Sailing off into the sunset is often the end of the movie, but the actual beginning of the true, long-term relationship. We assume there’s nothing but smooth waters ahead, but anyone in an actual long-term relationship knows this uncharted territory can be much tricker than simply falling in love. How then to navigate the waters of a lifetime union without running aground on major life events or, worse, just drifting aimlessly along?
- Have a destination on your map (create shared goals):
Rarely do we leave the house with no idea of where we are going; yet we often start our time together with a significant other just “seeing how things go.” Initially, this is a great way to test the waters, but a successful long-term relationship requires input from both of you in terms of where you want to go in life or one of you will feel like you’ve been taken for a ride. What do you, personally, want to do with your time on Earth? What does your partner want to accomplish? Where do these overlap and how can you make space on your map to visit all of these goals, together? Finish a degree, open a business, build a family. Goals, both personal and shared, shape our lives and should be verbalized early and often in a relationship. They will change over time as you deal with the changing tides of life, but knowing what they are will give you something to steer towards, together.
2. Plot your course (develop a plan):
Come together at least once a year to sit down and go over major issues. Finances, careers, family, health, home repairs are all topics that you might discuss frequently over dinner or in the car, but having a meaningful chunk of time at least once a year to go through a these topics with your goals (see #1) in mind is essential. We use our State of the Union approach, which is essentially a weekend retreat to reflect on the past year and come up with a plan for the next year. This gives us a chance to celebrate what’s working and discuss issues before they become issues.
3. Know which way the wind blows (discuss shared values):
Unlike goals, values rarely change. These are the navigational tools that we rely on whether times are fair or foul. What matters to you? What matters to your partner? What does this look like?
4. Keep a logbook (hold yourselves accountable):
Literally, write things down. This could be a top 10 list of your shared values posted on your fridge. A timeline, which lays out a plan you created together for your shared goals. A vision statement for your relationship as a visual graphic. A template of your topics you discuss in your yearly State of the Union in a spreadsheet with reminders in your calendar. Writing something down makes it concrete and somewhat contractual. Marriage requires the signing of a document, but it shouldn’t be the only paperwork in your adventures together. Create something beautiful together and consult it frequently.
5. Make course corrections (communicate purposefully):
Your marriage can be the greatest adventure of your life. There will be storms that throw you off course and unpredictable events on your horizons, but frequent adjustments keep you agile. Check in frequently, not just when you hit an iceberg, to reflect on your shared goals and how your values can help guide you. It is easier to navigate in calmer waters than in a storm, so don’t wait until one is brewing to adjust the sails.