I was having a conversation with someone the other day (that had absolutely nothing to do with couples or counseling) when she said something that lit up like a neon sign in my brain. She was in the middle of working on a dissertation for her PhD in which she was looking at what happens when companies merge without the CEOs first coming together to discuss whether their end goals for the companies are aligned. Not whether their immediate goals, 1-year plan, or even 5 year plans are aligned, but their end goals. End Goals. Happily Ever After. Married for Life. Premarital counseling for CEOs. These are all the neon sub-signs that flashed through my mind, because really….isn’t that what often happens in relationships? We start dating. We like each other – we admire each other and see how we could benefit from this union. We compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. All of these things are good and important and make for a strong beginning to a relationship and a good initial pairing (or strong beginning to a merger of companies, apparently). When it comes to happily ever after, though, it may be that those areas are simply not enough to determine whether we will make it to the finish line.
There is an assumption here which of course is not entirely fair or accurate – and that is that you know what your end goal is for your company – I mean your life – at any given point in time. Probably you don’t. Probably very few of us would meet our 10, 15 or 20 year ago self and that self would say “yes! You are exactly the future me I envision!” The goal is not to know exactly what life will look like in 20 years and lock your partner into a commitment to that goal.
**In fact that’s a really bad idea, we should not hold our partners responsible for all of the terms of agreement we came to when we started dating because (drum roll please) ALL OF US CHANGE. You will change, your partner will change, your life will change and those terms of agreement need to be flexible and change with you.**
The important thing is having the conversation in the first place. Where do you see yourself in 10, 20, 50 years? What are you personal priorities? What does happiness look like to you? How would you define success and how does your family of origin define success? What are the core values that you organize your life around? What is your end goal? What do you want your obituary to say when you have left this earth?
These are conversations we might start having in our dating years – conversations that help us look down the road a ways and imagine if this compatibility and happy vibe that we are experiencing now might have staying power when the rubber hits the road and life happens.
One of my friends is fond of talking about the role of household CEO in the family, but really in a healthy relationship both partners normally hold some sort of C-level position in the management of family life. But did they take the time before merging their lives to talk about big picture goals, where they want to go and how they are going to get there? Or like the C-level officers of the aforementioned companies, did they simply believe in love and contemporary compatibility and think that was good enough?
There are lots of lists and pre-packaged questions out there for couples thinking about marriage to help you start you talking about things like how you manage your money, how often you expect to have sex and your thoughts on disciplining your future hypothetical children. These are important and can be helpful, no doubt. I would suggest you think bigger and broader as well, though, and add to those conversations questions about the end goal. What is your hope for this merger after all?
Life throws us crazy curve balls all the time, so far be it from any of us to think that we know today what life will look like one year or 40 from now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the conversation! Can you have these conversations on your own? Of course you can! Will therapy help you navigate them more successfully? Probably – an impartial third party can see things you might not be able to see and help move in the direction of conversations that will be most beneficial to the 2 of you and your long term relationship. Think of premarital counseling as an investment in the future success of your life merger. A skilled couples therapist will help you and your loved one ask the important questions of one another, explore future directions, and align your values and priorities as you get ready to take these next steps together.