Three Questions Every Couple Should Answer

“People take their good ideas to the grave unless they do something about them.” —Katherine Latibeaudiere
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“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” —Proverbs 21:5

John is the senior project manager for a Fortune 500 company. He is credited with moving his company into a profitable advantage over their competition. He is also at the end of his career. As he sits in my (Rich’s) office reflecting on his success, a thought overwhelms his words and becomes deeply embedded in his body language: the goal setting skills he used in his career were absent from his marriage – and his lack of planning had disadvantaged the relationship. Unlike his work at the office, at home he just let things happen.

The next several minutes involved a rehearsal of regrets. Looking forward, he realized that the missed opportunities to make his marriage more meaningful were going to be difficult to make up for in retirement. He wished he could start over. His last words to me went something like this: “Please tell the couples you counsel my story. Tell them that a good marriage doesn’t just happen.” John, like so many of us, is haunted by his past. He can change the way he lives with his wife, but it will not transform the lost time.

What love we’ve given, we’ll have forever. What love we fail to give, will be lost for all eternity. —Leo Buscaglia

Marty and I are often surprised at the lack of goal setting in contemporary marriages – especially since the concepts involved are not hard to understand. Essentially goal setting involves three questions:

  1. Where do you want to go?
  2. How will you get there?
  3. How will you know when you have arrived?

Answering “where do you want to go?” helps us find direction in our marriage. “How will we get there?” helps us create the activities that will guide us. “How we will we know when we have arrived?” provides a metric for measuring our progress.

Where do you want to go?

Years ago, I (Rich) wanted to be more loving. I could parse the Greek text and teach on the subject of love but evidenced very little of it in my marriage. I determined that I wanted to improve (where I wanted to go). I asked my closest friends for an area I could work on and “discovered” that I struggled with being patient with both people and circumstances. The Bible’s teaching was clear: patience is an intrinsic quality of love and a product of letting the Holy Spirit control my life.

How will you get there?

Next, I chose specific people to practice patience around and specific circumstances to practice patience in. I then began searching for bible passages about patience and love. I found 1 Corinthians 13:4 “Love is patient . . . .” and began memorizing the passage. I also began journaling my daily thoughts and experiences. As I read back over my journal (often monthly), I could see that God was changing my life – that I was becoming more loving. People, like my wife, LouAnna, saw the changes, too.

May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. Psalms 20:4

How will you know when you have arrived?

Too often we see a successful marriage as God’s responsibility, forgetting that Scripture clearly indicates that we are in a divine cooperative with Him. Asking “how will I know when I have arrived?” can help us evaluate how cooperative we truly are – and it can help us celebrate the joy that comes from growing in Him as we grow closer to each other.
Contrary to a popular misconception, evaluating our growth doesn’t stifle the spontaneity in a marriage. Instead, setting goals heightens the excitement because we see tangible evidence of God at work. The new excitement actually increases our desire to love spontaneously. The evidence of His care and power invigorate every marital pleasure, because seeing a goal through establishes the kind of character in us that Solomon’s bride described as kissable.
Assessing our goals means doing more than showing up, more than punching the marital time clock.

Punching a clock tells us only where we were – it says nothing about what we accomplished or where we are going.

Evaluating our goals, asking “how will I know when I get there?” helps keep us focused. It also helps us avoid saying “yes” to unconnected time commitments. Finally, assessing our goals can help us avoid the temptation of moving from dream to dream without accomplishing anything. As Glickman puts it in Solomon’s Song of Love, assessing our marriages, rather than abandoning them to chance and spontaneity, can sprinkle “stardust on our dreams.”

Every goal needs to be measurable. If you can’t measure a goal, rewrite it. Measuring the goal is part of a process that increases the joy and intimacies in a marriage. When I (Marty) began working on patience, like Rich had been, I learned to measure my progress by writing in my calendar both the times I was impatient and the times I held back. The Spirit continued to use my memorization of I Corinthians 13:4 to remind me to take “love is patient” seriously. As the months went by, both my wife and I, saw the changes. The “impatient” entries were decreasing and the “patient” entries were on the rise. The impatience in my back story was slowly being replaced by new chapters. It still is today. The new man in me was someone my wife found more attractive, more enjoyable to be around, and, hopefully, more easy to love.

Too many of us treat marriage as a product of coincidence rather than commitment.
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Biblical insights

Setting goals often gets some push back in Christian circles. Some couples have been coached to believe that planning will somehow stymie God’s will in their lives. However, the opposite is true. The Bible has much to say about the importance of goals. Here are a few insights that can help us add meaning to our marriages.

  • Solomon suggested that when we plan what is good, we find life and faithfulness (Proverbs 14:22). He exhorted the reader to plan now and not procrastinate (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
  • Amos said when we seek God about a matter, He will reveal his plan (Amos 3:7).
  • God revealed to Job that His plans are never successfully opposed (Job 42:2). To make plans outside what He explains to us in the Bible produces emptiness and regret, no matter how satisfying they might seem at the moment. It’s always best to join God’s plans.

Steven Covey coined the phrase, “work with the end in mind.” That statement has made a difference in the way many Fortune 500 companies set goals. It can make a difference in our marriages, too! John remembered this important truth at work but forgot it at home. Too many of us, like John, treat marriage as a product of coincidence rather than commitment. We marry and often assume that we can immediately kick back in a relationship that actually takes kicking it up a notch to stay meaningful. As you consider your marriage or future marriage, remember the three simple questions that can sprinkle stardust on your dreams: Where are you going? How will you get there? How will you know when you have arrived?


Marty Trammell, PhD. is the co-author of Redeeming Relationships and Spiritual Fitness. He has written for several publishing houses and serves at Corban University and Valley Baptist Church. Marty lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife, and best friend, Linda. They enjoy hanging out with their three sons and two daughters-in-law. Rich Rollins, D.Min. is the co-author of Redeeming Relationships (featured on Family Life with Dennis Rainey) and Spiritual Fitness. Rich has served as the Executive Pastor of Valley Bible Church and written for Focus on the Family and Truth for Today. Rich and his wife, LouAnna, have two daughters and sons-in-law and enjoy jazz, reading, and camping in beautiful northern California.

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