Plan Your Marriage's Ideal Future

In our brand-marketing business, we are keenly aware that in order to maintain relationships with our clients we must continually create value that helps them advance, grow and meet their goals. To define "value," we've come to rely on The D.O.S. Conversation (Dangers, Opportunities and Strengths) tool from Dan Sullivan's entrepreneurial development program.

But can this practice be used in our personal lives as well?

First, we ask our client to visualize in detail an immensely satisfying future for himself or herself -- casting the frame three years ahead. We then ask them to inventory the greatest dangers they face in reaching this bright future. From there, we investigate present opportunities and inventory the strengths they perceive now within their current organization. As we create a marketing communications plan for clients, we define strategies to systematically remedy dangers, capitalize on opportunities and leverage strengths.

I was reviewing a recent D.O.S. conversation with a client when I had a small epiphany -- about my life partner, Martin. "I should be highly motivated to add value to his life and help him create his best future," I thought. "Why don't I have a D.O.S. conversation with him?"

Making it Personal So on a recent business trip, I took advantage of a few spare hours I had alone in the car with Martin and conducted the D.O.S. interview. Martin described an ideal future in which there were no vestiges of The Great Recession in our business. We had the resources to travel, save, grow and otherwise feel free of cash-flow stress. We had partners at Thoma Thoma who were sharing the load of ownership and creating space for Martin to write another book and for me to complete my first one. Martin described himself meeting the emotional and physical needs of our family. We'll be empty nesters and out from under most of the expenses related to college.

Dangers to achieving this picture included some powerful material. Supporting and caring for our parents might put this future at risk. (A good reminder to formulate a plan with our siblings for this eventual reality.) Furthermore, as we experience an empty nest, we could grow apart rather than regain our identity as a couple -- becoming "more partner, less spouse."

We also talked about the danger associated with either of us or a child becoming sick. This exploration might not sound like fun, but we found it motivating to seriously consider measures we could take now that would lessen these risk factors.

Next, we identified many opportunities for ourselves as a couple. There will be fewer child-rearing expenses and less responsibility, as well as more freedom to explore personal interests such as traveling and writing. We love to mentor, and we foresee opportunity to be a powerful influence in the lives of young people in our area schools and universities.

Naming our strengths -- including health, relative wealth and great friendships -- was humbling and encouraging. Our ideal future is achievable. It is well within our ability to realize, even through the dangers that threaten to throw us off course. We just need a clear plan and path.

Charting the Course That is the next step in the D.O.S. Conversation. Sullivan suggests that while the conversation itself is valuable and insightful, the resulting plan and path derived from this wealth of material are the vehicles that truly deliver value to the relationship.

I've seen the excitement in the eyes of our clients as they receive our suggestions for achieving their ideal futures and overcoming the obstacles to their business success. My goal is to provide such a plan and path to Martin and see how he reacts to my thoughts.

I have to admit that this exercise has inspired me to think deeply about my marriage and my future as Martin's wife. It's easy after 27 years to go on autopilot. What's working keeps working, and what isn't working gets pushed under the rug. The risk is that any danger trigger can send the ugly stuff shooting out from hiding and morph it into a monstrous, deal-breaking issue.

The structure of the conversation gave us a reason to stop long enough to evaluate our life situation. The plan and path can give us the impetus to act on the material that we know is important but doesn't feel urgent.

I'll share my plan and path with Martin and report the results to you in my next column. Based on my initial experience, I can recommend the D.O.S. Conversation as a valuable tool for any partnership -- marriage included.