When you want to share a precious life dream with your partner…
Your fear is feeling really vulnerable and exposed when you’re not sure they’ll be supportive.
Your hope is that they will see, hear, and understand your dream, and back you up.
It is possible to talk with your partner about your dreams in a way that helps your hope to happen. Veronica and Martin’s story, below, brings this to life.
Veronica and Martin:
Dreaming of their empty nest
The last of Veronica and Martin’s three children is graduating from high school in a year. Veronica has a dream of starting her own business as a Home Organization consultant as soon as their last child leaves home.
Veronica has the sense that Martin is interested in slowing down after they no longer had kids at home, and might really not be excited for her to ramp up, taking on a whole new business. She really wants to share her dream with Martin, and wants to do it carefully and thoughtfully.
Setting Up an
Veronica knew that she and Martin usually relax before dinner on Friday afternoon, and she decided to ask him at that time if he’d set aside some time to talk.
“Martin?” she said, when they were sitting down together Friday before dinner.
“Yes?” he replied, and she could see he was giving her his attention.
“Remember that time when you and I talked for quite a while about whether or not we should pull Jordan out of high school?” she asked.
“You know I do,” said Martin with a smile, reflecting on one of the times in their marriage they really felt like a team.
“I think you know – I so appreciated how well we worked together, and how carefully we listened to each other about all our different thoughts and concerns.” She leaned over and gave Martin a little kiss.
“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about after the kids have all graduated, and I’d really like to talk with you about that. I mean, like, talk quietly and thoughtfully, like we did about Jordan. When we’re able to have careful conversations like that one a few years ago, it really makes me feel like we’re on the same team, and I feel closer to you.
“I’d like to find an hour or two where we can talk uninterrupted. I was thinking maybe Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning – are either of those free for you?”
Martin and Veronica reviewed the family plans for the weekend, and agreed that Sunday morning was a nice free block of time. Veronica checked the weather forecast.
“Sunday looks to be mild and dry – would you like to walk through the Lookout park, up to that bench we love?” she suggested, knowing it was one of their favorite places.
“Geez, Veronica, sounds like this is a big deal! Is everything okay?” Martin asked, starting to get nervous.
“Yes, everything’s fine, but I really want to have a serious, thoughtful talk together. In fact, I came across a tool to use that I think will really help us talk it all out in a great way. Will you please read the description with me, and then use the questions and the way to do it… will you please?” Veronica was holding Martin’s hand, and he could see how much this meant to her, and he wanted to feel like a close team as well.
“Of course. I’ll give it my best shot, honey,” he said.
On Sunday morning Veronica took a copy of the Life Dreams Conversation Guide and folded it up and put it into her little backpack. In the car on the way to the park, Martin asked if she’d read the description out loud to him. She skipped the Thinking, Planning, and Set-Up pages, since she’d already done that part on her own, but she did plan to show those pages to him later, so he could use the same set-up in the future if he ever wanted to.
Veronica read him the Goals and Format, and Speaker and Listener Jobs pages. Martin had actually been trained in a teambuilding technique at work that sounded somewhat similar, and using that at work had gone pretty well when his team used it. It sounded like a reasonable way to have a talk together.
As they walked up the path, Veronica reached for Martin’s hand. She was nervous, but also hopeful, and proud of herself for bringing it up, and of Martin for being game. She gave herself a pep talk in her head, taking calming breaths and staying positive.
Questions to Listen to a Life Dream
After they got comfortable on the bench, which they were pleased to find empty, Veronica handed Martin the “Life Dreams Conversation” with the “Questions for the Dream Listener” at the top.
Martin cleared his throat, clowning around just a little, and in his best imitation of a radio interviewer’s voice, he read “What is your Dream, Idea or Plan?” and added “Yeah, what’s all this about Vero?”
Veronica shared with Martin that she has a dream of starting her own business as a Home Organization consultant as soon as their last child leaves home, and she wants to get started on some prep work this year.
“Hmm. Home Organization. Okay. So – Number 2 – Do you have any core beliefs, ethics, or values that are part of your dream, or your position on this issue? Geez, that’s a mouthful.”
“Yeah, I really do. So… well… I believe that every person is born with gifts, with things they’re good at. And I guess a value I have is that everyone should express the gifts they were born with. So I’ve been thinking about this and looking back over the years, and even though it might sound strange, I can say that my gift is Organization.”
Martin realized that Veronica really was confiding some big stuff to him. He was a little skeptical about the “born with gifts” stuff, but remembered he was just supposed to ask questions and listen. He figured that was a good rule, and kept his skepticism to himself.
“Okay, so, Question 3 – Is there a story behind this for you, or does this relate to your background or childhood history in some way? Ohhhh… is this about your mom and her sister… oh…” and he reached for her hand, with a feeling he knew what was coming.
Telling a Story Makes it REAL
Veronica told him the story (that he already knew, but she shared with more depth and detail than usual) about her mother and her aunt.
“Martin, you maybe remember that my aunt followed her heart from a young age, expressing her gifts as a story-teller, working in children’s theater. You know what a Bohemian she was… and how incredibly happy she always was.” Martin nodded and smiled, not wanting to interrupt. Veronica’s aunt was quite the remarkable woman.
“Well,” continued Veronica,” My mother always wanted to be an office manager, really help run a business with that organized mind of hers, but she stayed home and raised her family. She was always envious of her sister, which came out in lots of different ways. Every time she went to the dentist or the insurance agent or anywhere, she’d tell me later how she could have run that office better than the staff who were there.
“Then, you remember, when Mom was diagnosed with cancer, she told me that she had always regretted not going out into the work world and being an office manager. She really pushed me to follow my own heart before it’s too late. I’ve been thinking about that all these years since she died, and I really think she’s right.”
Martin saw how serious she was, and she looked almost close to tears. “Yes, I do remember. She did die kinda heartbroken in a way. I know what you mean.”
He asked Veronica the questions about the importance of her dream, her feelings, and her ideal dream, and she shared her thoughts and feelings.
“Uh oh, okay, Number 7 – is there a fear or disaster scenario in not having this dream honored?”
“Wow, yes, I mean, I knew that question was coming, but just hearing you say those words,” said Veronica, starting to cry. “I loved my Mom and all, but really, she was a bitter, disappointed woman most of her life, and she died feeling she didn’t ever live the life she wanted to live. I’ve been happy raising our children, but that’s not all of who I am. I’m just worried, I’m afraid… I’ve wanted to leave my own mark in the world, to get out there and make a difference. I know I can help people organize their homes, and I worry that if I don’t have this chance I’ll feel like my one chance to do what I was meant to do – besides raise our kids of course – will be blown. I just don’t want to live with that feeling as I grow old and die.”
Martin could feel inside what Veronica had just told him – and knowing her happy aunt and unhappy mother, the consequences in her family of two different approaches to life were more clear to him than they had ever been. He patted her hand and kissed her cheek. He reached in Veronica’s little backpack and handed her a tissue from the stash he knew she always carried in there.
“If I was you, in your shoes, it makes sense to me…”
After reading the rest of the questions and listening to Veronica’s answers, Martin really felt he had a full picture of what was in Veronica’s mind. He read the instructions that he should “Validate” her, and went back to the description of how to Validate in the Listener’s Job section the page before, to be sure he had it right.
“Veronica, honey, listening to your dream, I can completely understand how this is something you want. I get it. I know how happy and content your aunt was, and how bitter and disappointed your mother had been – it makes sense to me how powerful this contrast is for you. If I was in your shoes and felt like I had a gift for organization like you do, I can really see how you’d want the chance to act on your gift and bring it to life.
“Now, I read the paper, and I know I’m not supposed to judge it right? I mean, I love you, and hearing your dream I want you to have it for your sake… I can see how doing this would make you happy.”
“Thank you for listening to me Martin!” said Veronica, and gave him a big hug, crying on his shoulder, practically soaking his shirt.
Your partner’s dream is precious too
It’s not a threat to your dream
When she was ready Martin handed her the Life Dreams Conversation Guide page with the questions.
“Question 1 – what is your dream, idea, or plan? I mean, I know you didn’t plan to talk in advance like I did, but, what are your dreams, ideas, or plans… like, for the next few years of our lives, especially with the children gone?”
“Yeah, I didn’t plan, but actually I know just what it is. I’ve just had this picture in my mind for so long – of quiet. Peace. No interruptions. I know you’ve been home bearing the brunt of it, but I feel like we just have not had one quiet moment since Jordan was born… 25 years ago! Can you believe it? I feel like we’ve been borrowing our patience from a future someday, and that someday is finally almost here, and I want the payback.”
Veronica had suspected that this is just what Martin wanted and was a little worried, but settled down and focused on the next question. “Question 2 – Do you have any core beliefs, ethics, or values that are part of your dream, or your position on this issue?”
“Well… I guess… Yes I do. I believe that when a person decides to become a parent that they give their all to it. I know you did, you’ve been the best mom our three kids could have ever had, and I gave my all as well. And then my belief is – they’re out of the house finally, and it’s time to take a great, big, giant break. Rest and recover and pay attention to just the two of us after all the work we did.”
“Yeah, I hear you,” said Veronica. “3 – Is there a story behind this for you, or does this relate to your background or childhood history in some way?” She pulled her backpack around so she could reach it and got those tissues ready.
“I mean, yeah, I mean, you know it as well as I do. My mother helped my father in his store every day while still raising me and my brothers, and when we were all gone they worked hard to sell the store, and then they really did retire.” He so admired and wanted to emulate his parents’ retirement together – every day was quiet, peaceful, slow, and uneventful. He pictured this for himself and Veronica, and felt so happy imagining it.
Martin and Veronica held hands and looked at the view in silence for a few minutes. Then Veronica returned to the questions, and heard more from Martin. He shared with her (what she already knew, but he shared it with more depth) that his job as a plant manager was one of almost non-stop chaos and disruption.
Martin shared that looking forward to a peaceful retirement was an image and a feeling that kept him going on the busiest days, and that what he needed was that peaceful dream to look forward to.
“How about Number 7 – is there a fear or disaster scenario in not having this dream honored?” Veronica asked.
“My father’s older brother had the opposite life. I don’t talk about him much because he died so long ago. He worked incredibly hard, and after all my cousins were grown, he just dropped dead of a heart attack. He didn’t stop working, and although he promised my Aunt Nattie that they’d spend time together, it never happened. I don’t want that. I don’t want to have worked hard raising our children, worked hard earning money, and start working even harder, and then die without enjoying the life we deserve.”
To the next question, Martin said “My deeper purpose or goal, I suppose, is that the two of us enjoying quiet, peaceful time together is the reward for all our sacrifices. I want that reward. I’m not sure how deep that is, but that’s what I’m able to come up with. And I want some peace and quiet – together.”
Veronica, hearing Martin’s thoughts and feelings, could understand completely.
She re-read the instructions for how to Validate Martin.
“Honey, I know how hard you have worked, and how much you thrive with peace and quiet. I can see that from your perspective it makes perfect sense, that what you want is to take advantage of successfully launching our three children, finally Grace is going to go to college, and finally have peaceful time together, just the two of us, to relax and enjoy and take it easy. I get how it’s a reward you’ve been looking forward to forever. And it makes sense to me that imagining me starting a Home Organization business makes you feel like we’d be starting to work even harder just when we should be slowing down.”
She reached for his hand and looked into his eyes. “You know that I love you, Martin, and for the wonderful man you are, I want you to have your dream. You deserve to have your dream.”
Veronica and Martin sat quietly for a while.
Every couple has a door between them. How open is yours?
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Hi there I'm Dr Sarah Rattray
For over 30 years I've helped couples get closer and more connected by strengthening your communication. I'm known for my wise, grounded, caring energy, and for providing clear, practical steps you can take right away to improve the way you talk with each other.
Dreams can be Different
They’re a Puzzle, not a Conflict
“Well, I’ve gotta say, this was quite the conversation. In one way it’s kinda cool that we really got to dive in and look at our dreams in such a big way. But in another way I don’t know what to do – we want two different things. Is this going to be okay?” Martin said.
“Martin, I want to tell you, I really appreciate how well you listened to me, and how open you were with me about your own thoughts. I really feel like you heard me and you understand where I’m coming from. You gave me the chance to tell you everything on my mind, and you listened to me so patiently. Thank you so much Martin! And I hope it feels that way to you, too… to me, I feel like I understand where you’re coming from too. Since you really shared with me, I felt like I listened and really got it.”
Together, Veronica and Martin each shared what was in their hearts, and carefully listened to each other until they felt seen, heard, and understood, and saw, heard, and understood the other. Although they weren’t sure what they would do and how they would move forward, they each truly wanted to support each other to achieve their dreams. They felt like a team in the process of moving forward in their lives together.
As the days and weeks went by, they began the process of creatively figuring out how they could each have their own dreams while supporting each other’s dreams, and not sacrificing an essential part of themselves. They worked on this together… which was the feeling of teamwork that brought them closer to each other.
Interested in more tips on mastering your relationship?
Check out my webinar, Connection and Closeness, this September 25th-28th.