How a White Board and a Dry Erase Marker Can Strengthen Your Marriage

Do you wonder why so many marriages fail? Are you in a marriage that is destined to fail? Or one destined to succeed? You can find out, but it takes guts.

Have you noticed how couples with rocky relationships seem headed in different directions? How they don’t listen to each other? How they compete with each other for scarce resources?

Not enough couples have direct discussions about where they plan to be in 5, 10, 20, or 30 years.

A couple I knew competed with each other saying “if you get to spend $5,000 I should get to spend $5,000.” It resulted in financial ruin and divorce. He’d buy a motorcycle then she’d demand a new car. She’d gamble in Vegas and he’d demand a golf trip to Florida.

What if one partner’s life goal is building a dream home on 400 acres of prime pheasant hunting land in South Dakota, while the other’s dream is owning a health spa in a trendy city? How will this work out when their dreams are in direct conflict? One may say, “Oh she’ll come around to my view someday.” Maybe he’s right; maybe she will sacrifice her dreams for his. But do you want to be stuck in the grasslands of South Dakota with a woman who would rather be in Seattle? How strong will your relationship be? Strong enough to last? Or will it cost you your marriage and your dream house?

Christine and I have been talking about her business and we discovered we had a major misunderstanding about our goals. Every time we talked about hiring help, the conversation became tense and confrontational. We avoided the topic for a while, but when we returned to the topic, the same emotional friction was present.

I was frustrated because I thought I was helping her. I didn’t realize my vision of the future, the one I was trying to help her create, was not the same as her vision. Our views were different. Then I realized…

Why are we wasting energy in a tug-o-war when we could be working together toward mutual goals?

Is planning your family’s future any different than planning any other project?

You can bring this stuff out in the open and resolve it before it causes damage.

This weekend, Christine and I mapped our future. I recommend you do this too if you haven’t done it already. I’ll tell you how we did it.

What is future mapping?

Future mapping is imagining what you want your future to be and then working back from there to the present. It is inverted planning and goal setting.

When you start in the present and map toward the future you usually end up somewhere didn’t intend to be. But when you start where you intend to be and work backward to the present, it keeps you focused on where you want to be, not where you are.

Saturday evening, we hired a babysitter, picked up some take-out, and went to the software ‘war room’ at my office and white boarded our future.

Here’s is what we did:

  1. I created two columns on the right side of the whiteboard, one for me and one for Christine.
  2. I wrote my vision of our future in bullet points under my name
  3. I asked her for her vision and wrote it in bullet points under her name.
  4. Our visions included finance, education, business, parenting style, and leisure. Anything we are not today – that we want to be in the future.
  5. The process revealed conflicting goals and misunderstandings. Once we had them identified, we made compromises.
  6. Once we had a clear joint vision of the future, I moved to the left side of the whiteboard and wrote down our current finance, education, businesses, parenting style, and leisure time status.
  7. Then I returned to the right side of the board, where we listed the things we need to meet our goals including dependencies and obstacles.
  8. Then I mapped the requirements, obstacles, and dependencies backward (right to left) to the present. This gave us sets of intermediate goals.
  9. Then we wrote down what actions we can take this year to reach our first set of intermediate goals.
  10. We repeated #9 for the next year and the next year until our actions and results met our long-term goals.

If everything goes as planned, we believe we can reach our goals by the end of 2010. It might not go as planned and our goals may change over the next three years, but at least we have a plan for the future that we both agree upon and understand, which is more than most people have.

So now, as a family, we have a clear road map into the future with action plans and goals. If you map your future with your partner, there aren’t any secrets, no hidden agendas, no misunderstandings, and no scamming for resources because you both know where you are going, why you are going there, and what you need to do to get there.

Don’t allow your future to create you, allow yourself to create your future.

13 thoughts on “How a White Board and a Dry Erase Marker Can Strengthen Your Marriage”

  1. What a wonderful post! It is a great idea to not just talk about goals, but to sit down and clearly identify what they are, where they conflict, and how to reach them together.

    I think the most important word in the article, though, is “compromise.” I’ve seen so many marriages crumble because one partner or the other sees the differences in their spouse as proof that they are “drifting apart” or were “never a good match”, instead of seeing those differences as being part and parcel of being human. Humans are individuals and whatever the theological/psychological underpinnings are for that, it remains a fact that it takes a lot more work for two people to align themselves than it does to walk to seperate beats. Unless you are willing to listen to what your partner truly wants out of life, and unless you are willing to meet them halfway between your goals and theirs’, then this fabulous idea of a project is a waste of time.

    I’ve been married ten years, and truly, not to the man of my dreams. This man is difficult, stubborn, selfish, and annoying. Well, so am I, sometimes. We’re just two people with very different backgrounds and seperate personalities who love each other very much. I think we are going to sit down and do the “goal management” approach you recommend, and I suspect we’ll find out a lot about each other, even at this stage. I’m confidant that what ever the case, we’ll find a good compromise where we need to, and still have a lot left over to share.

    Thanks, Steve!

  2. I really enjoyed this post and dont think it could have come at a better time. I got engaged a couple weeks ago and I feel this is the next step to making our lives together more productive…

  3. Currently, the Navy owns my wife’s (and therefore indirectly my) whiteboard and dry erase markers. I still like your approach though, and I’m glad it has strengthened your marriage.

    I’ll bookmark it for when my wife is free of the military in 3 years.

  4. Great post Steve! My husband and I did that for a business plan. I would say that the prerequisite is honesty. Sometimes people agree to things in a compromise that they really don’t want or are not willing to do the work to get. That just leads to severe problems down the road.

    And yes, I’m speaking from experience. Not a pretty sight.

    In Spirit,

  5. Peter,

    I would have said the same thing 20 years ago.

    But I have to say…
    Marriage and compromise have been one of the finest experiences in my life.

    Besides if you want kids…
    It is nice to have thier mother around to help out. 🙂

  6. Around six years ago I suddenly understood how future had to be planned. Just as you say, one has to determine a goal in the future and then come to present step by step to figure out when, where and how they have to be in coming years to achieve that goal. I only thought about it for planning just one person’s future. But what I get from your article is that it can be done in marriages too!! 🙂

    And about your answer to Peter, I have never thought of marriage as just one more big experience, like a holiday you take to some unknown country. Thanks for opening my eyes to new experiences. ^.^

  7. Hi Steve

    Thanks for sharing. It’s certainly helpful! Will apply what you’ve shared with my wife and my family as well!

    It’s indeed very important for husbands and wives to be aligned.

    Warm regards
    Live life to the fullest,

  8. Hi Steve,
    I read think kind of topic discuss in many blog, but how you solve the problem is great.
    For me, I don’t really want to create very specific goal just like you write “building a dream home on 400 acres of prime pheasant hunting land in South Dakota”, I just make it simple by saying I want financial freedom. So I don’t think it will make problem with my spouse.

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