How to Share Your Spouse and #staymarried

How to Share Your Spouse - #staymarriedRelax… I do not mean “share” in the polyamorous sense of the word. That’s not my thing. Only two people in my bed, please… Unless we are adding our snuggly adorable children. Wait. No. I still prefer just my husband and I in my bed. Unless I can have my bed all to myself. What the heck? You guys totally got me sidetracked!

What I mean is, in a committed two-person relationship, it is still a really good idea to share! One of the myths of marriage is that it is a relationship between two people. It’s easy to believe that once you tie the knot, you and your spouse exist in a silo. The two of you make your little home and maybe you put up a white picket fence around it and there you will stay for the rest of your days in wedded bliss. Together you’ll share the romantic notion that it’s just “You and me against the world, Baby! I gotchu! We all we got? We all we need!”

Hate to break it to you, but you are not Jay Z and Beyoncé on tour. You need community before you get married and you will definitely need community after you get married. This is one of the reasons that when I talk about how to “Date Smart” with the pre-marriage crowd, I tell them that they need to have a list of red flags about the people they choose to date. One of those red flags should absolutely be: “Does not want to hang out with my friends.” Continue reading “How to Share Your Spouse and #staymarried”

My Husband is Not Enough – The Five Key Friends We Need to #staymarried

As a husband, mine is more than enough. He excels as a father, a man of integrity, a talented and creative artist, and as a friend. Still, it is both painful and relieving to admit to you that he is not enough for me. I need more. What I need, he cannot provide on his own. I need my friends.

My Husband is Not Enough - 5 Key Friends We Need to #staymarried

Believe it or not, my husband is not threatened or even irritated by that last statement. He is my very favorite person in the world, and in many ways my best friend, but he is not one of my girlfriends and doesn’t actually want me to treat him as if he is. Not only that, but he values the women in my life tremendously. If I’ve been having a hard time, he will often ask me if I have talked to any of my friends about what is bothering me. He knows, maybe instinctively, how important it is for women to process with other women and to build and maintain close friendships.

It’s Science!

Sociologists confirm that most women have a greater need for friendships than even most men. In a recent UCLA study on stress and relationships, it was found that the commonly known “fight or flight” response to stress applies to men more than it does to women. When women are feeling stressed, their reactions can be much more varied, including a larger production of oxytocin in the brain. In cases of stress, oxytocin works to enhance feelings of peace and calm, and to lower blood pressure counteracting the harmful effects of stress.

Oxytocin is most known for being the “bonding” hormone. It is released during breastfeeding to help mothers and babies form healthy and necessary attachments as well as during sex which enables us to form emotional bonds Continue reading “My Husband is Not Enough – The Five Key Friends We Need to #staymarried”

15 Characteristics of a #staymarried Friend

15 Characteristics of a #staymarried friend - a #staymarried blog for couplesI had the chance to go away for a weekend at the beginning of March. I headed north with two of my girlfriends, Kristin and Karen, to Birch Bay, Washington. It’s a little marina village near the Canadian border where Kristin’s parents let us stay in their vacation home. Between the three of us, we’ve got six kids all under the age of 5, and all of those kiddos stayed home with their daddies, our incredible husbands, so we could take some time to ourselves.

Until that weekend, I hadn’t been without my kids for that long since I became a mom three years ago. I didn’t realize how good it would be to just relax and not tend to my little peoples’ needs for 48 straight hours. I missed them, of course, but the time spent with my lovely friends was so very worth it.

Kristin, who grew up near Birch Bay, was the best tour guide. She planned a dinner for us in downtown Bellingham, the closest nearby city, and we’d made predictions on how many of Kristin’s friends we might run into while we were there. We walked into this great noodle bar and, of course, she knew the first people we saw. They were a sweet couple on a date celebrating their anniversary. We chatted with them for quite a while and when they left, Kristin said, “I cannot believe of all the people we could run into, we just saw them. That guy was my very first boyfriend.” Certainly Karen and I now thought very differently about the whole interaction. Your first boyfriend, no matter what the relationship was like or how long ago, is kind of a big deal. She went on to say how nice he always was and how gracious he was to her even after he’d broken up with her. She shared how devastated she had been, how much that first break up stung:

“He broke my heart. Really, I was a wreck. But, oh my word! I had no idea then what God had in store for my future. I mean, He gave me Eivind! I cannot fathom being married to a better man!”

There it was, the statement that so clearly reminded me why I was on this little trip with these two specific women. My friends adore their husbands. They know I adore mine. We can talk honestly about past relationships, about our childhoods, about our baggage, and about the ups and downs of parenting. We can share whatever is on our mind with one another safely because we know we all have each other’s best interest in mind. It is because of women like these that I am convinced my marriage is thriving.

Who are Your Five?

Have you heard the saying “You are, or will become, the average of the five people you spend the most time with”? That can either be really frightening or really encouraging depending on your circle of friends. Either way, there is no denying the influence other people have on our lives, for better or worse. When it comes to our pursuit to stay married, it seems even more essential to surround ourselves with people who will encourage us to keep going. It is also important to us that we are the kinds of friends who cheer for our friends in their marriages.

I have to admit, I wasn’t always this type of friend. Before I got married, I was the kind of friend that would feel indignant and self-righteous when I thought any of my friends’ husbands’ weren’t treating them like princesses. I rarely considered the other side of the story I might be hearing and I may have even said a time or two, “I DO NOT know why you are with him!” Yikes! If you were ever on the receiving end of that from me, I am so sorry! I hope you’ll forgive me. I had no idea then how damaging those sentiments were. I see now why it’s important to look for friends that will add quality to your marriage and to minimize time with friends who don’t have an appreciation for the work it truly takes to be and stay married.

So, while I was away spending time with a couple of these precious friends,  we began to daydream about the qualities and characteristics that make up the kind of friend we all really need, and should try to be, if we are going to bump those divorce stats and stay married until the end. With a little help from my friends, here’s the list we came up with.

15 Characteristics of a #staymarried Friend - a #staymarried blog about the influence of relationships on our marriage

A Different Kind of Friend

I realize there is an occasion where it would actually be better for our friend if we didn’t keep pointing them back to unity with their spouse. I’m talking only about those of us who have friends in abusive relationships. This is one of the trickiest friendships to navigate – wanting the best for them, wanting them to be safe, wanting to stay in relationship with them by not alienating them with our opinions. If you have a friend in an abusive relationship, tread lightly. There is an entirely different way than our list above to handle this, a way that is healthy and wise. Please check out this article by Liz Welch on The Exact Words That Could Help A Friend In An Abusive Relationship for starters.

My Five

I am thankful that the friends I have now, those five or so that I spend the most time with, are people I admire with marriages that are thriving. Can you say the same thing about your five? Try holding yourself and your friends up to the list above. How do you fare? Are there people who have these qualities that maybe you should try to get to know better?

With the number of memes and cute quotes floating around the internet these days, it seems as important as ever to watch where we are getting our advice and influence from. If you are making decisions based on someone else’s wisdom, make sure you want their life and not just their words on an art print for your living room. Let’s stay in healthy community so that we can #staymarried.

P.S. 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

 

Comparison is a Trap

I love nights out with my girlfriends. I love catching up and laughing together. I especially love when my friends dote on their husbands. But every now and then, I’ll admit, I’ll hear a story from a friend bragging about her husband and I’ll think, “My husband never does that.” Whether my friend was surprised by a bouquet of flowers or a weekend getaway, of course I’m happy for her, but… it’s hard not to think and wish I had that in my own marriage.

Whether we are comparing our husbands, our homes, our children, or ourselves, when we compare we are falling into a self-laid trap. Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and I wholeheartedly believe it. The danger in comparing is that we can begin to believe we are entitled to, or we deserve, something we don’t have. Maybe you wish your husband were more handy so you didn’t have to hire a plumber. Maybe you wish your husband of little words would write you sonnets to express his love. Yet, since he’s not Shakespeare the Handyman, you might be overlooking who he is and how he already loves you.

When you find yourself with that twinge of jealousy, when you start to wish you had what you believe someone else has in their marriage, there are a few things you can do.

1. Celebrate their joy!

One of the best ways out of the trap of comparison is to get excited for other people and encourage them. Compliment your friend. Let her know how wonderful it is that her husband surprises her with post-it love notes around the house, and reinforce how loved she is. Hearing yourself say such complimentary things may just turn your own attitude from irritated to joyful.

2. Play your own highlight reel!

Keep in mind that most of the time we are only seeing the best “clips” from our friends’ life stories. This is especially true if you’re comparing your real life to the life you see from others on Facebook or Twitter. Believe me, their lives are not always as good as they appear. So instead of focusing on all they have that you don’t, think about what you do have. Find something to brag about in your own husband. Remember when he picked up your favorite pint of ice cream just because? Or the other night when he offered to clean up after dinner, remember how loved you felt? Then, go one step further and compliment him verbally.

3. Check yourself!

If you feel like something might be lacking in your husband, there might be a teensy weensy possibility he’s wishing for something more from you, too. So, instead of comparing him, or your marriage, check yourself for things you can do or areas you can improve by your own attitude and behavior. Maybe your husband wishes you’d give him an unsolicited back rub once in awhile. Maybe he loves the lasagna you used to make, even though it is full of carbs and calories. Bring your best to your marriage and you won’t have time to think about someone else’s.

Nobody’s marriage is perfect all the time. Comparison will only ever serve to blind you from the goodness in your own life, and as Mr. Roosevelt said, steal your joy. Stay out of the trap 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

Five Trust-Building Boundaries

I don’t ride in cars with girls.

That’s usually the phrase that gets me the WTF look. But it’s something that’s changed my relationship with my wife.

Let me explain…

I worked at a church a few years ago as the creative guy (this particular job didn’t hand out job titles), and as a foundation for health and safe boundaries, all the employees were asked to not meet with people of opposite gender isolated and alone. This meant that when a woman wanted to meet one-on-one with a pastor, his office door would always be wide open, and more often he would ask another staff member to be present. This also included riding in cars, meeting one-on-one in each other’s homes, or any other situation that would pair them up alone.

This probably seems strict and teeters on overkill. I can remember thinking “Are you kidding me? You’re going to tell ME who I can meet with and drive in a car with?” I also remember the question being asked “So if it’s in the middle of a stormy night, and you come across a woman you know walking alone on the side of the road, you’re not going to pick her up?”

I remember thinking, “YEAH… what then?”

Bitter, confused, and as self-righteous as I might have felt, I still chose to adopt this new “rule”. So, it started as something I felt I needed to do to keep my job and very quickly turned into a value that I can now apply to many areas of my life. The idea was simple… affairs, both physical and emotional, don’t typically happen out in the open. In groups we tend to behave ourselves, but it’s in private that our secrets are kept. It’s behind closed doors that we misbehave. It’s with our monitors hidden from the view of others that we indulge. It’s out of the earshot of others that we gossip and speak negatively about people.

Let’s just assume for a moment that you don’t have any human emotions or temptations, and that there is no threat you’d EVER cheat on your spouse with someone you’re simply “riding in a car with.” That’s all fine and well, but can you speak to the other passenger’s views and feelings? Imagine what your spouse might feel if they coincidentally pulled up next to you at a stoplight and glanced over. Even though nothing is probably going on, they may begin to feel insecure and that drives a wedge between the two of you. The natural response to this is going to be inquisitive on the part of your spouse and defensive on yours.

Let’s fast-forward 5 years.

I’m married, have two little girls, and a roommate living in the downstairs of our house, and yep, it’s a WOMAN! To make matters even more complicated, she works where I work, in the same building, with the same hours. So, it makes complete and total sense for us to carpool, wouldn’t you say? Couldn’t we share the financial burden and even make it possible for us to use the HOV lane? Aren’t we two people my wife completely and totally trusts? Well, yeah, it does make a lot of sense. But guess what… we don’t carpool. I ride the bus inconveniently to work and sometimes my housemate will even pass my stop on her way home. She enthusiastically honks and waves. She knows better than to pull over and offer me a ride, even though we are going home TO THE SAME HOUSE! I doubt that we’ve even been at the house alone together before. Not because I don’t trust her, or that she doesn’t trust me, or that Michelle doesn’t trust either of us, but simply out of a choice I made years ago that I’ve seen HUGE benefits from.

This choice has made for some awkward moments between myself and others, but I WAY prefer those moments over any amount of trust I’ll lose from Michelle. Any inconvenience this boundary may cause me or others around me is worth the relationship I have with my wife. Ask Michelle if she’s ever doubted my faithfulness.

So to answer my own question…
No, I would not pick up a woman I know walking alone in the rain in the middle of the night. I would awkwardly offer her my car, and I would walk. And to make things clear, this event has happened exactly zero times in the past five years.

Michelle and I fully trust each other. We’ve found that applying some simple boundaries to our lives has made a load of difference. If setting up a foundation for trust in your relationship sounds like something you’re interested in, here are a few boundaries you might consider.

5 TRUST-BUILDING BOUNDARIES

1. No alone time with the opposite gender

I realize that this one can be hard to institute in some cases (say if you’re a manager at work and you need to have a professional conversation with someone who works for you). But if it’s not a completely vital part of your day-to-day, this boundary safeguards your relationship from inappropriate outside influence.

2. Share passwords

We need to protect our private information from people who intend to misuse it. Your spouse is not that person. Share your passwords to your email, Facebook, Twitter, and yes, your bank account with your spouse. Then operate as though they are looking at it every day. You’ll notice very quickly that the flirtatious comment you wanted to post privately to that woman now REALLY seems like a bad idea.

3. “Not now” some friend requests

You don’t have to accept everyone as your social media friend. In fact, it’s probably a bad idea if you do. That girl with the profile pic of her half naked? Click “Not now.” That boyfriend from High School? Click “Not now.” Truth is, we can all probably do with a little purging as it is. Maybe take a little time to go through your current friends and “unfriend” those you have iffy feelings about… they’ll never know you did it.

4. Limit Guys-Night-Out

Or Girls-Night-Out. It’s GREAT to get away and be with the dudes – if you don’t already do it, you should – but every weekend is too much. Instead, find couples you respect and start hanging out with them more. Then, treat yourself to a Guys-Night-Out once a month. Also, just as a general rule, if your night out includes going to smutty clubs, that should be the first thing to go.

5. Turn your desk around

Your desk might be set up in your office so that the monitor is facing away from the door. You might have even done this on purpose to allow yourself the few seconds you need to close web pages that you don’t want to be caught looking at if someone were to walk in. That’s a great internal measure that you probably shouldn’t be looking at them in the first place. I know what you’re going to say… “it’s not feng shui. I get anxiety facing away from the door.” No, you don’t… you’re lying to yourself… you face away from doors all day long… What you get anxiety from is the potential of being caught.

If these seem inconvenient or even a little crazy to you, I’m ok with that.  I’m passionate about my marriage, my wife, and about making my home a safe place for us all to live. Allow one or all of these boundaries to become part of your M.O. and you’ll find that it’s going to be a lot easier to #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you need that awesome shirt, or you think your husband probably wants it, you can find one like it here.

Also, if you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, feel free to share using the social media buttons at the top or bottom of the post. If you’re new to the #staymarried bog, WELCOME! You might want to take a look at why we started this blog and my wife’s first post to get a little background.  Thanks for stopping by.
~Tony

We Do It In Groups

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

The Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seriously. WHAT IS HE DOING!?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’d Prefer to Be Alone

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

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

Benefits of Doing it in Groups

Transparency is great accountability.

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

You can fight without fighting.

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

You will carry each other’s burdens.

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

We learn and grow on purpose.

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

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