lanning is one of the most essential tools for success in life, and planning out your marriage goals with your spouse is no exception. Jess and I take some time every year to look back on the previous year and set goals for the future. It’s a pretty small time investment, but the results have been nothing short of amazing.
Goal-setting sounds like a horribly daunting and boring task, but it’s really pretty fun. It has its benefits, and you get to dream together! This is the process we use, but feel free to adapt it to your marriage:
Planning the Planning:
- Pick a date
- Set aside a few hours
- Grab a snack, go for a walk, find a quiet place
- Bring something to write on (and with!)
It really doesn’t matter what date you pick as long as it’s something you remember year after year. You might pick New Year’s day, the first day of Spring, or something else. We usually pick a weekend day right before or after our anniversary. It’s something we both remember and we look forward to both the anniversary and the planning date.
All great ideas take time. Most people do their best thinking when they don’t have to be anywhere anytime soon. Deciding on your future shouldn’t be rushed!
Brains tend to focus on food when they’re hungry, so pick a time after a meal or grab a snack first. A walk helps to clear the mind, then try to find a quiet place to sit and talk. A picnic table at a quiet park is a favorite of ours.
Bring a paper notebook and leave your cell phones alone. Studies show that handwritten notes help to give a deeper connection to the material, and distraction hurts the kind of deep thinking that you want here.
- Pray together
- Start with your wins
- Plan with the end in mind
- Find what’s important
- Remember, you’re a team
- Find your “when”
- Fill in the gaps
- Challenge yourselves
- Keep your goals visible
- Make all of your major decisions based on your goals
- Plan how you’ll celebrate the victories…and do it!
As you set off to plan your future as best as you can, ask for God’s guidance in your planning first. It’s amazing what He can do when you only ask.
We always start the process with a section called “Past Year Wins”. In it, we write down the big victories in the past year, whether it’s something we achieved or something God has blessed us with, we want to remember it.
Start by talking about where you want to be in five years and just write everything down that comes to mind. This isn’t concrete, so just throw ideas out there and write it all down.
Look at your list–what stands out to you as worthy of being a goal? Which ones will set you up to be your best selves if you achieve them? This can point out when things are at odds with each other. Talk with your spouse then circle those that you think should be goals. For us, we had to contrast going on a vacation each year with being debt free. We could have one or the other, but not both. Being debt free would set us up to be in the best spot we could in five years, so we chose that one, knowing that vacations would be much less frequent if they happened.
Part of being married is learning to function as one. Your spouse’s goals are your goals, and you should work as a team to achieve them.
For us, Jess’s goal is to finish her Master’s degree, so that’s our goal as a couple.
The most important thing here is not the goals themselves, but working together as a couple throughout the whole process.
We recently met with our mentor couple to go over some plans for changes we’re talking about in our lives. After explaining all of the details, we asked what they thought of the plan. Without skipping a beat, the husband said, “I think it’s a perfect plan. You both agree to it, and in a marriage, that’s the most important thing.”
Set up a section for each of the following time frames: 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, and 5 years.
As you go through your list, put each goal in the corresponding section of when you’d like to finish it. This isn’t a concrete “we’re-failures-at-life-if-we-don’t-do-this” commitment, but a reasonable time when you should be able to get it done if you focus on it together. Our time frames are suggestions–sometimes we will add or delete one or two based on our goals, but they’re a good start.
Some things probably stand out as being bigger than others. For example, “buy a house with 25% down” might be downright scary compared to “go on a couples’ retreat together”. That’s okay. You might put “buy a house” as a 5-year goal, and “go on a retreat together” as a 6-month goal. You want to have both short- and long-term goals.
For the big goals, try to break them down into smaller chunks so you can measure your progress. This helps to keep you on track for the big goal, and it gives you smaller victories to celebrate as you go.
For example, if your 5-year goal is to buy a house with a 25% down payment, you might set the following smaller goals:
One year: save 5% of down payment
Two years: save 10% of down payment
Three years: save 15% of down payment
Four years: save 20% of down payment
You know what you’re capable of, and you know when you’re being lazy. Chasing your future and goals together is an area where you get out of it exactly what you put into it. If you’re lazy about it, you’ll get lazy results. Challenge yourselves to do things in less time. You might even surprise yourself with what you accomplish In marriage, you’ll often find that 1+1=3–that is, your efforts (1) plus your spouse’s efforts (1) somehow equal more than either of you could do on your own (3).ish.
Jess and I started out with a 5-year goal of being debt free but realized that it wasn’t enough of a challenge, so we made it a one-year goal. We pushed and encouraged each other to make good decisions, and we stayed focused. We missed the goal by four months, but at a year and four months, we were debt free. Much better than five years. Don’t be afraid of a challenge.
Find somewhere to put your goals that you’ll see regularly. It’s these regular reminders that will help keep you on track. You might put them on the front of your fridge or on a mirror you use a lot. We use a picture frame on the wall in our bedroom. Each year we put the newest one in front and leave the rest so they’re all in one place when we want to look back.
This is where we start to see the benefits! By having a predetermined set of goals, you know where you’re headed, and connected to that, where you’re not. You have essentially made all of your decisions already, by deciding with your spouse what the BEST decision is for your money, time, and effort. Everything other than the best decision, no matter how appealing, will have to wait.
If your goal is to save 5% of a down payment each year for 5 years and you find a brand new big-screen TV that will cost half of what you saved for the house that year, looking at the goals will show you the house, not the TV, you’ll remember what you REALLY want, and the decision has already been made. It’s not always fun, but in five years that TV will be at a yard sale for $100 and you can buy it and put it in your new house. That’s a win in my book.
One of the most enjoyable things you can do is celebrate the victories you have when you and your spouse work as a team and accomplish a goal. There’s a sense of ownership and pride, and working toward and achieving a goal will bring you closer together.
As a part of your planning process, write a meaningful way to celebrate next to each goal. Match the size of the celebration to the size of the goal.
When Jess and I were working to pay off our debt we would go out for ice cream each time we paid off a student loan. When we paid off the last one, we saved and took a trip to Disneyland.
Working toward a goal is just that–work. But knowing the reward at the end of it can help you to work that much harder. And taking the time to celebrate the victories as they happen will remind you just how much you can do when you work as a team.
What is a goal you’d like to set in your life? What would accomplishing this goal mean to you? Tell us about it in the comments below…