drs. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson are founders and directors of The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California. As therapists, workshop leaders, authors, and speakers, they are dedicated to helping couples fulfill their dreams. Their presentations educate, enlighten, and entertain, while giving innovative, practical ways to help improve relationships. Peter’s couples workshop, “Coming from Your Heart,” comes with an unusual money-back guarantee and attracts couples from across the country. Peter and Ellyn have been quoted in multiple national publications as well as featured on over 50 radio and television programs, including “The Today Show” and “CBS Early Morning News.” Visit http://www.couplesinstitute.com for free articles to help you develop the best possible relationship skills.