Achieving Your Couple Goals

What goals do you have for your relationship? 

If an answer immediately sprang to your mind, that’s fantastic. You already know what you’d like to work on with your partner, and doing that work together will help you create a stronger, happier, and more sustainable relationship. 

But if you’re like most people, you might not have clear “couple goals” that you’re working toward. Even if you’re someone who sets goals for your career, your finances, and even your hobbies, you may not yet think about your relationship as an area where you can build skills, develop yourself, and work toward mastery. I hope this podcast episode shifts that for you.

Much to the chagrin of every marriage counselor I know, many people believe that relationship growth work is only for couples who have significant problems. In reality, proactively working on your relationship a little bit every day is how you prevent significant relationship problems from taking root in the first place. Yet, even the most responsible, conscientious, and goal-oriented among us tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to our relationships, unfortunately.

Setting couple goals is a way to challenge yourselves and each other, and intentionally grow together into the best possible partners that you can be, before your relationship is in crisis. I hope this conversation gives you some fresh ideas about the positive, growth-oriented work that you and your partner can begin doing right now — while you’re still happy and in love and having a fabulous time together. 

Joining me for this conversation is my Growing Self colleague Sara B., a couples counselor and a relationship coach on our team. Sara has helped many people create their ideal relationships, and on today’s podcast, she’s serving up some actionable advice you won’t want to miss. 

You can tune into our conversation on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For even more guidance on achieving your couple goals, check out our “Growing Together” collection of articles and podcasts. 

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How to Set Couple Goals: Episode Highlights

You’ve found a wonderful connection with someone you love, and you want to keep your bond healthy and strong over the long haul. You know you don’t need to wait until you have a full-blown relationship crisis on your hands to start addressing minor issues, and turning them into moments that help you grow together. Kudos — You’re already laying the foundation for a happy, enduring relationship.

But how exactly do you begin working on your relationship, in the absence of obvious problems that need to be addressed? By setting goals together as a couple that make your relationship a little bit better every day, and keep your love healthy and strong for years to come. 

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Relationship coaching is a service designed to help couples do this kind of growth-focused work together. Many proactive, growth-focused couples find this process fun, and look forward to meeting with their coach to set goals and discuss their progress. If you choose to work with a relationship coach, make sure you find an actual LMFT who has the skills and know-how to help you grow! (More on the difference between relationship coaching and couples therapy here). 

Whether you do this work on your own or with a professional, here are the basics of setting your couple goals:

  1. Find Your Motivation

Accomplishing any goal, including your couple goals, requires staying motivated. The benefits of having a healthy relationship can be a good motivator all on their own. A healthy relationship is like a beautiful, lush ecosystem that you and your partner get to live inside — but it’s also a lot more than that. 

If you have children or you plan to someday, the healthy relationship between you and your partner will form the bedrock of your family. It will give your children a safe space to grow and develop into happy, healthy adults who know how to have healthy relationships of their own. Without even trying, they’ll pick up on valuable life lessons, like how to stand up for themselves while still being respectful to others, how to repair a relationship after a fight, and how to show love and appreciation to a partner

Most importantly, your children will avoid many experiences that could be harmful to their development. We’re all products of our families of origin, and if we grow up under the influence of a less-than-healthy family ecosystem, it impacts how we feel about ourselves as adults, and the way we show up as parents and partners. When you strive to have the healthiest relationship you can, you have the power to literally save the next generation from dysfunction and interrupt unhealthy relationship patterns for generations to come. 

It’s about you and your relationship, but it’s about more than that. There’s your motivation!

  1. Be Willing to Be Messy 

Setting and achieving your couple goals is not about perfectionism. In fact, if your goal is to be the “perfect couple,” you’re setting yourself up for failure. You will occasionally fall short of your own expectations. You will both disappoint each other from time to time. Neither one of you will ever be perfect, and that’s ok. What matters is that you commit to an ongoing process of working on your relationship and improving it over time. 

The reality of personal growth is that it’s a messy process and it doesn’t always feel good in the moment. If working on your relationship doesn’t push you to function beyond your current limits, then you aren’t really growing, you’re just doing what you already know how to do. 

So allow yourself to be human. You will make mistakes, sometimes big ones. It takes vulnerability and humility to examine the ways you might be wrong, and doing so can only make your relationship better. 

  1. Take Your Relationship’s Pulse

Before you can set meaningful couple goals, you have to take stock of where your relationship currently stands. 

What do you need from your partner or from your relationship that you’re not currently getting? More importantly, what does your partner need from you? Starting these conversations is a great way to begin exploring the areas of your relationship that could be improved. You might hear about a minor issue that you need to finetune, or you might hear about something more serious. Whatever the outcome, be sure to listen to your partner’s answers without growing defensive, and certainly without emotionally invalidating them, so they feel safe being authentic with you in the future. 

If you or your partner don’t know where to begin with this conversation, another great way to find your relationship’s strengths and its growth opportunities is by taking our free “How Healthy Is Your Relationship?” quiz. You’ll get an expert-developed assessment of where you stand now, and the areas of your relationship that could use a little tuneup.  

Goals for Couples

When it comes to setting couple goals, no two relationships are alike. The goals that you set with your partner should be meaningful to you both, and should be based on your unique relationship. 

Here are a few examples of areas where you and your partner could set goals together:

  1. Communication — Every couple needs to practice open, authentic, emotionally safe communication. You might set communication goals around connecting with each other on a deeper level, or avoiding assumptions and miscommunication in your relationship, or breaking a pursue-withdraw dynamic or other common negative communication patterns.
  2. Conflict — Every couple has conflict, whether it’s addressed out in the open or not. You could set goals around conflict such as not invalidating each other during disagreements, or having arguments that are constructive, or even no longer avoiding conflict in your relationship, if that’s your tendency.
  3. Sex and Intimacy — How’s your sex life? Maybe you’d both like greater sexual intimacy, but there are some courageous conversations you need to have in order to make that possible. Or maybe you need to find new ways to manage differences in sexual desire. Whatever the state of your sex life, it can only benefit from some care, attention, and communication.
  4. Shared Life Goals — What goals do you have for your life together? Maybe you’d like to retire together by a certain date, or travel the world, or begin building a family. Setting goals that you can both work toward as a couple creates a sense of shared meaning, unity, and commitment to your relationship.
  5. Teamwork — How are you working together as a team? If you’re like most couples, you have room to grow in this area. If so, you may want to set goals around how you’re dividing household labor, or childcare responsibilities, or other the necessary tasks that keep your household running smoothly. 

Accomplishing Your Couple Goals

I hope this episode of the podcast gave you some fresh ideas for how you can begin making gradual improvements to your relationship, so you and your partner can have a connection that’s healthy, loving, and built for the long-haul. If you’re interested in getting involved in this kind of growth-focused couples work, we invite you to schedule a free consultation meeting with one of our positive, experienced relationship experts. 

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Achieving Your Couple Goals

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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Music

Music in this episode is by Donna Summer and Giorgio Meroder with their song “I Feel Love.” Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Today, you probably have goals for your career, your finances, even your hobbies, but what about your goals for your relationship? On today’s episode, we’re talking about setting goals together to become a stronger couple and design your shared future.

The one and only Donna Summer, people. If anybody has ever captured the feelings/experience of relationship bliss, it is Donna Summer. And this, of course, is her just famous partnership with the godfather of electronic dance music, Giorgio Moroder, from, I think, 1977, I want to say. Anyway, fantastic stuff. And I felt like playing it for us today because today we are talking about couple goals. 

Why really talking about these and getting super intentional with your partner on what you guys want to do together to improve your relationship, grow yourselves, and what you want to work on, and to have common goals, and a plan for how to create them and make them happen, is what will allow you to to experience the relational bliss that you both deserve. And my guest today is my colleague, Sarah B. 

She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, just like me. She’s also a relationship coach, and she is on our team here at Growing Self, and I know that Sarah loves helping couples achieve goals and she has such a positive outlook and style. I thought she was the perfect person to help us on our goal today, which is helping you achieve couples goals. So, Sarah, thank you for doing this with me today.

Sarah B: Thank you so much for inviting me on. I’m so excited to talk about this with you.

Lisa: Yeah, well, this is the fun work, right? I mean, I don’t know about you, but my favorite kind of couples work, are– so, premarital couples who are super cute and fun. And like, “How do we just have the best marriage in the world?” Like, “Okay, let’s do this,” or, certainly, relationship coaching. 

It’s really growth-oriented, proactive couples who are looking at this the same way they do exercise or eating nutritious foods or talking to a financial planner. That’s the spirit in which they approach relationship coaching, and that’s just the best.

Sarah: It’s so lovely to come across a couple that– they’re smiling when they’re talking to you, they’re smiling at each other, and they’re both invested in that process of, “What can we do to be better? What can we do to be stronger?” 

“How can we make our relationship that much more secure and safe.” And it’s a breath of fresh air, honestly, to get couples that are in that stage with each other, that just really want to put a lot of safety around the security of their relationship. It’s so wonderful.

Lisa: I think it’s just so wise of them, too, and that’s also what I want to talk with you about today, too, because I think that’s a myth for a lot of people, for a lot of couples, is that we only do couples counseling or relationship coaching when something is wrong. And it’s like showing up at the emergency room, because you just had a widowmaker heart attack.

When you come into the marriage counseling office on that point, versus this totally other way of thinking, which is, “I would like to not have a massive heart attack, and here’s what I need to do every day in terms of lifestyle. How am I thinking? what am I doing? How am I– what is my approach towards life?” 

That’s really the work that you and I do the best, and I think, how and when we can help people the most, but it’s a shift. That is not what most people even think about when they consider getting involved in growth work.

Sarah: I’m so glad that you talk about how important it is to get into this process when things are still pretty good and not waiting until the crisis happens. And the reality is that most couples do wait until the crisis happens. They will wait until the very last second to invest in this process. 

It’s heartbreaking because, as the counselor or the coach, you so badly wish that you could have helped them turn things around 10 years ago. I think about it, like, if you were to get diagnosed with cancer, the next best piece of news that you can get is that it’s really early, and it’s going to be really easy to treat, and it gives you so much hope. 

If you have poor communication skills in your marriage, and you leave that for 10, or 20, or 30 years, it spreads. And the sooner you can get in there and cut it out and treat it, the better your chances are to fully recover and thrive. And I so badly wish that couples knew how important that is to catch these issues early. 

Lisa: Yeah, well– ang you know what? Let’s just make that the very first couple goal that we talk about them today. That’s why we’re here, is– how can you set and start working towards, like, really positive goals together? 

I think that one of the most positive and, really like, ultimately productive goals any couple can have is to say, “How can we be proactively tending to our relationship in really positive ways, so that we don’t ever get to this crisis point, where we’re feeling like we’re on the brink of divorce or some horribly, like regrettable things have happened. 

Then in service of that,  if that’s the first couple of goal, like one of the things I think is so important when considering how we actually achieve any goal is to really understand what are the obstacles that we have to be aware of? What’s going to get in the way of doing whatever the thing is that you want to do? And then also, what are the actions that you need to be like consciously taking?  

Maybe it’s a mindset, maybe it’s a specific habit, right? But starting with the obstacle for that first one, what, in your experience, is like, the thing that is the biggest, even subconscious, obstacle for couples to achieve that number one goal of, “Let’s take care of this, and keep it healthy?”

Sarah: I think that the conversation around mental awareness, emotional awareness, emotional intelligence, it’s still a relatively new conversation, and I think, a lot of adults my age, especially, we grew up with families that didn’t support those conversations. So it wasn’t safe for us to talk about our emotions, we didn’t learn that language. 

Then, we get married to someone who probably didn’t learn that language as well. So we don’t know how to speak to each other emotionally. And I think that that’s a huge roadbloc is that, that stigma and that mindset around reaching out for help and being willing to learn those new skills necause it’s not something that we grew up with?

Lisa: Yeah, totally– and even– I mean, you bring up such a good point. Even knowing what you don’t know, right? I mean, because I didn’t get any of that either, growing up. When my husband and I were first married, I was entirely sure that all of the problems we were experiencing were because of him, right? 

I mean, like, never even occurred to me that I had stuff to work on. And maybe the way that I was approaching him or trying to communicate with him was not actually effective. Because I– that was not even a thought in my head based on my upbringing.

Sarah: Yeah, and there’s– that’s another roadblock is that we don’t want to be wrong. We have so much pride, and there’s a lot of shame around admitting our flaws, that we are messy human beings. And it’s hard to go into this process and be open and vulnerable to that personal growth that is required. 

I think that that’s another challenge that people come up against. They just want us to fix their partner. There’s nothing wrong with them. “Just fix them and everything will be fine.” And usually, that’s not the case, because we’ve got two people that have great qualities and messy qualities. And so, being– just being willing to be vulnerable to that process, I think, is a challenge for a lot of people.

Lisa: Okay. Well, this is really illuminating to discuss some of the obstacles that are going to get in everybody’s way, and for that, number one, how do we how do we take care of this proactively? 

Then, if we shifted and talk about the the actions, the thoughts, the habits, that would help people move past this and do what they want to do, which is really be an active participant in the quality of their relationship, what would you advise?

Sarah: I think the number one thing is, be willing to be messy. You know, none of us are perfect, we all have our strengths and our weaknesses. And the sooner that you can embrace that you are a messy human being, just like all the rest of us, the sooner you’re going to begin to let yourself grow. And I think, that’s a big one. Just be okay being messy. 

We can deal with whatever that mess is. There’s ways to heal from pretty much anything, but just allowing yourself that freedom to not be perfect. And then, I think, it’s just really, really important for you to realize that you’re not just investing in the happiness of your marriage or your relationship, but you are giving future generations freedom to invest in their health as well, and to live healthier, happier lives. 

If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your kids, do it for your kids’ kids, because it is okay to sort of change that direction that all those generations before have have gone through, and you have the power to do that. That’s so important for people to understand is that you don’t have to continue doing things the same way that you always have. 

It’s so incredibly powerful when both partners are willing to sort of lay down their swords, so to speak, and come into this process and say, “Okay, we’re willing to change.” It’s so wonderful to see that is there.

Lisa: Sarah, I’m so glad you brought up the point about like the long game of this work. I think about that often, as I’m doing these podcasts or my work with with clients, because I think that it’s easy to forget about that; that the work that you personally are doing to grow in your emotional intelligence, emotional maturity, communication skills. 

If you’re a parent, you are teaching your children because they’re watching what we do, right? And they’re learning and developing those abilities, the legacy they’re going to carry forward is healthy relationships– hope, optimism, “Yes, I can and that’s amazing.” 

I think what I’m hearing to that about what we need to be doing actively in service of that first couple goal is really related in to mindset; changing the way you’re thinking about doing growth work, and then, also finding that really big “why,” that motivation, “why we want to do this.” Now, d oes that feel true?

Sarah: So important. Coming into it, and just being a willing participant in the process completely changes the outcome. So you have that within yourself, and it can be really scary. It can be very, very scary for people who have never been a part of a process like this, or who have never been vulnerable to that type of change and development. It’s really intimidating to some people. 

But we love being a safe place for people to come in and be vulnerable. And it’s so incredibly rewarding to see people who are willing to invest their energy in better days ahead. You know, it’s just lovely to be a part of that process.

Lisa: Yeah, yeah. And I’m also feeling a little bit seen right now, Sarah, as you were talking. I was just thinking about a marriage counseling session that my husband and I had, in approximately, I don’t know what that was, 1999. But our marriage counselor suggested that perhaps, I was not fully appreciating my husband’s perspective or feelings

I did not like that at all, did not feel good, and I had to work through that, because at that time, I was still the innocent victim of everything that was happening. But I did work through it, and that’s when everything changed.

Sarah: Actually, a very similar story that I will share– just a little bit of personal disclosure. So my husband– lovely, lovely human being. We’ve been married for 11 years. And early on in our marriage, I was already a therapist at that point. So of course, I’m supposed to have all of the answers. I’m already–

We had gotten into an argument, and he said, “You don’t get to tell me how I’m supposed to feel.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. So I was like, “Oh, my goodness. I’m supposed to already know that.” And I was completely trying to explain to him that he should feel differently because my intentions were not what he thought they were.

That has stuck with me. That was very early in our marriage, but that has stuck with me this whole time, that both partners get to have a really valid experience in the relationship, and a lot of times, they’re different from each other, and that’s okay. And just allowing your partner to feel what they’re feeling and not trying to change that is really powerful.

Lisa: Yeah. Wow, and how– gosh, how awesome that your husband had that level of insight and self-awareness and courage to be able to understand that and to say that, like. That’s powerful stuff. Okay, so, we’re just didn’t talking about this. We’re probably scaring the heck of everybody thinking about embarking on this. 

But I want you all to know that it ended well. And it’s because of, I think, of our– or doing that work, that it sounds like both you and I have been able to achieve that outcome of not ever having it get really, really, scarily awful. So, okay, well, that’s goal number one. 

I wonder, too, if we could talk about some other common goals that many couples have or, maybe, want as they consider, “Who are we and what do we want our shared life together to be about? And this can kind of extend into different life domains. 

Actually, before we sort of dive into talking about how to improve a relationship, like in specific areas in service of these goals, do you have any ideas or suggestions about how a couple can co-create shared goals to launch this process, even; and maybe, some of the obstacles they could run into, and some of the strategies that they could use to achieve that, if that’s, sort of, the next goal is having goals?

Sarah: Obviously, it depends on the capital and what level they are able to talk, but one of the questions that I ask– I asked this of my husband, I also asked this of my children, quite regularly– not every day, not every week, probably, not even, every month– but I regularly ask them, “What do you need from me that I’m not giving to you?” 

Because my biggest goal for these relationships with my spouse and with my children is that they trust that I am there to meet their needs, if at all possible, and that I have a desire to do that. And that creates a lot of safety in those relationships. 

Me and my husband, early on, got into that habit of just asking, “What do you need from me that I’m not giving you?” And it’s just a good check-in for us to say, “You know what? We need to spend more quality time together. We are distracted by life, we have two children that are in sports and doing lots of activities. And so, it’s just really easy for the weeks to pass by quickly, and we haven’t had really quality connection.” 

Having those check-ins and being willing to say, “What do you need for me that I’m not doing? Do you need more sex? Do you need quality time? Do we need to like sit down and make a budget together? Like, what’s off that we can fine tune?” 

Having that conversation, somewhat regularly, it gives your person an opportunity to say, “You know what? Things are good, but here’s where we can make it better,” or, “Here’s where I’m struggling.” So that’s a been a really great way for us to just keep a pulse on our marriage. 

Lisa: Gosh, what a fantastic strategy. And I’m just reflecting on how courageous that is. And again, sort of that– counterintuitively, I think, that many people are socialized that we don’t want to lean into the problems. Like, “Let’s not open up that can of worms.” But what you’re telling me is that by really proactively checking-in with each other, and talking about maybe– pain points is too strong of a way to describe it. 

But the things that are just not feeling ideal for either of you, is how you’re able to identify the things that you want to be doing differently or changing in your shared life together, and that that’s really powerful.

Sarah: It’s a great way to check-in with each other and just know, “What do we need to pay attention to right now?” It’s very helpful.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s great. I will share, too, that something that my husband and I do and that I also ask clients about from time-to-time that can just began to bring some of these in focus, is like even, just a simple pie in the sky. 

Like, if you could have anything that you wanted, what would you like your life to be like in 10 years? Or I love– here’s actually a technique that I have used and recommended to clients: buying a Powerball ticket. It’s like such a silly little thing and it cost $2, and it is not that anybody believes that we’re actually going to win the lottery, and it is not that– anybody believes that we’re actually going to win the lottery. 

Because when you have this lottery ticket that could theoretically be worth $50 million, to have that conversation around. “If we won this lottery, what would you want to do?” And because, I think for me, it opens the door to people’s values. And just like this– some of it is fantasy, obviously– but like, “What happens next?” That conversation is usually a lot of truth around what people really want, and what’s important. 

Sarah: Yeah, if I could build my perfect life, what would it look light? Yeah, love that.

Lisa: Like, travel around the world, or do this differently, or do that differently. Because, of course, not all of that may be achievable without $50 million, but it can help sort of say, “You know what? It would actually be really nice to feel more financially secure.” 

“Maybe we should set a goal to move to buy a larger house,” or “You know what? We should really be trying to take a nice vacation together more regularly, because it sounds like travel is really important to both of us; adventure, or going back to school, or whatever those things are.” And it’s fun.

Sarah: Oh, yeah. It’s so important to daydream together. So yeah. If we could wave a wand and be anywhere else, where would we be?

Lisa: So fun. Okay, cool. And so then, in your experience as a marriage counselor– you are a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and I know that you have so much expertise with helping couples who do come in wanting support in working on specific things. Like, for some people, it is getting on the same page financially.

There is such a thing as like financial counseling for couples because getting on the same page, having a shared vision, and being able to operate as a team in service of financial goals can be really important. For some couples, it is improving their sex lives. For others, it’s improving their communication. For others, it could be growing a family or even getting on the same page about that. 

For others, it’s, “Where are we going to live? Where are we going to buy a home? What what are our careers going to look like?” I mean, as you sort through your mind, what feels like the common couple goals? I mean, and we’re not talking about people on the brink of divorce, obviously, but for those couples that just want to be the best version of them, you know?

Sarah: I think, going back to the issue of quality time, that’s a really hard one for people these days. I think, we’re busier than we have ever been; we’re pulled in so many directions. Most– maybe not most– but a lot of households are two-income households. So both parents are working, kids are are much more active in activities than they’ve ever been before. 

That can really create a deficit in the amount of quality time that couples are able to spend together. And there’s also a theme that I noticed with the couples that I work with that what equals quality time for one partner might not feel like quality time for another partner. So sitting and watching a show together at night might really fill someone up, it might need a lot of their connection needs. 

But for the other one, that’s not cutting it, but they haven’t talked about it, so they don’t know that. And so, something that I think is really important is for couples to have very specific conversations around, “What are the activities that we do together that really meet my connection needs, that make me feel cared for, that makes me feel like we have really had time to connect and interact and converse?” And being very specific about that.

What I hear from a lot of couples who have gone to other counselors in the past or have had other struggles is that, there’s a really quick recommendation, “Oh, you should have a date night. You should just have a weekly date night.”

Lisa: I’ve never met a marriage and family therapist who knows what they’re doing, who goes there first. It is so annoying.

Sarah: It’s frustrating because it’s unrealistic. For a lot of couples, it’s very rigid. It’s not opening up the conversation to what you really need from each other. And it creates a sense of failure if you don’t do it or you don’t stick to it, and it can breed a lot of resentment if one person is expecting you to follow through with that and then whatever. For whatever reason, the wheels come off, so I never suggest that to anyone. 

But my suggestion is, “Okay, what are some activities that you both love doing together? What have you done in the past that was really fulfilling? Did you go to the gym together? Did you–?” Me and my husband enjoy trying new sushi restaurants, that’s a thing that we stumbled on to that we were like, “Oh, we both enjoy this. Let’s have a sushi date.” We like watching comedy. 

One of our activities is, “Hey, let’s get in bed early and watch a comedy show together.” Or, “Let’s put something on the calendar. Let’s buy tickets to a comedy show.” So those are just some of our personal connection activities that we enjoy. But I encourage couples to have those conversations. Would going to the gym really be fulfilling for you guys, as a couple? Did you feel very together in that?” 

“Are there shows that you really like to watch together? And we need to make that a sacred relationship show where you guys are just gonna sit down and have appointments with each other to enjoy those episodes together.

Lisa: I have actually had my feelings hurt before when my husband has watched an episode of like our show without me. So I’m–

Sarah: Yes, those things. Because that’s such an important connection moment for you. And having those specific conversations about, “What worked for me? What made me feel connected to here?” So you kind of have that bag of activities that you can say, “You know what? I’m feeling a little disconnected, we haven’t had much quality time.” 

“Let’s find tickets to a comedy show and have something exciting on the calendar.” So that’s, I think, a really practical way to just kind of know you’ve got those arrows in your quiver that, when things are coming off a little bit loose, you don’t feel connected, we have some safe activities that we know work for us. So that feels like a good one. 

Lisa: Yeah. So the goal– and this is a big goal that should be a goal for every couple– is how do we stay connected. And by finding those points– And, just to offer other resources for our listeners, like as you were talking, Sarah, I was thinking about, and I know that this is very, like pop-psychology and it gets a bad rap, but I think there’s so much wisdom and the idea of love languages.

Understanding what yours are–, because that’s what you’re saying; figuring out how do I feel filled up? And just for our listeners, there is a podcast in this feed that is called– I think it’s called the Love Language Quiz– but it goes into love languages. 

I’ve actually expanded it, because I think that– who was it? Chapman? Who came up with the first five. I think that there are actually a couple of other important love languages, and I think it is along the lines of what you’re talking about, because there’s that quality time together, but then there’s also the emotional connection component. 

For more discussion on that, you could check out that love languages podcast, and then, I’m pretty sure that– also, just for our listeners– so with couples that we work with in our practice– and we don’t do this with everybody– but we do have relationship assessments that we’ll do sometimes. And in those, there is like a section to try to get at what some of those love languages are. 

But again, I think that it’s also true, like what you’re saying, Sarah, that there’s a very broad range that is really unique to individuals. And it doesn’t necessarily even have to fall into one of those categories. The things that feel true and meaningful for you may not be on that love languages list at all. And that’s– so you’re talking about, like, kind of going doing a deeper dive into this. What’s important to you.

Sarah: Just having that conversation with your partner so that you both have that awareness; it just feels important.

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. Okay. So let’s tackle another goal that I know is a very important one for many couples. I mean, 9 times out of 10, I know that when we meet with new couples in our practice, like, “What’s good? How can we help you?” And they say, “Communication.” And that’s a worthy couple goal is to improve communication. 

I know that this is a huge topic, and we’re not going to solve everybody’s communication problems in the next five minutes, but what would you say are some of the biggest obstacles to really achieving healthy emotionally safe communication, in general? And some of the strategies or new ideas that could help a couple get started even in a different direction?

Sarah: I think, the biggest challenge that I see with couples who come into coaching or counseling with me is they don’t know how to identify what they are experiencing, what they’re feeling, or what they even really need from their partner. So they haven’t learned that emotional language. And when we don’t have those emotional language skills, we are very easily triggered by interactions with our partner. 

We might find ourselves getting very defensive, we might feel, “Oh gosh, I want to put my wall up. I don’t feel safe.” Or the opposite side of that, we might feel like we have to intensify the conversation, and talk about it more, and maybe, nag and critique. And so, we fall in that trap of just triggering each other back and forth. 

One of the biggest goals I would love for couples to work on is, “How can I learn to explain my emotional experience to you in a more healthy way?” And that’s a big one. That’s not a quick fix for a lot of people because it can be complex, but it’s so important to stop the blame game, to realize when you feel emotionally triggered, and to be able to share what that experience is like for you. 

It changes the course of relationships when you develop that language. So that’s the big one, I would say, but it is complex. That’s not super simple. So I have a miracle question that I try to get couples to start using to start getting into that mindset. And, for example, if you and your husband come in for the evening, you both gotten off of work, and you’re coming in, getting dinner going, kids are getting homework, maybe.

It’s really great to do a quick check-in and say, “You know what? Tonight, I think that I need some alone time. I’m exhausted. I talked to people all day long. I just really need some quiet time. What do you need tonight?” 

That exchange creates a lot of safety in the relationship that both partners needs are important. That we want to make sure that we are meeting both partners’ needs, we’re creating space for both of you to have needs, and setting the tone for the evening. And so, that’s a really rich communication strategy that I’ve seen work for a lot of people.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s wonderful. And going back just a little bit to the the first point, because I love your tip about like making it a point to say, “This is how I am feeling, here’s what I feel like I need. How do you feel?” Just doing that on a very regular basis; this idea about working on your own emotional intelligence skills because we’ve talked about that on previous podcasts, too, for our listeners, if you’d like to learn more about that subject as its own thing.

But that idea of knowing how you feel, being able to manage your own feelings, knowing how another person feels, being able to communicate effectively based o what you know about that other person. like, there’s a lot there. And I’m actually thinking of a recent listener question that came in for the podcast that feels relevant here.

Because to paraphrase– and I don’t have the question right in front of me– but this this listener says something that we often hear something along the lines of, “Dr. Lisa, thanks so much for the podcasts. I’m listening to it. I’ve really liked your communication podcasts. And I’ve been working really hard to be an emotionally safe person, but my partner is using a tone that I don’t like or talking to me in a way that I don’t like.” 

It’s very– it really it shifts from– because I heard you say, Sarah, “Okay, so let’s focus on what you’re feeling and how you’re communicating.” But there’s this tendency to be like, “Okay, so how do I get my partner to do what you’re saying? Because that sounds really great.” And I know that that’s a big question. But like, that’s a big obstacle for a lot of people.

Sarah: Yeah. If your partner is really escalated in the moment, they’re really, really intense. Empathy is really the best way to mitigate that type of intensity. So if you are cultivating more emotional awareness, and you are building those skills, but you’re just really wanting your partner to also do that, you can actually start to ask them, like, “Are you feeling really stressed? Are you feeling like I’m attacking you?” 

“Are you feeling like I’m not hearing you?” And that empathy, that softness, that willingness to to remain peaceful in the midst of their chaos, can really invite them to come to a calmer place, a more peaceful place, and sort of reconnect. But that’s challenging when your partner’s not doing the work and you’re doing the work. 

Really, that’s a tough experience. But you– there’s a kind of a rule like, you don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to, or every argument that you’re invited to, and if you refuse to attend the argument that your partner is inviting you into, with their tension and their escalation, they can’t fight with you. 

You can be loving and also remain disconnected from their attention, from their escalation. You don’t have to show up to every party that you’re invited to, so to speak. 

Lisa: Definitely. And that’s great. Even just boundaries. “You seem very upset right now what’s going on?” To try to get them to talk about it in a different way, but also, just say, “I’m not feeling comfortable with the way this is happening right now, and so, I’m not going to do this.” 

“I would love to have a more productive conversation about what’s really going on, so we can find some solutions. I’m going to be over here and you are welcome to come find me when you’re ready to do that.”

Sarah: That’s huge. Willing to walk away from a conversation, and inviting them, “Once you have calmed down, I would love to talk to you about this. I’m here for you.” So that they don’t feel like you’re just abandoning them, or you don’t care about what’s happening to them. 

But it is okay to give yourself permission to say, “You know what? This isn’t going to be a constructive conversation, so– and also, it’s not okay for you to talk to me that way.” You can hold your ground and still love your partner, and I would argue that holding your ground is loving your partner.

Lisa: Absolutely. So yeah, totally. And I will add, to something that’s also just coming up as we’re talking and, I think, potentially, like beyond the scope of what would be easy for a couple to do on their own like this. 

This is one of the reasons I think why it’s really helpful to have an MFT in the room, but I just wanted to say, a huge opportunity for growth in the area of communication that I’ve experienced, and also working with my partners, is really understanding the culture of origin that your partner is kind of coming from and what what was like normal communication and their family of origin, how how people talk to them. 

Because, I think, the one thing that messes up so many people is that we all come into our relationships with these ideas about what is normal, “This is a way that people should talk to each other.” And I think, also, there’s a little bit of risk. I mean, most people in our shared profession, Sarah, tend to be empathetic, emotionally intelligent, and sensitive women with a fairly gentle communication style.

Even when you listen to podcasts, like this one, like you and I are talking about heated talking, and in a certain way, that is kind of the norm for our shared culture. And so then, one of the things that was a huge growth opportunity for me is like, even doing doing a genogram with my husband, and realizing what was sort of normal in his family of origin, and how that related to his habitual way of communicating. 

Because before that, I did not like some of the ways that he communicated, and I had lots of opinions about what he could be doing better. But I think, what was really important was for me to understand and like accept and sort of reframe that, when he seems angry or sort of like, can use an angry tone– like, he would still do that, but my interpretation of what was happening in those moments was a lot different. 

This is actually the way he processes things. He usually goes to this, and then he kind of comes back down, and is able to process it later. And so, that kept me from being upset with the way that he was communicating, which in the past, would have been like what are a lot of our fights would have been about. It’s not what you’re saying, but it is how you are saying it.

I think, to really go into that understanding and almost like, acceptance of who your partner is, and where they come from, that’s a very powerful tool, I think. And ultimately creating change in the way that we experience the communication styles of our partners. But that’s also like, that is pretty deep work. That’s not something that you’re going to do with two conversations at the kitchen table. We’re on– what is this? Year 26 of that process, and I’m still working on it.

Sarah: But it is beneficial to have conversations about how you act when you’re angry, when when you’re not angry. Bring up that conversation and be proactive about, “When you are angry, I noticed that you slam things down on the counter or you your voice gets louder.” 

“When you are angry, you have a tendency to like turn and walk away or leave the conversation,” and having a conversation when you are not angry about how you communicate in those moments can sort of help you get better understanding of really what’s going on with your partner when they are triggered, or there is something going on.

Lisa: Yeah, good advice. Okay. So I know we’re coming up on our time. I wonder if we could do a quick, kind of, lightning round to tackle two huge giant topics: sex and money. 

Sarah: Wow. Those are the biggest ones. Why did we save those for last?

Lisa: If this is too much, it’s okay.

Sarah: No, I think for sex, have conversations about your sex life that are not sexy. Talk about what works for you, what doesn’t work for you. Are we in too much of a routine? Do we want to add some spice? Be really open to hearing what your partner’s experience is in your sex life. That can be hard, there can be a lot of personal feelings that come up about this topic. So it can be it can be a tough one. 

But if you’re proactive, again, it’s all– of it’s so much about proactive communication. Initiate a conversation about your sex life when you’re not having sex, and just talk about, “This is what we’re getting really, really right. This is where we could really explore more or spice things up a bit. And this is maybe something that we do that just does not work for me. It’s not on my top 10 list.” 

Just be open to hearing about what your partner has to say about that, and take that in and do something with it. That can be really rewarding. So I say a lot that safe sex is great sex, and what I mean, emotionally safe sex is really great. And so, we want couples to have that goal of, “How can we build more emotional safety around our sex life and be more proactive about spicing things up if we need to?”

Lisa: That’s awesome. I love that. And you know, there’s courageous conversations about what would feel good for both of us, and how do we create that? I love it. Okay, what about money?

Sarah: Money? That’s a tough one. Oh goodness, radical honesty. Wow. There’s a thing called financial infidelity. “I’ve hidden money from you, or I have an account that you don’t know about where I’m spending money that you don’t know I’m spending.” That creates wounds in the marriage just as much as having an affair. 

It breaks that trust just as powerfully as sexually stepping outside of marriage. And it’s so incredibly important that you have, again, proactive conversations about our financial goals. “What are we getting right? What could we do better at– let’s set a little short term goal. Do we want to save a certain amount of money or save up for a trip?” But there has got to be radical honesty around finances.

Lisa: Definitely. And on deeper levels, I think, many times when people think and certainly, in a case of financial betrayal, which is very real, and there are a lot of people carrying secrets around. But even to, I think, digging into, like, “Why do you have these values around money? Where did you learn about money, we don’t talk about money, right?” 

To be able to have those conversations with your partner, to not just focus on “Okay, here’s a financial goal, and here’s what we need to be saving every month. And so, no more lattes for you.” Like that kind of thing. But it’s really around, “What do you want? What is your relationship to me? What does it mean to you?” Like, those are big, big things, and I think can really help in service of that bigger goal of getting on the same page. 

That healing work, that radical honesty that you’re talking about. To be brave and vulnerable, and also, get help for, because I think, any kind of betrayal is hard to work through on your own. I’m realizing that we’re coming up on the top of the hour, and also, that there are other important relationship goals that lots of people have that we haven’t been able to talk about yet. 

Things like goals for parenting, or building a family. Lots of couples have goals around things like teamwork, how to create a relationship that feels more balanced can be a big one for a lot of people. And then also, bigger picture life goals. And so, but I think, too, that just in this conversation, the common elements for working towards all of those goals is really exactly what you’ve been talking about, Sarah.

Having courageous conversations that are vulnerable, that are authentic around, “What do you want? What do you need? What can we potentially be doing together to create the shared reality?” And I will also add that, in my experience, I think, sometimes couples need to know that it is okay to want some different things, to have different values in certain domains. And this is my own bias. 

But for me, I think, part of being in a truly healthy relationship that grows, is to also be taking the stance of, “My partner has these goals for their life that are not actually things that I would want for myself are in alignment with my values, but part of my job to be a good partner is to support them in the actualization of whatever that is.” And that’s going both ways in a relationship, but I just wanted to say that out loud. 

Because I think, sometimes, especially for younger couples, if they are having these conversations and want different things, that can feel sort of scary for them, or like they don’t know what to do with that. And so, I just wanted to say out loud that that’s a good thing. That’s how your relationship grows over time, as both of you keep growing as individuals as well, as a couple.

Sarah: I love that you’re highlighting that because I think it’s so important. It’s lovely, when we can be on the same page as a couple, but if we can create safety for our partner to have a different page, and it’s in the same book, that’s okay. 

You don’t have to be on the same page, we just have to have an agreement with each other that both that the both of these pages are okay, and can exist in the same book. So yeah, that’s huge.

Lisa: I love the way you said that. You don’t have to be on the same page, just the same book. All right. Well, this has been such a fun conversation. Thank you for doing this with me today.

Sarah: Thank you for inviting me, it was so fun. I appreciate you.

Lisa: Well, thank you, too. I’m like just behalf of our listeners for sharing so many, I think, really like actionable tips and strategies about how to go about creating couple’s goals. This was wonderful, thank you. What a fun conversation, I hope you got a lot of new ideas and tips from listening to the conversation that Sara and I just had. 

I also just want to say, as we were wrapping up that interview, we were both just acknowledging the fact that there’s a lot there. Every single one of those topics, we could do a podcast and probably should on every single one of those. 

So if you would like more support and resourcing as you are seeking to make positive change in any of the areas that Sara and I discussed today, I just want you to know that there’s so much more for you, you can come to growingself.com and go into some of our collections. We have a healthy communication collection. We have a growing together collection. 

These are collections, like, the Growing Together collection has all kinds of articles, and even a podcast, like Spotify playlist for you that does deeper dives into things like how to improve your partnership, how to get on the same page, as a couple around like finances, how to improve your parenting strategies together, we have a Happy Families collection. 

I just want you to know that there’s a lot to learn with any of these and just that there are resources for you. So come to growingself.com, come to our Blog and Podcast page. And then from there, you’ll be able to browse around any of these collections and find more ideas and expert advice and resources to support you and your partner on your journey of growth together. 

I just wanted to mention that, but thanks again for joining, Sara and I today and I will be back in touch soon. And hey, in the meantime, subscribe to the podcast. Have you subscribed yet? While we’re here, hit the subscribe button and then, you will not miss next week’s episode or any of the other ones I do. I’m right here every single week, sharing advice with you, and if you subscribe, you will know what’s going on. 

We’ll get to hang out again and listen to more amazing music like this synergy with Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder, such good stuff. I’m not sure if they were a couple but they sure did have goals and they were able to achieve amazing things together. See you next time.

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