Mutual Goals

Mutual Goals

In marriage, you need to be on the same page
by Diana Hayes


Betsy wants a house with a nice yard for the two kids she hopes to have. She wants to stay home, bake brownies for her children, and do the gardening she loves.

James wants to live in an apartment in the city. He wants both he and Betsy to have well-paying jobs so they can afford to take off for weekends and long vacations. He wants them to drive new cars and wear designer clothes.

Betsy doesn't feel the need for extra money or vacations. They cannot agree on what lifestyle they should lead.

How did this happen? Why aren't they on the same page? Didn't they discuss these issues before they got married? Betsy thought they had agreed to have kids, but James now says he has changed his mind. Betsy feels betrayed. How will they ever resolve this conflict?

Conflicting goals, conflicting values

James and Betsy are experiencing conflicting goals. Our goals are based on our values, which are imposed on us by family, educational structures, the media, and our social group, both from the past and from the present. All of these institutions have a major impact on our values and goals in life.

Betsy's values have to do with nurturing and family, whereas James' values have to do with image, prestige and security. James and Betsy are facing a dilemma that can have a serious effect on the future of their marriage.

There are long-term and short-term goals. A short-term goal can be something as simple as painting the house, while a longer-term goal can be where to go on your next vacation. An even longer-term goal is deciding in which city or town you will live. As long as both partners agree on the goals that will impact both of them, there isn't a problem. A problem arises, however, when the goal of one partner interferes with the plans or goals of the other partner.

Sometimes our goals and dreams are based on deficits, and this has the potential to negatively effect our marital relationship. There are times, however, when basing a goal on deficits can be positive, such as wanting to be a good parent when you didn't have good parenting yourself. It is sometimes necessary to explore the motivations underlying your goals to see if the goals are worthwhile and realistic or if they are based on deficits from your past that no longer apply to your present situation

Nurturing your partner's dreams--and vice versa

Dreams and goals are often the same, and it's important for marriage partners to nurture each other's dreams. When you decide to nurture a partner's dream, you will probably need to negotiate, which means working out a compromise based on the needs of both people.

Let's say that Tom wants to go back to school. He decides to quit his job and return to school full time so he can finish faster. This means that Mary, who works part-time, will now have to get a full-time job. This is her sacrifice for Tom's goal.

Because Mary will be busier than she was before Tom went back to school, it will be difficult for her to remain responsible for all of the household tasks she was accustomed to doing; Tom has to agree to pick up the slack.

This is a situation where one person's goal does not conflict with a goal of the other. Mary doesn't mind working full-time because she enjoys her job, and she knows that, with Tom returning to school for his degree, he will eventually have a satisfying career and his happiness will carry over to the marriage.

Getting back to James and Betsy

James' family always lived in apartments, so James didn't have a male role model for mowing lawns or keeping a house in good repair, because these kinds of chores weren't required of his father. Even though James' father and mother both worked, they didn't make enough money to afford the luxury of vacations or the expensive clothing that James wanted to dress as his friends did.

This left James feeling inferior and insecure, and he doesn't want to repeat that kind of life. James' goals are based on deficits having to do with lacking the material things he desired when he was growing up.

Betsy, on the other hand, spent her childhood in a middle-class house in a middle-class neighborhood with a stay-at-home mom who actually baked cookies for Betsy and her friends. Betsy's dad enjoyed doing yard work and household projects. Because Betsy thrived in that environment, she wants to repeat it in her married life with James.

Betsy and James may not be able to negotiate their goals on their own. They may need the help of a professional therapist, who will explore with them the motivations underlying their individual goals.

It comes down to a shared value system

It's not always necessary to seek therapy in order to come to an understanding regarding individual goals. Most times each partner will have an individual goal that doesn't interfere with the goals of the other partner. Jill wants to be a writer and Jack wants to pursue his goal of excelling at golf. Both Jill and Jack need to have individual time on a regular basis to achieve their goals, but neither goal actually stands in the way of the other's goal.

The goals that need to be mutually accepted by both partners are the lifestyle choice goals--goals that will be life-altering, such as where to live, to have children or not, and if so, how many. Most other goals do not need to be mutual goals.

It is important, however, that both partners have the same value system--a value system that helps us to make the right choices concerning which goals are worthwhile and which goals are not as. meaningful. Otherwise it is likely that marriage partners will have conflicting goals.

Diana Hayes is a Marriage and Family Therapist in California, and a freelance writer.

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