The beginning of a new year can be a testy time for couples. She’s on a new diet; he’s polishing off leftover holiday cookies and eyeing the Valentine’s chocolates. She’s waiting for the white sales; he’s shredding credit cards after opening the bills from their holiday purchases.
Counselors — 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.
Get the year off to a good start by taking a retreat together. We started retreating eight years ago; now we depend on it. Our partnership deepens each year as we re-evaluate priorities and dream together about God’s plan for our lives in the year ahead.
For several years, we went to a family-owned cottage on a lake. Other times we’ve hired a baby sitter and gone to a coffee shop 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 building 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 prioritizing, 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 has God commanded us to do? What is He leading us to do?” Our answers have included praying and studying Scripture daily, spiritually training our kids, volunteering at church, eating less and exercising more.
Next we consider have to dos, everything from organizing paperwork for taxes to handling house and car maintenance. We write these down to ensure they get done.
The joy is moving to like to dos. We ask, “What do we love to do together?” We enjoy reading, having friends over for dinner parties and going to the symphony. We also consider our family time. Going on hikes, playing games, visiting the apple orchard, 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.
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 game nights, quiet 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.
Steve Watters is the director of marriage and family formation at Focus on the Family. Candice — the founding editor of Boundless Webzine — edits and writes from home.
This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine.
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