“So, I think I want to be a pastor’s wife.” My self-assured, young teenage self was somewhat taken aback by my aunt’s response: “You think you can handle that?” Before that point, it did not occur to me that there would be anything to “handle.” Twenty plus years later, I see my aunt was onto something! She knew me and she knew some of the challenges of life in the ministry. Life goals matter.
So many couples come together before they have a sense of direction in their own lives. Or, they get together thinking they are heading in one direction, only to change their minds within about a year. Individuals change so much between the ages of 17 and 21, and significantly again between the ages of 22 and 25. If you are planning to marry in either of these phases of life, it is critical to take long, hard looks at yourself, your desires, and your goals and decide if you are prepared enough and mature enough for the demands of marriage together. Are you both heading in the same direction?
Are we headed in the same direction?
- Goals give us a sense of purpose. “What marks do I want to leave on the world?” Couple goals give us a sense of collective purpose and bonds us with our partner. “What marks do we want our marriage to leave on the world?” We each have individual goals, but our collective goals add a sense of purpose to our relationship, and future marriage. It reminds us that we should be better together than we are apart. Are we?
- What is your ultimate vision? Once you have a vision, you can break it down into smaller goals. Daniel Harkavy, author of Becoming a Coaching Leader, made the following statement about having a vision: “Vision defines what you stand for, why you exist, and who your team – or you – will become.”
- Write your vision statement before Your vision statement needs to be written down, reviewed, and possibly even memorized. Otherwise, it is just a nice idea. Yes, you will change along the way, but the core of who you are will not. Know yourself well and where you are heading before you pick a journey mate. If you marry someone who separates you from your central passion, you will fight, rebel, or live with quiet resentment.
- Answer a few getting to know you questions about yourself and then ask your partner. “If I did not need money, but had to work, what would I do with my time?” “Which three adjectives best describe me?” “How do I prefer to spend a day off from work?” “When I get to the end of my life, which potential regrets do I fear the most?” And finally, “What would I do if I knew I could not fail?”
- Discuss your long and longer-term plans and ideals. “Where do I want to be in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?” After you both answer these questions honestly, ask “where do we want to be in five, ten, and twenty years?” Are you heading in the same direction? You will change some over the years; but, if you do not have a clue what you want out of life, your spouse will automatically pull you in his or her direction. Worse yet, you both could be aimless. Such an arrangement might work for a time, but chances are you will resent it after a few years. Know yourself before you marry.
- Discover your calling. What is a calling? A calling is who you are at your core. It answers the question, “Who are you?” I (Heather) am an empathizer. I feel with people down to their bones. I cannot help but empathize. It is the common thread running through my life. Eric is a clarifier. If you do not want him to spend thirty minutes researching an answer, do not ask him a question. He cannot help but interpret and clarify foggy information. We work with couples to help each person find their calling in our two-month pre-engagement and premarital coaching packages.
- Take a hard look at your relationship goals. Are they similar? There is a difference between life goals and relationship goals. My relationship goals for our marriage were to spend a lot of time together, have babies, and enjoy a leisurely, stress-free life. I am not sure why I thought I would get that with Eric. ~smile~ His marriage goals were quite different: he wanted (and still does) to make a mark on the world with his marriage. He wanted a partner to help him trailblaze in helping couples. Before you discuss engagement, it is helpful to know what you are each looking for out of a marriage relationship.
- Examine your energy levels. Believe it or not, this is super important. How do they compare? Are you frequently dragging your significant other or being dragged by him or her? Is getting him to do anything like pulling teeth? Is expecting her to sit through an entire movie outlandish? Mismatched energy levels can be frustrating at best and infuriating at worst.
- Make a list of goals you want to complete on your own. Your significant other or spouse can still help you with these goals (if you would like), but each person should also strive after personal goals. Doing so builds confidence and reminds us of who we are at our core.
- Make a list of goals you want to achieve as a couple. Go brainstorm crazy. Even if the goal sounds ridiculous, write it down. You can cross off ideas later if they do not make the cut. After you have your list, work on a plan to accomplish your goals together.
- Work on short-term (weekly or monthly) goals together! Step one: Have a short, pre-planned meeting. Step two: Create a plan of attack! Step three: Work as a team to accomplish your weekly, monthly, or yearly goals. Step four: Reward each victory! Go to dinner, take a short vacation, or simply plop down and watch that movie you have been wanting to see. Let the reward fit the accomplishment. If you clean out your closets, take a night off to relax. If you pay off $50,000 in consumer debt, go on a long weekend – once you save up for it! ~smile~
- Work on long-term goals together! Follow the same steps you would for a short-term goal, but have several small meetings (e.g., monthly, quarterly, etc.) to talk about progress and to make any necessary changes to the plan. Looking at everything we want to accomplish at one time is far too overwhelming. But, when we separate our important goals (e.g., an immaculate home, good health, a doctorate, etc.) into bite-size chunks, we will reach them over time. We get more accomplished taking small, systematic steps than we do jumping in with no game plan.
- Make your goals SMART: Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Time based. A goal without a plan is just an idea. When you make a goal, make sure it is specific. “I want to lose weight” is a great statement, but not yet a goal. “I want to lose twenty pounds.” That is specific, but still not complete. It is measurable. It is mostly likely attainable. Is it realistic? We do not know yet because there is no time element. “I want to lose twenty pounds in the next calendar year” is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based. “I want to lose twenty pounds over the next month” is time-based, but most likely not realistic.
- Tiny goals with quick results are motivating. While you are working towards weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, also pursue super-quick goals. “Today I am going to clean the kitchen from top to bottom. Score! It looks great! Now, on to the next job!” Give yourselves consistent quick wins!
- Avoid the urge to get ahead of yourselves. One day at a time. One bite at a time. One step at a time. When I go hog wild on a goal, especially a long-term goal, I typically burn out. Has that been your experience also? Pacing ourselves is important. Small, consistent steps get us where we want to go.
- Find out what motivates your partner. Some people love constructive criticism and others are deflated by it. Eric likes to see results. He does not need a lot of cheering from me if he sees tasks being accomplished. I need verbal support and praise. It motivates me to keep on keeping on. Also, find out what de-motivates your partner and be vigilant to avoid those methods.
- Goals help us avoid ruts! We all know what it feels like to be in a rut. “Every day feels the same. There is nothing to look forward to. I cannot keep living like this!” A relationship rut is also frustrating, but it requires both partners to get up and do something about it. Accomplishing small goals together can go a long way towards pulling you (or keeping you) out of a relationship rut.
- Goals can change or evolve over time. Just because you are making goals and determining which path you want to walk does not mean your goals must remain static. Everyone goes through changes and those changes affect our goals. Revamping your goals is not a sign of failure. It is a sign of wisdom! Updating your objectives before you get frustrated is far better than exhausting yourself for a season and then quitting.
- Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. What is hurting you to the point you are willing to put forth the effort to change it?
- Goals keep your relationship growing. Recently, I created a personal goal for myself and I am working hard to achieve it. Eric is not participating with me in this goal, but he is aware, and he is rooting for me. Interestingly, even though we are not going after this goal together, I see it positively affecting my marriage. My growth is helping our relationship. If Eric were attempting to hold me back, that would be a different story. Goals, personal and collective, help relationships grow if both people are on board.
Up to this point, have you given much thought to your life goals? What is your passion? What gets your blood pumping? What excites you? What work would you enjoy even if you had to do it for free?
If you could snap your fingers and have your ideal life, what would it look like? Who is with you? What are you doing?
Having the same life goals does not necessarily mean you are pursuing the same career, but if one of your goals automatically derails the other’s goals, that is something to consider in great depth before making a commitment.
As you continue to prepare for engagement, answer the following questions thoroughly:
- What do we want out of marriage?
- How do we plan to use our marriage to glorify God?
- Do we have gifts and talents which complement each other?
- Do we believe God is leading our lives in the same direction or separate directions?
- Are we in agreement that we need to have a plan for our marriage before we get married?
You and your boyfriend or girlfriend have much to discuss. We hope the prospect of looking towards the future is exciting for you both. If you run out of topics to examine, keep coming back to PreEngaged! We will keep you sufficiently stocked with pre-engagement and premarital conversation fodder.
Are you confident that you and your significant other are heading in the same direction?