Imagine your relationship as a boat.
In this boat, you've got you and your partner. You might also have a kid or three. And then you've got parents, in-laws, friends, and extended family hanging off the stern.
Oh, and don't forget about things like careers, financial planning, daily logistics, shopping, Instagram and TikTok time, house repairs, laundry, cleaning, school events, and the thousand or so other things that take up space on this boat of marriage and life.
Now imagine what happens to this poor little boat when you jam all this stuff on it. It doesn't take a PhD in hydrodynamics to figure it out.
Your boat isn't built to hold this much. Sooner or later, it's going to sink. And in your real -- non-nautical -- life that might mean burnout, anxiety, chronic stress, insomnia, exhaustion, or feeling that you have no purpose, you're just reacting to everything thrown your way.
The problem here is obvious. We've all adopted the bad cultural habit of saying "yes" instead of "no," of failing to set boundaries to protect our highest priorities.
So how can you keep your boat of marriage and life afloat?
Our favorite practice comes straight out of the "Boundaries" Chapter in The 80/80 Marriage. It's called "What's on Your Boat?"
It's a practice that begins with a simple task: draw a picture of your boat with all the stuff that you've piled on it.
For instance, here's a picture of Nate's current boat:
You'll notice some interesting things the moment you do this. On Nate's boat, for instance, it's interesting that he's got more "screen time" on the boat than "time with friends" or time on "hobbies." It's also interesting that "career" seems to loom large over everything else.
Draw out your boat and see what you notice.
Now it's time to take a step back and ask: "Is this really the boat I want to be on in marriage and life?" More specifically, we've found the following questions to be useful in assessing the current state of your boat:
Now for the fun part. Take a moment to dream big -- and also realistically -- and draw out what your 'dream boat' looks like.
Your 'dream boat' isn't the way things are. It's the way they could be if you set clearer boundaries with life and aligned your time and energy with your highest priorities.
For instance, here's what Nate's 'dream boat' looked like after asking some of these hard questions:
Notice that he's got more "travel" on this boat (light blue), more "time with friends" (purple), and far less "screen time" (red). His "career" category is also less all consuming.
See what changes when you draw out your 'dream boat' and then take a close look at the boundaries you would need to set with life to turn this dream into a reality.
We know that it might sound far fetched or naive. But by simply saying 'no' and protecting your highest priorities, you and your partner can spend less time sinking and more time living in alignment with your highest priorities in life.
Want to go deeper? Be sure to read the "Boundaries" Chapter in The 80/80 Marriage.