What Are SMART Goals and How Can They Improve Your Relationship?
Goal setting adds vision and purpose to romance.
Much of the language around goal setting is centered around the individual, demonstrated by terms such as self-development, self-improvement, or self-awareness. But it’s rare for goals to be achieved alone. Everyone needs support, and the majority of goals require the input of other people — even if that’s being able to share your frustration or look for solutions with a friend, or having someone who champions you to keep going.
When it comes to relationships, many couples have a blind spot. Even the most determined, driven, and self-motivated individual may neglect goal-setting for the relationship itself. However, setting relationship goals can inspire the relationship to reach new heights. And out of all the goal-setting tools, SMART goals for relationships are by far the most effective.
Why Goal Setting Improves Relationships
Goal setting in a relationship may feel foreign or unusual. But most couples, to some degree, implicitly set goals. They may discuss what vacations they’d like to plan, talk about moving in together, or share their needs or desires. Explicitly setting goals enhances this practice, by creating a sense of togetherness. The process of setting goals itself helps you learn about your partner, and plan creative ways to combine mutual interests and desires.
Research highlights the value of setting goals in relationships. Couples motivated by goals that focus on growth and intimacy (approach-related goals) have higher relationship satisfaction. This approach to goals also increases self-expansion, the term given to the positive way in which a relationship expands someone’s sense of identity and worldview.
In addition, the mutual support of a partner, improved problem-solving of two minds, ability to pool resources (e.g. both partners being able to meet financial demands of certain goals), and the mutual growth that comes with the pursuit of goals, all have a positive influence over a relationship. All in all, goal setting is a catalyst for relationship growth.
What Are SMART Goals?
In 1981, a paper was published in Management Review that would go on to shape an entire field of self-development. George Doran introduced the S.M.A.R.T framework, originally intended for business. The model has since become one of the most popular goal-setting tools and applied in many ways outside of its original business context.
Doran used SMART goals as an acronym to categorize the five key components of goal setting. When followed, they drastically improve your chances of succeeding in your goals. These are:
- Specific: rather than vague desires or outcomes, skillful goals need to zoom in and get clear on the individual components required. Specifying involves identifying any sub-goals and action steps that, combined, work towards a bigger goal. For example, publishing a book requires the goal of writing a certain amount of words each day.
- Measurable: while setting goals, you’ll have more chance of success if you know how you’ll measure improvement. With the example above, will it be based on your monthly word count? Or consistency in scheduling time to write?
- Attainable: there’s a sweet spot with goal setting. Aim too high, and you may find yourself frustrated and give up. Aim too low, and you may miss out on fulfilling your potential or become quickly bored by the lack of challenge. SMART goals are challenging but within the realm of possibility.
- Relevant: you have to connect emotionally to your desired goals. If they’re the goals you think you should aim for, but don’t feel the desire in your heart, you’ll lack motivation. SMART goals are those that feel the most meaningful, boosting your chances of success.
This easy-to-follow framework, combined with its structured way of identifying and measuring goals, makes it the perfect tool for couples who are looking for more direction. It also allows you to skillfully consider big questions, such as whether it’s too soon to move in, or whether you’d like to start a family.
How to Use SMART Goals in Your Relationship
Setting SMART goals in a relationship is slightly more difficult than setting them alone. There are two unique sets of desires, approaches, and perspectives. The goals you set in your relationship, then, have to be specific for the relationship — the emergent quality that is a combination of both people. This isn’t about competing demands, as you can still have your personal goals, but collaboration. It will require you both to set aside time to sit down, focus, and plan. If you’re struggling with date night suggestions, make this one of them.
If you picture a Venn diagram, you’re looking for goals that exist in the overlap between both you and your partner. What do you both find meaningful? Start by looking at the relevancy of any goals. Perhaps you both like to travel, making these types of experiences high on your list of goals. Or perhaps you have a shared vision in terms of your business or your creative work, in which case creating or building a business together may be a priority.
You may also reverse engineer goals based on your relationship values and love languages. For example, if you both value personal growth, you may set goals that you know will challenge you, such as studying a course together, attending a self-development workshop, or hosting an event together.
Finding Purpose With Goal Setting
This approach reverses the SMART framework, by making sure you’re working on meaningful goals, together. Communication is key. No two people will be completely compatible, which is why you’re looking for something new and complimentary to the uniqueness of your relationship.
Once you’ve established this, you can start to discuss the specifics, followed by how you’ll measure your goals and how realistic they are. Striving for mutual goals allows for a direct way of mutually supporting each other, and holding each other accountable. This doesn’t have to be serious, either, but fun.
You might start to get a sense of how purposeful setting mutual goals can be. If you both have a growth mindset and see the process itself as something to learn from, you’ll start to grow closer together, learn more about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and start making practical steps to become a team, the sum of which is much greater than two individuals.
If those aren’t relationship goals, then what are?