In long-term relationships, it’s easy to take for granted our partner’s uniqueness. Since we love each other, we assume that we like the same things. In many ways, we do! We start thinking alike, using each other’s words, and sometimes tell each other’s stories as if they were our own.
Humans possess the capacity to connect intimately with each other thanks to our body’s mirror neurons that help us pick up on social cues, imitate behavior, and become self-aware. 
As we observe our partners, we form an internal database of their likes & dislikes, emotional responses, habits & triggers, and much more. Based on this information we make assumptions about their desires.
Assumptions also influence our own decisions. For example:
“We both like Sally, so my partner won’t mind having her over for dinner tonight.”
“I can’t stand waiting on hold, I’m sure my partner won’t mind making that phone call.”
“We had great sex on our last date, so they’ll be up for it again.”
Sometimes these assumptions are spot on, but what happens when they are not? Have we projected our desires onto our partner’s wishes? Have we discussed the topic or situation as a couple?
This is when we need more than assumptions; we need a shared decision-making strategy. A way to make informed decisions that respect everyone involved. One effective approach is to build a relationship culture.
A culture includes behaviors, speech, ideas, decisions and much more that a group agrees to “normalize” and live by. Cultures exist everywhere (work, neighborhood, school, etc.) and couples have their own too. This blog aims to help you identify and organize it to honor your dreams, roles, and goals.
We all have dreams – aspirations to be a celebrity, a talented entertainer, a professional athlete, a world-class chef, or a business mogul. We seek to be admired, recognized, and to be fulfilled.
Some wish to have a large family with “X” number of kids, a house with many acres outside of town, or to travel the world. Whatever the dream, it means something to us.
Many personal hopes are found in our dreams such as being playful & spontaneous, a desire for recognition, and being genuine & authentic. Our relationships become a place where we look to meet many of these desires.
Speaking Partner’s Role
Having this conversation with our partner is important. The speaker needs to be in-tune with their dreams prior to expressing them. This will require time meditating or journaling, for others going for a walk, and for some talking to a trusted person. Whatever you choose, owning your dreams will greatly benefit your relationship culture.
Listening Partner’s Role
The listener needs to avoid being overly critical or trying to influence their partner’s dreams. Listeners are not called into being project managers but rather to act as supportive biographers who draw out the best from their partner. This also creates an opportunity for a future quality role reversal.
Building Culture: Dream Questions
After listening to each other, it’s important to make the difference between our personal and our mutual dreams. We can support each other in our individual dreams and work together or co-lead our joint dreams.
Here are sample questions you can ask each other to further develop your personal and joint dreams:
What things are you missing in your life?
How do you see your work or career changing in the future?
What kind of person do you want our children to become?
Where did you hope to be in this stage of your life as a child or teenager?
How do you think we could have more fun in our life?
These types of questions can also be applied to finances, sex & romance, in-laws, animal care, etc.
As relationships form, we often neglect discussing our roles in them. Our assumed roles can lead to unspoken expectations learned from influential figures in our lives. No wonder we end up having similar issues as those we looked up to!
A relationship with shared decision-making requires that each role be discussed and be agreed upon. Here are some questions to consider as you build your relationship culture:
How do you feel about your role as a worker? How does it define you? How do you feel about yourself when you make more or less money than me?
How do you feel about your role as a partner? Does it make a difference that we’re not married? What does a committed relationship mean to you?
How do you feel about your role as a spouse? How does it influence the way you carry yourself? What does it mean to be married?
How do you feel about being a homeowner? What’s it like taking care of our home responsibilities? What has surprised you about being a homeowner?
Expand this discussion to include other roles like being a parent, sibling, neighbor, caretaker, and much more. Get in the habit of finding out what your partner believes about the many roles we assume. It can bring much to the table!
Talking to your partner about personal and joint goals requires work. Many shy away from “structure” but at some point, we all need a guide to our desired destination. Using SMART goals  can be of great help.
Setting and discussing personal and shared goals is essential for progress. Even if you prefer a less structured approach, some guidance is necessary for reaching your desired destination. Questions to spark goal conversations:
Questions to spark goal conversations:
What do you envision for your life in 3-5 years?
What goals do you want to accomplish just for yourself?
What unfulfilled aspects of our relationship would you like to address?
What adventures do you want to experience?
Also explore goals in areas such as health, family (extended, in-laws), community involvement, celebrating holidays, and more.
Honest conversations are key to building a strong relationship culture where individuals can thrive alongside their partners. In these conversations, create an environment where you can dream, explore, be curious, and stand up for yourselves and each other.
About The Author
Nathanael Carela (he/him) is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with expertise in working with individuals, couples, and families from diverse backgrounds. At Dialogo Therapy, he focuses on anxiety conditions, Spanish speakers, and couples seeking reconnection. Nate is also a husband, father, dog owner, sports enthusiast, and lover of Caribbean cuisine.
Acharya, S., & Shukla, S. (2012). Mirror neurons: Enigma of the metaphysical modular brain. Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine, 3(2), 118–124. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510904/
SMART Goals: https://www.mindtools.com/a4wo118/smart-goals
Photos by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/cheerful-multiethnic-couple-resting-on-sofa-and-looking-through-window-at-home-3972740/
and Markus Winkler: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-shot-of-a-typewriter-4160088/