Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jeff Lutes is a psychotherapist who lives with his husband and their three adopted children in Austin, Texas. He is the principal consultant for ContemporaryCouples.com, where he teaches online dating and relationship workshops to the LGBTQ community.
Imagine for a moment that you have a life-changing dream. In this dream, you and your partner are the protagonists in a remake of Charles Dickens' timeless novella, A Christmas Carol.
But this version has a twist. Instead of grumpy old codgers in musty pajamas, you and your partner are dressed in classic nightshirts from the Gap, briefs from Abercrombie & Finch, and slippers from Old Navy. You both have six-pack abs.
As your head hits the pillow, you're feeling a bit "Bah! Humbug!" about the relationship. It's lost the spark it once had, and you just seem to be going through the motions without much zing or zeal. Then something spectacular happens while you slumber. The ghosts of your partner's past and future pay you a visit.
First, you are whisked away to your partner's past and spend a day with the six-year-old child they used to be. You can see your partner with the family sitting around the kitchen table. You hear the conversations and are a first-hand witness to the family dynamics. You see what makes her cry; you see what makes him laugh. You see when that little child felt secure and loved, and you also see the times that child was alone, hurting, and afraid.
For a brief moment you are back to the present, tucked safely under the covers. Yet in the blink of an eye, the ghost of the future takes you away on a new adventure.
Suddenly you have a birds-eye view of your partner's dreams for the future. Magically, you can see them as the person they've always wanted to become. They are accomplishing their goals and fulfilling their life's ambitions with enthusiasm because they are doing all the things that give them meaning and purpose. What do you see?
Finally, you wake up and think "Dang, wait till my psychoanalyst hears about this!"
You probably won't have this dream. But you can take some active steps to rejuvenate your relationship in the New Year. So build a fire, pour some eggnog, and curl up with your partner on the couch. With a copy of this article in your lap, take turns asking each other some of the following questions. Ask 3 - 5 questions from each list. Interrupt only if absolutely necessary, and feel free to ask any questions of your own that might help your partner share the depth of their story.
Within every story is a dream, a wish, or a passion that contains a thread of identity. Weaved together these tales become a rich tapestry that sheds light on who we are today and who we someday hope to be. So tell a story, listen to one another, and commit yourself to forgiveness, compassion, and new possibilities in 2011.
Stories about the Past:
- What event from your childhood stands out the most? Why?
- When you think back to when we first met and started dating, what do you remember? What were some of the highlights for you?
- When you were a kid, which adult in your life influenced you the most? How?
- What are you the most proud of in your life so far?
- Looking back over our relationship, what is your fondest memory? What times stand out as the really hard times?
- Tell me about your parents' marriage. What was it like?
- Tell me a story about you and your best friend in childhood.
- What was the most embarrassing moment in your life so far? What happened?
- What messages did you get about gay people and same-sex relationships growing up?
- Tell me your "coming out" story again.
Stories about the Future:
- What are your biggest aspirations and dreams? How can I support you in making those a reality?
- What personal improvements would you like to make in the new year? How can I help you?
- What is your life mission? Do you see yourself as having a purpose? If so, what is it?
- What are your hopes for our children?
- What would you like the two of us to accomplish as a couple?
- What are your financial goals?
- What are your spiritual goals?
- What areas of our relationship would you like us to work on? What would our relationship look like if we improved those things?
- How do you want people to remember you? What do you want your legacy to be?
- When we're both 80 years old, what kinds of conversations would you like us to be having?