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The Simple Dollar

Setting goals with your partner

There’s a lot more power and mutual motivation and mutual benefit in achieving shared goals together with a partner.

By Guest blogger / July 12, 2010

In this May 29 photograph, Kimberly Lofton and A.J. Wilson celebrate their wedding ceremony at historic Stanton Hall in Natchez, Miss.

Chris Todd/The Clarion-Ledger/AP/File

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As I’ve said many times on here, my wife and I have a small handful of major goals that we share going forward in our lives.

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We both want to eventually live in the country with some wooded area and a small barn.

We both want to focus on raising our children as well as we possibly can.

We both want to achieve complete debt freedom (we currently just owe on our mortgage) to give us even more career and personal flexibility in the future.

Here’s the interesting part: these goals do not reflect everything I want to do in life, nor do they reflect everything Sarah wants to do in life.

Instead, they’re the goals we share together and because we both share them, there’s a lot more power and mutual motivation and mutual benefit in achieving those goals.

How did we get there from each having our own goals? Here’s the process we went through – and are still going through.

We each sketched a picture of what we wanted our future to look like. What did I want my life to look like in five or ten or twenty years? I spent some time really thinking about that question. I made a list of some of the things I wanted to happen in my life over those timeframes. I had career dreams and family dreams and personal goals I wanted to achieve.

We compared our pictures of the future. What we found is that some of our goals overlapped, some of them did not, and some of them were personal goals that affected our partner in various ways.

So, for example, we both had a dream of living in the country with woods and a small barn. I had a dream of building a fully self-sustaining farm there (with wind power, geothermal heating, and so forth), but Sarah didn’t share that vision as strongly: “It’d be cool, I guess, but is it really worth the cost?” I also had career goals that impacted Sarah a little bit (because of the time and energy investment), but not too much.

We agreed to focus on the larger goals we both shared. I listed those above. Those goals are not a list of the goals I came up with – if I listed all of the things I wanted myself, the list would be longer and have a much different flavor.

However, a big lifelong goal that your partner is not on board with is not only much more difficult to achieve, pushing hard for that goal can put problems in your relationship. On the other hand, sharing a goal and both working towards that same goal encourages an environment of mutual support. Focus in on the goals you both deeply share – and you identify those by coming up with your own list of goals on your own, then sharing and comparing them.

Our next step was to settle on a small handful of key goals that we both shared. For us, this was very easy. We had three very obvious key goals that we each individually wanted – a house in the country, complete debt freedom, and strong parenting.

If you find that you’re coming up with a lot of shared goals, that’s a good thing. I recommend settling on just a few – the ones that are most deeply important to both of you.

If you find that you’re not able to come up with shared goals, I would suggest spending more time together and focusing on building your relationship with each others. Not having shared goals is a sign of being on diverging paths in life – and that means if you take your relationship seriously, it needs some work, whether you can see that on the surface or not.

Once you’ve figured out those shared goals, work together to keep them front and center. Remind each other regularly of the goals you share and the little steps you’re both taking to make it happen. If you’re not both engaged with a goal and working towards it, it’s hard to do it alone. You’ve got to be together, and if it’s a goal you both share, reinforcing each other and helping each other should come somewhat naturally.

A final tip: revisit your goals on occasion. We talk about ours all the time. Usually, it’s motivational. Sometimes, we refine the goals a bit – for example, we’ve been thinking about the location we’d like to move to. The key thing, though, is that we talk about it together, cement our bonds to each other, and motivate each other to move forward.

It’s a lot easier to reach for something great if you’re doing it together.

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