The Relationship Vision
The young married couple sat in my office and were in full agreement: their spouse had to change.
“He needs to stop gawking at girls.” | “She shouldn’t be so insecure.”
“He shouldn’t keep bringing up his past conquests.” | “She should value her own worth.”
“He’s turning to porn.” | “She shouldn’t be bothered by that.”
This scenario is common enough to become cliché.
The first task was having them weigh the costs and benefits of attempting to change their partner. The second task was defining the changes they would like to see in themselves.
But this was tough. The husband felt fully justified in his actions and wanted to “help” his wife realize that these actions reflected natural law, masculinity, and tradition. The wife saw his actions as contrary to the marital vows regarding respect, kindness, love, and fidelity. They needed to find common ground.
I use an adaptation of Harville Hendrix’s Relationship Vision for such a purpose. If a couple struggles to establish individual goals, we can start with joint goals, reflecting their vision of an ideal loving relationship. They need to learn if their visions are in sync.
I started by giving them each a sheet of paper with different colored pens. I told them: “Define your vision of a deeply satisfying love relationship.”
Here are the rules:
- Use short sentences, starting with the word “We.”
- Statements should use simple, present tense.
- Use positive language (phrased in terms of what you “do,” rather than what you “don’t do.”)
I gave them about 3 minutes, and they made their lists:
- Her List
- We respect each other.
- We realize what we can lose.
- We listen to each other.
- We fix each other’s faults.
- We cherish each other.
- We make each other happy.
- We look out for each other’s best interest.
- His List
- We watch out for each other.
- We make each other better and strive for more.
- We help each other well with our problems.
- We laugh a lot.
- We keep our things well organized.
- We sleep well together.
- We hang out.
I asked them to exchange their sheets, and to follow these steps:
- Rate the importance of each individual item on a 1 to 10 scale (1 = not important; 10 = extremely important).
- Circle the most important item.
- Put a check mark (√) next to the item that’s most difficult to achieve.
I then asked them to take back their own sheets and follow those same three steps:
- Rate the importance of each individual item on the same 1 to 10 scale. There will now be two numbers next to each item, in different colors.
- Circle the item you regard as most important. It may or may not be the same one your partner circled.
- Put a check mark (√) next to the most difficult item. It may or may not be the same one your partner checked.
We reviewed the sheets. They both rated nine of the items as 10’s. They both agreed that respect was most important. They both agreed on the importance of helping one another. For their action plan, I asked them to group the most important items together, post them, and read them together each morning. Later, I printed this list for them, with the most important items underlined, and the most difficult items in bold:
We respect each other.
We help each other well with our problems.
We fix each other’s faults.
We cherish each other.
We listen to each other.
We look out for each other’s best interest.
We make each other better and strive for more.
We realize what we can lose.
We watch out for each other.
They valued this exercise. It defined their common ground, and it provided a way for them to check their own actions, determining whether they were consistent or inconsistent with their stated vision. And this set the stage for change.
Hendrix, Harville (2007). Getting the Love You Want: A guide for couples. New York: Henry Holt & Co.