When we got engaged, we did our homework to help us prepare for marriage. We read articles. We talked to married friends. We asked each other all the questions. And even though we had talked extensively about each other’s dreams and thought we were on the same page, we weren’t. Not exactly.
It has taken us a while to understand that although we share the same dreams, we don’t share the same timelines. In some ways that feels like we don’t share the same dreams at all. We’ve had to take a step back and intentionally dig into the specifics of how each of us sees our future.
For example, we both want to own a home some day, but for David it has always been a high priority. To him, owning a home is a first essential step toward all of his other dreams—starting a family, joining a community, and growing financially stable enough to enjoy more free time and leisure activities.
Constantino wants to own a home too, but he isn’t tied to when or how it happens. Having lived for years in New York, he’s used to the cramped apartment lifestyle. To him, owning a home is a dream in abstract.
International travel, however, is a dream Constantino hoped to realize in the early years of our marriage. London, Lisbon, Paris, Prague. Constantino wants to see them all.
We’re both pushing 40, and there are dozens of places we’d like to see together while we still have the stamina to backpack and travel ruggedly.
David traveled much more in his youth than Constantino, and doesn’t feel the same sense of urgency to go see the world. Although he loves to travel, David would prefer to spend time and resources becoming stable as a family. He not only sees travel as a dream, but as a luxury, too.
And we both want kids, but we haven’t talked deeply about the timing and how it would impact our other dreams. Getting married at an older age is wonderful in many ways, but it complicates timelines. There’s a fear we don’t talk about much: a growing realization that we may not get to realize every dream.
How do couples work together when they have the same dreams but different timelines?
The art of compromising
Like so many aspects of relationships, it requires compromise. To reach compromise, Dr. John Gottman says we must define our core needs and be willing to accept influence. What does this look like in practice?
David’s core dream is to own a home, but he is flexible about when. He may agree to put off home ownership for another year so we have the money to take a big international trip.
Constantino’s core dream is to see the world, but he may defer some of his travel destinations so that we can save up for a down payment on a house. He can also help David trim the budget so that there’s more savings for us to reach our dreams faster, together.
One thing we’re learning from this experience is to ask better questions. For example, the question “Do you want kids?” isn’t sufficient to get at the answers to a such a complex and important topic.
It needs to be followed up with: How many do you want? When do you want them? Would you consider adoption? How do you see us raising them as far as schooling, values, and religion?
We both come from journalism backgrounds, so we’re well acquainted with the art of asking open-ended questions. We just haven’t been good about employing this technique in our marriage.
We’re also coming to see that learning about the intricate details of each other’s dreams doesn’t happen in one conversation. Learning the depths of someone’s heart, where dreams reside, takes a lifetime.
Dreams transform with time, and we have to be willing to adapt along with them. In our weekly State of the Union meeting, we’ve decided that from now on we won’t just talk about the state of our relationship—we’ll talk about the state of our dreams.