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Goal Setting in Relationships

Chapter 10: Goal Setting in Relationships

Tools for Relationships

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What are relationship goals?

In order for a relationship to be fruitful and satisfying those involved in it must set clear goals. Most people go into relationships with a vague idea of what they want out of it. When pressed, they often are unable to specify their goals for the relationship.


Goals can be stated or written, but they should be agreed upon by the partners at the beginning of the relationship. Goals sometimes are documented in a behavioral-contract format and signed by both partners. The goals stated should be only those on which both partners agree and can claim ownership. The relationship-goal contract should be kept in a safe place and reviewed annually.


During the annual review the goals can be modified, and the objectives to be achieved for the next year can be identified. Relationship goals should be long-range, but they should be general enough to give the partners latitude. Annual objectives based on these goals can be more specific and short-term, motivating the partners to successfully achieving them within the year. 


Relationship goals should be developed to cover key issues involved in the relationship, but they can cover any area of human behavior.

1. Mutual Support Goals

  1. How will we nurture our support for one another?
  2. How will we communicate with one another?
  3. How interdependent will we be on one another?
  4. How will we nurture our mutual intimacy in the relationship?
  5. How open a relationship will we have?
  6. How long do we intend our relationship to last?
  7. How will we nurture our relationship over the years to come?
  8. What extreme measures do we agree to take if our relationship should become sick?
  9. How will we ensure that each other's rights are respected in this relationship?
  10. How will we help one another grow in this relationship?
  11. How can we ensure fun in our relationship?
  12. How will we include others in our relationship without losing our support for one another?


2. Problem-solving Goals

  1. How will we approach problems in our relationship?
  2. What problem-solving model will we use?
  3. How are we going to handle differences of opinion?
  4. How will we handle irritation with one another?
  5. How are we going to fight?
  6. How are we going to handle fights and bring them to a healthy resolution?
  7. What latitude of freedom are we going to give one another to pursue a fight in our relationship?
  8. At what point will we seek help for ourselves if our fighting gets out of hand?
  9. How will we encourage one another to become good problem solvers?
  10. Will we agree to disagree?
  11. What arrangements will we make to ensure that each of us ends up a winner after a fight?
  12. How can we ensure that after we fight and solve problems, we can still have fun together?

3. Goals for Individual Growth in the Relationship

  1. How can we ensure mutual growth in this relationship?
  2. How open are we to taking joint and individual responsibility for our relationship's needs?
  3. How can we ensure that our individual don't get lost in this relationship?
  4. How open are we to being assertive in our relationship?
  5. How can we use our unique, individual personalities to help each other and our relationship to grow?
  6. What steps will we take if one or both of us begins to feel stifled or stunted?
  7. What steps will we take to prevent burnout in our relationship?
  8. What steps are we willing to take if one or both of us has need for mental health assistance?
  9. How are we going to promote each other's physical health?
  10. What steps can we take to handle jealousy, a sense of competition, or resentment toward one another?
  11. What means will we take to ensure mutual growth in this relationship? How can individual growth result in growth for the relationship?
  12. How can we help one another have fun?


4. Structural Goals

  1. How are we going to make time to do all the things we want to do?
  2. How are we going to arrange our schedules so that we can pursue our unique, individual interests?
  3. How free are we to pursue our distinct interests and friends?
  4. How committed are we to developing and following daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules to meet all of our needs?
  5. How committed are we to setting up long-range relationship goals and short-range objectives to reach those goals?
  6. How committed are we to setting up times in which we can nourish one another and keep our relationship on track?
  7. How committed are we to schedule fun time into our days, weeks, months, and years?
  8. How can we structure ways to get the required relationship maintenance tasks done and still have time for fun?
  9. How can we delegate the maintenance tasks so that neither of us feels put upon?
  10. What place will religion, hobbies, sports, and outside inter­ests have in our relationship?
5. Financial Goals:
  1. What career goals do each of us have?
  2. How will we handle the need to be either transient or settled in our careers?
  3. What are we willing to do to promote each other's career?
  4. What social role are we willing to play in regard to each other's career?
  1. How much additional training, and continuing education are we willing to support?
  2. What type of house do we need? How would we furnish it? What type of neighborhood do we want?
  3. What kind of cars do we need?
  4. What additional properties do we need?
  5. How will we handle our finances?
  6. How committed are we to following a budget?
  7. Who will pay the bills?
  8. How will we handle the need to shop and purchase necessities? Luxuries?
  9. What can we agree on in terms of credit purchases and the use of credit cards?
  10. What are our agreements in terms of insurance, savings, investments, retirement, medical coverage, and financial security?


6. Family Goals:

  1. What role will our in-laws and relatives have in our lives?
  2. Will we have children? When? How many?
  3. Why do we want children? Is adoption a viable alternative?
  4. How will we fit children into our married life without losing what we have?
  5. How will we discipline the children? What model of parenting will we follow?
  6. How will our children be educated?
  7. How will we rear the children in regard to religion? Moral Values and responsibilities?
  8. How will we conduct family life with our children?
  9. How will we function as role models of responsible parenting?
  10. How will we prepare ourselves for emergencies or crises relating to children?
  11. What style of family life do we want for our new family?
  12. How can we ensure that having a family will result in fun for us all?
  13. How can we ensure that having a family will result in the growth of our mutual love?
  14. Will one of us stay home fulltime? If not, what child care facility do we agree on? When will outside child care begin?
Steps to help decide on relationship goals:


Step 1: Review the sections of this chapter together with your partner and each of you should record in your journal how these issues apply to your relationship.


Step 2: Once you have written down your observations, then discuss the questions raised in each area with your partner. Really talk it out with each other. This is your chance to ventilate. 


Step 3: In your journal, list at least five goals for each of the areas. In writing down your goals, use the following guide:

Characteristics of Goals in Relationships

The goals for healthy relationships:

  • Are general in nature.
  • Specify that each partner is responsible for ensuring the goal is reached.
  • Have a flexible time frame for attainment up to 5 years or more from when the goal is written.
  • Are reasonable with a realistic chance of being attained.
  • Are written in clear, understandable language, easily understood by both partners.
  • Are agreeable to each partner; each partner can commit to ownership of the goal.
  • Guarantee respect for the rights of each partner.
  • Ensure the health of the relationship.
  • Are oriented to each partner's growth in the relationship.


Step 4: Once you have five goals for the first goal area, develop five more goals under the next area  and so on and on until you exhaust all of the topical areas.  

Step 5: You should have over thirty goals identified after Step 4. Record these goals in your journal.  


Step 6: Both of you should sign the relationship-goal contract and keep it safe for your annual goal review. At that time, evaluate your progress in reaching your long-term goals. Revise your goals if needed and set up short-term objectives to continue working toward the long-range goals. 


Step 7: If you and your partner still have difficulty setting goals, review this chapter with an objective, professional helper.