Some years ago I was in a session with a couple where they were taking stock of their relationship, discussing how each saw things. They shared with me how nice it was to focus on the positive in their relationship, not just talking about what wasn’t working. Things weren’t perfect, but noticing what was going right helped to cope with what wasn’t. That got me to think about the question of how couples measure their relationships. Lets listen to Mary Ann and David.
Mary Ann looked up at her husband, “You know, I have been thinking about our relationship.”
David thought to himself ‘Oh boy, here we go, what now?’ He braced himself internally – the same physiologic response he had when that oncoming SUV crossed into his lane last week. David responded with a non committal, but slightly questioning, “Yea?”
“Well”, Mary Ann continued, “We do a lot of things right.”
David’s stomach muscles relaxed considerably, he felt himself start to breathe again: the SUV missed him. “We do? Like what, what are you referring to?”
“We had a nice dinner last night, it was nice just you and me, it had been a while since we have been able to do that. I had a good time. Also, I’m glad we finally got rid of that old toilet that has been sitting in our garage . We replaced that thing a couple months ago and it was starting to get to me. At least now I don’t feel like I’m driving into an outhouse.” Mary Ann laughed.
David smiled and joined her laughter. “I told you we could have planted a fern and put the whole thing on our front lawn, for some reason you didn’t like that idea. “They were both relieved to get rid of the “family throne” as they called it. “Dinner was nice; we should try to get out more, even if for just a cup of coffee or something.”
“That would be nice David. You thought I was going to nail you for something, didn’t you?”
David looked thoughtful. “I wasn’t sure Mary Ann, this was OK; no, this was good.” David smiled again
There were a lot of conversations that David and Mary Ann could have had. Either one of them could have focused on what wasn’t working – her work schedule, his tendency to want to stay home, to name just a few of the many items they both could list. How the relationship measures up depends on what is used to measure the relationship. When things are stressed in a relationship, it’s hard to notice what is going right and all you see is the yardstick of failure. When taking stock of your own relationship, think about what is going right as well as what bothers you: Now that’s a measure of success by any standard.