Marriage works best when you begin with the end in mind

Sandy and I floundered in our relationship for many years simply because we did not “begin with the end in mind”.

We lacked a shared relationship vision. 

We had many good times, but we also lived in seasons of conflict, because we were not actually sure of who we were or where we were going as a couple.

And our differences affected everything from how we parented our children to what music we listened to.

I thought I knew who I was. And she was pretty sure she knew who she was. But as a couple? We didn’t have the tools to help us bring it all together until years later. 

Living on parallel tracks is not living the full potential of your marriage.

However, beginning with the end in mind can help you unite your hearts and unleash your passions.

In Imago Relationship Therapy we learned a powerful tool called the Relationship Vision. It helped us forge a mutual vision for our life together.

I want to share it with you because – whether you’re in a good place, or whether you’re floundering like we were – marriage works best when you begin with the end in mind.

A wise king named Solomon wrote, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” He was saying a society that lacks the divine insight that informs them of their true identity and purpose will always head in the direction of anarchy and destruction.

The same is true for a marriage relationship.

If you don’t really know who you are or why you’re here, the result can be a kind of anarchy and a relationship that self-destructs.

Having a shared vision for your relationship can help you align your paths in such a way that you can fulfill your destiny together.

Here’s how to do it. And I’ve shared our own Relationship Vision below as an example.

How to write your Relationship Vision

Click on this link, print out two copies of the Relationship Vision form, and use it with the instructions below.

  • Envision your marriage how you would like it to be.
  • Make a list of positive statements beginning with the word “We” that describe the kind of relationship you would like to have.
  • State them in the present tense as if the future were already here. 


“We enjoy each other’s company.”
“We spend time together doing things we both enjoy.”
“We are financially secure.”
“We have a stable, intimate relationship both emotionally and physically.”
“We are a great team parenting our children.”
“We serve our community together by ________ .” …etc.

  • Share your sentences.
  • Underline the items you have in common.
  • If your partner has written sentences you agree with but didn’t think of, add them to your list.
  • For now just ignore the ones not shared.
  • Take your expanded list and rank them in importance.
  • Work together to design your mutual relationship vision listing each sentence in order of importance.
  • Post it where you can visualize it and recite it daily.
  • Once a week read it out loud to each other. 

Doing this will help you begin to actually experience this marriage that you are visualizing and declaring.

Sandy and I keep ours in our journals to be read everyday. Here’s what it looks like.

Chuck and Sandy Starnes

We listen to God everyday and yield to His Word to us.

We have a stable and intimate relationship both emotionally and physically.

We bring God’s presence and peace everywhere we go.

We live in the hope of healing and reconciliation in our family and other relationships.

We give of our time and resources, contributing to the underserved in our community and around the world.

We create a mutual purpose for every major decision we make.

We are co-creators of our life work together.

We go on regular adventures exploring the wonders of the world together (including spontaneous excursions).

We work together on home and garden projects.

We explore culinary delights together.

We listen to Baroque music together.

We trust God for His provision every day and are financially secure.

Notice how our Relationship Vision encompasses big priorities like our faith and life work, and smaller things like working on our home and our love of cooking together.

Committing to a common vision means that we make some choices to leave behind things we would want to do individually to invest the time and energy into doing things together.

The priority must be the relationship over our individual desires.

This may seem like you’re giving up a lot. But what you receive because of the increased intimacy you experience with each other more than compensates for anything you might leave behind.

Sandy does not like the same music I do. But we both love Baroque music. So guess what we listen to together?

Stating something you want in the future as if it were already realized today keeps your hope alive.

For example, not all the relationships in our family are where we want them to be.

We do not let that define us. But we do we live every day with hope that healing and reconciliation will happen in the future.

Stating it in the present helps us move toward that future reality with confidence.

I hope this helps get you started! Let us know in the comment section below how beginning with the end in mind has affected your relationship.

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Heal your marriage and you heal the world!

Brent and Jewels Niccum went from being employees in a large corporation to being owners of a multinational company overnight!

But despite their success in business, they had trouble keeping their marriage on track.

Through the Imago Relationship counseling process, they discovered that the reactivity toward each other that was wrecking their relationship was based in their unconscious defenses that had been in place since childhood.

It didn’t take them long to figure it out, dismantle those defenses, and reconnect.

Like everything else they did in life, they worked hard on their marriage.

Soon they had a breakthrough, and now they are on a solid path toward, not only a healing and growth partnership, but a partnership to change the world through their life work together.

Brent and Jewels Niccum

When a couple in conflict learns to reconnect, they recover all the time and energy previously wasted in that conflict.

That’s when they look for some way to work together to make the world a better place.

Brent and Jewels are living in what I call the World Impact Stage of marriage. Having moved through the Power Struggle Stage into a Mature Love, they now have a great foundation in place to be effective co-creators in their life work.

A Couple's Journey

How did they get there?

By learning to consistently talk without criticism, listen without judgement, and connect beyond their differences.

Soon both of their sons, Lew and Cole, along with their families, began to join them on this journey toward healing and wholeness.

Niccum Family

One day Jewels asked me, “Can you help us do for our company what we’ve done for our marriage and family?”

That’s when we introduced Crucial Conversations® Training to NCCM Company.

This ongoing training and coaching has become a foundational piece in developing a healthy corporate culture that is having an impact on their employees, their customers, and their community.

NCCM Company Facility
NCCM Company, River Falls, WI USA

What Brent and Jewels realized was this:

“When we are dysfunctional in our marriage, everything under our charge will be dysfunctional in the same way. When we heal our marriage we can heal our family and our company.

“That’s because the same principles we’ve learned in our marriage apply in all our relationships. So our task is to teach everyone in our charge how to do what we are trying to do, not only at work, but everywhere in their personal relationships.”

After almost two years of training…

Overly aggressive employees have learned to listen and let others add to the collective wisdom of the team. This is resulting in better decisions and greater motivation.

Passive employees who would previously withdraw rather than confront a difficult situation are now bravely engaging in tough conversations with skills that help them to be both candid and respectful at the same time. This is preventing costly log jams in the production process.

Needless to say productivity, profits, job satisfaction, and customer loyalty have all risen substantially.

And a whole new generation of young leaders are being developed to expand this global enterprise.

Brent’s and Jewels’ impact is spilling over into their community.

NCCM Transformation Foundation
NCCM Transformation Foundation

Through the NCCM Transformation Foundation they are joining hands with the community to do many things including care for the homeless in Minneapolis, to mentor children in Wisconsin, and train and coach a new generation of social entrepreneurs.

Here’s what inspires me about the Niccum’s story.

What if thousands of leaders in companies, government agencies, and educational institutions worldwide were to follow this example?

What if these leaders started with their marriages, learning to talk without criticism, to listen without judgement, and to connect beyond their differences.

And then, what if these leaders led their families and organizations to do the same? We could see a revolution of remedies for our world’s ills!

Healing our world starts with us as couples.

What about you?

Will you join with us in this revolution? Please let us know in the comment section below!

Heal your marriage and you heal the world!

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

Hindsight is 20/20! What I wish I’d known 38 years ago about mutual purpose

Marriage is supposed to be two people becoming one. Right?

Two people striving for “mutual purpose” in their life together.

But for us it was two self-absorbed individuals both constantly trying to get our own way!

Can you relate?

Our attitude was “You and I are one, AND I’M THE ONE!!”  

And the power struggle began shortly after we said “I do”. 

Today is our 38th wedding anniversary!

As Sandy and I began our anniversary celebration with coffee in bed this morning at 5:40 a.m., she said,

“You should write this week’s blogpost about what we wish we had known 38 years ago.”

“But sweetheart, I’ve almost finished this week’s post. Too late to start over.”

But, as she encouraged me, my thoughts went to one thing.

I really, really, REALLY wish I’d known this 38 years ago.

And so, now I can’t wait to share it with you.

The power of mutual purpose

Before we learned about this tool, we were regularly in conflict over major decisions.

For years, whenever Sandy and I came to cross-purposes, there were three ways we would handle it – none of which resulted in a happy couple.

How not to do it:

1. Compromise

We were told that marriage has to be series of compromises.

What a bunch of bunk!

With compromise you both lose.

Compromise can lead to feelings like, “Being married to you means I have to give up what I really wanted in life.”

Wow. That’s heavy.

But actually, we did it a lot, until we discovered what Mutual Purpose is all about.

Compromise = You both lose. Not good.

2. Bulldozing

This is when one of us wanted something so bad we bulldozed over the other in order to get it.

Guess who did that a lot?

That’s right. I (Chuck) could be the bulldozer. Can you relate?

And what was the result?

The plan would fail and there was a big “I told you so!” Although Sandy never said it out loud.

Or, I would drag Sandy through the mud. Rather than kick and scream about it, she’d become silently resentful.

But either way, as you can imagine, as a couple, YOU LOSE!

You may win the battle, but you end up losing the war!

That’s because, as human beings…

Our feelings of being fully alive come from connection in relationship, not from getting our own way!

Even though I got my way a lot, I often lost that connection.

Big lesson here.

Bulldozing = One person wins and the other loses! Not good.

3. Giving in

Giving in happened when one of us got so tired of the conflict that we said, “OK. Whatever.”

But when you give in, you’re not really vested in the decision forced on you.

The result: Feeling manipulated or coerced. And that means bitter feelings rather than closeness and connection.

Once again we were losing the war.

Giving in = One person loses to let the other one win. Not good!

The turning point

chuck starnes mutual purpose in marriage

We began to experience mutual purpose through Imago Couples Dialogue. The Dialogue helped us begin to see how “other” the other person was.

When you go through that process of differentiation, your relationship is transformed.

And that transformation happens when you make room for the “otherness” of the other person.

That’s when everything changed for us.

Years later the book, Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Granny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler helped us put language to this idea of Mutual Purpose.

Here is what we learned to do when we find ourselves at cross-purposes.

1. Commit to Mutual Purpose

The first step is to make a commitment to Mutual purpose.

One person initiates the commitment and the other agrees.

It could go something like this.

“It seems like we’re both trying to force our view on each other. I commit to stay in this conversation until we find something that works for both of us.”


“Hey, if it’s not good for ‘us’, it’s not good for ‘me’.”

In order to do this you have to be willing to think outside the box. You have to shake off the notion that “I will never be happy unless I get what I want.”

That’s the hard part.

Can I dare to challenge myself that there just mighta be a third choice out there – one that works for both of us?

If you do that, you’re on your way.

So, make a commitment to Mutual Purpose.

Now, if you’re thinking what I thought, you’re feeling like “I don’t want to do this because I’ll end up giving up what I want”.


It’s about getting what you really want! For yourself, for your partner, and for the relationship. It’s called MUTUAL Purpose.

So go ahead and make the commitment.

Because that’s what we didn’t do.

Especially when it came to career moves (more about that and the pain we experienced later).

2. Let go of conflicting strategies

Notice I said let go of the strategy, not the purpose. Hold on to your purpose.

This is where we sort out the difference between purpose and strategy.

PURPOSE is what I really want. STRATEGY is how I get what I want.

On a Friday night Sandy would say, “Let’s go to the beach tomorrow.”

I already had decided I wanted to stay home and work on my home office.

So there we were – at odds. Or were we?

Odds about strategy but not necessarily about purpose.

Going to the beach is a strategy to get something Sandy really wants (purpose).

Staying home and working on the office is a strategy to get what I really want (purpose).

Going to the beach and staying home on a Saturday morning are mutually exclusive. You can’t do both.

Typically what would happen is that dialogue would shut down, and we’d move into one of the unhealthy strategies listed above – probably bulldozing and giving in.

So here’s how to disrupt that destructive cycle.

I ask Sandy, “Why do you want to go to the beach?”

She says something like, “I want to get away, see some beauty, be inspired and spend some uninterrupted time with you.”

My response: “I am fully on board with that purpose. I really want that for you.”

Then Sandy asks me, “Why do you want to stay home and work on your office?”

I say something like, “I really want to clean out the mess and get everything organized so I can feel good about going to work on Monday.”

Sandy’s response: “I’m totally on board with that! I really want that for you.” And by the way, Sandy is all about home organization and order.

So now we’ve discovered our purpose as separate from our strategy.

And we’re now committed to each other’s purpose

So it’s easier to let go of the strategies that are in conflict, and look for a purpose that’s mutual.

3. Synergize a purpose that satisfies you both

Stephen Covey said, “Synergy is better than my way or your way. It’s our way!”

When you look beyond strategy to your purpose, you find that you’re not as incompatible as you thought. Right?

You’re both more than supportive of each other’s desire than you realized. Isn’t that amazing?

It’s when you react to each other that all this clarity is lost. And the fight continues.

How could I not be excited that Sandy wanted to spend time with me and be inspired?

And Sandy always gets excited about making spaces more beautiful and functional.

One way to synergize a purpose is to simply combine purposes. The other is to look for a higher purpose beyond what you both want. More on this second one later.

For Sandy and me this meant combining purposes to make a Mutual Purpose.

4. Brainstorm new strategies to accomplish Mutual Purpose

Sandy wants to go to the beach and I want to work on my office. But we both share each other’s purpose.

So a new strategy would be…

“How about tomorrow morning we head for the beach and spend the day. On the way back we pick up the hardware supplies I need for the office. And then Sunday afternoon we work on my office?”

Bingo! That worked! And we did it all together!

Happy couple!

But what if your purposes are mutually exclusive?

For example, what if your purpose can’t be achieved except at the expense of your partner’s, or in a way that affects your children.

In this case everyone has to let go and honor the fact that the needs of your relationship and your children come before any other aspirations.

By focusing on higher and longer-term goals, you then seek ways to transcend short-term compromises, build Mutual Purpose, and return to dialogue.

But if done right, the end result is even better that what you wanted in the first place.

Why? Because of the close and connected relationship you gain in the process.

Make sense?

The pain of failure and a lesson learned

Hindsight is 20/20 right? Here’s why I wish I had learned this lesson 38 years ago.

There was a potential career move I was especially excited about. One I saw that would lead me toward my own personal dreams.

When I shared the opportunity, Sandy was…well…underwhelmed.

It involved her leaving her friends and community. It involved changing our daughters’ schools. She saw the plan as disruptive, not in a good way.

And looking back, it wasn’t so much that she opposed the move, it was my insensitivity to what this change meant to her that hurt so much.

No wonder she was ambivalent!

But I was determined that this was the “only strategy” that could fulfill my “purpose”.

So I bulldozed and got my way.

While I got opportunities, Sandy gave up a whole list of them.

She’s an amazing woman, always willing to forgive, but the damage was done.

From her perspective, years were lost. And what was so hard was that I didn’t get it. For years I couldn’t see what this did to her.

When we began using the Couples Dialogue I began to see the light.

If we had known about this tool, we could have synergized a Mutual Purpose. And then  I’m confident we would have found a “third way” that worked for both of us.

When you and your partner value each other, and honor the deep desires you both have, SKY IS THE LIMIT!

So that’s one thing I wish I had known 38 years ago.

Yes, hindsight is 20/20. So after we lamented it and healed a lot, we are happy about how this lesson is working for us today!

mutual purpose in marriage chuck starnes

It’s our hope that this tool called Mutual Purpose will help you NOT make the mistakes we did!

Here’s to a great relationship established on Mutual Purpose!

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What if we could see the divorce rate drop to 10% in 10 years?

With 35-40% of all marriages ending in divorce, and only 10% report having a truly fulfilling relationship, is there a way to reverse this dismal trend?

I’m convinced there is.

My wife Sandy and I  have a dream that over the next 10 years these numbers will be reversed. 

Our vision is to see the divorce rate drop to 10% and to see 90% of all couples engaged in a partnership of mutual healing, growth and positive impact in their world.

We’re not alone in this. We believe this can happen through a growing movement of educational efforts that we are a part of.

Also, the couples we are helping are energized to share their stories with others, as they have discovered the secret to a truly fulfilling relationship in marriage.

Will you help us by doing your part? Here are some steps to take.

1. Work on your own marriage.

And let me help you. I have a six-week coaching program that can help you make a good marriage even better. 

You can meet with me in my home office in San Jose, or in the privacy of your own home by video conferencing.  Click here for details.

We cannot give away what we don’t have. 

You can’t be excited about encouraging other marriages if your own relationship is unstable. 

On the other hand, if you are building a stable, secure and safe relationship that empowers you to fulfill your destiny together, then it’s easy believe this could happen to millions of other couples! 

And this would drastically reduce the divorce rate.

Many of my client couples have a good marriage they want to make better.  So no matter where you are in your relationship it’s important keep growing.  Let me help!

2. Encourage other marriages.

Couples everywhere are starving for hope that they can have a satisfying relationship in marriage. By sharing your hope with them, you will be a significant part of what we believe is a worldwide movement.

Also please refer these couples to me, and I can give them some coaching and tools to help get them unstuck and on their way toward a satisfying relationship.  

Click here for a link to forward to them. Or just have them email me at the address below.

3. Educate the next generation.

Help us get the message into every school and university – that conflict is not only normal in marriage, it’s also a clear sign you married the right person. 

And every conflict represents something new that is wanting to emerge in your relationship – a new area of healing and growth that wasn’t there before.

Unfortunately, in our culture, love is often portrayed as romantic love only, and it conflict is seen as a bad thing. 

Help us change the culture in a way that changes the world!

Do you know what will happen if the divorce rate drops dramatically? 

We’ll also see a drop in every other social ill!


Yes, because…

The marriage relationship is the upstream source for everything that happens in society downstream.

Imagine the statistics of crime, violence and poverty dropping dramatically. 

Imagine the increase in creativity, productivity and financial health of our nation. 

Foundational to all this is the healing of marriages. So join with us and let’s all do our part!

If I can be of help to you or anyone you know please let me know. Email me at [email protected] (or just click reply).

Thanks so much for your friendship and partnership to bring healing to our hurting world.

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