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Why a New Year’s Mission Statement is so much more effective than resolutions.

I don’t make my own lists of New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I don’t think they’re relevant — I do, actually. As they say in baseball, “You can’t hit what you can’t see.” Goals are critical. I follow the Warren Buffet school of thought: Set a small number of goals, then focus.

But when you’re one-half of a couple, the targets change. For the last five years I’ve been setting my goals together with my husband — a kind of relationship ‘mission statement’. When you’re in a life partnership with someone you love, I think you need to agree on the big things together.
Not all goals can be shared, of course. (He’s got a healthy eating plan; so do I. But he has a problem with Pop Tarts. I don’t.) But if you want to maintain harmony in the relationship, you need to discuss goals and agree on them together. Maybe you want to start a new business venture, one that would involve a large time commitment. That’s a sacrifice you’re sharing with your partner and family, so the need to be on the same page with them should be obvious. But few couples set out common goals.

In our case, the mission statement is more than just goals or targets. It’s a road map for living together — a statement of shared philosophies and values. I would say that outlining our relationship ‘rules of engagement’ has been one of the single most effective things we’ve done to cement our relationship. (And given the amount of time we spend planning sexy date nights and adventure weekends, that’s saying something.)
Right now we’re on mission statement version 4.0; it’s pasted on the back of our office door. Our mission statements have included things like “stop apologizing for who we are”, “make new friends” and “don’t babysit other adults”. They definitely include a commitment to putting the relationship first — to putting a higher value on home and family than on increased work obligations. We’ve committed to a better quality of ‘quality time’, to date nights, to splitting up the household labour equally. Little things, all of them — but it’s the little things that count in love.

Mr. Buffett and the business school grads would say that our lists don’t follow the classic business format of goal setting, and they’d be right. But that’s the point — these are our values, the things that matter to us.
As a therapist, I often see couples who are drifting apart because they’re losing the interests they once had in common, the things that brought them together in the first place. Setting goals as a couple helps prevent the drift I see as a therapist in couples who have less and less interests in common. The most common reasons for divorce usually surprises most couples. It’s not money problems, extended families or diminished sex or infidelity that are the most common reasons for separation. The most common reason cited to divorce lawyers is absenteeism. This means being either physically or emotionally missing in action. You connect to spend your life with someone, and if they are never there, then well… partners often find themselves looking for a soft place to land. Or they end up in my office on the raggedy edge.

It’s a universal truth that people support what they help to create. Focusing together on a plan that will keep you engaged and pulling in the same direction and defining your core values as a couple is essential. It’s one of the benchmarks I look for as a sign of a healthy relationship. We will be tracking our relationship this holiday. Give it a try. It may make for a great New Years.