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

Chuck Starnes Mutual purpose in marriage 1
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 that 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, 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.”

or…

“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”.

NO!

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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Author: Chuck

Chuck Starnes is a relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples find the safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness they are looking for together. He also helps organizations become more productive by improving relationship skills.

6 thoughts on “Hindsight is 20/20! What I wish I’d known 38 years ago”

    1. Thank you Gene. Thanks for mentoring me and helping me better understand the Imago paradigm. It’s made a big difference in our relationship and of course in my practice.

  1. CHUCK
    Thank you for sharing those pictures .They are so sweet, especially the wedding picture, Happy Anniversary!
    Very informative blog! I love the mutual purpose concept, great tool.
    Thank you for carrying about other relationships ,enough to be transparent and make a difference
    Sunshine

  2. Thank you for sharing the real life struggles, and the process of learning from them. How true it is to look back and see where we were and now looking at our current ways of dealing with conflict and our own needs. Seeing how it builds each other up therefore creating a marriage oneness.

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