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An exercise for healthy and enduring relationships

Many Americans are familiar with the annual Presidential State of the Union (SOTU) address. During the SOTU the President provides Congress with a report on how America is doing and national priorities for the coming year.

Similarly, publicly owned companies provide annual reports to inform shareholders of the financial and operational health of the company and projections for the upcoming year. It also serves as an opportunity to inform customers of the company’s core values, mission, and goals.

Your relationship is a living, breathing entity with a purpose and a future. Like governments or corporations, it functions better with values, a mission, priorities, planning, and a review process.

Couples have dreams and goals, but they may not have a process for seeing them through. For example, you and your partner might have a budget, a goal to buy a house, or ideas about a vacation. Many couples can get sidetracked, and goals are not achieved, as each partner focuses on their own personal and professional goals.

Relationship distress and conflict may result from a lack of planning and partnership.

Individual dreams and goals are important, but when partners direct their focus primarily to their individual needs and away from the relationship needs, relational goals and dreams may fail to get met. And this can lead each partner to feel like they are on their own separate path or living different lives.

A “Relationship State of the Union (RSOTU)” is an easy way for couples to check in with one another on the health of the relationship and set goals for each partner to ensure the relationship stays on track. It’s also an opportunity to review and celebrate accomplishments and establish new goals or priorities for the relationship.

Here’s how you do it

1. Carve out some time

Schedule about an hour of time to focus on your relationship goals. Treat this like a doctor’s appointment and put it on your calendar. Make sure you are in a private and quiet area and have access to a pen and paper or your computer.

2. Identify key relationship areas

You and your partner determine the issues that are important to your relationship including:

  • Financial (budget; expenses; plans)
  • Home (maintenance; renovations; purchase)
  • Children
  • Intimacy
  • Professional
  • Social
  • Physical Health
  • Quality time
  • Family/In-laws
  • Communication
  • Pets
  • School

3. Grade each relationship area

Think about how things have been going in these areas. Each of you will assign a grade (think high school!) to each area of the relationship. (If you have time to do this before the day of the RSOTU even better!) Make sure to provide comments along with the grade to explain why you feel the way you do and make suggestions for how you both can improve.

For example, let’s say that you feel that quality time together has been lacking the last few months. Maybe you give that area a “D”, and your comment might be, “We were both really busy with work the last few months and I felt a bit disconnected from you. I miss having time to watch movies together or going for a walk together on the beach in the morning. Even though we’re still busy, I think we could improve this area by fitting in at least 1 evening a week to watch a Netflix show together. That would be good enough for me. What do you think?”

Alternatively, maybe you guys have been nailing your budget the past 2 months and you grade that area an “A”. This is a good time to talk about what you did right, what you want to keep doing, and set some new priorities.

Each partner should assign their own grade. This is important because you’ll find out very quickly which domains are really important to your partner! Also, it gives you each an opportunity to identify possible solutions that you can discuss and agree on.

4. Maintain a record of your RSOTU

Write everything down. It’s important to keep a record of your RSOTU to remind you of your shared goals and accomplishments. Consider using an Excel spreadsheet or a journal to keep track.

5. Schedule your next RSOTU

RSOTUs can be scheduled as whenever needed. If your relationship is off track you may want to consider scheduling a monthly review until you’re back on track. At a minimum, I recommend scheduling the RSOTU no less than twice a year.

The Three R’s

Keep the Three R’s in mind when doing this exercise:

1. Realistic – Understand that no matter how many beautiful solutions you and your partner might have for improving a certain area, circumstances might not change. You might not be able to cut down on your hours at work next month. You may have planned for buying a car but reduced work hours might limit your ability. That’s okay! The most important thing about this exercise is that it brings the 2 of you together around your shared priorities and makes both of you mindful of what is important and acknowledge it. Often, this is enough to improve how you feel about things without changing anything at all!

2. Reasonable – You don’t need to do a lot. Sometimes just a little goes a long way. If spending quality time together is important, but both of you are busy, a simple text in the middle of the day to tell your partner you are thinking about them can make all the difference. Dreams are important. Goals should be realistic. Plans and priorities should be achievable.

3. Reminded – Positive memories provide an emotional catalyst for action. When we recollect pleasurable and meaningful moments from the past we bring those thoughts and feelings into the present. Reminding your partner of times when things were good will give both of you solutions for how to make things better and will generate hope, particularly during rocky times.

Final thoughts: For families

RSOTUs can be great for families or to practice with teens and young adults. Through this exercise children learn the importance of identifying values, setting goals, and developing relationship and communication skills. When scheduled throughout the year, children develop a habit of thinking about and planning their actions with respect to others in their life, thereby cultivating empathy and compassion for others and developing skills that will help them in the future.

We are here to help you with this process. Couples in distress will also benefit from couples therapy or one of our Connections retreats. For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our couples therapists, please contact us today.