Lots of people will tell you to set goals, to have dreams. It always sounds like a nice thing to do, some day. This story shows how it's not just nice, but essential to having a good relationship.
A young woman called me this week, asking for some insight into her relationship. She sounded nice enough, curious, communicated easy. She wasn't quite sure what to ask about, tiptoed around for a while, but finally settled on asking about her relationship.
See, it wasn't going well. And she just wasn't sure if this was something to pour more time and effort into, or something to let go entirely, or what. She was considering kids, but was doubting this was the person to start a family with. She was frustrated with him a lot, but she put it very carefully. Perhaps, hoping that I would be the one to put the topic on the table, so she didn't have to say out loud how she felt, and that she was dissatisfied with her relationship and with her boyfriend in general.
About halfway into her story, I started to get a quite distinct feeling about her boyfriend. He seemed like a visionary, the kind of person who doesn't look at the present, but at tomorrow. Who's looking ahead at the future, and are focussed more on what is going to be than on what is now. The type to play chess and be really good at it because they naturally think that way already.
The woman didn't recognise much of what I said. She said he was slow, and lazy, and never did anything. He was currently unemployed, sitting around the house all day, and didn't seem to be in particularly much of a hurry to do something about it. Which, if you think about it, makes sense. He's looking ahead at his future, and in his view, there's nothing there. He doesn't see chances, or wonderful experiences, just more of the stuff he's already unhappy with. So he's not particularly motivated to put in lots of effort to go get there. So he just sits around, because what's the point?
She, on the other hand, is really annoyed by this. She doesn't understand why he's not working, and trying, and doing things about his life. So she nags him a lot, and tells him what to do. She pushes him and tries to get him to go go go, and he's not going. It's the same with the relationship, he didn't seem to be investing a lot on that end, either, and for much the same reason. So the relationship, also, is not going.
Here's the magic answer. He doesn't need to be told what to do. He needs to be told - by himself or by someone else - why to do. He needs to see a future that he can believe in, that is worth working towards, that inspires him to get up in the morning and work for because he's so excited about getting there. He needs, not just a goal, but a dream. Somewhere in his life, he gave up on his dreams, and the idea that the future could hold something wonderful. He decided it wasn't going to happen, and so he didn't see anything to work towards. All it would take to sort out his life, is for him to find a dream he can believe in.
As is often the case when two people are walking part of their life together, she is in the same place, though it looked very different on the surface. When I asked her what she wanted out of life, she said "Well, you know, to be healthy and have a job and such." But she has that. And she is not happy. She, too, needs a dream. For lack of it, all she had was a vague feeling of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, frustration, emptiness, the sense that it just wasn't working out. And so she decided it was probably because her relationship was lacking, because that was supposed to give her this sense of fullfillment and love, right? And she didn't have that, because her boyfriend was such a sod. So she had to make him change.
We need to dream, each of us for ourselves. We need to look ahead, and imagine what we would like to see in our future, what would make it worth it. To ask ourselves, "What do you want? Who do you want to be, what kind of life do you want to live? What do you want to be doing? If you were to make a difference in the world, what would it be?" Without a dream to carry us forward, one that is strong and amazing enough to keep us going, we get stuck in the past. We try to change the people around us, hoping that they will give us a sense of meaning, and when that fails, we blame the other person. Or the job. Or the parents, or the children, or the world. If this couple both had their own dream and were following it, she wouldn't be nagging him all the time to change because she was creating her own change and her own happiness. And he wouldn't be so passive and apathetic, because he had something to invest his passion in. All the problems between them, and within them, would just fade, for this one simple thing.
That's why it matters to have dreams.