At this point in time, we have a few (but not too many) healthy role models for romantic relationships. Whether we are monogamous or open, legally married or not, we can take the qualities we admire in other people’s relationships and – with a partner – create our own unique kind of relationship. This is what I call “Designing your relationship”.

Designing a relationship is a bit like designing a house. Wouldn’t you and your partner decide what are the most important elements/features that you want in your house? I encourage you to look at your relationship in the same way. In that vein, here are some questions for you and a partner (or potential partner) to consider:

1.     What is important to you in a relationship? (make a list and have your partner do the same)

2.     What are your priorities? On your list, number the items from “1” (most important) and work your way through the list.

3.     Compare your two lists: Where do they overlap? Where do they differ?

Your responses can begin a conversation to help you design the kind of relationship that works for both of you. I use this exercise in my work with couples – but it’s not always easy. If the lists jibe quite nicely, it’s great. But, what do you do when they don’t?

You talk about it.

Let’s look at a couple I worked with: Morgan and Eddie. When their relationship got “serious”, they came to me for pre-marital counseling. They made their lists, but the lists didn’t overlap as much as they’d hoped. They had assumed (after dating for almost two years) that they knew what each other wanted. They did know a lot about each other, but not as much as they thought.

Morgan’s list:

1.     Security

2.     Ease of adopting or having children

3.     Legal/financial rights

4.     Someone to grow old with

5.     Someone to be very comfortable sexually with

6.     Monogamy = no risk of STDs or HIV

7.     My parents will finally get off my back once I’m married

Eddie’s list:

1.     To be with you forever

2.     Our relationship will be the “rock” in my life

3.     Possibility of children

4.     Someone who will be my #1 and always have my back

5.     Someone to buy a house with

6.     Someone to explore an open-relationship with

7.     Financial benefits and someone to plan/save for an early retirement with

Morgan definitely wants children; Eddie is open to it. Morgan is keen on monogamy, Eddie isn’t so sure. Each of them wants to be together “forever”, but their attitudes towards money, family and their sexual “ideals” are different. Making the lists helped them start talking about what they wanted from their relationship. You and your partner can do the same. Take your lists and consider these questions

1.     Which of your priorities are non-negotiable?

2.     Which of your priorities are optional?

3.     Write these down or talk about them with your partner.

I urge the couples I work with to be aware that your relationship priorities are likely to change over time. What we see as “crucial” today may be optional next year. Knowing this can save you from becoming too attached to having it “your” way. I’ve seen these kinds of “discussions” become power struggles.

They don’t have to be.

As you and your partner get to know each other better – over time – you can help each other change. Often, in the happiest couples, each person takes on some desired characteristics of their partner. Being in a relationship is a bit like polishing gemstones: the rough (unpolished) stones are put in a contraption that tumbles them against each other. In the process of tumbling, the gems rub each other’s rough edges off.

A good relationship is like that: the longer we “tumble” together, the more we can help each other lose our rough (primitive) habits and behaviors. As we rub up against each other, each of us becomes shinier, more brilliant and happier.

So, if you’re beginning a relationship with some wonderful person, don’t just hope for the best and see what happens. Together, you can both take control of the process and consciously design your relationship.

Note: the above exercises are taken from my book, “The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage”. If you want to know more, here’s the Amazon link: