Season 2 Ep. 8 of The #staymarried Podcast: The Sexy Side of Marriage – with guest Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers

Season 2 Ep. 8 of The #staymarried Podcast: The Sexy Side of Marriage - with guest Dr. Tina Schermer SellersWe’ve gotta come clean. Tony and I have been holding on to something. Between Seasons 1 & 2, we recorded our first interview for The #staymarried Podcast. We were lucky to be able to sit down with Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers, but the interview really blew us away. To be honest, we’re still processing a lot of what she said for ourselves. But, since this is the 8th episode of the season, we’ve decided… we think you’re ready for this.

Not only did we get to interview her, but we were able to ask her one of YOUR questions. Listen as Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers gives some insight into Jen’s dilemma of trust and jealousy in her marriage. Of course, keep your questions coming by clicking on Ask #staymarried.

Scroll down for info and links to all of the many resources we mentioned in this episode.

Here’s Season 2, Episode 8 of The #staymarried Podcast

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Holding Hands: A Simple Act with Profound Impact

Holding Hands: A Simple Act with Profound Impact #staymarriedI get anxious in crowds. I’m not tall; it’s hard for me to see. Some might even say, at 5′ 3.5″ (yes, I count that half inch), that I’m short. As a teenager I’d almost gotten used to being squished and stomped on when I went out to see live music. I feel my chest tighten and my shoulders clench when I see the inevitability of a crowd, and I begin to scan for ways to go around instead of going through. Tony, on the other hand, isn’t bothered at all. He IS tall, 6′ 2″, and walks confidently through crowds, weaving his way in the direction he wants to go. When we’re together, he grabs my hand and I follow. He leads me with that confidence, I know I’m safe, and my anxiety level goes way down. He doesn’t have a shield or body armor, he doesn’t push or yell at people, he just walks confidently holding my hand. He holds my hand.

Moving through a crowd is not the only time he holds my hand. In fact, he holds my hand most of the time when we’re out together. I remember one day, when we picked up a friend of his whose car had broken down, we’d stopped at a grocery store on our way to take him home. We all walked in together, and naturally, Tony grabbed my hand on the way in. “Woah!” his friend said, “PDA! What are you guys doing? Don’t let my wife see you doing that. I never hold her hand in public.” He doesn’t hold her hand?

Truthfully, until his friend made such a big deal about it, we didn’t even know it was a thing. Tony told him he was an idiot and then wrapped his arm tightly around my shoulder while we walked just to make a point. Showing me affection publicly – holding my hand, kissing my cheek, putting his arms around me – was not even remotely embarrassing to him. It’s something about our relationship I have probably taken for granted. He has never been stingy with his affection. He’s never made me feel strange for leaning into him or squeezing him in a tight hug for a few extra seconds.

Recently, during the birth of our third daughter, I needed his physical presence in the most crucial way. I was struggling through painful contractions. There were times I felt weak and inadequate and even scared. Tony held me, walked with me, encouraged me, held my hand and never let go. Between contractions I was able to look at him and I just marveled. I had been gripping him so hard, pulling down on him by the shoulders with all of my strength. At one point I even bit him on the chest as I buried my face from the pain. No doubt he had war wounds from the frenzy of a shockingly fast delivery – too fast to receive the epidural I pleaded for. Still he held my hand, cheered me on, gave me strength. At the end, once our daughter was born, he held my hand again as he prayed over our newborn and me. I’ve read that being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Strength and courage were just what I needed, and loving and being loved by Tony did indeed give me both.

 Being deeply Loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage - Laozi | #staymarried

These were such profound moments for us as a couple, this birth experience. We had to trust in our physical communication because the words could simply not come out. I’m delighted to share this two minute video with you. I think you’ll see for yourselves the strength of love and trust, the power of holding hands and holding each other.

Holding hands is such a simple act of affection, and yet can carry such profound meaning. Holding hands adds to feelings of security and attachment. Holding hands has been shown to reduce the stress hormones in the brain. Holding your partner’s hand when they are describing a stressful situation can help them feel calm. It’s relaxing and can even lower the intensity of a fight.

There is immense power in this simple act. It takes only a moment and a little bit of good intention to reach for the one you love. We hope you give and receive the benefits of holding hands as often as possible, stay affectionate, and #staymarried.

If you liked this post, you may also like to read Same Team and To Love is To Listen. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.
New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

P.S. Thank you to our regular readers & subscribers for waiting while we took our Blogternity Leave. We are so thrilled to introduce our newest little lady to you: Miss Alice Jane Peterson!
{ Feel free to click on the image to take a closer look at her sweet face and all of the details about her birth. }

Alice Jane Baby Announcement - #staymarried blog

I Quit!

I Quit - Time to say "No" to good things so we can say "Yes" to great things - #staymarried blog for couplesA couple of weeks ago I quit something in favor of my marriage and family. It wasn’t smoking, gambling, or drinking – though I am on a temporary hiatus from my beloved wine and cocktails while I incubate our third child. I quit something that I loved, something that was important to me. I’d been volunteering with an organization called Strip Church Seattle, helping out behind the scenes with some of their social media needs. This is a group of women I believe in wholeheartedly and have loved supporting. I didn’t quit because they had become demanding or overbearing; they are gracious and kind. I quit because I suddenly remembered something that I had forgotten.

Sometimes you have to say “No” to good things so that you can say “Yes” to great things.

It broke my heart to quit, and somehow at the same time, I felt like I could breathe a little easier to have one less thing on my plate. As it is, the time I spend in front of the computer has become more and more limited with two little girls and one more on the way. I’m busier than I’d like to believe as a stay-at-home-mom. We all are, aren’t we? We try to fill our lives with good things and before we know it, our lives are unbalanced and lack focus.

Jim Collins says in his classic business strategy book, Good to Great, that “Good is the enemy of great.” When things are good in life we have a natural tendency to settle in. We like good. Good is comfortable and pleasing. It is usually not until things are bad that we change or look for something better. In that way, Collins is absolutely right. Instead of pursuing greatness, we settle for things that are simply good.

I want a great family, a great marriage. I want great friendships. I want to produce great and helpful things for you, the #staymarried readers. I also want great skin and great hair, but those seem to fall just a little lower on the list of greats that I’m after. So, I’m thinking if I narrow down my list to those few things I want to be great, it is much easier to take stock of where I spend my time and edit things out, good and not-so-good things, so that I can devote my energy to making the important things great.

So, I’m taking stock. I’m looking at my calendar and I’m looking at the things I spend the most time and energy on.

I’m not going to sign my kids up for a million activities this fall, as fun as they all sound, because I don’t want to spend my limited time with them as preschoolers carting them to and from things that are merely good. I want our days to have flexibility. I want them to have a mom that is not so frazzled. I want this time I have with them before they go into elementary school to be great!

I’m not going to keep telling people I have time to take on new projects because I’m “just a stay-at-home mom.” I’m really not sure where I picked up that lie, but it is a lie. As a mom and wife, I am actually much busier than I was when I was working full time in an office. I’m going to allow that to sink in and reject the guilt I normally inhale for not volunteering for more good things.

I’m not going to pretend I’m working on my marriage just because I write a blog about marriage. Instead, I’m going to ask my husband what he wants more of and how we can be more connected. I’m going to give him my undivided attention when he’s talking instead of pretending there is a deadline on the dishes in the sink.

Autumn is quickly approaching. It’s a time when even the trees slough off leaves that they once spent the energy to grow. Is this a season for editing? Is there something you need to quit? One of my favorite authors, Bob Goff, says he quits something every Thursday. I don’t know that I’m going that far. But, it was on a Thursday that I quit volunteering for something I loved and have since opened up my heart to the wonderful things I really want to focus on in my life. I quit something that became a distraction and now I’m going to put more effort into my life as a friend, as a mother, and as a wife. I quit so I can do more to #staymarried.

Sometimes you have to say "No" to good things so that you can say "Yes" to great things - quote from #staymarried blog

P.S. If you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.
Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Feed the Good Stuff

Feed the Good Stuff, 10 Ways to nurture fondness and admiration in your marriage - a #staymarried blog for couples In our desire to see marriages succeed, we’ve learned that we need to feed the good stuff.

Taking the time to write down something good, and reading the uplifting responses of others, can be really encouraging all on it’s own. There are plenty of opportunities to complain and air out our frustrations, especially over social media but, we don’t see that really helping anyone. In fact, I think it’s quite counterproductive to air “in the moment” annoyances over the internet by posting a status like, “I could probably get more sleep if my husband would do his part and get up with the baby once in awhile.”

We’ve all seen, or perhaps written, some version of these public, passive aggressive spousal criticisms in our news feeds. It’s a bummer. But, even more than just bringing me and the rest of our social network down, it’s having a negative effect on your marriage. In John Gottman’s research on healthy marriages, he’s found that criticism and contempt are two of the four main factors in predicting divorce. One of the ways to combat those, he says, is to nurture your fondness and admiration for one another. This is so essential that he’s named it as Principle #2 in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. He asserts:

Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance. Although happily married couples may feel driven to distraction at times by their partner’s personality flaws, they still feel that the person they married is worthy of honor and respect. When this sense is completely missing from a marriage, the relationship cannot be revived.

Did you catch that? Without honor and respect, Gottman says, your marriage doesn’t stand a chance.

Feed the Good Stuff - 10 Ways to Build Fondness and Admiration in Your Marriage - a #staymarried blog for couples

If you’ve been out of the habit of praising and building up your spouse and your marriage, here are a few things to think about..

1. Remember your early days.

Dr. Gottman has found in his research that 94% of the time couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well. He says, “By focusing on your past, you can often detect embers of positive feelings.” We’ve shared about this before, but when you choose to think about your favorite memories of your relationship and even talk with your spouse about then, your love for them naturally grows.

2. Speaking positively helps you think positively.

Our brains are tricky little organs. When we’re frustrated about something, we naturally gravitate our thoughts on building that list of frustrations. Even if we never say it out loud, it’s common to have an inner dialogue that gets stuck on this cycle and says to itself “And another thing…” However, the opposite is also true. If we focus on the good and positive things, our brains want to stay there and build upon it. So, finding something positive to say, or even a positive way to look at something irritating, can help you nurture that fondness.

3. What gets rewarded gets repeated.

I first heard this concept when it came to managing others at work. I now believe it to be true in many areas of life including friendships, parenting, and especially my marriage. Criticism is simply not motivating. Saying to my husband, “You NEVER take me out!” is not likely to encourage him to plan a date night. However, if I said, “I love spending time alone with you. When can we go out again?” I’m almost guaranteed to have a fun date in the near future. Expressing your needs in a way that communicates your fondness toward your partner is going to yield much greater results than simply complaining to them. Look for the things your spouse does that you appreciate and then acknowledge it right away. Whether verbally, or with a good, long kiss, you get to be creative in the way you “reward” your spouse and encourage within yourself those feelings of admiration.

Interested in increasing your fondness and admiration quotient? Those geniuses at The Gottman Institute have come up with this fun assignment. Take one Thought and Task per day, especially on the days you spend less time with your spouse, and see if this exercise doesn’t make a positive difference in your marriage.

Feed the Good Stuff, 10 Ways to nurture fondness and admiration in your marriage - a #staymarried blog for couples

We hope you enjoy this exercise. Remember, feeding the good stuff will starve the bad stuff so that you can have a long lasting romance with your partner and #staymarried.

Photo above is of Andy and Sharon on their 50th Anniversary!
Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read A Little List. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Great Microwave Meals

On Thursday, we shared with you some ways to “Turn On Your Crockpot”. Now I’d like to offer you my perspective on men being like microwaves.

Great Microwave Meals - a #staymarried blog about intimacy

WARNING: This is a post for adult married couples.

A man’s desire for sexual intimacy can be radically different than a woman’s. Wives need foreplay early in the day with kind words and being attentive to her non-sexual needs. Husbands simply do not. She needs to feel loved in order to want sex… he feels loved as a result of sex. Every emotional interaction of her day is a building block directly related to the next, coming together to set the scene… He, on the other hand, can get turned on by simply seeing his wife in the right light at the right angle, and that’ll be enough to set things in motion for him.

Speaking to the metaphor, making a great crockpot meal requires prep work of exactly the right ingredients, setting up the appliance on a slow simmer, and then checking on it periodically during the day, maybe adding a few ingredients here and there. To make a good microwave meal, you need to push a few buttons. And in fact, I’m impatient enough to use the “Add 30 seconds” button just so that the cooking starts the moment I push a button, not after I hit “Start.”

The reality is, eating crockpot meals every day is time-consuming, requires a ton of planning and forethought, and can become a numbing tedium that lacks spice and spontaneity. As for microwave meals, in most cases the ingredients weren’t hand picked, and it lacks the depth of flavor that an all-day-simmer gives, but we gotta eat. That’s why there is importance in variety and balance.

I can see how the attention to detail and purposeful interactions throughout the day can make a woman feel special. I can see how speaking kindly to your wife in the morning can set the tone for the evening. As a woman, this may make complete sense to you, but as a man this concept can be a little harder to grasp. We have a natural pull toward instant gratification. When I put my money in the vending machine, I want that bag of Doritos in my hand immediately. I don’t want to think about the Doritos all day, and then enjoy the amazing flavor 9 hours later. So, if you think it’s planning and forethought that makes sex good for a man, you’re mistaken. Sure, he probably appreciates a naughty text, or a peek at some lingerie, but ultimately it’s YOU he wants, and the sooner the better.

For men, the speed at which the waiter delivers the filet mignon from the kitchen to the table does not affect the flavor. It’s still filet mignon… and it still tastes friggin’ amazing! Especially if it’s hot! Perhaps there is a certain amount of anticipation that can enhance the experience, but in all honesty, we want that amazing meal on the table NOW.

Of course, comparing sex to food is funny, but I hesitate comparing a powerful and beautiful experience to a hot pocket. The truth is, sex isn’t anything like a hot pocket… no matter how it’s served.

Hot Pockets Aren’t Healthy

Let me also offer a perspective that is slightly less humorous. There is in fact a “hot pocket,” and it is self-pleasuring. It can be a lot of work to constantly attend to your spouse’s emotional state in the hopes of bonding at the end of the day. It is a lot less work for him to just handle it himself… literally. If you’re constantly making him “work for it,” he’ll likely stop working for it and just take care of it himself. At this point both your sex life and your marriage as a whole will suffer. The sad fact is that a human being can live off hot pockets for the rest of their life. But if you’ve experienced food the way I have, you will agree with me in saying what a sad life that is and what a massive blessing you would be missing out on.

This depravity of spontaneous sexual intimacy can leave a door open for outside influence as well. Ladies, if you are making it difficult for your man to connect with you the way he needs, not only are you telling him it’d be easier for him to just handle it, but you’re opening an opportunity for someone else to be the fulfiller of that need. Being rejected over and over is a massive hit to a man’s pride and ego. How easy would it be for Ms. Bad-Intentions to make your sex-deprived husband feel like a million bucks? EASY!

Being attentive to his desires will place you at the top of his short list of “ways to satisfy this feeling I can’t control.” If you want to connect with your husband in a way he desires and increase the levels of intimacy in your marriage overall, we’ve got some ideas for you…

4 Tips to Great Microwave Meals

1. Respond to him sexually more often.

Don’t wait till you’ve both settled down and are in bed… Surprise him in the hall! Call him to the bathroom when you’re taking a shower, then invite him in. Don’t let a kiss just be a peck, make something of it and guide his hand. Respond to him when he approaches you and initiate sex yourself once in awhile.

2. Understand he needs to release sexually.

If you think to yourself “it’s been a while,” don’t wait for him to approach you. Do something about it! You already know that men, generally speaking, are more easily turned on than women. He is turned on just by the sight of you, and something is happening to him physically that may not be happening to you. When you have emotional build-up, you vent to him, or someone else, verbally. When he has sexual build up… I’ll let you draw the parallel on that one.

3. Consider the battle he’s up against.

Keep in mind that his desires are solicited to all day from surfing the web, or even standing in line at the grocery store. Create a safe place in your marriage for him to express himself and make efforts to draw his attention back to you. Be confident in knowing you’re beautiful to him, but don’t be deceived in thinking everyone else in his eyes is ugly. Have peace in knowing he chose you. The media uses women’s bodies against men… and it works. Don’t shame him for a part of his nature that’s difficult to control.

4. Don’t try to make him open up to you verbally by depriving him of sex.

You’re probably the talker… he’s probably not. Withholding sex isn’t going to change this. It’s manipulative and counterproductive. Don’t play the I-have-a-headache card when it’s not true. Remember, he feels connected as a result of sex. If you want him to open up to you, chances are you’ll get a lot more out of him emotionally when you are open to him sexually.


Ladies, don’t read this post and think all of the pressure and ownership is on you now… it’s not. Your husband is responsible for meeting your needs as well. Instead, I hope you’ll take some of these things to heart, and remember them the next time you have an opportunity to make a move. Also, it’s good to try things a bit out of character. Even if it’s difficult or embarrassing at first, in the long run it’s that kind of vulnerability that’ll help you #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, share it! You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my wife’s first entry to get a little background. Thanks for reading!
~Tony

Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

Turning On Your Crockpot

Have you heard this one? When it comes to sex, men are like microwaves and women are like crockpots. A man can be turned on and hot at the press of a button. A woman needs to be turned on in the morning and takes a while to heat up. You can’t just flip the switch and expect a gourmet meal.

I’m pretty sure I was in church the first time I heard that illustration. My first thought was, “Oh jeez, are we really talking about sex in church?” My second thought was, “Thank God we are talking about sex in church!” I was dating Tony and by this time we were both pretty sure we were going to get married. Only, he’d been celibate, and I, uh… well, I hadn’t. Talking about sex was awkward, so I felt thankful someone else was bringing it up. Since then, we’ve both heard a lot of advice about having a healthy sex life. Some of it has been enlightening, some of it has been relieving, and some of it I’m still confused by.

What I’ve noticed in all of the advice I’ve heard and read about sex is this: men and women are fundamentally different. Ok, you probably already knew that. Still, I think it’s worth exploring- especially when it comes to your sexual relationship and the way it impacts your marriage overall. You see, if you are married to someone of the opposite sex, it is virtually impossible to understand the inner workings of their mind, emotions, hormones, and perceptions. Your brain and their brain are wired completely differently. We can’t expect our partner to think and feel the same way that we do about the same things, as much as we may want them to. Acknowledging our vast differences also means acknowledging that we have to be willing to meet them somewhere in the middle– this is particularly true if we are going to experience the incredible joys of true intimacy.

True intimacy, at its core, is selfless– it starts with desiring to know your partner’s wants and needs. Respecting your partner by seeking to meet those wants and needs is the very foundation of great sex– and, in your marriage, a healthy sex life.

I think many men are surprised to learn that women typically don’t think about sex “every six seconds,” and that their idea of foreplay is waking up to a full coffeepot that she didn’t have to brew herself.

So, if you need some help, here are some tips for cooking up something hot in the Crockpot…

Turn her on in the morning.

Go out of your way to be helpful with your morning routine.
Get up early enough to pour her a cup of coffee before she is up.
Tell her she looks great.
Help get the kids breakfast.
Make that goodbye kiss slow and long.
Tell her she looks great.
Ask her what she’s looking forward to for the day.
Let her know you’re looking forward to coming home to her tonight.
Even if she’s still got “bed head,” tell her she looks great.

Check on her in the middle of the day.

Call her and tell her you’re thinking about how great she looks.
Text her just to say “I love you.”
Tell her you miss her.
Leave her a special note someplace– like on the bathroom mirror or in her purse.
Let her know you’re ordering pizza so neither of you need to worry about making dinner.

Don’t rush it at the end of the day.

Check in to see if there is anything you can grab for her on your way home.
If she’s home when you get there, greet her warmly before you greet the kids.
Be helpful with the kids and dinner. Pour her drink before you pour your own.
Tell her she looks great.
Ask her about her day, and listen.
Offer to clean up after dinner (this works especially well if you rarely/never do this).
Give her a nice long hug, without being too grabby.
Share with her one of your favorite memories of your early days together.

Turning on your Crockpot - a #staymarried blog about sex for married couples

I’m pretty sure that in the history of husbands and wives navigating troubled waters, no couple has ever sat down with a counselor and said, “We’re having too much sex. It’s a problem.” Regular sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage. Even the Bible implores us not to abstain from sex with our spouse. If, as a husband, you feel like you are getting rejected when you pursue your wife for sex, think back in your mind to how the rest of the day, even the rest of the week, has gone. Is this the first or only way you’ve tried to connect with your wife? Have you, even unintentionally, dismissed and ignored her in other areas?

Sir, if you do even a few of these things we listed above throughout the day, you might just be plating up a gourmet meal for your efforts. As a man, it may be difficult to understand that a woman needs to feel connected in order to want to have sex. All of the things I mentioned may not sound very sexy. You may never understand why helping get the kids breakfast in the morning makes your wife want to treat you to dessert at the end of the day, but trust me, it matters. The more she feels connected to you, appreciated and valued by you, the more eager she will be to get closer to you physically.

Now, Ladies, before you start using the tips above as bargaining chips, listen up. If you are withholding sex from your husband as a way to manipulate him to be more helpful around the house or to connect with you more in conversation, you are completely sabotaging yourself and your marriage! Sex is an act of intimacy, and intimacy does not come out of manipulation of any kind. On Monday, Tony will share his perspective on the Microwave’s side of things. So stay tuned and #staymarried.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

Becoming a Marriage Mentor

As I mentioned in my last post, having mentors early in our marriage proved to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Tony and I  have so valued Barabara and Rich Butler in our lives that I thought it would be great if the rest of you could hear from them directly. Here’s their take on the mentoring side of our relationship…

We met Tony and Michelle Peterson at church. We didn’t really know them when Michelle approached us. And, yes, we did indeed wait for at least a month to respond to Michelle’s request to mentor her and Tony in their marriage. We waited a month AND we waited for them to ask us again. And during that month we may have slightly panicked and even laughed a little. Us…marriage mentors?? Who were they kidding? We might look all cute and happy on Sundays at church, but truth be told, we get into some awesome fights, our finances are kinda messy, and our intimate connections can be quite sporadic. We’ve even mentioned the D word to each other during our almost 28 years of marriage {insert audible gasp}.

But wait….we get into some awesome fights, and we get back out of them. Our finances are messy, but we do work through them. And we work on our sex life (now there’s an awkward conversation to start with people you don’t know very well). And that D word? Well, we’ve talked about it and agreed how very much we want to work on avoiding it. Ok. Maybe there was something to this. Yes, we could share our struggles, things we’ve learned along the way, and our willingness to keep growing together. We agreed to be an open book for the Petersons to read. We were feeling apprehensive, but we moved forward.

And then, something wonderful and unexpected happened: we grew more in love with each other and with our marriage each time we met with Tony and Michelle. It was a win-WIN. Talking about our marriage and some truths about marriage on a regular basis and working through some issues with another couple proved to be quite therapeutic and comforting, and even healing. We felt invigorated and joyful at times, reminiscing about our early years as a couple. We had time to re-work some of our arguing techniques (there is such a thing as a fair fight, you know) and we were given the gift of spending time with newly-weds. There’s something so sweet about people who are freshly in love– something sweet and contagious.

We enjoyed the experience so much that we agreed to lead other couples who were preparing for marriage in a small group format at church.  We used Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott’s book, Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts, and constructed our meetings around the 7 principles that are outlined in the book.  Working with 5 or 6 couples at a time was quite different than working with just one couple.  It was more like a class (we’re both teachers), and the couples tended to be guarded about their responses.  There was not enough time to explore responses that “touched a nerve” or uncovered a difference of values.  We realized that real marriage “mentoring” required time, focus, and vulnerability. It required the need to stop and really talk about something that we saw could be trouble for a young couple, time to stop and share our own complicated and painful story of how we worked through something.  Meeting with just one couple at a time really seemed to be more effective for everyone involved.

So, what is our take away from these amazing experiences we’ve had with these younger couples? Everyone with a few years of  stable marriage under their belts should be doing it! If your marriage feels a little stale and you want to liven things up, don’t wait for something to happen. Go find a couple to mentor. Go find a younger couple to share life with. Get a book to work through together and be vulnerable. It could be the magic your marriage needs right now.

If you’re still not convinced…

 The Top Five Reasons You Should Mentor a Couple.

1. You get to tell the story of how you met your spouse.

2. You experience the joy and passion of young love again (without all of the stomach aches).

3. You can use your own mistakes to save another couple from the same disaster.

4. You discover hidden gems of wisdom that can help your own marriage.

5. It’s practically free counseling for BOTH couples.

If you think you’re ready, or maybe just willing, to take on a mentoring role…

Here are guidelines and some helpful hints we have used when we mentor a couple:

1. At the first meeting, establish boundaries and rules.

These are ours:
a. Commit to the process.  Make all the meetings and do the readings.
b. Responses can be honest, more honest, or most honest depending on how vulnerable the speaker wants to be.
c. Everything shared is confidential unless the person sharing gives permission.
d. No “blindsiding.”  If you are going to share something potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable about your partner, you must get permission from them BEFORE the meeting.

2. Don’t unpack what you can’t re-pack.

I, Rich, first heard this advice from a professional therapist who was speaking at my school (yes, teachers do a LOT of therapy!). He was using the analogy of unpacking and re-packing a suitcase to describe what to do when a student shares feelings about a difficult event in their lives – divorce, abuse, suicide attempts. The therapist’s advice? Don’t let the student share more than you, the teacher, can help them with… which is usually not much. The idea is to help them “re-pack” the feelings they are having and take them to a professional, a counselor. When a couple reveals a deeply traumatic event – and it is obvious that they have not processed it, understood their feelings about it and the consequences of it – it is better to just listen to them, help them “re-pack” their feelings, and then suggest that this is something to speak with a professional about. We are not professionally trained counselors, and it is not our place to try and heal a broken psyche. We have often advised couples to seek professional help, explaining that we also have benefited from counseling.

3. Ask  probing questions.

Mentors cannot shy away from asking the hard, penetrating questions. The most common is “How did that make you feel?”  Young couples tend to be unaware of their deeper feelings, or they flat out hide them so as not to shatter the euphoria they are experiencing.  Yet hurtful things are said and need to be addressed.  Values and beliefs are revealed and need to be faced.

4. Eat.

Our best times with young couples have always been over food.  Perhaps it is the wine that loosens the tongues a bit, or perhaps it is the warmth of a well-lit table and the feeling of family. The conversations just seem to be better, the trust deeper.

5. Pray.

We believe that God brings couples together, and that he has a plan for them.  We will sometimes look at a couple and say to each other, “Those two?  Really?”  But God sees the deeper hearts, and He has a plan.  We ask couples to allow us to pray for them and over them, for “God, the best maker of all marriages” knows better than we what is needed.

6. Use other people’s stuff.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or design a curriculum. Beg, borrow, and steal from the experts! These are books and websites we have used or recommended:

a.  Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.  There is a book and 2 workbooks, one for the guys and one for the girls.

b.  Sheet Music  by Dr. Kevin Leman is a great book on sexual intimacy.

c.  Dr. John Trent’s Personality Styles – see strong families.com.  We love Dr. Trent’s use of the “Lion, Otter, Beaver, Retriever” personality descriptions.  We can understand and use them.

d.  The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a must for any couple.

e.  Preparing for Marriage by Boehl, Nelson, Schulte, and Shadrach takes a deeper spiritual look at preparing for marriage.

f.  51 Creative Ideas for Marriage Mentors by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.  Our son- in-law gave us this book (no, we did not mentor them), and it has wonderful ideas to spice up your meeting times.


We are glad the Petersons asked us, and asked us again, to mentor them. We never could have imagined how good it would be for our own marriage to partner with a young couple just starting out and wanting so much to #staymarried.

The Unexpected

Before Tony and I were married, we led a small group for married and engaged couples. We used a great DVD series from Andy Stanley at North Point Church in Georgia called “iMarriage”. What we learned in that group has become part of the underlying dialogue in our marriage, the voices in our heads, preventing some of the most common and most unnecessary fights. We learned about expectations.

Did the topic of expectations come up before you were married, too? Has it come up since you said your I do’s? Maybe someone guided you, or you decided together, to lay out your expectations of one another.

“I expect you to work and I expect to stay home once we have children.”
“I expect to handle the finances and I expect you to trust me to do it.”
“I expect to have sex three to five times per week.”
“I expect to go on vacation at least once per year.”

Where do expectations come from?

Whether you sat down to do this exercise together or you just allowed your expectations to live in your head, those expectations are probably there guiding your behavior with one another.  If you had a counselor or someone guiding you through it, they may have shared with you that a lot of your expectations come from the way you were raised, your family of origin. Women tend to expect from men whatever they saw their fathers do. Men tend to expect from women whatever they saw in their mothers. This is somewhat natural. Whatever the model of “wife” or “husband” or “parent” we have in our backgrounds can attribute to a set of expected behaviors or roles for our spouses to meet. Of course, we know that no two families are alike and different things work well in different households. Throw in the complications of growing up with a single parent or multiple blended families. Without a dad at home, where should my expectations of a husband come from? Does your husband expect you to act more like his mother or his step-mother or both? It’s easy to see how quickly the issue of expectations in a marriage can really muddle things up.

Even if we state our expectations explicitly early on, or revisit them every few years or so, doesn’t it seem like such a mess? What if your husband isn’t interested in being the chef in the family like your dad was? What if your wife never puts the laundry away in the dresser drawers the way it should be done and always leaves it in the laundry basket, and you’re never sure if it’s clean or dirty? How many times does one of you have to remove the wet towel off of the bed and remind the other how gross it is? How much more clearly can you say, “I really don’t like cleaning an entire wig of hair out of the shower drain, Honey”? In the grand scheme of things, these hardly seem like fights worth having. So, what do we do?

Throw out your expectations.

According to Andy Stanley, instead of making our expectations clear to one another, we should throw them out altogether!

Ok, take a deep breath before you read on.
[Inhale]       [Exhale]       [Inhale]       [Exhale]

In his series, iMarriage, Mr. Stanley shows us that love cannot thrive where expectations live. He challenges us to look at the expectations we already have naturally, and even to name them. But then, once we know what they are, we should get rid of them. Extinguish them. Take the imaginary box of expectational burdens away from our spouse once and for all. What happens, he says, when we have expectations in our marriages is that even when our spouse fulfills our expectation, all they have really done in our minds is met the minimum requirements. They have not impressed us or shown us love, they have only fulfilled the essential requirements of this marriage contract. He says, then, that by getting rid of our expectations, we have the opportunity to actually be grateful for one another and to love and receive love in our marriage. We can get rid of these non-negotiable expectations we have of our spouses by changing them into hopes. If you can HOPE instead of EXPECT, you can repaint the entire canvas of your every-day lives.

Disappointments and Fight Prevention

Checking yourself for misplaced expectations is also a great exercise in fight prevention. When you are irritated with your spouse, before you spout off, ask yourself, “Is this about an expectation I have? Have I ever mentioned this expectation to my spouse? What if I turned my expectation into a hope, holding nothing against my loved one if they don’t come through? Would I still be so upset?”

One of the guarantees of holding onto expectations is disappointment. You will never be able to measure up to each other’s expectations 100% of the time. Hopes, however, have an entirely different perspective at their foundation. They are approached without expectation, without entitlement, and instead, when they are fulfilled, they are received with gratitude. Just think of the difference between a kid who expects to get the newest Nintendo for Christmas and one who merely hopes. The boy who expects the Nintendo and gets it may be pleased, but his excitement is sure to fade fast. After all, he expected to receive the Nintendo. Now, think of the kid who hopes and prays for it, and then opens that same gift. The second child is absolutely delighted, grateful to receive what he had hoped for, but did not expect. Which child would you like to be? As the giver, how would you rather be received? Removing expectations brings the possibility for you to delight in each other.

As Tony and I worked through the iMarriage material, he seemed to have a much easier time with it than I had. I kept bringing it up with him, “So, is he saying I should expect nothing at all from you? That you’re totally off the hook for everything? I mean, how is that going to work?” Tony, always patient and also very black and white, lovingly pointed out that I was also “off the hook” in this scenario. We talked together about the every day stuff we now hoped one another would help with – the trash, the checkbook, the wet towel on or off the bed – and we committed to keep talking about it as things came up.

A lot has changed since we first learned these concepts about expectations. I’m home now with our two little girls, he works all day, and then often has some freelance work keeping him up late at night. The work it takes to keep our lives running smoothly – the chores, the time we spend together, the parenting, the time we spend with friends –  shifts with the seasons. Just a few years ago, Tony did 90% of the cooking in our family. He loves to cook and he’s really good at it. Now that he works so much away from home, I cook more often than he does. We wouldn’t have dinner until 8 o’clock at night if I’d decided to keep that as an expectation instead of shifting my role in our marriage team. So, while the meals aren’t as creative as they once were, Tony makes me feel appreciated (even if he is dousing it in salt and pepper and hot sauce). Letting go of firm expectations allows us much more flexibility as our life together continues to change.

Removing expectations can give you and your spouse room to breathe and love and serve each other and be grateful to one another for all of the little things each of you will do on a daily basis to make your lives work. It will give you clearer eyes to see when she puts the laundry in the drawers and when he takes a stab at making a meal. It will increase your gratitude for one another and decrease those daily frustrations. It takes some time to adjust, especially if you’ve been holding expectations for a while, but it is so worth the effort to #staymarried.


Odds are, I won’t stay married.

At this point we’ve all been told countless times that the divorce rates in the United States are hovering around 50% and have been for quite some time. Whether or not those stats are true is debatable, but they feel more and more real to me every day. I cannot count how many phone calls, emails, or text messages I’ve received in the past few years from people – no, from FRIENDS – telling me that their husband or wife is leaving them. That they’ve been cheated on or been unfaithful. That their marriage seems to be falling apart for one reason or another. It breaks my heart to see the reality of divorce, the devastation of broken dreams, and the toll it takes on their children. After all, I am one of those children.

My mother and father separated when I was just three years old. Their divorce was final by the time I was five years old, and then I never laid eyes on my father again until I was twenty-two. My younger sister and I were raised by our incredibly intelligent and independent single-mother. Fortunately, in our younger years, her family was around to help. Otherwise, she had no real community and we really were on our own. I share this background to tell you: the odds are not in my favor that I will stay married.

Stats aren’t completely clear, but it seems the risk of divorce goes up when one spouse is afflicted with any form of depression. The risk for divorce goes up 50% more when one spouse comes from a divorced home.  The risk for divorce goes up again about 36% for adults who were sexually abused as children.

My husband, my rock, comes into our marriage with none of these stains. His parents are still married, no history of depression or abuse of any kind. I, on the other hand, carry these black marks in my heart, marks I didn’t ask for or bring upon myself. I know that a lot of you carry them as well. Still, I am hopeful. I plan to stay married, to honor the commitment I made to my husband, and to give my own daughters a better chance at their future.

But, the reality of how fragile marriage really is keeps me awake at night. I know that if I want my marriage to last, if I want my friends to stay married, we can’t simply be hopeful and then shrug our shoulders when something bad happens. We need to arm ourselves, to get around people who care about our marriage, and to invest in one another.

If you are one of my friends who has been separated or divorced, please know that I love you. I wish more than anything that you didn’t have to go through it. I remember your pain, your frustration, your sense of loss whether you were the one who left or the one who got left behind. I know things are complicated. I know it’s not easy to stay married. I know separating and divorcing is a painful decision to be faced with. I pray you know that I have hope for you, too.

So, as a woman hoping to stay married against the odds, I hope you will root for my husband and I. We are rooting for you and will continue to read and research and love each other in a way that brings hope and light and a chance for all of us to push against the stats that linger over us. I’ve started this blog to be a place of encouragement. The only qualification I have is hope. So, I will often cite other resources and share real life stories. I hope you find the things I write about helpful on your own pursuit to #staymarried.

 

The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

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Thank you for reading, sharing, and being a part of this #staymarried community!

~ Michelle