The other night I finished binge watching House of Cards. I’m strangely drawn to the dynamic between the two main characters Claire and Frank Underwood because they always manage to stay on path toward a common goal (all the deceit, dysfunction, and murderous tendencies notwithstanding).
I like to think that in my own marriage we do the same, but truthfully, that’s been much more difficult lately.
First, let me say, I feel incredibly grateful to have found a partner in Mike. Ours was a love born in complete chaos. We endured a long-distance relationship, military deployment, deaths of close friends, and two cross-country moves, all within the first couple of years being together.
I knew I had found the right person because he was someone I wanted to be with even in the worst situations.
Recently our biggest change has been both of us transitioning into new careers working for ourselves.
It’s been incredible to be able to share the collective ups and downs of entrepreneurship with Mike, but it can be so hard staying in sync and supporting each other when we’re both learning and growing so much at the same time.
It’s definitely put our communication skills to the test, and it’s made me realize how crucial it is to have a strong foundation in your relationship, particularly during the less than graceful bumps in the road you encounter during life transitions.
So how can you create and sustain a supportive relationship, one that stands up even in the face of all the big changes that life brings?
Here are 3 communication rules I try to live by:
1. Outline a Shared Vision
At the start of any big endeavor, like launching a business or changing careers, you put down what you want to see in the long term in as much detail as possible so that your smaller goals and tasks are in alignment with a bigger direction. The same should go for a serious partnership.
Mike and I talk a lot about our goals and the big picture we have for our life together. It’s not like we’re Claire and Frank plotting our power plays every night; it’s actually a remnant from those long-distance days where in lieu of real face time in the present, we’d spend four-hour phone calls imagining how great the future would be together.
But, as it happened, this habit to regularly check in about our future has served us incredibly well because it keeps us on the same page.
Being clear about what you see for your lives helps prevent miscommunication because you don’t make unilateral decisions that aren’t in line with your shared vision.
2. Act Like You’re on the Same Team
The first rule is huge because it establishes a foundation so both people can feel secure in knowing where things are headed.
When two people don’t communicate that stuff upfront, and one of them decides to pursue their goals, sometimes it’s hard for the other to be supportive because it feels like their partner is going somewhere without them.
If you operate on the same team principle, then there isn’t any perceived threat.
Mike and I can support each other without question in all of our individual pursuits because we not only talk about it ahead of time and know where things stand, we also get that when one of us succeeds, we both do.
What this looks like? Showing up for the other person’s events, being excited when they’re excited (even if you don’t really find commercial real estate as fascinating as they do), and only talking them up when you’re around other people.
3. Course Correct as Needed
All of the aforementioned is great, but what happens when you realize you aren’t talking about where you’re headed, everyone’s doing their own thing, and you’re frustrated with each other more than you’re feeling the love?
Well, take a breath, and maybe take a short break (from thinking and talking about it at least). If things are really feeling off course, find a good time when you’re both relatively rested and feeling calm, bite the bullet and ask the other person to talk.
Relationships ebb and flow, and conflict is inevitable, but it’s super important to address it and take responsibility for your part in creating it.
I’ve found it’s much easier to have these conversations when you make the discussion “how can we get back on track to the shared outcome we both want?” rather than “let me tell you all the ways you aren’t living up to your end of the deal here”.
Bottom line, this stuff isn’t easy, but the more you operate from these concepts, the more grounded you’ll feel in what you have together. And having a strong base is what makes it possible to grow, change, and take big scary risks in our lives.
I can say firsthand, someone by your side who not only supports your crazy notions, but also makes you laugh when you totally fall on your face is completely worth the effort.