When I was in college, a girlfriend and I went on a trip to the East Coast. When we arrived at our destination, we were quite surprised to find out we had very different expectations of our trip. This resulted in a great deal of arguments between us. I wanted to camp in quiet nature by the ocean and she wanted to take a room above a bar with music blasting until the wee hours of the morning. I was hoping to tour new towns and check out museums and she wanted to go shopping. I wanted to deepen our friendship with quality reflective conversations and she wanted to go out drinking and pick up guys.
When I saw a note on a billboard announcing a need for an additional crew member to transport a sailboat from Martha’s Vinyard to Rhode Island for three days, I jumped at the opportunity. She wanted nothing to do with it and that effectively ended our trip together. It almost ended our friendship.
Hurt and disappointment
In retrospect, I can see how a lot of the angst, hurt and disappointment created on that trip between us would not have happened if we had just taken a bit of time at the start to share what we were hoping for out of our trip together.
As relationship counselors, Christian and I see a lot of couples who are in dire straits because they are not aligned on what they want to create together. They don’t have a clear purpose or mission, a clear set of intentions or goals to inform their actions and choices.
No surprise really. We are not in the habit of consciously designing our relationships. We don’t think to talk about what we are hoping for on that trip to Hawaii, or what we need when we transition from work to home at the end of a work day, much less what we think the purpose is for our relationship and how that fits in with our mission in life. We put more attention into designing businesses and homes and yards than we do what matters most: high quality, meaningful relationships and lives.
We drift and react
In truth, most of us drift through our days in reaction to what shows up. We react to our partners when they do things that bother us. We get upset when we are caught in traffic or when someone believes something different than we do about the Covid vaccine. We get bent out of shape when we read the news and get triggered when something unexpected happens, like a flat tire or a downed tree in our yard.
Taking the time to consciously create a shared narrative can provide a powerful frame that encourages us to respond differently in the face of life’s disappointments. When we outline who we are, declare what we are committed to, and align on creating experiences that are enlivening and enriching and meaningful to us both, our shared vision serves as a kind of north star that helps us remember who we really are and what we are really about. Our mission feeds and fuels our Full Potential possibilities and encourages us to bring out the best of ourselves in our lives and relationships.
On the flipside, when we don’t have a clear sense of our relationship purpose, we often end up feeling empty, flat, or unfilled. We question what we’re working so hard for, and we might even begin to wonder if it’s worth all the effort. And small problems begin to take on increased importance, hence the saying, “We fight about the dishes when we have nothing bigger to focus on”.
New road map
I once worked with the New RoadMap Foundation, a group of men and women who had dedicated their entire lives to being of service to others. They shared about the importance of purpose in relationship – basically saying that without a higher vision towards which to channel our creative energies as human beings, we are likely to unconsciously focus on things that don’t matter. For example, if I am fighting with my partner about who’s turn it is to do dishes or take out the garbage, then that is a telltale sign that I as an individual, and us together as a couple, don’t have a larger vision calling us forth.
Christian and I at the start of our relationship wrote up a declaration of who we are and what we are about. This declaration continues to inform how we treat one another and how we move through life in relationship to others. It serves as a guide for our business decisions as well as our personal ones. When we take trips, we write out our purpose and intended results for that vacation, so we are sure to create a vacation that is meaningful and enlivening to us both. When we design a workshop, we begin with a clearly defined purpose and list of intended results so that we are sure to create a course that fulfills our stated goals.
Relationship and purpose together are a beautiful marriage.
Purpose provides a firm context and container for our relationship. A clearly defined purpose or mission brings with it a broad perspective or vantage point that centers us. It allows us to meet the challenges that inevitably arise in relationship with resolve and clarity. When we have a mission or purpose in life, something bigger than ourselves to focus on, we bring more aliveness, spark, power and passion to our relationship.
Relationship, when mastered, can serve as a nourishing, empowering launching pad for the realization of our life’s mission. When we feel great and loved at home, we are a force to be reckoned with out in the world.
If you’d like to go deeper with this conversation and lift your relationship up beyond the daily grind, take our new mini-workshop, How to Create Your Relationship Purpose. If you would like to fight less, step into your full potential as an individual and couple and create a better life and relationship in 2022, we invite you to join us, from the comfort of … where ever you are.