Creating Shared Vision
by Debbie Laaser, MA, LMFT
Creating Shared Vision
An excerpt from Shattered Vows by Debbie Laaser, MA, LMFT
Having vision keeps you on track when the going gets tough. And it will. Remember vision requires change. Change always presents loss and chaos, and both stir up many feelings. Even if what you are seeking to change is good, you leave something behind as you change. All change involves loss, and all loss requires grieving. When you are working together to create vision, you will experience not only joy in building something new, but also sadness in letting go of something that was familiar. Learning to talk about those feelings together is another way you connect emotionally as a couple.
Having vision for emotional health as a couple might include deciding how you would manage unmanageable feelings, confrontations, or ‘stuck places’ in your relationship. Deciding ahead of time how you will get help is a proactive and healthy way to encourage emotional health for your marriage.
I spent some time talking to a woman named Clara about her dating relationships after she was divorced. She was very concerned about making the same mistakes in another relationship. She came in one day and proudly told me that she decided to ask her current ‘steady’ boyfriend if would be willing to go to counseling if they started having trouble. She said she told him that she would not marry anyone who would not agree to get help if they struggled. That was a woman who wanted clear vision for emotional health!
Creating a mutual vision in the arena of work is another challenge and adventure. While you might each have your own career or vocation, this slice when considered for your relationship, has to do with what you might do together. It does not always need to be an income-producing venture. Your work together might be something you volunteer to do, like committing time to a community charity, or serving on a school committee or fundraising for a non-profit organization. You might enjoy having a part-time venture together in addition to your own careers. You might find ways to support each other in your daily work: James was helping put together some marketing brochures for his wife’s work because he had more computer expertise. Mary helped organize the research results for her husband’s latest work project. Finding vision in how you can connect through work helps you feel included in each other’s lives.
I remember when Mark and I worked on our vision to work full time together in our ministry. I needed to leave my company where I had worked for over twenty years. We both felt led by God to pursue this new vision together and I chose to make the decision to leave my former work. However, I also felt great loss at leaving something I truly loved. It was confusing to me at first: how could I feel so sad when I wanted this new vision? I realized that with change, I could feel both—sadness and excitement. It wasn’t black or white. I needed considerable time to grieve the life I was leaving. Being able to be sad with Mark and to have him be patient and compassionate while I worked through that allowed us to be allies—to be intimately connected while working on our vision.
Chaos is the stage of recognizing something is not familiar anymore. Even if it is something good, it is different. And unfamiliar territory of any kind requires practice or exposure until it becomes familiar. Feelings of fear, anxiety, frustration or anger can often accompany your attempt to get familiar with something new. If you can talk about these feelings with your spouse instead of using old coping behaviors to cover them up, you will be allies in the process. You will be changing an old pattern of ‘doing it alone’ or not doing it at all because too many feelings surfaced that made the whole process uncomfortable.
Carol was an interior decorator and it was easy for her to take control of the decisions for the house. In the first years of their marriage, Carol independently made all of the choices for wall colors, furniture and art in their home. Ben was often busy at his office, so it didn’t make sense to interrupt her process. But as they began to practice creating vision together, he showed interest in being involved in house decisions, and so they began to spend their Saturdays shopping together for unusual art and furniture. They not only enjoyed the trips they planned, but they also had stories that accompanied the art pieces they purchased. The space they shared at home was beginning to be truly theirs.
How is your social life as a couple? You are not alone if you admit to not having many or any couple friends. Talking about what you desire as a couple is most important here. Some couples are fulfilled primarily with socializing with family. Others are starved for interaction with other couples but don’t know how to go about finding those relationships. Knowing what each other wants is the first step to making it happen.
Diane was very involved with her career friends, and most of her socializing was done without her husband. He was a doctor and had little time to think about a social life anyway, so he had not pressed her to find friends together. But as they became companions through their healing process, they began to change their desires. Both voiced a need to find a few couples that they would enjoy together. Their initial vision was to find two couples that they could invite over to dinner or to a play—one each month. Slowly they were able to make joint friendships that they both enjoyed.
Sexuality for your coupleship is much more than just a decision about frequency. If you are learning how to be intimate emotionally and spiritually with each other, sexual intercourse should not be the only way you feel close to each other. So often, sexual closeness is the barometer for couples to determine emotional closeness. If you are having good sex, you might think that you are close and connected. However, finding connectedness with your spouse is accomplished by sharing feelings, needs, perceptions, core beliefs and desires in a safe environment, knowing that you will not be blamed, judged or left if you do. Intimacy is about being loved unconditionally. And when you can share in that way, sexual sharing will be an expression of that connection. How will you decide to create healthy sexual vision? It is important to talk about your sexual life just as you do all of the other slices of vision.
Most of us would agree that our spiritual life as a couple is important, but it is common to think about what you do to grow individually in your faith rather than how can we can create vision together. Most churches have men’s ministries and women’s ministries, but rarely do you see couples’ ministries. You will find greater spiritual intimacy if you work at finding ways to share your spiritual life. If you believe that God will use your pain for purpose, finding ways to share your pain together and serve others will bless your marriage.
Katie and Paul were missionaries and lived in the mission field for years with the secrets of his sexual addiction. After they came back to the United States for their own healing, they returned with a greater vision for their spiritual life: they choose to be honest about their struggles and to lead others to a life of purity. They worked as a team, talking to men, women and couples. And through their own pain, they grew deeper in their spiritual life together.
When you are creating vision together, you will continually be interweaving the dimensions, some overriding others when priorities shift. For instance, your desire to work on your environment slice may be sacrificed for spending resources to go on a mission trip. Or your vision to spend time with loved ones might be delayed for a time while you work on emotional healing. Or you may choose to reduce your income for a few years while you go back to school. When you are intentional about vision, you can endure the losses or the chaos that may be created when one vision slices supersedes another. Having a shared vision helps you to know what you want to do as a couple. Being intentional helps you find passion and purpose in your choices.
Clearly, the prerequisite to having a vision as a couple is to do the work of creating a personal vision first. If you neglect your own passions and needs, you will set yourself up to be disappointed in your coupleship. Your spouse cannot be everything to you or for you. When you have your personal vision in place and you are developing your relationship with God who can be with you always, whatever your spouse can give you can be enough. Likewise, when your husband has his life firmly planted in his personal vision and he is seeking God’s presence in his life, whatever you can give him will be enough, too.
In Sacred Marriage Thomas wrote, “What both of us crave more than anything else is to be intimately close to the God who made us. If that relationship is right, we won’t make such severe demands on our marriage, asking each other, expecting each other, to compensate for spiritual emptiness.”
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