Everyone has goals in life, whether that’s buying their first home, landing a promotion, or traveling the world. But how many of us are setting relationship goals?
Like anything else worth having, relationships take work. We often think that finding the right person is the biggest hurdle, and the relationship will take care of itself — sadly it doesn’t work like that.
Love and compatibility aren’t the only things that keep couples connected. Successful relationships rely on partners evolving together, that’s why setting couple goals with your partner is key to creating a strong, lasting relationship.
“Creating couple goals is a key way of keeping your shared vision of the future on track,” says Pam Custers, a couples therapist and founder of The Relationship Practice.
“These goals allow us to take stock and affirm what is working in our relationship, understand what can be improved on, and check in on each other’s priorities.”
A relationship goal can be something you want to achieve or improve on as partners, either in the short term or long term.
Shared relationship goals can range from big life decisions like deciding to move to a different country or smaller ones like saving for a fun holiday together. “Couple goals don’t have to be big and intimidating, it’s often the little things that count,” notes Custers.
“You may set goals that focus on creating the kind of emotionally connected relationship you are both seeking,” she explains. “You might set an intention to find a better work-life balance by not answering emails at the weekends; vow to stick to your weekly date night plans no matter what; or try out something new in the bedroom. You might also decide to pursue other emotional, physical, intellectual, or spiritual goals outside of your relationship, but do so together — taking a new class, volunteering, or getting healthy.”
Setting relationship goals doesn’t mean you have to do everything together with your partner, or that you shouldn’t have personal goals (after all, individuality is healthy for relationships). However, research shows that having shared goals is strongly linked to relationship quality.
Life has a funny way of sabotaging our best-laid plans, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth it. If you’re wondering how to set relationship goals in the first place, keep reading for some expert advice.
“The first thing to remember is to focus on the positives,” says Custers. “When setting goals, many couples will resolve to fight less or stop other negative behaviors. Surprisingly, this may not be the best way forward. According to psychobiologist Dr. Stan Tatkin, by focusing on what we shouldn’t do, we may be unwittingly entrenching the negatives.”
In research, these are known as “approach goals” — that lead to positive outcomes, like going to the gym together — and “avoidance goals” — aimed at avoiding negative relationship outcomes, like having fewer arguments.
Research shows that couples who focus on approach goals will be more satisfied with their relationship over time.
Some studies have even linked positive goal-setting in relationships to outcomes such as increased relationship satisfaction and closeness, greater sexual desire, and less reported conflict.
Custers notes that couple goals should be achievable and specific. “Be clear about the positive behaviors that you wish to enhance by focusing on the desired outcome of the goal,” she explains.
“This shifts our mindset to the positive impact that goal being set will have on the whole relationship. For example, instead of saying ‘stop working late’ you might say ‘start scheduling date nights in advance to spend quality time together.’”
“It's important to be clear on exactly what you want to improve and what steps you're going to take in order to achieve it,” Custers notes.
“For instance, if you want to spend more quality time together this year, discuss what activities you would like to do together, find a realistic time that suits you both, and be prepared to compromise.”
What many couples aren't aware of, Custers says, is that you need to revisit these shared goals regularly.
“Many couples can slide gently into believing that they have ‘arrived’ and that they already ‘know’ what their partner wants.” Instead, make time for regular relationship check-ins.
“This week, discuss your couple goals for the months ahead, put distractions aside and sit down to have an honest conversation about your relationship. Take the time to write down all the things that are working well and what you both want to improve on and how,” Custers advises.
“Next, agree on one or two couple goals together, focusing on the positives, and write them down somewhere accessible so you can refer back to see how well you are both doing.”