A relationship is very much like a business or organization with two partners at the top. There are decisions to be made about everything - when to go on dates, how to spend money, who is going to change diapers ... Yet many couples lack direction. It's as though they're "in the same car with no idea where they want to go." They just put the car in drive and hope they end up at "forever."

Business 101: Every successful business or organization has a mission statement. If you don't know where you are going or what you want, how do you know which direction to go or when you've arrived? How do you know whether you're on course or completely off the map?

Your marriage, the most important partnership of your life, needs a mission statement. Soon, you'll wonder how you ever got along without one.

Let's get started:

1. Look at actual mission statements of successful companies

This will be helpful to give you an idea of what you're trying to accomplish. The really good ones are somewhat short - maybe a paragraph or two - and have specific objectives. As you're researching, jot down ideas, words and concepts you'd like to include in your mission statement. Remember, this is an exercise for both you and your spouse, so there needs to be room for both of your ideas and words without judgment or criticism.

2. Define your relationship

Who are you as a couple? What do you stand for? What are you trying to accomplish? What are your core values? You may be surprised to find areas in which you assumed you were in agreement but discover you're not. Furthermore, these areas may be sources of tension in your marriage - both partners wanting to move in different directions. Actually defining your relationship is a great way to practice your listening skills as you discover ways to incorporate both partners' ideas.

3. Start writing

The writing portion will probably take several attempts. Your first attempt will probably be wordy and long. That's OK. An important rule, since you're writing as a couple, is that no one gets to cross out anything the other wrote. Both partners will be putting down thoughts that are important, and those thoughts should be treated as such. Don't worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation at this point.

4. Let the negotiation begin, and keep the language positive

Once you have a working paragraph or two, start analyzing your content, and arrange sentences as needed. Are any statements too vague or too specific? Is it repetitive? Rework any negative statements to read in a positive light. You want your mission statement to be energizing and productive - not critical. Slowly work your statement down to a manageable size, and sit with it for a few days or weeks. Does it feel right? Does it reflect your relationship and what you're trying to accomplish? Are both partners represented?

5. Allow for change

As companies grow through different experiences, sometimes mission statement needs to be reevaluated. Visiting the document annually is a great way to make sure you are on track as you add/delete ideas. One couple with whom I've worked, teetering on the edge of divorce, decided they would create a mission statement for just one year. Their one-year mission statement was a little more specific than most because, at that time, one year was the longest period of time they could commit to their relationship. It worked beautifully for them, and they have since created a five-year statement.

6. Set goals

As a product of your new mission statement, set clear and attainable goals, and hang them somewhere noticeable. Do you and your spouse need to have a set date night each week? Are you saving up funds for something specific? Your goals should reflect your mission statement, and they should be a fun and positive way to continue to strengthen your relationship. Write or type out your goals, taking special care to make them look nice so you can hang them somewhere where both you and your spouse will see them and be able to reflect on them often. If something about this process becomes bothersome or annoying, that's a sign something is not quite right and your goals should be revisited.

Ahhh " That feels good

Couples with whom I've worked talk about how relieving it is to finally feel they are on the "same page," heading the same direction. They love having their statements somewhere they can see them - with their goals right underneath. Partners no longer feel the need to "nag" all the time, and, when a partner doesn't do his or her part, he or she need not feel criticized because there already exists a mutual understanding - an agreement between partners to refer to. This document becomes a third-party buffer and serves to open up conversation without hurting feelings.

As marriage becomes more about partnership and negotiation, a mission statement will strengthen it, providing greater clarity and enhancing feelings of intimacy between husbands and wives.

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