By Steve and Candice Watters
The beginning of a new year can be a testing time for couples. She’s on a new diet; he’s polishing off leftover holiday snacks. She’s eyeing the post-Christmas sales; he’s shredding the credit cards after opening the bills from their holiday purchases.
Counsellors – and our own experience – say much marital conflict stems from competing expectations and priorities. Though often unspoken, expectations drive each spouse’s agenda, leading to a wreck when they aren’t aligned.
Start the year off right
Get the year off to a good start by taking a retreat together. We started this tradition eight years ago; now we depend on it. Our partnership deepens each year as we re-evaluate priorities and dream together about what the plan for our lives in the year ahead is.
For several years, we went to a family-owned cottage on a lake. Other times, we’ve hired a babysitter and went for coffee together for several hours. The important thing is getting uninterrupted time – as a couple – to focus on shared expectations and priorities for the year.
Partnership and priorities
That first retreat, we tackled really big plans, including buying a house and getting pregnant. Fulfilling those dreams motivated us to dream more – till we found ourselves making long lists of resolutions that proved tough to keep.
An insight we read from C.S. Lewis challenged our approach. When it comes to prioritising, he wrote that there are only three things to be done:
1. the ought-to-dos,
2. the have-to-dos and
3. the like-to-dos
Now we use Lewis’ categories to guide our priorities. For ought-to-dos, we ask “What should we be doing?” Our answers have included loving each other more, nurturing our kids, volunteering, eating less, and exercising more.
Next we consider have-to-dos – everything from organising paperwork for taxes to handling house and car maintenance. We write these down to ensure they get done.
The joy is moving on to like-to-dos. We ask, “What do we love to do together?” We enjoy reading, having friends over for dinner, and going to the cinema. We also consider our family time. Going on hikes, playing games, visiting the park, taking swimming lessons – these top the list.
Once you make your own list of things you should do, have to do, and like to do, then guard them. Put them on your to-do list and calendar first, before less important things crowd them out.
The power of routine
For all the power of partnership and priorities, your efforts to dream up a new year together will be short-lived if they don’t become part of your routine. This goes for date nights, family dinners, personal time, exercise time, car and house maintenance, everything. If you stick with it, your priorities will become habits and your goals will become reality.
Next year, that power of routine may motivate you to head off again to review the past year – and dream up another year together.
From the February 2006 Focus on the Family magazine. © 2006 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. used by permission.