One of the exercises I sometimes have couples do in counseling is to create a “relationship vision” for themselves. Their instructions are for each of them to make a list, independently of one another, of statements that they would like to be true of their relationship, whether or not those statements are at all true today.
These statements are to be stated in the present tense, cover every area of their relationship they can think of, and most importantly, they are to be stated in positive terms, i.e., the statements are about what the couple does, not what they don’t do.
Some things that might appear on such a list would be:
“We agree on how to spend and save our money.”
“We treat our in-laws with respect, while maintaining our family’s boundaries.”
Sometimes something that really belongs on the list will have to be tweaked a little bit, to make it fit the “positive” criteria. For example, “We don’t scream at each other,” may be changed to “We resolve our disagreements respectfully and creatively,” or “We can disagree without harming our relationship or one another’s feelings.”
Last night I heard a new one. On one of my clients’ lists was, “We do not mock each other.” Between the husband and wife, they had maybe 30 items. We compared, combined, discussed, until they had merged their lists into a relationship vision on which they could both agree.
When they left the session, the couple’s merged list included, “We only mock other people.”