Ignoring This One Simple Exercise May Doom Your Relationship

Every couples starts down the road of their relationship in a similar fashion. You meet someone. Butterflies make their appearance. You fall quickly or slowly into love-magic. After a time, you start to consider the future and (dare I say it?) commitment.

Unfortunately, many couples ignore what comes along with that commitment—planning for a future where finances wrinkle and need some ironing. Financial misalignment is responsible for a huge percentage of divorce in today’s world.

I have a friend who shows up with some new $500 purse or shoes every time I see her. Let’s call her Sally. Every time we meet, Sally almost immediately tell me how she and her husband have trouble paying the mortgage, and that it’s causing a lot of stress in her marriage. She thinks he spends too much on golf, and he thinks she spends too much on clothing.

I can’t really blame either of them. After all, if she sees a cute pair of heels in the store she has no reason not to buy them. Sally and her husband have no plan for their future.

The bummer is, this misalignment can be easily avoided with one quick and simple exercise—dreamscaping.

What is dreamscaping?

Dreamscaping is a lot like landscaping…only it’s for your future life. Let’s say you wanted to hire a landscape architect to redo your backyard. Your first step would be to sit down with this person and talk about what you want your yard to look like, what you plan to use it for, and how you want it to feel. They will draw up a sketch for you so you can see what the end result might look like.

Dreamscaping is just like that, but for your life. Using dreamscaping, you and your partner make a plan for what you want your life to become.

When a landscape architect creates the plan for your yard, he or she might explain a few pre-existing conditions you need to work under. For example, let’s say you want lavender all over the yard because you think it’s gorgeous (and smells nice too!). But if your yard is 100% in the shade, the lavender won’t thrive, because lavender needs full sun to grow.

Your dreamscape will also have a few pre-existing conditions—namely that you begin saving for retirement, that you create an emergency savings, and that you make a plan to pay off debt. This doesn’t mean you cann’t achieve your other, more fun dreams!

Perhaps you currently dream of some of the following things:

  • Retiring by age 50
  • Taking a 2-week vacation to another country every year
  • Paying for your children’s college education
  • Renovating your home so it has an awesome man cave
  • Quitting your job

Lots of these are on my dreamscape as well! And the best part is, they are totally achievable.

Why is dreamscaping so beneficial?

The trouble many of us have when we fall into a relationship is going from “me” to “we.” We’re getting married older these days, which means we’ve had a chance to establish ourselves as individuals before committing to another person. This means lots more compromise and change when couples get together.

Take me and my fiancé Chuck, for example. I’ll be 32 when we get married. I was single for about 8 years after graduating from college, only spending a month or two here and there in committed relationships. During this time, I learned what I want in life. I set goals, and I worked to achieve them. I spent my free time doing certain things. Much of that changed when Chuck and I met.

I used to get up early on the weekends and write novels in coffee shops. Now, since weekends are “us” time I have to carve out a few hours during the week to write. I used to spend Friday nights going out with girlfriends downtown. Now, Chuck and I typically rent a movie, go to a microbrewery, or have friends over to our house. I used to eat a salad for most meals standing over the sink. Now, we make dinner together and eat at the table (you know….like grown-ups).

These changes aren’t bad, and I don’t dislike them. It’s just an adjustment.

Dreamscaping is beneficial to couples because it’s a means of sparking and guiding a conversation about finances in a way that generates excitement and mutual commitment to your financial goals. It’s a way of helping couples remember the things that are important to them in their lives, talk about them together, and come up with a plan. It’s a tactic we can use to merge your two separate, independent lives into something joined and exciting.

Think about Sally. If she had a reason to not buy all that crap—like taking a trip to Italy—she probably wouldn’t think twice about ignoring it. But she doesn’t have a plan, so…

How do we dreamscape?

I help couples go through the full dreamscaping process and figure out exactly what they should do with their finances in my course, 30-Day Finance Fix.

But if you want the template on its own, I’ll send it to you in an email for free!

Couples employing the dreamscaping tactic utilize Betterment’s advice tab to estimate the monthly cost of each of the dreams they envision in their lives—1 year from now, 5 years, 10, years, and so on. Then, they discuss which goals they want to prioritize and contribute that money to special accounts set up for the sole purpose of those goals. Typically, couples find out it takes much less money than they expect to live out some of their dreams.

Can you imagine watching your dream vacation fund grow, or seeing the account you’ll use to send your children to college? That’s all the reason you’ll need to say “no” to that pair of shoes or new handbag. After all, what are those things compared with your wildest dreams?

Getting on the same page as your spouse or significant other about what you’re saving for gives you the “why” you both need. If you’ve ever been involved in sports or followed a team, you understand what it means to work toward a goal together. Working as a team cements lifelong friendships—the kind of friendship you want to preserve in your relationship. Plus, you get the added benefit of being intentional with your money. You still get to enjoy it, but rather than blow it on things that don’t matter to either of you, you’ll get to buy that second home or retire early.

Ignoring this exercise is bad news. Typically, I see couples go far to either side of a spectrum. On the one hand (and it’s a much more common hand), couples spend whatever they have and more, with no plan and very little enjoyment of their money. They buy a crap they don’t need or even want. They amass debt, and then later in life wonder what happened and why they can’t afford to retire.

On the other hand, I see couples who spend nothing. They never go out. They don’t have many friends. While I hate to have a negative attitude about anyone saving money, to me this is just as bad as spending everything. Why work so hard to make money if you’re not going to enjoy it!

Luckily, dreamscaping is extremely fun and doesn’t take that long! It’s a small price to pay for a lifetime of happiness.