Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships
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Mates' Priorities

How High Does Our
Relationship Rank Now?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this worksheet is https://sfhelp.org/relate/mates/priority.htm

Updated  02-07-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost..

      This is one of a series of articles on improving primary relationships. It adds to others proposing how to make three wise courtship decisions with and without kids from prior unions. Thus article includes:

  • Basic premises relating to ,ate4s' priorities;

  • a worksheet to help you identify your priorities;

  • Options if you have a conflict over priorities with your partner

       Some people divorce because they tire of feeling too low in their mate's priorities. The ranking often depends on (a) expectations, and (b) how well the other person fills their dynamic relationship needs. This worksheet provides a place for committed partners to rank their relationship's importance in their lives. It also offers premises about priorities, and options for dealing with inner and mutual priority conflicts.

        Get the most from this worksheet by first reading...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lesson 1 thru 4 , Parts 1 and 2

  • requisites for a satisfying relationship' and...

  • these Q&A items about relationships and marriage

      Read and mull the premises that follow. Then by yourselves, not as a couple, thoughtfully and honestly rank your and your partner's recent life-priorities. Then discuss the results together for learning and problem-solving, vs. for blaming, complaining, or moralizing...

  Premises: Do You Agree?

Each partner in a primary relationship needs to feel noticed and valued enough right now, and over time - i.e. each mate wants the other to usually want to rank them and their relationship "high enough" in their life priorities. "Enough" is subjective.

Each partner's actions demonstrate their real priorities more reliably than their words. This is because adults dominated by false selves will often say one thing and do another. My 36 years' clinical experience suggests that adults from low-nurturance childhoods are often ruled by false selves - and don't (want to) know that or what to do about it.

Our personal priorities are strongly influenced by hormones, habits, current societal norms, old childhood "shoulds," and our dominant personality subselves. Through meditation, journaling, and digging down cooperatively, we can become clearer on our real priorities (needs)

To thrive, relationships need enough ongoing mutual nourishment: undistracted time and attention, risk, and some sacrifices, by each partner. Partners usually need to feel their mate wants to give these things freely from love and respect, rather than from duty and/or anxiety about possible conflict, rejection, or abandonment.

Each partner's mix of personal priorities (needs) changes dynamically, often unconsciously, over time. So partners are steadily challenged to intentionally keep their relationship's priority "high enough." This implies the value of committed couples periodically making reality checks: i.e. knowing and discussing mutual priorities honestly together.

Here's your chance!


      Make some undistracted time to do this learning exercise. If you need to attend to other activities first, do so.

      Check: is your true Self steadily guiding you now? If not, other well-meaning subselves may distort your answers here.

      Notice your feelings, motivations, and expectations now. Are you looking forward to this discovery experience? Anxious? Skeptical? Do you expect that doing this worksheet and discussing it with your partner will be useful or a waste of time?

      Scan the activity categories below and add any others you feel have been a significant part of your recent lives;

      Pick a recent time period - e.g. the last three months - and decide: "where have I put the most and least of my daily energy, on the average?" Take your time, and rank-order all the categories (1, 2, 3... ). Option: pick the highest and lowest, then repeat with remaining categories, until you run out. Ties are OK. Note any feelings or awarenesses that occur while you do this. Think of someone who knows you well. Would they basically agree with your ranking?

      Shift mental gears, and repeat the process for your partner: rank nonjudgmentally how you see her or him generally having allocated their personal energy during the same period. This is about discovery, not blame! Again, note any awarenesses that occur.

      When you're both done and undistracted, compare and discuss what you came up with. See if this feels like teammates talking or "something else" (e.g. a competition or conflict). Stay aware of your inner and mutual processes. Note nonjudgmentally how you're communicating together about this: openly, defensively, guardedly, irritably,… What do you notice? What does that mean?

starbullet  Our Recent Life Priorities



Birthfamily: time with or for parents, siblings, and other key relatives

Community: neighborhood / church / town / regional / national / global    
Friendships: socializing / entertaining / calling / support / meeting new friends    
Home and grounds: selecting / furnishing / decorating / cleaning / maintaining / changing / planting / protecting ...      
Leisure: hobbies / vacations / sports / reading / pets / relaxing …    
Me (personal time): eating / resting / exercising / meditating / worshipping / counseling / grieving / journaling / non-career education / personal growth / medical care / ...    
Money, wealth, and financial security: budgeting / spending / investing / accounting / taxes / saving / …    
Parenting dependent and grown biokids and/or stepkids: enjoying / guiding / disciplining / supporting / playing / teaching / planning / protecting / problem-solving / communicating with other co-parent(s) and kin / financing / …    
Possessions (material things): acquiring / installing / maintaining / protecting    
Work and career: commuting / job time / overtime / on-the-job training / other education / entertaining / resumes / searching / career counseling / …    
You / Us (couple time): communicating / problem-solving (or arguing) / activities / intimacy / relationship-building …    


     Thoughts for journaling and discussion:

I truly feel (a) my words about my recent key life-priorities generally match my actions, and (b) I feel this is true about you too, recently.


I feel our recent mix of personal priorities has generally been a  _ strength _ stressor  _ neutral factor in our relationship-quality;


Do I or you need someone's priorities to change? If so: who's, which, when, and why? Is anything in the way? What may happen if there's no change?


I am satisfied enough with (a) how often and (b) how well you and I communicate and (c) problem-solve (vs. argue, avoid, or complain) about our current mix of personal priorities.

I feel that (a) my and (b) your life priorities are pretty stable over time, vs. shifting around erratically…


If I’m (or we’re) not admitting something about our current life priorities here, it is…


How am I feeling about what I’m learning here? Do I need to change or do anything? What are my options?


 If You Have a "Priority Conflict"...

        If you discover you and your partner have a serious disagreement over life priorities, you can...

  • explore who is setting your respective priorities: your true Selves, or some other well-intentioned subselves; If the latter, make freeing your Self to guide you your highest priority;

  • help each other learn the communication skills and tips in online lesson 2, including win-win problem-solving. That will prepare you to...

  • learn how to manage values conflicts together. Thus brief YouTube video outlines how to do this. The video mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven.

If your conflict remains, seek professional help together.


      This Lesson-4 worksheet exists to help committed partners assess and discuss their respective life priorities. My clinical work suggests that an important cause of psychological and legal divorce is one or both mates feeling too unimportant for too long, and being unable to correct this.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not, what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self or ''someone else''?  

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