At some point, every relationship reaches a place when we must ask ourselves “Do we have a future?”
We may find that we struggle to be honest in our answers.
It can be rather nerve-wracking to be authentic when having important conversations with our partners. We can truly challenge ourselves through deliberate dialogue in these precarious scenarios.When couples reach a point of discussing their long term future, many emotions ensue; at this time we must make ourselves completely vulnerable which can be cause for intense feelings.
This process is a change from our usual approach which is to ask a question in anticipation of solving a problem. In deliberate dialogue we are not simply talking together but rather thinking together. The objective is to address a question rather than solve it. Thinking together involves active listening to other views, considering different ideas and perspectives, finding points of agreement, and placing unattended assumptions to the forefront.
A pressing question such as “Do we have a future together?” is a great example of how to apply this approach.
A problem needs to be solved; a question cannot be solved, but it can be experienced and, out of that experience, a common understanding can emerge that opens an acceptable path to action. We can choose to begin by reframing our question into one that is more open ended, such as “How do we view our future together?”
Albeit a more challenging path, deliberate dialogue offers many gifts to a relationship. Here are just a few of those gifts to harness while being aware of potential pitfalls:
Gift: Builds trust in communicating what we are truly feeling/experiencing with our partners.
Pitfall: We have to be prepared to honor whatever that honesty is.
For instance, one partner asks the other whether they will want to get married. The asking partner may already feel ready for this level of commitment. The other partner may respond I’m not sure yet.
And that is when the sinking feeling of the vulnerability ship sets in. The asking partner may feel hurt, upset or an immediate need to flee or possibly end the relationship. Common thoughts might be how do you not know if I know? or Are we even on the same page? This can continue into a downward spiral of thinking I should just cut my losses since they may never get there.
These are natural feelings. Vulnerability is powerful, making our feelings known and then not feeling as though they are reciprocated is gut wrenching. A reframing of “how do we feel about marriage?” can allow for honesty to emerge from both points of view. Be open to hearing all points of view.
If we find discomfort in a perspective different from our own, this can reveal a hidden assumption.
This approach can also offer new ways to find common ground. For instance, both partners might have different views on marriage but still have the same views on their commitment to each other.
The true gift of the deliberate dialogue is the trust it requires to be transparent. Building these stepping stones of trust ensure a solid foundation to our relationship house.
2. Same page versus spontaneity
Gift: Deliberate dialogue is great relationship insurance. It provides greater security of being on the same page rather than letting things just happen.
Pitfall: We may feel it reduces spontaneity or that it feels awkward to be direct.
For instance, deliberately discussing why we choose to move in together and what that means for us can ensure congruence prior to making a decision. The alternative some choose is decisions via convenience and without the deeper discussion.
A common hidden assumption surrounds the meaning of moving in together. One partner can assume it is for a financial benefit and the other partner can assume it is a next step towards marriage. For instance moving in together with the reasoning of “I am over here all the time anyway or my lease is up and well it saves us money” illustrate financial benefits.
Those are valid reasons—but they do not address the overarching intention of the relationship. One partner may believe the act of moving in signifies greater commitment, whereas the other simply finds the benefit in convenience.
Without the deliberate dialogue these individual beliefs remain in tact, forging separate parallel paths. This can lead to feeling blindsided or that our partner’s beliefs came out of nowhere.
We can address this hidden assumption once we bring them to the fore front.
3.Connection and communication
Gift: Intentional direct communication can offer great connection and clarity with our partner.
Pitfall: We may learn how we communicate as a couple is ineffective leading to confusion.
Effective direct communication can offer clarity and connection with our partner. We can understand our partner’s motivation, desires and needs. We can learn the role we play in our partner’s lives along with how the relationship fits in overall. Increased clarity provides a sense of security and also contributes to trust building.
On the other hand, when we attempt to have deliberate dialogue we might learn our method is ineffective. If we are triggered with emotions we might not listen to our partner fully. We might be preoccupied in crafting our response before our partner has expressed their point of view.
This could lead to ambiguity and confusion which reduces our sense of security in the relationship.
When we choose to reframe our discussions to thinktogether versus just talking together, this can lead to a series of discussions. It is natural to aim to reduce anxiety with finality or a conclusion, but we must remember that the goal is not to solve a question but rather explore and experience we wrestle with the potential anxiety. One way to address this anxiety is to bear in mind that a key goal is to identify common ground.
Keeping our focus on the elements we agree on can alleviate some tension we might experience with this approach.
The authentic road is not the most convenient and certainly not the easiest. Deliberate dialogue can challenge us to grow, learn, refine all while we align as a couple.