What makes a marriage feel like a dance? Part 3

One reason I see marriages going stale (or blowing up) is that partners get caught up in the shopping mentality. I don’t mean too many mall trips. I’m talking about the idea that you find The One, bring him or her home, and the relationship just keeps running for decades, like a Volvo. Choosing a partner is just the beginning. I want to say it’s like getting your hands on a well-designed junker and then tinkering with it in the driveway for a couple of decades until it’s humming, but maybe that’s a discouraging way to describe marriage as a creative process, which is great news.

Let’s go back to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s ideas about flow. (Find my two previous posts on this topic here and here.)  Two more elements of flow, says Dr. C.: Clear Goals and Feedback; and Concentration on the Task at Hand. If you usually think of flow as being on autopilot, or as just letting things happen, neither of those elements sounds very “flowing,” does it? Instead they are both about getting clear on what you’re aiming for and focusing hard to get there.

That kind of goal-centered awareness keeps a marriage moving forward. Some marriage experts recommend partners create a mission statement. Asking yourself and each other, “What kind of life do we want to build?” is helpful, but I also like a more dynamic approach that lets us learn from bumps and breakdowns.  So more often I ask people to take a step back and incorporate into regular conversation what makes them special as a couple. Do a weekly check-in on one or two of these questions:  When do you enjoy yourselves most? When do you enjoy each other? What really matters to you?  What do you hope to gain from tough times? What aspect of your relationship are you working on right now? How can you do it more effectively?


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