We lead more meaningful lives when we think through our needs, values and purpose in this world and let those things guide our actions and decisions. The same is true for romantic relationships. Psychologist Susan Orenstein, Ph.D, helps her clients craft mission statements to become more intentional about their relationships.
She defines a mission statement as a “declaration created and agreed upon by the couple that guides their principles, goals and values.” This declaration is motivating and inspiring. It answers these questions: “What makes you a couple?” and “What do you stand for as you stand together?”
When couples create mission statements, they “explicitly share their expectations and desires with each other,” Orenstein said. They’re able to confide in each other and to build trust and open communication, she said. This is key because “when [couples] don’t directly communicate what they want and don’t want, they’ll act it out in a way that can be very confusing.”
Orenstein first heard of the concept of a couples’ mission statement from Stan Tatkin, Psy.D, the creator of the Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy® (PACT). The idea ties back to Stephen Covey, who encouraged people to create personal mission statements for their lives.
Creating a mission statement for your relationship can be powerful. “The process of discussing [the statement] is therapeutic in and of itself,” said Orenstein, a relationship expert in Cary, N.C. It helps couples “create a greater sense of purpose that will give them meaning and build a future together.”
Orenstein shared these examples of mission statements.
We agree to always love and cherish each other and recognize how fortunate we both are; each of us consider ourselves the ‘lucky one.’ We build a healthy lifestyle together, where we support each other in getting exercise, eating well, having fun, resting and relaxing. We make all important decisions together, as a team. We don’t keep secrets from each other. We confide in each other and feel safe in each other’s care.
We’re together to build a loving family and teach our children about healthy relationships. We create a sense of stability by having some routine but also make time for fun and spontaneity. We don’t intentionally hurt each other, but recognize we still do — and so we quickly and readily apologize. We take care of each other.
If you’d like to create a mission statement as a couple, Orenstein suggested these tips:
- Explore these questions together when creating your statement: “If you and your significant other were to write your vows for a committed relationship today, what would you include? What are the deal breakers? What matters most to you? What do you want to create together? What are your dreams, your goals, your values? What are the rules of engagement [in] handling conflict? What are your agreements? How do you care for each other? What makes your relationship special, worth protecting and worth nurturing?”
- Avoid statements that are too rigid or perfectionistic. Avoid statements that are based on obligation or shoulds. “That’s a setup for failure,” Orenstein said. She shared these examples of what not to write: “We’ll never argue” (which is “unrealistic and unhealthy”), “We’ll always remember special events like birthdays and anniversaries,” and “When I ask for sex, you should always say yes.”
- Don’t make your mission statement a master to-do list. That is, don’t create a “‘honey do’ list — listing a series of requirements [or] tasks for your partner,” Orenstein said. She shared these examples: “He’ll do laundry on Fridays,” and “she’ll plan the kids’ birthday parties.”
- Avoid broad statements, such as “We’ll be happy,” “We’ll have fun,” and “We’ll communicate.”
- You don’t have to create your whole statement in one sitting. Take your time in creating a mission statement that resonates with you.
- Review your mission statement periodically. “[A]s you grow in your relationship, you might decide to allow this document to evolve.”
Creating a mission statement as a couple reinforces your connection. Again, it’s a powerful way to explore your purpose and principles.
Couple dreaming photo available from Shutterstock