“Hey, honey, how would you rate our marriage, on a scale of 1-10?” I asked as we were hiking.
“Ok, time's up–why the delay?”
I should know better than to expect an immediate answer…it's not his way.
“Well,” he said, “I was just thinking there's always room for improvement, so I was trying to think where we would be. I'd say an 8.”
Whew, ok, we can work with that.
What followed was a focused discussion on what we wanted to change and how we would do that. Now I don't even remember the specific thing, but it was ONE thing that both of us agreed we would focus on in the coming weeks.
This wasn't the first time we had done this. In 30+ years of marriage, we often used our anniversary as a time to reflect on what was good, and what could improve in our marriage. More than a few business ideas hatched during those longer reflections. But this day was just a checkin–How are WE doing?
Where's your focus?
It's easy to focus on the negative when you're unhappy. And it's human nature to find what we're looking for. Whatever you think you DON'T have (better car, thoughtful spouse, superstar kid, dream job, Barbie body….fill in the blank) you will find lots of examples of people that DO have that. And you will make yourself even more miserable in the process.
HOWEVER, there is a different approach.
When I saw couples for counseling, they were usually in a pretty unhappy state. I'm a big believer in Solution focused therapy–we don't have to analyze every detail of your childhood to begin to move your marriage in a more hopeful direction. So, I would ask them the Miracle Question:
If you could wave a magic wand, and suddenly, the marriage of your dreams was a reality, what would that look like? Describe it in as much detail as you can.
To further coach the process, I gave them these SMART goal guidelines:
- Make your description SPECIFIC. What would it look like if someone took a video of what you're describing? It's not enough to say, “I want a happy marriage” –because no one can MAKE you happy. But focusing on a specific description, like “We would be able to discuss our finances without one of us blowing up and walking away.” Or, “I would love it if you pursued me, like when we were dating, and planned a romantic evening once a month.”
- Make it MEASURABLE (If you're familiar with SMART goals, this may begin to sound familiar. Who knew you could take your business principles and apply them to marriage?!) “I really want us to have one night a week that is just for us–time to talk, without the kids.” or “could we have sex once a week?”.
- Identify ACTIONABLE baby steps. What is something small you can start with? If you agree to exercise together, running a marathon would not be the first step. Running 15″/day, 3 days a week, would be a better place to start if you are not running at all.
- Are the steps REALISTIC? Asking your partner to be the life of the party if they are an introvert is not realistic. Purchasing your dream home in the next month is probably not realistic.
- Create a TIME SPECIFIC or TIME LIMITED course of action so you can review and adjust. Maybe together you want to have family dinner EVERY night for 30 days. After reviewing, you realize that maybe 6 days a week is a goal that is workable, because it turned out there was always one night that someone had a commitment. Instead of being hard on yourselves because you didn't achieve EVERY night, you celebrate the fact that MOST nights, you are eating together as a family.
After Action Review
It's a common practice in the military and many businesses to hold an “After Action Review”. After working on the steps to move your marriage towards a 10, it's important to review, adjust, or do more of the same.
- Did we each do what we said we would do?
- If not, what got in the way?
- Do we need to adjust what we're doing? Or commit to KEEP doing what we started?
And here's the most important question:
How do you FEEL as a result of your efforts? Do you feel closer to a 10, or at least not feel stuck as before?
Don't skip this part of the review–feeling HOPEFUL when you've been discouraged is enough to keep some positive momentum going.
CLICK HERE to download an easy guide that will help you put this principle into practice–how about today?
How are you feeling about your marriage in its present state? If you were to rate it from 1 (wish we'd never married) to 10 (can't imagine how it could be any better), what would you rate it? My guess is most everyone would rate theirs with some room for improvement. I don't know anyone with a perfect marriage, do you?