Putting First Things First—Together


A difference of opinion got us started.

—Wasn’t he spending too much time with sports after work and on Saturdays, leaving her alone with the children too much of the time?

—Couldn’t she see that sports are important for physical health, relaxation, and wholesome social development?

This went on for several frustrating months, and we wondered why we were allowing a misunderstanding like this to cause problems in our marriage—especially when we felt we agreed on the really important things?

Just to make sure we did agree on the important things, one night after family home evening we decided to write individual lists of our priorities. Then we compared them. As we had expected, the lists were very similar. With only a couple of exceptions, our goals were the same—and in the same basic order.

So how did this help us?

First, comparing goals strengthened our sense of unity. It was good to know that after seven years of marriage we were still working for the same things.

Second, it encouraged us to work together. Since we had the same goals, we felt we should make more of a joint effort to achieve them.

After discussing a few minor differences in our lists and agreeing on the major goals, we came up with a list of things we could work on together. And we have revised that list as we have put it into action.

How do we make the list work for us?

First of all we turned it into a chart, with spaces for each of us to indicate weekly how we’re doing. For example, in the “spouse date” column we write a word like movie to remind us what we did that week. In the “scripture study” column we indicate the number of days in which we accomplished that goal. In the “personal improvement” column, we rate ourselves on a scale of 1 to 10. In the “journal and life history” column we put the number of hours we spent on that goal during the week, and so on.

But with so many priorities, when do we find time to review the list and chart our progress?

We found that we needed a set time to get together each week and review our progress. Unless we do this weekly, we tend to get into the old rut of forgetting our priorities and slacking off on our goals—and then those unimportant irritations flare up again.

We chose Sunday nights, after the children have gone to bed. First we have prayer to invite the Spirit of the Lord to be with us. Then we prepare our weekly schedule together, calendaring the week’s activities and preparing a list of “things to do”: shopping, errands, correspondence, projects. We then work on our budget, and go through our checklist of priorities. We openly discuss our progress during the week and how we feel about it.

This is also a good time to express our feelings about each other—and the Lord. The atmosphere is warm, friendly, intimate. As we conclude with prayer, we recommit ourselves to work together and support each other.

One of the first things we worked on was the conflict about sports. We discussed it and came up with a balance we both feel good about: now we know that there are priorities that come first—job and Church commitments, family activities, a husband-wife date. But if the evening of the sport event is “free,” Lorin goes alone, or takes one of the children or the whole family. Just talking about it made us both much more reasonable in our demands.

Lina’s most important goal for several months was to become more patient and loving with our children. And after evaluating our goal to put our relationship with the Lord first, spouse second, and the children third, Lina was surprised to discover that she was working at them in the reverse order.

Together we’ve discussed two-way communication in prayer, how to meditate while studying the scriptures, and how to feel closer to our Heavenly Father during the day.

Several good things are happening as a result of our priority list: we feel closer to each other; we are working together now instead of just working; we are often reminded of our priorities; we note our progress weekly, comparing our present performance with past efforts; and we plan some family home evenings around needs we discover in our Sunday discussions.

One of the best benefits, though, is our new ability to accomplish definite short-range goals each week. For example, one week we planned specifically to take Bill and Joyce to our new stake center open house on Wednesday, rather than just hoping we would have the chance to invite someone. We’re happier now because we accomplish more with our specific, short-term goals.

Because of the weekly checklist, Lorin’s sporadic scripture study has become a daily anticipated habit; Lina is trying to prove to herself and to Lorin that she can carry out a daily exercise program; we both have our life histories up to date and are reading histories of our ancestors. And now at the first of the month we list the temple sessions we will attend, rather than trying to squeeze just one session in on the last day.

We’ve been using our checklist for over a year now and still feel the effort is worth it. (And believe us, the effort must be constant.) We look forward to our Sunday evening husband/wife planning sessions and enjoy the Spirit’s promptings as we pray, discuss priorities, and set goals.

We’re far from perfection, but we are working together to achieve it.

[illustration] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

Lorin Hatch, a sales manager, is a member of the seventies presidency in Gilbert Arizona Stake.

Lina F. Hatch is ward Relief Society chorister and stake cultural arts specialist. The couple have four children.