15 Ways to Calm a Fight

15 Ways to Calm a Fight - #staymarriedHave you ever been in a fight that you knew was going nowhere? Have you ever been in a fight that you knew was going nowhere AND you wanted it to end, but couldn’t figure out how to stop bickering? The way a couple ends a fight says a lot about the quality of their relationship and the stability of their marriage. Dr. John Gottman, the foremost researcher on marriage, calls these fight ending techniques “Repair Attempts” and says the way they are delivered and whether or not they are received can predict the longevity of the relationship!

Tony and I agree that in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the overarching ideas really come down to having good manners. But, there’s clearly more to it than that if there are so many books on marriage, so many years of research, and still so many couples getting divorced, right? None of the research out there says that couples should avoid fighting. Instead, Dr. Gottman and researchers like him concentrate on how couples fight. One thing they’ve noticed that affects whether or not a couple will stay married is how they make and receive these repair attempts.

I threw out this idea to some friends and asked, “What are some common repair attempts between you and your husband?” Here’s what some of them said… Continue reading “15 Ways to Calm a Fight”

Two Steps to a Better Fight

Two Steps to a Better Fight - 70 percent of marital conflicts are not resolvable - #staymarriedRinse and Repeat

Sometimes I feel like we are having the same arguments over and over again. I hate asking for help, but if I don’t ask, he doesn’t automatically know what I need. I grumble, he starts to try to figure out what the problem is, he gets frustrated that I don’t come right out and say what’s on my mind, and I get frustrated that I have to say anything at all.

“Why don’t you see what I see? Why do I always have to say things and ask you for help?”

“Babe, I just don’t. I see other things – the garbage, the lawn, the bills – I don’t expect you to see those things. You know if you just say something, I’m happy to help.”

“I know! It’s just that I hate asking all the time…”

Rinse and repeat.

It’s one of our seasonal tiffs; it’s always the same. Do you have one of those? Most couples do. If we were sitting across from each other over coffee and I asked you, “What’s the thing you guys fight about most?” you’d have an answer instantly. If you felt like you could trust me, you may even tell me what that was. It’s ok. You can trust me…

We Don’t Have to Compromise

The good news is there isn’t any research that indicates that a healthy marriage is one without conflict. In fact, research does tell us that Continue reading “Two Steps to a Better Fight”

Holding Hands: A Simple Act with Profound Impact

Holding Hands: A Simple Act with Profound Impact #staymarriedI get anxious in crowds. I’m not tall; it’s hard for me to see. Some might even say, at 5′ 3.5″ (yes, I count that half inch), that I’m short. As a teenager I’d almost gotten used to being squished and stomped on when I went out to see live music. I feel my chest tighten and my shoulders clench when I see the inevitability of a crowd, and I begin to scan for ways to go around instead of going through. Tony, on the other hand, isn’t bothered at all. He IS tall, 6′ 2″, and walks confidently through crowds, weaving his way in the direction he wants to go. When we’re together, he grabs my hand and I follow. He leads me with that confidence, I know I’m safe, and my anxiety level goes way down. He doesn’t have a shield or body armor, he doesn’t push or yell at people, he just walks confidently holding my hand. He holds my hand.

Moving through a crowd is not the only time he holds my hand. In fact, he holds my hand most of the time when we’re out together. I remember one day, when we picked up a friend of his whose car had broken down, we’d stopped at a grocery store on our way to take him home. We all walked in together, and naturally, Tony grabbed my hand on the way in. “Woah!” his friend said, “PDA! What are you guys doing? Don’t let my wife see you doing that. I never hold her hand in public.” He doesn’t hold her hand?

Truthfully, until his friend made such a big deal about it, we didn’t even know it was a thing. Tony told him he was an idiot and then wrapped his arm tightly around my shoulder while we walked just to make a point. Showing me affection publicly – holding my hand, kissing my cheek, putting his arms around me – was not even remotely embarrassing to him. It’s something about our relationship I have probably taken for granted. He has never been stingy with his affection. He’s never made me feel strange for leaning into him or squeezing him in a tight hug for a few extra seconds.

Recently, during the birth of our third daughter, I needed his physical presence in the most crucial way. I was struggling through painful contractions. There were times I felt weak and inadequate and even scared. Tony held me, walked with me, encouraged me, held my hand and never let go. Between contractions I was able to look at him and I just marveled. I had been gripping him so hard, pulling down on him by the shoulders with all of my strength. At one point I even bit him on the chest as I buried my face from the pain. No doubt he had war wounds from the frenzy of a shockingly fast delivery – too fast to receive the epidural I pleaded for. Still he held my hand, cheered me on, gave me strength. At the end, once our daughter was born, he held my hand again as he prayed over our newborn and me. I’ve read that being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Strength and courage were just what I needed, and loving and being loved by Tony did indeed give me both.

 Being deeply Loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage - Laozi | #staymarried

These were such profound moments for us as a couple, this birth experience. We had to trust in our physical communication because the words could simply not come out. I’m delighted to share this two minute video with you. I think you’ll see for yourselves the strength of love and trust, the power of holding hands and holding each other.

Holding hands is such a simple act of affection, and yet can carry such profound meaning. Holding hands adds to feelings of security and attachment. Holding hands has been shown to reduce the stress hormones in the brain. Holding your partner’s hand when they are describing a stressful situation can help them feel calm. It’s relaxing and can even lower the intensity of a fight.

There is immense power in this simple act. It takes only a moment and a little bit of good intention to reach for the one you love. We hope you give and receive the benefits of holding hands as often as possible, stay affectionate, and #staymarried.

If you liked this post, you may also like to read Same Team and To Love is To Listen. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.
New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

P.S. Thank you to our regular readers & subscribers for waiting while we took our Blogternity Leave. We are so thrilled to introduce our newest little lady to you: Miss Alice Jane Peterson!
{ Feel free to click on the image to take a closer look at her sweet face and all of the details about her birth. }

Alice Jane Baby Announcement - #staymarried blog

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

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

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

Tony says, “We shall not!”

I’m saying, “We shall!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need to talk. Or, do we?

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

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

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

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

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

Four Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions

1. Set a time to listen

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

2. Decide where you can be flexible

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

3. Choose understanding over deciding

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

4. Show gratitude

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

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

 

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

 

If you liked this post, you may also like to read Same Team and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting. New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

To Love is To Listen

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep, she probably does.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Love is To Listen

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

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

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

4 Tips to Becoming a Better Listener

1. Put down your phone.

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

2. Stop talking and take a look.

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

3. Listen for understanding.

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

4. Be patient and slow down your response time.

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

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

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read Why I Date My Wife, a post where Tony shares some great questions to get conversations started with your spouse. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.
Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porn Breaks Trust and Destroys Intimacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Set Healthy Parameters

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

2. Guard Your Associations

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

3. Guard Your Ears

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

4. Guard Your Time and Money

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

5. Work at Romance

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

6. Communicate Love Clearly

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

7. Maintain Physical Intimacy

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

8. Forgive

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

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

P.S. You are reading Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross, as part of a #staymarried series on infidelity, pornography, and forgiveness.  If you missed the first two parts, 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver and 5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity, you might want to check them out. If you want to read more about safeguarding your marriage, you may also like Five Trust Building Boundaries.
Thanks for reading!
~Tony

7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver

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

Tony: I’ll be working late tonight.

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

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

Tony: Sorry.

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

Me: … deflating…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean to be a good forgiver?

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

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

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

A stubborn forgiver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like I Hate Apologizing and No Yelling… And 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair.

The #staymarried Book

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

 

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

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If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.
Thanks for stopping by!
~Michelle

Feed the Good Stuff

Feed the Good Stuff, 10 Ways to nurture fondness and admiration in your marriage - a #staymarried blog for couples In our desire to see marriages succeed, we’ve learned that we need to feed the good stuff.

Taking the time to write down something good, and reading the uplifting responses of others, can be really encouraging all on it’s own. There are plenty of opportunities to complain and air out our frustrations, especially over social media but, we don’t see that really helping anyone. In fact, I think it’s quite counterproductive to air “in the moment” annoyances over the internet by posting a status like, “I could probably get more sleep if my husband would do his part and get up with the baby once in awhile.”

We’ve all seen, or perhaps written, some version of these public, passive aggressive spousal criticisms in our news feeds. It’s a bummer. But, even more than just bringing me and the rest of our social network down, it’s having a negative effect on your marriage. In John Gottman’s research on healthy marriages, he’s found that criticism and contempt are two of the four main factors in predicting divorce. One of the ways to combat those, he says, is to nurture your fondness and admiration for one another. This is so essential that he’s named it as Principle #2 in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. He asserts:

Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance. Although happily married couples may feel driven to distraction at times by their partner’s personality flaws, they still feel that the person they married is worthy of honor and respect. When this sense is completely missing from a marriage, the relationship cannot be revived.

Did you catch that? Without honor and respect, Gottman says, your marriage doesn’t stand a chance.

Feed the Good Stuff - 10 Ways to Build Fondness and Admiration in Your Marriage - a #staymarried blog for couples

If you’ve been out of the habit of praising and building up your spouse and your marriage, here are a few things to think about..

1. Remember your early days.

Dr. Gottman has found in his research that 94% of the time couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well. He says, “By focusing on your past, you can often detect embers of positive feelings.” We’ve shared about this before, but when you choose to think about your favorite memories of your relationship and even talk with your spouse about then, your love for them naturally grows.

2. Speaking positively helps you think positively.

Our brains are tricky little organs. When we’re frustrated about something, we naturally gravitate our thoughts on building that list of frustrations. Even if we never say it out loud, it’s common to have an inner dialogue that gets stuck on this cycle and says to itself “And another thing…” However, the opposite is also true. If we focus on the good and positive things, our brains want to stay there and build upon it. So, finding something positive to say, or even a positive way to look at something irritating, can help you nurture that fondness.

3. What gets rewarded gets repeated.

I first heard this concept when it came to managing others at work. I now believe it to be true in many areas of life including friendships, parenting, and especially my marriage. Criticism is simply not motivating. Saying to my husband, “You NEVER take me out!” is not likely to encourage him to plan a date night. However, if I said, “I love spending time alone with you. When can we go out again?” I’m almost guaranteed to have a fun date in the near future. Expressing your needs in a way that communicates your fondness toward your partner is going to yield much greater results than simply complaining to them. Look for the things your spouse does that you appreciate and then acknowledge it right away. Whether verbally, or with a good, long kiss, you get to be creative in the way you “reward” your spouse and encourage within yourself those feelings of admiration.

Interested in increasing your fondness and admiration quotient? Those geniuses at The Gottman Institute have come up with this fun assignment. Take one Thought and Task per day, especially on the days you spend less time with your spouse, and see if this exercise doesn’t make a positive difference in your marriage.

Feed the Good Stuff, 10 Ways to nurture fondness and admiration in your marriage - a #staymarried blog for couples

We hope you enjoy this exercise. Remember, feeding the good stuff will starve the bad stuff so that you can have a long lasting romance with your partner and #staymarried.

Photo above is of Andy and Sharon on their 50th Anniversary!
Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

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

Living With My Partner’s Baggage

We all bring something into our relationships… “Baggage” is the popular term for it. My baggage includes a couple of past relationships, one sexual and one very long-term (10 years)… as well as lust, pride, and financial struggles. But these shy in comparison to what my wife has endured in her lifetime, as she shared last week here on the blog. It’s not a competition of ‘who has the most hurt and dirt in their past,’ so I’m not trying to compare myself to her, but the fact is, I was not subject to molestation and rape from ages 4 to 10 and don’t think I can ever fathom what a dark place that is for a child. Michelle has asked me to write a follow-up to last week’s post to share what it’s like from a partner’s perspective– being in a relationship with someone who has dealt with sexual abuse. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to share my insight, perhaps because I don’t feel I have any. But because she asked, I will try.

Living With My Partner's Baggage - Coping with Depression in Marriage - a #staymarried blog

Here’s how it goes…
I have heard Michelle’s story many times, and each time I hear it, it sounds almost exactly like the first time she told me. Very disconnected. Very factual and stale. Not emotional like you’d expect from someone who’s been deeply wounded – never a tear, or tremble, or pause in her voice. She never uses the word “rape,” and even though that’s what it was, she seems to speak of the unspeakable as though she’s talking about a mediocre restaurant she visited. Honestly, it’s a little disjointed to hear it delivered this way (like Ben Stein giving a eulogy) but I think I get it. Not only is she trying to spare the feelings and pity of the listener, but if she were going to allow herself to internally or mentally relive those moments every time she shared her past, she might never stop carrying that baggage.

In contrast to popular opinion, my wife is actually an introvert. She is very private and really only shares details of her life and feelings to very close friends. So when I heard that she was going to share her story with the world, I was so proud of her, because I knew it was way outside of her comfort zone. The video in her “Baggage Handling” post was shot in 2009 when we lived in Wisconsin, and it was intended to be used for the (at the time) small church of about 500 people we helped plant. We saw then how being open and transparent could be helpful to others who’d had similar experiences. It seems that while so many are affected, there is still a huge tendency for people to feel alone. It’s a colossal understatement to say that I’m a big fan of Michelle Peterson.

But back to the effect it has on our marriage. For me, her baggage helps me remember that God is good. I know, I know. You all just thought, “oh geez, Mr. Christian just pulled out the cliché one-liner I was expecting”… but before you roll your eyes and stop reading, hear me out: The results of studies concerning adults who were sexually abused as children have shown that the odds are against Michelle, and she should be in a self-destructive situation– in an abusive relationship, addicted, selling her body, living with cripplingly low self-esteem, or admitted to a mental hospital– but she has overcome and spat in the face of those studies. I cannot look at the scientifically observed results of an abused childhood, put them next to who I know my wife to be, and find the contrast anything less than a miracle.

To put it differently, it has been no more than a small thorn in our sides. Her past has surfaced for me to experience a small number of times. This doesn’t mean that it’s all lollipops and kittens, though. One specific example of how her past has had an effect on our marriage is Michelle’s experience with depression.

Depression at Home

It is extremely common for victims of childhood abuse to suffer from depression and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There is no time when this has been more apparent than after the birth of each of our girls. After Claire was born, Michelle seemed fine for a couple weeks, but then she began to appear distant or lost in thought. Then she turned irritable, bitter, pessimistic, and communication was like pulling teeth, most of the time ending up in tears. Talking about it together (when we’re not in the depths of living in it), she’s revealed to me some pretty dark thoughts she struggles with. Out of shame we never sought professional help, but this season eventually faded and life became easier again.

After learning that we were going to have another baby, I gave little thought of how we would handle postpartum. I think I just thought “it takes going through it once to know how to handle it the next time” and assumed that Michelle would be watchful of symptoms, and it would be better this time. I was wrong. After Nora was born, it was worse than before. She was completely non-communicative, simple things that were easy for her to navigate before now caused her to be stressed and overwhelmed. Again, I hoped in silence that it would just go away, but after a month I was doubtful. I ended up calling a hotline to find out what I could do for my wife and they were helpful, up until they told me that Michelle would have to call them directly so that she could receive assistance. I was torn. I wanted help, but I feared in my wife’s hyper defensive state that she might feel betrayed that I made the phone call in the first place.

Our youngest was four or five months old when Michelle seemed to come alive again. We could talk and even joke and I thought we’d come through the worst of it. Then, just a few months ago, she seemed to break down once more. Michelle not only felt the emotional struggle like before, but it was physically debilitating this time. I was nervous to go to work, fearing that parenting our girls was too much for her. Once I came home from work a little early only to find her sobbing in the bathroom. She was trying to put makeup on and could not stop crying. I asked her what had happened, and she told me plainly that she had no reason to cry except that she just felt hopeless and worthless. It was brutal to watch my sweet wife feel so awful. She wanted to shake it off, but these horrible feelings were just not going away. I kept telling her how much I loved her and how much she meant to our family, but it seemed that any attempt I made at encouraging her was futile.

Soon common household responsibilities seemed like impossible tasks. There were Fridays when I’d get home from work and I would only hear our bedroom door shut as I walked through the front door and knew she was retiring to sleep, leaving Dad to “figure it out” for the remainder of the weekend. It was a dark time, one of the hardest I can remember. This time, however, I called and made an appointment with our primary care doctor. I was still nervous, but when I told Michelle, she seemed relieved. Michelle has been on antidepressant medication now for a couple of months, and that has made a huge difference. We have talked and know that the next step is to seek counseling. That may seem like a simple phone call to most people, but after living with this for some time now, I realize what a hurdle that is for my wife. Still, she is determined to be healthy. I think that’s the difference of being a victim and a survivor.

I don’t even think Michelle really realizes she is a victim of sexual abuse. Take any horrible situation, and the victim is the innocent person hurt by the situation, helpless and waiting for the hero to come and rescue them. Sometimes the hero doesn’t come. But a survivor is what a victim becomes when they endure, outlast, or take matters into their own hands to find a way out of a bad situation… not for justice or to make fair or right, but for survival. Michelle is a survivor – strong and courageous.

How We Deal

So there you sit, reading my inadequate words to describe how I live with my amazing wife who brings past abuse into life with me. This isn’t a post to give you the 5-happy-hops-to-living-with-abuse, and I’m sorry if that’s what you’re hoping for. We do know that seeing a physician and starting medication has been a game-changer. Michelle is no longer plagued by the hopeless and worthless feelings she struggled through so heavily. She is alive to us and not distant the way she was and we are so thankful. As for me as her husband, I realize I have responsibility to her and to our family to continue to work through this. If you are a partner trying to cope with your spouse’s baggage, all I can offer is what I think works for us…

Coping with Depression in Marriage - a #staymarried blog

I’m sure some of this comes as a shock. I think most people read Michelle’s words and think about how encouraging she is. Some may even think we’ve overcome a lot of hurdles and are now sitting happily on the other side, ready to bestow all our learnings to everyone else who’s hurting. Nope. We’re in it too. You might be tripping over that boundaries hurdle right now, but we’re hitting that one over and over and are always stumbling over the comparison trap. We have decided not to let baggage or depression or anything else we may face tear us apart. We definitely don’t have this marriage thing in the bag, but we want to keep at it and #staymarried.

 

If you related with this post or 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 Michelle’s first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~Tony

Portrait Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

Same Team

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

Chess

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

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

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

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

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

Same Team

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

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

Seek First To Understand

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

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

 If YOU win, your TEAM loses.

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

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

*Click here for more on “Repair Attempts”

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

The One Word Secret to a Lasting Marriage

The One Word Secret to a Lasting Marriage- a #staymarried blogA good friend of ours is a pastor. In fact, he’s such a good friend that a few years ago we decided to move from Washington to Wisconsin to help him with his dream of launching a church for people who hate church in the town he grew up in. We spent a whirlwind three years there and we’re so glad we did it! While we were there and working with him, we saw him counsel a long line of couples. Despite his counsel, we saw some of those couples even get divorced. It is such a hard thing to watch and I could never imagine being in his chair, sitting across from a couple that is hanging on by a thread.

So, since we’re friends, I asked Pastor Dave Nelson directly to share with me if he’d noticed anything in common with the couples he counseled that stayed together and the couples that divorced. What he shared was surprisingly simple. Here he is to share it with us…

I’ve finally figured it out.

After officiating over 100 weddings… providing pastoral guidance to scores of couples… giving almost 50 talks on the topic of relationships… and battling through almost 10 years of my own marriage hell… I’ve discovered the “secret” of couples who make it and couples who don’t.

It boils down to one word: HUMILITY

That’s it. Humility!

Humility says, “I’ll work on this marriage, even though I’d rather be doing something else.”

It says, “I forgive you, even though I prefer to hold a grudge.”

It says, “I’m going to let you choose the schedule for this holiday season, even though I’m used to getting my way.”

It says, “I’m willing to recognize and admit my faults, even though I hate apologizing.”

It says, “I’m going to look for ways to proactively help you, even though I’d rather be watching TV and doing nothing.”

It says, “I’m going to go through the hard work of learning to be an encourager, even though it’s easy for me to find faults.”

It says, “I’m going to learn to listen to you, even though I prefer to talk all the time.”

It says, “I’m not going to threaten divorce when we get in big fights, even though that is how I’m feeling at the moment.”

It says, “I genuinely recognize that I need you (and others) in my life, even though I’m a fiercely independent person.”

It says, “I’m going to find ways to honor you, even though I’m naturally a selfish person.”

It says, “I’m going to talk with kindness and respect to you, even though I’m stressed and crabby.”

You get the point. Humility is a big deal.

Interestingly, the Bible never encourages us to pray for humility. It simply tells us to “humble ourselves” (James 4:10; Philippians 2:5-8)

 

Hmm… Can that really be all it takes? Could this one word, this one characteristic, build my marriage and possibly prevent Tony and I from getting a divorce? Could this one change in perspective gently guide a couple out of the offices of their separate lawyers and back into each others arms? I think it’s possible and I’m willing to try it for myself. I have a feeling I already know what Humility might say in our house…

“Honey, I am going to ask you kindly for help, even though I wish you would just see what I need on your own and take care of it.”

What might Humility say in your house?

We would love for you to share in the Comments section below if you really think it’s this simple. If not, what makes it more complicated? Do you think Humility could help you #staymarried?

Great Microwave Meals

On Thursday, we shared with you some ways to “Turn On Your Crockpot”. Now I’d like to offer you my perspective on men being like microwaves.

Great Microwave Meals - a #staymarried blog about intimacy

WARNING: This is a post for adult married couples.

A man’s desire for sexual intimacy can be radically different than a woman’s. Wives need foreplay early in the day with kind words and being attentive to her non-sexual needs. Husbands simply do not. She needs to feel loved in order to want sex… he feels loved as a result of sex. Every emotional interaction of her day is a building block directly related to the next, coming together to set the scene… He, on the other hand, can get turned on by simply seeing his wife in the right light at the right angle, and that’ll be enough to set things in motion for him.

Speaking to the metaphor, making a great crockpot meal requires prep work of exactly the right ingredients, setting up the appliance on a slow simmer, and then checking on it periodically during the day, maybe adding a few ingredients here and there. To make a good microwave meal, you need to push a few buttons. And in fact, I’m impatient enough to use the “Add 30 seconds” button just so that the cooking starts the moment I push a button, not after I hit “Start.”

The reality is, eating crockpot meals every day is time-consuming, requires a ton of planning and forethought, and can become a numbing tedium that lacks spice and spontaneity. As for microwave meals, in most cases the ingredients weren’t hand picked, and it lacks the depth of flavor that an all-day-simmer gives, but we gotta eat. That’s why there is importance in variety and balance.

I can see how the attention to detail and purposeful interactions throughout the day can make a woman feel special. I can see how speaking kindly to your wife in the morning can set the tone for the evening. As a woman, this may make complete sense to you, but as a man this concept can be a little harder to grasp. We have a natural pull toward instant gratification. When I put my money in the vending machine, I want that bag of Doritos in my hand immediately. I don’t want to think about the Doritos all day, and then enjoy the amazing flavor 9 hours later. So, if you think it’s planning and forethought that makes sex good for a man, you’re mistaken. Sure, he probably appreciates a naughty text, or a peek at some lingerie, but ultimately it’s YOU he wants, and the sooner the better.

For men, the speed at which the waiter delivers the filet mignon from the kitchen to the table does not affect the flavor. It’s still filet mignon… and it still tastes friggin’ amazing! Especially if it’s hot! Perhaps there is a certain amount of anticipation that can enhance the experience, but in all honesty, we want that amazing meal on the table NOW.

Of course, comparing sex to food is funny, but I hesitate comparing a powerful and beautiful experience to a hot pocket. The truth is, sex isn’t anything like a hot pocket… no matter how it’s served.

Hot Pockets Aren’t Healthy

Let me also offer a perspective that is slightly less humorous. There is in fact a “hot pocket,” and it is self-pleasuring. It can be a lot of work to constantly attend to your spouse’s emotional state in the hopes of bonding at the end of the day. It is a lot less work for him to just handle it himself… literally. If you’re constantly making him “work for it,” he’ll likely stop working for it and just take care of it himself. At this point both your sex life and your marriage as a whole will suffer. The sad fact is that a human being can live off hot pockets for the rest of their life. But if you’ve experienced food the way I have, you will agree with me in saying what a sad life that is and what a massive blessing you would be missing out on.

This depravity of spontaneous sexual intimacy can leave a door open for outside influence as well. Ladies, if you are making it difficult for your man to connect with you the way he needs, not only are you telling him it’d be easier for him to just handle it, but you’re opening an opportunity for someone else to be the fulfiller of that need. Being rejected over and over is a massive hit to a man’s pride and ego. How easy would it be for Ms. Bad-Intentions to make your sex-deprived husband feel like a million bucks? EASY!

Being attentive to his desires will place you at the top of his short list of “ways to satisfy this feeling I can’t control.” If you want to connect with your husband in a way he desires and increase the levels of intimacy in your marriage overall, we’ve got some ideas for you…

4 Tips to Great Microwave Meals

1. Respond to him sexually more often.

Don’t wait till you’ve both settled down and are in bed… Surprise him in the hall! Call him to the bathroom when you’re taking a shower, then invite him in. Don’t let a kiss just be a peck, make something of it and guide his hand. Respond to him when he approaches you and initiate sex yourself once in awhile.

2. Understand he needs to release sexually.

If you think to yourself “it’s been a while,” don’t wait for him to approach you. Do something about it! You already know that men, generally speaking, are more easily turned on than women. He is turned on just by the sight of you, and something is happening to him physically that may not be happening to you. When you have emotional build-up, you vent to him, or someone else, verbally. When he has sexual build up… I’ll let you draw the parallel on that one.

3. Consider the battle he’s up against.

Keep in mind that his desires are solicited to all day from surfing the web, or even standing in line at the grocery store. Create a safe place in your marriage for him to express himself and make efforts to draw his attention back to you. Be confident in knowing you’re beautiful to him, but don’t be deceived in thinking everyone else in his eyes is ugly. Have peace in knowing he chose you. The media uses women’s bodies against men… and it works. Don’t shame him for a part of his nature that’s difficult to control.

4. Don’t try to make him open up to you verbally by depriving him of sex.

You’re probably the talker… he’s probably not. Withholding sex isn’t going to change this. It’s manipulative and counterproductive. Don’t play the I-have-a-headache card when it’s not true. Remember, he feels connected as a result of sex. If you want him to open up to you, chances are you’ll get a lot more out of him emotionally when you are open to him sexually.


Ladies, don’t read this post and think all of the pressure and ownership is on you now… it’s not. Your husband is responsible for meeting your needs as well. Instead, I hope you’ll take some of these things to heart, and remember them the next time you have an opportunity to make a move. Also, it’s good to try things a bit out of character. Even if it’s difficult or embarrassing at first, in the long run it’s that kind of vulnerability that’ll help you #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, share it! 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 wife’s first entry to get a little background. Thanks for reading!
~Tony

Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

Turning On Your Crockpot

Have you heard this one? When it comes to sex, men are like microwaves and women are like crockpots. A man can be turned on and hot at the press of a button. A woman needs to be turned on in the morning and takes a while to heat up. You can’t just flip the switch and expect a gourmet meal.

I’m pretty sure I was in church the first time I heard that illustration. My first thought was, “Oh jeez, are we really talking about sex in church?” My second thought was, “Thank God we are talking about sex in church!” I was dating Tony and by this time we were both pretty sure we were going to get married. Only, he’d been celibate, and I, uh… well, I hadn’t. Talking about sex was awkward, so I felt thankful someone else was bringing it up. Since then, we’ve both heard a lot of advice about having a healthy sex life. Some of it has been enlightening, some of it has been relieving, and some of it I’m still confused by.

What I’ve noticed in all of the advice I’ve heard and read about sex is this: men and women are fundamentally different. Ok, you probably already knew that. Still, I think it’s worth exploring- especially when it comes to your sexual relationship and the way it impacts your marriage overall. You see, if you are married to someone of the opposite sex, it is virtually impossible to understand the inner workings of their mind, emotions, hormones, and perceptions. Your brain and their brain are wired completely differently. We can’t expect our partner to think and feel the same way that we do about the same things, as much as we may want them to. Acknowledging our vast differences also means acknowledging that we have to be willing to meet them somewhere in the middle– this is particularly true if we are going to experience the incredible joys of true intimacy.

True intimacy, at its core, is selfless– it starts with desiring to know your partner’s wants and needs. Respecting your partner by seeking to meet those wants and needs is the very foundation of great sex– and, in your marriage, a healthy sex life.

I think many men are surprised to learn that women typically don’t think about sex “every six seconds,” and that their idea of foreplay is waking up to a full coffeepot that she didn’t have to brew herself.

So, if you need some help, here are some tips for cooking up something hot in the Crockpot…

Turn her on in the morning.

Go out of your way to be helpful with your morning routine.
Get up early enough to pour her a cup of coffee before she is up.
Tell her she looks great.
Help get the kids breakfast.
Make that goodbye kiss slow and long.
Tell her she looks great.
Ask her what she’s looking forward to for the day.
Let her know you’re looking forward to coming home to her tonight.
Even if she’s still got “bed head,” tell her she looks great.

Check on her in the middle of the day.

Call her and tell her you’re thinking about how great she looks.
Text her just to say “I love you.”
Tell her you miss her.
Leave her a special note someplace– like on the bathroom mirror or in her purse.
Let her know you’re ordering pizza so neither of you need to worry about making dinner.

Don’t rush it at the end of the day.

Check in to see if there is anything you can grab for her on your way home.
If she’s home when you get there, greet her warmly before you greet the kids.
Be helpful with the kids and dinner. Pour her drink before you pour your own.
Tell her she looks great.
Ask her about her day, and listen.
Offer to clean up after dinner (this works especially well if you rarely/never do this).
Give her a nice long hug, without being too grabby.
Share with her one of your favorite memories of your early days together.

Turning on your Crockpot - a #staymarried blog about sex for married couples

I’m pretty sure that in the history of husbands and wives navigating troubled waters, no couple has ever sat down with a counselor and said, “We’re having too much sex. It’s a problem.” Regular sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage. Even the Bible implores us not to abstain from sex with our spouse. If, as a husband, you feel like you are getting rejected when you pursue your wife for sex, think back in your mind to how the rest of the day, even the rest of the week, has gone. Is this the first or only way you’ve tried to connect with your wife? Have you, even unintentionally, dismissed and ignored her in other areas?

Sir, if you do even a few of these things we listed above throughout the day, you might just be plating up a gourmet meal for your efforts. As a man, it may be difficult to understand that a woman needs to feel connected in order to want to have sex. All of the things I mentioned may not sound very sexy. You may never understand why helping get the kids breakfast in the morning makes your wife want to treat you to dessert at the end of the day, but trust me, it matters. The more she feels connected to you, appreciated and valued by you, the more eager she will be to get closer to you physically.

Now, Ladies, before you start using the tips above as bargaining chips, listen up. If you are withholding sex from your husband as a way to manipulate him to be more helpful around the house or to connect with you more in conversation, you are completely sabotaging yourself and your marriage! Sex is an act of intimacy, and intimacy does not come out of manipulation of any kind. On Monday, Tony will share his perspective on the Microwave’s side of things. So stay tuned and #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

Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

25 Things To Do Before The Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to download a printable version of this list.

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

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

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

The Truth About Tony

I didn’t find out the truth about Tony until it was too late. We were three days into our honeymoon, still in the afterglow of a beautiful wedding and all of this concentrated time with friends and family, and I was just now learning that he was not who I thought he was. I was stunned, and I was also married now. There was no turning back.

Some friends of Tony’s generously offered up their vacation home in George, WA near the Gorge for us to stay on our honeymoon. We had this spacious home to ourselves, right on the Columbia River. There was no cable, no internet, hardly any cell phone reception, but lots of sunshine and lots of time. We took some long walks, enjoyed the indoor hot tub, made some meals together, and worked on a 1,000 piece puzzle. There were plenty of books and magazines to browse and on the third day of our trip I picked up a book by Shaunti Feldhahn called For Women Only – What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men.

I began to read and as I came across things about “men” that bothered me, I quickly dismissed in my mind, “Yeah, but not Tony.” I kept reading and feeling sad for other women who were in relationships with such men who had images of other women swirling around in their heads. I thought it was pretty weird that the men surveyed in this book often felt like imposters at work and didn’t have as much confidence as they should. I thought, “I seriously lucked out. I can’t believe this is how other men think. I am SO glad I married Tony. He’s not like this at all.” Then, I made the fatal mistake of asking him his opinion of one of the sections I was reading.

“Babe, what do you think about this: This author says, ‘Even happily married men struggle with being pulled toward live and recollected images of other women.’ Do you think its that common for guys to think that way?”

“Honey, I think that way.”

BOOM!

I couldn’t believe it. Not my husband. This man, the man I just married? This is the man I dated for three years before we made our vows. He was the very best man – person, actually – I had ever known. He was honest and funny. He was confident and talented. He never pressured me for sex during our entire dating life, maintained healthy physical boundaries, and I never once saw him give even the slightest attention or glance at another woman. I just couldn’t understand it. Was he telling me that he was just like every other man? Did I, in fact, marry a human man with flaws and weaknesses and not some kind of super-human man I’d made up in my head? It was too much for me to absorb. I was in shock.

It might help to explain that I’d had a crush on Tony from the first time I met him. He had a girlfriend at the time, so there was no chance for me. Since I had no chance, I thought of him more like Paul McCartney, or Joey from New Kids on the Block, or Chris Martin from Coldplay – a total rockstar that I could daydream about but would never get to be with in real life. Ah, the daydreams. Ah, the prayers… “Dear God, could you bring me someone just like Tony Peterson, but who doesn’t have a girlfriend and who loves Jesus? Amen.” I was hooked on the idea of him and we’d maybe had three sentences exchanged.

Then, a few years later, he was single and we started dating. Then, a few years after that, we actually got married. It was like I dated and married Paul McCartney – you know, not as a grandpa, but as a young rock star! Couldn’t believe it! Then, less than a week after the best day ever, I find out that he is a man just like every other man? I didn’t know what to do with this new information. I’m pretty sure I just stared at him. Then, I read a diagram in the book that told me this…

I read the rest of the book and tried to act less surprised when I asked Tony questions. It turns out that he is both incredible AND a man, not one or the other. It turns out he loves me and has integrity AND deals with lust. Images of other women do sometimes pop unexpectedly into his head. So, while my lofty perception of him came crashing down that afternoon, my respect for him has deepened. It has helped me to know about his thought life in general, to know where I fit in, to know what I can do to best show love to him and grow closer to him.

The rest of the book is filled with stories and surveys from ordinary men. Some of them were things I thought I knew, some of them took me completely by surprise. None of them took Tony by surprise. He shared with me that what did take him by surprise was that this stuff was in a book, he really didn’t think it was any secret. The things I found totally enlightening, he’d known all of his life. There is a corresponding book, For Men Only, that I had the same feelings about. I thought, “Of course men already know this about us.” Tony’s reactions were a lot like mine, surprised and enlightened.

It occurred to both of us that what is obvious to us is only obvious to us. What is in our heads at some point needs to come out into the open. He never intentionally hid anything from me, he just took for granted that I already knew. Since then, we both have become more purposeful in asking each other questions about things we might assume and being honest about things that we might not have mentioned before. I’ve learned that when I watch Jersey Shore, while its a total train wreck and guilty pleasure for me, he just sees images of barely dressed women that get stored up in his brain and memory. We are having two totally different reactions to what is on the screen. It’s not because I am insensitive or because he is some kind of pig. It’s because we are different as men and women – not good, not bad.

Have you ever wondered if there are things you think you know about your spouse that you might be wrong about? Could there be things about you that your husband or wife thinks they know but are actually way off? Have you ever discovered something about them that initially surprised you, but ultimately brought you closer together?

Try this exercise with your spouse sometime this week.

Take a piece of paper and each of you write down your answers to the following:

1. What first attracted you to your spouse?

2. What do you think first attracted them to you?

3. How did you know you wanted to be married to them?

4. How do you feel about that now?

5. What has been the biggest surprise to you about your spouse?

6. What do you think has been the biggest surprise to your spouse about you?

Tony and I are eager to know what you discover about each other. While Tony is not the rockstar-monk I thought he was when I married him, he is still the most incredible person I’ve ever known… and a man I hope to continue to get to know better over the years and to #staymarried to.

 

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

 

Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

Repair Attempts

Tony and I are leading a … wait for it… #staymarried group right now. We are meeting weekly with 10 other couples and working through John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. If you’ve not heard of Dr. Gottman, you might want to look him up and start paying attention to what he says. He is the foremost researcher on marriage, with decades of experience. He is most renowned for being able to watch an interaction between a husband and wife and within five minutes predict with 96% accuracy whether or not that couple will eventually get a divorce.

Tony and I agree that the overarching idea he shares about how to actually make a marriage work simply has to do with manners. But, there’s clearly more to it than that if there are so many books, so many years of research, and still so many couples getting divorced, right? Dr. Gottman is not exactly an advocate for a couple not to fight, but he does spend quite a bit of attention on how they fight. One thing he’s noticed that affects whether or not a couple will stay married is how they make and receive, what he calls, repair attempts.

This topic came up in just the second week of our group – the week we met with just the wives. So we asked, “What are some common repair attempts between you and your husband?” Some of the responses we got include:

– Even if he’s grumpy, he’ll say, “I love you.” What am I going to do? I have to say it back. Even if I’m still mad, it definitely diffuses things.

– He hugs me. I usually resist at first, but ultimately it softens me up and we both calm down.

– We hold hands. We heard about this somewhere… that you can’t stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with. We’ve tried it, which is hard when you’re mad, but it makes a big difference.

– He farts. No matter how mad I am, I turn into a fourteen year old boy when he farts. I can’t stop laughing.

You have never heard a room full of women laugh louder and longer than when one wife shared this last one. I, also, can’t stop laughing when Tony farts. I don’t think he’s ever specifically tried that repair attempt with me, but I’m sure it would work.

Foundationally, a repair attempt is any gesture that attempts to calm, diffuse, or end the fight peacefully. Gottman says that even if someone says, “Uggh, I need a break,” it can come across as stonewalling, but it is actually that person’s repair attempt to calm themselves rather than further escalate the fight.

What he’s noticed with couples whose relationships eventually dissolve is that either they aren’t willing to make repair attempts, or if one spouse makes the attempt, the other spouse rejects it. For instance, if Farting Husband was rejected by his wife as being rude or gross instead of received by her with laughter – that would be a failed repair attempt. Or if the wife reaches for her husband’s hand but he rejects her and refuses to hold hers back, it is a failed attempt.

Can you think of your own common repair attempts? As I think of ours, I’m embarrassed to admit I have rejected Tony’s repair attempts a time or two. I’ve been frustrated or hurt and not willing to believe or remember that he and I are on the same team. I remember him trying to crack a little joke and responding to him with, “Don’t try to change the subject!” Those fights took a lot longer than necessary to de-escalate. Reading through this book and thinking about our own history of fights and arguments, I can see Dr. Gottman’s point. The way a couple ends a fight is a telling indicator of the quality of their relationship and the stability of their marriage.

There is a long list of repair attempts found in Seven Principles to Making Marriage Work. The author admits these can feel forced at first, but as you and your spouse begin to learn some “damage control language,” you’ll come up with your own versions of what he’s given. These are just some of the rehearsed repair attempts he mentions.

15 Possible Repair Attempts

1. “Please say that more gently.”
2. “That felt like an insult.”
3. Open your arms to invite your spouse in to be held.
4. “Just listen to me right now and try to understand.”
5. “Can you kiss me?”
6. “Can we take a break?”
7. “Let me try again.”
8. “How can I make things better?”
9. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
10. “I agree with part of what you are saying.”
11. Reach your hand out gently to touch theirs.
12. “One thing I admire about you is…”
13. “We are getting off track.”
14. “That’s a good point.”
15. “I love you.”

So, how about you? Since some kind of fighting is inevitable, what do your repair attempts look like? Are you willing to receive your partner’s repair attempt? Are you likely to reject it? Take some time over the next couple of days to talk about these with your spouse. We’d love to hear about your own unique versions of repair attempts in the Comments section below. You never know, another couple might read your repair attempts and they could be just the thing to help them de-escalate their own fights and #staymarried.

 

 

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

Five for Five

After my last post, I was challenged to move past the concept of the love languages and offer some practical tips. So, here goes…

Five tips for each of the
Five Love Languages

Words of Affirmation

  1. Be specific. Instead of “You look great” try “I really like your hair like that” or “Those jeans make your butt look good.”
  2. Send a text, just because.
  3. When you buy a gift, WRITE something personal in the card.
  4. Compliment your spouse to your friends.
  5. Compliment your spouse to your kids.

Quality Time

  1. Turn off your mobile device (laptop, iPad, smart phone) during dinner or on a date. Better yet – leave it in another room.
  2. Ask about their day and don’t be distracted while they answer.
  3. Ask them on a date and plan it out – babysitter, restaurant, a walk in the city.
  4. Block out time on your calendar, even without specific plans, just to be together. Don’t let your time get gobbled up by plans with other people.
  5. Take a walk in your own neighborhood after dinner, removing yourselves from the usual busyness and chores of being home.

Receiving Gifts

  1. Get them something they can enjoy, not just something they need.
  2. Remember their favorite candy and pick it up as you leave the grocery store.
  3. Wrap a small gift – even when it’s not their birthday or holiday.
  4. DO NOT forgo a gift on a birthday or holiday.
  5. Build a collection – make a tradition of a certain type of gift over time.

Acts of Service

  1. Take care of a chore that’s typically on their list.
  2. Wash and clean out the car they usually drive.
  3. Finish that home improvement task that’s been lingering.
  4. Open the door for her – rush to get there before her!
  5. Warm up the car and scrape the windshield in the winter.

Physical Touch

  1. Run your fingers through her hair, or scratch her head.
  2. Sit close on the couch when you’re watching your favorite show.
  3. Squeeze tighter and longer than usual when you hug.
  4. Hold hands when you’re in the car together.
  5. Initiate sex and focus on serving your spouse when you’re in bed.

Tony and I came up with these just by bouncing ideas back and forth one afternoon. The reality is, your spouse will be the best person to share with you what you can do to express love to them. Ask them about this list. Ask them if any of these ideas appeal to them. We’d love to hear some of your tips, too! Feel free to share your tips, ideas, and experiences below in the Comments section. We’re learning these love languages because we want to show love in a way our spouse can appreciate so that we can #staymarried.

Speaking my Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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