A few weeks ago my husband said, “I’d really like to move. What would you think about moving to Portland?” I’ll admit this announcement did not take me by surprise. When my husband and I visited Portland last year, we fell in love with the landscape and the culture. For the past year we’ve dreamed about what it might look like to retire on the Oregon coast. Seriously, if you’ve never been there, just take a quick gander on Google and I’m guessing you’ll be joining us there, too.
Now, my husband has brought up moving to another area of the country a few times over the last five years of marriage, but I’ve always brushed it off. A move is an enormous life change! We have family, friends, and a network of professional contacts in Minnesota. Do we really want to give that up? I’m such a change-adverse person that it’s easy to just say “no.” But this time I did something different: I stopped to dig deeper into the possibility with him. It was a little scary — but the conversation brought us closer as a couple.
Crafting a fulfilling life with another person isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes the courage to speak up for things that matter to you most, a willingness to listen closely to your partner’s needs (spoken and unspoken), and a deep-rooted faith that you can create a life you both want. Here are some tips to help you realize that fulfilling life together:
1. Visualize Separately: Before you can build a shared vision, it’s vitally important that you know what a fulfilling life looks like for each of you as individuals. Take some time to reflect on your own: What do you want your life to look like in 5, 10, 15 years? Where would you live? What would you do for a living? What would you like to have accomplished personally and professionally? What will your family look like? Draw or write out what you see.
Tip: Often people assume money is just about numbers, spreadsheets, and data, but I think the crux of living well financially is knowing where you want to go and finding a financial system that will support you on that journey. If you don’t know where you are going, it’s unlikely you’ll arrive there.
2. Share Your Visions: Then, talk through your visions of a fulfilling life together. Give yourselves 5 minutes of uninterrupted time to share your vision and then another 5 minutes for your partner to ask clarifying questions. Instead of comparing your visions, try to dig deeper into your partner’s vision so you can really come to a place of understanding.
Tip: This can be an incredibly vulnerable conversation, so the questions you ask are really important. Start your questions with: “Tell me more about …” or “I’m curious about …” Do your best to uplift your partner’s dream even if it’s wildly different from yours.
3. Name the Non-Negotiables: If you’ve really given yourselves space to develop the vision then you likely have a clear picture of what your life might look like in the future. Invite as much clarity as possible by naming the 3-5 elements that are most important to you, and share them with your partner.
Tip: If you and your partner have different non-negotiables, try to understand why. Their answers may surprise you. Let’s say your partner wants to live in a big house but and you can’t wait to downsize. By asking “why” (and keeping your cool) you might find your partner longs for a bigger house so they can do more entertaining and make sure family and friends can come stay with you. I find that when we get behind our partner’s motivations, it can help us gain deeper empathy for the person we love and often reveal new areas of intimacy and connection.
4. Be Sensitive to Fear: I often get anxious when my partner’s ideas differ from mine. It’s easy for me to pounce on the ways his dream won’t work before I’ve even heard him explain it all the way through. When you feel your fears and anxieties rise, I encourage you to take a step back to listen rather than taking a step forward to engage. Then, once you have a full understanding of where your partner is coming from, get to know your fear. Does the idea your partner shared actually put your own dreams in jeopardy? Is there a way to make both dreams possible? Try to name the root of this fear — is it anxiety about the future, compatibility, FOMO (fear of missing out), or something else entirely?
Tip: If you’re feeling uncomfortable with your partner’s dream, ask clarifying questions and take the time to sit with the answers awhile. Do you just need to warm up to the idea? Are there some mental blocks you need to overcome? Or is there more to this fear than meets the eye?
5. Think Coming Together, Not Compromise: “Compromise” seems to imply that you are both giving up something through a negotiation that doesn’t leave either of you fully happy. I prefer the idea of “coming together.” That’s a process of finding your similarities, defining your non-negotiables, and working to understand your differences. Coming together involves shifting an orientation from your own needs, concerns, and values to those of your partner. A shared vision that can meet both of your needs may look different than you would expect, but in the end it can be fulfilling for you both.
Tip: You can only come together once you each have done the inner work to know what you want and be able to explain it to your partner. Coming together is not an excuse to let the more demonstrative partner dominate the conversation. Nor is it permission for those who are more conflict-averse to just dig in. Don’t sacrifice your individuality for the sake of compromise, since while it may feel easy in the short-term it often leads to deep resentment in the long-term.
Throughout your marriage you will each grow and change, so I recommend making this process an annual conversation. After all, the rich work of marriage is the knitting together of two unique individuals into one shared life.