@wendyjlvt via Twenty20
Romance is hard enough when you and your beloved are on the same page. See Romeo and Juliet, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. These famous lovers had their eyes on the same target and yet faced tumultuous, often tragic outcomes. Most romance is even more complicated by the fact that we and our partners don’t see eye to eye.
As the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This can hold doubly true when our plans bump up against those of our romantic partner’s. For example, a married couple might consist of one spouse whose goal is to get healthy by hiring a personal trainer and eating all organic. Surely, we cannot fault this person’s noble ambition. But what about when the other member of this partnership has committed to a Dave Ramsay-style all-out blitz on the couple’s debt and is busily canceling the cable, cutting up credit cards and picking up odd jobs. Surely this goal is equally valid. Nonetheless, there’s a conflict bound to come to a head in this household, virtuousness of the goals notwithstanding. Though most couples don’t meet such a dire fate as Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, relationship research has shown that for those of us who don’t share goals with our partners, the effects can be quite significant, with one study suggesting a 19 percent divorce rate for goal-mismatched partners.
When people talk about single-mindedly pursuing an achievement, they may not have someone’s relationship status in mind, but the very presence of the word “single” here is telling. It can be a lot easier to drive hard toward a target when you only have yourself to keep track of. For example, the very people who find it easy to lose weight for an upcoming wedding by maintaining a strict and rigid diet may quickly find the pounds creeping back on as they enter a partnership and find that mealtime now has to take two individuals’ desires, habits and needs into account. On the other hand, joining a partnership, even if it disrupts previous behaviors, may open new opportunities. For example, while poor Yoko gets a bad rap for “taking” John from the Beatles, put differently, we might see that what John Lennon and Yoko Ono did together was a reframing of goals that gave us antiwar activism and the terrific song “War is Over (If You Want It).”
Rather than being a detriment to your goals, even a partner with a very different orientation can serve as a resource using the following strategies:
1. Recruit your partner as a coach.
Many of us benefit from accountability. For those of us with romantic partners at home, we might consider ourselves lucky. Rather than making your partner a nag, though, think of fun ways he or she might inspire you. Can your rewards be tied to date nights? Maybe your partner could make you a humorous star chart to track your accomplishments. Maybe watching a favorite TV show of yours that your partner isn’t typically into could be a cheap and easy way to mark small milestones.
2. Tap into your partner’s skill set.
Maybe your partner is very detail-oriented, or creative, or good with a budget. The very strengths and idiosyncrasies that brought you to love your valentine might be leveraged to support your goals, even if your partner isn’t pursuing them himself or herself. For example, maybe your spouse is great at shopping for good deals—use that to find a cost-effective gym or personal trainer. Perhaps the skills your partner uses at the office to organize tasks could come in handy for breaking down and scheduling your seemingly overwhelming big financial goals.
3. Find points of compromise and shared passion.
Perhaps your meat-loving, vegetable-phobic picky eater is never going to come on board with a sudden commitment to vegetarianism. One way to strengthen a relationship and work together on goals is to discuss core underlying values. Research suggests that similarity in value-related goals is much more important for relationship satisfaction than other, more superficial goals; this is especially true when it comes to religion and spirituality. What’s really motivating your turn to rejecting the tasty world of meat? Is it a religious or spiritual belief? An ethical concern such as animal welfare or care for the environment? While your loved one may not share a desire to give up bacon or Big Macs, he or she may well feel a connection to your key values and desires—after all, this is likely what brought you together in the first place.
A romantic walk or café date in which you discuss your underlying values can be the source of not just compromise (perhaps meatless Mondays, and then smaller meat portions the rest of the week) but also stronger, more bonding goal setting. As a couple, you might also decide to give to an environmental charity, give up plastic bags or volunteer at an animal shelter. The same strategy might also apply to a family as a whole.
As these strategies suggest, divergent goals needn’t derail our relationships. Instead, with some open conversation, reflecting and planning, they can become opportunities for strengthening and expanding relationships with the ones we love.
Related: 8 Traits of Healthy Relationships
Katherine Fusco is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she teaches film, theory, and American literature. She is the author of Silent Film and U.S. Naturalist Literature: Time, Narrative and Modernity (Routledge) and Kelly Reichardt (University of Illinois). Currently, Katherine is working on a book about stardom and questions of identity in the 1920s and 1930s. Katherine has appeared in The Atlantic, Dilettante Army, Harpers Bazaar, Headspace, OZY and Salmagundi; you can find her blog on motherhood and creativity at CreateLikeAMother.blog.