One of the most rewarding parts of marriage is having a built-in support system you can always count on. When the system is working, the marriage feels more satisfying and less conflictual. However, it’s not always clear exactly how you can support each other.
At our core, we are all driven by life goals and dreams. Some people crave adventure, success, creative expression, or inner peace. If you are experiencing conflict or don’t feel fulfilled, you may need to do more to honor each other's dreams.
Research by marriage counseling expert Dr. John Gottman suggests unfulfilled life dreams are often a root cause of marital conflict. Though the strategy of discussing dreams may seem strange, it works because it’s not about being right or wrong.
Reflecting on our inner desires is about expression, and as long as you are willing to listen, talking about dreams can strengthen your marriage. The discussion allows you to see where your visions align and how you can be a part of each other’s journey.
I have seen couples take their relationship to new heights by making a stronger effort to support each other’s life goals. Before you can have an open conversation about your dreams together, you need to ensure your relationship has a few base levels of support in place.
The Definition of Support in a Relationship
A supportive relationship is compassionate, understanding, and loving. You can maintain the pillars of support in your marriage by following these three practices:
Being supportive of your partner begins with understanding your own needs and desires. Communicate your hopes and dreams to your partner so that they can do the same.
Do you know what your dreams are in life? Are you doing the things you need to do to feel fulfilled? We have a certain level of responsibility to ourselves to do what makes us happy. Reflect frequently on your journey and whether you feel you’re headed in the right direction.
Second, if you want to support each other, you have to open up about your needs. When a problem puts pressure on the relationship, it’s likely due to a communication breakdown.
Openness refers to your willingness to share and your ability to listen. How often do you and your partner talk about your goals? Do you accept the things your partner wants in life? Check in with yourself about whether you allow your inner truth to be heard. Listen to your partner when they make an effort to open up to you.
Finally, the most supportive marriages don’t happen by accident. They are actively constructed through effort, sacrifice, and mindful habits.
You can improve your marital support system by thinking through how you communicate with each other. Pick a time when you're both feeling at ease and dialogue about your dreams. Look for more opportunities to talk to your partner about what they hope for in life.
Planning time to talk about fulfillment and desires will help you both feel heard. Because the goal is to validate and support, anytime you start a discussion together you must be prepared to actively listen. Always respond to your partner from a place of empathy and understanding.
Being more intentional is challenging for many couples. Take a look at these three research-based tips on the best ways to support each other with more intentionality.
3 Ways to Support Each Other’s Dreams
1. Talk Regularly About Your Dreams
My happiest clients are ones that carve out regular time for open, empathetic communication. Here is a proven approach to checking in on your partner’s dreams:
Start by initiating a conversation. Tell your partner that you would like to sit down and discuss their dreams and goals. If needed, give them time to think about what they want to say first.
Start as the listener. As the listener, you will set the tone of the check-in by creating a safe, judgment-free environment.
It’s important that no matter what your partner expresses, you make it clear that you are not there to judge. You should also avoid trying to solve any problems that come to light. Remember, the main goal is to engage in dialogue and offer empathy.
Let your partner be the speaker. The speaker will talk honestly about their feelings, beliefs, and dreams. The goal is not to convince or argue a point, but simply to explain their thoughts and share desires.
Many dreams or life goals take root in larger themes. These include freedom, peace, unity with nature, self-exploration, justice, healing, creativity, forgiveness, and love.
Offer reflection questions. The purpose of the questions is to prompt reflection, honesty, and openness.
What are some of your core beliefs, ethics, or values?
Is there a story behind that for you?
Tell me why that’s important to you.
What is your ideal dream here?
Is there a deeper purpose or goal in that for you?
What do you wish for? What do you need?
Do you feel your dream is being honored?
Then, you can switch roles.
2. Acknowledge Progress
Validate and celebrate the steps you take to meet your goal. Pursuing dreams is a long-term commitment that takes time, effort, and sacrifice. Cheering each other on brings you closer together.
Give small tokens of encouragement when your partner accomplishes something. For example, tell your partner how proud you are of them by leaving a short note. You could also plan a special dinner or share a glass of champagne, just do something meaningful to show support.
3. Participate in the Journey
The most epic way you can support each other’s dreams is to take part in them. Couples who work together towards a goal have stronger, more satisfying marriages. Once you start talking about what your dreams are, you can find more ways to experience them together.
Is your partner dreaming of going back to school or learning a new skill? You can be a part of the dream by planning study sessions where the two of you learn together. Pick a skill you’ve always wanted to try and study alongside your partner.
Does your partner dream of exploration? Start saving for a trip together. Whatever it is, be willing to take part in your partner’s dreams, and invite your partner to be a part of yours.
The bottom line is that a healthy marriage is built on how you support each other. Avoid building a partnership built around crushed dreams. Do more to cultivate happiness together. Be intentional about making your partner’s dream a priority, and better communication will follow.
If you believe bad habits of communication may be a problem in your marriage, couples counseling can help. Couples counseling uses a research-based approach to improve communication and bring couples closer together.
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