You're probably an expert on what isn't working in your relationship with your partner. Is your partner also an expert at pointing out all of your shortcomings? How's that working for you both? Is it creating joy and happiness? Is it creating more time to celebrate the unique strengths you each bring to the table? (I doubt it.)
Most of us have been taught the problem-solving approach to improvement. It sounds logical enough—determine what's broken and fix it. All you need to do is solve enough problems and you'll have a happy and rewarding life. This is deficit-based thinking and, without our even realizing it, it's crippling our ability to create a different future.
First of all, we create more of what we focus on. When we constantly focus your energy on what's not working we'll become experts on what's not working. We learn to look at our lives through the prism, and prison, of our "defects." We're never going to hate ourselves to success.
Second, problem solving is designed to return things to a normative state. Is that what you want? Or do you want to find your strengths and passions and carry them forward to an incredible future? When you start focusing on more of your inherent strengths you will outgrow the things which are holding you back. I can speak from deep personal experience. One of the reasons I no longer drink is because I spend too much time writing and talking about the things that excite and delight me.
Appreciative Inquiry is a strength-finding change methodology that focuses on what gives life to human systems when they are at their best. It posits that questions and dialogue appreciating and affirming our successes, values, and strengths are transformational. The very act of asking positive, strength-based questions will change our future—even before we have the answers. As Jackie Kelm puts it, "what we believe, we conceive." That's why the last section of the following questions focuses on dreaming of an incredible future.
Think about your closest relationships. What might be created if you spent time discovering what unique strengths and values you each bring to the partnership? What would you feel as you remembered moments of working together harmoniously? Imagine spending time together imagining your ideal future in great detail using uplifting and affirmative words. Images inspire action.
The following questions are formatted in the style of an Appreciative Inquiry interview. What would it create if you sat down with your partner in a calm and peaceful environment and answered these questions? Would it help you uncover each of your unique gifts and celebrate the amazing moments you have shared together?
Consider playing some soft, uplifting music while you answer the questions. It adds so much depth to the experience.
The best in our relationship:
All people have their own experiences and strengths that contribute to who they are. You have done meaningful and purposeful things during your relationship that should be celebrated and acknowledged. You have been a teacher, a student, a lover, and a friend, and during your journey you have lived moments of great significance.
1. Reflect on all the moments and memories in your relationship with your partner. Connect to two to three moments worth celebrating.
- What was it about these moments that made them worth celebrating?
- What qualities did you bring to those moments?
2. What are the super powers you bring to this relationship? Reflect on three to five of your highest strengths as a partner and friend and describe them in as much detail as possible.
- What do you value most about yourself that contributes to the healthy and happy development of your relationship?
- What is it about supporting your partner that gives you the greatest sense of meaning, purpose, and/or fulfillment?
Creating and sustaining a beautiful and nurturing relationship is a collaborative effort. A relationship lived through the lens of empathy and understanding will be resilient and long-lasting while allowing acknowledgment of the strength that lies in our differences.
1. Describe a time when you worked together to make a decision in a way that made you both feel respected.
- What was the high point of this process? When did you feel you were at your best?
- What made it successful?
- How did you contribute to helping each other feel included and valued?
- How did you each know your voices were being heard by the other?
2. Tell me about a time when you have felt the greatest sense of alignment in your relationship?
- What did you value about both of you in this situation?
- What made this particular situation special?
3. Think back to a moment you have felt the deepest sense of connection with your partner.
- Describe how you felt both emotionally and physically.
- What were some of the words you used when talking to your partner during this time?
3. Talk about a time you had fun together.
- What were you doing?
- What made it so much fun?
- Describe how you show your partner when you are having fun with him/her.
Bringing our best into a magnificent, joyous future:
In a productive and harmonious relationship, each party brings their strengths to create a different future. You each have unique and complementary skills that can support and elevate each and lead to creative and collaborative problem solving. The foundation to all of this is based on mutual respect.
1. What would you like to see more of in your relationship that would create a greater feeling of harmony and peace?
- Describe what an ideal situation or interaction might look like.
- What strengths can you contribute to creating more of those feelings?
- What words would the other parent use to describe you that would make you feel proud?
2. When you look back on your relationship with each other 10 years from now:
- What types of images would give you the greatest sense of pride, meaning, and fulfillment?
- What would tell you that your contributions to your partner have been meaningful?
- What types of experiences, conversations, feelings and/or memories would give you the greatest sense of joy?
The year is 2020, and you are at a holiday gathering surrounded by friends and family. The mood is festive, and joy abounds. There is a beautiful fire roaring in the fireplace. You hear the sound of glass clinking. The host looks your way and says, "We all want to know your secrets for creating such a happy and amazing relationship with your partner. You radiate love for each other and you are obviously each other's best friend. How do you do it?"