You cannot predict the future, but you can plan for the future.

Okay, okay, I know that’s pretty cliché, but if something is a cliché, it usually means it’s true, right?

The Future (personifying it a little bit here) is scary by nature. The overall ambiguity of it all can be staggering. Within all of that multifaceted kaleidoscope of uncertainty, there is also a little bit of excitement when it comes to dreaming about the future. With all of that said, it is important to plan, rather, start setting goals

While there are no “magic formulas” when it comes to setting goals in your marriage, there are a few common denominators that just seem to work.

We have put together this practical guide — along with a few things that have helped in our personal marriages — to help you organize a roadmap for your future and setting goals in your marriage.

Ten, Five, and One

When thinking of setting goals, inherently, my initial thoughts are what things will look like years down the road. So let’s start there!

I’m a simple man, and I like to have some sort of formulaic foundation whenever I begin any exercise. What has worked for me and my marriage has been the Ten, Five, and One Model.

Start with your ten year goals (I personally think any longer than ten years can start to become too broad/too distant in the future). What sort of career are you looking to have? Will you both be working? Will you have children? How many? Think broadly with this — as much as you can, obviously, but also be specific on some of the things that allow you to be. This creates the framework to work within while making the other plans.

Think of it like finding all of the edge pieces of a thousand-piece puzzle and putting it together. You’re framing in the tapestry of your life together!

After you’ve mapped out your ten year goals, start working on your five year goals. This one’s a bit easier to map out because there are probably things in your life already that come with a timeline. For instance, if you have already purchased a home, you might say something like, “in five years, we would like to have X amount paid off.” You get the idea.

Once you feel good about the five year goals, it’s time to work on the one year goals. This one might arguably be the most difficult to work through.

Remember the puzzle metaphor? Man, those middle pieces can be challenging.

Somehow, it’s easier to dream about ten years from now because it’s lofty and a literal shot in the dark. The one year plan might also be the most important plan out of the three. It helps to eliminate most “surprises” (for better or for worse).

It also really helps the two of you become closer together with communication and balancing life. Again, there are few surprises, especially when it comes to the day-to-day stuff because you’ve already laid out a concrete plan together. Embrace the “mundane” and the perceived monotony when it comes to  the day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month schedules. Be as specific as possible to eliminate those unpleasant surprises.

As soon as you complete the ten, five, and one year plans, go through it again from the top. Make sure that there is some sort of ebb and flow to the overall plan, with consistent themes as the thread.

Practical, Pleasing Plans

Like I said, I’m a simple man and I enjoy alliterations.

Now that we’ve established functionality of creating a plan from a birds-eye view, let’s get into some specifics.

Let’s tackle the practical planning first.

Everyone wants to be prepared as much as possible. What does that look like for you and your spouse?

Do either or both of you have a life insurance policy? Do you have an emergency fund in place in case the unthinkable happens? This could also include severe illness, medical bills, things like that. What about general savings? What are you hoping to accomplish with your finances as your plan begins to unfold?

During this portion of planning, it’s easy to become so overly-vigilant that we end up eliminating any sort of enjoyment or hopeful outlook from the goal-setting or future-planning process. As I’ve mentioned, you are going to be discussing some heavy topics — life insurance, planning for illness, emergency funds…

So, let’s talk about the fun side!

I understand that we are all wired different and those of you who may be reading this tend to lean on the more practical side, which is okay! Just hang with me here for a minute.

Inasmuch as practicality is important to discuss, the enjoyment of life and overall happiness is also just as important. This life is tough, fleeting, and confusing at times, so we have to enjoy it as much as we can.

So, what makes you happy? What sort of things have you always dreamed of having in your home? What vacation have you always wanted to go on? Dream big, be specific, and have fun with this.

Revisit with Regularity

Plans change. Maybe you and your spouse decide to have children sooner than what you originally planned (learn more about Natural Family Planning). Maybe you receive an inheritance and you are now able to purchase that dream home this year, rather than five years down the road. Or maybe you simply have different ideas of where you’d like to see yourselves in the not-so-distant future.

Whatever the case may be, put something on the schedule to revisit your plan with regularity. What does that look like? I can’t answer that for you, but what works for my wife and I is a quarterly assessment of the overall plan.

So How Do We Start?

I’m glad you asked!

I would like to encourage you and your spouse to participate in a simple exercise.

Get out your notepad and your favorite pen or pencil. Sit down with your favorite beverage and snacks, and turn on some soft music. You can do the following in any order, but here’s what works for my wife and I:

Don’t start with the plan yet. Start by writing down your fears.

Get everything out in the open, regardless of how irrational you feel your fears may be. We’re taught from a very young age that we must vanquish fear and not give it any time of day.

Contrary to that belief, one of my favorite quotes on this very notion is from Nelson Mandela:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Writing down your fears is a great exercise because somehow, it strips all of the power from them. You see the words written down on paper from an arial view. You feel a bit “above” your fears.

When you embrace fear and ambiguity together, you begin to see that perfect love that casts out all fear play out in a very real way.

This exercise was my wife’s idea, and it honestly helped me more than I could have ever imagined.

Once you get your fears out of the way, start tackling each one through the lens of your plan/goals for your marriage.

Again, be practical, but also have fun with it. Dare yourselves to dream a little and get creative.

After you complete those two exercises, I encourage you to take it just one step further.

Now that your plan is in place, come up with the daily encouragement you need to keep you on track with your dreams and goals. Think of this as creating your family mission statement to remind you of where your life is headed. Print it out, frame it, and put it in a spot that you see every morning before heading out to start your day.

Live, breathe, embrace, and recite this over you and your family. It may feel weird to do at first, but the Mayo Clinic talks about the benefits of positive thinking/speaking over yourself.

The future may be unclear at times, but with a plan in place, you begin to feel a bit more in control of the overall narrative.

And that’s pretty comforting, honestly.