With the help of Deborah Barry, a couples counsellor and therapist known as The Happiness Coach, we have pulled together some simple, effective ways you can get to the root of what's bothering you about your relationship, along with the best times to share your feelings and the various benefits of setting goals together.
1. Picture it
Before you bring your partner into this discussion, ask yourself: What does a satisfying future together look like to me? We asked Barry for some personal inventory techniques that she recommends to couples in her practice.
"Visualize what you picture when you think of a great relationship. This will help you find words for it. Does it fit with cosy, comfortable and content? Or does it fit with adventure, excitement and passion?" This exercise is valuable because, if you can't picture it, how can your partner participate with his own overlapping vision?
Details which may seem insignificant may actually have a huge influence on your own personal happiness. "Do you visualize a couple living in the country or in a city? In an apartment or a house? Are they curled up watching TV together or are they out dancing? What did your parents do that made you feel good about their marriage?" asks Barry. Nailing down those details can help you define what you're missing in your relationship.
Page 1 of 3 -- Find ways to better communicate with your partner on page 2
2. Speak up
Once you have found the way to describe your own happiest future scenario, verbalize and share the things that are really important to you with your significant other. Do you see yourself travelling? Having children? Would you like to take advantage of career opportunities abroad? Do you want to own a home or have a pet? Whatever your priorities are, make a list.
That's easy enough, but how do you share these things with your partner without making him feel put on the spot? Barry suggests keeping it light. One way to handle this is to be playful: Make it like a game. Instead of making a joint list, make individual lists. Give each item a rating out of 10; for example, travel is a six. Make sure you include some things that you suspect you will both rate really low -- like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen! You could do this over a quiet Sunday breakfast.
When you've both finished, compare your lists to see where they are closest. Celebrate those items! By emphasizing the positive, it reinforces collaboration and teamwork, rather than one person making all of the demands and the other just following along. "Having those shared priorities gives you a sense of togetherness and makes the lines of communication that much more open," says Barry.
3. Timing is everything
Pick a time when you are alone with your guy, when you're both relaxed and feeling communicative. In other words, don't bring it up when you've had a few too many, during the Superbowl when he's got money on the line, or when you're with other people. Begin by explaining that you have something on your mind, and be very direct about how a particular issue is making you feel.
Page 2 of 3 -- Learn how to set long and short-term goals with your partner on page 3
Resist the temptation to schedule a "very important discussion" in advance, as this may incite anxiety or reluctance to chat on your partner's part. "Although some people do prefer ‘talk dates,' do what feels right for you. In general, the time to talk is when you're feeling at ease together. One great place that's often overlooked is when you are in the car together," suggests Barry. "Since you have a dedicated amount of time alone, and don't have the pressure of having to make eye contact, it can minimize embarrassment and keep the tone casual."
4. Make a plan and get specific
Set some long- and short-term goals; consider your vision and what kinds of things are achievable in a reasonable time frame. Consider things that will inspire and challenge you as a couple; for instance, buying a fixer-upper, adopting a puppy or accepting jobs in a new city. And what happens when your goals aren't exactly the same? Don't panic.
"Look for the happiness quotient: If living in a city rates a five for you, it might be worth moving to a rural area if your partner's dream of opening a winery is a 10," says Barry. Set fun goals, such as going on one trip per year together to somewhere neither of you have been, as well as practical goals, such as saving a certain amount of money each month for early retirement. "Some couples are happy just striving to be contented, regardless of where they live or what challenges they take on. But for most couples, clarifying mutual goals can help inspire you and give you a sense of accomplishment."
By asking yourself what you really want, telling your partner how you feel in the right way and at the right time, and working together on some mutual long- and short-term goals, you can get exactly what you want from your relationship.
Page 3 of 3