Goal-setting is an important part of any marriage. Sometimes these goals are more work for one spouse than the other, but as wedded partners we agree to support our spouses in their goals.

Easier said than done - right? How exactly does one go about being supportive, anyway? The following thoughts, based on the experience of combining year one of graduate school with year one of marriage, will help to answer that question.

Remind your spouse of his or her dreams and vision for the future

My husband always dreamed of being where he is now: pursuing a graduate degree in chemical engineering at Purdue University. However, endless hours of homework, classes that were way over his head and loneliness stemming from moving to a new state has taken its toll on my husband's enthusiasm.

That's why we often discuss what our life is going to be like when he finishes. We're excited for a time when mental exhaustion is not the norm for him. We look forward to starting our family and living closer to our parents. Conversations about our future cheer him up when classes and homework are weighing him down.

By keeping the end goal fresh in the mind of your spouse, you give him something to hold onto when days get hard. You remind your spouse that things will get better and he has a reason to keep trying. You help your spouse know that there's something amazing waiting, and help him not to give up.

Give your spouse an out, just in case he or she needs it

No matter how many times you mention the future results of your spouse's hard work, there will be days when it still just doesn't seem worth it. Those are the times when I tell my husband, "You don't have to do this if you don't want to. I will love you anyway." This gives him the freedom to think about other options, which in turn decreases his stress level enough to keep pushing forward.

When discussing this with your spouse, keep in mind that the current, difficult goal is probably not the highest goal. Let your spouse know it's OK to sacrifice smaller aspirations in favor of the things that really matter, like spending time with your children and being committed to your faith. There are also many ways to achieve the same goal. By creating Plan B, you actually take pressure off of Plan A, making it feel much more achievable to your spouse.

Pray your brains out

I'm sure you can relate when I say that sometimes I have no way to help my husband with his most overwhelming obstacles. In those painful times, the only option I have left is prayer. I have rarely prayed as hard for anyone as I have for my husband this year. It's been incredible to see the little ways we are blessed with courage, endurance and confidence in each other every day. Our friends tease us about how obvious it is that we're in love, and I attribute that to the central role that God plays in our lives.

As you and your spouse pray in faith, the answers will come. You don't even have to wait to pray until you are at the end of your rope. Praying often, especially about the small things, helps all the bigger things fall into place, even your spouse's incredibly challenging goals.

Trust your spouse

I confess, sometimes I did not believe my husband would get as far as he has. However, I have tried to focus on what I already know he is capable of rather than worrying about what he isn't. "Remember," I tell him, "you never thought you would be the church-going type, and now you devote hours of your week to our faith. You also didn't think you'd ever want to get married, and now here we are, blissfully happy. You know you can do hard things." In response, he'll close his eyes and take a deep breath, and I'd know then that he'll be OK. Believing in my husband is sometimes a leap of faith, but he has never disappointed me. By trusting your spouse in challenging moments, you can discover that he or she can do hard things, too.

Be honest about your limitations

If you're like me, sometimes you simply don't understand why your spouse is having such a hard time. It will seem like you have tried everything, and still your spouse is not OK. Take a moment to express your limitations of optimism, patience or energy. Call a timeout, and let your spouse know that you are having a hard time, too. If you do this with love and humility, you may suddenly be the one receiving comfort as your spouse puts her burdens aside to help you. Making you feel better will also help to distract your spouse from her own burdens, and both of you will be better for the experience.

None of these methods work very well alone. Just like in every other aspect of life, we need to find a balance between hard work and humility. So inspire your spouse with your stamina as well as your submissiveness. You may find yourself inspired by your spouse too.

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