Step #4 – Set Goals
A shocking marriage is one that improves over time. As we’ve already discussed, this doesn’t happen naturally, it takes prioritization and intentionality. Without a concerted effort to improve, marriages simply degrade over time. Anyone who has been in any type of corporate or non-profit setting has experienced the act of setting goals. Typically this is done once per year and your performance is based upon how well you achieved the goals that were set. In some cases your annual increase or bonus is determined based upon this rating. Marital goals are not about performance evaluation and reward. However, they are still critical for ongoing improvement.
Every year my wife and I go out for dinner on our anniversary. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year. We typically go to a nice restaurant that is quiet and romantic – the kind of place that is conducive to intimate conversation. We’re in no hurry on these evenings and let the wait staff know that upon our arrival. As we enjoy our meal, we’ll talk about a variety of things, but one of the key topics is a look back at the past year. We’ll talk about the goals that we set a year ago and openly discuss how we progressed toward them. What went well? What did not go so well? Where have we grown as a couple? Where have we digressed? It’s not like we have a flip chart at our table and are capturing each topic in bullet point form – it’s merely a conversation. But it’s always illuminating. Inevitably, there will be an area that I was blind to that impacted her in a negative way. Again, I’m not talking about earth-shattering discovery here… Typically it’s something far more subtle like “You don’t call me from work everyday like you used to. I miss that.” From my perspective those words told me two things. First, she appreciated when I would call (sometimes I felt like I was bothering her or interrupting her day). Secondly, without realizing it, I had fallen out of the habit of calling. That’s an easy fix!
In addition to sharing “concerns” (that feels like too strong a word for the situation), we celebrate growth and success from the year. As an example I might say, “We went through a rough couple of months financially, but we really pulled together and made it through”. Bringing attention to accomplishments is a great way to increase the bond between spouses. Sometimes it’s only when you look back that you can appreciate what you really did and how you benefited from it. Acknowledging those victories is critical to moving a marriage forward in a positive way.
Once we’ve finished looking backward, we begin to look forward to the coming year. We know much of what we will be facing (e.g. a child going to college, or an aging parent that needs care) and we acknowledge that there is much that we don’t know. We discuss plans for the known. But in addition, we focus on areas that we collectively feel we could improve upon. Some years it’s specific items (e.g. we need to pay off the car loan) and other years it’s more of a theme (e.g let’s focus on keeping the spark in our relationship alive). In either case, by agreeing on a direction, we both tend to focus on the same thing in the coming months. Trust me, it feels great the following year when you can look back and say “Wow! We did it”. That typically leads to the realization that we’ve just completed our best year of marriage yet, only to be surpassed by the coming year.
Let me recap. You want a Shocking Marriage? Understand that if you do nothing, it will erode. Be intentional, make your spouse a priority in your life and set some collective goals that the two of you can focus on to take things to another level.