couple cooking togetherMark: Most of us have lists in our head. Things to do. Projects to finish. People to call. I admit that my lists are probably shorter than Jill’s lists…but I have several lists nonetheless.

Jill: I have lists galore. There’s my yard work list. My home projects list. My “to do” list for work. Then there’s my list for getting things done before we host family or have company.

Mark: Sometimes our lists mesh well together and sometimes they collide. When they collide it’s usually because we have competing priorities.

Jill: Mark and I were coaching a couple this week who were experiencing competing priorities. Talking through it with them reminded us of the conflict we used to experience with this. We’ve come a long way on this issue but still have some progress to make because there’s always something to learn or work on in marriage!

Mark: Do your lists bump into each other? Do you have competing priorities? Here are some practical steps to take to get on the same page:

  1. Merge your lists.  Make one yard list. One house list. One “to do” list for the family picnic you’re hosting in a few weeks.  Put the projects that are important to both of you on the same list.
  2. Prioritize your lists together.  Talk through the list and prioritize what’s most important down to what’s least important. Revisit the list and reprioritize as new things are added to the list or as needed based upon schedule, time availability, or calendar requirements.  For instance the next project on the list may be a three hour project but you only have an hour to devote to home projects tomorrow. By putting your heads together you can determine if it’s better to start on the three hour project knowing it won’t be finished or better to go to the next project which can likely be done in an hour.
  3. Get specific with requests.  “Tomorrow morning after you finish mowing the lawn, do you think you could spray the weeds since that’s next on our list?” Clear, specific communication keeps unrealistic or unspoken expectations at bay.
  4. Push information. If you have a plan to tackle something on the list this weekend, let your spouse know you’re thinking about it and planning to start the project. This lets the other person know you value what needs to be done and are prioritizing something you’ve talked about.
  5. Give grace and exercise patience. Some projects take longer than expected which pushes other projects back. Also our individual capacities come into play. If your spouse has a lower capacity (how many projects he/she can tackle before becoming overwhelmed or how much physical energy he or she has) it may take longer for things to get accomplished than you’d like.
  6. Adjust expectations. Sometimes we have to let some things drop off our lists because there’s just not enough time and energy to get them done. This is where the priorities help—ideally things lower on the list are possibly the ones that can be let go of, if need be.
  7. Outsource if you can.  Is there anything on the list we could hire someone to do? Could we have a workday and ask the kids to help? For instance, this year we got a tax refund and decided to have a local landscaper mulch our flowerbeds. This took one thing off our yard list and greatly reduced how much weeding we’ve had to do throughout the spring and summer.

Jill: When it comes to accomplishing things around the home and family, too many couples operate as individuals rather than the “two become as one” that God designed.  When we can say “Hey, we’re on the same team…let’s be more intentional about working together,” it changes the dynamics from conflict to cooperation.  It also moves the communication from debate to dialogue.

What about you? Where do you need to merge lists and talk about priorities?

P.S. Mark and I are doing a No More Perfect Marriages Retreat July 20-21 in Bloomington, Illinois. Due to our partnership with the Bloomington-Normal E-Free Church, we’re able to offer our full retreat at an incredible price of $75/couple–including lunch! We’d love to have you join us–find out more at!

P.P.S. We’re celebrating our upcoming 35th wedding anniversary by working to get 35 children sponsored through Compassion International!  Learn more here

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