Goals, Themes and Interests

Broad goals refer to essential qualities and values that one seeks in the process and/or the outcome—‘from 10,000 feet’—as opposed to positions, numbers, specifics and bottom lines.

Core themes refer to an individual’s issues or those of the couple in their dynamic. They may be positive, negative, both or neither.

Themes are good for the team to know about and work with. They may be observed but unnamed or sensitively framed or reframed and referred to as needed.

Key interests refer to personal preferences—for oneself or for the children. These are more specific than broad goals and are stated in a non-positional way.

Examples of broad goals (process): dignified, efficient, affordable, attentive, diplomatic, ‘getting along’; (outcome): financial security, adequate time with the children, freedom, financial peace of mind, child safety, child happiness, finishing school, starting a new career, co-parenting effectively with the ex-spouse, improving a father-son relationship.

Examples of core themes: need to be heard, hear anger as disrespect, debt is intolerable, unilateral decision-making, asking forgiveness rather than permission, conflict avoidant, need control, shut down in conflict, executive function deficits, fears about competence in parenting, parents should make decisions for the parents vs. children should make their own decisions.

Examples of key interests (for self): reconnect to extended family; keep the art objects that had personally selected; reduce supervisory duties at work; find a less stressful job; go back to school for original career choice; travel more often; continue horse-back riding; run marathons.

Examples of key interests (for children): support travel hockey; live in a neighborhood with more same-age children; keep the house (for children’s comfort); grandparent daycare.

In the first session, explore broad goals (process and outcome) and key interests so they can be referred back to as touchpoints throughout the process. In the same discussion, some core themes may emerge spontaneously, without team members having asked about this explicitly. These themes can be respectfully noted in front of the group, or if more sensitive, the professionals can make a mental note without mentioning them in the moment.