Six Conversations Every Couple Must Have

Is “Happily ever after…”6 Conversations Every Couple Must Have - #staymarried even a thing?

That’s the question that’s given me insomnia over the last three years. Sometimes I lose sleep for a week, tossing and turning going over the stats and stories of divorce over and over again in my mind. Is it possible for anyone to actually stay married? And, if they manage to stay together, can they also be happy and not just suffering through life together? Who even came up with this phrase “Happily ever after…”? Had they experienced it themselves?

Then I discovered that most couples who divorce do so within the first three years after the wedding. Newlyweds become divorcees. Isn’t it called the honeymoon phase for a reason? Why aren’t the newlyweds blissfully carrying on? Continue reading “Six Conversations Every Couple Must Have”

What Every Newlywed Needs to #staymarried

What Every Newlywed Needs to #staymarriedWedding season is officially upon us! Lovebirds everywhere will be tying the knot this summer. I love seeing all of the wedding photos… it’s a super exciting time in a couple’s life.

Many couples are also celebrating anniversaries this time of year. Tony and I will be celebrating our 7th year of marriage in just a few days. It’s a season of love and beginnings and nostalgia and I can’t get enough of it!

Since I can’t possibly crash all of the weddings I’d like to, I’ve put together this short list of some of our most popular #staymarried posts. Consider this our wedding gift to you – or a wedding gift you can give! These 6 brief articles, if read and applied, could get you off to a great start on your journey toward a marriage that lasts. If you don’t have time to read them all now, pin this page and come back to it, digesting and discussing one entry at a time.

If you are celebrating an anniversary this summer, like Tony and I, use these as a refresher. Think back to when you were first married, what you thought it would be like, and what has surprised you most since then. Wherever you are on your marriage journey, we can all use these reminders…


6 Essential Articles to Get Your Marriage Started Right

Continue reading “What Every Newlywed Needs to #staymarried”

Our Candy Anniversary

Our Candy Anniversary - a #staymarried blog

Tony and I are celebrating six years of wedded bliss on June 8th. When I say “wedded bliss,” what I really mean is six years of learning about each other, having lots of fights, moving across the country and back again, changing jobs, and becoming parents. Traditionally, the sixth year is celebrated with candy to represent the sweetness in your relationship. This year, we’ll be eating our candy in El Paso, Texas while we spend time in the town where I grew up.

I am thrilled to be introducing our girls to my grandparents and aunts and uncles. Living so far away has prevented us from seeing them until now, and pictures of my kids really do not do their incredible personalities and joy-filled laughs justice. The last time I saw most of this side of my family was at our wedding in 2007. Having so many of my family members make the trip from Texas to Washington meant the world to me. I still tear up when I look at some of the pictures.

Our Candy Anniversary - a #staymarried blog

Our Candy Anniversary - a #staymarried blog

This time of year, I tend to reflect a lot on that day. I look at pictures. I pull out the little piece of paper that we wrote and recited our wedding vows from. I think about the weather that day- warm and just a little windy. I think about the music, the people who celebrated with us.

Our Candy Anniversary - a #staymarried blog

This year, I am thinking so much more about what we didn’t do for that special day. We didn’t serve alcohol. We didn’t have a catered meal. We didn’t rent tuxedos. We didn’t have a fun photo booth. We didn’t reserve a special vintage getaway car. We didn’t spend more than $300 total on both of our rings, combined. I am not thinking of these things in terms of regret. The truth is, we didn’t have the money for any of those things. We wanted to be married and if we’d waited until we could afford that kind of wedding, we may still not be married today. Or, if we’d decided it was ok for us to go into debt, I’m sure it would be a debt we might still be paying off. I guess I’m thinking so much about it because I’m not sure I would be able to make the same decisions today.

Our Candy Anniversary - a #staymarried blog

Maybe I was simply naive to the pressures a modern bride faces when I was engaged, but at the time I simply shrugged off all of the things I didn’t want to pay for. Fortunately, we were surrounded by family and community that graciously gifted to us many of the things we were even willing to pay for (invitations, a wedding venue, a small cake, flowers). I remember watching friends come early with platters of bite sized desserts and beautiful trays of fruit that they had prepared with their own hands to serve at our wedding. It was tough to hold back tears at their generosity. Six years later, I hope these friends haven’t any regrets about the investments they made in us that day.

Our Candy Anniversary - a #staymarried blog

In addition to the traditional wedding vows, we wrote our own that we read to one another.  As I run my fingers over the ink on the page of our vows, which Tony keeps in the pocket of the one and only suit jacket he owns, I thought I would share them with you.

Our Vows

Tony’s Vows to Me…

Our Candy Anniversary - a #staymarried blog

Michelle Elaine McKenzie, I thank God for you. I am thankful that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sin and rose from the dead so that I might have an abundantly blessed life. I am amazed by God’s goodness. I am humbled by His generosity as I look at you, a woman strong in faith, generous in heart, and beautiful to admire. Your passion for life, your love and compassion for others, and your tenderness has taken a hold of me. My heart was created to protect you, to love you.

I promise to put your interests before my own, to be your ever present strength, and not to withhold any good thing from you.

This day I give you my heart, trusting in God’s good plan for our life together.

My Vows To Tony…

Our Candy Anniversary - a #staymarried blog

Tony Owen Peterson, I thank God for you. I am thankful that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sin and rose from the dead so that I might have an abundantly blessed life. I am amazed by God’s goodness. I am humbled by his generosity as I look at you, a gift of a man better than I even knew to hope for. Your heart to worship God, your humility to obey Him, and your strength to lead me in His purposes has taken a hold of me. My heart was created to crave you, to love you.

I promise to put your interests before my own, to be your ever present helper, and not to withhold any good thing from you.

This day I give you my heart, trusting in God’s good plan for our life together.

We didn’t know it then, but this piece of paper, these photos, these memories… these things represent the beginning of our journey to fulfill our own vows and now to offer ourselves to others like you who are committed to #staymarried. Indeed, this anniversary will be sweet!

Our Candy Anniversary - a #staymarried blog

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read 25 Things To Do Before The Wedding. 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

For Better or Worse

I’ve mentioned before how much I love weddings. In February, we got to not only attend the wedding of a couple we love, but Tony was asked to officiate! He’d never done this before, and while he has no fear of speaking in front of a crowd of people, this was an entirely different level. He felt the weight of responsibility so heavily that he spent a very long time drafting and writing out just what he would say. Every last word of it was funny, and personal, and beautiful. As his wife, I couldn’t have been more proud.

When it came to the vows, he struggled with how to handle it. You see, George and Erika are not exactly traditional. I mean, I don’t know any other couple that’s had their engagement pictures feature an ax and a rooster.

For Better or Worse - a #staymarried blog for couples

Rather than a big formal rehearsal, we just had them over to our house for dinner to review the main parts of the ceremony and to have them practice and make edits to their vows. Tony pulled some of the most beautiful and traditional vows expecting them to make changes as they saw fit. He led them through the practice round and as they held hands, gazed at each other in our living room, and repeated Tony’s words, they beamed with love and admiration for each other. When they finished, Tony handed them a pen.

“Go for it. Change whatever you want. This is your wedding and this is just a draft. We want these vows to be yours.”

George and Erika looked at each other and Erika shrugged. “I don’t have anything.”
“Neither do I,” said George, “I think they’re perfect.”

They beamed some more and I don’t think either of them caught the surprised looks on my and Tony’s faces.

Just a few days later at one of the most wonderful weddings I’ve been to, they exchanged these vows that have been recited between husbands and wives over many, many generations. They meant them, and we pray they will keep them. There really is something so significant in the vows we make on our wedding day that none of us who have ever been married can yet understand on the day we make them.

For Better or Worse - a #staymarried blog for couples

I take you, my beloved, to have and to hold from this day forward.

For better or for worse. In sickness and in health.

To love and to cherish, all the days of my life.


For better.

When Erika is in a good mood. When she shines radiantly with love for him. When she is kind and funny just the way he likes her. When George is thoughtful and responsible. When he is simultaneously affectionate and sarcastic, just the way she likes him.

For worse.

When Erika is disrespectful and selfish. When she is tired and irritable. When she feels insecure and acts jealously. When George is thoughtless and rude. When he betrays her and disregards her feelings. When he is arrogant and prideful.

Of course, Tony didn’t go into so much detail during their ceremony. Still, this is the reality of the promise they made to each other that day. This, or some version of it, is the reality of the promise we all make when we marry. To take the whole person, not just the parts we like. To take them on their hardest days, not just their happiest. To believe in them when they do not believe in themselves. To honor them when they act dishonorably.

For Only as Long as I Feel Like It

In Karen Swallow Prior’s article in The Atlantic entitled “The Case for Getting Married Young,” she explores the phenomenon of our generation marrying later in life than the generations before us. She notes as research shows that, though the wisdom seems apparent for each of us individually to finish our education and fulfill our vocational dreams before we commit ourselves to another person, this wisdom has not made for lower divorce rates. In our culture, we have shifted from marrying one another out of social and economic advantages to marrying for companionship and emotional love. While I couldn’t imagine it any other way, the disadvantage seems that, if we marry from emotion, we may only stay married because of emotion as well. I love the way she puts it as she describes her own marriage of over three decades that: “It was not the days of ease that made our marriage stronger and happier: it was working through the difficult parts.”

For Better Or Worse - a #staymarried blog for couples

So, I go back to the traditional vows. I see nothing in the language that says “unless.” There is no caveat for our day-to-day emotions. There is no exception for the season when a wife holds down the fort and raises children alone while her husband is serving in the military elsewhere. There is no room for exit when either husband or wife loses their job, loses their motivation, gains weight, and starts smoking. For better or worse, we say.

We don’t say, “For better or worse, until you become really controlling about money.”
We don’t say, “For better or worse, unless you feel insecure when I go out alone with my friends.”
We don’t say, “For better or worse, as long as you continue to advance in your career.”
We don’t say, “For better or worse, until you weigh more than you do on our wedding day.”

For Better or Worse - a #staymarried blog for couples

For better or worse. We take each other not only as we stand on our wedding day, but through all of the changes that we will absolutely go through as we move through life together. We hope for better, we truly love through worse, and we #staymarried.

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read 25 Things To Do Before The Wedding. 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

Photo Credit: Nostalgia Photgraphy

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

25 Things To Do Before The Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to download a printable version of this list.

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

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

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and have engaged or newly-married friends you think it would benefit, please consider sharing. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

We Do It In Groups

We do it in groups. We’ve always done it that way. In fact, when Tony decided to ask me to marry him, he caught me completely by surprise by proposing to me in front our Growth Group, a small group through our church that we were a part of at the time.

The Proposal

I remember the drive to the house where our group was held. I felt sweaty, I didn’t like the awkward brown polka dot shirt I was wearing, and I didn’t have time to go home to shower and change. We were leading the group together, I had a stack of papers on my lap as I sat next to him in his Ford Bronco, sheets with questions, study material, prayer request cards. He had nothing, and was in charge of the ice breaker game so I asked him, “What kind of game are we playing tonight.”

“I’ve got something in mind. I’ll figure it out.”

“You didn’t need anything printed off? Do you need any help with it?”

“Honey, I got it, don’t worry about it.”

Ugghh… so there I am, sweaty and disheveled, and now I have to practice trusting this guy and not being so nit-picky and controlling. Fine, whatever.

We got to Sharon and Jimmy’s place in Kirkland. I love that house. They were such warm hosts, always prepared, always kind, we hardly had to do a thing. People started filing into the house, the living room was more and more full and my co-leader was way out on the front lawn all by himself. I was seriously thinking, “What the heck, Tony? Get in here!” but, kindly on the outside, called for him. “Tony, I think we should get started.”

He sauntered in and began to talk about the game. “Well, the game is going to be a little different tonight. It’s only going to involve two people…”

Inside my head: “Is he serious? How ridiculous!”

“As many of you know, Michelle and I have been dating for a couple of years now. She is my best friend…”

“What is he doing? People don’t care about this stuff! Is this ‘Two Truths and a Lie’?”

“I love her so much, and in front of all of you – our friends – I want to ask…”

“Seriously. WHAT IS HE DOING!?!”

He approached me where I was sitting, got down on his knee and pulled a ring out of his pocket. “Michelle, will you marry me? Will you be my wife?”

The room was a flutter, squealing from all of the girls, and some where in the back of the room I heard someone whisper, “Is he serious?” That was all it took for my insecurity to take over, so I asked him myself, “Are you serious?” Poor Tony… he asked me again.

I said “Yes!”, the room cheered, and then we put in the DVD we were watching for our group study. We sat next to each other, contented. I glanced down at my beautiful new ring and then over at my new fiance. We were happy.

One of the men in the group whispered to us, “Go, take a walk. I’ll cover your group for tonight,” So we did. We walked the hills of this beautiful Kirkland neighborhood, happy as can be. He wanted to know if he had really surprised me. He had. I wanted to know why he would propose in front of that group of people – a small group we were supposed to be leading. I’ll never forget what he said.

“I wanted to surprise you. I also thought about the future, about the stories we would tell our kids some day. I imagine having kids and having a house full of people and maybe our kids will be annoyed, ‘Why are there always people at our house?’ And I’ll tell them, ‘Community is important to us. We always want to be a part of small groups growing together. Did you know I even asked your mom to marry me at a small group?’ I want them to know it matters.”

It does matter. We are in our fifth year of marriage and in the midst of leading and hosting a… would you believe?… #staymarried Growth Group. We meet weekly with ten other couples in our home to work through how we plan to stay married. We laugh, we encourage each other, we pray for each other, and maybe most importantly, we are getting to know one another.

We’d Prefer to Be Alone

The strange thing for us about building our lives around community is that, by nature, we both tend to be introverted. Both of us have taken the Myers-Briggs personality assessment multiple times, and while other characteristics have varied slightly, we both always end up with the “I” for introvert on the spectrum of Introvert-Extrovert. We used to give each other pep-talks on the drive to a party: “Ok, let’s think. What could you talk about if it gets awkwardly quiet? What’s our code word going to be when we’re ready to go? Let’s try and stay more than 20 minutes this time.” Truly, we are both most comfortable spending the day at home by ourselves reading or cooking or playing video games (that last one applies only to Tony). The problem with only doing things we are comfortable with is that we cannot deny how much our lives have benefitted when we push past ourselves, past our comfort zones, and make relationships a priority.

Current research suggests that belonging to a community and having “couple friends” is one of the keys to making your marriage last. From providing a mirror in which to observe your own marriage to a window through which to see the inner functionings of other couples, there are many benefits to building relationships with others. For marriage, especially, “doing life” in groups is so important.

Benefits of Doing it in Groups

Transparency is great accountability.

When you have friends that you are real with, or a group that you meet with regularly, it is inevitable you will get asked about your life.
How’s your marriage?
When was the last time you and your husband had sex?
Have you been fighting a lot lately?
When you choose to be honest with people, for your own benefit and theirs, it can be great accountability for the way you behave within your marriage. Some of the toughest and best conversations I’ve had with Tony have happened after a close friend challenged and encouraged me to bring up what was bothering me. Just knowing she would ask me, “Have you talked to Tony about this yet?” was enough to help me push through the discomfort and grow in my marriage.

You can fight without fighting.

Tony and I discovered early on that, when we talked about the fights our friends were having, we were able to discuss with each other our own perspectives more safely. For instance, let’s say my friend Sasha was in a fight with her husband Todd about money. I could safely say to Tony that I thought Todd was being controlling and overbearing about it, and he could share with me that Sasha wasn’t communicating very well with Todd and seemed to be spending frivolously. Then we could move the conversation to something like, “Well, what would you want me to do in that situation?” and have meaningful conversations without a bunch of heat and emotions added to them. We’ve learned a lot about each other this way.

You will carry each other’s burdens.

When disaster strikes, which is always a matter of “when” and not “if,” the hardest thing for a lot of people is the sense that they are alone in what they are facing. Because Tony and I have made an effort to invest in other people’s lives, and they in ours, we have people who have lifted us up during stormy seasons. It can be difficult to share your struggles with people you don’t know very well, so it’s important to have a foundation of friendship with others that sets you up for support when you lose your job, your grandmother passes away, or you are having a hard time in your marriage. It has also been our great privilege to bear one another’s burdens by providing a listening ear or a warm meal when friends of ours have experienced loss and hardships in their lives.

We learn and grow on purpose.

Tony and I have been a part of some wonderful groups, together and separately. Sometimes they are focused on topics about marriage, sometimes they have been activity based groups, sometimes reading through books and sometimes just playing games. What we find remarkable about every group we’ve ever participated in or led is how much we still have to learn. We get to hear other people’s opinions and perspectives that are sometimes challenging and sometimes validating. We also get to have something new to talk about with each other. “How was your group? What did you guys talk about? How did you feel about it?” By moving past our introverted comfort zones, we have positioned ourselves to learn new things, grow in relationships with other people, and be purposeful in new ways about our own marriage.

It can come across as selfless and sacrificial to invest so much time in relationships with other people. But, the reality for us is that we want to be married a long, long time and we know the quality of the relationships we build now – small groups, play dates, game nights, inviting friends over for dinner – will result in enduring rewards over the years. We will get back what we invest in those relationships, with the profits directly affecting our marriage. So, really, it is a pretty selfish endeavor that we have made a priority in our life. It is our hope that you will find these kinds of relationships in which to invest your time– relationships with people who will invest in you, in turn, and cheer you on to #staymarried.

Finding a Marriage Mentor

Nobody becomes an expert on their own. Everyone from professional football players to professional chefs will tell you of several examples of people who inspired them, people who went before them and showed them, by the way they succeeded, that it was possible in the first place. The most successful professionals in any field will tell you without skipping a beat who their mentor is. Married people, if we’re going to succeed, if we’re going to stay married, we need to see real life examples of how it’s done. We need mentors, too.

When Tony and I were engaged, our pastor and friend recommended we go to premarital counseling before we got married. I’m thankful he did. It’s certainly something I think all engaged couples can benefit from. But, we dropped out. We were scheduled for 10 sessions and we dropped out after just 4. The counselor’s office was an hour drive, it was expensive, and after four sessions we never left one with any “Aha moments” (Thank you, Oprah, for elevating our expectations). So, we quit with only 6 weeks until our wedding day.

Once we got through the big day, we came up with another idea. We wanted the coaching of a therapist, but we also couldn’t afford the $100+ per hour that it would cost. We decided to get creative. We began thinking of the married couples we were surrounded by, looking up to them, and wondering how they were all making it work ten, fifteen, and twenty-five years later. The plan became to simply ask one of these couples to walk along-side us at the beginning of our marriage – to mentor us. That commitment to the foundation of our marriage has been one of our best decisions to date!

After talking a bit, we decided to target a couple from our church, Rich & Barb. All we knew about them was that they looked happy, they both volunteered in the church’s kids’ ministry, and their own three kids, who were in middle school and high school at the time, were fun to be around and seemed to really enjoy each other. We didn’t know much else. But, simply judging a tree by its fruit, we hoped our lives would have similar fruit after we’d been married as long as they had. Now, we just had to come up with the courage to ask them.

I decided to hunt Barb down at church one morning. I pulled her aside for the usual small talk and then said, “Hey, would you and Rich ever be interested in mentoring Tony and I? We are pre-marital counseling drop outs, but we are hoping to be mentored by a couple with a few years under their belt. Not totally sure what it would look like, but wanted to find out if you two would even be interested.” … Cue the awkward silence. She smiled and sort of shrugged it off. She didn’t say “No,” but she also didn’t say “Yes.” Then, she didn’t talk to me for more than a month. (Someday I may let her tell her side of the story). Ultimately, just short of stalking, I re-asked if she and Rich had thought about it. They agreed and then it was time to figure out how this mentor-mentee relationship would work.

We were only married a few months when we started on this journey. We all agreed that meeting twice a month, or every other week, was plenty for all of our busy schedules. We also decided to switch between our home and theirs, so that one couple made dinner for the other couple alternating each time we met. They chose a book for us to go through, vital for spring boarding discussion topics, and away we went. Once we finished the book, we had a celebratory dinner downtown. By that time, we had been so raw and honest with one another that we knew we had close friends for life.

If you think you could benefit from the wisdom of another couple, which I think you can…

Here are our 4 tips to finding a Marriage Mentor:

1. Judge the book by its cover.

I know, don’t tell your mother I told you to do that. But, seriously, look for a couple of wrinkles or maybe a gray hair or two. (Rich and Barb, we chose you even though we didn’t see any wrinkles or gray hair). If they have kids, are they new parents or are their kids middle school age and beyond? If you have kids, are their kids older than yours? When you see them around, do they look happy to be together?

2. Do a little digging.

Casually ask a couple that you think you’d like to spend time with the following questions:
How long have you been married?
How old are your kids?
What’s one of your favorite things to do on a date night?

The first question is the most important. Tony and I wanted to be mentored by a couple that had at least 20 years under their belt. We have long term vision for our marriage and wanted to be around people that had been standing together through a significant amount of time. The next couple of questions were a little less significant, but helped us know them a teeny bit before making the big ask.

3. Once you’ve identified a couple you hope will mentor you, ASK THEM!

If you’re nervous that it will be like a proposal, it will. Tony and I made sure we asked as specifically and casually as we could. In other words, he made me do it. I really think asking in person is better than over email, Facebook, or especially text. But, however you ask, make it personal.

4. Make a plan.

Think about a format that works for both couples and work it out together. Choose a book or workbook to guide your discussions. Make sure to have a start and end to your timeline so that you all know you’re not committing to something for the rest of your lives. Honor each other’s families and other time commitments, leaving room for rescheduling and changing locations when you need to.

We didn’t see our dear mentors for the three years we lived in Wisconsin. Nowadays, five years into our marriage, we only see them every few months or so for a little dinner wrapped around time with our two little girls. These dinners typically contain very brief and highly interrupted conversations about what we’ve been reading lately, whether or not we’ve had a date in a while, what challenges and blessings we’re experiencing as parents, and what life is like for them as they are nearing a new stage as empty-nesters. We no longer follow a formal format or scheduled meetings. We really don’t need to. Because they invested so heavily in us in the beginning of our marriage, Tony and I feel safe and confident that there are people in our corner. We know just who we would turn to in a rough patch, and they know us well enough to help us navigate whatever comes our way. They are some of our very best friends and our marriage would not be the same without their wisdom ringing in our heads and hearts. They have a huge hand in helping us #staymarried.

Speaking my Language

My mother, sister, and I moved in with my grandparents when I was three years old, after my parents’ separation. My grandparents are from Mexico, immigrated to the US when my mother was just a little girl. Spanish is their primary language and, though I was just a toddler, it was not mine. My sister and I only spoke and understood English. My grandparents speak English also, but they are much more comfortable with Spanish. It’s their daily parlance, it’s how they talk with each other and to their friends. So, in come these little blue and green-eyed girls who are totally baffled by their language and really only respond when they speak to us in our language.

By the time I was five, I was fairly fluent in Spanish. I understood most of what my family was saying and even mustered up the courage to join in a conversation here and there. I remember how patient both my grandparents were as my sister and I ate breakfast with them. They sat together, having their usual over breakfast conversations and I constantly interrupted. “What does ‘allamayhor’ mean? What is that word? Wait, how do you say ‘yellow’?” So patient, they would stop their conversation and teach me. I was eager to learn, proud of myself when I began to grasp it. Learning to speak Spanish opened up a whole other world for me and I loved it. I even began to have dreams in Spanish and they say that’s one of the signs of fluency. Speaking their native language made me feel closer to my grandparents, whom I call “Lita” and “Lito.”

Do you ever feel like your spouse has their own language that you are on the outside of? Like you are learning how to speak “Husband” only to be misinterpreted or accidentally use the wrong phrase? Well, you might not be too far off. According to marriage expert and author Dr. Gary Chapman, there are Five Love Languages , and if we want to grow closer to our spouses, it’s pretty important that we at least learn theirs.

According to his book, these are the Five Love Languages:
1. Words of Affirmation
2. Quality Time
3. Receiving Gifts
4. Acts of Service
5. Physical Touch

You can take this quiz online to find out your primary love languages.

Now, you really should read the book. His insights are incredible, far deeper than anything I can sum up in a blog. But, I will share this with you:  You and your spouse most likely show and receive love using just two out of these five languages. Not that they aren’t all important, or that you don’t use them all at varying degrees, but your primary love languages are the ones in which you most easily receive and express  love.

Also, it’s likely that your primary love languages and the primary love languages of our spouse are not the same. Not the same! What that means is that you might be speaking love to him in Spanish and forget that his primary language is English – he doesn’t feel loved! I know. CRAZY! So, for starters, take the quiz. Ask your spouse to take it also. Then, when you find out what your love languages are, think together of ways you can communicate love to each other. Don’t concentrate on the fact that your language is “Words of Affirmation” and you’re married to a woman who is quiet and solitary and hardly talks. DO concentrate on the realization that your wife is “Acts of Service” and begin SHOWING your love to her by getting the oil changed on the car instead of telling her all about it.

As you learn to love your spouse the way they understand love, you will feel closer to them. Your heart will grow for them and your frustration may even go down as you put the pieces together that they may have been trying to show you love all this time, but it was in their own language and not in yours. Begin to concentrate on speaking their language and communicate to your spouse that you are eager to #staymarried.

The Unexpected

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

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

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

Where do expectations come from?

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

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

Throw out your expectations.

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

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

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

Disappointments and Fight Prevention

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

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

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

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

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