Creating a bucket list is an exercise in goal-setting that can be of benefit to you as an individual, but it can also have a positive effect on your relationship, says Gottman Institute therapist Laura Heck. She works with couples to create a five-year bucket list that includes one big goal for each of the five facets of intimacy, encouraging them to work together to accomplish a shared vision—whether that means running a marathon, learning a new skill, or developing a deeper emotional connection.
"It's really about finding ways to honor one another, honor the relationship, and honor and support one another's dreams," she says. "For couples who feel like they're just kind of stuck, they feel like all they do is just share kids, a bank account, and a house, but there really isn't something that pulls them together with that deeper sense of shared purpose and meaning, creating a bucket list can get you to that next level."
Here, Heck breaks down the five facets of intimacy—emotional, physical, sexual, intellectual, and spiritual—that she works with couples to build goals around and offers her best tips to help you meet yours.
Heck describes emotional intimacy as "the sharing of your feelings and emotions"—but that doesn't just mean talking about your work woes or how much you're longing to redo your kitchen. "It's the sharing of your inner psychological world," she says. One goal she likes to give couples who are looking to open back up is to take some time to rewrite their wedding vows, altering them to illustrate the current state of your relationship. "We change, we evolve, our relationship changes," says Heck, "and to be able to go back and rewrite your vows and your promises to each other is a way of revealing what's most important to your heart."
This kind of intimacy isn't about what happens in the bedroom, says Heck. Instead, it's taking on physical activities together, like weekend hikes or training for a team relay—though when it comes to your bucket list, you should think bigger: "An example might be the two of you go ziplining through the forest of Costa Rica," she says. "It might be learning to scuba dive together and then going to Australia and visiting some really well-known sites. It's a playful, fun activity that the two of you are choosing together."
Improving your sexual intimacy is pretty straightforward: "It's taking a look at how you connect sexually with one another," says Heck. You may think everything is, "Oh, well, fine," but setting long-term goals can help you further reconnect.
Even couples who never run out of things to talk about can improve their intellectual connection. Find something new you can learn together, says Heck, so "you're intellectually stimulating each other and you're doing it at the same time." Sign up for Italian classes and make plans to visit Rome; learn gardening with the end goal of growing a percentage of your own food; study DIY home repair and buy a fixer-upper. "The whole point is experiencing this thing together with one another," she says, "to bond instead of doing it individually."
While the phrase "spiritual intimacy" may immediately call up visions of joint religious studies or volunteering at your place of worship, it doesn't have to mean a traditionally religious activity, says Heck. It's more about coming together to celebrate the idea that there are forces greater than the two of you and sharing a spiritual experience, whether that's a meditation retreat, a visit to Burning Man, or a mission trip to a developing nation.
How Do You Meet Your Goals?
Once you've set your goals, create a vision board that highlights them and put it in a place where the two of you will see it every day—like the inside of your bedroom closet. Then, once a year, sit down together and check your progress. If you've accomplished something, cross it off and create a new goal for that category, and if you're stuck on one, look at whether that's really a shared goal. "It has to be a dream for the two of you," says Heck. "When your partner becomes your biggest cheerleader, helping you to accomplish your individual dreams and then helping the two of you to accomplish your bucket list items, it can be a game changer."