29 August 2016

Marriage Monday: 5 Simple Questions that Will Change Your Marriage - Question 1

"Marriage Monday and Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University."

That is always my same answer as the two most helpful things we've done for our marriage. They both get us talking about topics that we probably wouldn't bring up in normal conversation. They both also guide us through specific discussions in advance that help us avoid fights later.

About two months into our marriage, I stumbled upon an amazing blog called Today's Letters. In one post, Emily outlined her weekly questions that she does with her husband. I quickly emailed them to my husband and said how amazing it would be for us to do them. To my excitement, he was on board to give it a try! After the first time, we were hooked. We named our discussion time "Marriage Monday" and have been doing it ever since!

I asked my husband today why he loves doing Marriage Monday and why he thinks other people could get a lot out of making it a regular part of their week. He said the questions specifically get you to dig a layer deeper than normal conversation. They force you to get into the "meta" of your marriage, not just talking about you and your spouse, but about your coupleness, which is so important to do in order to maintain a strong relationship. He pointed out that in a normal marriage, sometimes days, weeks, or even months could go by without you and your spouse dealing with an issue, a conflict, a big decision, or discussing your vision for the future. And he has heard of couples going 10-20 years without talking about sex with each other. They will have sex, which is intimate, but they won't talk about the sex they have, because talking about it can feel even more intimate. As a result, many frustrations and hang ups remain surrounding their intimacy, and they miss out on communicating with each other and improving their sex life. Wow, that is deep! I'm glad I asked him for his thoughts!

So to kick off this five week blog series, I am going to review question #1 of Marriage Monday. Your assignment for this first week is only to do this one question with your spouse at some point this week. You can pick whatever day works best for you! The original blogger, Emily, does Tuesdays because that is what worked for her and her husband. We do Mondays because we like starting off our week with the questions and Monday nights are the least likely to be busy for us, which is key in being able to keep up with it. You could do "Together Tuesdays", "Wedded Wednesdays," or pick any day of the week and give it a fun name!

Let's dive in. Question #1 is "How did you feel loved this past week?"

This question is so simple, yet so amazing. You get to tell your spouse how he or she "won" this past week. So much in marriage is often focused on the negative. This question switches the focus to look for the positive, bring it to the surface, and praise the effort! This is what Paul encourages his readers to do in his letter to the Philippians. He says, "...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Phil 4:8). 

Telling your spouse how they successfully made you feel loved in a tangible way is a great way to kick off the conversation. It's especially good to start off strong, both feeling loved, as you dive into some tough discussion topics.

One of my favorite parts of doing this question is that, over time, I've been able to discover my husband's love languages. I highly recommend the book: The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. The main premise is everyone feels loved in different ways. Some through physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, or through receiving gifts. The book is great to help you discover how you primarily experience love and to make sure the way you are communicating love to your spouse in the way her or she actually receives it. I do think love languages can shift over time or during certain seasons, so this Marriage Monday question enables me to get a constantly updated glimpse of how my husband has felt loved that week. Sometimes I think I know exactly what he will say and then I'm shocked at how seemingly insignificant of a gesture I did that made him feel so loved. The great thing is that I already did it, so it was easy or natural to do, so it's something I can put on my radar to do again that coming week, ensuring he will yet again feel loved!

This week, set aside a day and time to do this one question. It's just one so far. You can do it! Let me know how it goes and also please comment to share if you find a fun name for your weekly questions night! Once you've tried this one, read the next post for question #2. If you are curious about the remaining questions and can't wait, take a peek at Emily's original post here.

***This post may contain affiliate links, but only for items I have personally benefited from and have been recommending for years. These links will help self-fund this site and bring more marriage tips your way!***

22 August 2016

6 Ways to Get More Kid-free Date Nights

I absolutely love going on date nights with my husband. I love being able to try a fun, new, non-kid-friendly restaurant where we don't have to request a highchair, remember to bring snacks to avoid meltdowns while waiting for the food to arrive, or do damage control to avoid all the food ending up on the floor. Seriously, HOW does one kid make such a big mess?! I love getting all dolled up beforehand in anticipation of the date. And most of all, I love the statement that we are making to each other that our marriage is our most important (earthly) relationship.

So WHY is it so insanely hard to make this a priority for us? I'm sure we can't be the only ones with this struggle. I even dubbed August "National Date Month" and had everyone list ideas to swap (see the post here) and I still have yet to personally make our date happen. I think the main answer is... kids. We never had issues planning date nights pre-kids. In fact, every time we dined out was a date night. Now those nights out are taken over by kids menus, diapers, and wiping up food from... everywhere. WHY did you fling your mac and cheese at that poor old man at that table?! So sorry, sir. Not so romantic.

Instead of wallowing in sympathy at the demise of the beloved date night, I decided to compile a list of 6 ways to get more kid-free date nights. I'm hoping this will also be a good kick in the tail for us to finally let go of the excuses and plan one of our own! Now on to the list:

1) At the beginning of the month, plan out your dates. This one seems like it should be an obvious step, but it's often not. Unfortunately, a date night won't magically appear on your calendar. It takes lots of planning when you have kids. Even couples without kids usually have super busy lives. It can easily get pushed to the side and slip through the cracks. Sit down with your spouse at the beginning of the month, pull out your calendars, and mark it down in pen which day(s) you will set aside.

2) Swap date nights with a friend. Lack of money for a babysitter is often a huge issue. It is for us! But guess what - there's probably a friend or two that also have that same problem. Why not do a date night swap? It's a win-win. We love doing this. I would gladly watch a friend's kids one night in exchange for a night out with my hubby on another night. If you're already home watching your kids, it's not that much harder to add a few more to the mix. Maybe even pop some popcorn and make it a kid's movie night! If you seriously don't think you have any friends that would do this, do a Facebook post and you may be surprised.

3) Ask local friends or relatives if they would be able to watch your kids. It's usually hard for me to ask for help, but I'm often surprised at how many people are willing to watch kids just for the joy of helping out or get their "baby fix"! I was shocked at how many ladies at our church jumped at the idea of spending some time playing with my girls. College students also may crave a home-cooked meal in exchange for babysitting. Give them their delicious dinner, put your kids to bed, and then they have a quiet and cozy study space away from the dorm for a few hours! If you find yourself blessed with free babysitting by a relative or friend, make sure you are super flexible with timing and location. Always work around their schedule and offer to drop your kids off at their house to make it as convenient for them as possible since they are doing such a huge favor. Show your thanks by baking them cookies or sending a thank you note! Hint: if you are an empty-nester or just have some time on your hands, remember how tough it was when you had little ones. Perhaps you have long since repressed those stressful memories, but trust me - it's a hard stage of life! You can make a young couple super happy by volunteering a couple of hours for them to reconnect!

4) Be flexible about timing. This was mentioned in the prior tip, but remember that it might be easier to find someone to babysit your kids during the day. Since our kids need to go to bed fairly early, it's difficult to have them at anyone else's house late at night since then we have to worry about spaces for them to sleep, sound machines, and waking them up when we are done to drive them home. Not fun. The other option is to have someone come to our house but we usually only do that if we are paying someone. To make the timing easier on others, be creative about timing! Plan a fun brunch date. Who doesn't love brunch food?! Pack a picnic lunch and go to a park. Or still go to your favorite restaurant but go for a super early dinner. It's often easier to find reservations earlier in the night anyways! Then you can be back to pick up your kiddos in time to take them home for their bedtimes.

5) Save up for paid babysitting. You may be new to an area or just not have anyone that you feel comfortable asking. In this case, paid babysitting is the way to go. Even when money is tight, you may be able to work it into your budget if you plan ahead of time. I highly recommend Dave Ramsey's books on personal finance in order to gain control of your money. If date nights are a priority, put it in your budget first and force everything else to work around that. It may mean cutting back on eating out, brown bagging your lunch, or ditching the Starbucks habit for a week to save up. If you only have one or two kids, maybe you can find another family that could split the cost with you for a babysitter that is capable of watching multiple kids at once.

6) Identify other obstacles and work towards fixing them.
- Does it kill you to think about being away from your kids? Remember, a strong marriage is one of the best gifts you can give to your kids to help them feel secure and loved. Make it a priority! And remember it may be harder on you than it is for your kids. They will most likely have a blast playing with their babysitter as a change of pace!

- Does your baby exclusively breastfeed like my baby? Work to find a bottle that they like and pump spare milk. This can be challenging early on and might take a few months realistically, but eventually most moms can find a good time to pump especially once their babies sleep a bit longer. For me, if my baby goes to bed at 7, I try to pump right before I go to bed around 10 or 11. Is it a pain? YES, it is. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

- Fear of being intimate with your spouse? Keeping the kids around can be a great (but unhealthy) buffer in a marriage. If you fall into this trap, you especially need to make it a priority to spend time working on your marriage. Possibly meet with a counselor (all marriages need maintenance!) or start small and take at least a first baby step towards reconnecting with your spouse.

- No money for the date after paying for babysitting? Plan a free date! Get creative. Bring a picnic to a park, take a walk around monuments, visit a free museum, etc.

- Have money for dates but having trouble finding someone? Look at care.com or another similar site. Pre-kids I used to find babysitting jobs through care.com and it connected me with many amazing families. You can run background checks on potential sitters, call references, and even sometimes read other's reviews on the sitters. Or ask around with your friends who they use to watch their kids. Yes, it takes a bit of work, but there are ways to find people!

- Too lazy to plan a date? I often fall into this trap. My husband and I love a night in watching Netflix on the couch after the kids go to bed. Or other nights we will have amazing conversations. This is still great quality time but it's not quite an equal substitute. There's nothing like a date night out that makes us feel like a priority in each other's life. Once out, it often reminds me of when it was just the two of us and when we were first in love. That can do amazing things for a marriage!

Let's discuss. What are some other obstacles that keep you from having as many date nights as you would like? What are some other suggestions for getting some kid-free date nights out that you could add to the discussion?

Let's make "National Date Month" happen! There's still time left in August! Get some great ideas for your date here.

08 August 2016

How to Turn a Spouse's Complaint into Marital Success

I studied Psychology at James Madison University (go DUUUKES!!) for my undergrad degree. I was mainly fascinated by human relationships and wanted to learn everything I could about them. I took lots of classes (even electives I didn't need!) pertaining to this topic - Human Intimacy, Human Sexuality, Social Psychology, Psychology of Women, Gender, etc. And now with almost a full master's degree under my belt for Marriage & Family Therapy, I've read quite a bit on the topic of marriage. One psychologist's research in particular kept popping up on this topic - Dr. John Gottman.

He has done countless studies on marital stability and predictors of divorce. You may have also heard of his "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" that corrode away at marital happiness: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling (perhaps more on that in another post!).

I recently stumbled across this quote from him and wanted to share. A bit of context first - he was referring to a speaker and listener, such as the wife speaking first in a conflict. In that scenario, she would be the "speaker" first and the husband would be the "listener" until his turn to switch roles.

“Converting a complaint into a positive need requires a mental transformation from what is wrong with one’s partner to what one’s partner can do that would work. It may be helpful here to review my belief that within every negative feeling there is a longing, a wish, and, because of that, there is a recipe for success. It is the speaker’s job to discover that recipe. The speaker is really saying “Here’s what I feel, and here’s what I need from you.” Or, in processing a negative event that has already happened, the speaker is saying, “Here’s what I felt, and here’s what I needed from you.” ― John M. Gottman, The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples

WOW. That blew me away, especially the idea that when you listen to your spouse's complaint, you can use that for success in your relationship. If you can just take a step back, instead of becoming defensive or formulating a biting rebuttal, you can dig deeper to try to discover what wish or longing lies behind that criticism or complaint. When you find out what it is they need from you, you can know exactly how to reconcile the relationship and make it better than it was before. Ideally, spouses would be able to express these needs in a mature, non-critical fashion, but we are human, after all. Even if it unfortunately comes out as a critique, it's still better in the long run to know what our spouses need so we can begin to make amends.

If you wife tells you: "You never help clean up the kitchen," she may be wishing you knew how completely exhausted she is from her long day with the kids. She may need affirmation of her hard work or she may need your actual help so you can both relax for a bit together.

If your husband says: "You never care about sex anymore," he may be yearning to feel close to you - his wife who knows him the best in the world, and be reaffirmed that he is desired by you.

I know those are completely stereotypical examples, but hopefully they will get your brain jogging. What are some other examples of criticism that could have an expressed need or longing behind them? How can we use that to create a recipe of success for our marriages?

***Also a quick reminder to go back to last week's post to add your ideas to The Great Date Exchange! Gotta get your dates in during the month of August!***

01 August 2016

The Great Date Exchange

August is National Date Month! Okay, I actually made that up but it sounds good, right? So to celebrate, here's a way to make it super easy on you to plan a fun and exciting date with your spouse. I'm calling it The Great Date Exchange!

In order for this to work properly, we all need to participate. There's three easy steps for you to be on your way to some date night fun:

  1. In the comments below, share either: your first date you went on with your spouse, your favorite date, your most creative/unique date, a free date idea, or a "dream" date that has been on your wish list. Feel free to share more than one since it helps others get great ideas for their dates. Sharing is caring!
  2. Pick a fun date idea and reply to their comment to say you are going to try out their date suggestion. Make sure you use the "reply" option to make sure you are responding to their specific comment.
  3. Plan your date. Talk with your spouse and actually put it on your calendar. Ideally for this week but at the very least, sometime in August.
  4. I know I said there's only three steps, and yes, I know how to count! But this one is optional. Or extra credit for those of you Type-A high-achievers. Come back and let us know how your date went. It will probably make the original person happy to know their idea led to so much fun for someone else!

I'm so excited to hear about all of the fun August dates! It's an easy way to spend some quality time with your spouse and keep that spark alive. I hope you enjoy the Great Date Exchange!

Blog Design by Get Polished