I was just missing one area. What was I doing to get in better shape, relationally, with my husband? Convicted at where my priorities were, I realized that I needed to deliberately and intentionally invest in my marriage just as much as I was investing in other areas of my life. And that meant setting tangible goals yearly in that area, too. So I let my husband, Hugh, in on the goal-making process by asking him a few non-threatening questions. From those questions, we ended up setting our yearly goals together, which we've done now for the past ten years or so.
I initiated our goal-setting process by asking my spouse the following questions:
1. What did you most enjoy about our dating days?
2. What do you wish we could do as a couple that we rarely or no longer take the time to do?
3. What have you always wanted to do, as a couple, that we haven't yet done?
4. Where would be the ideal getaway for you and me to go someday?
5. What, specifically, would you like to see us accomplish together in the next year?
My husband's answers to those questions opened up a whole new arena - and adventure - of yearly goal-setting together. And because I took the time - and initiative - to be deliberate and intentional in asking him what things he would like to see changed or improved upon in our marriage, I actually had a place to start (instead of just feeling like maybe he was unhappy or maybe there was more to our relationship that we were failing to discover). We also ended up incorporating into our lives some things like a weekly day to play, projects we've long talked about and finally accomplished together, and trips we've planned and taken that we might not otherwise have even talked about.
Through the years, we've continued to set - and meet - relational goals. They're mainly initiated by me each year. But that's okay. As he's trying to focus on so many things to take care of our family, financially and otherwise, I can do my part by focusing on our relationship when it comes to setting and implementing yearly goals. It's amazing what any couple can accomplish when even one partner is willing to do the work. And besides, Romans 12:18 tells us "If possible, as much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (That's a great principle for marriage when both parties are waiting for the other to take the initiative).
I encourage you to ask your spouse those questions above and then come up with some goals of your own for 2014. But if that's too big of a step for now, or if you're frustrated at being the one who has to initiate a closer connection, here's a place to start - five simple goals for a closer connection in the next year:
1. Start your day with a kiss. Simple, but effective. Studies show couples who kiss each other daily (even a quick peck on the cheek) are happier, overall, than couples who don't.
2. Say encouraging words. It doesn't take a lot of effort, but it reaps marvelous results. Ephesians 4:29 says "Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (NLT)" Think in terms of "I'm only going to say it if my spouse is encouraged by it." You'll notice, within days, how your relationship improves.
3. Plan a regular date night. If you have children and can rarely afford a babysitter, find another couple in the same situation and exchange babysitting once a month so each couple can have a monthly date night. Dating was important before you were married and believe us, it's even more important after you're married.
4. Read through a relationship-building book together. I know, it might sound like "work" to you or your spouse, but it can be fun, and a great investment of your time together. Maybe it will consist of you reading to your spouse before bed. Or taking turns reading a chapter to each other once a week. I tried for years to get my husband to read through a relationship book with me and finally he recommended one to me, himself, which we really enjoyed (Love & War, by John and Stasi Eldredge) and then he insisted on writing a couples book with me that he - and other men - would enjoy reading (When Couples Walk Together)! Working through a devotional book together will help you see deeper into your spouse's heart, as well as your own.
5. Pray together regularly. We've heard this advice as often as you have, but it took us years to get to that place. We will admit that, even as a couple in ministry (my husband is a pastor), it's difficult to find concentrated time to pray together. But when we started spending just a few minutes praying together before work in the morning, we found that a short prayer also included a hand held, two hears shared, and a connection with God together that made all the difference in our day. If it's still a struggle in your marriage, pray about how the two of you can make time to pray together.
A verse to remember throughout the year is the last part of First Corinthians 13:8, which says that love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." When it comes to setting goals for your marriage, take the first step, willingly and lovingly. It's what Christ did for you.
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and the author of several books including When a Woman Inspires Her Husband and When Couples Walk Together, which she co-authored with her husband, Hugh. For more information and free resources to strengthen your soul or marriage, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
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