51 Little Ways to Build Your Marriage

51 Little Ways to Build Your Marriage - #staymarriedSometimes being the #staymarried lady is rough. I get heartbreaking emails and read devastating stories, and I feel sick and broken every time. My heart is tender toward marriage. I long to see people thrive in their relationships. It’s irrational, but I take it a little personally when any marriage fails.

But, sometimes being the #staymarried lady is pretty great! I get giddy when I see our hashtag on a photo of a date night selfie. I love seeing a tweet or status update where one spouse is watching a show they normally wouldn’t just to hang on the couch with their love… #staymarried. It really is the little things that make such a difference. You guys get it and it makes me so so so silly with joy! Continue reading “51 Little Ways to Build Your Marriage”

Does Your Marriage Need A Rebrand? – Six Simple Ways to Prioritize Your Spouse

When I landed in Chicago this past week, I turned on my phone and it chirped back at me with two messages. One from my mother-in-law, telling me to text her when we got back safely, and the other from a dear friend… telling me her marriage was ending.

Does Your Marriage Need A Rebrand? - Six Simple Ways to Prioritize Your SpouseShe said what a lot of people say when they’re getting divorced: “I haven’t been happy for a long time.”

Like Tony and Michelle, I have always had a broken heart for the ending of marriages, but this one hit closer to home. I spent the better part of the day just meditating on the reasons for failed marriages. So much of it has to do with happiness, particularly with young marriages like my friend’s. And I’m learning that this has a lot to do with the misconceptions we enter into our marriages with, and we are ultimately left disappointed… and unhappy.

Marriage Rebranded

While visiting my in-laws this past week, I had the opportunity to read a short book by Tyler Ward, Marriage Rebranded. In the business world, rebranding is a marketing strategy in which an established brand takes on a new identity in the minds of the consumer/customer. Often this is done through a radical change to the company’s logo, name, advertising strategies, etc. What Tyler Ward wants us to do in his book is replace the modern misconceptions about marriage with a “picture worth fighting for.” He says modern matrimony is a “stale brand.” I found as I read his book that I couldn’t agree more. Continue reading “Does Your Marriage Need A Rebrand? – Six Simple Ways to Prioritize Your Spouse”

Your Marriage Needs a Vacation

We are not very good at vacations.

4 Reasons Your Marriage Needs A Vacation - a #staymarried blogI must have known we wouldn’t be very good at them before we got married. While Tony was open to starting a family right away, I was the one who put the brakes on the baby-making. I did want to have a family with him, but I also wanted to enjoy my time with my husband before we began trying for kids.

Some people set a timeline – three years… once we graduate college… once we have a certain amount of money in savings… after one of us gets a full-time job… Instead of a timeline, I had a little goal in mind. I wanted to have vacations alone with my husband. Oh, but not just any vacations… I specified that I would like two airplane vacations alone with my husband before we started trying to have children. Did you catch that? Not road trips, not “stay-cations” where we both just take time off of work. I wanted to travel. I wanted leisure time with my love. I was sure that once we had kids, our ability to travel would be much more limited. Continue reading “Your Marriage Needs a Vacation”

7 Marriage Myths and the Truths No One Talks About

While I am home snuggling our new little baby {photos to come, we promise} I’ve asked Maggie Reyes to help out here at #staymarried once more. I just love her fresh and honest approach. I hope you do, too…

7 Marriage Myths and the Truths No One Talks About - #staymarried

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Hey #staymarried Readers! Great to be here again while Michelle is on blogternity leave. (Yes, she invited me here because I love making up words and adding a bit of silliness to my serious love of helping all of us #staymarried.)

When Michelle and I were discussing blog topics, one of my favorite suggestions she made was to discuss the modern myths of marriage.

Here are 7 Marriage Myths that rile me up and the truths that can set marriages free from mythical expectations and move them into strong relationship territory instead. The reason I get so riled up about myths is that believing them strips us of our power to do something about them.

The only way I know to conquer a myth is to acknowledge it. By bringing it into your awareness, you now have the power to do something about it.

Please think about that as you read these. If any one of them rings true for you, just notice what it brings up. Be with the feeling. Don’t try to suppress it or ignore it, just be with it. If it’s a painful feeling, put your hand on your heart and take a deep breath.

Know that we are cheering you on. And know that the feeling will pass. Read through the whole list and then come back to this sentence to check out all the resources the team at #staymarried has just for you.

The first myth comes from a fabulous book I read just before I got married, Lies at the Altar: The Truth About Great Marriages by Dr. Robin Smith.

Myth 1 – Marriage magically changes people for the better.

TRUTH – The person at the altar will be the person at the breakfast table.

The only magic in marriage is the magic we put into it every day. The little kisses, happy surprises and night time cuddles that make us smile. Expect your honey to be exactly the same as before the wedding and you may save yourself mountains of disappointment.

Myth 2 – Once we are married, it will all work out.

TRUTH – Marriage is something you create every day.

Marriage will not erase your debt, make your cranky family member nicer, or get you a raise. Things work out because we work at them. Period.

Myth 3 – He loves me, so he should know what I want without me saying a word or communicating in any way.

TRUTH: No matter how much he loves you, he is not a mind reader. Neither are you. Use your words.

Michelle & Tony’s “To Love is to Listen” post is just about everything I would want to say on this topic. Finish reading this first, then read that one. Print out the pin and put it on your refrigerator. Yes, this one.

Myth 4 – Marriage will make me feel complete.

TRUTH: At best, marriage will make you more of who you are.

Marriage is a like an art studio, it’s a space to create your life. It is a relationship, not a mechanic. Marriage is not going to fix you because you are not broken.

The only person who can complete you is you. The gift in taking responsibility for your life and your choices is that you can make a different a choice at any moment and move towards love.

Myth 5 – She didn’t do x. He did y. It means he doesn’t love me. It means she doesn’t care.

TRUTH: We create meaning and we can re-create it.

If you don’t know what something means, ask. Don’t invent. Let me repeat that. If you don’t know what something means, ask. Don’t imagine terrible stories in your head, ask. Don’t make up stories about the past and the future, ask. Don’t cause yourself and your partner profound pain, ask. Got that? Good.

Myth 6 – If my wedding is perfect, my marriage will be perfect.

TRUTH: The purpose of the wedding is the marriage.

Spending 30 thousand dollars on flowers is not going to make your relationship any better; it is just going to buy you really expensive flowers. I so deeply love beautiful, soulful, joy-filled weddings, but it makes me sad when people think it must look perfect on the outside to be truly wonderful on the inside. That’s the biggest lie ever. It’s how you treat each other every day that matters. Every single day. Not one special day. Everyday.

Myth 7 – We know how to communicate, we don’t need to practice.

TRUTH – Good communication is learned by being intentional over time.

Learning to communicate clearly with empathy and practicing active listening is good for every single relationship in your life, especially your marriage. I should change this truth to say, “You think you know how to communicate, then you get married.” <insert winky face here>

Learn your spouse’s love language. Practice listening with love every day. Practice speaking with love every day. You don’t have to do it perfectly; all you have to do is practice. That’s enough. I promise.

 

Is there a modern marriage myth you have been hearing that you want to bust? Please share in the comments. Then go read “To Love is to Listen.” You can thank me later. 😉

 

Maggie-Reyes on #staymarriedMaggie Reyes is a Life Coach, Writer + the Founder of ModernMarried.com. Her romantic-yet-practical approach to wedded bliss has been featured on Project Happily Ever After, Daybreak USA, Cristina XMRadio, The Happy Wives Club and now the #staymarried Blog. Woo-hoo! When she’s not writing, working or creating pins for her fabulous Facebook Community, you can find her cuddling with her hubby, reading a romance novel or embracing how the words “over-achiever” and “TV Junkie” can still go in the same sentence, to describe the same person. Learn how to love like a newlywed no matter how long you have been married at www.ModernMarried.com.

 

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

Title photograph credit: http://www.jennieandrewsphoto.com/

“We need to talk.” Four Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions

Tony and I are quickly on our way to being a family of five with three kids under four years old. That last sentence might produce a mild heart attack for most people, but I have decided to focus all of my stress on just one factor instead of the many ways things are about to change… What are we going to drive?

Right now, our family car is our beloved Subaru Outback. It’s paid off – YIPPEE! – so we’ll keep it, but we need to trade in Tony’s Ford Bronco that we’ve had since before we got married for a larger, family-friendlier vehicle in which we can fit three car seats plus a massive stroller and all of the usual gear that goes along with toting kids. We are asking ourselves the same question many modern American families have asked themselves: Shall we, or shall we not, succumb to the minivan?

Tony says, “We shall not!”

I’m saying, “We shall!”

We haven’t made a move yet, so right now, we are at a bit of an impasse. The truth is, both of us are a lot closer to a middle than we are at complete odds. But still, it feels tense not to have made a decision and to be just a couple of weeks away from Baby #3’s arrival.

What do you do when you can’t make a decision?

I know we aren’t the first couple to not see eye-to-eye on what feels like such a big decision. A friend of mine recently emailed me asking if we had any resources for couples who couldn’t agree on when to start a family. The decision to have, or not to have, or when to have children is, by comparison, a much bigger decision than my first-world-problem. I don’t really have an answer for her. I have other friends who are stuck in gridlocked limbo over whether to have the husband’s elderly mother come and live with them or to take on the expense of moving her into an assisted living facility. Again, seems like a pretty big decision to disagree about. This is all grown-up stuff… the stuff I can’t believe we have to decide on our own… the stuff I feel too immature and ill-equipped to deal with. But, feeling like a kid doesn’t let me off the hook. Conversations must be had, decisions must be made, gridlock must be faced.

As I think about some of these big decisions, it feels like whoever is holding the “no” or “not yet” card seems to have the power. This can make the person holding the “yes” or “let’s do this” card feel disregarded and overlooked. Those feelings alone can make coming to agreement even more difficult than the actual issue. The thing about not coming to agreement on some of these bigger life issues is that it often means one person or the other has deeper dreams or longings that they feel are not being acknowledged. These are not “don’t fight over the butter” issues. They are deeply rooted heart issues and they need to be unearthed and paid attention to, not ignored and dismissed.

Dr. John Gottman says, in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work…

“The very nature of gridlock means that your dream and your spouse’s appear to be in opposition, so you’ve both become deeply entrenched in your positions and fear accepting each other’s influence and yielding.”

Is that where you are? Are you afraid to accept your partner’s influence? Do you think it will mean giving up entirely on something that is important to you, giving in when you really don’t want to? Are you digging in your heels because you are afraid that letting them have “their way” will cost you something greater than you are willing to pay? I get it. If you’re not ready to have kids yet, then you’re just not ready. If you don’t want your mother-in-law to come and live with you, compromising on that can make it so that you never want to spend time in your own home. You are holding on to your position for a reason, and it’s probably not a petty one.

In marriage, it is never 'having my way.' It is rather discovering 'our' way. - #staymarried Four Tips to Facing Impossible DecisionsWhat if it’s not about my way OR your way. What if there is a better way? Gary Chapman says, “In marriage it is never ‘having my way.’ It is rather discovering ‘our’ way.” Making this discovery won’t necessarily come easily. We all tend to assume that our ideas are the best ideas. What we fail to recognize is that our spouse has the same opinion of their ideas. Since this is true, getting through the impasse will require at least one of you to try to see the issue from your spouse’s perspective.

We need to talk. Or, do we?

Typically when something is on my mind, I’ll approach Tony and say, “We need to talk.” Now, I am aware that those words do not elicit positive and excited feelings in him. Even though he loves me and doesn’t hate talking things through with me, there is something about that phrase that can make his shoulders tense and create an automatic defensiveness. It has the same effect when he says, “we need to talk,” to me. I automatically assume I’m in trouble and I’m about to hear about it. I know it’s not the best way to start a conversation, but I’ve never known of another way to communicate that something is important to me and I need some undivided attention about it. Until now…

In thinking about my own minivan impasse, and not wanting to have a fight with Tony about it, I read something I thought was so simple, but so helpful, I was embarrassed I’d never thought of it before. Instead of approaching him and saying, “We need to talk,” Gary Chapman recommends a slightly different approach: “I’d like a chance to listen to you.” Chapman says that setting a time for listening is based on the concept of showing genuine respect for the other individual, giving them full freedom to think their own thoughts, have their own opinions, and have their own reasons for these opinions. It is expressing understanding and affirming that their ideas make sense. It takes away the adversarial atmosphere in resolving conflicts and creates an atmosphere of friendship.

Beginning with the desire to listen to Tony sets my own heart on a course of trying to understand him. In this case, I’d say, “Tony, I’d like a chance to listen to you. It seems like you really don’t want a minivan, and I’d really like to hear your ideas and understand more about it.”

I can only imagine how much better that conversation can go than the one that starts with, “We need to talk.” Then, what if I really did listen to him? We’ve already discovered how much more valued people feel when their loved one takes the time to listen and helping Tony feel valued is always my goal. We are partners, even when we disagree, and I don’t want to be his adversary. Also, I imagine that if I really engage in listening to him and taking in his perspective, how much more inclined he’ll be to want to listen to my opinions, too. I don’t think we’ll come to complete agreement in one conversation, but I am also learning that complete agreement isn’t necessarily the goal.

They work it out as a team - #staymarried Four Tips to Facing Impossible DecisionsAbout getting through these tough problems, Dr. John Gottman says, “The goal in ending gridlock is not to solve the problem, but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue…” Ignoring an issue or choosing apathy when you cannot agree will not bring you and your partner closer together. Instead, it’s important to understand that the root of these impossible decisions could be a dream or longing that your spouse feels is being overlooked. Gottman also says that, “In a happy marriage, neither spouse insists or attempts to manipulate the other into giving up their dream. They work it out as a team. They fully take into account each other’s wishes and desires.” Are you willing to do that? If so, we’ve made a short list of things to think about when you are facing these big disagreements.

Four Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions

1. Set a time to listen

Practice asking for a time to listen instead of saying, “We need to talk.” Then, really listen. Ask clarifying questions. Stop yourself from condescending remarks that only reveal that you believe your opinion is truly “better” than theirs.

2. Decide where you can be flexible

Again, because you both believe your perspective to be valid, decide what areas of the big decision you can be flexible with. Maybe it’s with the timing. Do you need to agree right now? Maybe you can be flexible in some other area. Be open with that.

3. Choose understanding over deciding

Often these decisions are so heavy that the solution is not going to come from just one conversation. Make understanding and honoring each other your goal. If the decision feels pressing, set a time to come together after you both have had some time to think about the other’s perspective to try to make a decision together.

4. Show gratitude

Whatever decision you come to, or if you don’t come to one at all, it is vital that both of you feel heard and acknowledged. Thank your spouse for entering into the gridlocked situation with you, for pushing through the tension, and for showing love and respect by acknowledging your differences in opinion.

I really have no idea what Tony and I will be driving when this new little one arrives. I can’t stand this feeling of being in limbo and not having a plan. Still, I love my husband and I know he is reasonable and wants nothing more than to take care of his family. I can trust that whatever we do, we will do it as a team. When you are making your own impossible decisions, remember to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, to listen to where they may be coming from, practice being flexible and #staymarried.

 

P.S. I don’t know why this video hasn’t just shut the whole discussion down…

 

If you liked this post, you may also like to read Same Team and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting. 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

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

To Love is To Listen

Candy Crush vs. The Midwife: Are our cell phones ruining our ability to listen?

To Love Is To Listen - a #staymarried blog for couplesTony recently took the morning off of work to come with me to a check up with our midwives. This is our third time being pregnant, so it’s quite a luxury to go to an appointment like this without our girls in tow. It was a fun morning getting to see our sweet baby on the ultrasound, to learn that we’re having another girl, to find out all of the amazing stats about her growth. One of the things that we like about our midwives’ office is that we hardly ever have to wait for anything. It’s so wonderful and new to us that we still expect to wait a long time and we are sometimes caught off guard when they see us right away.

Prepared to wait in the exam room, we both pulled out our phones to play Candy Crush. I mean, that’s what you would do, right? When our midwife came in to see us, I put my phone away and got onto the exam table, ready to hear the baby’s heartbeat. She realized she didn’t have the heartbeat monitor in the room and stepped out for about 30 seconds to grab one. When she came back in, Tony was still playing his game. We listened to the heartbeat, I got teary-eyed, she gave us some advice and answered a few of my questions about pregnancy. We both looked over at Tony and there he was nodding, eyes still locked on his phone. Our midwife looked back at me with such pity on her face. I’m sure she was thinking, “You poor girl. He doesn’t really want to be here, does he?”

When she walked out, I started laughing and said to Tony, “Honey, you were staring at your phone the entire time she was talking to us!”

“No!” he said, “I was totally listening! I just had this one level to finish. I thought I could wrap it up, but I swear I was listening. Crap, she probably thinks I’m a jerk!”

“Yep, she probably does.”

It was easy for me to laugh because I know Tony very well, and I know he was listening with his ears and taking in the information. I also know that he is usually really courteous when people are talking to him. But, my knowledge of his character did not help his impression on the midwife at this appointment. Why is that? Because when people are really listening, there are certain behaviors and postures that help us have confidence that they are engaged. Tony felt like he was listening because he could hear her. She likely did not believe it because he was not looking at her and didn’t respond verbally to anything she said. He was a little regretful, but neither of us were devastated. We just chalked it up to a funny little learning experience. But, when this kind of thing happens in our most important relationship, in our marriage, it can be incredibly hurtful.

The convenience of technology, the advantages of being connected at all times through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texting, and even email (for those who still use it), actually seems to be making it harder to engage with each other instead of easier. Our attention spans are getting shorter because of this rapid fire type of sending out and receiving mass amounts of information. I don’t even read all of the tweets in my feed. I scan them, because apparently I cannot waste my time on the mere 140 characters or less that the author put forth. I hate to admit that it takes a lot of self-control for me to put my phone down, and not just in my pocket, but on the counter in the kitchen, when we sit to have dinner together as a family. Tony doesn’t seem as attached to all of this communication as I am, which just makes it easier for me to see that he doesn’t appreciate me constantly checking my phone.

But, we see this all the time, don’t we? There seems to be this need to constantly post what we are thinking, where we are eating, that gorgeous sunset we are looking at, so that everyone can partake in the grand adventure that exists inside our minds. Everyone, that is, except the people sitting right in front of us. This is where I am most guilty.

To Love Is To Listen - a #staymarried blog for couplesNow and then, Tony and I will take the girls to a park and all of us will be having a blast. My girls are adorable, so obviously they’ll do something cute and I’ll want to capture it with the camera on my phone. Well, it was way too wonderful for me to keep it to myself, so now I need to post that once in a lifetime picture to Instagram, which of course is connected to both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. But, heaven forbid I simply post without cropping and editing and adding a filter to the picture so that it truly highlights the moment. Before I know it, I’ve been staring at my phone for five full minutes just so I can post something that took two seconds to occur. Now my husband and my kids feel fully ignored instead of honored that I wanted to brag on social media about how wonderful they all are. I was living in the moment and present with my family for a little while, and now I am somewhere else entirely. I can’t hear their laughter, I’m not listening to the 10 new words Nora just learned, and I have to ask Tony to repeat himself because I was completely engaged with my phone even though he is standing right next to me.

According to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, I’m not the only one hooked to my phone.

To Love Is To Listen - Tweet from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on #staymarried blog

YIKES! I don’t know if that’s true, but there is a definite problem if a game of Candy Crush has become more entertaining than sex with our partner. Are we losing the thrill of personal moments because we fear we might be missing out on something happening right this minute in our cyber community? We are becoming people who are physically present, but mentally elsewhere and we’re missing out on listening to and learning from the people that are in arm’s reach.

To Love is To Listen

The first duty of love is to listen - #staymarried blog for couplesDavid Augsberger said that “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” Great conversationalists know this very well. All you have to do is ask one or two pretty good questions and then let the person in front of you talk. Look at them, ask them to share more about it, and they’ll walk away believing the two of you have really connected even if you didn’t share much about yourself. People long to be heard. We crave to know that what is inside of us is worth knowing and that someone out there wants to draw it out. I know I do.

I lean toward being an introvert and part of that, for me, means that I don’t want to talk unless I’m really sure someone is listening. For the most part, I don’t believe people are listening, and I’ve even come up with a little trick to prove it. Sometimes someone will ask me a question and I’ll begin to share a story. If I have a sense that they aren’t truly listening, I’ll stop sharing mid sentence. I might pause for a second or two, and then ask them a question or change the subject entirely. Most of the time, people won’t even notice that I didn’t finish what I was saying – they weren’t listening. You know who nearly always catches me in my trickery? My husband. He’s listening. When he doesn’t catch me, I use it as an indicator that this really isn’t a good time to talk. He’s distracted, so I might revisit the story another time.

I’m not suggesting you try my little trick for yourself. It’s sort of manipulative and passive-aggressive of me. But, it has helped me to see that it’s true, people have short attention spans and listening is hard. It requires patience and practice and most of us just aren’t skilled at it. But, could we be? Could we detach ourselves from our smart phones and laptops long enough to try? If what David Augsberger said is true, wouldn’t it be essential to showing love in our marriage if we practiced and became more present and better listeners? I think it’s worth a try. Today we’re sharing just four quick tips you can incorporate today in your marriage, or with anyone at all, to become a better listener.

4 Tips to Becoming a Better Listener

1. Put down your phone.

Go ahead, put it down. Maybe you can even decide together to leave your phones in another room during dinner or when you are out on a date. Become aware of how often you instinctively reach for it and stop yourself. I’ve even heard of people that give their phones a daily curfew so that both husband and wife put their phones away by 7pm.

2. Stop talking and take a look.

When someone does start to talk to you, whenever possible, look at them and stop talking. I’ve been guilty of being an interrupting listener. I used to think that was how conversation went – we’re both talking and listening at the same time, I’m relating with you – but that’s not true. Having someone interrupt you, even if they think they are only finishing your thought, can be frustrating. It’s also really obvious to people when you are just waiting for your turn to talk. With your mouth closed and eyes open, try to just listen.

3. Listen for understanding.

You do not have to agree with what you hear, or even believe it, to listen with the goal of understanding the person in front of you. If you don’t understand what someone is saying, ask for clarification. This can actually help them really believe they are truly being listened to.

4. Be patient and slow down your response time.

Allow a breath or two before you respond to what is being said to you. Give yourself time to really take in what the other person is saying and consider if what you are about to say acknowledges them, or merely makes your own point and doesn’t take their thoughts into consideration. When someone is sharing, they aren’t always looking for an answer or advice from you. Sometimes they are just sharing to reveal something of themselves.

We practice the things we want to become better at – public speaking, photography, cooking, coding web pages, putting on makeup. Listening is something most people believe they already are good at, so often it is not something we think we need to practice. It is much easier to identify if someone is not listening to us than it is to admit that we are not really giving our own undivided attention. This week, take responsibility to connect with your love through focused listening. Become aware of the things that distract you. Close your game of Candy Crush, leave your phone in another room. You may be surprised at what you learn about the one you love, how much more loved they will feel, and how much more they’ll want to #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read Why I Date My Wife, a post where Tony shares some great questions to get conversations started with your spouse. 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

Recovering from Infidelity

Though Tony and I have known Carl and Katie for years, and they even participated in our #staymarried group last fall, we didn’t really know everything. Sitting in church one Sunday morning, we were stunned to learn that their beautiful marriage had been shaken by pornography and infidelity. Please take the next seven minutes to watch their story. Though painfully honest, it is full of hope.

Carl & Katie from EastLake Community Church Media on Vimeo.

As we’ve been tackling the subjects of pornography and infidelity, and one of the goals of the #staymarried blog is to offer hope, we wanted you to hear from this beautiful couple about just how they are rebuilding trust in their marriage even after, as Katie put it, her line in the sand had been crossed.

 

Carl & Katie’s Story

Part 1: The Fallout

<Katie> The days and weeks after my husband’s full disclosure of the affairs were a blur to me. I went through the motions of life, barely. We had both started seeing separate counselors a few months prior when the first of my husband’s porn addiction became a reality. As all the books and therapists say, “disclosures” sometimes trickle in. I didn’t believe that would happen with us, but I was wrong. My counselor recommended that I request that he take a lie detector test as a part of the recovery. Though I stalled on asking Carl to take one, I had to admit to myself that I didn’t trust him anymore and that I needed to know that there weren’t any more secrets.  It took three months of counseling, and finally my request for the lie detector test, before everything was all out and on the table. My husband had been with someone else.

You can get a lot of advice in times like these. I had only a few close friends that I trusted with this information in the aftermath. I knew my emotions were fragile and I didn’t want other people’s words or emotions to overly influence what I did or how I felt about my husband.

Recovering from Infidelity - a real couple's story on the #staymarried blogMy therapist suggested that I not make any decisions about what I was going to do in my marriage for at least a year. I needed to allow time for my emotions to settle and she said, “What could it hurt? You need to heal yourself first anyway, even if you do decide to leave in the end.”  Despite my hurt, I couldn’t imagine a life without Carl and without our party of five together. I was scared. I hoped that I could get beyond it and I hoped that Carl could too. I knew if he didn’t change, I had to be done.

 <Carl> The first part of our marriage recovery on my end was for me to figure out the entirety of this sexual addiction problem. The repercussions it had on my marriage were clear, but I needed to determine what caused me to act out in this way. I basically needed to understand what was messed up with me before my marriage could be fully repaired. For me, this meant seeking out professional counselors that specifically dealt with this problem and group counseling with other guys going through their own battles of sexual addiction. I think Katie saw me do the work necessary to unravel this mess, and as I learned more about the core of my issues, these insights were permeating into the marriage recovery.

<Katie> In the months that followed, I spent a lot of time in my therapist’s office. I talked through things on my morning runs with a close friend. I read lots of books on marriage, some specific to sexual addictions and affairs. I even went to a few recovery groups, which I wasn’t crazy about, but I know I learned through them and I was around people, some my own age, going through the same thing I was.

I definitely worked through all the stages of grief. When I got to the anger stage, I scared myself because I began to think I might stay there and never get through it. I learned that in order to work through the pain, you actually have to go right through the middle of it where it hurts the most. Otherwise, you go around the outside and you think you’re better, but years later, it’s a problem. My anger stage lasted a few months. I was not a very nice person to be around during those months.

I was traveling for work a lot during this year. Looking back, this was undeniably something God designed. It gave me the opportunity to get away from life, and even though I was working, I had a lot of time to think and pray and read. It was on one of these trips that I finished a marriage book, Intimate Allies, that had a huge impact on my marriage and where we are today. I came home and I felt like I was ready to commit. I had seen Carl working through his therapy and emotions and getting to the root of his problem. I saw him treating me differently. I saw him never lash out or get mad at me when I was working through my anger and said things and accused him. I knew deep down that this addiction, this affair, this horrible problem wasn’t the man he was. He loved me and he loved our family. This was a nasty sin that had taken hold of him and that takes hold of too many men and women in our society.

 

Part 2: Rebuilding Trust

 <Carl> Rebuilding trust has been an ongoing process that I constantly need to remind myself of. I spent most of my life hiding the sexual sin in my life, so obviously the number one key to regaining the trust that had been lost was for me to be open and honest about everything. That was sometimes easier said than done since hiding stuff and even lying just to avoid any confrontation had been pretty natural for me to do over the years. The lying and hiding parts are the easier ones to identify and not do, but openly communicating about everything is still hard. I don’t always remember to share the details with Katie when they seem unimportant to me.

Being fully honest seems like an obvious part of rebuilding trust, but I realized there was much more to it. I had to drop my defensiveness about any accusation, even if there seemed like no reason for it. That idea was much easier for me right after I’d fully confessed, but even a couple of years later I see how important it still is. I know that if she asks what I was doing on my cell phone to just immediately tell her and hand her my phone if she wants to verify, even if I was just checking my fantasy football team. I have to constantly remind myself that I have spent a lot of years being dishonest with Katie, so I need to allow her to have moments of mistrust. Over the last year, those moments are less frequent, especially when I am communicating with her. When I fail to communicate and connect, those are the moments when I give her reason to not trust.

 <Katie> Forgiving Carl was a choice. At first I thought it would just happen, I’d wake up one day and realize I didn’t hurt anymore and I’d forgiven Carl. It doesn’t work that way, at least it didn’t for me. I planned a weekend away for Carl and I to talk about what had happened one last time. I had an opportunity to ask any more questions that I needed answers to. He had the opportunity to do the same. Then, in a very dramatic fashion, I ripped up his initial disclosure letter, the one he had written in therapy. We prayed about it together and from that point, we moved forward. I chose to forgive him for the past and start from that point. This took a choice and a sacrifice on my part. The pain was still there, but sometimes one person has to absorb the pain in order to move forward with forgiveness. Even as I write this, I am crying thinking about that time in our life. I cherish where we are today, and I know it could have gone a different way. I am so thankful for my marriage and my children.

There have and continue to be hiccups in our marriage. Now it’s more of the everyday marriage stuff that we have to work through. I honestly don’t know if trust is ever fully rebuilt, because I don’t think I am there yet. I hope it is, but in the end, I trust Jesus and I know I am being faithful to Him in this and He will be faithful to us. We have checks and balances in place today that weren’t there a few years ago. We are much more conscious of our communication. It doesn’t take much for me to start to worry if I feel like Carl is not being clear in his communication with me. We set clear expectations for each other when we’re in certain environments. Some things are just going to be different for us, but we’re working on it. There was a verse from the Bible that I’d written down when we were in the worst of it, and it’s something that still comforts me today:

2 Corinthians 4:16 from Recovering from Infidelity - a real couple's story on the #staymarried blog

 <Carl> This has been the most difficult yet best couple of years of our marriage. There are still a lot of times where I could be a better husband to my wife. The difference now is that I want to be that better husband and I have the right tools in hand because of the counseling and recovery process I am going through. I have a much clearer idea now of what I need to do. Katie is an amazing wife and mom, and she is worth every ounce of me giving her the best of me.

We were really lost for a long time, not sure what to do or where to turn. If you are working on recovering from the effects of infidelity and porn in your own marriage, we’ve put together a list of things that have been helping us in our journey…

8 Tools to Recover from Infidelity

1. Get Counseling

It was important for us not only to find a Christian counselor, but one that specializes in sex addiction. Through our past experience, we really noticed a difference between counselors that specialize in sex addiction and those that don’t. We also recommend, from our experience, each spouse having their own counselors. We spent a lot of money on this, but it’s cheaper than a divorce and highly effective for recovery.

2. Communicate Openly

This one is harder to remember to do, but it’s important that I (Carl) talk to Katie about what is going on and offer information even if she doesn’t ask. I try to share what my day has been like, who I’m working with, and what I might be struggling with.

3. Drop the Defensiveness

Even a couple of years after everything happened, there are still times when I’ll be asked a question that I think has no basis. It doesn’t matter. How I respond to my wife, especially after the trust has been broken, is what really counts. If I respond defensively, I am building up a wall between us. If I respond calmly and openly, it helps my wife to trust me and together we are building a bridge back to each other.

4. Get Accountable

It has been essential for us to have accountability software on all media outlets, phones, computers, iPads, etc. If you travel for work, create a travel plan that details everything you are doing and when you will check in with your spouse. I also have a group of friends that hold me accountable by checking in weekly, whether by phone or in person. A certified sex counselor also has resources for accountability therapy groups; I (Carl) participated one of these for over a year.

5. Avoid Triggers

Check movie/TV ratings, even if it’s PG-13, and avoid anything that is sexual. We also censor the magazines that we allow in our house, which pretty much means none. At the very beginning of our discovery, we did a media blackout for a period of time. Carl went off Facebook and we got rid of cable. It’s also been important for us to avoid or limit alcohol, especially in a setting that we will be without each other.

6. Date Again

Damage was done and your spouse needs to see you make an effort to date again. Make plans, find a sitter, work it into the calendar and the budget. Call your wife and pursue her, like you did when you were dating. It doesn’t always need to be a five-star date, but spending time together intentionally has really helped us rebuild our love for each other.

7. Participate in Maintenance Counseling

I (Katie) was released from counseling earlier than Carl.  He attended weekly group therapy sessions and individual counseling for over a year before he was released.  You can talk with your counselor about how often you should participate in maintenance counseling or you can decide with your spouse when you’d like to do this. A maintenance counseling session mainly serves as a check-in for both of us. This is a session that can be done individually or as a couple. We prefer to go as a couple. Writing this post for #staymarried reminded Carl and I that we needed to schedule a maintenance counseling session, so we got an appointment on the books. We love counseling and can’t say enough good things about it

8. Extend Grace

There will be bumps in the road; it’s okay. This recovery is a process, which means it can take a long time to be fully recovered. We know we aren’t there yet, we still make mistakes that bring up old hurts. Extend grace to each other and practice forgiving regularly.

Recovering from Infidelity - a real couple's story on the #staymarried blog

We want to thank Carl and Katie for their vulnerability in sharing their story. Exploring the dark topics of infidelity, pornography, forgiveness, and healing have been tough for Tony and I in these last few weeks. Still, we continue to have hope that couples can work through the dark stuff of life and marriage and be able to receive all that marriage has to offer when they see healing and wholeness on the other side like Carl and Katie have. We hope their story was as encouraging to you as it has been to us as we fight to #staymarried.

 

P.S. You are reading Recovering from Infidelity, as part of a #staymarried series on infidelity, pornography, and forgiveness.  If you missed the other installments, 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity, or Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross, you might want to check them out. If you want to read more about safeguarding your marriage, you may also like Five Trust Building Boundaries.

If you feel like this story could be helpful to someone else in their marriage, please consider sharing. Thanks for reading!

~Tony and Michelle

5 Ways To Prevent Infidelity

5 Ways To Prevent Infidelity - a #staymarried blog Mad Men is one of my favorite shows to watch. The style is gorgeous. The stories are intriguing. The glimpse into history and culture– how many things have changed and how very many things have not– is fascinating. I’m always about a season behind, but clearly I am not the only one that enjoys it. The show has won multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and has been nominated for countless other awards. With its many plot twists and turns, I find myself surprised with the one element that seems constant – infidelity.

This shouldn’t surprise me. Unfaithfulness has been a theme of the show since the first episode I can remember seeing. Still, for whatever naivete I carry with me, I am shocked every single time someone cheats on their spouse on this show. Every time the plot inches toward infidelity, I hold out hope that they won’t actually go through with it, and I am always disappointed. You might wonder, as some of my good friends do, why I still watch since this doesn’t seem to be going away. I suppose I consider it fiction, and I can walk away and say to myself, “That’s not real life. It doesn’t happen like that. At least, it doesn’t happen like that anymore,” and I am consoled. Recently, however, I was slapped in the face with a reminder from some friends of the reality that it does indeed happen. Infidelity happens all the time. Now the shock that I justify away as fiction has turned into heartache.

I read an article about an online dating site that currently boasts over 18 million anonymous members. They are “anonymous” because this site is not designed for people looking for their perfect soul-mate like our friends Emily and Jason. Instead, it caters to those who are already married or in committed relationships and looking to cheat! Their tagline: “Life is short. Have an affair.” draws users in to discover others who are interested in “discreet encounters.” Not only is this site growing daily, but they are actively pursuing ways to make cheating easier for their users by developing an app for your phone. The app allows users to chat with their lover via disposable phone numbers and even features a “panic button” which shuts down the app and immediately switches it over to a family friendly website. I wanted to cry as I read about this site. I thought I might throw up as I discovered that the site sees a huge spike in female sign ups the day after Mother’s Day – 439% increase! What is going on here?

If you’re wondering why I haven’t listed the name or linked to the research or website as I normally would, it’s that I simply do not want to drive up their traffic. I am still just so taken aback that infidelity could be such a lucrative business.5 Ways To Prevent Infidelity - a #staymarried blog Are we really still living in the days of Don Draper and Roger Sterling? Are so many of us choosing to look outside of our marriage for relational and sexual fulfillment, instead of looking inward at ourselves and our spouses? Have we not learned the devastating effects that infidelity has, not only on the spouse who gets cheated on, but the cheater themselves and of course their children? Maybe we haven’t.

Maybe Chris Rock was onto something when he said, “A man is basically as faithful as his options.” Various research reveals that aside from emotional disconnect, the biggest reason for infidelity is the various opportunities that present themselves, plain and simple. Those opportunities, apparently, don’t even need to wait until after the honeymoon as I read on the Huffington Post. As devastating and appalling as all of this may be, I do realize that it’s not those people who are being unfaithful. Those people are no different from any one of us. The more I think about it and recount the stories of those I know, I realize that we really all fall into one of two camps: preventing infidelity or recovering from infidelity.

Affair Proofing

I remember a good friend of mine hosting a women’s book club around the time I first got married. I was interested, but I ended up not joining them because, while the title of the book His Needs, Her Needs seemed practical enough, the subtitle really offended me: “Building an affair-proof marriage.”

Sheesh! I thought. We are not all in danger of affairs! I don’t need to read such a paranoid and depressing book.

I’ve since changed my tune. I’ve read the book and found author Willard Harley’s material so insightful that we feature it as one of the resources here at #staymarried. That newly-wed notion that infidelity simply couldn’t happen to me has been shattered over and over again as I watch my friends go through the pain of separation, divorce, or intensive counseling to recover from one or both of them straying from their marriage. It is no longer fiction set in the 1960’s that I can just turn off at the end of the night. It is real life, these are real men and women, with real children, suffering the consequences of extramarital affairs.

Now I feel fortunate instead of paranoid to be in the “Preventing Infidelity” camp. Tony and I take it seriously, and he even outlined some of the proactive and practical ways we keep ourselves out of trouble in his post, “Five Trust Building Boundaries.” While I hope never to cross the line into the other camp, I know many of you are there right now. Infidelity has been listed as the leading cause of divorce, but we don’t believe it is the only cause. Tony and I are sure that there are signs of disconnect that can be found in a marriage long before the cheating has occurred.

How Cheating Happens

In Dr. John Gottman’s latest book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, he calls it “The Cheater’s Cascade.”

Gottman's What Makes Love Last? on 5 Ways To Prevent Infidelity - a #staymarried blog First, he says, is secret keeping.

The next step is building up emotional walls with your spouse and choosing to confide in a person outside of your marriage instead.

After finding this person to confide in, the potential cheater begins to trash their partner and their relationship to them.

Then, whether warranted or not, the potential cheater considers their partner untrustworthy.

Finally, he or she is primed for a sexual relationship outside of their marriage.

Gottman notes that over a long period of time, people give themselves permission to cross small boundaries and this behavior cascades into that final betrayal. Trust is broken, confidence shattered, and even if a couple decides to take the road of recovery instead of divorce, there can be a lingering paranoia that is crippling. You may wonder if it is even possible to recover at all. We believe it is possible, and next week we’ll be sharing more about that. But for today, we thought we’d focus on prevention. Here are some of the things we are doing to prevent infidelity…

5 Ways To Prevent Infidelity

1. Keep Having Sex

Anyone who’s had sex knows that, no matter what other people say, it is not just physical. For men at least, it is the most crucial way for them to connect and maintain a sense of intimacy. It’s true that most women need to feel loved before they want sex. But, most men feel loved because they’ve had sex. A regular sex life is a vital part of a healthy marriage, and we’ve said before, it would be hard for us to believe that a couple ends up telling a divorce lawyer that the reason for the split was that they were having sex too often.

2. Guard Your Time

Tony and I have decided not to spend time with people if we know they are unfaithful to their spouse, no matter how long we may have been friends with them before. This decision is not about judging them – though we hope they’ll make better choices. It’s about not allowing that kind of thinking to influence our own behavior. We also do not spend time alone with anyone of the opposite sex. At all. Ever. I’ve gone so far as to wait to return my “brother’s” phone call until my husband is home and within earshot. Especially since he’s not actually my brother, but my oldest friend whose family cared for me and took me in during high school. It’s not that Tony doesn’t trust me, or my friend, it is simply about setting a precedent that none of us have anything to hide.

3. Make Meaningful Connections

Besides sex, and the time we spend with others, it’s important to make meaningful and non-sexual connections with each other. Quality time looks different for each of us, so Tony and I try to think of how each other feels when we know we need that time. I love date nights, time away from our kids, sitting across a table, or taking a walk and talking. Tony enjoys that too, but he also loves watching movies, sharing a late night snack, and just having me by his side on the couch without my smart phone in my hand. Regardless of how busy our lives are, it’s important that we make time for these connections as often as possible.

4. No Keeping Secrets

As Gottman mentioned in the “Cheaters Cascade,” one of the first steps toward infidelity can be confiding in someone outside of your marriage. For that very reason, Tony and I make sure not to have any secrets from each other. There is nothing that I tell even my very best girlfriends, let alone a guy friend, that I don’t tell Tony. Fortunately, my friends know me so well that if I’m sharing a frustration or hurt with them about my marriage, they always ask me if I’ve talked with Tony about it and challenge me gently to present it to him.

5. Have an Open Book Life

Along with #4, one of the ways we avoid keeping secrets is by having an open book policy with each other. We have access to each other’s email accounts, calendars, and social media passwords. We can, and do, log onto each other’s accounts regularly, mainly to help each other – “Honey, can you find this email for me?” – which keeps us in the habit of having nothing to hide.

5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity - a #staymarried blog

Building trust with each other, valuing each other, making time with each other, and avoiding secrets are just some of the many ways we take our marriage seriously. When I think about the characters of Don Draper, Roger Sterling, and the many other men and women on Mad Men, I can hardly recount an instance where any of them are sincerely making these meaningful connections and building trust. In fact, they seem to try their best to do the opposite of everything I’ve listed above, essentially pursuing lives of infidelity rather than guarding themselves from it. I can only imagine it may be just these types of characters as real people who jump started the “Hey, I’d like to cheat on my wife” website I mentioned earlier in the first place.

Neither Tony nor I want to look back on our lives and find that we’ve broken each other’s hearts and our family by breaking small boundaries. All of the boundaries matter. So, we’ll stick to building trust, we’ll avoid betrayal, and we’ll #staymarried.

P.S. You are reading 5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity, as part of a #staymarried series on infidelity, pornography, and forgiveness.  If you missed the first part, 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver, you might want to check that out. If you want to read more about safeguarding your marriage, you may also like Five Trust Building Boundaries.
Thanks for stopping by!
~Michelle

 

7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couplesMost married people have figured out that being married is not being in a relationship that is constantly fulfilling, exciting, romantic, and fun. A lot of married life is offending each other, frustrating each other, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. I shared several months ago that I’m not so good at apologizing. It turns out, I still have a lot to learn about the art of forgiveness also. For instance, here is a real text conversation between my husband and I…

Tony: I’ll be working late tonight.

Me: You’re not serious. I have that party I’m co-hosting tonight. I need to be there no later than 6pm.

Tony: Remembering now. No problem. I’ll be home by five.

Tony: Sorry.

Tony: I probably should have checked with you instead of informing you.

Me: … deflating…

That text interaction took a total of 2 minutes, but his initial text to me that he’d be working late sent my mind on overload.

I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He might actually be joking since he knows I have plans tonight. If he’s not joking… how could he just now be telling me? He took the car today. We never talked about it. Now I’ll be stranded at home with the kids and no car? Why didn’t he talk with me about this sooner? I know his job is important. I hate feeling so petty.

… and then I received his response that he’d be home on time.

I wonder if other people get as worked up in such a short time as I can? The problem, if it even was a problem, was fixed immediately. Still, my back and my shoulders had become tense with frustration, I felt unimportant and mad that he hadn’t thought about me. I was so unnerved that there was a part of me that wanted to make it a bigger deal than it really was. He, I’m sure, was over it as soon as it happened. My text letting him know I was “deflating” was my way of telling him that I was not over it, but I was on my way there. I want to be a good forgiver. This case should have been open and shut, but I needed a few more minutes than that. What is that about?

What makes it even harder for me to move beyond these teeny tiny little offenses more quickly is that Tony seems to be really good at it. If I had done the same thing to him, forgotten about something he needed to do, he would have forgiven me instantly. Why does he have to be so good at that? It just highlights how bad I am at it. He is either truly moving on, or he’s mad and he’s just not telling me. He always seems to be first to extend the olive branch.

The expression “to extend an olive branch” means to make an offer of peace or reconciliation. According to WiseGeek, this phrase has Biblical origins, coming from the section of the Old Testament that deals with the flood; the sign that the flood is over is an olive branch brought back to the ark by a dove. Olive trees take years to mature, and war is typically very hard on olives because people cannot take the time to nurture them and plant new trees. Therefore, the offer of an olive branch would suggest that someone is tired of war.

Tony is always tired of war. Sometimes his olive branch looks like a freshly brewed cup of coffee, sometimes a hug and kiss, sometimes just a reach for my hand. He is a good forgiver, and I am trying to learn to be one, too.

What does it mean to be a good forgiver?

Forgiveness at its core is to cancel a debt. The reason we struggle is that we all have this sense when we’ve been offended that we are owed something by the offender. Maybe we are owed an apology. Maybe we are owed something more tangible like a new pair of shoes since he accidentally threw away the pair you just bought, box and all, as he was straightening up the house. (Yes, this really happened.) When we forgive someone, we are telling them and ourselves that they no longer owe us anything at all. The debt is cancelled.

This doesn’t seem like the right thing to do because, well, if we are owed something, shouldn’t we be paid? Wouldn’t that be fair?

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couplesThe trouble is that when we are hurt or offended, it’s not likely that any sort of payment or apology will really cover the debt we feel we are owed emotionally. The level of frustration can feel so great on the inside that even if we are “compensated,” we still have to choose to forgive before we are relieved of it. When we forgive, we take the responsibility away from someone else to fix how we feel.

A stubborn forgiver.

The reality for me is that I didn’t have any kind of grasp on forgiveness until I became a Christian and decided to find out what the Bible had to say about it. I was raised by a stubborn grudge-holder who taught me things like, “Never let a person see you cry when they’ve hurt you. If you do, they win.” I can appreciate, as a single mom, that she had to figure out some self-preservation methods. Holding grudges kept hurtful people out of her life and, consequently, out of ours. Still, I saw over time how isolating that mentality was. She never forgave my father, so I never knew him. If somebody crossed her even once, it seemed like there was no chance for reconciliation. I didn’t always think that was such a bad thing. That is, until I was confronted with my own stubbornness and unforgiveness.

Deciding to put my faith in Jesus meant, first and foremost, that I was a forgiven person. Forgiven for things I knew I needed to be forgiven for and even for things I was unaware of. Forgiven completely- no debt, no interest payments. If you’ve ever been forgiven for anything big – let off the hook for a car accident that was your fault, not fired even though you were caught stealing money, forgiven by your best friend for sleeping with her boyfriend – then you might have a small sense of the relief I felt. I was keenly aware that I was not owed forgiveness, and the truth that I received it anyway was overwhelming. It still is. However, the truth that followed was not such a relief.

As I grew in my faith, it was explained to me that as a forgiven person, it was now my responsibility to forgive others. Sounds like a simple concept, but I had a really hard time trying to live that out. I had grown accustomed to living in my stubbornness. I began to believe that it was wise and protective of me to remember the times I’d been hurt and offended and not to allow those things to happen again. I had a serious misunderstanding of forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is cancelling a debt. Forgiveness is not, however, putting yourself back in a situation to be harmed in the same way. Forgiveness does not mean condoning someone else’s awful behavior. It does not mean that the way that they’ve hurt you is “ok.” If your wife is unfaithful to you, and you choose to forgive her, it does not mean that you then give her your blessing to continue in an affair. You forgive what she has done and now you have work to do to move toward healing and restoring the trust that has been broken in your relationship.

In my case, with the text-message exchange, what did I even need to forgive? That Tony forgot I had someplace to be? That he was making plans and informing me so late in the game? Simple, petty things. Things that are easy to forgive. I did forgive him, it wasn’t that hard. But we hurt, offend, and overlook each other all the time. Forgiveness is not a one time occurrence. If we want to be happily and healthily married, forgiveness needs to be a routine behavior of ours. How does this happen? I have a few suggestions:

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couples

If a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers, as Ruth Bell Graham so famously said, then it’s something we can all put effort into getting better at. Practice forgiving the little things, brace yourself to forgive the bigger things, extend many olive branches, and #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like I Hate Apologizing and No Yelling… And 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.
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

No Yelling… And 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting

No Yelling - And Other Rules for Fighting FairWelp, we had a fight on Sunday. We fought in the car after church, in front of the girls, about disciplining our children. It didn’t last long, mainly because he had to get out of the car to go back to church to volunteer. Oh, and please ask me how much I love telling you that we fight with each other AND we volunteer at church in the SAME DAY! I don’t love it, but it’s the reality of our marriage, and I’ll make a safe bet you’ve had fights at some pretty inopportune times yourselves.

I will never forget my first fight with Tony. Ok, that’s not true. I don’t remember it at all. I don’t remember how it started or what we fought about, and that is probably true of 90% of the fights we’ve had since then. What I do remember is how I felt.

We’d only been dating a few months and, of course, I was madly in love. As we argued and yelled at each other in his truck on our way to spend time with some friends, I remember feeling so shocked and hurt that we were actually fighting. I didn’t hear a word he said. I’m sure he wasn’t hearing me. I kept thinking, “Is this how he fought in his last relationship? I hate this!”

Tony had dated his previous girlfriend for ten years. Yes, you read that correctly. They got together when they were just 16 years old and stayed together until they were 26. Most people, including their families, even including myself, thought they would get married. In ten years of being with someone, I was sure they had developed their routines, their own expectations of one another, and their very own way of fighting. I thought about that as we unleashed on each other that night. I thought also about my own 3 year off-again, on-again relationship pre-Tony and the habits of fighting I’d been in with my own ex-boyfriend.

I didn’t want to fight with Tony. Even more, I was sure I didn’t want to fight like this. I didn’t want us to treat each other the way we had treated our exes. I wanted something new, something healthy with this man I was falling in love with. We calmed down eventually and held each other and agreed that fighting with each other was awful. However insightful, I didn’t want to experience that again. We kissed and agreed on just one thing: No yelling.

10 Rules for Fair Fighting - a #staymarried blog for couples

That was it. That was how it started. We talked that night about how yelling was so disrespectful. We talked about how neither of us liked being yelled at. We agreed that yelling was simply unkind, and furthermore, unproductive. We agreed that if we could avoid it, avoid yelling at each other, we could have better fights. I loved that even early on, we knew that fighting was inevitable. Neither of us were trying to avoid getting into disagreements, but we were both so wounded by the fight we’d just had and overtaken by our love for one another, that we didn’t want to have that same experience again.

Now, based on our “No Yelling” rule, you might think we fight like communication experts or therapists. Not true. It took quite some time for us to navigate our differences of opinion and frustrations. The “No Yelling” rule led to some pretty major dysfunctions in the beginning. I’ve mentioned before that I can tend to be the stonewalling silent-type while Tony wants to really get everything out on the table and come to a solution together. Taking away my option to freak out on him made me want to withhold altogether. It was like a pendulum swing from airing it all out to airing nothing at all. Not healthy.

Tony once described us like deflating balloons. I was a balloon that, once we’d talked about the problem and apologized to one another, needed to deflate slowly and process. He was a balloon that, once the problem had been addressed, had been popped and all of the hot air was gone. He was fully deflated and ready to move on.

I’d say we are still this way: the slow deflater vs. the popped and resolved. Still, as a couple who wants so much to stay married, we learn each other along the way and start to say out loud what we might otherwise hold back out of pride. So, our one rule has led to many other underlying rules for fair fighting. For instance: no eye-rolling, no bringing up past frustrations, no low-blows, and no threatening divorce.

We know that arguing in marriage is inevitable, but we believe that the fewer stinging darts we aim at one another, the better off we’ll be.

10 Rules for Fair Fighting - a #staymarried blog for couples

I love these. They seem pretty straight-forward, and I think we could all agree that implementing them would make our fights more peaceful. But, how? What if the habit and cycle of fighting you and your spouse are in includes yelling and interrupting? What if you are defensive by nature and not just with your husband or wife? Let’s try some homework.

Fair Fighting Homework

Set a “Fight Rules Date Night” for yourselves on the calendar.

Whether you do this exercise at home or on a night out, take some time when you’re both in a good mood to come up with your own list of rules.

Write out your list together.

Maybe it will include the things above. Maybe you already know your own triggers and pet peeves. For instance, you might add “No checking your phone during a fight.” It’s important that you both are aware of and on the same page about the rules, otherwise one of you is the rule-keeper while the other is the unintentional rule-breaker. This will cause even more tension.

Be realistic.

Once you’ve honed in on your list, the next step is to acknowledge that these things are probably going to bring some change to your usual ways and change is not always easy. Ask for patience with one another, since you’ll likely break a few of these rules the first few times you fight.

Make up a “Safe Word”.

Choose a neutral word or phrase that either of you can use at any time if you feel like your fight is escalating and that you might, or your spouse is, breaking the fight rules. Choose something goofy like “Dumbledore” or “Downward Facing Dog.” A good safe word should work as a diffuser and repair attempt. It’s even better if it makes you laugh. Regardless of what you come up with, the purpose is to be a signal that you need to take a break to calm down before re-engaging in the issue you are fighting about.

Fighting and arguing are perfectly healthy and natural parts of marriage – even happy marriages. Still, if we can remember that we are on the same team with our spouse, if we can remember that we want to stay married, I think talking with each other and agreeing on our own rules for fighting fair is a worthy discussion. So, take off your boxing gloves, listen to one another, lower your voice, and #staymarried.

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read Repair Attempts. 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

Why I Date My Wife

Why I Date My Wife - 5 Questions To Get Your Date Started - a #staymarried blogOur close friends might tell you that Michelle and I are “foodies”… that we like good food and are willing to pay a little extra to get the better cut. The truth is, we just like food, but what we like even more is the experience of sharing a meal. When we find ourselves around a table with others – be it friends, family, kids, and even strangers – we grow closer to these people. It’s taking time to be present for one another and share two very basic human needs: food and community.

This also goes for one-on-one meals. When I’m sitting across from my wife at one of our favorite places to eat, or maybe a new place we’ve never been, we bond. We talk to each other. We ask questions we don’t think of when our girls are in earshot. We share dreams, vision, and aspirations.

We look at each other.

At this time in our lives, days are long. I work 9 to 5 as a graphic designer, staring at a computer monitor over 40 hours per week. Michelle is tending to the needs of three little girls who all require her focus and attention non-stop. Even when I get home, we’re busy… playing with the girls, making dinner, and cleaning up. When we’re unwinding from the day, it’s spent in front of the TV or in separate rooms as she puts her feet up with a magazine and I work on a side project. The point being, there is a very realistic danger of connecting on only a surface level unless we’re purposeful about it. “How was your day?” is a good start, but these aren’t the kind of questions we ask when we’re out on a date.

When we’re sitting across from each other, and our focus isn’t being split between parenting, chores, bills, work, and daily drama, we connect and our relationship benefits. I get to hear what Michelle’s been thinking about. The kind of stuff not worn on her sleeve but makes up the person she really is.

Now, here’s the part I find curious… it’s not all deep, soul-searching type conversations. I don’t want to paint a false picture of what our dates look like. Honestly, we dote on our girls more than we talk about anything else. Or we play a game where we’ll pick another couple in the room and we’ll describe their life outside this setting (“he’s a circus clown off the clock and she’s on her first blind date in 7 years” type of thing). And even though I’m not always prodding around for the core of who Michelle is, I still feel a connection there that isn’t mundane.

If soul-bonding type connections are going to be made, they aren’t going to be made in the humdrum of the daily autopilot. You HAVE to be purposeful about it. THAT is why I take my wife out on dates. To get her away… to connect with her… to see her and to be seen by her.

Justin Buzzard, author of Date Your Wife, says that if we, as men, want our marriages to be more than the lifeless relationships we’re surrounded by, it starts with us! He writes:

You and I and the men we know want something more. Perhaps you’ve settled for a marriage that looks like most other marriages. Perhaps you now look like most other husbands — ordinary, nice, confused. But what you really want is a marriage that feels like a mission, a marriage that’s moving forward toward something exciting, mysterious, and grand. Kind of like the way dating felt.

Does this resonate with you? So, what does it take? It’s going to start with you taking charge. Call your wife and ask her out. Make all of the arrangements — including babysitting. Plan to be somewhere that will allow you to get close and talk, or walk and hold hands. Ask her questions and really listen.

Now, if you read Michelle’s recent post about how most conversations among married couples begin, you know that women have a much higher words-per-day average than men. We aren’t known for being the best conversationalists. If you need some help getting a meaningful conversation going on your next date, we’re here for you.

5 Questions To Get Your Next Date Going

Why I Date My Wife - 5 Questions To Get Your Date Started - a #staymarried blog Why I Date My Wife - 5 Questions To Get Your Date Started - a #staymarried blog Why I Date My Wife - 5 Questions To Get Your Date Started - a #staymarried blog Why I Date My Wife - 5 Questions To Get Your Date Started - a #staymarried blog Why I Date My Wife - 5 Questions To Get Your Date Started - a #staymarried blog

Michelle and I go out once or twice a month. This works for us, and you need to find what works for you. We’ve found that trading babysitting nights with another family helps not only offset the cost of childcare but gives us an opportunity to see our good friends get a date night in for themselves, too. For the frugal-minded reading this, see this as an investment in your marriage. Trust me, $50 for a night out once a month is a lot cheaper and more fun than a hotel bill due to a separation or a marriage counselor to avoid divorce. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a creative, cheap date and skipping the most expensive restaurant in town, either. Dating my wife, treating her like I did when she was my girlfriend, is part of how we #staymarried.

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

Tony and Michelle Peterson #staymarriedIf you’re NEW HERE, check out our About Page and read a little more about my own background on our first post.

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

~ Tony

P.S. I designed the questions in this post so that you can print them and put them in your wallet. Just click on the image & print from your browser.

Soften Your Startup

Soften Your Startup - a #staymarried blog for couplesIt’s been said that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words per day. The average man, on the other hand, hovers closer to 7,000. I can definitely attest to this in my own marriage with Tony. Although I’ve often wondered if he might actually be closer to the 3,000 words per day mark which only makes my normal 20,000 seem really extreme. In any case, I talk more than he does. I tend to be more descriptive in my accounts of the day. More of my energy goes toward calendar planning and budget questions than his does. Like many married women, I tend to be responsible for the majority of the communication in our family. It turns out, that also means I tend to be responsible for bringing up tough stuff that has the potential for turning into an all-out fight.

According to Dr. John Gottman’s research in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, I’m right on par with wives everywhere. He says:

If there’s one similarity between happy and unhappy marriages, it’s that in both circumstances the wife is far more likely than the husband to bring up a touchy issue and to push to resolve it. But there’s a dramatic difference in how the wife brings it up (159).

Now, this is the same Dr. Gottman that can predict with 96% accuracy whether or not a couple will divorce within watching the first three minutes of a conflict discussion. His research in the famed “Love Lab” shows that the way an issue is brought up in the first place will have a heavy effect on how it ends. Since wives are the ones more often bringing up these difficult issues, it means that the ownership on the direction of a discussion – whether it becomes something productive or a door-slamming fight – lays heavily on us.

The difference, Gottman says, between the way a wife brings up a discussion in a happy or unhappy marriage is in the “startup”: the manner in which that discussion is brought up in the first place. If the startup is harsh, there is a greater likelihood that her spouse will be defensive and uncooperative. If the startup is softer, there is a greater likelihood that she will be received and heard and that her influence will be accepted by her husband. Wondering what the differences are? Let’s see if we can break it down…

Soften Your Startup - a #staymarried blog for couples

Along with the above, I’ve been trying to practice a few other things. For instance, if I’m upset about something and it will be a while until I see Tony, rather than calling or texting him immediately with what’s bothering me, I try to think about what our last few interactions have been like. If they haven’t been mostly positive, I’ll wait. I’ll even shoot him an “I miss you” text, just to bring up my positive to negative ratio.

I also try to make sure my first interaction with him after I haven’t seen him for a while is positive and not negative, even if something is really on my mind. I never want him to walk in the door to a complaining wife. I wouldn’t want him to greet me with something he’s irritated about either. Also, when it comes to text, emotions can be easily misconstrued, so I try really hard to use “benefit of the doubt” language, like “hey, I’m not sure if you remember, but I have an appointment tonight so I really need you to be home on time from work” instead of “Don’t forget like you did last time! I don’t want to be late today!”

As women, we have immense influence over resolving conflicts in our home, if only we truly believed it and used it for our family’s benefit. The Bible says, “A wise woman makes her home what it should be, but the home of a foolish woman is destroyed by her own actions.” Let us be wise, soften our startup, and #staymarried.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read Repair Attempts. 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

 

Baggage Handling

I was emailing with a friend of mine recently and she said something I haven’t been able to get out of my head. She is a young single mother, drawing boundaries in her dating life, hoping to be happily married someday. She said, “It seems like a lot of guys want to “test the ride” before they buy it. But for me, I want a large truck and a GPS for a husband. I want a man that I know will protect my son and I, have room for some ‘baggage,’ and guide us where we need to be.” I told her she wasn’t alone. I mean, isn’t that what a lot of women want?

4 Ways To Unpack Your Baggage - a #staymarried blog for couplesAs a bride, I was alone when I walked down the aisle to meet my groom. It was symbolic. I did not have a father to give me away. I came alone to give myself away. In retrospect, I should have been lugging a huge suitcase down the aisle. I mean, as long as I was being symbolic, I should have given Tony a better picture of the baggage he was about to commit himself to.

Baggage is anything that you bring into the relationship that has nothing to do with the other person but can cause tension, damage, and strife between the two of you. Addictions, ex-lovers, past abuse, mother issues, psychological disorders, debt, insecurities… baggage in a relationship can include any number of things. Often they are issues that have gone on unresolved, but even personal history that seems under control can show up unexpectedly in the heat of a discussion or argument.

Granted, my husband-to-be could have been waiting at the end of the altar with his own suitcase, and I would have imagined he had adventurous dreams tucked away inside of it. I wanted to be married to him, and everything in me hoped I could handle my own baggage or keep some of it hidden from him. I knew it was there, I had shared some of the stories with him, but I didn’t want to bring it into our marriage. Except, I did bring it with me. Here is a story that was filmed a few years ago of just some of my baggage.

Michelle’s Baggage

It’s been four years since I told that story for the first time. A lot has happened in those four years. Tony and I moved back to our home in Western Washington. We no longer work in full-time ministry. I have started to face the reality that, no matter how many of them I pluck, my gray hair is growing in more abundantly.  Most importantly, we now have children.

4 Ways To Unpack Your Baggage - a #staymarried blog for couples

A New Layer of Baggage

Our little daughters, while blessings in every way, have revealed a whole new layer of baggage since their arrival. It turns out, I am terrified that something horrible will happen to them. It is my worst nightmare that they would ever experience anything even close to what I went through in my childhood. I am so stressed about it that I actually cried in the locker room the first four times I took my children and dropped them off at the childcare of the gym. This is the sort of thing that I know deserves to be unpacked and confronted, and truthfully I don’t want to do it.

Still, for the sake of my family and my marriage, it is important to work through the baggage. Hiding it or pretending it isn’t there is not only dishonest, it’s burdensome. When we carry around unresolved issues, it has a way of seeping out into our everyday interactions with our family and they ultimately bear more of the burden than we realize. So, here are some things we have learned about baggage in our relationship.

4 Ways To Unpack Your Baggage - a #staymarried blog for couples

Unpack Your Baggage

1. Name It

Whether it’s child abuse, over-bearing parents, neglectful parents, addiction, debt, or dashed dreams, it’s important to name the things dragging you down. Acknowledge that this is the part of your life that causes you pain. Our baggage, after all, is a part of our story as a whole. Even when it’s painful, it shapes who we become. Often what I’ve done over the years is try very hard to hide my baggage, claiming that “I’m just a private person.” The reality is that I feel ashamed about what happened to me and even more ashamed of the decisions I made on my own as I grew up. However, I have found that as I share with people who are safe (trusted friends, counselors, my husband) that the power of shame dissipates, and the blame I lay on myself rises off of my shoulders. Have you named your baggage? Have you shared your story?

2. Take Responsibility

Whatever your baggage, it’s important to take responsibility for your current behavior. In my case, it was important for me to address the bitterness and un-forgiveness I’d been carrying around for years. The man that abused me eventually did acknowledge it, though he has never apologized. Regardless, I’ve forgiven him and have to practice forgiving him when I feel fear or bitterness rising up in me again. Not because what happened to me was my fault. It wasn’t  But we take responsibility because we all need to move forward, and that is not possible if we are still laying blame and pointing fingers. So, what part of your baggage do you own?

3. Ask for Patience

If you are married, or in a relationship, it is important to bring your spouse into this process. Ask for patience from them as you push through the hard work of confronting your baggage. Be patient with them as they may have a hard time understanding what you are going through. It’s important to remember that your spouse is not the initial cause of your baggage so that you don’t project your insecurity, trust issues, or frustrations onto them. Have you asked for patience?

4. Seek Healing

Whether it’s individual counseling that you need or just a good solid mentor, get the help that you need. Unpacking your baggage can be a slow and painful process and I am continuing to learn how important it is not to attempt to do it alone in the dark. Have you begun to seek healing?

Everyone has baggage of some sort. Even though you may feel like it, you aren’t the only one. It’s impossible to find someone without any past issues. In a loving relationship, we have the opportunity to help each other unpack safely so that we can move forward a little lighter every day. Start unpacking so you can #staymarried.

P.S. If you need to be pointed in the direction of a good counselor, I have contacts and would love to help. You can contact me here. Anything you share will be kept in the strictest of confidence. Sometimes just sharing your story can be the start of this healing process.

 

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

Wedding Portrait Credit: Jeremy Leffel
Family Portrait Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography
Michelle’s Story Video Production: Petersonspace.com

Show Some Respect

Unconditional love is a concept so perpetuated that it is taken for granted. Unconditional respect is much harder to grasp.

Respect is often regarded as something that should be earned. People should act in a way worthy of respect: they should be honest, act with integrity, and be kind and thoughtful. That’s when we’ll respect them, right? Or, maybe they should impress us. They should be good at something we are not good at, or at least better than us at something. Once they’ve surpassed us, then they will have earned our respect, but not beforehand.

Love, however, seems different. We don’t always hold that people should act lovely before we are obligated to love them. Or maybe we do, but we don’t hold that standard for ourselves. Sometimes, when we are at our worst is the moment we are aware that we most need to feel loved. In our culture, we’ve told each other that love is not even real unless it is without pretense and condition. When there is an if/then scenario, (IF you are kind and thoughtful THEN I will love you) it is conditional love and that is just not acceptable.

The problem with believing that love should be unconditional and respect should only be offered once it is earned is that men and women, generally speaking, receive these messages differently. What if I told you that when a man feels disrespected, it is worse for him than when he feels unloved? Or, if I told you that your husband was under no more obligation to show you love than you are to show him respect? Would you be worried I was about to take away your shoes, hand you an apron, send you to the kitchen, and take your voting rights away? That’s how I felt the first time someone tried to explain this concept to me.

In his book, Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs shares this.

In one national study, four hundred men were given a choice between going through two different negative experiences. If they were forced to choose one of the following, which would they prefer to endure?
a) to be left alone and unloved in the world
b) to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone

Seventy-four percent of these men said that if they were forced to choose, they would prefer being alone and unloved in the world.

For these men, the greater negative experience for their souls to endure would be to feel inadequate and disrespected by all. I have had numerous men confirm this research by telling me, “I would rather live with a wife who respected me but did not love me than live with a wife who loved me but did not respect me.”

Men need respect.

Respect is not something men hope for. They don’t consider it a luxury, they actually need it. But, they wouldn’t dare tell you so directly for fear of causing their grandmothers and great grandmothers and the entire Women’s Suffrage movement to rise from their graves as angry women zombies reminding these men of all they already fought for along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. As a woman, I thank GOD for those zombies and all of the opportunities I have because of them. But, their legacy has caused men to hesitate in fear of retribution at the thought of expressing their own needs, lest they be considered chauvinists and exiled from their homes. Zombies aside, what I’m really trying to say is that men need respect the same way they need to breathe. They need respect even when, especially when, they don’t seem to have earned it.

Now, before you come and try to take my voting rights away, I want you to know I get it. I know just as many men who are jerks as I do men who are honorable. I also know that jerks have their shining honorable moments and decent men can act like jerks at times. I am not pardoning anyone’s selfish behavior and I am not suggesting that you pardon it either. Remember for a moment that I am hopeful about your marriage and I am not taking sides. I know this is tough to grasp, and I know some of you are standing on your soap box right now ready to wave your finger in my face and tell me, “Well, if he would act like a man, I would treat him with more respect.” Take a deep breath and step down from the box. This isn’t the Maury Povich show. I am not trying to pit you against each other. I just want to share something with you that has been crucial in the way Tony and I talk to and understand each other.

Which Cycle Are You On?

In Eggerichs’ book, it’s not all about what a man needs but about how men and women need different things. He says that a woman needs love the way a man needs respect, and that brings about some major challenges. With what he teaches in his book, he hopes to help us get off of The Crazy Cycle and onto The Energizing Cycle.

In the Crazy Cycle, he says that when the husband reacts without love, his wife reacts without respect. Then, when she reacts without respect, he reacts AGAIN without love. It’s CRAZY, and neither of them are willing to feel walked over, so neither begins to do what is needed to break the cycle.

He says the sure way to get off the Crazy Cycle is for just one person to recognize that they are on it and switch up their behavior. In the Energizing Cycle, Eggerichs says that the husband’s love for his wife motivates her to respect him. Her respect for him then motivates him to show her more love. Ahh, doesn’t that sound nice? I could enjoy my time on this kind of cycle.

While there are many facets of showing respect to our husbands and many ways which we hope to receive love from them, I couldn’t possibly give you all of them. So, I’ll just start with my side, the responsibility I have of showing my husband respect. The best way I know to tell you how to respect your husband is to share what it looks like to disrespect him.

Four Ways You Might Be Disrespecting Your Husband

1. Treating him like a baby

“Honey, it’s freezing out there. You definitely need a warm hat on that bald head of yours. And where’s your warmer coat? Do you want me to find your gloves for you?” Yes, that happened, in our kitchen, not that long ago. All it took was one look from my husband and I knew I was treating him like a child. He is an adult, and he wants me not only to treat him like one, but to be his partner in life, not his mommy.

 2. Speaking on his behalf

When someone directs a question to your husband and you jump in to answer for him, you’re not being helpful. It would be rude to do that to anyone, and to your husband, it communicates disrespect. Same goes for signing him up for something without talking to him first (like weekly emails from a blogger you think he should be reading) and volunteering him to help your friends move or fix their computer. Your husband is an adult, he can speak for himself and make his own decisions. Talk to him and trust him to do that.

 3. Cutting in on his parenting

Yes, you’re the one that probably gave birth to them, but those children have both a mother and a father. When their father – your husband – is working on disciplining them and you just have to step in because he is clearly doing it wrong, you are not just disrespecting your husband, but you are showing your kids that they should dismiss him also. Don’t do it. Unless he is being dangerous, there is no need for you to cut him off. Practice some self-discipline, hold your tongue, and be supportive. If you’re still not over it, bring it up with him in private away from the kids.

 4. Undermining his decisions

So, you sat down and discussed your finances and agreed – no new clothes this month. Then, you get an email that Anthropologie is having a ridiculously huge sale! Prices will never be this low again! You buy yourself that cute dress and cardigan because, really, you are “saving” your family money by making your purchase now instead of later. Lady, you just completely disregarded your husband and disrespected him in the process. Skirting around decisions he’s made or decisions you’ve made together is not going to bring you closer together. It’s also a very bad idea to make major purchases, or spend outside of your agreed upon budget, without including him in your decision.

We hope you, as a couple, begin to talk about what love and respect mean to you. Ladies, talk to your husband about the list above. Ask him if it matters. Give him room to be a man without being offended and threatened that his needs in your relationship are different than yours. They are no less important. We hope, if you’re on it, that you can get yourselves off the Crazy Cycle and onto the Energizing Cycle for a much more fulfilling way to #staymarried.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

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

 

5 Ways to Stay Engaged Once You’re Married

I received a birthday gift this year from my friend Jenn, Bob Goff’s book Love Does. With these dark winter mornings, reading this book has been just the right way for me to start my day. Goff is happy and hysterical and fun even as he shares gut-deep life-changing truths. He has a gift, and I wake up eager to receive it.

A few mornings ago I was delighting in his story about a young man in love, Ryan. Goff writes:

Ryan’s love [for his girlfriend] was audacious. It was whimsical. It was strategic. Most of all, it was contagious. Watching Ryan lose himself in love reminded me that being “engaged” isn’t just an event that happens when a guy gets on one knee and puts a ring on his true love’s finger. Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving. It’s about going to extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light. That’s what I want my life to be all about – full of abandon, whimsy, and in love. I want to be engaged to life and with life.

Engaged

Am I engaged to life? Are you? Do you remember being engaged to your fiance? I do. I shared the silly and surprising way that Tony proposed to me at our small group in front of all of those people. Looking back, I see that he was absolutely engaged in his love for me, planning on future memories with our future children in a future home. Then, as he slipped that ring on my finger he invited me to join him, to be engaged with him, not just to him.

I went to work the next day, and for this fun season of my life, I worked with some of my best friends. I didn’t come bounding in shouting to everyone that I was engaged – I’m not really a bounding and shouting person. But, I was clearly floating and my friends Emily and Sarah noticed right away. I showed them the ring, the sign of his purposed promise, and told them the story of what happened the night before. They were giddy with me, and for those months as these women helped me plan my wedding, I felt like we were all engaged in love.

Tony was getting plenty of attention, too. Being engaged is just such a hopeful season. There is a lot of anticipation and excitement. Lots of people who didn’t seem all that interested in our lives before were suddenly asking very specific questions, “Have you set a date? Will it be a big wedding?” I remember that one of the first things we decided to do as an engaged couple was to hold off on making decisions. Though the clock seemed to be ticking away for other people, we decided to wait to make any sort of wedding plans at all for the first six weeks of our engagement. For those six weeks we would just be engaged in the days, in each other. After that, we knew we would be very busy planning a wedding while we were engaged – and we were.

In my experience, newlyweds get a lot less attention from those around them than fiances do. It’s as if there is an unspoken rule to leave them alone once they get married. We crowd around while they are engaged, getting excited with them and for them, and then after the big party we give lots and lots of space. We disengage. This is probably healthy, you know, not to be overbearingly involved in each other’s lives. But, what can also happen if we are not careful is that, as the years go by in our own marriage, we also become disengaged from each other. We lose our sense of purposed love, we back off from making the effort to connect with our spouse. We slip into thinking, “We’re together now, mission accomplished, let us live in tandem instead of fully engaged in love and admiration.”

A Short Shelf Life

In “New Love: A Short Shelf Life,” a New York Times article, Sonja Lyubomirsky shares some research on the human need for surprise and spontaneity. She writes,

In one experiment, scientists offered drinks to thirsty subjects; those who were not told what kind of drink they would get (i.e., water or a more appealing beverage) showed more activity in the portion of the brain that registers positive emotions. Surprise is apparently more satisfying than stability.

The realization that your marriage no longer supplies the charge it formerly did is then an invitation: eschew predictability in favor of discovery, novelty, and opportunities for unpredictable pleasure.

 

Keeping in mind our natural pull toward all things shiny and new, we’re offering you some thoughts on staying engaged in your marriage.

1. Ask Questions

Making time to connect with each other is vital. For us, that’s the moment after the chaos of Tony coming home and trying to get dinner ready with two babies pulling on our calves – sitting down for dinner. We both exhale, though it’s not typically calm eating with little ones, we try to remember to relax. This is when we ask about each other’s day and really try to listen. My favorite question that Tony asks me is, “What made you laugh today?” There’s always something and it always turns the conversation toward the positive. Whatever questions you ask, it’s important to actively listen to your partner. Listen as if you really have no idea what they are about to say.

2. Change Up Your Routine

Routine can be a good thing. Tony and I have found it pretty necessary with our girls. They know what to expect, so bedtime and bath time aren’t a surprise to them and our nights with them typically end pretty peacefully. It’s after they go to bed that we’ve realized we have the opportunity either to engage with each other, or to do what comes more naturally, collapse in bed. A few nights ago, instead of heading straight for our pajamas, Tony laid our Scrabble board on the kitchen table, told me to pour myself a glass of wine, and readied some chips and salsa. Truthfully, I was wiped out from a long day, but we sat across the table from each other and talked and laughed while I beat him by over 100 points.

3. Plan a Surprise

As time goes on in our marriage, there seems to be a blessing and a curse in familiarity. Human beings are wired to be attracted to variety. So, take advantage of that and plan a surprise for your spouse. Do something a little bit out of the ordinary- like mailing a love note to where they work or planning a night out without kids even though it’s not a special occasion. My friend Brittany planned the most clever surprise for her husband’s birthday. He turned 23 this year, so she secretly collected 23 letters from people who know and love him and presented them to him as his gift!

4. Double Date

I always find that I am delighted and surprised when I hear Tony talking to our friends. Even if he’s sharing something I know about, I love hearing him re-frame the story for someone else’s benefit. I like watching other people pay attention to him and engage with him. Maybe it’s because he tends to listen more than he shares in a group. Maybe it’s the difference between our familiar way of talking and his way of speaking with someone less intimately. Either way, being around other couples gives us a chance to engage with each other just a little bit differently than we normally would, and I like it.

5. Try Something New

Chances are, when you were dating, you tried new things together all the time. Now that you’re married, though, you’ve probably got your usual grocery store, the best route from your house to Target, and your go-to restaurants all figured out. So, try something new! We had a unique opportunity for a day-date about a month ago, and we didn’t really set an agenda. We stopped in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle for lunch. Tony was craving some home-style mac & cheese and, just our luck, we passed a little restaurant that advertised it on the window. We walked in to the quaint little restaurant, were seated by a nice woman in a sari, and scoured the five page menu looking for that delicious macaroni and cheese. It turns out, the restaurant had recently changed owners and though the menu was completely new, AND VEGETARIAN, they hadn’t gotten around to changing all of the exterior signage. We had the choice to gracefully walk out and find something more familiar, but we stayed and enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve ever had together!

To be like Ryan above, to be fully engaged in life and in love, takes some work and effort. It seems much easier to just sit back and float along the river of life. But, I don’t want to float. I want to get strapped in and ride a roller coaster.  I want to be surprised at the twists and turns. I want to be holding Tony’s hand tightly experiencing this life together, knowing that as we are engaged in our relationship, we’ll #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

“Rings” Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

New Year, Better Marriage

New Year, Better Marriage, a @staymarried blogNew Year’s Resolutions can be kind of a joke, right? I mean, is anyone NOT going back to the gym this month? Will anyone still be there in March? Research has shown that, after six months, fewer than half the people who actually make New Year’s resolutions have stuck with them, and, after a year, that number declines to around ten percent. Seems smarter not to make any at all, which is where I usually land, wallowing in cynicism. But not this year.

See, our friend Kevin made a New Year’s Resolution last year, and he managed to keep it. When I first heard about what he wanted to do, I felt inspired. And, just as if it had been my own resolution, it didn’t take me too long to forget all about it. Until a few weeks ago, when I heard he’d been successful.

Kevin’s resolution for 2012 was to run 500 miles for the year. Now, Kevin would not consider himself an athlete. He’s run races before, but never consistently run for fitness, and that’s what he wanted to change. Rather than writing down the usual, “Run more in 2012,” Kevin made his resolution measurable: “Run 500 miles in 2012.” He posted it on Facebook and started keeping track of how far he ran each time he went out and began posting that, too. Brilliant! Then, on December 7th 2012, he ran his last three mile stretch with his wife and a group of friends cheering him on as he finished! I would have loved to have been there!

I’m inspired by Kevin because he not only figured out something to shoot for, he realized he needed it to be measurable and he needed a system and support to help him reach his goal. I’m a systems person. I prefer data to “ guesstimates.” I like to see step by step instructions. Even though I’m a daydreamer, my visions always have a practical start and end. I prefer the functions in Excel way more than those in Photoshop. Practical to a fault, my least favorite game is “What would you do if you won a kagillion dollars?” It just doesn’t make sense to me. Am I going to win a kagillion dollars, or not? No? Then why are we talking about this?

So, when I heard what Kevin did, it struck a chord with my analytical cravings. He did it because he wasn’t lofty about it. He did it because he had a plan and he had steps he could measure. I think I want to do the same thing with my marriage this year, and I’m hoping many of you will consider doing so, too, and we can be for each other like the team Kevin had cheering him on.

Whether your marriage is hanging on by a string or this was the year you hit your stride, we can all do something to make our marriages better. Rather than focusing only on your individual resolutions about getting in better shape or spending less frivolously, we hope you’ll join us in making some resolutions for a better marriage, and like Kevin, make them measurable. This way we’ll know for sure if we are on track.

Take a look at our list, choose three or more, and kick off the coming year with a bang!

New Year, Better Marriage - #staymarried

While it’s true that most people who make resolutions fail at keeping them, there is hope. Research has reported that there are some simple strategies can help us stick with our New Year’s resolutions, such as: setting specific goals, sharing our resolutions with others, and focusing on the benefits of achieving the resolution.

What do you think? Feel free to modify anything on our list to suit yourselves more personally. Tony and I are still talking about which of these we’ll begin working on this year so that we don’t just #staymarried, but have a better marriage this year.

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

Five Trust-Building Boundaries

I don’t ride in cars with girls.

That’s usually the phrase that gets me the WTF look. But it’s something that’s changed my relationship with my wife.

Let me explain…

I worked at a church a few years ago as the creative guy (this particular job didn’t hand out job titles), and as a foundation for health and safe boundaries, all the employees were asked to not meet with people of opposite gender isolated and alone. This meant that when a woman wanted to meet one-on-one with a pastor, his office door would always be wide open, and more often he would ask another staff member to be present. This also included riding in cars, meeting one-on-one in each other’s homes, or any other situation that would pair them up alone.

This probably seems strict and teeters on overkill. I can remember thinking “Are you kidding me? You’re going to tell ME who I can meet with and drive in a car with?” I also remember the question being asked “So if it’s in the middle of a stormy night, and you come across a woman you know walking alone on the side of the road, you’re not going to pick her up?”

I remember thinking, “YEAH… what then?”

Bitter, confused, and as self-righteous as I might have felt, I still chose to adopt this new “rule”. So, it started as something I felt I needed to do to keep my job and very quickly turned into a value that I can now apply to many areas of my life. The idea was simple… affairs, both physical and emotional, don’t typically happen out in the open. In groups we tend to behave ourselves, but it’s in private that our secrets are kept. It’s behind closed doors that we misbehave. It’s with our monitors hidden from the view of others that we indulge. It’s out of the earshot of others that we gossip and speak negatively about people.

Let’s just assume for a moment that you don’t have any human emotions or temptations, and that there is no threat you’d EVER cheat on your spouse with someone you’re simply “riding in a car with.” That’s all fine and well, but can you speak to the other passenger’s views and feelings? Imagine what your spouse might feel if they coincidentally pulled up next to you at a stoplight and glanced over. Even though nothing is probably going on, they may begin to feel insecure and that drives a wedge between the two of you. The natural response to this is going to be inquisitive on the part of your spouse and defensive on yours.

Let’s fast-forward 5 years.

I’m married, have two little girls, and a roommate living in the downstairs of our house, and yep, it’s a WOMAN! To make matters even more complicated, she works where I work, in the same building, with the same hours. So, it makes complete and total sense for us to carpool, wouldn’t you say? Couldn’t we share the financial burden and even make it possible for us to use the HOV lane? Aren’t we two people my wife completely and totally trusts? Well, yeah, it does make a lot of sense. But guess what… we don’t carpool. I ride the bus inconveniently to work and sometimes my housemate will even pass my stop on her way home. She enthusiastically honks and waves. She knows better than to pull over and offer me a ride, even though we are going home TO THE SAME HOUSE! I doubt that we’ve even been at the house alone together before. Not because I don’t trust her, or that she doesn’t trust me, or that Michelle doesn’t trust either of us, but simply out of a choice I made years ago that I’ve seen HUGE benefits from.

This choice has made for some awkward moments between myself and others, but I WAY prefer those moments over any amount of trust I’ll lose from Michelle. Any inconvenience this boundary may cause me or others around me is worth the relationship I have with my wife. Ask Michelle if she’s ever doubted my faithfulness.

So to answer my own question…
No, I would not pick up a woman I know walking alone in the rain in the middle of the night. I would awkwardly offer her my car, and I would walk. And to make things clear, this event has happened exactly zero times in the past five years.

Michelle and I fully trust each other. We’ve found that applying some simple boundaries to our lives has made a load of difference. If setting up a foundation for trust in your relationship sounds like something you’re interested in, here are a few boundaries you might consider.

5 TRUST-BUILDING BOUNDARIES

1. No alone time with the opposite gender

I realize that this one can be hard to institute in some cases (say if you’re a manager at work and you need to have a professional conversation with someone who works for you). But if it’s not a completely vital part of your day-to-day, this boundary safeguards your relationship from inappropriate outside influence.

2. Share passwords

We need to protect our private information from people who intend to misuse it. Your spouse is not that person. Share your passwords to your email, Facebook, Twitter, and yes, your bank account with your spouse. Then operate as though they are looking at it every day. You’ll notice very quickly that the flirtatious comment you wanted to post privately to that woman now REALLY seems like a bad idea.

3. “Not now” some friend requests

You don’t have to accept everyone as your social media friend. In fact, it’s probably a bad idea if you do. That girl with the profile pic of her half naked? Click “Not now.” That boyfriend from High School? Click “Not now.” Truth is, we can all probably do with a little purging as it is. Maybe take a little time to go through your current friends and “unfriend” those you have iffy feelings about… they’ll never know you did it.

4. Limit Guys-Night-Out

Or Girls-Night-Out. It’s GREAT to get away and be with the dudes – if you don’t already do it, you should – but every weekend is too much. Instead, find couples you respect and start hanging out with them more. Then, treat yourself to a Guys-Night-Out once a month. Also, just as a general rule, if your night out includes going to smutty clubs, that should be the first thing to go.

5. Turn your desk around

Your desk might be set up in your office so that the monitor is facing away from the door. You might have even done this on purpose to allow yourself the few seconds you need to close web pages that you don’t want to be caught looking at if someone were to walk in. That’s a great internal measure that you probably shouldn’t be looking at them in the first place. I know what you’re going to say… “it’s not feng shui. I get anxiety facing away from the door.” No, you don’t… you’re lying to yourself… you face away from doors all day long… What you get anxiety from is the potential of being caught.

If these seem inconvenient or even a little crazy to you, I’m ok with that.  I’m passionate about my marriage, my wife, and about making my home a safe place for us all to live. Allow one or all of these boundaries to become part of your M.O. and you’ll find that it’s going to be a lot easier to #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you need that awesome shirt, or you think your husband probably wants it, you can find one like it here.

Also, if you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, feel free to share using the social media buttons at the top or bottom of the post. If you’re new to the #staymarried bog, WELCOME! You might want to take a look at why we started this blog and my wife’s first post to get a little background.  Thanks for stopping by.
~Tony

25 Things To Do Before The Wedding

I love a good mail day. Tony knows how giddy I get over handwritten letters and cards, so when he brought in the mail the other day, he made sure the red envelope addressed to Mr. Tony and Mrs. Michelle Peterson was right on top. I love opening an envelope. I love the feel of textured cardstock in my hands. I thought it might be an early someone-is-super-on-top-of-it Christmas card. Even better, it was a Save the Date for a wedding next summer! YES! I LOVE weddings!

The gown. The music. The venue. The cake. I love all of the ideas. Planning a wedding is dreamy. There are plenty of magazines to help you out, plenty of shows about the perfect dress or the most luxurious destination. There are plenty of ideas on Pinterest to keep your mind in day-of-perfection-land for weeks. I love it and at the same time I’m a little bit afraid of it. I get excited for my engaged friends, and I worry for them, too. I wonder, in all of the details of planning their wedding, have they made room for planning their marriage?

We didn’t. Well, we did, but not really. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in our Finding a Mentor post, we sought out premarital counseling and then dropped it like a hot potato. We were way too busy planning our wedding to listen to this guy with his monotone wisdom give us any warnings about the future. Plus, the wedding magazines had pretty covers on them and tasting wedding cakes was much more fun than seeking out a book to read together or even talking to each other very much about our plans for life AFTER the wedding.

Fortunately, we started a mentoring relationship within our first year of marriage. But, as I’ve come to find out, that’s not very common. Couples spend months, sometimes years, planning for their special day, without much thought of the day they get home from the honeymoon. And I am certain that when two people stand in front of each other wearing the nicest clothes they’ve ever worn, being stared at by everyone they know, cheeks hurting from too much smiling – I am certain that they do not imagine what it could look like to get a divorce.  Statistics tell us that 86% of people who get married imagine they will be together for the rest of their lives. Statistics also tell us that only half of them will be.

So, is it not enough in the beginning to want to be together forever? No, apparently it isn’t. Forever, it turns out, is a really long time. During forever, we go through car accidents, lose jobs, have babies, lose babies, buy a home, get foreclosed on, get older, get less attractive, cut carbs, binge on alcohol, burn dinner, and yell at each other. Forever is a long time. I usually think, as we make our vows and watch other people make theirs, that we really are not capable of keeping them at the moment they are uttered. We might have every intention, but we have a road of life ahead of us that we cannot see. As overwhelming as wedding planning can be, getting married is not so difficult. Staying married is more difficult than anyone can imagine. But, as I’ve witnessed time and time again, divorce is MUCH more difficult.

So, in a culture determined to sell you on the wedding, and with little care for helping you protect your marriage, I wonder what planning your marriage could look like. There is a surplus of wedding checklists available to brides. If I could dream up the Marriage Planning Checklist, here’s what it might look like:

CLICK HERE to download a printable version of this list.

I can safely say that a lot of the ideas you spend time and money on for your wedding day will ultimately get overlooked by you and by your guests. They are not going to have a great impact on your marriage one way or the other. Tony and I have been guests at a 500-person wedding full of lavish touches and then watched the relationship end in divorce. We have also not been invited to elopements and known couples that are still together decades later. Whether you are having a backyard potluck wedding or a grand ballroom soiree, what matters in the end is the way you handle your relationship with your spouse.

Most of the items on the Marriage Planning Checklist involve talking to each other. It seems to me that wedding planning involves mostly shopping and very little talking. I love paper and ribbon and all of the creative and special details that go into a party, and I am certainly NOT saying that you shouldn’t have fun planning your wedding. Go as big or as small as you want and have a great time doing it! What I am saying is that after your one-time big event, there is a lifetime relationship that will need constant attention. More than any other factor, learning to have conversations with your spouse about absolutely everything will set you up for long term success. Your views on some things will probably change over time and with experience, but your ability to verbally work through your thoughts with one another will give you a solid foundation on your way to #staymarried.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and have engaged or newly-married friends you think it would benefit, please consider sharing. 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