How have my husband and I handled big plans and goals throughout our 33-year marriage? That was the question I was asked when interviewed last week by Alex Cormont on his podcast, “The French Relationship Expert.”
My answer: “Without planning.”
What? As Type A and driven as I am, it seems an anathema that we would not have planned our life. But the truth is, we didn’t. Thank goodness.
Had my husband or I been attached to specific goals or accomplishments when we were younger, we may never have gotten married in the first place. When we met, I was 24 and just starting my advertising career. I thought he was a hunky “Colorado Cowboy” with his Tony Lama boots and warm smile. He had come to New York to do the “year in New York after college” thing. He wasn’t looking for marriage when we met, and neither of us had visions of parenthood.
Yet here we are, 36 years later (married for 33), with two amazing daughters and still happily not planning our lives.
The secret, I believe, is that we have shared values and complementary styles. And we were not attached to specific plans or goals.
That’s not to say we didn’t have goals nor dreams—we did. Nor is it to say that we don’t now dream or plan—we do. We just took an organic pathway toward achieving them, making decisions when we were ready for or confronted with the need for change…not before.
When we were first married, we had zero money in the bank and both of us were very focused on our careers. We were happy with our jobs…until we weren’t. And when we weren’t, we got different jobs.
We were happy being just a young married couple putting sweat equity into our starter home and enjoying our time with ourselves and our friends.
When we were well on a pathway of savings, we allowed ourselves vacations and invested in a sailboat because “seeing horizon” and being in nature was important to my mountain-man husband, Ron. He had researched and dreamed for a long time, but we bought the boat when the time was right—not when some written agenda had pre-decided it.
After seven years of creating our foundation, we realized that we were ready for more in our lives…and then the idea of having children was on our radar. We didn’t plan for years, nor did we set a date for it driven by my biological clock. When we were ready for a shift, we shifted.
And so it has gone throughout our lives together—sharing our big-picture values and playing with dreams but never setting lines in the sand that, if not crossed, would lead to disappointment.
Some might say, “Don’t you need to have goals and to plan?” If you don’t have a goal, then you can’t make progress, right?
Absolutely. For things like paying off debt and saving for retirement, you absolutely need a plan. And yes, for accomplishments as well. But…
Being too attached to plans—and in particular to timelines—can be dangerous. I think those who are too attached to their plans often end up unhappier in the long run—as individuals and as couples—constantly feeling like a disappointment for not meeting the plan.
When we were sailing, Ron was adamant that the most dangerous thing you could have on a boat was a deadline. We never sacrificed our safety in order to be in a specific port at a specific time. Sure, we planned our trips carefully based on the tides and made reservations for moorings and at boatyards so we could visit different places. But we also knew that we had to be adaptable. The water may shift…or something on the boat may break…or the weather may be so great in one place that we decide to stay a little longer.
Life is forever throwing curveballs. If you can’t adapt because of “your plan,” you will forever live in frustration. The vision of what your life will be when you are 35 may be entirely different when you actually reach 35, and that means the plans you had may no longer be appropriate.
As a couple—and a family—you will always be balancing your personal dreams with those of your partner and children. You don’t have to make sacrifices…you just may need to adapt. I got my MBA online rather than in person. That’s because, when I felt the need to get my MBA, that’s how I could fit it into my life as a mother of young children.
And when my husband and I retire, I guarantee it won’t be when we thought we would and perhaps we won’t be in the physical shape that we envisioned. And that is not because we planned wrong, but because we simply don’t know how we will feel when the time comes. As long as we have the financial aspects covered, we will hopefully and gratefully decide what is the best direction at that time.
As I said to Alex, it is far better to enjoy the journey and be open to the opportunities that may come your way than stridently run down your life checklist.
I look forward to another 33 or more years with Ron. I’m not sure what we’ll be doing or where we will be doing it, but I know we will have had a great adventure getting there.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.