As a Houston marriage counselor, I frequently hear couples say things like: “It feels like my partner and I want different things out of our relationship.”

It’s true that we enter relationships with preconceptions. Our desires and experiences form these ideas even before the first “Hello.”

Couples feel the shock of that unpleasant surprise when relationship assumptions don’t line up. This mismatch often forms the root of relationship problems.

However, these differences don’t have to spell the end of your love.

In therapy, we can work on a shared relationship vision. Just like you design a house with a mixture of care and logic, you can build relationship goals together.

How to Create a Mutual Relationship Vision

First, acknowledge each other’s uniqueness. Before you begin this exercise, keep in mind that your relationship doesn’t need to resemble those of your parents or friends. There’s no need to stick to convention.

Simply think about what you want. Be honest.

Write down your visions separately. Each of you take one sheet of paper and some private time.

Make a list of what you want from your relationship. This can be aspirational and include things you already like. It’s strongly recommended that you incorporate all of your re-romanticizing tools — gifts, appreciation, and surprises.

Write your desires in affirmative language, and be sure to use first person plural and present tense — just like every major corporation and most small companies do when creating visions for their organizations. For example, instead of “We don’t nag,” say “We hold each accountable with grace.”

Share your visions with respect. Trade lists with your partner. Circle the similar items.

Consider your partner’s ideas that you didn’t write down. For those you appreciate, add them to your own list.

Mark unshared items with a checkmark. You can work on these later.

Prioritize. On your own paper, rank the importance of each : 5 = “not very important,” 1 = “very important.” Circle the two most important ones for you. Share these with your partner.

Combine. High-priority, shared desires can go first on the list. These will easily form part of your vision.

Compromise. For wishes that differ, consider how you can re-write your statements to reach a middle ground. Perhaps “We cook healthy food at home together” and “We treat ourselves with lavish meals out” can become “We share food together in an adventurous way.”

If you can’t find a compromise, these aspects cannot become part of the vision.

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Decide on a mutual vision. On a new sheet of paper, write down the final version of your mutual relationship vision. This will consist of agreed-upon high-priority wishes.

Now that you have your vision, create a visual representation in your home: an intentional piece of art, a “vision board”, a cross-stitch pillow on the couch… Get creative.

Many successful couples review their vision on a regular basis. We recommend at least once a year, but you can do it as often as you like.

You’ll want to find your own way to create regular reminders. This could mean posting it above the kitchen sink or bathroom mirror. Some partners use as their “mission statement” to kick off therapy work sessions. In young couples, I have even seen this expressed in sweet, daily texts.

However you go about it, you have this bedrock now. It will help you override low-energy tides and moments of struggle. You’ll remember that you both agreed to this shared happiness project in the long-run.

Remember: if this process sounds daunting or relationship problems persist, the Houston marriage counselor is here to help.

Originally Published 6/18/2013. Updated 5/11/2021.