July First two years ago, I met the woman of my dreams. She was perfect. The timing was perfect. We dated, traveled, met each other’s families, and got married inside of a year. You all know the story. What you may not know is what actually allowed us to get married so soon: goal setting and envisioning. Even in the first few weeks of knowing each other, Deborah and I talked about our goals and aspirations. The frankness of our discussions brought us closer, and within a couple of months, we were constructing our long-term plans together. For me, the whole process provided clarity and insight, not just into what Deborah was thinking, but into what I wanted too, which had mostly eluded me until that point. Like most people on the planet, I had some idea of the success I wanted to achieve, but it was probably just vague and “plan-less” enough to ensure it never happened.

July First one year ago, I married my new best friend and three days later, we set off to Southeast Asia. But, we weren’t just going on our honeymoon: we were deliberately becoming exactly who we wanted to be, together. Not in the sappy way, where “I go away to figure out who I am.” We’ve both already done that. We were planning our future, setting our goals for the coming year and decade, and deciding what the most important things were in our lives. We had planned before, but during this period we actively tried out new lifestyles, imagined what life with children might be like, figured out what working together would entail, determined how much money we would need to live the lifestyle(s) we really wanted, etc..During this period, we decided to move back to Europe, ditching our then-current lives as professional vagabonds. We decided to have a child, because family is our most important asset. Most importantly though, we grew closer together and spent the time learning to communicate more and more effectively.

5 Reasons You Should be Setting Goals With Your Spouse:

Because of our limited experience, I’ll be borrowing from a few experts in the field.

1) Doing things as a couple gives you more than twice as much power, compared to one of you doing it alone.

Or so said multi-award winning psychotherapist, Dr. Goldsmith. The implication here is that naturally, two people are going to have varying things that they’re good at. Deborah, for example, is creative, she’s an artist, she has incredible ideas that would never even cross my mind. She’s also great at talking to people, and I’m just not. Anything I hope to accomplish can be done more than twice as fast if the two of us work together, using our complementary skills.

2) You want to have a successful life and marriage together.

If you want to save money to pay cash for a vacation next year but don’t set a plan in motion for your spending, do you think you will get there? Maybe. But it’s unlikely. Rather, Gail Matthews, Ph.D., suggests that sitting down to discuss and set measurable financial goals with your spouse will increase your chances of success by 50%. The same applies to any other goals you set.

3) Working together toward one common goal makes you closer.

This one should be obvious enough, but marriage and family therapist, Michelle Weiner-Davis, says, “Working towards a common goal builds feelings of togetherness, and doing something physical—whether it’s training for a half-marathon together or vowing to each lose ten pounds—gives you each an opportunity to encourage and call on each other for support.”

4) Telling someone about your personal goals creates accountability, and therefore, more success.

There’s conflicting data on this one, but the side of the argument I would compare to my own experience to is that telling someone about your goals creates the extra urge to accomplish them. The real trick is having a spouse that is always supportive of your goal, and actually provides accountability, meaning he/she asks you about progress and helps you create or adapt your plan to achieve.

5) Happiness comes from moving toward what you want.

Dr. Goldsmith, also adds that couples need to motivate and support each other toward achieving aligning goals, and in so doing, a couple will strengthen their connection and security, but also more generally gives each person a sense of purpose. He says that accomplishing the goal is actually less important than the drive towards it. The only times that I’ve felt truly unhappy were when I felt like I wasn’t moving forward. There have been moments of disappointment in not achieving goals, but they tend to fade as I develop new ones.

5 questions you might ask:

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it can help get you going.

1) What do you wish we could do as a couple that we rarely or no longer take the time to do?

2) What have you always wanted to do, as a couple, that we haven’t yet done?

3) How do you visualize our lives together in six months? One year? Ten years? How do we spend our mornings? Evenings?

4) What, specifically, would you like to see us accomplish together in the next _____?

5) Once your partner answers, ask, “ok, how are we going to make that happen together?”

Be as specific as possible, even setting a date for when you want a specific goal to be accomplished. A great exercise is to set milestones, and check progress together on those specific milestones. If, for example, you want to make it a habit to eat breakfast together every morning, it may be easier to do it very intently (without exception) once a week..then twice a week..three times..and eventually, everyday. Waking up an extra 30 minutes earlier may be hard 2, 3, 4 days in a row, but taking it in steps will make the habit easier to form. Take that time to discuss your day, read together or do devotions.

3 goals I think are worthwhile for pretty much everyone:

Your goals are very personal, and no two people are going to have the same ones, but I believe there are a few that can be beneficial for anyone.

1) Say more encouraging words.

This is part of the goal-setting process as well as well as a goal in and of itself. Of course you have to mean it, but I don’t believe there’s any end to what two people can accomplish when they consistently build each other up. Ephesians 4:29 says “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (NLT)” This is applicable to your relationship, but also to your daily interactions with everyone around you more generally. I won’t add a separate bullet point, but the act of gratefulness has the same effect. Deborah and I often go on gratefulness walks to remind ourselves of everything we have.

2) Read a relationship-building book together.

I don’t personally believe you can go wrong with this one, because just the act of focusing on marriage-building, even if the book you choose is rubbish, is beneficial in bringing two people together and helping them communicate more effectively. That said, my parents bought this one (Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts) for Deborah and I when we got married, and we really loved it. The authors, Les and Leslie have Parrott have become people that Deborah and I refer back to on a regular basis when we have our own questions. The Five Love Languages is another one that we think has helped us immensely.

3) Start your day with a kiss.

Studies have shown that kissing often and passionately doesn’t just help build an intimate relationship, but it turns you into a more relaxed and driven person, helping you function better in the high stress situations that pop up in life. Studies have shown kissing even helps protect you from mental and physical disease. As a relationship-building habit, Deborah and I take off our rings at night and put them back on in the morning, reciting one new vow or promise to each other. I understand that this may not be for everyone.

Deborah and I used our anniversary this last July first to renew and refresh our goals. We didn’t take three months like last year, but our situation is also a bit different. As we do every few weeks, Deborah and I took the afternoon to go on a picnic date. We brought pen and paper and began talking about our ambitions for the upcoming year. We created a plan for each one with specific milestones, and promised to check in every week.

Do you have any goal-setting traditions? Let us know in the comments below!

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