There are times in our life when it's difficult to articulate what our priorities are but, usually, when something threatens to undermine what we have invested in or are working towards then we find the strength and clarity to communicate them (or there may be a specific question asked or phase of life that causes us to express our priorities when we otherwise wouldn't). Another thing to note is that priorities can lead to tension when placed in the context of relationships. Different people have different priorities. Merging or shifting priorities takes work and can be challenging.
At one point in my life, someone who I was seeing and had previously been friends with expressed that over the next 4-8 years his priority would be his professional career. He also shared that he wouldn't be making any changes in his life path/I would not be taken into consideration when deciding where in the U.S (or possibly internationally) he would go unless the relationship was getting serious. My interpretation: The relationship was not a priority and any progression would be slow and steady (i.e. if it lasted then it would be spread out over the next 4-8 years and there would be NO RUSH as we focused on learning about each other and supporting each other in our careers. If it didn't work out... then it didn't work out). Throughout the relationship, I did my best to not to get in the way of his priorities and even reminded him from time to time of his goals. Side Note: I had learned during our friendship about why he could not prioritize both a relationship and the gains he wanted to make in his career at that stage in his life. If I had tried to get in the way of this then it would have led to resentment. At the same time, I needed some space and energy to focus on my own priorities.
Below are some other statements of prioritization that I have heard from 20 and 30 somethings that I have interacted with:
-I do not want to get engaged until I've paid off my debt completely or am at _____% of my goal.
-I am focused on graduating. This is my main priority and I will not change my plans for anyone.
-I don't think I can give you what you want.
-We should not get engaged until you have a job and some sort of plan.
-You cannot spend the night at my place. Please make other arrangements.
-No one meets my kids/parents/grandparents/best friend (whatever it is) unless things are really serious.
-I expect both people to contribute to date nights. It shouldn't just fall on one person.
-These are my priorities: 1.__, 2. ___, 3. ___ (note: a romantic relationship, marriage, or family are not listed).
-Yes, I am graduating... but I'm still single (there's no ring on this finger) so we'll be continuing this relationship long distance.
I have seen/heard various responses to these types of statements. Some have been angry or hurt. Some have viewed the statement as something to fight against or a challenge. Some have decided the relationship is not worth continuing. Some have pretended to agree. Some have tried to suggest a compromise. Some have taken note and used it to gauge where the relationship is at in order to set realistic expectations for themselves. Responses have varied based on the individual.
Questions to Ponder:
1. How have you responded to situations where "priorities" were communicated? Why?
2. How have others responded to "priorities" that you have communicated to them?
3. What have you learned? Were the responses tied to differences or similarities in personality, the way you/they respond to expectations, values, vision, or family background?
This blog series is focused on Priorities.
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