Working with your spouse to set relationship goals for your marriage can help you to avoid long-term disappointment and dissatisfaction.
This month we’ll focus on goal-setting for marital relationships. Movies and romance books make it seem like all a couple has to do is get on the same horse and ride off into the sunset. They gloss over all the hard work involved in maintaining a marriage. And what we fail to face with intentionality, we fail to do. Part of healthy self-care involves taking care of our most important relationships.
The Honeymoon Failure
Tami and I didn’t talk through our relationship goals before we got married.
We married in Albany, Oregon, at the church where Tami’s dad served as the pastor. From the wedding reception, we drove to the Oregon Coast to start our honeymoon. That’s where the conflicts started. We found ourselves at odds with each other because our expectations for our relationship weren’t in sync.
On our wedding day, I was 24 and Tami was two days short of 22. I’d lived on my own since graduating from high school. I’d been sharing an apartment with friends and was a few days away from college graduation. Tami lived with her parents until our wedding day.
A few days into our honeymoon, Tami started to feel homesick and wanted to cut our honeymoon short. She told me she missed her parents and wanted us to go back to their home in Albany.
I didn’t understand how Tami could be homesick, or why she wanted to cut our honeymoon short. I didn’t understand why she missed her parents. I took it personally. I thought if Tami missed her parents more than she wanted to be alone with me, that our marriage was already on the rocks.
But if we cut our honeymoon short, we didn’t have anywhere else to go.
No Place to Go
We didn’t have our own home. We married at the end of May. We planned to work and live for the summer at Big Lake Youth Camp near Sisters, Oregon. After that, we planned to live on the campus of Milo Adventist Academy, a Christian co-ed boarding school near Canyonville, Oregon. The school had hired me as the assistant boys’ dean and Tami had lined up a job on the campus as a housekeeping manager.
Before we married, we talked about things we would do together, but we didn’t talk about what we wanted our marriage to be like. Those are two different discussions.
So, we hadn’t talked about what part our parents would have in our relationship. That’s where we got stuck on our honeymoon. We’d only talked about a few of the issues that a couple needs to have agreement about to have a satisfying marriage relationship.
Fortunately, before we married, we’d at least reached an agreement about how to manage our finances and had goals for saving and spending. But a good marriage can’t be built on financial security alone. A good marriage can’t be built on successful careers, or making children. These are things couples do, and that they need to talk about, but they don’t lay the foundation for a satisfying marriage.
Tami and I spent much of our first three years of marriage like roommates. We shared the same living space, the same bed, and did stuff together. What we lacked was a vision for what we wanted our marriage relationship to be like. Without a vision for our marriage, we didn’t have goals for building a good relationship.
We kept finding ourselves in conflict with each other’s expectations. We felt stuck.
Thriving Under Stress
Sometimes a good marriage counselor can help a couple get unstuck. That’s what worked for us. The counselor helped us take a step back and begin dreaming together about what we wanted our relationship to be like.
Now that we agree on what we want our relationship to be like, we can stick together when faced with stressful challenges. We’ve dealt with a few. There was our eight-year journey from the suburbs to our five-acre hobby farm that included moving from our three-bedroom suburban home to a two-bedroom apartment with our two kids, and living with Tami’s parents for almost two years. There was the time Tami discovered she had breast cancer. Then came the need to care for my 88-year-old father after my step-mother quickly succumbed to cancer.
Couples often struggle to keep their marriage alive when faced with stressful events that impact their relationship. Tami and I have discovered that it’s possible to not only survive but thrive in stressful circumstances.
To thrive in a marriage means to grow individually and as a couple. It means having the space to pursue your individual dreams, and the dreams you share for your marriage. Thriving is different from surviving. Surviving is focused on clinging to what you have to avoid loss. Setting relationship goals together will help you and your spouse thrive.
How to Set Relationship Goals
Here’s are some of my best tips to help you begin setting relationship goals for a good marriage:
1. Discover your marriage vision.
Your marriage vision is a short sentence or two that you and your spouse can use to describe your marriage. Your marriage vision is the foundation on which to set your relationship goals. Defining a shared vision for your marriage also defines where you each have space to pursue your individual dreams and goals.
This is how Tami and I describe our marriage: “We enjoy doing life together.” Yours may be different. Discover the words that describe what a satisfying marriage looks like to both of you. For example, some couples are satisfied with raising children together. Some couples are satisfied with doing dates together. Others are happy with doing weekends together or vacations together. Some will only be satisfied with a combination of all of these, or more.
Your marriage vision statement may come naturally because you’re both living it. Others may need to talk it out. Set aside time together to put it into words you agree on. When you discover your marriage vision, you’ll find it describes the times when you most enjoy being together.
2. Set a few measurable goals.
Once you’ve clarified your marriage vision, set a few goals together that align with that vision. Make your goals measurable. When you can determine whether a goal was accomplished by a yes or no answer or on a scale (such as a scale of 1–5), it’s measurable.
Since Tami and I enjoy doing life together, we set aside time most days to spend time together. Our time together might involve having a meal together at a restaurant, watching a movie, talking a walk, or working together on a household project. Often, we involve our kids in our time together. We also are devoted to going to bed at the same time most evenings for time together as a couple. These are easy goals to measure with a yes or no answer to the question, “Did we do it?”
Keep in mind that while the marriage vision will likely remain unchanged, goals will change as circumstances change. For example, our goal of having a date night once a week has been limited by COVID-19 restrictions. We’re working out how to make that date night a routine again. Other life changes will affect your goals, such as changes in income and expenses, health changes, job changes, having children, and children leaving home. As long as your marriage vision is clear, modifying goals or setting new goals for the good of your marriage will be easier than if you don’t have that vision.
When coming up with ideas for goals, consider doing more of the things that you’ve been happiest doing as a couple. Also, focus on activities that intersect with where each other’s personal interests and dreams overlap.
3. Assess your goals.
Make time as a couple to assess whether your goals are helping you live your vision for your marriage. You may do this on an ongoing basis, or it may work best to set aside monthly, quarterly or annual intervals to assess how effective your goals are. Assess in a way and frequency that you as a couple agree on.
As you assess goals, you’ll find some goals don’t work for one or both of you. You’ll find other goals work out great. Replace or revise the goals that don’t work with new goals or by expanding the goals that don’t work. You may also find individual goals conflicting with marriage goals. Knowing your marriage vision will help you prioritize whether to adjust your marriage goals or individual goals.
For example, if the kids’ after-school activities or your church activities keep interfering with a weekly date night, maybe date night works best less often, or on another night. Maybe you’ll choose to change how you deliver your kids to their after-school activities, or change how much you participate in church activities.
As you assess your marriage goals and individual goals, always consider the positive or negative impact they’re having on your ability to live your marriage vision. For a good marriage adjust your individual and relationship goals to help you fulfill that vision.
Finally, as you navigate your way through this process of setting relationship goals for a good marriage, follow this wise counsel from the Bible:
“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” (Romans 12:10, NLT)
Guest Blogger Bio
Jon Beaty’s mission is to help couples transform their marriages from struggling for survival to thriving in love. Jon and his wife Tami celebrate over 30 years of marriage and are the parents of two thriving children. They make their home on a small farm near Portland, Oregon, where they enjoy raising Boer goats, honeybees, and gardening. Jon is a licensed clinical social worker as well as a coach, counselor, author, and speaker. Jon’s relationship advice has been featured on Fox News, The Gottman Relationship Blog, Lifezette, and The Good Men Project. He has also authored the book If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work. Free Offer: Is effective communication a challenge in your marriage? Discover communication secrets of the world’s most satisfied couples at jonbeaty.com.Want a better relationship with your spouse? Check out these three hacks from Christian counselor @jon-beatyonbeaty7 #goals #selfcare #relationships Click To Tweet
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.