The Code: A Business Plan to Healthier Relationships

A plan for success creates a firm foundation.

A plan for success creates a firm foundation.

A plan for success creates a firm foundation.

business plan code

When you think about the essential steps to a successful business, what comes to mind? Now think about the steps to a successful relationship. Are there any similarities between the two? Let’s explore.


One of the well-known first steps towards a successful business is creating a business plan. Laying down the foundation for the future is the start. This may include a vision statement, which is the ideal outlook for the business. Additionally, it may include a mission statement that explores your drive and motivation. Consecutively, it may also include information related to protocols, roles of key members, and procedures. In essence, creating a plan is an important part of the foundation for future accomplishments. Without these steps, it may struggle to grow. It is essential to develop and create mechanisms that increase the opportunity to excel. 


Healthy relationships require essential steps to develop and thrive as a partnership. Research shows that partners who report happiness in the relationship often have shared goals, expectations, values, and fun together (see (Claxton & Perry-Jenkins, 2008; Kaplan & Maddux, 2002; Mashal, 1985). Despite your attraction for one another, you sometimes fail to communicate the core beliefs or tenets within your relationships that could lead to longevity, love, and success. For example, you may come into a partnership believing you must discuss a tense topic all night until you reach a resolution. However, your partner believes in sleeping on it and discussing it again the next day. These are areas where you want to agree to further your relationship (and avoid misunderstanding and hurt feelings).

Creating the “code”

When working with couples, I often ask them to explore essential pieces they would like to be the foundation of their relationship moving forward. A “code.” I share with them that this will be the basis of where we begin our work together. It also helps establish why developing codes that match is so crucial. Things to include in this code can be expectations (e.g., the division of house labor), beliefs (e.g., parenting styles), or outcomes (e.g., where you see your family in five years). I ask them to take the assignment seriously because we will use it often in the future to build a combined list ( or a “Master Code”) that you both share.

The four steps of the “Master Code”

  1. Go home and write down what you value in your relationship.

It is important to brainstorm the vital expectations, values, beliefs, and ideals you may have in your relationship. I remind couples to do this separately first before discussing their code together, so each partner can develop their own.

  1. Set out time to discuss your code with your partner. Recognize that without an agreement, your code cannot make the Master Code list.

The next step is to sit down with your partner and discuss the key things you value in your relationship. The goal of this step is to see what similarities and differences are present between the partners. Additionally, in this step, couples get to share their “why” regarding ideals that may not match their partner’s. If their partner agrees, then it makes the combined list. If they do not, it does not become a part of the relationship’s “master code.”

For example, you may find that your partner prefers taking a break from tense conversations to avoid getting flooded and stonewalling. Knowing this, you can agree that pausing when things get heated is an expectation that goes on the combined “Master Code” list.

  1. Develop the combined code list and place it somewhere that you can see often.

I often tell couples to laminate this list and put it somewhere they frequent. In the past, partners have put it on bathroom mirrors, refrigerators, or even set it as their wallpaper background on their cell phones. 

  1. Practice implementing the “master code” on a daily basis.

Some things on the list you may do well and others may need more work. Now that the list is complete, it is important to hold yourself accountable. Take 1-2 things from the list and focus on improving them during the week. Continue to look at the list daily until it becomes second nature. By doing this, you are acting out the principles that all parties value in the relationship. 

The code becomes the foundation

What I notice while working with my couples is that the combined code list or “master code” becomes the foundation that helps couples navigate tough stressors in the relationship. When concern arises, I ask my couples, “Is there something from the ‘master code’ that could help you work through this?”

Also, the master code allows couples to strengthen their relationship by verbalizing and communicating important values, beliefs, and expectations that they have for one another in the partnership. It can be used to scale improvements in the relationship and to create strategies for handling future complications.

Like a business plan, a strong foundation increases the likelihood of success and helps couples handle difficulties more effectively. So, explore your vision statement and create opportunities with a “master code” to further visualize success, love, and happiness in your relationship.


Claxton, A., & Perry-Jenkins, M. (2008). No fun anymore: Leisure and marital quality across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family70(1), 28–43.

Kaplan, M., & Maddux, J. E. (2002). Goals and marital satisfaction: Perceived support for personal goals and collective efficacy for collective goals. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology21(2), 157–16.

Mashal, M. M. (1985). Marital power, role expectations and marital satisfaction. International Journal of Women’s Studies8(1), 40–46.

Dr. Lawrence Jackson is an assistant professor in Couple & Family Therapy. He’s also a speaker, author, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Nevada. Affectionately known as “Dr. J” or “The Black Male Therapist,” he launched a social media campaign called #BlackTherapyFridays to normalize mental health in his community through different social media platforms. Additionally, Lawrence started a clothing line to further bring awareness to mental health issues, and he enjoys educating people on equitable practices. You can follow Lawrence’s work on social media including Instagram and YouTube or visit his website here.