By Lara Krupicka
During a date night in the Ikea cafeteria I discovered a new way for my husband and I to express our love for each other. I asked him if he had any goals for the next few years – something new he’d like to pursue. Tentatively he shared an invitation he received to run for a position in a sporting organization. After discussing how it would impact our family time, we agreed when the time came, he should go for it. It was one of our best date night conversations since our eldest child was born.
Most of us are starry-eyed on our wedding day. We talk of hopes for the future. We envision an idyllic family life. And we eagerly support each other’s goals and ambitions.
Fast-forward to life with youngsters. Conversations revolve around the kids’ needs and activities. Reality smacks the stars out of our eyes. But sometimes all we need to revive a bit of the old eagerness is to circle back to those hopes and dreams.
This Valentine’s Day why not surprise your spouse by encouraging them toward a life goal. Try one of these seven ways to say “I love you”:
Think back to what she talked about before you wed. Did she want to take a particular trip or master a certain skill? The fact that you haven’t forgotten speaks volumes about how much you love her. You could say, “Remember how you used to want to…? Does that still interest you?”
Listen carefully to her response. Has she outgrown that desire? Or did she write it off as unlikely in your current season of parenthood? Discuss what appeals to her about that pursuit. Affirm her being worthy of completing her goal – now or in the future.
If I hadn’t posed the question of goals, my husband may have never revealed his thoughts. It could have been a missed opportunity. If you are not sure of your spouse’s current desires, be direct and ask. During a quiet moment where you’ll be undisturbed by kids, ask him, “If you could do anything new or different during the coming five years, what would it be?”
You may encounter silence. Be patient and ask again at a later date.
When he does share, respond with an upbeat reaction. Renew the “sky is the limit” attitude you shared as newlyweds.
It can be discouraging to voice a longing without any hope of seeing it come to fruition. Once you know what your spouse hopes to do, create a plan – either on your own, or together. Look at what next steps can be taken. It may be as simple as giving your assent (as I did with my husband). Sign up for a class. Research travel options. Or set aside a portion of your budget to fund their dream, with a projected goal date for reaching full funding. Take action to demonstrate your willingness to help them reach their hoped-for destination.
Look for a tangible element that furthers or represents the goal. Turn it into a gift: a travel bag for a future trip, a voice recorder to take notes for that book she wants to write, or a certificate to a desired photography class. Seeing her dream encapsulated in a physical form can be a powerful reminder of your love.
It’s not like we don’t know how to sacrifice. As parents we do it daily. And we do so gladly. But ponder this – when did you last sacrifice for your spouse (okay, so maybe it was last weekend when you woke early with the kids and let him sleep in)? Consider whether you could give something up in order to allow your spouse to move closer to his goal. Then offer it. The tenderness of your gesture won’t go unnoticed. And even if it doesn’t fulfill his goal immediately, he’ll understand the depth of your commitment to his future.
If you’re able to act at once, do it. Don’t put off what she has already been waiting for. Send her on that adventure with your blessing. Give her time to engage in that activity. If possible, share the experience. And in the days leading up to the goal, anticipate it with her. Create a countdown. Leave notes reminding her you’re thinking about what a great experience it will be.
Once your spouse has completed their goal, take time to celebrate. Better yet, plan a celebration in advance. What will you do to recognize the accomplishment? Will you be at the finish line of the marathon with a banner welcoming him? Could you order canvases of her best photographs from that class to display in your home? Be creative about how you will commemorate the success. The celebration can continue on long after the event itself, a standing reminder of your care and support.
We all have goals and dreams. But there’s nothing like having someone in our corner who is invested in seeing us across the finish line. And who better than your spouse. Decide which of these methods you can incorporate into your observance this Valentine’s Day (and in the years to come). Your marriage and family could be all the richer for it.
Lara Krupicka is a parenting journalist, mom of three and author of Family Bucket Lists: Bring More Fun, Adventure & Camaraderie Into Every Day. She can’t wait to explore with her husband new ideas for what he’ll do in the future.