How clear are you about what you really want in a relationship? What are the standards that you will measure yourself and your relationship by? Are they steadfast and rigid, ones that you will live and die bye, or do they feel like putty and seem to shift in the direction the wind blows?
If you desire a relationship that is “everything” you want and you are afraid of settling or worse, you are not getting what you want out of the relationship you are currently in, you may discover that doing a simple 5-step exercise may help you unlock some hidden clarity and necessity that has been missing.
After coaching couples now for years now, there are a few questions that I always ask to each one. Do you know what you want in the relationship and what you don’t want in it? Every time they all say, well, sure I do. Then, I ask them to start listing them for me out loud as I begin writing each one on a whiteboard or flip chart as they say it. After approximately 10 minutes, it is not uncommon for them to only have listed ten to twelve things. My follow up question is always the same.. Is this all you want? The answer is also always the same… an emphatic no!
What we learn time over time, by doing this exercise, is what we think about or really want in a relationship it is not entire picture of what we really want and some of things that we think we really want are just nice to have’s and not “must have’s” and vice versa. As importantly, it is just as critical to understand and define what you DON’T want in a relationship as much as it is important to define what you want in it. Additionally, we find that most couples take a path of knowing the other that is seemingly a guessing game whereas, they typically find out a handful of things that are important to one another which is usually on an accidental basis, but they never reach the full extent of them and rarely do they reach deep enough to understand the importance of each of them. Let’s face it, not every must have or standard in a relationship is of the same level importance, but they are required.
It is very common and typical to think of what we want or don’t want in the moment or that which is most present in our mind. Without enough time to thoughtfully think through all the perspectives for which we see ourselves and our relationship through as well as everything we value or don’t in those perspectives, we are left with what is most pressing or important in the moment to filter our view of the relationship. Without a more complete understanding of these perspectives we can fool ourselves from reality which leads to bias and incomplete views of the relationship and or if you are single finding that person you really desire and are compatible with.
The entire point behind this is to discover and develop the clarity toward what it is you really want in a relationship, what it is you don’t want and most importantly, what is it that you must have in a relationship. The benefit is a much broader, more robust, deeper picture of not only what you want and don’t want but what becomes ultimately clear, is what you will not compromise on. This also allows you to start understanding your own standards for the future. If you are currently in a relationship, it will give your partner a very well organized, deeper understanding about what is ultimately important to you and potentially some of the best conversations that you have had as you discuss the “why” it is important to you.
By the way, if you are single out there today and you want to know why you can’t find Mr. or Ms. “Right”, it’s because you are not clear on what it is your really want yet. When you are, they will stand out like the one big blue tanker in the proverbial red see. You will be able to spot them immediately and even better, you will stop waisting your time trying to figure out if others are a good match for you or not. Doing this exercise alone will change how you perceive and evaluate a relationship completely if you put the work into it.
If you are married, the ability to share what you truly want, don’t want and your must have’s with your partner can change not only the relationship entirely but the world that relationship lives in immensely. EVERY couple that I have coached through this exercise finds out a laundry list of “stuff” they never knew about their partner or how important those unknown things were to them. You want to talk about clarity about a person, do this and do it honestly and you will find out some amazing things you never knew about yourself or your partner.
1. On a single sheet of paper, draw two lines down the paper dividing the paper up into three equal sections.
2. On the far left section, label this section “What I want” and I want you to begin to list all the things that you really want in a relationship from every aspect imaginable and be as specific as you can with each one. Answers to these types of questions.. what are all the physical attributes you want a relationship? What are all the mental or emotional attributes? What are the spiritual ones? How do you want your relationship to look? How do you want your relationship to look to others? How do you want to feel about your relationship? What about kids? What about the relationship with your parents or the siblings or others? What do you want others to think or say about your relationship? How do you want your partner to act or behave in situations? How do you want them to speak to you or look at you? You get the drift.. but there are tons of topics so start with the ones that are top of mind first. Your list will grow over time, trust me. I added 2 to mine own 5 years after I started simply because I learned something new that I had to have. The idea is to keep asking yourself the question, your brain is designed to give you the answers you are looking for, you just have ask and then listen.
Answers to those questions might look like this but I want to give you a little bit more so you can start but obviously fill in with your specifics… There is no right or wrong here, it is simply what you want in your relationship and how you see it.
I want my lady or man to be this tall.
I want him or her to have true empathy towards all people not just the ones who he/she likes
I want them to be perceived from others as a kind person – they do things like…
I want him or her to have I wanted to be intelligent defined to me as…
I want them to have to have a job or a career preferably in this type of field..
Would like for them to have lots of ambition and motivation toward…
I would really like them to inspire me to be better person by…
It DOES NOT matter what they are, it matters that they are important to you, they are things that you want in your relationship and most importantly, that YOU WRITE THEM DOWN! You can even list situational things like I would like them to hold my hand when we go for a walk or to the movies without asking. The key is to be as specific as possible and remember, there is no right or wrong here this is just getting them out and down on a piece of paper.
Now, you may ask when do I stop listing them out and the answer is when you think you have a good list but here’s the even better news, you won’t think of everything today or even tomorrow, it may take you 30 days, 3 months or maybe longer depending on what you like to come up with a list you feel is accurate, descriptive and representative of whats important to you and that’s okay.
3. Now, on the far right hand section of your page, I want you to do the same exercise as #2 but this time put down everything you DON’T want in a relationship. What you don’t want is equally as important as what you do want. Let me ask you this… have you ever been in a relationship in your life where you said to yourself, this person has all of these things which I like but I have to deal with these other things like _____(fill in the blank)…. Yep, me too.. This is why we write down what we don’t want.
Again, it’s not important to be right it’s just important to feel right now start writing it down, we will refine later. The point is just getting it out.
Some added help. How do you NOT want them to be emotionally, mentally, physically, sexually, any other aspect of a relationship? What if they have kids, how do you want that to look or not look? What about their siblings or vice versa? Do you want for them to align with your values? Do you want them to talk about everything that they feel is wrong or hold it in initially?
4. Now comes the fun part so let’s put that big brain of yours to work. In the middle section, I want you start writing down everything that is a “must have” in your relationship. Now you might be saying to yourself, well some of my wants and don’t wants that I just wrote down are my must haves. If so, then good! They are expected to be. What you can do is just circle the ones you listed in your want column or or don’t want column as must haves but then also list any that you didn’t put down on either of those columns. These might be in the middle of what you want and don’t want or something entirely new but these should be the things you will not compromise on. These are essentially deal breakers and will not be allowed or conversely on the “want” side, they have to be present in the relationship. They are things that you will not bend on.
If you have been in a previous relationship where you say to yourself, your friends or your family…they (this other person) has all these great things but there is these two or three things over here that I’m not sure about or I don’t like. Or maybe it sounded something similar to this… this person is a great guy/girl but they act like this in this situation… or they are great in terms of being empathetic and great toward my children but some of things they say to me, I don’t like. You probably get the point here.
How we begin to establish ultimate clarity for ourselves is to get this stuff down on a piece of paper so we can begin to understand ALL that is important to us. It also frames up a better picture of the person and the relationship that you ultimately desire.
These will soon become and serve as your standards for a relationship. Now, if you asking yourself, why are all of these so important? Let me answer that by asking you this… If you don’t know your standards then what do you measure your relationship against? How do you know if your relationship or your partner meets your needs or the relationship is successful? I have yet to meet anyone who can remember everything that is important to them when I ask. Nearly everyone relates most things, outside of very painful emotional experiences, to the recent past. In other words we typically bring to top of mind things that are important from recent experiences in the relationship not our entire history of experiences unless they are emotionally charged. I bet your list is a lot longer now than when you started it right? Even if you haven’t wrote it down yet, you thought of more things didn’t you? As you contemplate around different areas of the relationship you are beginning to find what your values are for the relationship.
Here’s another question for you and why I think this might be the most important clarity exercise you will ever do. If you don’t know what your standards are, how in the world is your partner ever going to know them? All of us would love to say that we don’t expect our partner to know all of this stuff but in my first hand experience I have coached more couples that have that expectation rather than don’t. It is not untypical for a partner to know even half of the must have’s with their partner with most in the twenty percent range. Talk about being in a bad position.. yikes! If you don’t know what your partner’s standards are but they expect you to know them by trial and error or guess work, you have a large probability to fail in that expectation. Good luck! I hope you win the lottery with those odds too. You should see the looks of utter surprise, relief and disappointment when a couple realizes these must haves / standards were never known to either partner. This is not only one of the greatest gifts that you can give to yourself but it is by far one of the greatest ones that you can give your partner. If you won’t do it for you, do it for them.
5. Now — these must haves still need a little refining before we call them our standards. So that we remain responsible to ourselves and keep ourselves grounded, we still need to work on one more thing and that is your beliefs. This is the cleansing exercise to trim any excess fat off of our expectations.
Ask yourself two questions about each one of your must haves that you have listed. This is so you can gain a different perspective about yourself and the beliefs you hold because not all beliefs may be realistic or sustainable – crazy, right???. I’m sure you are different but let’s test it anyway so we don’t run into any surprises, okay?
TIP: Doing this out loud to yourself can be even more helpful because when people hear themselves say something that isn’t congruent with their true beliefs, they will many times catch it much easier versus reading them silently.
So ask yourself, for each one of your must haves:
A) Is this must have is my must have a realistic expectation?
B) Is this must have sustainable for the long term?
There are a lot of things that we want in a relationship that are attainable but they may not be sustainable.
Now, here’s the other thing you need to look for while you are asking yourself if these must haves are realistic and or sustainable. Do they compete against each other? For example, is it realistic that you want somebody to be a naturally aggressive, really the dominant type, type “A” personality but in your must haves that you want them to express ultimate empathy all the time and be introverted. Not necessarily realistic, do you follow? Asking yourself these questions is really going to encroach on your view of the world and it’s meant too. Learning to question your beliefs is one the most critical things you can ever learn if you want to grow in your life and especially in your relationship. For most of the population, their phones get updated more times than their beliefs do in a life time. When is the last time you sat down and really questioned why you believed something?
One of my favorite uses for these especially toward understanding your partner is pick their list up and read it every few months. If you want to be better for your partner, what a great way to give yourself a grade. After you do however, ask them what grade would they would give you. Should amount for some quality engaging conversation.
By the way, if you get in here with your partner and you find yourself thinking I don’t know if my partner meets all these things… or they don’t mean half of them, then it is time to make them known. It is very difficult for anyone to meet your expectations or you to meet theirs if don’t share what they are AND the context of why they are important to you.
And if you come to an impasse and at times you will, here’s what I want you to do. Ask your partner how important is that to you? Or is their opportunity for change? Is their opportunity for improvement? Are these things realistic? Are they sustainable?
No matter what aspect of the relationship you want to address, if you haven’t established clarity around it, it is difficult, at best, if not impossible to change it. It is in that exchange where you build the threads of emotional connection with your partner. You begin to realize the thresholds of understanding toward one another and experience the feelings of being understood by one another. It is here, where you begin to know and become known in the relationship.
So what if you’re single and or if you’re dating today? There is no more powerful thing that you could do for yourself than give yourself the clarity and perspective that you need and after living through it, I can attest to it first hand and heres the reason why.
In that huge sea of people that’s out there, that you have been sifting through, online profiles you keep reading through or just the people you meet in general, you’re going to be able to pinpoint the person that has all your must haves fairly easily and fairly quickly. You will stop waisting time with those who you have to “wait and see”. They will be that one person in blue in the sea of red people. They will stand out with glaring difference and you will see it with relative ease, if you KNOW what you are looking for.
Have you ever had this experience in your life? That until you write something down, you don’t really make complete sense of it? Until you bring it out of your subconscious and put it into your conscious mind, review it, go through it, and really assess it, the realism and sustainability of it, that it now starts to become a real thing? It becomes more dominant in your conscience thought and you see it differently whereas, you didn’t before? That means you’re going to notice it out in the world.
Have you ever found a car you liked or found something that you really wanted? Maybe this would be a purse or a dress for all you ladies. Then, all of a sudden you started noticing it everywhere. You’re like, man, I want that car and I’m now seeing it everywhere now. Shazzam! It’s magic isn’t it…
The same thing exists here because we’re bringing it to the conscious part of our mind. See, we’re becoming conscious and intentional about the things that we want to cultivate and see in our life and as a result, we will begin to see them. It’s not as if they were not already in the world, we just didn’t pay any attention to them until we become conscience about them.
If you will take time to develop clarity and perspective for yourself, you can bring to the conscience mind exactly what you want a relationship and that becomes your standard. If you’re single and you’re dating and you’re going from relationship to relationship and you don’t have a standard that you’re comparing it to, you’re missing out. Many times and specifically, if you’re single, and you get into those relationships where you feel a little punch drunk for the moment, the emotion starts to fly, things get a little hot and heavy, we conveniently like to latch on to all that we like and want to see and not pay attention to everything else. Having standards allows you to maintain perspective of the entire relationship and puts you in a much better position to be able to assess if that person is really right for you or not.
When someone begins to exceed your standards and they exceed enough of them, you will fall in love, GUARANTEED. So, make these standards part of your practice. Make them part of your relationship. Make them part of your life.
Extraordinary relationships are pursued, but they also are practiced and protected. Developing the standards in your relationship not only gives you something to practice in your relationship but potentially, the most important thing to protect in it.
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