I love the new year–that line of demarcation between the old and the new. Sometimes I set personal goals and sometimes I just decide on a word for the year to live by. Every year though, Leif and I spend time setting goals as a couple.
We have what we call a couple’s retreat when we take time together for reflection, planning, goal setting, and fun. I got the idea from my friend Daisy. She and her husband had been having a couple’s retreat for years. Thinking it would be a great way to jump-start the new year, Leif and I gave it a whirl and we’ve taken time to set goals as a couple every year since. You can call it a retreat, a board meeting, a planning session–whatever works for you.
The idea of the retreat is that couples set aside a day or a weekend to review their previous year, celebrate their accomplishments, reflect on their progress, and set new goals to work on together. If you don’t have the time or means to get out-of-town for a real getaway, you can do what we did and plan a day away from home with no distractions and an agenda that includes at least one meal out, fun activities, and planning time.
Leif and I hadn’t set new goals together in a while before our first retreat. Now, we do every year, and we both look forward to it, but the first time I suggested the idea of the retreat to him, it went like this:
“Hey, Leifer. When I was at Daisy’s she had this great idea yada yada yada. She and Sean take a weekend or a day or whatever and go over their finances and their goals, yada yada yada. It was SO great–I loved it! We should do it too. We should totally do it.” Or something like that.
Leif looked at me over the top of his reading glasses. Seriously, he just looked at me. And blinked. That was all.
It was great that Leif agreed, but it felt like I’d asked him to put a ring in his nose so I could lead him to a day of shoe shopping. It turned out though, that setting goals as a couple turned out to be a really fun and productive day!
Phase 1: Breakfast at one of our favorite places–one of those coffee joints that belongs to the old folks and the hipsters and the farmers and the families and the business crowd–everybody. The delicious food is locally sourced. And the coffee? She’s good.
Leif and I talked about the previous year. What did we accomplish? What were we proud of? What did we screw up? What lessons did we learn? It might have been considered a bad year, due to some things that happened. It was definitely stressful, but, as most years go, a lot of good things happened too. We got to talk about what we thought about all of it, how we had come through it, and how we were moving forward. Things we celebrated were Zach’s college graduation and following through on a plan to spend more time with our friends.
Phase 2: We finished breakfast and since we’d both been sick, we scrapped our original plan and decided to take a drive to the mountains instead. We would be captive in the car without any distractions other than the winter scenery. It was also a private place to talk about our relationship away from the crowds in a restaurant or other public place. The conversation about our relationship started with questions I got from Daisy’s retreat folders like this: Question #1 On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate our marriage? Question #2 What can I do that would cause you to feel more confident in our future as a couple?
If for nothing else on that day, I am grateful for those two questions. The year had been stressful and we had fallen short in a lot of areas. The beauty of the goal setting retreat was that it got us to the nitty-gritty of how we were feeling about things we hadn’t been communicating about and that’s always a good thing for a relationship.
We talked about things we could do as a couple that we rarely or no longer took the time to do, things we’d always wanted to do, and what we wanted to accomplish together. We had good, honest, important conversation and I was reminded that it’s not always easy to be the kind of person you would want to be married to.
We stopped a few times during our drive to watch kids sled down the hill toward the lake and watch some brave, industrious teens shoveling the snow off the lake to make their own ice rink. We came up with activities, goals, and resolutions for the new year, set a date when we would check our progress, and headed back to town.
Phase 3: On the way back we talked about our finances. That didn’t take as long because we’d been talking about them regularly all year long. Since Leif was driving, I was taking notes and writing down our goals and strategies.
Phase 4: We ended our goal setting retreat with appetizers and a drink, then went to an exciting movie we’d both wanted to see. See how we did that? We alternated between work and fun all day.
Since our first year, we’ve gotten better at our goal setting retreats. We put good agendas together, but we also don’t get worked up if we don’t have a lot planned because we’re actually looking forward to getting the work done. That always feels good and they’re always good days. It’s an excellent way to get the new year started on the same page.
Someone asked me once, “What do you talk about?!” We talk about anything we want to: finances, family, fitness, spirituality, work, vacation time–anything that seems important. We add each topic to the agenda to make sure we don’t miss anything and put them in an order that makes sense for the flow of the day. The first thing we do is review each topic from the year before in order to celebrate our successes and move topics to the new year’s agenda. Hopefully we’ve checked in on the goals several times throughout the year so the review doesn’t take too long. Following Daisy’s lead, we put all the information into a binder for quick reference and a history of our progress. The binder can be as big and detailed as you need it to be or very simple with a tab for each year.
Also, your new year for setting goals as a couple doesn’t have to start in January. If you don’t have time or you’re not ready, start your new year another time when it works for you. You can start fresh whenever you want!
Have you ever set goals as a couple? How did it go and what did you do? Are there any specific guidelines or models you follow? I’d love to know what your resources are. Good luck and have fun!