Today You’ll finally be able to make relationship goals that stick for the long-term!
If you’ve never tried to make them before, you’ll learn why you should and, if you’ve made them before but they didn’t work, you’ll learn why things went South. Then I’m going to discuss the six biggest mistakes people make when they set relationship goals, and how to avoid them!
Let me first speak to those of you who have never tried to set relationship (or maybe even any other) goals.
One of the first things I do when I meet with a new couple is ask them what their goals are. It’s always amazing to me how often people have never really thought about them. For a lot of people, when they think of goals, they think they’re just for businesses or Olympians.
The real problem with goals and why they seem so “hard” to set and do is because most people have very little experience with them. You’ve likely either never been around people who set real goals or have never really set them yourself. When I say “real goals” I mean just that.
A lot of time people think they’re setting goals, but they’re not. They’re stating wishes.
Sadly, in all the schooling I’ve had (and I’m a Jew from New York, so I’ve had A LOT of schooling), I’ve never had a class that covers personal goal-setting. Although I have psychology degrees, the only time I ever had a class about any kind of goal-setting was in business school when we discussed organizational goals. Kind of sad, huh?
This is why you likely don’t know much about goals or feel intimidated about making them: you just haven’t been taught how, or been around people who were good at making (and keeping) them.
Psychologists Gary Latham and Edwin Locke are known as the “fathers of goal-setting theory.” They did some groundbreaking work in the late 1960s and showed that creating a goal is one of the best and easiest ways to enhance performance and increase motivation and productivity.
Goal setting is critical because it helps your brain focus and eliminates so much of the chatter in your head. Instead of a moving target, you have a clear path to the actions needed to create happiness and peace in whatever you’re trying to do or change (like your relationship).
For a lot of you reading this, you’ve had issues in your relationship for some time. Maybe you’ve been miserable and worried that nothing will ever change. Maybe you’ve been bored and uneasy. Maybe you’ve been wondering if you should break up or get a divorce. Whatever your issue, you end up waffling back and forth.
One day you feel motivated to work on your relationship. You read a book, listen to a podcast or watch a video and you try out a new technique or strategy and you feel hopeful.
However, your partner doesn’t react the way you want or doesn’t seem to change quickly enough. You think: “This stuff never works” or “I can’t make any changes until they do!” Then you give up and you’re back to the waffling back and forth. It’s exhausting!!! It’s because you’re deciding over and over again and that’s what’s wearing you out.
Let me ask you a question. Which wears you out more? A hike or shopping at Macy’s for a couple of hours? It’s the shopping! Why? Because of all the decisions. You get worn down and mentally exhausted.
The same thing happens in your relationship. It’s the waffling back and forth that’s killing you. It’s the getting your hopes up and deciding to work on things on Monday and then pulling your hair out and contemplating divorce on Tuesday. It’s time to just stick to what you said you were going to do for a set amount of time.
So, when you’re having a hard time with your partner and you have a relationship goal, you don’t have to decide to stay or work on things over and over. You’re no longer getting despondent thinking: this is the rest of my life or things will never change. Instead, you’re just focused on the next short period of time that you’ve outlined in your goal.
Now it’s time to bring in those of you who have set goals before, but think they failed; it’s likely because you made one of these six mistakes I’m about to outline.
So, whether you’re a first timer trying to avoid mistakes or someone who didn’t get it right the first round, here are the six big mistakes I see people making when they’re setting relationship goals.
Avoid these 6 pitfalls, and you’ll see success!
Mistake #1: Making Relationship Goals Together
No, that’s not a typo. Do NOT create relationship goals as a couple. Last I checked, you should be two separate people. Each of you has his or her own responsibility in the relationship. One of the main problems couples have is trying to control or keeping score with one another. Having your own goals and working on how you can improve the relationship keeps the focus on what you’re doing instead of on what your partner is (or is not) doing.
This is also how you can avoid the pitfall of thinking that the only way you can change your relationship is if your partner changes also. That’s not true. Set your own goals, stick to them, and you’ll see things change, even if your partner won’t do a thing.
Mistake #2: Not Committing First
Sometimes couples come to me and say, “We’re going to see how therapy and setting these goals goes, and then decide if we’re staying together.” I tell them right then and there that they might as well not work on their relationship because whatever they try isn’t going to be effective.
The commitment needs to come first. When you have one foot in and one foot out, you’re not going to achieve your goals. Think about it, if you were at your job with one foot in and one out, wouldn’t people pick up on your energy? Wouldn’t you be acting a certain way and viewing things differently than if you were completely committed? Would you expect raises or promotions with this kind of attitude and focus? Your romantic relationship is no different.
Once again, if you’re looking to your partner to commit, so that you’ll commit – you’re in trouble. This is all about you putting in your 100%, and not focusing on what your partner is or isn’t saying or putting in. If you want to see commitment, act that way first.
I don’t usually do this, but I want to share one of my favorite quotes with you. This is the quote to repeat to yourself any time your motivation feels wobbly:
“Until one is committed there is a hesitancy;
The chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.” – W. N. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
This is what happens when you create a goal. You’ve made a commitment for whatever length of time your goal is set, and opportunities begin to present themselves. They’re things, people and events you likely wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. It’s sort of magical and it always happens.
Mistake #3: The Goal is Dependent on Your Partner
The goal can’t hinge on another person acting a certain way. It has to be something that is completely within your power to control. If you have a goal that your partner treats you with respect, that’s not something you can achieve so it’s not your goal.
If respect is something very important to you, you need to ask yourself what you need to do. So maybe the goal would be: “I’ll build a respectful atmosphere in our relationship.” You’d then have to create action steps in line with this goal. Things like: Every day I’ll ask my partner questions about their day and listen attentively. I’ll make sure I am the biggest “yes” and support in my partner’s life. Every day I’ll make sure I really listen to my partner and support what they want to achieve. I’ll start picking up after myself daily. Every night I’ll ask my partner if they felt respected today. If not, I’ll ask for one thing I can do to improve. These are action steps to create that respectful relationship.
I know it’s hard not to focus on what our partners are doing or to not want them to act differently. However, you’ve got to remember that you cannot control what someone else does (sorry – I hated learning that too – it doesn’t mean I still don’t try to control those around me, it just means that now I know it’s wrong). You can only control you and what you do.
Mistake #4: The Goal is Stated in the Negative
You need to state each goal for your relationship in positive language and not negative. In other words, you have to say what you do want, not what you don’t want. It’s not a goal for your partner to nag you less. First of all, this violates Mistake #3 (it depends on your partner acting a certain way), but it’s also unattainable. What the heck does “nagging less” look like? Does this mean your partner can still nag you but just not as much as before? How would your partner know if they were nagging you less? How would you know? Instead, think about what less nagging would give you: A more peaceful home? A more loving relationship? These are goals.
Mistake #5: You Don’t Get Clear on the “Why”
People think their thoughts drive them but that’s not it. It’s your feelings that drive you. This is why you know it’s a good idea to lose weight and have all the stats in the world telling you what to eat and how much to exercise, but you don’t do it. It’s not because you’re stupid! It’s because you’re driven by your feelings about losing weight (I don’t want to wake up early and go to the gym – I need my sleep! I’ll miss out on all those yummy foods I love!)
You’ve got to get clear on why you want to achieve a certain relationship goal. To do that, you want to answer these four questions:
- What feelings are motivating you?
- How will you feel when this goal is accomplished or while you’re doing it?
- How will it affect your life when it’s complete?
- Why is it important?
Writing down these answers is just as critical as writing down the goal itself! You need to identify what motivates you and see that in your mind’s eye over and over.
Put yourself in this feeling state of how it’s going to feel when your goal is accomplished or while you’re doing it again and again. Especially when your partner is acting like a butthead and you’re feeling your motivation wane. Picture yourself and feel yourself with your goal accomplished and you’ll find your motivation coming back!
Mistake #6: Not Scheduling
Lots of folks write out their goals and even note all the critical action steps but then they make the mistake of not scheduling those action steps. For the specific formula for making achievable goals that stick, you can look below for my free Making Goals that Stick Checklist.
I say it all the time: success is scheduled!! If you want to make these goals a reality, you need to schedule as many of the action steps as possible, until they become habits.
Some of your action steps will be harder to schedule. For these, you want to create reminders either in your smartphone or setting an alarm for a certain time every day.
For example, you might have an action step that involves stopping and setting intention before you walk into your house so that you can be more present with your partner and family members. Since you don’t always know exactly when you’ll be home and it’s likely you’d forget to check your schedule anyway, you can set a reminder. I have one resourceful client who reminded me that iPhones have the capability of letting you know when you’re near or at a certain location. Just put the coordinates of your home address in the geolocator and your phone will alert you whenever you get to your house. Bam! You’re always reminded to set intention before you walk in the door.
Starting with your first goal, review your action steps and start putting them into practice. If one of the steps was to start going to the gym three times a week because working out evens out your mood and helps you be more patient, then I want you to put the gym, three times a week, directly into your schedule.
Then you need to keep this time sacred! You don’t cancel it because the bake sale is happening at the same time. You don’t cancel it because you need to bring your kid to the orthodontist. You don’t cancel it because of that big project at work. There are ALWAYS going to be reasons to cancel. You’re always going to be busy. I want you to schedule a different time for those other things, not your working out.
Or, better yet, say “no” much more! I get that maybe you can’t say “no” to your boss or that you’re not going to pull your kid from baseball, but there are LOTS of things you can say “no” to if you look. You could also get creative with the things you do have to do (i.e., ask someone else to bring your kid to volleyball for one month or see if the deadline for the big project at work can be extended).
I know emergencies will come up, but if you start moving this “sacred” time around, everything will become an emergency. Remember, commitment is everything and the universe, your partner, your boss and everyone else will pick up on those signals. So, send the right signals out.
Lastly, don’t focus on the end goal all the time. It can distract and pull attention away from the present moment. There are going to be hard moments in this process. There are going to be times when it seems like you’ll never reach your goal. It’s in these times when you need to stop focusing on the big goal and, instead, stay focused on the action steps. What’s the next right thing to do? Stay in the moment and focus on what you can do today… right now! In the end, all you have is right now. Who knows what will happen next year, next month or even later today? Just focus on what you’re doing, your thoughts, and how you’re feeling right now and take that next right action step.