University of Wyoming Extension
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
A Couple Mission/A Shared Purpose
For most of history, traditional marriage roles and rituals brought partners to marriage and guided their life together. From peasants to princesses, marriage was an economic arrangement, fostering productivity and survival or keeping wealth in the family. Often partners expected little romance (hence were more grateful when they found it), and the rigors of work, disease, childbirth, and war focused people on practical issues for much of their short lives together. As economic and social conditions changed, new options for marriage opened up. Traditional rules no longer direct or dictate marriage roles. Partners must set their own course.
As in all of life’s opportunities, those who set goals and work toward them are most likely to succeed. Couples who are not clear about why they are together or how to reach their dreams often react to personal interests, peer or family pressure, temporary goals, or crisis events. These influences typically do not sustain affection, confidence, or meaning—and often leave couples confused, conflicted, and crippled. Since love or good looks are not enough to build a satisfying, long-term commitment, couples need a sense of purpose to guide their choices and challenges.
Factors which shape individual and couple sense of purpose include:
Personal Interests and Values
- Practical/material benefits: increased income/wealth, available (or safe) sex, emotional satisfaction, companionship, appreciation/affection, sharing of activities/interests, familiarity/predictable routine
- Principles and priorities: opportunity to give love, devotion to children’s needs, efficiency of finances or housework,
- Ability/willingness to make and keep promises: communication and problem-solving skills, blending of personal and couple time/goals
- PLUS: Individuals who think through their interests, make and keep promises to a partner as if to themselves, and work at the relationship as if success depended only on them show dedication to intentional partnership
- MINUS: While it takes two persons to form a couple/marriage (presumably of personal interest to each), it takes only one to give up or break up. Personal problems, feelings of boredom or unhappiness, outside stress/busyness can easily create a break which ends the relationship.
Other factors which bring couples together and keep them together:
Social Rules and Values
Sacred Principles and Values
- Family Patterns and Pressures: traditions and standards against divorce/for strong marriage, support from family and friends, advice or criticism about singlehood…then about marital role
- Peer and Community Expectations: comparison of expectations and outcomes with friends, siblings, other individuals or couples (what to be, how to be, how much reward/cost is typical), work/neighborhood/organization norms around individual fulfillment, couple support (what is desirable/undesirable)
- Media Roles and Pressures: role models (stereotypical males/females, conflict), unrealistic attitudes (always romantic, fun, always successful, half-hour problem-solving), negative attitudes (tied down, nagged, no fun, sarcastic), individualistic values (own thing over couple thing), consumer culture (i.e., "bored with current model…get a new one)
- PLUS: Support as well as sanction comes with living up to others’ expectations; "good spouse" norms provide a more specific standard which may not meet the ideal, but aims above self-centeredness
- MINUS: Others’ expectations can be a moving target: too low, too high, or just not understanding your situation; unrealistic or negative attitudes about marriage or constant criticism of your marriage can deflate
- Spiritual beliefs and experiences: roles, rituals, traditions which express faith in God or a code of conduct for home, faith community on a variety of topics; a moral or ethical framework which supports overall and day-to-day commitments
- Transcendent purpose: Belief that the partnership is divinely intended and guided, placing events of life together beyond the realm of individual satisfaction or public approval
- PLUS: Ethical and spiritual understanding of partnership provides a deeper meaning and perspective on personal satisfaction, life events, and public approval; viewing marriage vows as promises to a Higher Power underlines its special nature and provides hope for divine aid.
- MINUS: Conflicts of belief systems, discrepancy between belief and practice, use of moral or spiritual tenets to exploit a partner, or "blind faith" which precludes partners’ efforts to succeed can undermine the meaning and hope of a purpose beyond them or their families
Focusing on Your Purpose(s) in Marriage
In real life, personal, societal, and sacred meanings are intertwined and constantly changing with the challenges and maturation of partners. As individuals better understand themselves and cultivate personal, social network, and spiritual resources, they become better able to define a sense of purpose and live consistently with their goals.
Reflect on how personal, social, and sacred influences shaped your parents’ marriages. Which of these factors has contributed to a sense of purpose that sustained them through difficult times and gave special meaning to prosperous times? After taking notes and discussing, interview your parents for their views.
Write a couple mission statement that incorporates the most important values and goals of your life together…in 25 words or less. List 3-4 daily activities, 3-4 short-term goals, and 3-4 long-term goals which express that mission. Take an especially meaningful phrase from the mission statement or write/paint the statement on a plaque or poster in your home. Memorize and repeat the statement to encourage each other in difficult times or celebrate life together in good times.
Developed by Ben Silliman, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service Family Life Specialist