For years we have focused on helping leaders and teams discover the competitive advantage of using conflict. We are passionate about helping teams come to the table to have the right conversations. We help them value their differences and use them to improve team engagement and come up with creative, innovative solutions.
In our spare time, we co-designed, and have spent the last six years, delivering a Couples Alive series at The Haven. This program is for couples at all stages of their relationship who are wanting to more effectively work with their differences, stay engaged and enliven their relationships.
You might not realize it, but we find there is a whole lot of overlap between these two groups of people we spend hours working with. So this month we wanted to talk a bit about what we think are two key lessons from teams that really do help when applied and practiced with a couple.
The Big Why
Any business leader knows that it is critical to have a big why to keep people in the business focused and inspired. When we work with businesses, we suggest they answer the question: “Why do we exist beyond making money?” Their why needs to inspire passion and rally people emotionally to stay the course doing the day-to-day grind.
It's the same in a couple, only with couples, it’s more commonly referred to as the romance stage. Often by the time we are working with couples, the romance has gone background. Instead of, “Why do we exist?” We suggest couples ask, “What attracted me to you?” and continue with, “What were my hopes, dreams and imaginings of what we would be like together?”
Sometimes couples have never really even talked about what was that spark that attracted each of them to the other. We find when they do start to talk about it, couples discover some surprises and very different storylines than they imagined. Of course over time, these early attractions have likely shifted, but the conversation often rekindles some of that romantic juice.
It is important to reconnect to what first attracted you to your partner, and also move into what you hope for your future together. Romance for a couple is like the vision for a company. A couple needs to keep talking, sharing and finding that spark that will ignite and inspire them as time goes by.
Sometimes it's long-range vision, like starting a family, building a business, or supporting a career path for one partner. It is important to continue to talk about it so that you each stay aligned and clear.
We worked with a couple where one had taken the path to become a physician, the other had once been on the same path but stepped off to become a massage therapist to support the start of a family. They had met in medical school. So some of their original romance was around being doctors together.
As they revisited their early hopes and dreams, it was clear leaving medicine for one partner was a choice that had happened without enough dialogue. He was clear, though, that it wasn't about going back to medical school now. Time had passed, and they had children. What was needed though, was a discussion about what had been given up back then, and what might now be a new way to have a shared purpose.
After we worked with them, this couple started a small-town holistic health clinic, which allows them to work together as a physician and massage therapist. They found a way to support both of their career passions while also sharing parenting responsibilities. Plus they are raising their family in an environment that fits well for them.
It's not always about the long-term vision and big changes. However, couples, like companies, need to stay connected and engaged with each other. There needs to be a shared purpose and time spent together talking about hopes, dreams and possibilities.
We have found that couples that engage in discovering new things together and try activities outside of their respective comfort zones are more likely able to keep the romantic spark alive. It may be taking up dancing, starting a home project, planning a unique family vacation or deciding to race together in a fun run!
What helps get to some new ideas is going back and looking at the early roots of the attractions for each of you and then decide how might that still be a path to aliveness.
Conflict as the Secret Sauce
The second important lesson from business that helps any couple enrich their coupledom is rooted in using conflict!
That's right, conflict is really a secret sauce in couples - just as it is on teams. Truth is, it may be even more important for a couple to recognize that conflict is a natural and healthy part of any relationship. Knowing that two people are going to think differently, feel differently and want different things seems obvious really. But, we aren’t good at dealing with the tension it creates. We want the romantic love stage to last. Really, it's just like a start-up company that loves that all-in 24/7 rush of getting a cool idea out to the world!
But that isn't sustainable, and people are uniquely different. Stuff happens, and that person who you imagined was going to be a perfect fit into your life - isn't! Little things start to show up. Maybe it's not putting the tooth paste top back on, or it's never doing the dishes - the 'right way' - meaning my way. But of course, these are little things and you let them slide, but when those things don't even get talked about, the bigger things become even harder to talk about.
For example, money. You thought you were on the same page in terms of creating a long-term savings plan that would ensure you both could retire. But your spouse is not quite as conservative as you, and actually has a pretty high tolerance for investing in wild and crazy companies. But how do you talk about that?
Let’s go back to looking at this through a business lens. One of the biggest challenges in working with leaders is getting them to really appreciate and value meetings! Yes, meetings.
We get tons of kick back when we encourage business leaders to have MORE meetings! Truth is, meetings are really where business happens. It's game time and, frankly, the playing field for teams. The reason executives don't like meetings isn't because meetings are a problem. It's because they are settling for lousy, boring and ineffective meetings!
Meetings should be where debate, conflict and stuff gets surfaced and worked out. There should be meetings that have time and space for deep dives, and there should be meetings that are tactical and just cover day-to-day issues. In meetings, there needs to be space for differences and a willingness to get messy with each other and clean it up!
When teams don't spend the right amount of time together talking about what is most important - short term and long term - businesses fail.
Same with couples! Couples that don't block off time, and make sure they are talking about the hot topics in real-time suffer. Issues build up, and problems along with the distance between you two grows, making it even harder to talk about!
Yes, it's uncomfortable to talk about finances, sex, in-laws or annoying habits that eat away at good will. But not talking about them is even worse!
You get that in a business. Maybe you don't like meetings. And maybe you don't do those meetings particularly well. But you know you have to have meetings!
Couples need to as well.
A Couples Mini-Meeting
The best tool we know that seems to support connecting and developing trust and good will is what we call, the mini-meeting. The 5-5-5.
It can be used at the end of a day to catch up on what type of day you each had. It also can be used to talk about a potentially hot topic, like money or some area of dissatisfaction for the other in the relationship.
5-5-5 makes room for each person to be heard and has a boundary of fifteen minutes. Too often a major issue in communication has to do with one person never feeling heard, that they don’t have time to talk freely, and/or they are fearful that if the topic is opened up for discussion it will not come to an end!
Decide who talks first.
1.That person talks for 5 minutes. No interruptions and when 5 minutes is up, they stop talking (even if not complete!)
2.The other person then has 5 minutes to talk. No interruptions and stops right at 5 minutes
3.The final 5 minutes is for dialogue, clarifying questions or reflections on what was heard.
After that final 5, you stop. This is very important. Take a break even if things are still hot, or unresolved. Recognize, appreciate and agree that this was one step toward building better communication.
Too often couples want to rush to a solution. Yes, this happens on teams as well. When you rush to a solution though, you are often solving the wrong problem. Using a 5-5-5 provides some time, space and dialogue for each partner to get underneath why this is so important to them.
This can be done daily, or could be done ad -hoc if a hot topic comes up!
Take a few tips from business, and apply them at home. Your relationship is worth it!!
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are Master certified life coaches, business consultants, speakers and authors of The Beauty of Conflict. They believe real relationships are the key to creating great business results. They’ll take your team from mediocre to great.
Interested in coaching? Check out CrisMarie’s executive coaching and personal coaching, or Susan’s personal coaching and equus coaching.
Want to take a class? Sign up for one of their virtual classes: Get Unstuck, Relationship Mojo or come to their signature retreat Find Your Mojo in Montana. Click here to check out all their service offerings.
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