January 1st is a great time to set goals for the upcoming year. There’s something about the calendar turning over from one year to the next that creates renewed motivation, determination, and optimism in many of us. It’s almost magical! We often feel empowered to make improvements that we previously hadn’t been able to make, hadn’t wanted to make, or hadn’t even realized that we needed to make.
But we clearly don’t have to wait for the calendar to turn to set goals that can bless our marriage. Regardless of the time of year or the current state of your marriage, as you read this article, consider how setting goals can help strengthen your relationship.
How do we react to disappointment?
As I write this post, it is currently May (and thus a long way from January 1st). I hope many of you are still doing well with your resolutions. But let’s be honest: some of you haven’t used your gym membership for 4 months now have you? 🙂 Others haven’t stuck to the diet quite as closely as you intended in January.
So, how do you respond to the adversity of failing – or to the adversity of succeeding at a slower pace than you desire? Do you easily give up? Do you beat yourself up with negative self-talk (“What made me think I could accomplish this goal?” “I’m just not as talented as others” “I knew I wasn’t strong enough!”) Or to prevent future disappointment, have you quit setting goals altogether?
While I suspect we’ve all been disappointed as we fall short of our goals, please recognize that these responses to adversity (negative self-talk and apathy) are toxic. In fact, they can even reduce our marital satisfaction.
Thomas Edison – King of Failure?
I’ve always been touched by how Thomas Edison reacted to failure. Do you realize that he had approximately 10,000 failed attempts before successfully inventing the incandescent light bulb? That is incredible to me! At some point (probably multiple points), he had to be tempted to throw in the towel. But he didn’t. In fact, Edison is credited with saying, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Wow! So, how can someone like Edison continue among so much failure? What trait or characteristic did he possess? I would suggest that the answer is resilience (and in Edison’s case, extraordinary resilience!).
The Case for Resilience
Now, let’s consider the need for resilience within the context of the marriage relationship. Have you ever disappointed yourself and/or your spouse by your behavior? Has your spouse ever disappointed you? Have you experienced unexpected financial challenges? Have there been health issues in your family? In short, have you had, or are you currently experiencing, unmet goals or frustrated expectations? The answer to at least some of these questions is “yes” for all of us.
What Does the Research Say
Research suggests that it isn’t necessarily the stressor itself (unemployment, illness, etc.) but, rather how we respond to the disappointment that has the largest influence on our marital satisfaction. For instance, some research shows how certain couples coping with the husbands’ cancer were still able to see their marital happiness improve even amidst the trial. Other research demonstrates how some couples were able to avoid drops in marital satisfaction even through the heart-wrenching trial of the death of their child.
Why were some couples in these studies able to thrive notwithstanding their difficult challenges, while other couples struggled under such trials? The answer, at least in part, is resilience.
My Challenge to You
Though it’s no longer January 1st, please still take a moment to set one more goal for 2016. Decide today to intentionally strive for increased resilience, both individually and as a couple. The good news is that we can choose how we will respond to adverse situations (including tough times during marriage). Remember, strong marriages are formed in part by the ability to weather the storms of life. Trials and challenges will come to every marriage. But how we respond to the bad weather will greatly influence our ability to achieve marital bliss.