Now that you've taken the How Realistic Are Your Expectations of Marriage? quiz, hopefully you've learned two things: (1) No marriage is perfect. (2) It takes skills to make it happen, but a happy marriage is definitely within your reach. (If you haven't yet taken the quiz, go back and take it now.) In fact, by taking the quiz, you're already on the right track toward improving your relationship for good!
Ready to move on? The second step in this workshop is setting
There are lots of reasons. We don't take our relationship goals seriously enough. We are doubtful that people can change. We don't believe that our relationships will ever really improve. We incorrectly believe that relationship goal-setting must be a two-person activity. Yet, despite all of our reservations and doubts about the viability of relationship goal-setting, we spend much of our lives trying to get through to our partners, to get them to be more understanding, compassionate and loving. In other words, we try to influence our mates without the benefit of a compass to help us know when we're on track.
But why write down your goals? First of all, by writing things down, you are taking an action. And it's definitely time to get out of your head and start doing something to help the situation. Second, when you see your thoughts in black and white, it makes them more real. Third, writing down your goals will offer you a baseline to which you can refer in days to come. You will be able to chart your progress and identify areas needing more of your attention. It's time to start writing.
List two or three things you are hoping to change or improve about your marriage.
When you're finished, move on to the next part of this step
Make your goals solution-oriented >>
1. Think about what you want in your marriage, not what's missing.
The trouble with complaints is that you are focused on the problems in your marriage rather than on what you can do about them. You need to translate your complaints into goals. For instance, instead of thinking, "I hate it when he avoids me," think, "I'd like him to be in the same room with me after dinner." Or, "I wish he wasn't so negative," would turn into, "It would be nice if he could admit that there were a few positive times between us."
2. Think action.
In order for goals to be solution-oriented, they must describe specific actions people will take to improve things. Let me give you an example. I once worked with a couple, George and Ellen, who were "empty nesters" and felt like they'd grown apart over the years. I asked, "When the two of you feel more like a couple and are more connected, what will you both be doing differently then?" Here is part of their list of specific actions.
- We will start dating again. It's been years since we went out together just the two of us (without the kids).
- We'll start being more intimate. We've been making love once every four to six weeks. If we made love once or twice a week, I'd feel closer to Ellen.
- We would talk about something other than the children. Anything else will do. I want to hear about his day and I want him to hear about mine. It would be wonderful if he would talk more about his feelings.
- I want him to be more romantic, like in the old days. He can buy me flowers once in a while, leave me thoughtful notes, or plan a surprise date for us.
3. Think small.
If you are having trouble with your marriage, I know you're in a lot of pain. And if you're hurting, I also know that you want the pain to end as quickly as possible. You want your spouse to get with the program and start loving you completely, immediately.
It's understandable if you are thinking this way, but this sort of impatience will work against you. It will prevent you from recognizing the small signs of improvement along the way. Change in relationships is usually a gradual process. You don't go from being miserably at odds with one another to being intensely in love again. There are hundreds of baby steps in advance of moving forward so you'll know if you're headed in the right direction.
For example, I worked with a woman whose spouse had cheated on her. After deciding that she wanted to try to salvage her marriage, I asked her what her ultimate goal was. She replied, "I want to feel complete faith and trust in him again." But before she could achieve this goal, she needed to set more doable steps in-between. I asked her what would be the first sign that she and her husband were moving in that direction. Among other things, she mentioned simply having him call when he needed to stay late at work. This became a more doable first step toward her goal of achieving more faith and trust again.
Speaking of small steps, it's now your turn to make sure that the goals you've identified are not too unreachable within a relatively short period of time. When I see people in my practice, I try to help them establish goals that can be achieved between sessions, usually a week or two. That's because nothing breeds success like success. Once you feel a bit of momentum, you just want to keep going and going and going.
Look at each of your goals and ask yourself, "What will be the very first sign that things are moving in the right direction?" Adjust any goals that are aimed too far in the future.
Now that your goals for your relationship are positively stated, action-oriented and broken down into manageable pieces, you are ready to ask for what you want.
On to Step 3: Ask for what you want >>