From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
I’m a big fan of lists. Making lists, setting goals, creating intricate plans for success – all of these things send me to my happy place. But even the biggest list-loving nerd can admit that some lists are more fun than others.
Grocery lists aren’t nearly as fun as my list of books I’ve read. And that spreadsheet of bills to pay each month can’t hold a candle to my plan for an upcoming birthday party or the Pinterest board of craft projects and science experiments my seven-year-old picked out for her spring break.
That’s why I think New Year’s lists, goals and plans are so beloved. After the chaos of the holidays and the stress of DOING ALL THE THINGS ON MY LIST during the last quarter of the year, it’s refreshing to literally start a new page. Looking at the blank expanse of the first page in a new planner, calendar or journal can offer our hearts and minds peace that we crave after hectic holidays and the race to the final days of the year.
And so we sharpen our pencils, format our spreadsheets, crack open those notebooks, or line up our colored pens – and we dream. We dream and we plan and we hope for the very best in every area of our lives. And in that moment, the one right before the ink hits the paper (or screen, depending on your method, of course!), it’s all possible, isn’t it?
I see a beauty in this time of year, but also a balm. Often we can find ourselves limping toward the finish line of another year – grumpy, discouraged, disappointed and longing for that fresh start. What a relief to turn the page and begin again!
Nowhere is this more true than in my family, with the people I love most. Unless you count the state of my dining room floor, which is the sticky victim of a toddler who delights in throwing food. I’d love to begin again there, too! But if I focus on the things I can change (because no amount of firm redirection is phasing said food-throwing baby girl…), I find my marriage at the top of my list for 2015.
The past two months in my house have involved celebrations and joyful moments, for sure. But they’ve also included tension, misunderstandings and short tempers.
Like many of you, we have a busy schedule that leaves little time for long walks on the beach or meaningful talks over gourmet meals. But as 2014 came to a close, we made a point to spend some extra time together. I’m not saying we stopped choosing one more episode of our favorite show over gazing into each others’ eyes completely. But even a few minutes can make a difference. And this year, we’ve really enjoyed dreaming together and making a few plans for 2015.
We’ve done our best to set challenging but attainable goals for the year, and we’ve talked a bit about what worked last year and what didn’t. (And let’s be honest – picking Friday Night Lights as our show to watch after the kids go to bed on Saturday nights WAS a winner!)
If your marriage is on your 2015 list of things to improve, focus on, or otherwise nurture, here are a few ideas.
Plan those date nights: I don’t know how many times I’ve spent an evening clicking and pinning all those clever ideas for date night jars. Or date nights in a jar. Or a jar of date nights in a jar. Clearly, there are tons of ideas out there! (And for some reason, they all involve jars…) But for my husband and me, we don’t need an elaborate system or an adorable tool. We simply need to make a plan.
For us, that means deciding how often we can make a date night happen and then clarifying our expectations for what those evenings look like. It also means making a list (yay!) of new places to try and ideas for Plan B (when the kids are sick or the babysitter cancels or we just don’t have the money for a night out).
Set some goals: I’m not sure where your marriage needs to grow or change. Sometimes I’m not even sure where my own relationship needs the most help! And, actually, I’m not positive that my husband and I would answer that question the same if asked right now. For me, setting a goal or two for my marriage is a double win, because simply aligning our hearts on the most important things has huge value to us. Meeting that goal throughout the year is just icing on the cake. (Unless you’re one of those couples who sets goals like, “run a marathon together.” Then it’s hummus for your carrots or something…)
Take a test: Second only to my love of lists is my love of personality tests. My husband does not share this affinity, so I’m not sure this one will ever make it to our yearly planning session – but a girl can hope, right? Until recently, my favorite personality test has been the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (any other ENJFs out there??), but several of my friends have talked a lot about the Enneagram system this past year – and I’m intrigued. Perhaps I should sneak, “take personality or love language test,” onto my list of date night ideas…
Choose one word or a life verse: I know lots of people who have life verses from the Bible that they focus on as an overarching theme for their lives, as well as lots of people who choose one word to focus on each year. I also have friends who have family mission statements or vision statements for their businesses. Personally, I’ve chosen one word for the past few years and I have life verses for my children. But I’ve never chosen or created any of these for my marriage.
What difference could a word, a quote, a verse or a statement make in our relationships? I think it could be huge – giving us a touchstone, a reminder for what matters most and for what we value about each other, so perhaps this year will be the one we finish feeling closer and stronger than ever.
Make a vacation wish list: A couple years ago, my friend Amanda wrote about the list she and her husband had made – 100 places they wanted to take their kids. The places ranged from the Eiffel Tower to her grandmother’s house to a nursing home to summer camp, and I have not been able to shake this idea since! So this year, when Mark and I talked about our vacation plans for the summer, I mentioned to him that we only have 12 more summers with Annalyn (before she goes to college). That means, we likely only have 12 more big vacations with her – so we’d better plan carefully!
Next thing you know, Mark is looking at his watch while I click on link after link after link promising to tell me the Top Best Most Awesome Family Vacation Ideas Ever in the History of Family Vacations. Of course, that’s what happens when you start this list right before bed. We tabled the discussion for now, but later this week, we have a date to start it up again. I can’t wait!
Set a budget: Money is not always a fun topic, but making realistic plans for paying off debt, saving up for big purchases, or making work/life changes can be exciting. I won’t tell you that our budget conversation was stress-free, but it was good to put everything – our bills, our bank statements, our hopes, our fears – on the table and use it to form a 2015 game plan.
It may not be possible to do all of these things, but doing even one means you’re making your marriage a priority – and might just keep it at the top of your Important Things list all year. I’d even say that this time of year has the potential to be more romantic – and certainly more meaningful – than any Valentine’s Day date coming up next month. So, let’s not wait! Let’s plan for success in our most important relationship right now.