Today’s column is part 2 in our series on overhauling relationships. You can read the first, introductory column here.
The idea of actually setting specific relationship goals is foreign to most people. Relationships are not measurable or quantifiable like achievements, so we often find it difficult to set clear and specific goals for the improvement of our most important relationships with our spouse, children, and parents, siblings and extended family members. We want better relationships, of course, but we usually think of it in general terms rather than trying to set exact goals for the changes we want to bring about.
So most of us end up with a lot of achievement goals and not many relationship goals.
But consider this fact: A goal is nothing more or less than a clear picture of something the way you want it to be at a specific future moment. Desiring to accomplish or achieve something lends itself to goal-centered thinking because we can imagine a job well done or a promotion received or a salary or pay level obtained. We can quantify and segment an achievement and set short-range goals that lead us progressively toward it.
But here is the point: We can do exactly that same kind of visualizing with a relationship. It just takes a more qualitative type of thinking and the courage and effort to write a description of the relationship you want with a particular person five years from today.
Most achievement goals are written down with a lot of numbers or percentages. Relationship goals require descriptive words instead.
The actual exercise is fairly simple. Pick out a person you love and with whom you want to improve your relationship. This could be your spouse, your child, a parent or just a friend.
Now try to imagine yourself with that person five years from today. Think about how old you each will be and where you might be.
Focus on really seeing your future selves and on watching, on the monitor of your mind, how you will look, how you will speak to and listen to each other, how you will feel together, how you will communicate with and respond to each other. Have a little vision of the ideal — of how you want it to be. Write a one- or two-paragraph description on what your imagination sees.
Relationship goals take imagination, so kids are often better at setting them than adults. One mom who tried doing relationship goals with her two kids found that they had an easier time than she did. The three of them sat down on a Sunday afternoon earlier this year, and each, on a piece of paper, tried to write down a “relationship goal” for the other two.
The 9-year-old girl wrote this about her vision of her future relationship with her brother.
It is 2017, and I am 14. My brother is 16. He can drive now and he drives me to school. We enjoy being together because I am good at telling him what girls think. He looks after me. We tell each other everything and we trust each other. He helps me decide what classes to take and I help him with his math because I am better at it than he is. We are each other’s best friends.
Whether these relationship descriptions ever come fully true or not, they can have a guiding influence on how kids view each other and communicate with each other (and with their parents).
When we, as adults, take an attempt at relationship goals, the expansion of thinking that occurs is quite remarkable. Sit down with a pad of paper, or at the computer, and let it flow. Describe the relationship you would like to have with your spouse five years from today.
Then try it with your children. Try to imagine your 6-year-old at 11 and visualize the relationship you want to have at that point. Describe it on paper. Use that imagination!
Don’t worry about the quality of your writing — no one is going to see this but you. And don’t worry about setting too high of expectations and then having those hopes dashed if it doesn’t turn out quite like you described it. Just remember that by thinking about a relationship in its future tense, you can impact that relationship in positive ways.
And by thinking about the family relationships you want to have in five years, you begin to understand things that you have to start doing today to begin to bring them about.
After you have written them, put your “relationship goals” away in a private place. Pull them out periodically and read them — add to them — and evaluate how you are doing at making them better.
Any time we spend thinking about and developing relationships — particularly with family — is time well spent.
Because nothing is more important.