The concept of a Forward Story is very personal. Each of us needs one to define and fulfill our greatest ambitions. We each take personal responsibility for our actions and for living in a purposeful way. Part of becoming an adult is learning to stand on our own and to be responsible for how we live.
However, what happens when we determine to spend our lives with another person? The biblical characterization of marriage is that two people become “one flesh.” When we unite together into a unity, how does that affect our Forward Stories?
My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. One of our secrets is that we are both strong individuals capable of making it on our own. As the late M. Scott Peck said in his book The Road Less Traveled, Timeless Edition: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, those who say they “cannot live without” another are really acting like parasites. A parasite needs a host and cannot live on its own. A healthier relationship is where both individuals can say, “I can live on my own, but I prefer to share my life with you.”
We live, then, with both our own personal Forward Stories and with a combined Forward Story as a couple and as a family. My wife and I recently realized that when we were first married we did a lot of work on our combined Forward Story. In fact, our lives so closely followed our combined Forward Story for the first five years that it seemed easy to us. Our story did not go beyond about five years from the date of our marriage, though. We have now realized that even though we are about to exit our forties, we need to craft a new combined Forward Story.
How does a Forward Story for Two differ from a personal Forward Story? The combined story must leave space for each of us to pursue our own paths. For example, if my personal story calls for me to work in my career through age 65, a combined Forward Story that calls for us to both retire at 60 and move to the Rockies would not be compatible. So, the combined story has to incorporate the ambitions of each individual.
Beyond that, the combined Forward Story is very similar to the individual stories. The process of developing this combined story is itself a very healthy process because it forces us to discuss all the areas of our lives that need to be taken care of. It also forces us to think about our mortality and the length of time we may have left. Even though the combined Forward Story will not turn out exactly as we write it, it will form a common vision that we will both work toward.