Planning future together strengthens couple’s bonds

Bucket lists, in general, reflect a positive orientation to the future, says Scott Pytluk, a professor of clinical psychology at Argosy University in Chicago. Psychologists consider this healthy for couples as well as individuals.

“When individuals set specific goals, even when they seem out of reach, they demonstrate hopefulness,” Pytluk says. “When partners plan for the future together, as long as there’s flexibility in it, they’re expressing a joint sense of hope about their lives together. Couples flourish when there are mutually agreed-upon goals and dreams.”

In a 2000 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers looked at the connection between shared “novel and arousing” activities and the quality of a relationship and found a correlation.

“This is because adventuring strengthens and deepens bonds and provides a kind of reservoir of common experience that can feed the relationship for years in the form of memory,” says Patricia Johnson, co-author of “Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships.”

Marriage and family therapist Patty Behrens, of Fresno, Calif., says sharing a bucket list of dreams and desires also deepens communication and releases the brain chemical oxytocin. Commonly called the “love hormone,” it has many psychological effects, including the level of your emotional attachment to a partner.

Although relationship experts agree that your bucket list should be freewheeling and creative, having some guideposts will make it more helpful.

▪  Reach back to your childhood to recall anything you ever wanted to try, says Tina B. Tessina, a Southern California psychotherapist and author of “Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences.” Then compare lists, and note what you have in common. The differences will offer opportunities to hone your ability to compromise as well as help each other achieve separate goals.

▪  Couples don’t need to experience their bucket list items together to gain the benefits. Her husband, Kevin, realized one of his by traveling a long, rocky trail in his all-terrain vehicle with his buddies. “I shared in his excitement as he planned the trip,” Behrens says. “Even though I wasn’t participating, a closeness developed as I supported him in his bucket list. (I was) genuinely thrilled for him and anticipated hearing about his adventures when he returned.”

▪  Don’t spring an adventure on your partner when they are out of town. Keep it a shared adventure.