Having joint projects can re-energize a couple, because it allows spouses to share enthusiasm for achieving a common objective. A project can be something as simple as a trip to the cinema (not actually as simple as it sounds, if you have young children), or as major as planning a family vacation or buying a house.
But what do you do if you have a personal project that doesn’t quite fit in with the joint project? And what if our desires are unachievable? We spoke with Christian marriage counselor Emmanuelle Bosvet for her pearls of wisdom on the subject.
The first project is the couple itself
Bosvet emphasizes that the core project any couple should have is for the marriage to be alive and flourishing. Both spouses need to be on board and deeply committed to this. This isn’t an original idea. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis says, “[In] joining their lives, the spouses assume an active and creative role in a lifelong project.” It’s only once the couple has established that it intends to last that other projects together can be envisaged.
“But this isn’t as obvious as it seems,” explains Bosvet, “because projecting yourself into the future, in the desire to have a child or to buy a house, for example, assumes the expectation that the couple will last, and that’s not always a given.”
While the wedding vows themselves require the intention to remain together forever, that’s not something that happens automatically. The couple needs to be aware of the fact that people change over time, and their commitment to each other needs to be consciously maintained and renewed. This is where day-to-day projects can help support the primary project, the marriage itself.
Projects build a successful relationship
Taking on projects together helps the couple to be fully and concretely engaged: having children, buying a house, or organizing a trip are the types of objectives that anchor the spouses on a concrete foundation rather than just an emotional, pleasurable one. This makes the couple more secure and stable. According to Bosvet, projects are born when the couple is full of life, when we pay attention to the desires of the other and while we share our own desires.
One day at a time
During her sessions, the marriage counselor urges her patients to live in the present moment. A project can be planned on a day-by-day basis; for example, addressing the question, “How can I take care of my relationship today?” It’s not about planning to be the perfect couple in 10 years. It’s now that counts. “Focus on the day-to-day,” Bosvet advises. “Certainly, couples are built up thanks to big projects, but also the little ones, such as, ‘What shall we do tonight?'”
Personal desires vs. a joint project
A project reveals our expectations and our deepest desires. It’s a reflection of our personality and aspirations. Bosvet stresses the importance of knowing ourselves, our own desires and motivations, in order to be able to reach an agreement with our spouse. For instance, a husband has inherited his parents’ house in his hometown. He really wants to move back to the house that’s so close to his heart, and he doesn’t see any obstacles. He says to his wife, “You shouldn’t object; you don’t have any other plans.” In reality, his wife’s plan was to stay where they are. No major decision or project should be undertaken without a conversation beforehand in which both spouses have the chance to make known their personal desires and projects. Indeed, “speaking of our personal desires allows us to incorporate them into our projects as a couple, and to live both an individual and conjugal life,” explains Bosvet.
“Time is your friend”
Sometimes it happens that one of the spouses in a couple doesn’t like taking on new projects, and the other reproaches them for never doing them. It may also be the case that one spouse has more influence over the other, more strength of conviction, and more ideas. In both of these cases, “time is your friend,” advises Bosvet.
Some people need more time to speak of their hopes and ideas; others need time in order to accept a project that at first sight may look a little crazy or unrealistic; they might find it hard to accept at first, but may eventually find their way to offering their support. It’s not a question of one spouse forcing the other to accept a project, but of waiting for them to agree freely, if and when they are ready.
Bosvet is realistic: “Not every project will come to fruition; some will never be more than a dream. But that’s not a problem. It’s good to have dreams.” It’s not necessary to have all the same dreams as one’s spouse; however, it is necessary to know each other’s dreams and to talk about them with each other, to be able to respect them, and sometimes even to get on board with them.
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