Let’s face it – life can be pretty darn hectic sometimes! Juggling all those commitments and trying to balance the roles and responsibilities you have can be quite challenging, and the one area of your life that can take the biggest hit is your relationship.
It can be so easy to take your partner for granted as you try to tackle all those work demands, return your friends’ phone calls, and meet those family obligations. If you let it, your relationship can begin to lose its sense of priority, especially if you and your partner have gotten into a comfortable groove in the way you relate and function as a couple. The obvious consequence to this is a weakening of connection, potential decreased intimacy, emotional distance, and resentment over unmet needs.
All relationships, no matter how good, require consistent feeding. You must constantly nurture them, attend to them, and ensure that they remain healthy and strong. This is especially so because relationships, and the individuals who comprise them, are always changing with the passage of time. To not grow with the changes can result in a breakdown with inevitable conflict and sometimes demise.
I’m a big advocate for doing periodic “check-ins” with your significant other to make sure the relationship is progressing in a mutually-satisfying direction. Gay men (actually men in general!) typically tend to favour problem-solving and action over communication.
This thereby creates the potential for huge rifts to occur in their relationships because of the lack of dialogue to ensure they and their partners are on “the same page” with things that matter most. This article will describe one strategy that can promote you and your partner’s focus on your relationship; this technique can help you avoid getting distracted by other forces in your life and remind you to communicate and tend to the needs of your relationship to keep feeding its successful growth.
The Relationship Pow-Wow
Pow-Wow is a Native-American term that means a gathering or an important meeting. If you and your partner don’t discuss the business and emotional aspects of your relationship on a regular basis, or if you find that your “couple time” is in competition with all the other life tasks and roles that must be fulfilled, then your relationship is likely in jeopardy without intervention. These things cannot be glossed over! The Relationship Pow-Wow might be just what the doctor ordered to get you guys back on track!
This technique is comparable to what therapists propose to families who need a more structured format for spending more quality time together, communicating about needs and feelings, and engaging in collaborative decision-making. That’s exactly what you’ll be doing with your partner; it’ll just be one-on-one!
It’s actually a very simple concept. Basically, the two of you will come up with a mutually-agreeable time to meet to discuss how things are going in your relationship. This will become a regular and predictable part of your relationship and is intended to be a safe place for the two of you to air your thoughts, feelings, and resolve differences. The length and frequency of the meetings is individualized per couple; if your relationship seems to be running along smoothly, perhaps once per month is sufficient. If you and your partner are going through some transitions, adjustments, or crises, you might want to increase the frequency to weekly or every few days. You will tailor your Pow-Pow to the unique needs of your relationship.
- Meet at the same place and at the same time. This will help develop a ritual for your relationship where it will decrease the chances you’ll forget about it. If need be, write it down in your scheduling book. Minimize distractions and really use this time to honor each other and what you’ve built together.
- Both you and your partner will have equal “floor time” to speak your mind. You will each be the “listener” and the “speaker”, making sure not to interrupt until the speaker is finished. Be respectful of each other’s expressed opinions and beliefs and make a rule to not use vulgarities or put each other down. Keep the complaining out! State your needs and feelings directly and assertively and ask for what you want.
- If the climate of your meeting becomes tense or has a flavour of being unproductive, call a “Time-Out” to defuse any potential for misdirected anger. The Pow-Wow will not work if it becomes a battle-ground. Make sure you schedule another time to complete the meeting if you need to postpone it to allow some time to regain composure.
- The meeting will require you to use good communication, conflict negotiation, and problem-solving skills. If you’re not well-versed in these, study up on active listening, “I” messages, brainstorming, or enlist the services of a coach or couples counsellor to help you fine-tune these critical skills.
- Keep a notebook handy at your meeting and journal or keep minutes of what was discussed. You can always refer to this at the beginning of each meeting to track your progress on stated goals and also helps with accountability and remembering what was discussed.
- Strive toward win/win solutions. As two men socialized for competitiveness in the same relationship, keep the wrestling matches out! Remember that you’re on the same team, you don’t always have to agree on everything, and negotiate for the benefit of the relationship itself, not one particular individual.
Running A Pow-Wow
Step 1: One partner will begin the meeting by sharing his perception of how the week went as it pertains to the partnership. What went well in the relationship? What didn’t go so well? What needs were met and unmet?
Step 2: The other partner will repeat back what he heard his partner say, empathizing with and validating the message. He will then share his perceptions and the other partner will then mirror back.
Step 3: Together, celebrate any victories that occurred and then transition into defining any problems that exist, brainstorming potential solutions for consideration.
Step 4: Develop an action plan for the specified goal. Outline specifically what each partner will do toward resolution of the target problem. Make sure to assess movement toward the goal at the beginning of the next Pow-Wow.
Step 5: Share your appreciations for each other before you adjourn and then go do something fun that will further cement your bond as a couple.
So what if you don’t have anything to talk about at your meeting? While that is very rare, still go through the above steps. It’s ok to have a short session and expect that all meetings will not be the same duration. Also, not every get-together will require problem-solving or action-planning. Here are a few additional creative ideas for getting the most out of your time together when you don’t have any “burning issues” to discuss:
- Discuss your visions for your future as a couple and as individuals.
- Plan for fun. Talk about any vacations or recreational outings you’d like to pursue in the near or long-range future.
- Each of you grab a deck of index cards and write some sentence completion stems on them. Read them aloud to each other and answer them. For example, “One thing I really appreciate about you is _____”; “Something I need for you to understand about me is _____”; ” If there was one thing I’d lik