Relationships by Design

The Truth About Relationships

Relationships are hard work. Without the stress of school, summer is a time of fun, a great time to focus on improving relationships.

Things can get really complicated with the people closest to us, can't they? All too often we have the hardest time communicating with the people we care about the most – our partners, kids and parents.

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What Are "Relationships By Design?"

In coaching we use a cool tool called a “designed alliance” to help two people talk about how best to work with or communicate with each other. It is very helpful at the beginning of a relationship or partnership, but can be done at any time.

Relationship designs happen naturally, but often unconsciously. When a teacher establishes class rules with her class, she is designing their alliance. When a new boss sets expectations with her team, she is also designing their alliance.

In our personal relationships, the best-known relationship design is wedding vows. There, we speak openly about how we agree to treat each other. We commit publicly to be there for each other through thick and through thin.

But what happens when the honeymoon is over, or the new boss gets broken in, or after the school year starts? We tend to forget about the agreements we have made, except perhaps in arguments (“What ever happened to ‘until death do us part!?'”).

Here's what's cool about a designed alliance: it's an ongoing process that can be revisited. It's never too late to (re-) design a relationship. You can do it with peers, parents, and even (especially) kids.

How? Well, as with anything, first you have to decide that you want to be more conscious about your relationship with someone. Now, this doesn't have to be too heavy or serious – just intentional.

Here's an example of some discussion questions you can start with..

  • You Can Count on Me for (or count on me to)…
  • What I Need from You is…

It seems pretty simple, but there is a lot of power in speaking out loud what we want, and what we'll commit to provide. It's amazing -- this language really helps sort through disagreements.

Putting It To Good Use

Here's how I used it recently. Not long ago, my husband and I got into an argument at an airport. The check-in machine wasn't working properly, and we all know how little it takes to trigger anxiety at an airport! It wasn't pretty. We made it through the check in process and got our boarding passes. But we were fuming – both of us!

We sat down to have what we call “a design moment.” We both wanted to diffuse the situation before we went through security. Truthfully, we didn't even want to look at each other, but we used the two “magic” statements.

I said:

  • he could count on me not to judge him,
  • I needed him to tell me when something was bothering him (even if he didn't know what it was), especially if he needed me not to talk to him in order to calm down.

He said:

  • I could count on him to make an effort to keep calm, and
  • he needed me to give him room when he asked for it.

Both of us could agree to those requests, and felt that the other was trying to be respectful.

Voila! We were back on the same team.

Simple, But Not Easy

Now, don't get me wrong. There were plenty of tears involved, and it took more than a minute. But the 10 minutes we spent talking saved us hours of senseless bickering that surely would have followed. It was well worth the attention it took, and the time we spent.

So think about it. Where could you use an intentional design to reconnect in your relationships this summer? Are you ready to make it happen? Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!

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