Some of us are more relaxed about going with the flow when plans change or a partner comes up with an adventurous plan on the spur of the moment. Some find it difficult to go with the flow and need a plan. If the ends of a continuum stretch from spontaneous to planned, where do you fall? If you fall more toward the center of this continuum, you may find that you easily adapt to both spontaneity and planning. When couples pair up, they sometimes find their partner’s tendencies lie at the opposite end of this continuum. Conflict pops up when the spontaneous person feels constrained and the planned person feels at loose ends.

A spontaneous person may think the partner is no fun and the planned person sees the spontaneous person as irresponsible. Neither is a character flaw but more of a learned or preferred way to live. Both the spontaneous and the planned personalities experience problems with their tendencies at times. In a relationship it pays to learn to tolerate the opposite by deciding in advance to get occasional exposure to the opposite’s preferences. The spontaneous person can probably identify some areas of their lives in which planning is most desirable. For example, they could practice some discipline by committing to arranging and planning a date. For both the spontaneous and planned partners, a fun strategy I recommend I call “planned spontaneity.”

Although planned spontaneity seems like an oxymoron, it satisfies both the adventurous, spontaneous personality while accommodating the need for a plan. Here’s how it works. Create a stack of about ten index cards. On each card write the name of an activity that fits within a set of parameters, e.g., takes about three hours, costs under $50, is within a radius of 20 miles of home, no other people are required, no long-term reservations are needed. Put the cards together to create a “fun deck.” Shuffle and cut the deck. The couple commits to do the activity showing as a result of the cut, immediately prepare and engage in the activity.

Example items include board games at home, movies, art museum, hikes, downtown walk to a coffee shop, go for a swim, people watching at a park, bike ride, pizza delivery and old movies, bowling, miniature golf, sleep in and have breakfast in bed. Change the parameters and you can get into day trips or over night trips to cities within a two hour drive.

David Barnhart, EdD

Licensed Counselor

Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor

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