Most of us spent anywhere from 1- 5 years dating. Then most people spend about one year being engaged planning the wedding, some a bit more. During this year they tackle a long and focused task list to plan for their big day. They attend countless appointments, make more decisions than they ever thought possible, learn to manage not only their stress, but that of their families, and often must learn the art of compromise. These tools are being used, often unknowingly, to plan for a big day, but what could your marriage look like a year from now, if you actively practiced and applied these skills to your relationship with each other? If you are having a tough time in your relationship, or if you would simply like to strengthen your relationship, this might be an exercise worth considering. I have laid the exercise out like a wedding planning checklist to stay on track and visualize where you are in the process as you go along.
9 to 12 months out:
● Talk about goals you have as a couple for the coming year.
● Discuss your household budget and your individual views on money. Are you a spender vs a saver and why? What is a good compromise you can come to in finances and how you manage money?
● Start a Pinterest board of activities you would like to do together, things you would like to talk about, really anything you want to keep track of. Think of this as your fun, electronic notebook.
6 to 8 months out:
● Start a practice of daily/weekly expressions of appreciation. It can be verbal, notes, texts, e-mails. The method does not matter as much as the genuine message. Remind your partner what it is you appreciate about them, and do it on a minimum of a weekly basis for the rest of the year. You will be amazed at what you assumed they knew, and how much they needed to hear it. This exercise is always a favorite.
● Discuss ways that each of you reduce stress individually. This helps your partner identify and allow you your space when you need to calm yourself and cope.
●Discuss ways you can reduce stress as a couple. Brainstorm ways that work for both of you, and help to ease the tension in stressful situations.
4 to 5 Months out:
● If time and budget allow, agree on a vacation spot, and create a Pinterest board for that. You have been working hard on your relationship. You are halfway through the year! This gives you something fun and positive to plan and look forward to as a couple.
● If healthy boundaries with your partners family have always been a problem, now might be a good time for each of you to discuss small changes that each of you can make to shift toward a healthy middle ground. Talk about each of your views of what healthy boundaries with family of origin look like to each of you, and how you each plan to handle setting them with your family. Do not insult, blame or demand, this is not easy. Listen to one another, and really try to compromise.
● Institute a weekly “date night,” which does not have to be expensive, and does not have to even mean going out. It is just a commitment to make dedicated, quality time to one another, doing something you enjoy.
2 to 3 months out:
● This is a good time to discuss how the two of you are doing on the goals you set for yourselves at the start of the year. If there is anything that needs revisiting, or starting, it is never to late. Things are not written in stone, you were just helping make a useful guide for yourselves.
● Learn to attack the issues and not each other. This means learn to focus on what the issue is, and always refrain from personal attacks. Also, it is perfectly fine to step away from a situation and regroup if you are too angry. Simply calm yourself and do come back if you gave your word to do so. Nothing productive is accomplished until calmer heads prevail.
● Embrace each other’s individual interests. Individual time and interests are just as important as togetherness. Learn to support this. If we support this within our partner and ourselves, our relationship becomes stronger for it.
End of the Year:
● You made it! Congratulations! You spent the past year focusing on your life together, which in perspective, hopefully seems worth all the hard work you put in. I am certain there were hard times. You tackled some difficult issues, but in doing so, your relationship should only be stronger for it. These are the issues that are the most common issues that bring couples into couple’s therapy, and that lead to divorce. It is why I chose them as your exercises to tackle during this year. If you can navigate them on your own, and be able to come to resolutions and common ground together, it really speaks to the strength of your relationship, and the love you have for one another. Here is to a happy and healthy relationship in 2018.