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”

Your Marriage Needs a Vacation

We are not very good at vacations.

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

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

‘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”

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

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

For Better or Worse

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

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

For Better or Worse - a #staymarried blog for couples

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

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

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

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

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

For Better or Worse - a #staymarried blog for couples

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

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

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


For better.

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

For worse.

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

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

For Only as Long as I Feel Like It

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

For Better Or Worse - a #staymarried blog for couples

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

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

For Better or Worse - a #staymarried blog for couples

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

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read 25 Things To Do Before The Wedding. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Photo Credit: Nostalgia Photgraphy

5 Ways to Stay Engaged Once You’re Married

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

A Short Shelf Life

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

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

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


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

1. Ask Questions

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

2. Change Up Your Routine

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

3. Plan a Surprise

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

4. Double Date

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

5. Try Something New

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

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

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

“Rings” Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

New Year, Better Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year, Better Marriage - #staymarried

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

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

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

Finding a Marriage Mentor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are our 4 tips to finding a Marriage Mentor:

1. Judge the book by its cover.

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

2. Do a little digging.

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

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

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

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

4. Make a plan.

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

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