Don’t You Trust Me? – The 5 Characteristics of Trust

The 5 Characteristics of Trust - #staymarried, photo copyright Jake GravbrotWe have seen a lot of comments and emails from you all lately, and I keep coming back to the same theme over and over again. It’s a word, really, but such a loaded word that I can’t escape it. The word is trust.

“Don’t you trust me?”

“How can I trust him?”

“I can’t get a hold of my temper. But, it keeps coming back to whether or not he will be faithful now that he has cheated on me.”

“I’m not sure what to do. I cheated in the past and he has forgiven me, but now he wants me to keep my distance from other men. Is it unreasonable?”

Over and over again: trust.

Trust is foundational for all relationships, but especially for our marriages. We’ve found that trust is not so easy to cultivate and, once broken, can be excruciatingly difficult to repair. Continue reading “Don’t You Trust Me? – The 5 Characteristics of Trust”

The Four Types of Supportive Behavior and How to Identify the One You Need

Four Types of Supportive Behavior and how to Identify the One You Need - #staymarriedTime to confess. I’ve been sitting on a secret. I have a little dream that feels really big and I have been reluctant to say it out loud.

I think I want to write a book.

Oh, isn’t that just the kind of timid thing a dreamer would say when she is terrified of her dream? Why do I say, “I think” when the truth is I DO want to write a book? I NEED to write a book, and I’ve known it for nearly a year.

Sharing My Dream

When I first shared my dream with Tony he said, “OF COURSE you are going to write a book!” and then he went on to remind me that it was something he had mentioned years ago and I had dismissed it immediately. It was not an “I told you so” moment. It was a way for us to reflect and for me to believe that he really truly believes in me and he always has. He believes in me more than I believe in myself. He is the gasoline to my engine, constantly filling me when I think I’m empty and have nowhere left to go. He is supportive beyond measure. Continue reading “The Four Types of Supportive Behavior and How to Identify the One You Need”

What Would Happen if We Did Not Argue?

If a couple really loves each other, they won’t argue.
Arguing is not the right way to handle problems.
Anger and arguing are sinful behaviors.

What Would Happen If We Did Not Argue? - #staymarried

These are not statements we make on #staymarried. But, I realized recently that they are statements many of you have heard and believed.

What We Learned From Our Parents

You may have heard these things in your childhood from your particular sect of faith, or maybe you understood them as truths because you never witnessed your parents disagree about anything. Or, on the other side of the pendulum swing, you saw your parents yell and fight bitterly your entire childhood and vowed you would never be in a relationship like that.

So much of our understanding of what is healthy and loving is informed by the first relationship we ever witnessed – our parents’. This is good when your parents actually had a healthy relationship. However, it can be a damaging hurdle to overcome if your parents’ relationship was unhealthy.

It’s because I grew up in a single-parent home that I Continue reading “What Would Happen if We Did Not Argue?”

The Love Crumb

The Love Crumb - Bids for Affection and Missed Connections - #staymarriedI have a desk job. I am a UX Designer at Microsoft, which stands for User Experience Designer, which is the current fad-name for a web designer. I sit in a chair, at a desk, staring at a couple of monitors, from 8:30am to about 5pm Monday through Friday in Redmond, Washington. Sometimes I have meetings where I’ll have to un-dock my laptop from my two monitors and walk to a conference room where people critique my work or give me more work to do. But all the time, my computer is with me. This handy little device helps me to stay tethered to my coworkers and my projects, whether they are Microsoft projects or freelance, but also helps me stay connected to my wife and my family.

It started YEARS ago… maybe 2004… but IM-ing (instant messaging) was as cool then as texting is now. I believe Michelle and I started with Windows Messenger. Somehow, when we were still just acquaintances, Michelle or I found the other and we started chatting during the day. Sometimes just a few messages back and forth. Sometimes constant interaction for 8 hours. But there was always one and only one way to start off the day’s ration of IM-ing. A single period. Whomever noticed the other was logging in would send a single dot over once they were available.


This was our whisper. It was a very covert way of saying “I’m here, and I see that you’re at your desk now, and I’d like to talk if you’d like to talk, but no pressure.”

It was always so exciting to get that little dot. Like a trinket that someone brings back to you from their vacation. The trinket’s true meaning is I was thinking about you even when I was far away. You really treasure those gifts, not because of how they practically improve your day to day life, but how your relationship with that person is stronger than it was before. And this little dot was that to me. Day after day, I received a tiny gift from Michelle, saying, You’re on my mind, which in turn put her on my mind if she wasn’t already. This is how our friendship started, and later, how it turned into our committing our entire lives to each other.

Though we never had a name for it, we continued to use this method throughout the years as we started dating, then became engaged, and once we got married. Still to this day, I’ll be sitting at my desk, or in a conference room, and a tiny little gift will pop up and remind me that I have a friend who loves me.

Recently Michelle gave it a name that I think is perfect. Love crumb. Like a little piece of love that’s broken off and left somewhere for me to find. Michelle will never know how much these Love Crumbs mean to me, as I’m not very good with words and any attempt at using the right ones would be feeble anyway. This is our own inside way of reaching out to the other, and even though yours is probably not exactly like ours, you still have one. Continue reading “The Love Crumb”

Still… No Yelling!!! – And 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting

Ugghh… We got into a really bad fight the other night. There was yelling, and hurtful words, and crying, and I hated it. Only, the fight I had was with a close relative – not my husband.

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

Is it just me, or is it a universal fact that those we love most, those that are the very closest to us, know better than anyone just what to say to really crush us? It’s awful. C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” I want the love without the brokenness. I want peace more than strife.

This fight reminded me that as much as I try my best to communicate for understanding, as much as I hope to give people the benefit of the doubt, there is still a fire burning inside of me. If I feel like I am being backed into a corner, my natural reaction is to Continue reading “Still… No Yelling!!! – And 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting”

How Being Defensive is Hurting Your Marriage

How Being Defensive is Hurting Your Marriage - #staymarried“It’s so hard to be around them sometimes. They get so defensive if I say anything at all.”

I was complaining to Tony, my new boyfriend at the time, about a couple of people I was working with.

“Yeah,” he said innocently, “You can be pretty defensive, too.”

Cue internal outrage… What!?!? Did he just tell me that I’m defensive? I AM NOT DEFENSIVE! Wait… am I? Wow, I am falling in love with this guy and I think he feels the same way about me AND he thinks I’m defensive… Maybe I am. How did I not know this about myself?…

The subject died. I had nothing to say after he made his very nonchalant observation. I mean, I wasn’t going to try to get into a fight with him about me being defensive… that would have only proven him right.

I swallowed his words and tried to be much more thoughtful about the way I responded to situations and comments that frustrated me. I think he’s right; I am naturally defensive. But, I mean, who isn’t? Doesn’t everyone want the chance to defend themselves when they feel like they are being insulted, misunderstood, or attacked? It seems so automatic that there isn’t anything I can do about it.

What is your ADS?

It seems automatic because defensiveness in some ways is automatic. In fact, Dr. Steven Stosny, an expert in anger and relationship problems, refers to defensiveness in relationships as a hypersensitive Automatic Defense System (ADS). He says that it is much more reactionary than Continue reading “How Being Defensive is Hurting Your Marriage”

Sometimes My Wife Complains…

Sometimes My Wife Complains - What's behind the complaint and what to do about it.There we were, a night in with the family, and I thought it would be fun to play a board game. I convinced Michelle to put down the laundry she was folding and come and join us. It was great! We were all together in the living room, the girls were having a good time, Michelle was engaged and having fun. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Then, as we were putting the kids to bed together, something clearly switched. My wife went from happy and carefree to visibly tense and frustrated. I couldn’t exactly figure out why. I asked if everything was okay and got the dreaded, “Yes, I’m fine,” from her.

I tried to leave it alone, but it concerned me that everything had been going so well and now, for no reason I could figure out, things were not ok anymore.

Do you ever feel like you are in the dark about what your spouse is feeling? Michelle is constantly processing her thoughts in her own head. She doesn’t typically talk unless what she is about to say has been thought through. In some ways, this is great. I can trust that she means what she says and isn’t trying to play games or manipulate me. In other ways, like this particular evening, it’s lame. I can see that she’s gnawing on something – something is bothering her, and she is spending her energy trying to figure out what it is and if she’ll communicate with me about it. I’m left in the dark instead of invited in to process with her. She knows I want to hear what she’s thinking, because I’m pretty sure that, often times, I can help solve it. But, I know her. She likes to figure things out on her own. I guess we’re the same that way. I just wish she’d let me in.

The next morning, after I left for work, I got this email…

Subject: Frustrated


Last night I was trying to relax and enjoy you and the girls when you insisted I play games with you instead of folding the laundry and doing the dishes. I did have a good time, but was triggered and irritated when Claire didn’t have clean pajamas in her drawer. It was a reminder that my real value is keeping up with the laundry and dishes. I often feel like staying on top of those things, along with whatever else I need to do around the house, doesn’t get noticed until I fall behind. So, I’m constantly choosing between doing something I might want to do – like go out with my friends, or sit down and work on the blog, or even play games with you guys – and the stuff I have to do because the stuff I have to do doesn’t get done all by itself.

I so appreciated your help the other night. I felt like we were working as a team to clean up and you always do so much, especially with the girls, to keep our home tidy. I just get frustrated when the behind the scenes stuff (everyone’s laundry, dishes, pumping breastmilk, feeding the baby) doesn’t seem appreciated when it is done, but instead comes back to me when it’s not done. “Mom, where’s my pajamas? Why don’t we have any clean dish towels? The baby doesn’t have any pajamas. There aren’t any burp rags.” All of that stuff makes me feel like I am doing a crappy job and I’ll never be able to sit down and relax.

It seems especially evident to me on the weekends. I know you want to hang out and it’s not fun for you if I’m busy folding laundry, so I try to set the chores down and not rush around so much. For you, the weekends are your time to relax since you’ve been at work all week, and I get that. It’s your free time, it should be. But, with my “job,” I don’t get weekends. I don’t get to clock out and leave it all until Monday. I get envious sometimes when you decide you want to work on something – play a video game, take a shower – and you don’t have to think about making sure everything else is already taken care of before you just run to the store or head into the office to do whatever you want to do. I always feel like I have to prepare 15 things before I can do something I want to do, and even then, I always have a pile of “work” waiting for me when I’m done so it hardly seems worth it to try to take a “break.”

Anyway, this is all normal stuff and I’m under no illusion that I’m the only person that ever feels this way. I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself, and ordinarily I don’t want to complain because I know my life really is so good. It’s just that last night it felt all piled up and unappreciated and lonely.

So… that’s what that was all about.

I love you,

your wife

"Behind every complaint is a deep personal longing." - Gottman quote on #staymarried

Now, you’re not in my marriage and I’m not in yours, but I have to tell you that getting this email was a BIG deal. Most of the time, even if she is able to identify how she’s feeling and why, she may or may not ever share that with me. The fact that she took the time, in the midst of toddler tantrums and infant feedings, to put some thought into an email was HUGE. I knew I needed to think carefully about the way I responded. Here’s what I sent back…

Re: Frustrated


I love you so much. What you do is appreciated and noticed (not just when someone doesn’t have clean PJs). I know you work really hard, really long, and without breaks, and I want to help out.

I’m here to be your teammate and partner, so let me know how this frustration can be avoided in the future.

You are right… I’m willing to let the chores go by the wayside so that we can bond as a family, but not to the expense of making you feel overwhelmed. Next time we’ll prep our chores before we play games.

In love with you,


In his research, Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues have found that “Behind every complaint is a deep personal longing.” I know my wife doesn’t want to complain, but in a strange way, I appreciate when she does. I know that when she finally lets me in and tells me the things that are bothering her, it’s a window into something more personal. I can see that what she needs is to be affirmed. We’ve taken the Five Love Languages assessment and memorized each other’s “Love Languages,” so I know one of hers is “Words of Affirmation.” Telling her that I appreciate her does not come naturally to me. I typically hope that she just knows I appreciate her without having to say it. But, she doesn’t work that way. She needs to hear it.

When I read her email, I knew that the issue wasn’t really that our kids didn’t have clean pajamas in their dresser drawers. I could figure out that the real issue was that Michelle didn’t feel appreciated for all she does to keep our family running smoothly. I realized it had been a while since I expressed my gratitude in words. One of my “Love Languages” is “Acts of Service,” so I figure that helping out around the house is sufficient to showing her love. And, by her email, I can see that she appreciates my efforts, but it doesn’t replace her need to hear from me that I see what she does and it matters immensely.

"Meeting your spouse's need for love is a choice you make each day." - Chapman quote on #staymarried

So, sometimes she complains. I’ve decided that it’s ok when she does. I believe Dr. Gottman that there is a deep personal longing behind those complaints and I do my best to try to figure that out, to acknowledge it, and to show my wife love in whatever way she feels lacking. I know she does the same for me when I complain.

If you hear your spouse complaining, consider that maybe it’s an opportunity for you to understand them better. Maybe they are letting you in on a deep need that they have, a chance for you to show them love and understanding. Do your best to listen to complaints with an empathetic ear, not to be insulted, but to reach out and meet them where they are so that you can #staymarried.

You are reading Sometimes My Wife Complains, a #staymarried blog. You may also want to read If You Really Want to be Heard and To Love is To Listen. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.

New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and our first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Tony

If You Really Want To Be Heard…

If you want to be heard, lower your voice. - Why yelling doesn't work. - a #staymarried blogHappily married couples fight. Every couple is bound to have disagreements, tension, and arguments. Once you accept that it’s normal and not an indication that your marriage is failing, you can begin to spend your energy on what makes a fight good, healthy, and productive instead of harmful and divisive.

We have heard over and over again that good communication is essential for a good marriage. The goal of good communication is both to understand and to be understood. Fighting, really, is just another form of communication. One of the fastest ways to go from communicating in a fight to making enemies of each other is to raise your voice and yell.

Why Yelling Doesn’t Work

Yelling at your partner, though your voice might be significantly louder, does not actually help them listen to you. In fact, it does the opposite. When you yell, the brain of the person you are yelling at senses danger and begins to spend its energy assessing how to deal with the perceived threat. The well-known fight-or-flight response system kicks in which can cause your spouse to become defensive and yell back (fight mode) or withdraw and stonewall (flight mode). In either case, they certainly aren’t listening to you. Whatever you have said, however important it may be to you, however passionately you feel, is now completely lost on them. They see red, they hear loud sirens, they react. They do not see the person they love reaching out to be understood.

The very first fight that Tony and I ever had involved a lot of yelling. As many times as I’ve relived that fight, I cannot remember what we were yelling about. I remember where we were, I remember how I felt, I remember how he looked, but I cannot remember a single word from that volatile fight. I do, however, remember the conversation we had once we’d calmed down after the fight was over. We agreed that yelling at each other was awful and neither of us wanted to yell or be yelled at. We made it a rule and ten years later, with a handful of exceptions, we’ve done a decent job of sticking to it.

Can We Have a Better Fight?

Along with having a “No Yelling” rule, and others like it, we have to step back and ask ourselves what we really want out of a fight. I might be fighting because I think I am right about something and need him to see it my way. He might be fighting because he feels disrespected by something hurtful I’ve said. We might be fighting because one of us didn’t live up to the other’s expectations. One study out of Baylor University claims that what we are really after when we fight is power and control. If I’m honest with myself, I think that’s probably true of me. Still, instead of yelling to try to get my point across and screaming to try to control my husband, I want to be the kind of wife who communicates in a way that makes him want to listen to me. How can I do that?

A great place to start is to ask myself if I really want to listen to him? If I am only trying to be heard, and not interested in his perspective, that is going to come across in my tone and body language. A good fight, even a good conversation, involves both people participating. I need to make sure I am actually making room for him to share and be heard without interrupting and cutting him off. That is so hard for me when I’m frustrated, but it’s important if I want to come out of the fight having grown closer to him instead of further apart.

Once I’ve decided to be receptive to his perspective, I need to be careful with how I share mine. Am I using words that accuse and threaten? Or, am I using words that give him the benefit of the doubt and take responsibility myself?

The Magic Ratio

Tony and I aren’t really volatile people. We are both generally calm, he more than I, so this works for us. But, if you and/or your spouse are the passionate type, you may find this nearly impossible. Not to worry, you can still have good fights and a healthy marriage. The key for you is to outweigh your positive vs. negative interactions with each other. In his research, Dr. John Gottman has found a “magic ratio” for those positive and negative interactions, whether you are a volatile couple or relatively calm communicators. The ratio is 5:1, positive versus negative. That includes touching, kissing, encouraging words, helping each other, or any number of things. As long as you have five times as many positive interactions with your spouse as you do loud crazy fights, your marriage is likely to be stable over time.

If you want to be heard, lower your voice. - Why yelling doesn't work. - a #staymarried blog

If you really want to be heard, if you are truly hoping to be understood, keep the volume low in your fights. But, know that even if you raise your voice and say hurtful things, you can still recover by spending extra energy showing your spouse that respect, love, and affection that will help you #staymarried.


You are reading If You Really Want To Be Heard…, a #staymarried blog. If you liked this post, you may also like to read “We Need to Talk” – 4 Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions or No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can also feel free to pin the image above if you like.

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



“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

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

A Bad Fight or a Good Fight?

A Good Fight - a #staymarried blog featuring the difference between a good fight and a bad fight by Drs. Les and Leslie ParrottA friend and I were having coffee, catching up with each other, and talking about how much our kids seem to be paying attention and noticing. I told her about some of the random things my not-quite-two-year-old has been saying lately, like, “Oh my goodness!” and, “That’s okay.” We laughed about the silly things her elementary aged kids have gotten into and the seemingly serious conversations they appear to be having with each other. Then she told me about something a bit more heartbreaking that her seven year old son said to her after she and her husband had been fighting in their bedroom one night.

“Mom, when you and dad are arguing, why don’t you just stop? Just stop doing it.” She was so sad that her son had been so affected by what she thought had occurred behind closed doors that she started to tear up. She put her hand on his shoulder and then he said, “Or, maybe instead of fighting, you could just text each other.”

I felt for my friend. She’s navigating territory that I have yet to enter into – children old enough to understand and communicate how their parents fighting is affecting them. His words were sweet to his momma, and wise, and pretty funny. Who knows, he could be the next great marriage therapist! It got me to thinking about my own fights with Tony and I wondered, why don’t we just stop?

Maybe because if we stop, our spouse will feel like they’ve won. Or because we just have to get our point across and make sure we are being heard. Or because we are hurt and they need to hurt with us. Maybe one of us won’t overlook an offense. Maybe the other won’t admit a mistake. Maybe we both refuse to let go of our need to be right.

I think what this sweet boy was trying to say to his mom is that he hears their fighting and it makes him feel insecure. He wants to know that everything is ok, that they love each other, and that their home is safe and full of peace. He asks why they don’t just stop because, in his mind, the lack of conflict – yelling, arguing, fighting – means that there aren’t any problems. What he doesn’t understand now, but he may someday, is that all couples fight and it is not a bad thing.

The Good Fight Book, photo by Brandon Hill #staymarriedDrs. Les and Leslie Parrott, authors of The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring You Closer share that the difference between a marriage that grows happier and one that grows more miserable is not whether they fight, but how they fight. They say:

All fights are not created equal. A good fight, in contrast to a bad fight, is helpful, not hurtful. It is positive, not negative. A good fight stays clean, but a bad fight gets dirty. According to researchers at the University of Utah, 93% of couples who fight dirty will be divorced within ten years.

Do you feel like the fights you are having with your partner are good fights or bad fights? Do you think they are mostly good, with a little bad sprinkled in? Are they mostly bad? You might think these questions are just a matter of opinion; the fight is good if we say it is. However, research shows us that we can figure out exactly what makes a good fight or a bad fight. Check out this info we found in The Good Fight…

A Good Fight - a #staymarried blog featuring the difference between a good fight and a bad fight by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

It’s a daunting list. Some of these need a lot more explanation, and Les and Leslie offer great insight in their book. But, they also say that if you boil the essence of a bad fight down to a single ingredient, it would have to be pride. Look back at the Bad Fight column of the chart. Do you see it? I do, and I see now more than ever that I am guilty of it.

Most of the fights Tony and I have start when I feel like I haven’t gotten my way… pride. They escalate when I hear him say something that reveals my own selfishness… pride. I move into my classic silent-treatment mode when I see that I might be wrong, but I’m not yet willing to give in… pride.

Look again at the chart. See that last line? The benefit of a good fight is growth and intimacy. Holy crap if they didn’t just nail the very thing I want most in my marriage! I want Tony and I to grow together. I want us to experience real and vulnerable intimacy. My pride does absolutely nothing to help us get there, but laying down my selfishness might. Evaluating where I am coming from in a fight could be exactly what I need to go from escalating the tension we are having to easing that tension.

Fighting is as intrinsic to marriage as sex... quote on #staymarried blog

In marriage, we’re not going to stop fighting. We shouldn’t even think that the absence of fighting is the goal. What we should do is figure out how to get better at it. As for me, I’m going to start with one little habit that I hope will make a difference. I’m going to pause. Before I enter into the fight, I’m going to check myself for that little pride monster. I’m going to look at this chart and evaluate my motives. I’m going to take a deep breath, think about taking responsibility instead of blaming, and then decide how to bring up what’s bothering me. I’m going to try to have more good fights and less bad ones so that Tony and I can grow together and #staymarried.

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like Show Some Respect and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. 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

Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross

Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross on the #staymarried blogIf you are not already aware that there are external threats to your marriage, then my guess is that you haven’t been married for very long. One of the biggest threats to marriage has been infidelity, and researchers from the University of Central Florida have found that people in committed relationships who view pornographic materials are more likely to cheat on their partners than those who don’t. With more than 500 million pages of porn on the internet today, most of which is directed at men, Dr. John Gottman says in his book What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal :

Even non-compulsive use of [porn] can damage a committed relationship. Masturbating to an image results in the secretion of oxytocin and vasopressin, hormones linked to attachment. Porn users are in danger of becoming attached to a mere fetish of impersonal sex.

So, if pornography poses a problem, why don’t we talk about it? I mean, we can all admit that we’ve seen it, and that we want to see it again. Marketers are aware of this and use it against us every day in advertising products that have nothing to do with sex. I see this billboard all the time for a local plumbing company with the image of a beautiful woman in a low cut shirt. Am I supposed to believe that if I call that company, she’s the plumber that is going to show up at my front door?

There are several reasons we don’t often talk about porn. First of all, it’s embarrassing. Viewing porn is not normally a group activity for a reason. When people engage in it, there are the perceived positive effects of being aroused and perhaps even reaching orgasm from masturbating to it. But, with that comes secrecy and shame. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to talk about or admit. Sometimes, while we may even see that porn could be a problem for someone else, we can be fooled into thinking we, ourselves, won’t be affected, so it’s not really a problem for us the way it might be for others. William Struthers, Ph. D., a bio-psychologist and the author of Wired for Intimacy, says after much research:

Denial is the first line of defense. Because so many men have viewed so much porn, the fear about how it has affected them is too overwhelming. So they deny the issue. But it doesn’t go away. Because we are embodied beings, viewing pornography changes how the brain works, how we form memories and make attachments.

Michelle and I are hardly experts when it comes to the study of the effects porn has on a marriage. So, we asked Craig Gross, founder of, who is also known as “The Porn Pastor,” to weigh in. We believe, along with Craig, that we should absolutely be talking about it. If we are going to address the things that threaten our marriages, we need to do it head on. We need to know if and how it affects us so we can arm ourselves against it. When we talked with Craig, he had some very insightful things to share. He weighed in on why we need to push past the shame and embarrassment, and why porn should be talked about in every marriage, and here is what he shared with us…

Porn Breaks Trust and Destroys Intimacy

Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross on the #staymarried blog

A healthy marriage is based on trust and intimacy. Secrets, especially your secret stash of porn or that website you keep deleting from the history bar, are only going to get in the way of that trust.

Another scenario of broken trust happens when a spouse suggests bringing porn into the marriage, wanting to “spice things up.” I have heard both husbands and wives confess they used this approach out of a selfish desire to indulge in porn. When one spouse trusts another and follows his or her suggestion, it is devastating to discover that the spouse who wanted to use porn did not have the best interests of the marriage or the other spouse at heart. Rather, he or she was seeking a way to indulge lust.

Broken trust alters the very core of a relationship, and the only way to restore it is by making good decisions over time. Without trust, a vital marriage component, intimacy is almost impossible.

If you choose to use pornography as a means to sexually arouse yourself, you are forfeiting the ability to become aroused by your spouse. Over time, porn users find that it becomes more and more difficult to be sexually aroused by your spouse because he or she will age while the porn star forever remains youthful in pictures and videos.

Porn lies, telling you that your spouse will never measure up to what porn has to offer. Once you believe that—and you will believe that—your intimacy is over. Fantasy eventually takes people farther away from their spouse than they wanted to go and offers no turnaround.

Though porn destroys marriages, it takes more than just abstaining from porn to keep your marriage growing, healthy, and strong.

Here are some keys to assist you as you strive to keep your marriage thriving:

1. Set Healthy Parameters

Don’t allow unhealthy glances or wandering eyes. Television shows and even some television ads can produce impure thoughts that lead to unhealthy behavior. Turn them off before you get hooked. Sticking to this guideline will take guts and willpower. For Christians, Jesus had some especially candid words for how powerful the link between our mind and our emotions can be. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27–28) Essentially, Jesus stated that having an uncontrolled mind will inevitably lead to thoughts that become actions. It’s the same way with porn.

2. Guard Your Associations

You are the average of the five people with whom you hang around with most often. The behavior of those you spend time with becomes your behavior, and bad company corrupts good character. If your friends are consumed with talking about sexual escapades or exploitative behavior, get new friends. Take charge of the relational environments in which you place yourself.

3. Guard Your Ears

Inappropriate words masked as flirtatious compliments are stepping-stones toward irreversible effects. I have seen relationships destroyed because a wife was innocently seduced by a friend’s listening ear and kind words. I have also known men and women who have mastered making comments that lead to more aggressive flirtatious behavior. Don’t allow it. If someone makes a comment to you that is flirty or over the edge, make it immediately clear this is not acceptable behavior. If it happens twice, bring your spouse into the loop and talk about it.

4. Guard Your Time and Money

Friends of ours who have struggled with porn have taken steps to control their use of time and money. They have asked their spouses to control the money and made themselves accountable to a friend for the ways they spend their time. The formula is simple and it works as a healthy parameter. If there is strict accountability of money (no cash in hand) and time (where have you been and what have you been doing?), it is much more difficult to get in a place that leads to trouble.

5. Work at Romance

Did you know it’s important to keep dating even though you’re married? I know Michelle and Tony have touched on this here at #staymarried, and I only want to reinforce the idea.  It’s easy to let time pass and allow dating and romance in your marriage to disappear, but then you’re setting yourself up for boredom and the inevitable desire to seek out something new. Instead, set up date nights with each other. They don’t have to be expensive, just creative. Your calendar should have at least one date night a month. Remind each other and plan ahead so you have something to look forward to. Even a movie night at home with take-out food can keep the love spark glowing.

6. Communicate Love Clearly

Every person hears “I love you” in a different way. According to Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, couples need to hear love in the way they understand it most clearly. Michelle wrote a post giving more insight into this idea here. When you identify your partner’s love language, you can then communicate “I love you” most clearly. A breakdown occurs when you think you’re communicating love but it sounds like a foreign language to your spouse, so work hard at discovering your spouse’s love language and communicating love clearly . . . and often.

7. Maintain Physical Intimacy

According to a 2003 Newsweek study, between 15 and 20 percent of couples are living in a sexless marriage—these are couples who make love no more than ten times a year. While sex is not the be-all and end-all in a marriage, it is obviously one of the best ways to maintain intimacy. Most men think sex has to be daily, while women may be satisfied with less sex than that. The longer men go without sex, the more desperate they become for it. The longer women go without sex, the more they don’t need it. Find a good compromise and make every effort to follow through, even though one or both of you may be busy and tired. Couples who said they were sexually fulfilled had sex an average of 2.5 times a week. Sex must happen on a regular basis. Plan for it. Prepare your mind for it. Do it.

8. Forgive

Every relationship is going to have an occasional bump in the road, but don’t let that bump turn into a mountain by refusing to forgive a mistake. Remember that forgiveness is not a synonym for justifying, accepting, or condoning sinful behavior; it is about allowing room for growth and trusting that a change in behavior follows every apology. Many times couples can let too much time pass without asking for or offering forgiveness. When this happens, bitterness, resentment, and disillusionment set in. Soon the person harboring unforgiveness can start to think these issues wouldn’t happen in a different relationship, a deception that leads to a “grass is greener” mentality. Invest in your relationship by asking for and offering forgiveness whenever it is needed.

Growing together and nurturing your marriage is a lifelong task that both husband and wife must undertake. Even in the midst of a culture charged with sexual imagery, your marriage can remain healthy and strong if you are vigilant about protecting it. Some of these parameters may seem extreme, some of them are. But, we believe we need to take an extreme stance against anything that would threaten our desire to #staymarried.

P.S. You are reading Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross, as part of a #staymarried series on infidelity, pornography, and forgiveness.  If you missed the first two parts, 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver and 5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity, 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.
Thanks for reading!

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.

The #staymarried Book

#staymarried: A Couple's Devotional by Michelle PetersonThe #staymaried Book is a 52 Week Couples Devotional, each chapter exploring how our faith works together with our everyday lives and with relationship research to give a fuller picture of how we can create a marriage that doesn’t simply last, but fulfills our lives and helps us pursue our dreams. Find out more about the book here.


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

Tony and Michelle Peterson #staymarried

If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.
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8 Tips for Online Dating – Sensible Singles Week

I’ve been seeing headlines in the news lately that haven’t really surprised me. Headlines like this one from Huffington Post: Online Dating Leads to Higher Marriage Satisfaction, Lower Divorce Rates. You can imagine that anything that claims “lower divorce rates” catches my attention. I’ve always had a good opinion about online dating – seems efficient, no need to make a fool of yourself at a club, and as an introvert, I actually prefer email communication to talking in person. But, regardless of my positive opinions, I’ve never had any experience with online dating.

In dreaming up good stuff to share with our Sensible Single readers, I really wanted to put something together that would be helpful. At the same time, I don’t want to pretend to know about something I actually have no experience with. So I went downstairs, of course, to talk with our housemate, Emily.

Emily and I bonded in sisterhood in 2005 when we met while working together on a small staff of four. We were both single then, putting in way too many hours in the office, and doing our best to keep our heads above water. She coped with our challenging job by playing Christmas music in July. I coped by making an excel spreadsheet for everything under the sun and ignoring the printer every time there was a paper jam. She kept things fun when I got too serious. She still does now that we share a house.

Along with being one of the most fun friends I have, she is phenomenally insightful. I can’t wait for you to hear from her yourselves. Here she is!

8 Tips for Online Dating - a #staymarried blog on Sensible Singles Week

Adventures in Online Dating

Michelle asked me to guest write on the #staymarried blog about the benefits of online dating, and it’s taken me a few weeks to weed out all of the millions of things I would like to use this forum to say on the subject of relationships. You see, a few years ago, I made the decision not to stay married. I have re-written the following sentence 12 times attempting to sum up my story so we can get to present day. So here you go: I met a man and fell in love, we got married, it was bad, we separated, then we divorced. Caught up? Great. Let’s move on.

To those readers who are married, you might be tempted to check out right about now and take a pass on today’s #staymarried post. Hold your horses and read on– I’ll bet you $10 that there’s a single person in your world who would like to no longer be single. A very happily married person, my youngest sister, Haley, recommended to me that I try online dating, and today I am planning a life with the most wonderful man and two beautiful step-children.

When Haley encouraged me to try online dating, I intellectually knew that online dating didn’t mean I was a loser who couldn’t find a date on my own, but it felt that way regardless. I visited a few online dating sites and landed on eHarmony. I figured, like most things in the world, the more expensive the product is, the better it must be. So, I started to fill out the online profile with zero expectations that it would produce any positive results. Best 60 bucks I have ever spent!

After taking three days to fill out an application that would rival the one I filled out for college, I hit submit and didn’t check my profile for nearly a week. I full-on freaked out. Would I be matched with someone I already knew and then he would know that I am an online-dating-loser? Would I be matched with someone who is a bigger online-dating-loser than me? But the worst of my fears was that I would be matched up with, and fall for someone, like my ex-husband. I wanted to get married again… someday. I wanted a family with a man I could respect and trust, and I believed it could still happen for me. I had fought hard for my marriage, so I knew I have what it takes to roll up my sleeves and work on a marriage. Now, I just needed to find someone else who also had that fight in them.

Naturally, I called Haley sobbing and asked her to check my profile for me. Her advice was priceless: “Stop being such a baby! Check your profile, delete the guys you can tell that smell bad, and have fun going on practice dates with the rest. Don’t call me again until you checked your profile… but make sure you call me, because I am dying to know who you got matched with. Better yet, send me the crazy ones so Ben (her husband) and I can read them.” I love my sister.

So, from the comfort of my home, in my PJ’s with a cup of coffee, I read through over 20 profiles of men that I had been matched up with. It was like the Sears and Roebuck catalog of husbands. My attitude toward online dating was turning around rather quickly – It was like being able to cram the same amount of guys I had met in all of my 20’s into a 90 minute time block. No awkward “Let’s just be friends” talks or faking my own death to get out of a relationship. I just hit the delete button and kept on reviewing potential matches.

For the next few months, I met a few guys and ended up going on a few dates. All of those dates were great experiences, but nothing more. Then I met Jason.

Jason, like me, had been married previously, and he was tip-toeing his way through online dating to see what he might be up against. He had been out of the dating world for over 15 years and, like many adults, was looking for an appropriate and safe way to meet other people. We were matched up, and he pursued getting to know me better using eHarmony’s guided question and answer system. After a few days, we graduated to open emailing on the website’s interface. I remember trying to craft witty and thoughtful responses to his brilliant questions, pressing send and watching my email inbox like a hawk for his response. We moved onto sending emails via our personal email accounts, then to the phone, and then we met nearly two months later for our first date. It was perfect.

Jason just proposed a few days ago, and I didn’t know I could be this happy. I didn’t know I could love someone, and be loved, this much. Whenever anyone asks how we met, without skipping a beat, I tell them we met online and that it was the greatest dating experience I’ve ever had. We usually get one of two responses from people we talk to about our online dating experience: they either know someone who just got married after meeting online, or they lower their voice while leaning in and ask us how we did it. Well, aren’t you in luck, because I have a few online dating tips to share.

8 Tips for Online Dating - a #staymarried blog for Sensible Singles Week

1. Determine your motives before you start.

To have and to hold forever or for the night? Knowing what you want out of this whole thing will help you find which online site best fits your needs. Having a clear goal in mind will also determine what your profile will look like to give potential matches a baseline understanding of who you are. I knew I wanted to get married someday, but I wanted to go on some practice dates first. I wasn’t interested in any casual physical relationships, so I kept my profile light and humorous while remaining 100% honest about who I am and what my likes and dislikes are.

2. Be positive, honest, and brief.

Don’t waste your time, or anyone else’s, with statements, answers, and pictures that don’t accurately represent who you are. Filling out your profile isn’t a test from 10th grade history class on which you try to supply the “correct” answer. Showcase yourself in a positive way that is honest and to the point. Stand back and ask yourself if you would date you. Ask a friend to review your profile and encourage honest feedback. Jason won me over when he talked about how much he loved being a father, his passion for writing music, and how important his personal faith is to him. An online dating profile is not the place to emotionally manipulate people to pay attention to you.

3. Smile!

Pictures are a huge part of the online dating process, whether you think they should be or not. Posting a few shots of yourself doing something you love can help matches learn a little bit more about you. Toss up some current shots of yourself regardless of the few extra pounds you’ve put on since Christmas, or the few less strands of hair you’ve been sporting since college. Jason had posted some shots of when he had long hair, and I posted shots from 50 pounds ago. We had to have the awkward conversation where he told me that he was starting to bald and I told him that I was actually heavier than a few of my posted pictures. His exact words were, “I think I would like you even if you looked like Herman Munster.” Um, Thank you?

4. Play capture the red-flag.

Red flags are hard to see when you are staring into a pair of dreamy brown puppy dog eyes over candlelight at your favorite restaurant. Take your time before meeting a match face-to-face to search out potential deal breakers in your online communications. I talked to a guy for a few weeks before I realized that he never once asked me a question about myself. He made a lot of assumptions about what he thought I would like, and asked me to make a trip from where I live in Seattle, to where he lives in Portland, to meet him. If we had met, let’s say in a bar, I may have been too busy staring at his perfect chin to notice that he talked about himself constantly. Because our computer screens divided us, it was very easy to send him a “thanks, but no thanks” note, discontinue our communication, and move on with my life.

5. Ask the hard questions.

Are you married? Do you have kids? Do you like kids? Are you currently employed? Are you the craigslist killer? (That last one was an actual question I asked Jason.)

6. Brush up on your typing skills.

Pen pals aren’t just for inmates anymore. Take some time emailing back and forth, and then moving to phone calls before meeting up. Building an intellectual and emotional relationship with someone may help you make a better choice about who you may want to spend an afternoon, or your life, with. Jason and I took our sweet time before meeting. Our first date was so much fun – it felt like we had known each other for years. We talked for hours that night and have talked every night since. We still write each other notes nearly every day.

7. Try not to get killed.

When you do decide to meet up, choose a public place. Have an agenda planned out beforehand and don’t accept the “It’s a surprise!” date invitation. Know where you are going, what you are doing, and what time you might be wrapping up. Keep in mind that not everyone, and everything, on the internet is as it seems. Don’t give out your last name, phone number, place of employment, home address, credit card information, your mother’s maiden name, your social security number, etc. Before Jason’s and my first date, though we had been communicating for several weeks, I told my housemate, my Mom, and Facebook where I was going and what time to expect me back. If I had wound up dead later that night, it wouldn’t have been a hard case to crack.

8. Lighten up and have some freaking fun.

Dating is fun! Talk with new people. Go grab a drink or a meal with the intention of learning more about yourself and another human being. Just because you meet someone online doesn’t mean you have to marry them. I went out with a few guys before meeting Jason, and do I have some stories! One guy owned a successful boutique software company with his brother and had a keen eye for architecture. Another guy was a D&D Game Master and into Live Action Role Play. Who cares? I was going on practice dates and keeping my hands to myself! I was seeing who was out there and meeting some truly fascinating people along the way.

8 Tips for Online Dating - a #staymarried blog on Sensible Singles Week

Michelle and Tony like to say that they met like normal people: in a bar. That was sooooo 2004. Jason and I met like normal people: online. When Jason took me ring shopping, the lady helping us asked where we had met. We both beamed and I told her, “we met on eHarmony! Isn’t that great?!” She told us that at least 75% of her clients meet online, and the last four weddings she attended were from online matches. My encouragement to anyone who is thinking about trying online dating would be to just go for it – you have nothing to lose, but an entire future to gain. Worst case scenario: you go on some dates with some duds and decide online dating isn’t for you. Best case scenario: you meet the right person, fall in love, and #staymarried.

For more of Emily’s musings, you can find her on twitter @emilykgarrison

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


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


Same Team

Before we were dating, Tony and I used to meet with some friends at a neighborhood bar called Piper’s Creek. It was the dimly lit sort of pub with a few pool tables, some dart boards, open seating, one bartender, and no waitresses. The outer walls were lined with bookshelves and all sorts of old board games and card games. If it weren’t on the other side of town from where we live now, it would definitely still be on our list of regular spots.


Back then, though we weren’t dating, we were definitely liking each other. You know, liking in the kind of way that you only say and do interesting things around each other. We sat at one of the open tables and Tony asked if I’d like to play chess. “Sure!” I said enthusiastically, “I’d love to!” Come on, who wouldn’t want to play chess with someone they had a crush on. It’s a game that takes a very long time and only involves two players. Yep, I’d definitely like to play chess with you, handsome Tony Peterson. Thank you for asking. He pulled out the board and started to set up the pieces. “Have you played before?”

“It’s been a very long time.” I watched him set up his pieces and I set mine up in the exact same way. He made his first move, and I thought it was a good one, so I made the exact same move. He made a few more moves, and each time I mirrored exactly what he did.
“You don’t know how to play, do you?”

“Well, I know the horse guy can take a left. I know the pointy guy can go diagonal. Yep, that’s about all I know about chess”. We laughed and he started to teach me, but to this day I have no idea how to play chess, nor do I have any real desire to learn. Tony and I still love playing games together. But, if you’re at a table playing a game with us, you’ll quickly notice that we approach games very differently. I’m the type to play my hand, figure out my strategy at the start of the game, and move along at a relatively slow pace. Tony, on the other hand, always plays his opponents. He’s the card counting, facial expression reading, block your next move just because he can type of player. I play for fun, he plays to win (which he claims is more fun).

As we’ve gotten to know each other better over the years, it’s also clear that we approach just about everything in life differently, not just games. We especially approach each other differently when we’re in a conflict. He’d like to get it out on the table all at once. I’d like to wait until my thoughts are fully formed, as reasonable as possible, and be prepared for any contrary arguments before I broach an issue. Of course, in my mind, this makes me extremely considerate not to lash out at my husband. But, for Tony on the receiving end, this looks like I have shut him out and am stonewalling and keeping secrets. Perception is a tricky thing. He is not wrong, but then again, neither am I. The problem is, when I’m mad, I start thinking about our marriage as if it’s a game of chess. I’m waiting for him to make the right move.

In chess, you’ve got one opponent against another. You’ve each got your own king, the prize you’re protecting against your adversary. You’ve got your strategy, you’re attempting to decipher the strategy being played against you. In chess, you only make your move when you’re absolutely ready and you never make a move out of turn. Sometimes I want to play my frustrations out like a game of chess. I want to hold my anger and resentment close and watch and see if he will figure out what he did wrong. When I’m hurt, I don’t want to work with him on some sort of solution. I want, instead, to protect myself from him. I start thinking of him as an adversary and I start thinking more independently, only pouring myself a cup of coffee in the morning, instead of pouring for both of us. And even as I am playing all of this out in my mind, a conflicting phrase occurs to me over and over again… “Same team… Same team.”

Same Team

I remember a friend of ours describing his fights with his wife to us years ago. He said that when it’s really heated, they have to remind each other, and themselves, that they are on the same team. He said it was especially crucial once they had kids. I never forgot that verbiage and the way he described the feeling that your spouse is your enemy when the reality is that they are your teammate. In a game where you’re on the same team, you need to work together so that your team wins. If you play against your own team, you lose!

Still, it’s really hard in my stubborn and independent nature to want to work together when I’m upset. Tony and I know we approach our conflicts differently, so we’ve developed some language and key phrases to help us work through the muck. For instance, when I have been too quiet for too long, he might say to me, “I’m giving you space. But, I’d like to talk. How are you feeling?” I am almost never ready to talk when he asks, so I might say, “I’m working it out. I’m not sure what to say, but I am definitely bothered.” For us, that’s at least a start. Sometimes I’ll ask for more time, or to get the attention off of myself, I’ll ask in return how he’s feeling. I realize this can seem very formal, but it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. It does feel like drudgery, like tromping through thick mud, but as soon as we decide to talk, as soon as we decide we want to really hear from each other, we move back to being on the same team and out of the place of being opponents on the opposite side of a chess board.

Seek First To Understand

In Stephen R. Covey’s famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about some of this. His Habit 5 is: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Covey writes that most of us have no real training or practice in listening. We spend most of our time learning to communicate our own thoughts, and give very little attention to the skills of understanding those around us. He says that, in most cases, we listen with the intent to reply instead of the intent to understand. There is a big difference here.

In the case of our marriages, this failure to really listen to each other, to really try to understand each other, can often put us at odds with one another. If we do what comes naturally, if we are seeking first to be understood, we are playing the game as opponents. We need to, instead, come up with ways to listen, to seek to understand, so that we can have a Same Team Mindset.

 If YOU win, your TEAM loses.

So, how about you? Are you playing out your arguments as opponents, or are you attempting to be on the same team? Are you seeking first to be understood, or are you seeking to understand? Are you defending and protecting yourself, or are you defending and protecting your teammate and your marriage? This is something I struggle with all the time. Maybe it’s a survivalist mindset. I mentioned before about my struggle with apologizing, and I’m sure it’s because I hate being wrong. But in those moments, I have to make the choice to play as a teammate, suck it up, and apologize.

Once you get married, your role in the story of your life shifts entirely from being the star player to being a member of a team. If you continue to try to “win” – being right in your arguments, getting your way with the social calendar, making independent decisions about spending money – you will cause your team as a whole to lose. Instead, look your teammate in the eye the next time you go head-to-head and remind each other that you are on the SAME TEAM so you can #staymarried!

*Click here for more on “Repair Attempts”

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