Troy and I have a tradition that we began a few years into our marriage that has helped us to stay focused on God’s will for us as a couple and have a clear vision of our mutual goals and aspirations. We have a date night at the beginning of each new year where we set goals for our marriage and come up with a game plan for the new year ahead. We have always set goals for our family, finances, fitness, business and parenting, but as we began to grow as a couple, we concurrently saw several areas for improvement and realized that we should likewise set goals for our marriage.
We set goals at work to increase our numbers or productivity, on a personal level to improve our health or achieve something of perceived importance to us, in the community to work towards a common purpose, and financially to be more solvent. We know the value of working toward goals because we’ve witnessed what can be accomplished when we’re focused and driven. So why not set goals for our marriage as well?
Setting goals together as a couple helps to fortify your relationship by working together toward a common purpose.
From day one, Troy has referred to us as a team. I have always loved this concept as it is so easy to relate to. If a team wants to win, each player has to work together towards that goal. In marriage, your ultimate goal is to get each other to Heaven, and I think most couples would also agree that having a fulfilling, happy marriage would be considered a WIN on this side of Heaven! Sometimes though, we get knocked down and forget that we are ON THE SAME TEAM! Remembering this simple concept motivates me to get beyond a grudge I may be holding and move more swiftly towards reconciliation. One of the first goals you might want to set as a couple is determining what you can do daily or even weekly to reinforce the fact that you are on the same team. Perhaps, similar to doing a daily examination of conscience, you can do a marital examination of conscience, either privately in your heart or together as a couple. Reflect on what you did well that day/week to love your spouse and what areas need improvement.
Teammates are accountable to one another. If one teammate is in the wrong, it affects the entire team. It is the same in marriage: it is important to forgive, but to also hold each other accountable. There is a difference between holding a grudge and holding your spouse accountable for a wrong that needs to be made right. Until this is done, your team cannot function in sync. If you want a successful marital team, you need to admit when you are wrong. Do not make your spouse pull an apology out of you; it takes away the sincerity of it. When you are wrong, admit it so you don’t have to play defense without purpose. If you are the spouse that is offended, forgive to get out of the offensive zone. Make it a goal to be accountable to one another for the sake of your marriage, your family, and your salvation.
In a team, when one player is down, another steps up to the plate to fill in. We have all had our share of down times, some more than others. When your spouse is the teammate down, are you lovingly and emotionally supportive while helping to pick them up? Or do you ignore the fact that they are down so you don’t have to deal with it, or, even worse, do you push them down further? It may not be easy to help our spouse when they are in a down time because of our own wounds, pride or lack of energy, but God calls us to dig deep within ourselves and find the strength that He gives us to fulfill our role “in good times and in bad.” After all, happiness in your marriage relies on it. You are a team! Another goal you may want to set for your marriage is to better understand how you can support your spouse when they are the teammate down and then come up with a game plan to put it into action when the need arises. Take notes, put reminders in your phone – whatever helps you to follow through on your goals.
By allowing each spouse a chance to express themselves through their personal dreams and desires, goal-setting as a couple improves communication and assists spouses in better understanding each other.
There is less misunderstanding, resentment and conflict because each person gets heard and their needs get validated. This in turn leads to a more fulfilling marriage and personal self-image.
I recently read a story about an experiment off the coast of Brazil. Two bottles were dropped in the ocean off a boat at exactly the same time and right next to each other. One bottle washed up on the coast of Ecuador 100 days later and the other bottle went across the Atlantic Ocean and washed up on the coast of Tanzania a year later. The bottles started off in the same place, but ended up a half a world apart. In marriage it is so easy to drift apart and not even realize you are doing it! Setting goals together and following through on their development and fulfillment helps you to consciously stay close so that you do not drift apart and emotionally end up half a world apart. If you want to prevent or even stop a drift in your relationship, you have to be intentional.
I mentioned some rather deep goals, but what about having a goal to go on a date once a week? Maybe make that one fun thing you have been wanting to do together a reality? Perhaps you can devise a plan to save money so you and your spouse can get away for a few days alone to just enjoy each one another. When you invest in your marriage, you will reap the reward!
Be flexible with your goals and take time to reevaluate them periodically. Celebrate your accomplishments and redesign your plan if necessary. Life happens and inevitably something will cause you to temporarily get off track. The important thing to remember is to get back on track with your goals as soon as possible and make accommodations to them if a curve ball is thrown your way. With clear cut goals, focus, determination and an openness to God’s will – united with the sacramental grace of marriage, you can make 2021 your best year of marriage yet!
(Originally published in 2017 on the For Your Marriage section of the USCCB website)