As a couples therapist, one of the first things I do is help a couple establish shared goals for our work together. This is important because it helps keep us on track and gives us talking points for exploring our work down the road. Developing shared relationship goals is not only important for counseling. It can be a useful exercise for all couples that want to deepen their relationship.
What do I mean by shared goals?
In couples counseling, we often start with general shared goal like better communication or increased intimacy. But its important for each person to develop individual goals that can create achievable and specific action items to work on.
For example, in a couple that wants better communication, an individual goal might look like opening up more to your partner or listening better when your partner talks. Your individual goals should be just that, for you individually to work on. If your individual goals are things you want your partner to change, that can lead to conflict and disappointment. At the end of the day, you only have control over yourself and your actions.
Common relationship goals for gay couples
While the goals listed below are important for all couples, the insights I share below are specifically important for gay couples.
Talk more openly about money
Money is a tough topic to talk about openly. In many hetero relationships there are well tread gender norms that offer a jumping off point for couples to begin talking about finances. In male-male and female-female relationships we have the freedom to create relationships that work for us. However, often couples will avoid talking about tough topics for fear of conflict or difference. There are a ton of different models for the ways in which couples can handle their finances. I’m not a financial expert, but as a couples therapist I have learned that there are often deeper emotional blocks that prevent couples from talking about money more openly.
Talk more openly about sex
Sex is another hot button topic for many couples. Do we want an open relationship? Do we want monogamy? How can we talk more openly about our sexual fantasies in a way that our partner can hear and understand? These are all important questions to think about. There is no one right way to have a relationship. It’s important to be able to identify and talk about differences, otherwise you’ll end up resentful, angry or bitter. When we learn more about what our partner’s likes and dislikes, we learn more about them and our intimacy and connection increases. As LGBTQ people, we know how to hide parts of ourselves and it can be an easy pattern to fall back into.
Learn how to navigate conflict better
Like many other parts of our personalities, our views on conflict usually start taking shape early in our lives. How was conflict talked about in your family growing up? Was it talked about at all or swept under the rug? For LGBTQ couples, we’ve learned how to hide, but we’ve also learned how to disappear. When we lose ourselves, conflict becomes tough because we don’t know what we want.
Create space for individual development
Lots of couples come for counseling because they’re having trouble being themselves inside of a relationship. What do I mean by that? Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you can’t have time and space for self-development. We can get so locked into the “couple mind” that we forget about ourselves and ultimately that can lead to conflict. Again, as a minority group, we’ve learned as LGBTQ people that our differences are complicated. This can show up in a big way in our relationships.
Plan for the future
Planning for the future is a crucial part of creating the life you want for yourself. As a couple, what are your dreams of the future? As LGBTQ couples, we have to think more purposefully about planning for kids, retirement, family and career. We don’t have to have a life that looks like our hetero friends, but we can if we want to. This freedom can be empowering or overwhelming, and it’s important to talk and identify what you want for yourself.
How do we start talking about relationship goals?
On your next date night talk about one of the topics listed above, or here is a list of questions to ask your partner. If you don’t have regular date nights, start having them. It’s crucial that you put energy and time into your relationship. Anyway, I get distracted…
On your next date night, ask your partner what they think about your sex life together. Ask them if there are things they’d like to explore. And then listen. Really listen. See if you can learn something new. Then switch roles and share something vulnerable and intimate about yourself.
If what I’ve just suggested sounds too scary or intimidating, find a couples therapist who specializes in working with our community. Your relationship is important and you don’t have to be in crisis to start making it stronger.