My dearheart and I celebrate one of our anniversaries by checking in with each other about our relationship. We treat it as an annual negotiation to assure ourselves we're still heading in the right direction.
The most important question we answer during our discussion is whether it still makes sense for us to be together. Thus far? The answer has been yes every time.
Loving relationships are an active choice, where every day you must decide whether to work together or kill the bonds between each other. I do not believe in trapping people in marriages/relationships that no longer serve them.
It's also important to sporadically check in with partners to clarify long-term and mid-term goals. For instance, we've used our annual negotiations to discuss home buying in the past.
Finally it's useful to work out minutiae with partners on the short-term. Having a monthly or every-other-month check-in complements well with annual negotiations.
For now, let's focus on the mid to long-term check-ins. Here's how my dearheart and I hold our discussions.
Why Hold Regular Relationship Talks?
As ever, we start with a question: why bother with relationship talks? Why schedule them?
To answer the first question, relationship talks are part of the much vaunted "communication is key" that everyone talks about. You can do it spontaneously, you can do it periodically, or even – in the degenerative case – you can let it happen as an outburst after bottling in your feelings for too long. No matter what, you need communication to take place.
Answering the second question, scheduled talks are great for processing. They prevent too much time from passing without reflection. In between talks you can write down inspired discussion points and ponder asynchronously. When it's time for the talk, you know it's coming and you can allot your time and attention to it.
You can still talk about stuff when they come up too! You need not always wait for a scheduled talk.
Overview of How to Talk About Your Relationship
Multiamory has a great overview of how to approach periodic talks using the mnemonic R.A.D.A.R. which you can find here. There's also an infographic:
In brief, the steps are: Review, Agree the Agenda, Discuss, Action Points, and Reconnect. This is a straightforward framework that gets solid use in my household, and I won't repeat too much about it.
We begin our negotiations by reviewing the past year's events and goals. Then we discuss our agenda points, which is where the bulk of the time resides. We wrap up our talks by reiterating the action points we've come up with, then we bond using shared memories and our love language – touch, for both of us.
The topics for discussion are often the ways we're drifting. Things like lifestyle inflation, not enough support in our relationship, and the stressors that are muting our normally vibrant spirits.
In addition to the topics that need correction, it's good to discuss what has been steadily going along well. It's easy to take for granted healthy parts of relationships!
Healthy things like success with showing affections, good work with household chores, exceptionally open conversations we've held, and so on.
Topics to Discuss with a Romantic Partner
Multiamory's R.A.D.A.R. infographic has several starting topics worth discussing regularly. They're great to discuss even if there's not much that happened in the past time period. These topics include:
Quality time together, sex, health, metamour dynamics, fights & arguments, money, work & projects, travel, family life, and the household.
I characterise these topics as staples for short-term discussions.
However, anniversary negotiations are so infrequent that they're better suited to big-picture topics.
Topics like work & education, big projects & hobbies, where you want to live, themes for the coming year, family, health, time together & apart, vacations, and so on.
Anniversary negotiations for us are really about asking "Who do you want to be?" and "What experiences do you want in the coming year?"
Then discussion turns to the ways of fulfilling those goals.
Example Discussion With My Partner
This year my dearheart and I held a short negotiation. The pandemic has taken a massive toll on our mental health, which reduces the energy we have to spare for strategy and relationship work.
We still covered several important topics, however:
The largest and most important point was discussing my dearheart starting community college. Perhaps this will be a new, profitable career path. Or perhaps it will simply be a much-needed exercise for his mind.
We laid out the minutiae of steps necessary to get it done, and set expectations about what he would accomplish. It's a multi-year endeavour after all! I'm also steeped in higher education, so there was a transfer of knowledge going on for my dearheart to learn about the education process.
Second was aligning our sights on the (roughly) five-year plan of moving to Washington state. We've settled on our goal of achieving financial independence and then moving to Washington to build our eventual estate.
Third we discussed some of the big projects I want to accomplish in the coming year: writing a novel, and progressing with university. We negotiated the amount of support I can get from him to achieve those goals.
Another topic was how infrequently we've been communicating. As stated earlier, the pandemic has taken a massive toll on our relationship.
Good communication takes patience, effort, and continual questioning. It's not enough to simply throw up your hands and say "I have no thoughts" during anniversary negotiations. Instead you must recognise that you're stuck, and then exercise your creative thinking to find thoughts that are buried in your psyche.
I like to ask questions to prompt chains of thought, both of myself and of my dearheart. It can be open-ended like "How has our sex/play time been lately?" or more narrow focus like "Am I doing anything that annoys you day-to-day?"
Yet another topic I had was my partner's health. I want him to last a lifetime, and in this past year he's slacked off on exercise and dieting. This anniversary is a good time to recognise that drift and act to correct that downward course.
Anniversary negotiations are a great time to choose themes for the coming season, too. Themes can be anything you want to focus on, for instance "reading more" or "practising my art" or "developing better communication tools."
In my case, my theme for the coming season is "necessary sacrifices" as I double up on work and university, at the expense of my social life and free time. I'm going to do whatever is necessary to succeed.
Finally, we reflected on the past year. My dearheart and I saw some measure of success with our household: we completed a moderate sized home improvement project, and got our first roommate:
We've also suffered several setbacks. We've faced several drawn out crises, worked through expensive medical bills from tense hospital stays, and dealt with several thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Despite all those setbacks, we still made significant progress on our FI goal! We're getting within years of achieving it, and we may even race our dad to retirement.
As we mark yet another year in the passage of our entwined lives, I find myself pleased that my dearheart and I have continued our relationship. This year has been rough for nearly everyone, and I can't wait to see what the next year brings in its stead.
Despite how personal anniversary negotiations are, they're an aspect of running my life like a business. If you're interested in reading about other ways I endeavour to use business tools in my life, I shall call to your attention this article: