Ever since the Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson 2007 movie, “The Bucket List”, there seems to have been an increased awareness of the importance of life’s major “to-do” list. This movie depicts the last months of two terminally ill men who flee from a cancer ward and do those things they always wanted to do before they “kick the bucket”. People refer to accomplishing, obtaining, experiencing, and seeing things that are important to them as their “bucket list” during this one short life we are blessed with. I love bucket lists. I love them because it forces people to really think about what is important to them, provides them a sense of purpose, and helps them to determine who they are. When I work with couples in therapy, one of the aspects of their lives we eventually get to talk about it is their life dreams and goals. I love being a part of their conversation when they learn something new about each other. Often times, this revolves around places they want to travel to or experiences they want to have. A trip to Ireland and a hot air balloon ride come to mind for two different couples I work with. Regularly scheduled date nights incorporate trips to Barnes and Noble to obtain travel guides to help them plan their adventures. Even though the trip to Ireland is about 5 years away to celebrate a milestone anniversary, I still encourage them to start planning now. I do this for a couple of reasons. The first is that research suggests the planning of a long awaited vacation produces as much happiness as taking the actual vacation. That is a very inexpensive anti-depressant! Second, when a couple plans a ritual of celebration or event that is important to them, they are creating a sense of shared meaning and purpose for their relationship. John Gottman’s research on relationship success has determined that this shared meaning is something that the most happy and successful couples actively work on.
When a couple discusses their bucket lists with one another, they are learning about each other’s dreams and working on the shared meaning part of their relationship simultaneously. This is like giving the relationship a gigantic dose of steroid. Couples assume that if they have been together for awhile, they know everything about each other. I find that this is just not true. When I ask couples to talk about their life dreams and goals with one another, they are both surprised with what they hear and always leave the session with new information. These are those warm and fuzzy conversations that a therapist lives for; when people talk from their heart and speak about what they want with child-like joy and a dreamy look in their eye. If I have done my job right and the other partner is hearing these new things, they are welcoming them (even if some of them are terrifying to hear). For example, one of my clients shared with his wife that he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. She was afraid of heights. The thought of even going on a small mountain chair lift terrified her. From previous conversations, she learned that if she invalidated his wishes and dismissed them because of HER fears, it wouldn’t be good for their relationship. So when he revealed to her one of the top things on his bucket list, she listened. She listened to his dream and was able to verbally support it. She would help him do the research necessary to obtain his goal and she would travel with him, but would stay back in a resort and encourage him in his climb while he went with a climbing group. While they would not climb Mt Everest together, he still viewed this as a team event because of her support. When partner’s honor each other’s dreams AND help one another achieve those dreams, they help solidify their relationship stability and happiness.
I discovered during a late night talk with my husband that he wanted to go bob-sledding. He wanted to cross that off his list. Now, I consider myself a fairly athletic person and I love going fast – but that is in cars, on snow skis and in boats – NOT in a claustrophobic tube “sled” on ice, going 90+ MPH, with someone else driving. We ended up at Olympic Park in Park City, Utah during a family ski trip and took a “tour” of the facilities. This is where the US Olympic Team trains for the Winter Events. Joe was set to go on this bob-sled with a friend who was traveling with us. As they suited up for the ride, I began to consider going with him. I knew I would score major bonus points in the “tough wife” category by doing so. I also remembered that guys think it’s cool when you “do” stuff with them, not just “talk” all the time. You can imagine that him being married to a therapist, I have a lot of “doing” to do to help even things out. So I went. Yep, I went with him and I hated every minute (or, I should say, second) of that darn ride. It was confining, jerky, and I think I got some whiplash. When the ride ended and we took off our helmets, my hubby hugged me and thanked me for being there with him. That was worth it. He appreciated me being with him as he crossed that off his list. It meant a lot to him. It was a bonus that I actually got in the bob-sled with him. My support would have been enough. We added more depth to our relationship during that day. We created a remarkable memory together and I was there when he accomplished something he had been thinking about doing since childhood. Now THAT is warm and fuzzy, even in sub-zero temps.
I encourage you think about your life, create a bucket list and share it with your partner. Then start making an action plan to make it happen. Take those things that are obtainable in the short term and get to it. For those items that are going to take some major planning and expense, start dreaming, planning, and saving. The act of doing it together will be just as rewarding for your relationship as the day the “event” occurs. When you work as a team, you are solidifying your friendship, which is the foundation of a great relationship. Not only that, when you attend to the conversation and interests of your partner, you are putting money in the emotional bank account of your relationship – which, as Gottman as shown through his research, is another component of a happy and stable relationship. Who knew the simplicity of sharing with each other and creating a bucket list together could be rewarding in so many ways for a couple? Now get off your butt and start living with purpose, together.