In my organizational work, I talk a lot about culture as, “What people say and how they behave when the boss isn’t around.” It’s the norms of how a group behaves in the absence (or even in the presence) of articulated rules.
I started thinking about culture in dating and how until a couple develops its own culture, there can be a lot of misunderstandings. This happens because each person is operating under his or her own set of cultural norms without even realizing it.
But once a couple’s culture starts to form, they have their own little microcosm of unspoken rules and ways of being. And that is what makes things work.
So how can people build that foundation?
I think it is largely by setting spoken, explicit standards and by paying close attention to what feeds and detracts from the relationship. Those are strong cultural markers of what should and should not be adopted into the “couple culture.”
If you think about it, your couple culture turns into a family culture and then a generational culture, so isn’t it worth some effort? Just like in business, if you are deliberate about defining the type of culture want, and then work diligently on it, you will enjoy trust, harmony and success for decades to come. But if you ignore it or detract from it by violating the cultural norms, it can be cancerous and lead to disengagement.
To build a stronger couple culture, follow these steps with your partner:
- Discuss your values and come to an agreement on what that means for how you set your priorities (time, money, energy).
- Articulate a shared vision that brings those values to life.
- Identify how your current and aspirational cultures are different and determine what will need to change to get you to your desired state.
- Create a common language for the standards you set and be sure you both agree on the definitions for those words.
- Have direct conversations when cultural norms are violated.
Remember that you are forming a new culture that is greater than the sum of its parts. Once you establish your couple culture, keep in mind that those values and standards supersede those of each individual.
Of course, just like in any culture, norms need to be updated from time to time. When that time comes, have transparent, frank conversations. Deliberately evolving your couple culture makes it even stronger.