Top Five Reasons to Join (or Start!) a #staymarried Group

Something powerful happens... #staymarriedIt’s been just over two years since we launched the #staymarried blog. Before that Tony was (and still is) a graphic designer and I was busying myself mod-podging book pages on everything.

Before that Tony and I were church planters, and before that we worked in cubicles, and before that he was in a band and I was a groupie, and before that he drove a popsicle truck and I was a cocktail waitress.

Somewhere in all of those adventurous job descriptions, I also used to oversee small groups for a church in a far off land called Kenosha, Wisconsin. I had the pleasure of training leaders and hosts to coordinate their own groups that hopefully didn’t feel too cult-ish.

I loved that job for many reasons. One of which is the joy I saw as people, who had previously lived their lives without much community, now began to share their lives and struggles and joys with others. Something powerful happens when we put ourselves in a place to see that we really aren’t as alone as we often feel, especially when it comes to issues in our marriages.

Early on we made resources available for free for anyone who would want to take what we are doing here with the #staymarried blog and use it in a group setting. To our surprise and delight, one of our friends in Wisconsin, Jamie, actually invited people into her home and used the resources and discussion questions we provided. How I wish I could have watched them all in action. But, since I couldn’t, I asked her to share her own insights and why she thinks everyone should be a part of a #staymarried group. I’m delighted to let you now hear from Jamie herself…

Top Five Reasons to Join (or Start!) a #staymarried Group

Top 5 Reasons to Join a #staymarried GroupRaise your hand if you’ve ever been on an awkward blind date… Wait. Is there such a thing as a non-awkward blind date? At any rate, you’ve probably been there. I’m fortunate to have only had one such experience in my wild single days (staying home and watching reruns of Gilmore Girls is wild, right?), but it was enough for me. I knew in our phone conversations leading up to it that this particular guy and I weren’t a good match, but I also wanted to follow all of the dating advice you get in such situations: Relax. Give him a chance. Don’t be too picky. Don’t assume you won’t have a good time just because he likes ______ (insert annoying sport/hobby).

So, I said yes to a date with him. He was quite a bit older than me, but, hey, George Clooney’s quite a bit older than me, too.

On the phone call before the date, he told me where we were going for dinner. He’d chosen the best – and my favorite – restaurant in town.

Okay. Maybe this will be fun after all.

Then he asked, “So, what are you going to wear?”

Ummm… I wasn’t sure how to answer that, but before I could, he said, “I was thinking a sport coat.”

A sport coat?! Was Alex P. Keaton taking me out?

Okay, I actually love Alex P. Keaton. But, the term “sport coat” immediately took me back to the 80s. I pictured full-on tweed with suede elbow patches, and not in some cool, ironic, hipster way. Continue reading “Top Five Reasons to Join (or Start!) a #staymarried Group”

Ask #staymarried: How do I help my husband now that he’s out of work and depressed?

Ask #staymarried - advice on marriage, love, and relationshipsDear Tony and Michelle,

My husband was let go from his job through no fault of his own last winter (a few months after we were married) and we ended up moving out of state shortly afterwards. Settling into our new home was hard, and neither of us could find good work at first. I got a good job in a city a few hours away, so we moved again, and he still can’t find work. Work in his field (film/photography) is pretty much non-existent, so not only does he feel bad about not being able to find work, he’s depressed that when he does, it probably won’t be in his field.

His depression is hurting our day-to-day life, and I admit to feeling very frustrated sometimes that he hasn’t found work yet. I know he’s trying, but it’s just been so long, and it’s getting really difficult, especially since my feeling is that he’s being a little picky about what jobs he’s willing to take. Of course I don’t want him to settle for some soul-sucking job, but if he got ANYTHING even temporarily while he looked for something better it would help us so much.

I guess I’m just looking for advice on how to be more supportive and stay positive about our future. We want to start a family, but it’s just not financially possible right now. But I’m already 27 and worried about timing, so that factors into my fears as well. Your recent post about not always respecting Tony for his money choices really rang true for me. I love my husband dearly, but I’m having a really hard time feeling 100% respectful of him right now, and I hate that feeling.

How can I help him and support him when I’m feeling so scared and frustrated myself? Thank you… I love your blog, it’s really helped during this first year of marriage!

-Meredith

 

Dear Meredith,

This is a tough one. Most of the time we want to shrug off standard gender roles, but in this instance, the age-old fears of both sexes seem to apply: most men long to be providers and most women long to feel secure.

Since you’re really asking such a good question – How can I be supportive? – I’ll speak to how I’ve felt when I’ve been out of work. Continue reading “Ask #staymarried: How do I help my husband now that he’s out of work and depressed?”

Walking Side-by-Side – How to Keep Perfect Pace with Your Partner

“Experience shows us that Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction.”

–Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand, and Stars

Katie and Jonah on #staymarriedWhen you first get married, the amount of marital advice you receive can be quite daunting. From your mom to your friends to the person issuing your marriage license, everyone has their own “words of wisdom” to share with you. So many of these words can get lost in the excitement of the wedding and all that goes along with that, but some words (like “don’t fight over the butter”) stick with you. They echo in your head, from time to time, when you need to hear them.

I’ve been married for a little over six years, and there is only one piece of advice that I have remembered, word for word, in all of those years. At our rehearsal dinner, my dear, sweet Auntie Carrie called the attention of the room to propose a toast. She said that she doesn’t like speaking in front of a bunch of people, so she wanted to give her toast in the smaller crowd, and then she said,

“After almost fifteen years of marriage, if I can offer you any sort of advice, it’s this: never walk in front of or behind each other. Always walk side by side.” Continue reading “Walking Side-by-Side – How to Keep Perfect Pace with Your Partner”

What Your Husband Wishes You Knew… about what you say about him in public.

We know that men come in a gorgeous variety of shapes and sizes, not only physically, but also in the way they feel and think about different topics. Still, as I’ve pursued to understand my own husband better, I’ve found that some of the things that bother him are pretty universal to all men. This topic may not bother your husband, but I’ve heard from enough men at this point that it seemed worthwhile to share.

He feels embarrassed when you joke about him.

What Your Husband Wishes You Knew... #staymarried

Barry

I love my wife and I couldn’t be more thankful for her, but I wish she knew I get embarrassed when she jokes about my past. I grew up in an out of control situation. One of my parents was using drugs while the other was mentally ill and not willing to take care of my brother and me. My brother and I ran wild and did whatever we wanted with no real role model from middle school on. I had multiple girlfriends, a lot of whom I slept with. It is something I am now embarrassed about. I am also divorced which is something I’m extremely embarrassed about. Continue reading “What Your Husband Wishes You Knew… about what you say about him in public.”

The Second Time Bride – 5 Reasons My Marriage is Better the Second Time Around

The Second Time Bride - 5 Resons My Marriage is Better the Second Time Around - #staymarriedWhen I was a child and thought about what my life would be like, everything seemed like it would follow a straight line. I would go from middle school to high school. I would go to college, get a job, maybe get married, and maybe have kids. Things would move progressively, linearly, from one stage to the next. In some ways, that did happen, but there have been many splinters and branches, exciting high points and devastating low points, that I could never have predicted.

As it turns out, life is not quite the straight line we all imagine it should be. Ideally, the point in the line where we choose whether or not to marry someone else would continue on forever. We know that for many people, that’s just not true. Love doesn’t always last the first time around. But, can it last the second time?

Statistics have shown that in the U.S. 50% percent of first marriages, 60% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. You know we love to push against those stats, and we love it when other people do too. Today, I want you to hear from Joy, a second time bride pouring herself into her marriage and doing the beautiful and daunting work to make it last…

The Second Time Bride

By Joy Mushacke Smith

“If you get married again and it doesn’t work out, I think that should be it. You should just be single.” My mother’s words stung. Perhaps her advice came from fear that I had started dating a man eleven years my elder without the “proper” mourning period after my divorce. Maybe she worried, like mothers do, that I’d make the wrong choice again.

Nevertheless, it was more than unsettling. Continue reading “The Second Time Bride – 5 Reasons My Marriage is Better the Second Time Around”

‘Till Death Do Us Part – In Loving Memory of Walt

It was the text I dreaded: “We are moving him to hospice today.”

In Loving Memory of Walter E. Marth - a #staymarried blog about a love that lasts a lifetimeOur dear friend Walt had been battling lung cancer for a long time. His health was compromised so that any infection that might ordinarily be handled with antibiotics, any blood clot that would otherwise be cleared with simple blood thinners, could be devastating. I knew he was in the hospital. We were praying and keeping in touch and hoping for the best. When I received his daughter’s text, we knew we needed to prepare to say goodbye. Continue reading “‘Till Death Do Us Part – In Loving Memory of Walt”

Are We Better Together? … an Interview with Davina Fear

Better Together - An Interview with Davina Fear on #staymarried

Davina Fear and I “met” just a few months ago when she reached out to Tony and I for a fun collaborative project called How Do I Love You that she put together in February. We were immediately delighted by her warm and fun personality, as well as her generosity… there are at least two FREE ebooks on her blog that are beyond valuable! 

She is further down the marriage and family road than we are, with nearly 20 years behind them and a house full of teens and a pre-teen. Her joy for the every day life inspires me to look forward to being in that stage with my own family.

I am really excited for the next project she is launching. It’s called “Better Together, a Marriage Adventure.” What could be more thrilling? We’ve been chatting over the last few days and I’ve been really eager for all of you to meet this incredible woman, her fun-loving family, and her darling husband. I also thought it would be a great chance for us to learn more about what Better Together is.

Here’s my little interview with Davina Fear on love, corralling teenagers, and my new favorite word: familyness

A Love Story…

How did you and your husband meet and get married?

Mike and I met for the first time in the front room of my college apartment. He knew my sister and quite a few of the girls in my apartment building. He seemed like he knew everyone and I was resistant to being pulled into the throng of other girls who thought he was awesome. So when he was nosy about who I was talking to on the phone (those were the ancient days of the receiver that hung on the hook with the long curly cord), I gave him a curt answer and walked back to my room.

Better Together - An Interview with Davina Fear on #staymarriedThe next time we met, we had a conversation about religion and spirituality. I was equally rude that time. He seemed like he was a nice enough guy, but I wasn’t going to be pulled into his orbit as easily as all of these other girls. I was back from serving an 18 month mission and I was not going back to being easily convinced of some guy’s cool factor like I had pre-mission days.

At some point, we must have had a civilized conversation… he was always civilized, I was the one that wasn’t… one day I found myself eating pizza at his table with my sister. We chatted for a few minutes before I was picked up at my apartment by my date for the evening.

Not one to be in a food debt, one Sunday I made dinner for a bunch of friends. I looked across the courtyard and saw Mike sitting on a stationary bike, talking on the phone. I yelled across the way that he was welcome to some dinner, if he was interested.

Of all of the people who came to eat, he was the only one who stayed and did the dishes. That evening, we talked at the kitchen table late into the night.

For many months after that we walked to class everyday, did homework together, went to Humanities concerts and symphonies together, and rarely missed a day of long conversations.

One evening, at the top of the longest flight of stairs on campus I knew, I was smitten and completely in love with him. Better Together - An Interview with Davina Fear on #staymarried

Since that day, we’ve known a summer of long distance love, marriage, experienced bringing four incredibly independent people into the world, moved across the country, faced financial challenges, always lived far from family, been brave… together.

And #stayedmarried for almost 20 years.

There are so many things to love about my Hot Guy. He’s bold and diplomatic, compassionate and unwavering, devoted and fascinating. From the moment I really let myself be taken in by him, I have loved to hear what he thinks about the issues and people that matter to him. He is passionate about meaningful conversations and listening and being “all in” with the people he is with. He believes in always learning and easily falls in love with a good story. My favorite part is how in love he is with our story, the one we are writing together. I love him beyond the moon… past universes and back again.

Life With Teenagers…

What are some of the challenges of parenting teenagers? What are some of the wonderful things you couldn’t have imagined when they were four and under? (Can you tell I’m trying to have a little bit of long term vision myself?) 

Better Together - An Interview with Davina Fear on #staymarriedA few weeks ago, while Mike and I were in the kitchen doing the dishes and the kids were already off to school for the morning, I was pining over the loss of little chubby hands, the safe cocoon of our having littles life, and the sweetness of little faces and funny answers…and how quickly it all moves forward.

Mike said, “but then we wouldn’t be seeing Emmett make difficult, but amazing choices like he did last night.”

The previous evening, Emmett had gone with a big group of friends to an event. They were unchaperoned. It was understood that some had bought tickets for a concert and some hadn’t. Many of them went along for the limo ride into the city. Those who hadn’t bought tickets would need to find something to do during the concert. Emmett was part of the group who didn’t have concert tickets.

We had a conversation before he left in the limo about the possibilities and choices that may lie ahead of him. He assured us that he knew his standards and wasn’t going to compromise them. Better Together - An Interview with Davina Fear on #staymarried

When they arrived in the city groups divided off… a big group of teenage guys and girls decided to find somewhere to get alcohol… leaving only four boys who knew that was not how they wanted to spend the evening.

It was a pivotal moment for those four boys and Emmett was one of them. They weren’t choosing the majority vote, the popular choice. That’s a crazy challenging place to be as a teenager.

That evening, at midnight, Emmett stretched across the foot of our bed, and staying there til 2am, telling us about renting bikes downtown, pedaling to a minor league baseball game, and how he came ‘this close’ to catching a home-run ball. It was awesome to feel the energy and his excitement at having stood up to the crowd and sensing the confidence that gave him to listen to his own voice and in what he believes.

Emmett’s experience reminded us of how our girls have grown, too.

A few nights earlier, we were having our family DEAR time (we drop everything and read through something inspiring, typically scriptures or talks). Each person has their own time to read what they choose and then we share what we’ve written in our journals, an insight or inspiration we’ve discovered or felt.

Nestled onto sofas, books and pens spread around, listening to our kids share with us the connection they have with God and the words He speaks to them is amazing and surreal. There’s so much happening in their lives and, even though we chat around the dinner table often, those glimpses into how their hearts are being deeply moved and changed is pretty powerful.

When they were small, we were teaching them to make choices and listen to their own voices about what was right for them. We would see that play out some when they were little, but now we see it in action every single day.

Having three teenagers and one pre-teen brings with it new and deeply felt emotions, the heightened awareness of what other people are saying or doing, and the deep need they have for independence– their resolve growing everyday to be their own person contradicting, and creating tension with, their desire to be cared for and protected and staying young and little (while we… especially me… fight those same battles as their parents, too). Better Together - An Interview with Davina Fear on #staymarried

In the last year or so we discovered the book, The Child Whisperer by Carol Tuttle. I’ve always thought I had the pulse on who my children are… I’m their mom, for heaven’s sake! I know them better than anyone. This book opened my eyes in ways they had never been opened to my children. I’m deeply grateful that it came into my life before they were full blown teenagers. It’s saved me from a world of misunderstanding their nature and the way they see the world and it’s helped me to embrace who they are with so much more understanding.

Marriage and Familyness…

Why do you think marriage is important? Why do you invest so much into familyness? 

"A Happy Marriage..." #quote from Davina Fear on #staymarriedA happy marriage makes life for the couple happier, more fulfilling, more meaningful, and more fun! Happy parents create happy homes. Children in homes with emotionally healthy parents are better able to make friends, be confident, feel more optimistic, share deeper intimacy, give respect, and feel that problems and burdens are shared and lighter to bear.

A happy marriage creates happier, healthier, more resilient children.

Familyness is so important because these are the people we make the biggest investment in, share the majority of our time with, and have a massive influence on. There is so much good to be had and felt within those strong and beautiful ties. The world and our schedules are so busy and chaos is everywhere. Being able to find ways in the midst of that hubbub to truly connect can have a great deal of power and peace in our lives. I want to help more people feel the delightfulness of that more often within their own familyness.

Better Together…

Tell us about the Better Together project. Who is it for and how can a couple participate? 

Click here to find out more about Better Together, a marriage adventureBetter Together is for everyone who wants to have a deeper, more meaningful connection with the one they love. It is also for those who are looking to put some fun and spark back into what is already a connected and loving relationship.

Most couples feel like they are doing OK. They don’t feel destined for the therapist’s office. Life is going pretty well.  They are just busy. They are raising kids. They know they love each other and they are holding onto that. Occasionally, though, they remember those newlywed feelings of excitement and newness, and they miss it a little bit. They know their love has grown in new ways but they wish there was more of something, but they can’t quite place what it is.

Better Together will remind you of all of the ways you are… better together. You’ll have fun like you’ve not had fun in awhile, talk about things that will bring you closer, do things you forgot you used to do while dating and newlywed, and light up each other’s days in unexpected ways.

And your kids will notice. And they will feel your love more deeply. They will be affected in ways that will improve their behavior, they will feel more understood and more loved.

Your marriage, the two of you, can have that kind of affect… because you are Better Together.

___

Ahh. I always feel like a good long exhale after I read Davina’s thoughts and words. I follow her on Instagram, and you can too, for the full effect. I hope you feel as inspired and delighted by her as we do. I also hope you’ll invest in Better Together. For less than the cost of ONE therapy session… ok, with my therapist… I don’t know how much yours charges… I can have weeks of challenges and encouragements and interact with a community of people who, just like me, want to #staymarried.

 

Davina Fear Bio on #staymarriedDavina Fear created the Familyness Revolution. She earned her degree in Family Science and now writes at davinafear.com for families world wide. While being a professional relationship photographer for 10 years, she created the groundbreaking Get To Know You Questionnaire, the mentoring fundraiser for Thirst Relief International, and co-created the widely popular Love Affair Workshops. Now she helps families create more acceptance, living in the moment, and FUN! She’s loves dates with her husband and the smell of clean laundry, especially when they collide. Davina lives in South Carolina with her four crazy kids and Hot Guy, Mike.

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You are reading Are We Better Together? … an Interview with Davina Fear. If you enjoyed this post… well, shoot… I have none that compare. Just go ahead and check out her blog for yourself and enjoy!

Credits: All photos provided by Davina Fear. The photos of Davina and her husband Mike, as well as the family photo in color, were done by Millie Hollomon. All the rest by Davina Fear herself, and she is a fantastic photographer. If only we didn’t live on opposite coasts!

Joining My Husband In The Valley

Joining My Husband In The Valley - a #staymarried blogMost of the time my marriage is the best thing about my life. Sometimes, however, it has been strained. Not because Tony and I are fighting, but because one of us is experiencing a dark time. Whether it’s been with our careers, outside friendships, or family issues, there have been times when one of us has been discouraged while the other is living pretty care-free. In those seasons, it is just so hard to know what to do or how to relate with each other.

I am about to share a story with you of another couple and the way they have handled this sort of imbalance. When I first read April’s story, it rang so true for me. I know I have been on her side of the fence a handful of times, but more often have been on her husband’s side as I have struggled through depression and flashbacks of childhood abuse. I just knew I wasn’t the only one who would benefit from her perspective, so today, I would like you to read her story for yourselves.

April’s Story

My husband has been having a rough…well, couple of years. Like most things, it’s layered and complicated but the bottom line is that he is in a place where he is miserable in many ways and doesn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. He has been feeling stuck, demoralized (at work), and like he doesn’t have much to offer. It’s led to a very long season of simply not liking life.

My couple of years, in stark contrast, have been full of invigorating projects, goals, success, challenges, worthwhile failures, and a lot of fulfillment. I love my career. I wake up thrilled. I love life. I have the best job in the world.

This season has shifted his personality. He has historically been defined by his gentle nature, giant heart, diplomacy, and playfulness. His frustration has shifted that to bitterness, anger, and apathy.

These two worlds have been conflicting lately and it’s led to my essential disconnect from our relationship. I find myself working longer and staying away, fiercely protecting my mood and keeping away from someone who will “bring me down.”

“I am going for what I want,” I said to myself. “I am being proactive. I am choosing to be happy. I don’t deserve this negativity. I don’t need to deal with it.”

Today…actually about 3 hours ago, I was speaking with my closest friend, that one you tell everything to. And I said all of those above words out loud. And I was filled with indignant anger and the confidence that since I was choosing joy, I was justified in my attitude and had every right to my happiness.

And oh, my gosh.

How my brain suddenly imploded from the sheer force of the sudden realization of what I had become lately. How deeply and quickly mourning struck my heart.

Here was my husband, the man I vowed to cherish and love, in good times and in bad. This man who has never, ever asked anything of me. Who has loved me precisely for who I am and never made me feel less than. Who will do anything I ask of him. Who puts up with me when I am the most ill-behaved human ever. Here he is going through a tremendous season of brokenness- and here I am talking about what I don’t deserve and essentially removing my support from him

I am ashamed to say that this only hit me three hours ago.

For a man like him, whom everyone knows to be full of love and endearing awkward social graces, for a man like him- famous for his warm, all-encompassing hugs. For a man like him to exude anger and frustration- what must that have taken?

Joining My Husband In The Valley - a #staymarried blogWhat does it take to push someone that far? Might it be incredibly painful and difficult and relentless? It seems it would take a lot to alter someones personality that much. And if that’s the case, if it has been a long, dull, throbbing existence of unhappiness- then I have been a piss-poor example of how to be a partner through it.

He’s living under the blankets and not wanting to come out. I am dancing through life and telling him he should join me and that if he won’t, then I’m going to do my own thing.

When really, what I need to do is to crawl under there with him and cuddle up and make it clear that I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. Because God knows: he would do that for me in a heartbeat.

This is not the time to discuss enabling. This is a season, not a forever-thing. We will be married for a very, very long time, and no doubt I will also have valleys, maybe worse than this, and I can only hope he will show mercy in and love me through it.

And so dear husband: I am sorry. I am sorry that I’ve been conditional. I am sorry that I was so selfish that my happiness meant more than what you are feeling right now. I believe that you are the most brilliant, loving human being on earth. I know that this is just a season and that you’re going to find your way again.

 

April MacLean Guest Post on #staymarriedApril MacLean is a business owner, mom, wife, mass consumer of caffeine. After years of living in an abusive home, moving through foster care, and clawing her way back to life, she is now the proud owner of an amazing dance studio in southern California and is a freelance writer and leadership coach for women. You can find her words on life, leadership, and occasional nonsense at www.aprilmaclean.blogspot.com

You are reading Joining My Husband in the Valley, a #staymarried blog. If you liked this post, you may enjoy some of the other “Real Couples” posts we’ve featured on the blog.

Have you got a story you’d like to share? We would love to hear from you! Check out the Your Story page to submit your own. One single story can inspire, teach, and provide hope for other couples who want to #staymarried.

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

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

Make Your Own Holiday

Make Your Own Holiday - #staymarriedIt wasn’t that long ago that I shared with you all one of the lessons I am learning and re-learning this season: Sometimes you have to say “no” to good things so you can say “yes” to great things. That lesson has involved not only saying “no” but also asking for help and truly allowing other people to help me. Is that as hard for any of you as it is for me?

Difficult as it may be, I am working on it. One thing that makes it a bit easier to actually ask is when you are met with an enthusiastic, “Anything you need!” In this case it came from my new friend Maggie Reyes of Modern Married. Maggie is a life coach, blogger, and hopeless romantic. Though we have never met face-to-face, I adore this woman and consider her a great partner in spreading the hope and joy found in making marriage work.

Today she shares some insight on enjoying the holidays as we navigate that separation from the traditions we grew up with and the new traditions we can create within our own marriage. Here she is…

– – –

Dear #staymarried Readers,

Michelle asked me to write something about the importance of creating traditions in your marriage. When she did, she had no idea that The Hubs and I had actually created our own Holiday… sort of.

Here is my story. It has a happy ending, I promise…

Maggie Reyes and Hubs on #staymarriedI grew up with a single mom. We usually spent holidays at somebody else’s house. Over the years we developed our own holiday traditions and by the time I was in my thirties, one of my favorite holiday traditions was a huge Thanksgiving dinner we would celebrate at my BFF’s parents’ house.

I was in charge of the décor and general “ambiance.” My friends tell me I have a gift for taking a space and making it feel welcoming or festive or, when we used to host a book club at our church, making it a “sacred space.”

I LOVED putting together that night with my BFF and her mom and assorted family members. It was a mix of a pot luck, party, and family reunion rolled into one.

I was so excited when I met The Hubs because I couldn’t wait for him to experience it. Except he always spent Thanksgiving with his cousins. Family tradition.

One of the first and biggest disagreements we ever had was about where and how to spend Thanksgiving.

We came to an impasse. Suddenly my excitement just wasn’t the same. I had a long talk with my BFF and she said, “Your family is expanding, embrace it. Traditions evolve. Go to his cousins.”

I love his cousins. They are the dearest, most loving people. But, I was really sad. Although an exciting part of my life was beginning, I had a very hard time saying goodbye to that chapter of my life and those Thanksgiving memories.

Growing up with a single mom, over the years I learned to assemble my family of friends. It felt so comforting to have that Thanksgiving celebration that I was a part of, which I helped create. Suddenly, with the arrival of the love of my life, I wasn’t just saying goodbye to that one night a year, I was saying goodbye to a part of myself.

This happened years before I had any life coach training. I did not handle it elegantly at first. I wanted to “force” my future hubby to “want” to do something. Ever try that? It never works.

During that time, the hubby came up with names for us. He declared me “the unstoppable force.” He said the only thing that could match an unstoppable force was “the immovable wall.” AKA: him. He wasn’t mad that I wanted to keep my self-created tradition. He was mad that I was trying to force him to like something just because I liked it.

I learned one of the greatest lessons of my marriage during that that first Thanksgiving. I learned I could share from my heart whatever I was going through and my hubby would listen, but never could I ever force him to do something just because. (Ssshhh, please don’t tell my mother-in-law! She thinks I have a little sway, but truly, I have accepted that the hubby only does things he wants to do. And sometimes he wants to do things because they make me smile or happy or excited. But not always. And that’s ok.)

After some emotional wrangling, I realized I would have to start fresh. I am a very creative person. I believe in re-defining marriage at every opportunity– making it work for me and for my hubby. I believe in healing and choices and making new decisions when the old ones don’t feel good anymore.

And this, my friends, is how the “New Year’s Day Outback Extravaganza” came to be.Make Your Own Holiday - #staymarried

I called my best friend and said, “We need a new holiday.” Now my best friend has known me since 2nd grade and I have called her with all kinds of crazy ideas my whole life, so when I called her and said we needed to make up a new holiday, let’s just say: she wasn’t shocked.

We needed something that would honor her parents (who have also known me since 2nd grade) and yet be manageable for everyone’s completely crazy yet totally lovable holiday schedules.

We also needed a new tradition. Something the hubby and I created together (with a little help from the BFF of course). I didn’t realize it at the time, because I was so sad that I felt like a part of me was dying, but a new and beautiful part of me was also being born. The Wife part. And this new woman needed new traditions. I realize now that a family is created one day at a time.

We choose to put each other first. We choose to make our relationship a priority. We choose each other every day. Over and over again. Now I have come to believe it’s so important to create new traditions and new memories with your spouse because those traditions are a symbol of the promise, “I will be there for you. I will create new memories with you. I will leave behind old ways of doing things to find new ways of doing things together.”

Traditions may look like turkey and football, but they are really trust and love in disguise.

Make Your Own Holiday - #staymarried

Which brings me back to how we made our own holiday. After some brainstorming, we figured out that Thanksgiving and Christmas were just too complicated. New Year’s Day, however, was completely virgin territory. No one did anything on New Year’s Day, which meant everyone was available.

The next step was figuring out what to do. Everyone is tired of cooking (and cleaning!) by the time we get to New Year’s so it had to be out. Somewhere nice. (But not too nice, because we all just bought Christmas presents, right?) So my beautiful BFF started calling restaurants to find out who is open on New Year’s Day. As it turns out, Outback Steakhouse is both open and delicious on January 1st.

Every year since my wedding, a big group of us gets together and goes to Outback Steakhouse. We exchange Christmas presents and laugh and the kids play and we tell each other all our holiday stories and make new memories.

I know the holiday season can put extra stress on relationships for so many reasons – family, presents, parties – all the things we love can also cause us stress if we don’t learn to manage them and make them work for our individual and specific situation.

So you may not need to make a new holiday (though if you do, I totally want to know! Come visit me on Facebook and tell me all about it!) but take a moment and take a deep breath, maybe even put a hand on your heart and ask yourself, what is worrying me the most about the holiday season? And see if you can call your honey or your BFF and do something about it.

How have your traditions changed since you got married? Any tips to share to make the holidays more peaceful? Please share in the comments.

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

 

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

If 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!

~ Michelle

Introducing Resources for Groups!

Tony and I have been fortunate to have incredible, life-giving, challenging, and encouraging community surrounding us since before we got married. When we were dating, we found a church that both of us, with our different perspectives and vastly different upbringings, could attend together without having to check our brains and personalities at the door. It has been through our experiences in this church that we’ve met some of our very best friends and learned the value of having honest conversations and living transparent lives.

One of the ways we’ve been able to have and listen to these honest conversations has been by being a part of small groups. We shared about about our small group from last fall in our post, “We Do It In Groups,” where we read and discussed John Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. Over the years, we’ve read and used lots of great material that have spurred insightful group conversations, and we’ve learned some great tips and tools for our own marriage. It is actually from the work we’ve done and the fun we’ve had in these groups that we get a lot of the ideas for the topics we write about here at #staymarried.

Heidi Jesse FaderSeveral months ago I was approached by a woman, Heidi, at our church. She told me that she and her husband, Jesse, had been following the #staymarried blog and had decided to start their own small group of other married couples and use the blog as their discussion topics. I was both humbled and thrilled! I’d never considered this blog could be used that way. I’ve since found out about a handful of other groups that do the same sort of thing. I’ll be honest, it’s intimidating. It’s one thing for me to imagine someone reading what Tony and I put together on their own, digesting it, and discussing it with their spouse. It’s something else entirely to imagine a group of people talking about something Tony and I have written – YIKES! But, in spite of my insecurities about how helpful this blog is or isn’t, I can’t deny the power of processing these ideas in a group setting. There is something meaningful that happens when you hear how someone else interpreted something you both read and what resonated with them. Groups are a great place to find out that you are not alone in your struggles, big or small.

So, Heidi and Jesse had this idea and they kicked it off with couples they already knew. They agreed to meet every other week and to share the responsibility of hosting. Each time they meet, a different couple hosts the group, and it’s the host couple that chooses which #staymarried blog post to discuss. They have also used other material from books and other sites, as well as taken some weeks just to go out and have a good time together. They are committed to each other and certainly committed to stay married, which I got to witness firsthand when they invited me to drop in on one of their group meetings a couple of weeks ago.

I was both nervous and excited to check out their group. So nervous, actually, that I typed the wrong address in Google Maps, got lost, and arrived 45 minutes late! I was sweaty and disheveled when I finally got there, and as I walked in, of course they were already sitting around a living room where they had saved one empty chair just for me! I looked around at this room full of gorgeous faces I’d really only ever seen in passing and each one of them was holding a printed out copy of MY BLOG! I could not have been more embarrassed.

Still, they were kind and gracious, offered me a drink, and told me they really had only just gotten started with their discussion. The hosts, Steven and Bethany, had chosen the post “7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver,” and I got to sit back and listen to them share their own stories. Introducing Resources for GroupsEvery single one of them had a story about someone they had been hurt by in their past. Some of their stories were in the distant past, some were more recent. Some of them shared about the little everyday hurts they were experiencing in their marriage and how hard it was to accept an apology sometimes. Some shared about how they want to forgive, but they just aren’t there yet. They shared about how watching their own parents argue, apologize, and ask for forgiveness has affected the way they themselves approach conflicts in their own marriages. As they poured their hearts out to one another, and joked with one another, and really listened to each other, my eyes were opened to what an incredible thing it is that they have created. This is real community. It had so much less to do with the paper print-outs they were holding, and so much more to do with their willingness to invest in their marriages and in each other.

I left that night inspired. I came home and told Tony all about it and we decided we could do more to encourage others to start groups and discussions the way Jesse and Heidi and their friends have. Whether you want to use the #staymarried blog to have just one meaningful discussion with your friends over a bonfire, or you want to organize your own group to meet regularly, we want to make it as easy as possible for you. Today, we’re introducing a new category of our resources: Resources for Groups!

#staymarried Resources for Groups

Go ahead, click on it! The link will take you to our Resources Page, pre-sorted to bring up all of the new material just for groups!

Here are some of the things you’ll find in the For Groups category:

Group Outline – One resource you’ll find is a group outline. It’s just an example, feel free to use it or change it however you like. Whenever Tony and I have led groups before, we always start the first week by passing out one of these to help set the tone for the weeks ahead. It’s kind of like a syllabus for a class, but less formal– it gives everyone a sense of what we hope the group will be like and what kinds of topics we’ll cover week-to-week.

Discussion Questions – We’ve chosen a handful of posts to get started. Some of the posts naturally lend themselves to pre-group work (like taking the 5 Love Languages Assessment) and we’ve included fun homework with others. We are hoping these work well whether you’ve got a women’s group, men’s group, or a group for married and engaged couples.

Other resources – There are authors and groups out there that are much more qualified than Tony and I to help you facilitate a great group. So, we have not limited this section to just #staymarried blog material. We’ve also included resources from people like Les and Leslie Parrot, Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn, and Andy Stanley.

This is a category of the resources section of our site that we will continue to develop, so please let us know what is working and what else you might like to see here. We hope you are able to launch something meaningful with your friends this fall, a place to be real and honest with each other, and encourage each other to #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read We Do It In Groups and Repair Attempts. 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!
~ Michelle

 

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Recovering from Infidelity

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

Carl & Katie from EastLake Community Church Media on Vimeo.

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

 

Carl & Katie’s Story

Part 1: The Fallout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part 2: Rebuilding Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Tools to Recover from Infidelity

1. Get Counseling

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

2. Communicate Openly

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

3. Drop the Defensiveness

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

4. Get Accountable

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

5. Avoid Triggers

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

6. Date Again

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

7. Participate in Maintenance Counseling

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

8. Extend Grace

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

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

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

 

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

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

~Tony and Michelle

How to Find Your Soulmate in 5 Easy Steps

How to Find Your Soulmate in 5 Easy Steps - Sensible Singles Week on the #staymarried blogI became friends with Rachel in 2012. We each have two young daughters who love to laugh and play together. Our husbands, Tony and Craig, are both musicians who are also highly competitive when it comes to board games. But what really drew me to friendship with Rachel was her kind and witty personality and then, of course, her passion for long-lasting love and marriage.

I promised you a post from a Love Doctor at the beginning of the week, and I wasn’t joking. Rachel is actually Dr. Rachel Terrill, having received her Ph.D. from The University of South Florida in 2012 after studying Love and Decency in the Department of Communication. She is the most qualified person I know to give real and heartfelt advice about finding and keeping love. I have learned so much from her insights, and Tony and I are thrilled for you to hear from her today…

Studying Love

I was so excited when Michelle and Tony unveiled their #staymarried blog. I love love and I am passionate about strong marriages. So, when I heard that they were doing a Sensible Singles week and asked me to share some advice about how to find the right person, I was thrilled!

After seven years of my own marriage and a dozen years of conversations with married couples, I am convinced that finding the right person to marry makes what comes after the wedding day a whole lot easier and a heck of a lot more fun.

How to Find Your Soulmate in 5 Easy Steps - Sensible Singles Week on the #staymarried blogWhen people, especially women, find out that I study love, they inevitably tell me a story about someone in their lives who is either single or in a bad relationship. They want to know what they can tell them to help them along their path to love. The truth is, love is not a science. I don’t have a special equation to give them that will guarantee that they find a true love that will last forever. I wish I did. Can you imagine all of the heartache that might be avoided if we were taught a clear and concise path to and through love?

Funny thing is, the media tells us that it’s simple. We’re taught that love can happen in a moment and that if it is really true love, then we will live happily ever after. Media has taught us that there are a few tricks to finding our true love: we can either look into the eyes of our soulmate and we will know, we can act helpless and wait to be rescued, or we can kiss enough frogs until one of them turns into a prince. That last one is particularly dangerous because when you kiss frogs, you date frogs… and when you date frogs, you ultimately marry a frog. Then you have to divorce a frog or live with his ugly warts forever, and divorces are uglier than the frog you kissed in the first place.

The truth is, the media lies. Most of us are sent out into the world with hearts full of dreams but no helpful tools to help us make those dreams of love a reality. So while I don’t have the magical equation, I definitely have some helpful tools that might help you find someone with whom you really can spend the rest of your life loving. Here it is…

How to Find Your Soulmate in 5 Easy Steps - Sensible Singles Week on the #staymarried blog

STEP 1: MAKE YOUR LOVE LIST

What do you love? Before you can figure out WHO you want to love, you need to identify WHAT you love.

Make a list of every single thing that you can think of that you love. You can use the computer or just a blank piece of paper and a pen. If you’re creative, get out your colored pencils.

The beginning of my love list might include: my family, writing as a way to get out what’s inside, grape juice with crushed ice, waking up feeling rested, self-serve frozen yogurt stores, the smell of paper copy stores, crisp fall days, white sweatshirts, learning, teaching, soft blankets, playing board games, back rubs, discovering new places, inspiring conversations, spreadsheets, playing basketball, reading poetry, finishing a project, mountains, fireworks, feeling at home with friends…

Get the idea? Don’t censor yourself. I once created one of these lists that included, “strong arms that hold me” while I was dating a very skinny guy. He was upset when he read the list, realizing that he didn’t have the strong arms that I loved. It was insightful for me, both in that it was something that I loved that I didn’t have (not that this was a deal breaker for me) and that he would get so upset after reading what I wrote. I soon learned that he and I were not well matched. Although this is not the goal of the love list, it is sometimes an added benefit. The actual goal of your love list is to help to put you in a loving frame of mind.

STEP 2: CREATE YOUR “MUST HAVE” AND “CAN’T STAND” LISTS

Before you go out into the dating world, in addition to identifying what you love, it’s important to identify some deal breakers. This list will help you figure out WHO you want your future husband or wife to be… or at least what qualities you would like for him or her to have.

For this step, you should limit your must have and can’t stand lists to ten items each and you should be specific. For example, don’t just say that you would like for your partner to be athletic.  It’s too broad and leaves wiggle room later on when you are trying to convince yourself that the guy you’re dating is athletic because he bowls once in a while. If you want a bowler, then say that you want a bowler. But if you’d like someone who runs marathons or someone who works out daily at the gym, say that instead.

You’re going to need a piece of blank paper. Title one side, “My Top Ten Must Haves” and number 1-10. The other side is going to be for, “My Top Ten Can’t Stands.”

Here are some ideas for you to consider:

Traits (chemistry, communicator, sense of humor, verbal intimacy, emotionally healthy, strong character, artistic, kind, educated, organized, exciting, patient, tolerant, attractive, conflict resolver, affectionate, industrious, certain energy level, emotionally generous, intellectual, self-confident, unassuming, able to accept help, curious, loyal, adaptable)

Values (family life, shared interests, style and appearance, politics, charitable)

Family (children, parenting style)

Social Habits (like to go out, stay in, many friends or a few, gives me space or wants to spend all of their time with me)

Sexuality (abstinent, sexually knowledgeable, passionate)

Spirituality (religious practice, spiritual acceptance)

Financial/Career (financially responsible, ambitious, relaxed)

These were my must-haves from before I met Craig:

  1. He must either write poetry or sing… and be willing to share his poetry or songs with me.

  2. He must be taller than I am.

  3. He must be able to beat me at basketball.

  4. He must be intelligent and able to teach me about things that I don’t know.

  5. He must have dark hair and light eyes.

  6. He must be faithful.

  7. He must want children.

  8. He must adore me and make me feel like I am the only woman in his eyes.

  9. He must be able to provide financially for our family but also be okay with me working outside of the home.

  10. He must be a good conversationalist and we must enjoy talking to each other.

There are a few things that I might change now that I lucked into with Craig. For example, at the time I didn’t realize how important it was for me to be with someone whose religious convictions were similar to mine. We just lucked out that we were kind of at the same place with that.  I would encourage you to make that a higher priority than I did.

When you’re done with that list, it’s time to create your “Can’t Stand” List. Here’s your opportunity to add a few more things to your list that you couldn’t fit on your must-haves. Again, you are limited to just 10 items. You can do this one on the same page as your must-haves if you’d like. I find it easier to have these two together because when you’re evaluating a future date, you’ll want to have both lists easy to find.

How to Find Your Soulmate in 5 Easy Steps - Sensible Singles Week on the #staymarried blogAfter creating these lists, it should be a bit easier for you to picture what your ideal spouse may be like. They also make dating easier, because when you meet or start dating someone who has something that is on your can’t stand list or who is missing something on your must have list, you can walk away immediately. You shouldn’t keep dating them in hopes that it will change. That is a recipe for many years of unhappiness. Just walk away. Do not stay out of the fear of being alone. It may not seem like it at first, but alone is a much happier place to be than stuck in a relationship with someone who has one of your fundamental red flags.

Also, a word of caution: If you are currently in a relationship, but not married, please pretend like you are not in that relationship when you are creating these. Sometimes people have a tendency to fib a bit or omit certain characteristics because that may eliminate the person who they are currently dating. Please take note of that as you do this exercise.

STEP 3: SELF IMPROVEMENT

Now that you have a clearer vision of who you are looking for, take a moment to think about what type of person they might be looking for. What do you think they might find attractive?  For example, if you are looking for someone who is athletic and loves to work out at the gym, then might that person be attracted to someone who also enjoys going to the gym? Or if you are looking for someone who is honest, might they like someone who is honest too? Who do you see when you look in the mirror? Who do you want them to see when they look at you?

On a new piece of paper, make a list of the top three qualities that you think that your dream spouse might look for in their spouse.

Now, go over that list and compare the list to who you are and how you are currently living your life. What do you need to do to become that person? Pick at least one of the areas to work on so that you can become the person who you want them to want.

STEP 4: ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER

Everything is easier if we have someone in our lives to help hold us accountable. After you’ve created these four lists, please share a copy of them with a trusted friend. Ideally, this will be someone of the same sex or someone who you know will always be just a friend. Explain your lists to them and ask them to hold you accountable in sticking to the lists when you find someone new.

STEP 5: BE THERE

The final step is simple. Put yourself in the types of places that your ideal person would be. For example, if you don’t want a future husband or wife who enjoys hanging out in bars or clubs, then bars and clubs are not where you should spend your time. If you want someone who loves watching live sports, go to live sports games. If you want someone who loves to ski, hang out on the mountain. You get the idea.

How to Find Your Soulmate in 5 Easy Steps - Sensible Singles Week on the #staymarried blogSo, there it is — five steps to finding the love of your life. Living happily ever after isn’t simple even with the most compatible partner, but it sure is a lot easier than trying to make it happen when you’re spending your time with someone who isn’t right for you.

Let us know as you go… what’s on your love list?  What are you looking for in your mate? We’d love to hear your success stories too!

You can find out more about Dr. Rachel Terrill and read more on love and life at www.rachelterrill.com or follow her on Twitter at @DrRachel143

Lost in the Fog: Guest Post by Carmen Meeks

Last week, in “If Mama Ain’t Happy,” we discussed how our moods affect everyone around us. I touched briefly on my own experience with depression, and this week we want to explore that a little bit further. According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. suffer from depression. This means that, even if you are not personally struggling through it, there is a great chance that someone you care very much about is suffering. They may even be suffering in silence because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues like depression, bipolar, and anxiety.

This has always been a blog about marriage, not mental health, so you may wonder why we are diving into these rough waters. The simple truth is that we always want to be open about things that affect marriages, and people who suffer from depression have a higher likelihood of getting divorced than people who don’t, especially when the depression is untreated. We know, however, that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

When I began to think about the devastating connection between depression and broken marriages, and my own risk for divorce, my mind went to a couple I know who has been married thirty years longer than Tony and I. This couple is full of fun and wisdom, they are generous, and living life with a purpose. They have also battled depression and are beating the odds and staying married.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Carmen Meeks and allow her to share her own story today.

 

Lost in the Fog

When Michelle asked me if I would be willing to write about my experience with depression, I immediately said yes. If I can offer a few words of hope to someone who is currently feeling hopeless, I want to do so. I am living proof that there is hope and healing available for those who struggle with the debilitating disease that is depression.

My season of depression came on slowly. It crept over me like a Seattle fog.  Slowly, steadily, almost imperceptibly. I really had no idea what was happening to me until I was in the thick of it and couldn’t see my way out. At the time, I didn’t know the symptoms of depression, I just felt them: fuzzy thinking, irritability, fatigue, extreme sadness, hopelessness. Physically, I felt heavy– like I was sinking. Mentally, I felt clouded– like I had lost the capacity to make a decision.  Emotionally, I felt nothing– I was flat-lined.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

Unfortunately, my husband became the victim of my depression. I blamed him for how I was feeling. Wasn’t he supposed to make me happy? My two dysfunctional coping mechanisms were anger and withdrawal. Attack and retreat. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must have been for him, but somehow he stuck with me. And I can’t imagine how hard this must have been on my two children. There was a period of time during their young adult years when their mom was physically present, but emotionally absent.

I came face-to-face with my illness when I was driving down a wet road on a rainy day and saw a car swerve toward me. I had already experienced times when my heartbeat would accelerate over small events, but this time it skyrocketed in reaction to the perceived danger. It was beating so fast that I could literally hear it in my ears and feel my mind shutting down. The other car corrected their trajectory and no collision occurred, but I was already a mess. I pulled over to the side of the road and burst into tears. I was afraid to try to drive home. I knew something was wrong with me, but had no idea what it was or what to do about it.

A few days later, my husband and I got into our car to head to a friend’s home for dinner. That’s when I exploded. I told him I was unhappy with our life and our marriage and something had to change. It was ugly and messy, but it was also the first step toward healing. Rather than running for the hills, my husband helped us locate a competent Christian counselor. We went there together.

My healing did not happen overnight. It did not happen in weeks. It did not happen in months. I walked out of my depression, one day at a time, over a period of two years. Though our budget was tight, we paid for professional therapy month after month. I tried several different medications until I found one that worked for me. We stayed connected with close friends who encouraged us in our journey. I not only needed physical and emotional help, we needed to reinvent our marriage— and we did. We listened to our counselor and changed bad patterns in our relationship.  It was hard, but it was good.

Almost twenty years have passed since I found myself crying on the side of the road. I still live with a tendency toward depression and always will. My dad struggled with it, as did his dad. But now I know how to recognize when the fog is creeping in and how to take action. I am vigilant and self-aware. I no longer expect my husband to be responsible for my happiness. I know how to take responsibility for my own feelings. I’m not perfect, but I am better.

The symptoms of depression are available at our fingertips. Simply Google “depression” and you will access a wealth of information. But knowing the symptoms is not enough. If you are lost in the fog, you probably need help to take your first steps toward healing.

Here are some of those steps:

Tell a wise, trusted, action-oriented friend.

In the midst of my fog, I had neither the wisdom, nor the desire, nor the capacity to take action to help myself. I thank God that my husband took my hand and joined me on my journey toward healing.

Find a wise, competent psychiatrist.

For me, it was also important that this psychiatrist was Christ-centered. I needed holistic healing– body, soul and spirit. That included a full medical workup and medication for the treatment of depression. I also needed the grace and wisdom and practical advice found in the Bible to give me hope as well as practical life skills that I continue to implement in my relationships today.

Be patient with the process, and never stop growing.

You won’t conquer your problems overnight. I am still a work in progress, but I am much more self-aware and able to own my issues rather than blame others for my struggles. I know my moods, my physical weaknesses, and my points of vulnerability. I know where to go for help. I know what makes me happy:  spending time with my family, a long walk on the beach, quiet time at home, a hike in the woods, sharing a good meal with great friends, traveling to discover new places on this amazing planet.

Most importantly, ask Jesus to help you.

I put my faith in Jesus as a teenager. I still remember the weight I felt lifted from my heart when I asked him to forgive my sins and lead my life. Later, as a twenty-something, I stood in front of my pastor and promised to love my husband “for better or for worse.” The worst time of my life was my season of depression. Even though I cried out to Jesus during this struggle, he did not heal me instantly. But he did heal me eventually– with help from skilled professionals and therapeutic medicines and with the support of my husband. I see God’s handprint in all of these details.

This psalm is a reflection of my journey.  I pray it is an encouragement to you.

Psalm 40 - Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

Carmen and her husband Mike have been married for 36 years. They pastor EastLake Church in Chula Vista, California, where everyone is welcome regardless of their stories, questions, doubts, or struggles. They have two grown children, Heather and Ryan, as well as 7 grandchildren. Mike and Carmen, along with Tony and I, have committed to living transparently, especially when it comes to the issue of depression, so that others might find the hope and healing they need to conquer this otherwise silent destroyer of lives and marriages. The odds may be against us, but there is hope for each and every one of us, no matter what we face, to #staymarried.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

P.S. We’ve shared about our experience with depression in Tony’s post, Living with My Partner’s Baggage. As we mentioned before, even if you are not personally struggling with depression, there is a 1 in 10 chance that someone you know is. Please consider sharing this post and help us fight the stigma and silent suffering of this crippling disease by bringing it out into the open for discussion.

If you’re new here, welcome! You may want to check out my first post to get a little background as well as our about page. Thanks for reading and sharing!
~ Michelle

Photo Credit: Seattle | Fog in the Morning by Stephanie Williams Photography

Live Your Love

Tony and I have only been married for six years, but believe it or not, we have worked together for four different employers in addition to most recently starting our own freelance design company together. As I began to focus more of my attention on #staymarried, I quit my role as Project Manager for our business. When I say “quit,” what I mean is, I told my husband I didn’t want to do it anymore, and he still reminds me that he liked things better when I managed him instead of having to manage himself.

Over the years and in our different roles, we have always loved working together. He is my favorite person to listen to in a meeting. I love his candid and encouraging feedback on my work as well. He is crazy talented and hard-working, and I love knowing him in that capacity. It makes me even more proud to be his wife, and I always want him to be proud to be my husband, whether we are in a professional setting or among friends.

We realize that a couple working together and enjoying it is not necessarily common. Many people have told us, regardless of who we were working for together, that they just couldn’t do something like that with their spouse. We’ve heard people say that it was necessary for the health of their marriage that they keep work and home life separate. So, when we heard about Jasmine and Jeremy and their vision for their company Live Your Love, we wanted to know more about them.

Jasmine & Jeremy Dean

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1. Tell us how you met and got married.

{Jasmine} Jeremy and I met while doing relief work in a small village on the eastern side of Sri Lanka about 2 months after the December 2004 tsunami.

{Jeremy} We were both there volunteering. Jasmine went with a friend and got connected with the YMCA. My parents live in Sri Lanka and they put me in touch with a relief and development organization.  Jasmine ended up at a YMCA in a small town on the east coast of Sri Lanka called Kallar- which happened to be the town where I was managing a temporary shelter project. I’d see her every day, but because there was so much work to be done and things were so hectic, I never had a chance to speak with her. One day, after a couple of weeks seeing each other around the town, her and a few other volunteers came to work on a project with me. As soon as we started talking, we hit it off. The next two weeks we spent a lot of time getting to know each other, and I was definitely interested in being more than friends.

{Jasmine} One of my favorite things about my last days in Sri Lanka was that Jeremy told me he “had to be” in Colombo the very same weekend as me, and since he was already going to be there, maybe he would get in touch and we could see each other before I flew out. He did end up in Colombo, and we spent the weekend flying kites on the beach, going to dinner with some friends, and having lunch and pineapple juice on the water. It was our first “date,” and it was in a foreign world to us. Only later, much later, did I find out that not only did he not “have to be” in Colombo that weekend, but he actually had to re-arrange a bunch of things so that he could be there to see me off. Sometimes I forget how incredibly special and romantic our meeting was until we retell it, which is a lot as of late. I am reminded of how valuable it really is.

Sri Lanka Goodbye

{Jeremy} Jasmine flew back to the states, and I spent the next six months building shelters. During that time, there was a lot of emailing, and our friendship and interest in each other grew. Finally, in the summer of 2005, I flew back to the states and met up with Jasmine. It was definitely awkward at first. Seven months in Sri Lanka eating only rice and curry made me lose about 20lbs, and not long after I arrived back, I picked up walking pneumonia. I looked worse for wear, and I hadn’t anticipated the culture shock hitting me as hard as it did. The first few months we spent getting to know each other (again) were not easy, but the time we had spent together in Sri Lanka and the emails we sent had sparked enough interest for us to persist and soon we were dating. After about 15 months of dating, I asked Jasmine to be my wife, and we were married on May 19, 2007.

 2. What did you do, professionally or otherwise, before you got into the tea business?

Before we started the tea business, we both had pretty ordinary jobs. Jasmine was managing an office and I was working in sales. We did that for a year while we adjusted to married life. It didn’t take us long to realize that we aren’t 9-5 people.

3. How did you decide to begin Live Your Love? Who’s idea was it? Was there a “eureka moment”?

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{Jeremy} A year into our marriage, we started discussing the idea of going back to Sri Lanka. We had no idea what we would do there, but as we talked and dreamed, we both recognized a desire to help Sri Lanka’s poor. Because my parents lived in Sri Lanka, we knew there was an opportunity for both of us to teach English. We decided we would go for six months, teach English, and explore opportunities to empower the poor. The next step was raising support. We went on the road for about six months, meeting with old friends and making new ones, sharing our story and desire to help Sri Lanka’s poor along the way.

For me, this is when the initial idea of Live Your Love started. Although I enjoyed meeting with old and new friends, I did not like asking people to support us financially, and so I started thinking of ways that we could become self-sustaining. As we prepared to move back to Sri Lanka, we were doing a lot of research, and we started looking into what Sri Lanka’s largest industries were. Initially, we thought we would do something with clothing, because that’s their largest industry, but once we were there, it became pretty clear that tea was the way to go.

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{Jasmine} We spent time volunteering at Smile Lanka, where we got to know the children, widows, and families that are a part of this amazing program. We decided that if we sold tea, we could give a percentage of the profits back to this school and really support an amazing, life-giving program. So was birthed Live Your Love and Live Your Love Tea.

4. Who does what in your business? Where do your skills and talents crossover?

{Jasmine} Jeremy did most of the work for the formation of the business: paperwork, filing, shipping and receiving of the tea, etc. Jeremy is the big dreamer and can see visions/goals for Live Your Love that are bigger than I can even grasp. I am a very detailed, logistical person so I am able to see our current needs and create more of the short term goals. I have always been more of the networker and the day-to-day, go-to person.

{Jeremy} Right now, Jasmine does pretty much everything for Live Your Love. I work another job to help supplement our income, so for the time being, she oversees the day-to-day of Live your Love. Jasmine is amazing at making friends and connecting with people, so she does most of the marketing. She also has a great eye for design, so she’s the one who makes the brand look good. I’m more of a problem solver, so I contribute by figuring out how to get things done like importing tea into the U.S and applying for licenses, etc.

5. Have you ever had an argument about business? What was it about? How did/do you get through it?

{Jasmine} HA! That’s a funny question. Not funny haha, but funny because it’s so real.

Working as business partners has always been a challenge for us. As we’ve grown in our marriage and our communication, this has obviously gotten a bit better, but in the end I think it is our greatest challenge. We are so different, and we think so differently. If you look at it on paper, we are almost perfect puzzle pieces, fitting precisely together, to make a whole business, but we don’t live on paper and so that means our ideas, our goals, and even the speed to get to those goals are all different.

{Jeremy} When we first started Live Your Love, there was a lot we didn’t know about running a business, and for while, we felt like we were in over our heads. That brought a lot of stress into our marriage which caused a lot of arguments. With a lot of work and a lot of love, we pulled it together. We took the time to learn how to run a business together, to recognize each other’s strengths, and now we have a lot of fun running Live Your Love. I also get to see how amazingly talented Jasmine is.

{Jasmine} I always joke with him, because I’ve always wanted to go on The Amazing Race; but we are not at our best in high pressure, time sensitive, decision making times, so I told him I’ll have to take one of my sisters instead.

6. What is the best thing about being in business with your spouse?

{Jasmine} One of the best things about doing life and business with Jeremy is that we always get to be together. For a while we were living, building Live Your Love, and working a part time job together. I know a lot of couples that couldn’t do that, but we love being together and knowing about each other’s lives.

{Jeremy} Jasmine is insanely talented at so many things! I love that I get to see her many gifts put to use in a way that fulfills her. It also allows us to travel together.

{Jasmine} As different as we are, both of us come alive when we are learning new cultures, serving other people, and exploring the world. We are super blessed to be doing it together.

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7. Tell us about “StayMarriedSundays.” What does it look like? Has your relationship changed or improved since you started this new tradition? How?

{Jasmine} StayMarriedSunday started a few months ago when a friend of mine liked your page, and I found it through her on Facebook. At about almost the same time, Jeremy and I decided to make a commitment to spend more time “intentionally” investing in our marriage. It’s so crazy that we will “intentionally” go to work for 8.5 hours every day but not spend time “intentionally” working on or building our marriage. We decided to make Sunday mornings our “intentional” time together and not schedule anything else. As I saw all the resources that you guys post weekly, I decided to use a few of the videos in our first weekend. I started referring to it as StayMarriedSunday, and it just stuck. You’ve helped brand a very important part of our marriage

A lot of guys would quit on things like this, things that are not natural for them, but Jeremy has been awesome. I can see growth almost every day in the way we interact with each other and even in the way we fight with each other. It’s really a beautiful thing and incredibly rewarding.

{Jeremy} It has been a lot of fun. I definitely feel like I know Jasmine better, and that allows me to do a better job at loving her.

8. Where are you headed this summer?

A few weeks ago we were given the opportunity to have a free car for a year. The only catch is that we’d have to drive it from New Hampshire to Seattle…. ummmm, let me think: ROAD TRIP? Yes, please!

Jeremy grew up in England and hasn’t seen much of the middle of the United States, so we decided to start in New Hampshire, hit up the mid west, see Mt. Rushmore, and head towards Glacier National Park in Montana. I immediately saw this as an opportunity to spread some Live Your Love across the country while meeting awesome people along the way and helping spread the vision of who we are: we exist to partner with individuals & communities around the world to assist people in overcoming poverty, abuse, hunger, hate, and injustice.

Such a big part of Live Your Love is found and centered on Jeremy and I having a good, strong marriage and so we are so excited to be sharing #staymarried Love across the country, too!

 

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Jasmine and Jeremy would love to meet YOU, #staymarried readers! They hope to meet up with our readers from across the country as they travel across the United States and share some of their awesome tea with you. If you haven’t already liked our Facebook page, head over and do so! Their route will take them through the following sites/cities:

Mystic, CT
  Cleveland, OH 
     Milwaukee, WI
       Mt Rushmore, SD
         Glacier National Park, MT
            Spokane, WA
               Seattle, WA

We’ll be following the Deans as they make their way across the country, and we’ll be giving heads-up for opportunities to meet up with them, get some free tea, and maybe take a fun picture or two! The way this will be done is using the hashtag: #LYLroadtrip. Be sure to follow them on Twitter @Live_Your_Love and like them on Facebook. You can also follow their adventure on Instagram. They’ll be giving a heads-up using that hashtag to let followers know when they’ll be stopping in different places in order to have a semi-impromptu LYL/#staymarried meetup. How fun!

If you recognize their route and/or live near one of their stops, they are asking for any recommendations you might have for “must-visit” restaurants, scenic views, etc. They are especially interested in “local” eats and experiences! If you have a suggestion, go ahead and use the hashtag to give them your recommendation. If they take your word for it, they’ll give you a shout out!

 

If you can’t meet up with the Deans, there are still a few ways to support Live Your Love:

» Visit Live Your Love and buy some tea! Profits benefit the programs of Smile International in Sri Lanka.  
» Suggest to your church, office, or local cafe to carry LYL tea.
» Live Your Love is also seeking to benefit individuals and families affected by the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma. They are selling these awesome “We’re All OK” t-shirts with 100% of the profits going towards victims with specific needs.  

We are delighted to bring you this highlight of a small company that strives to do beautiful work run by a couple that is striving to #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read about Walt and Nancy, Est. 1975. 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

All images used with permission of Live Your Love {via} Jasmine & Jeremy Dean.

A #staymarried Easter Story

A #staymarried Easter Story - A Blog about a real couple who divorced and then remarried.

Easter Sunday is about a lot of things to different people. I’m not sure why, but I couldn’t get it in my head that Easter was in March this year instead of April, so the day definitely snuck up on us. We didn’t buy any Easter dresses for the girls, didn’t shop for Easter baskets, didn’t plan a big meal with family or friends. We ended up getting hit at our house with a terrible flu, so I didn’t feel so guilty for not making more of a holiday we would have had to cancel on anyway. Then I got to really thinking. Is Easter really better with all of that fun cute stuff?

The Easter holiday is actually a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Resurrection, as in, coming back from the dead. It’s a crazy story, but if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, it is essential that this story is true. It means that after darkness, there is light. It means that after tragedy, there is still hope. It means that death does not have the final word, there is more to this life than we see. It means that even when we have faced utter devastation, there is the potential for all things to be made new again. Easter made me think of my friend Christina.

Chuck and Christine - a #staymarried blog about a couple who divorced and then remarried.

Chuck and Christina

Chuck and Christina, who goes by “Chris,” met at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1986. They were both majoring in Psychology and moved in the same social circles, so naturally they became good friends. As they spent more time together and got to know each other really well, they fell in love and decided they wanted to be together forever. They were married soon after and spent the next 17 years raising their three sons.

As with any real life marriage, the story doesn’t go naturally from “They were married that day” to “And they lived happily ever after.” Chuck and Chris have been through some of the hardest things any couple could face. They did not, in fact, stay married. I wanted you to hear for yourself about this incredible couple, about the hard times and decisions they faced, and about how, even when it seemed dead and hopeless, the life of this marriage was truly resurrected. Here is Chris in her own words…

A Dying Marriage

Our marriage started out happily, but as our boys grew older, I began to realize that Chuck and I were growing apart. After several years of marriage, it seemed that the only time we could go out and be together was at the bar on the weekends. Things were not good at home. With each passing year, he seemed more and more withdrawn from me and the boys. I would try desperately to pull him out of this, but the more I yelled and carried on about it, the more he withdrew.  It felt like we argued about everything– from how to discipline the boys and handle our finances to simple everyday things like what to make for dinner or who should walk the dog.

Things went from bad to worse when Chuck lost his job as a probation agent. He was accused of partying with clients at the bar and bringing them back to our house afterward. This was when it really hit me how much he was struggling with addiction. By this time, it was common knowledge that he had a problem with alcohol, because while he didn’t drink daily, when he did start, he could not stop. During the week when Chuck was home, he put on his headphones to listen to his music and tune out. Knowing this man for so long, I had become a first class detective, and I realized that in addition to his large alcohol consumption, he was also abusing his prescription pills for anxiety and he was doubling and even tripling the dosages. He would reach for some Excedrin PM when he couldn’t get a hold of anything else. I felt helpless and, at times, hopeless. I confided in my closest friends and they would pray with me. In private moments, I cried and wondered if and how our marriage would end, but at the same time, I could still feel God giving me the strength to go on. I started to think that maybe a change of scenery would help. Maybe if we left Wisconsin, we could get a fresh start in a new place.

Shortly after Chuck lost his job, an opportunity arose for me to start my own business training teams of people in homes and schools to work effectively with children affected by Autism, and we moved our family from Wisconsin to Ohio. We joined a church there and things were better for a while. My business was thriving, but that also meant more time away from home. The boys had grown into their teen years and were challenging the boundaries of authority both at home and in the community. With all of my time spent away from home, working and traveling, the increased pressure of parenting our teenagers took its toll on Chuck, and he spiraled deeper into addiction.

Often on the weekends when I was home, Chuck went out with co-workers always with the intention of “having a couple of brews”. This never ended well; I remember waking very early before dawn one Saturday morning to loud banging in the garage. I realized Chuck wasn’t home yet and was afraid of what I may find but went quickly downstairs. I found him in the garage keeled over with vomit all over him and the garage. At that very moment, I felt torn in many directions. I wanted to just leave him there to deal with the consequences of his choices, yet I wanted to protect my boys from waking up to see their dad in that condition. I wanted to leave him, yet my heart ached for him and how lost he must feel. I wanted to shake him and scream until I was hoarse, yet I wanted to clean him up and hold him and tell him that our love would carry us through and everything would be alright…

I did what I had done so many times before: I covered it up. I stripped him down in the garage, put his clothing in the laundry, ran him through the shower and helped him into bed. After all of that, I went downstairs and cleaned up the garage all the while thinking that I must be insane.

This incident triggered something inside of me. My feelings towards him had gone beyond the unresolved hurt and rejection to total disgust and anger. I knew I loved him, I knew I couldn’t fix him, and I saw the effect this was having on our marriage. I couldn’t continue living this way. I began to beg Chuck to get help.

Chuck and Christine - a #staymarried blog about a couple who divorced and then remarriedI did not believe that we should separate, and I made it my mission to try to fix our marriage. I hit brick walls at every turn, though. I arranged for us to see a counselor, but Chuck didn’t like the counselor. It seemed the more I worked to save our marriage, the more Chuck wanted out of it. In a last ditch effort, I persuaded Chuck into joining a marriage group through our church. We met some amazing people that supported us through the dark times ahead. He began divorce proceedings in 2005, and we sold our house and separated after 17 years of marriage.

The Execution

Chuck moved into a tiny apartment and for a short time, I lived in a small house nearby. Several months after the divorce, I was offered a position in an Autism specific therapeutic day school in Chicago and after much prayer and consideration, made the decision to accept it.

Once I had moved to Chicago, I completely fell apart. I was brokenhearted and abandoned. I prayed many prayers and cried a river of tears. Through all of this, I prayed that God would help me continue to love Chuck and see him through His eyes. I always held onto the hope that we would one day be reunited.

Shortly after the move to Chicago, another opportunity came for me to return to Wisconsin and advance my career even further. I threw myself into my work and started attending a new church (Great Lakes Church). It seemed that while my marriage had failed, my career and calling in life were looking brighter than ever.

Chuck and I remained friends, and he was always welcome at family gatherings. When he came to Wisconsin to visit, he even attended my church and he appreciated that he felt welcome and not judged.

While I was in the process of beginning some more exciting things at work, Chuck’s brother called to tell me that Chuck had again lost his job as a result of his addiction. We had been divorced for over 7 years at this point. When he hit rock bottom this time, though, he turned to God and to me for help. He said he wanted to find the right treatment center, and he wanted his family back. He admitted he was out of control and needed my help. He asked if he could stay with me until a spot opened up in the treatment facility we chose together. I agreed to help him, but I set firm boundaries. I felt very strongly that I needed to guard my heart which had been torn in two. I made it very clear upfront that there would be no physical contact whatsoever between us. I also stated that my home was my safe haven and that he would no longer be welcome if he used drugs or alcohol of any kind. He agreed and entered a treatment program July 24th to begin the process of recovery and making amends.

It was during this time that Chuck realized that we really do belong together. Chuck wrote me a letter while he was in treatment that had a profound effect on me. In this letter he stated that he was disgusted with himself for the way he treated me. He said I deserved better. He told me that I was a faithful, compassionate, and beautiful woman and that none of what he was learning would be possible without me. He went on to say that if I would take him back, he would never let me get away again and that he wanted me back in his arms where I belonged. He said that he needed to take care of me the way God intended. For the first time in many years, his head was clear and all he could see was me, and he loved me more than ever. I read these lines over and over and I believed the sincerity of these words more than I had ever believed anything in my life. When I went to visitation, I saw with my own eyes that this man was transforming into someone I had never really known. God was changing him from the inside out, and I realized that what I had hoped for all these years was actually being fulfilled!

Things were not all rainbows and butterflies, though. We were spending time renewing our love. While I was busy with work, Chuck was working his program hard, attending daily meetings and groups. At my request, we refrained from physical contact, which was frustrating and difficult at times, but Chuck understood my reasons. It was truly a period of growth for both of us.

Chuck and Christine - a #staymarried blog about a couple who divorced and then remarried

Resurrected to New Life

We knew we wanted to be together forever this time and we wanted to get it right. I knew it was hard for him to wait, so we shocked everyone and set the date for October 27, 2012. Chuck was baptized and we renewed our vows in front of our entire church during a “Worship Night” event on October 21, 2012 and we were officially remarried later that week on October 27, 2012.

We both truly believe that God resurrected our marriage. Things are so much better this time around…. We serve alongside each other each week, co-leading the Usher Team at a new campus that we helped our church launch. We go on dates, participate with growth groups, and hang out with our boys (who actually enjoy hanging around with us now) and with our friends. An interesting phenomenon occurred when we all started working on changing ourselves! The taste of redemption is so sweet and I am extremely grateful to tell this story.

With Chuck and Chris in mind, I waited for my own family to be resurrected back to normal health, so to speak. I loved having their story to meditate on, to smile over, and be reminded that divorce is not definite. Death does not have the final say. Even a marriage that seems to have been buried can be resurrected in hope and love.

We hope you all had a wonderfully sunny, healthy, and happy Easter. My little family and I will celebrate Easter on another day, knowing that with hope in our hearts we will #staymarried

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read about Walt & Nancy. 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

Chuck and Chris reunion photos courtesy of Corey Beth Photography

Walt and Nancy, Est. 1975

Walt and Nancy are the kind of couple you might pass on the street or in the grocery store and never take a second look. They’ve described themselves as ordinary, boring even. But, that is not at all what I see when I look at them. I’ve been watching them for a few years now and what I see is actually quite extraordinary. They are people I admire and love to be around. They are a couple who care deeply and remember the details of other peoples’ lives. They serve each other and are quietly generous to everyone around them. So, as Tony and I have been on this pursuit to stay married and glean wisdom from others, it was only natural to invite Walt and Nancy over for dinner and ask them everything we could think of about their marriage and how they are making it work.

Here, in our very first Real Couple Interview, is what they shared with us…

How long have you been married?

It will be 37 years on November 28th!

Happy Anniversary! How did you meet?

I, Nancy, was working at a church that met in a theater. There was a lot of set-up and tear-down, so I always relied on volunteers to help me get things ready on Sunday mornings. I usually showed up with a list of people, some of them I knew and some I didn’t. One Sunday morning, as I was looking for my helpers, I saw a really good looking man meandering around the front of the auditorium. I walked up to him and asked him if he was here to help. He told me “no,” but then surprised me by jumping in anyway. I never caught his name, but I did go back and tell a girlfriend that I had just met the cutest guy! It took a couple more encounters before we were formally introduced. Then we began hanging out with the same group after church and at church events. We knew we liked each other right away.

How long after you met did you get married?

{Walt} Well, we met on January 30th, 1975. I’ll never forget because I met her the very day I accepted Christ. Like Nancy said, we hung around the same group of people for a while. We always say our first real date was at the Puyallup Fair that same year in September. We went with another couple, all of us just as friends.

{Nancy} Yeah, that’s where we hooked up.

Nancy! What do you mean “hooked up”!?!

Well, we kept sneaking off by ourselves. We were kissing. We didn’t say anything to the other couple. But, we were holding hands and really falling in love. We pulled off a big wedding just a couple of months later.

 

What were your early days like?

{Walt} We weren’t exactly typical newlyweds. I had been married before and had two kids. My son lived with me, so when we got married we were immediately a family of three in one house.

{Nancy} Yeah, I was a new bride at 24 years old and already I’ve got a twelve year old son! I mean, I couldn’t exactly prance around the house in a little nightie to surprise my new husband. We were rarely alone. From early on we had to be purposeful about connecting with each other, purposeful about making time for ourselves, purposeful even about our sex life. Right away we made it a yearly ritual to take a summer trip, just the two of us, to Wenatchee. This way we could spend time just as a couple, even if it was just two or three nights. We’ve continued to do this over the years.

Nowadays, statistics aren’t very friendly for blended families and second marriages. (Source)
What would you say were your biggest challenges in this area? How did you handle it?

{Nancy} Oh gosh, I was so naive. As a newlywed, I really wanted to please my new husband. I remember working hard one day to make meatloaf for Walt for dinner and the (his) two kids were home. They asked what was for dinner and when I told them, they went on and on about how their dad hated meatloaf. I ended up making this boxed dinner that turned out awful. I was so embarrassed. I apologized to Walt and told him the other option would have been meatloaf, which the kids told me he didn’t like. Walt told me, with a bewildered look on his face, “I really like meatloaf. That would have been fine.” That was the first time the kids pulled one over on me. After that, it was important to Walt and I that we were on the same team when it came to parenting the kids. Even though they already had a mother, Walt backed and supported me and made sure the kids knew we were making parenting decisions together. It wasn’t ideal, and it was rough on all of us at times, but knowing Walt and I were in it together gave me confidence in our relationship.

 

What is one thing in your marriage that you feel like you have conquered together?

Well, we haven’t exactly conquered it, but I (Walt) have lung cancer. I’m on an oxygen machine and absolutely everything takes me a lot longer than it should. Without Nancy by my side, I know I would just feel sorry for myself. Her patience and strength are remarkable. I used to be a lot more helpful around the house and now, just getting myself dressed is a labored effort. She has never complained to me about doing the things I used to do, like bringing in the heavy groceries from the car. Nancy is amazing, and I know I owe a lot of my good health to her.

What are you favorite things about each other?

Well, as I mentioned, Nancy’s strength has really pulled me through. She is committed to me, to our family, and that is evident in everything she does. She is the sweetest woman, my best friend.

{Nancy} Yes, Walt is the man I had always prayed for. He is my gift from God. He prays with me and for me. He is a good husband and a good father. Watching him be a grandfather is another special treat. I love that we are so connected. He’s never made me feel like I needed to check in when I was out, but somehow we always know where each other is on the rare occasions that we are a part. We really do love to be together.

What advice would you give to young couples who want to #staymarried?

{Walt} Don’t miss an opportunity to be with your wife! Staying married is not all there is. At our age, we know couples that have been married thirty years or more, but they really aren’t together. They live in separate bedrooms, some in separate houses, vacation separately, and don’t have any shared interests. Nancy and I spend a lot of time together, even doing things the other might not love so much. You know, shopping is not on my list of favorite activities, but I go with her so I can be near her. We take drives together just to talk. I know couples where the wife goes on a vacation to be with the girls or the husband takes off on a hunting trip for days at a time. I think that’s fine, but if you don’t vacation together or spend time doing other things together like just the regular errands, how can you expect your bond to grow? It’s important to be together and not leave each other behind.

Congrats on 37 years, Walt and Nancy! Tony and I are so thankful for couples like you who light the way for the rest of us. Happy Anniversary!

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, 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