Category Archives: Marriage

How to use technology and stay happily married

Even the technology that promises to unite us, divides us. Each of us is now electronically connected to the globe, and yet we feel utterly alone.

― Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

There is no getting around it—we live in a technological age. Everywhere we look we see some kind of screen: on the wall, on the dresser, on the desk, on the table, at our work, in our homes, in our hands. Many incredible advances and opportunities come with this age. More information is at our fingertips than ever before. Connecting with our loved ones—even when they are on the other side of the world—has never been easier. We can capture our own experiences and share them in seconds with the people who matter most to us. At the same time, we have to be careful. Being more “connected” than ever has its drawbacks. Suddenly, as we fiddle with our phones and surf the waves of social media, we are more disconnected than ever to the people we love the most—maybe even the person sitting right next to us. Thus, with great technology comes great responsibility. So how do we use technology to strengthen our marriage while avoiding the drawbacks that can cause so much damage? 

The Good

My husband, Scott, works a lot. Not as much as he used to as a lawyer, but still. He leaves the house most days before 8 a.m. and doesn’t get home until just before 7. Then, because of church responsibilities, he is away two or three evenings a week and most of the day on Sunday serving our neighborhood. He is engaged in wonderful things, and I am happy to support him. What makes it easier is our ability to connect through technology, even though we are apart. Cell phones and email are awesome tools–and we use them to our advantage. We generally try to talk for a few minutes at some point during the day simply to share how the day is going. During our conversations, I might share with him something I did with the kids, or about a writing project I’m working on, or a funny thing that happened while I was volunteering at the school. Sometimes we send pictures to each other that capture something interesting or beautiful we saw or we’ll send a video clip sure to crack the other up. Or, I might text him to say, “Hey honey, I hope you are having a great day. Thanks for all you do.” I know it doesn’t sound like much, but he says that means a lot to him. That little gesture shows that I am thinking about him. I know I feel the same when he sends me a little digital love note.

It doesn’t take long to make the connection. Use technology to connect with your spouse during the day and to share your love. Whether through a phone call, an email, a text, sending a photo, leaving a voice message, or having a FaceTime chat when you are apart, take the opportunity to love your spouse digitally. Watching a television show or playing video games together can also boost the loving feelings in your relationship, provided you are both excited about the prospect. Researchers at Brigham Young University recently surveyed married couples and found that when both people were excited about playing, 76 percent said that gaming has a positive effect on their marital relationship. The number of hours of play time didn’t necessarily make a difference. The important factor to consider is “whether or not it creates conflict and quarreling over the game,” Recreation Management Professor Neil Lundberg of the study. For Scott and me, watching an episode of Frasier, Friends, or Modern Family at the end of the day is a fun way for us to relax and laugh together. Do what works for you.

There are plenty of ways to use your digital savvy to bless your relationship. If you find a way to use technology to make your spouse smile, to feel closer, or to simply help your spouse know that he or she is on your mind, then go for it. The trouble comes when you use that same technology to connect with the oh-so-many others who are available and waiting for your attention.

The Bad

Using technology to connect with our spouse in positive ways can strengthen marriage. However, connecting with our Facebook friends or posting pictures on Instagram needs moderation if we’re going to keep our number one feeling like number one. This modern-era addiction is becoming increasingly difficult to drop. In fact, according to a recent study reported by The New York Times, women now spend 12 hours more per week on their smartphones than with their partner! (http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2016/10/14/women-spend-more-time-on-their-smartphones-than-with-their-partners-research-shows/). Sure, social media sites are a fun way to share and connect. The trick is to make sure we aren’t doing it so much that we are sacrificing time with our most important person. As marriage therapist Dr. Kent Griffiths put it, “Young couples, in particular, have so little time with one another with the demands of children, career, and maintaining home and lifestyle. To spend scarce free time on social media removes precious opportunity when they could otherwise be connecting. Social media is our way of joining with the world, but needs be managed in terms of its time and importance.”

Especially at night, screens are simply bad company. Dr. Alicia Clark, a Washington DC psychologist, reported to The Huffington Post that being on a screen at night surfing social media can be damaging to your relationship for many reasons. “Not only are you on your computer screen when your partner might be interested in relationship-enhancing conversation, physical intimacy, or a cuddle, you are likely tinkering with your natural sleep cues that could leave you sleep deprived,” she said. “As I’ve told clients, avoid social media (and screens) at least one hour before bed in order to help you get the best sleep possible and so you can engage with your partner instead. Keep the bedroom a screen-free zone” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-ways-facebook-can-ruin-your-relationship_us_56706867e4b0e292150f80b6).

Don’t let your gadgets interfere with your ability to have a happy and fulfilling partnership with the person right there next to you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: Am I spending more time posting on social media than I am spending with my spouse? Am I on my phone or computer at night or in bed when I otherwise might be meaningfully engaged with my partner? Has my partner expressed frustration with the amount of time I spend on social media sites? Am I more concerned about what is happening on Facebook than about what my spouse is doing right next to me? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then it’s time to make a change.

The Ugly

Connecting through technology can move beyond being a simple distraction and become a serious threat to the happiness of your marriage. This is the dark side of technology, home to two of the worst culprits of emotional infidelity: social media sites and pornography. 

As of January 2014, 74 percent of adults had a Facebook account (http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/). According to Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher with Pew Internet and American Life Project at Pew Research Center, while 89 percent of adults said they used their online profiles to “stay in touch with friends,” 20 percent said they used it “to flirt.” If you think that seems innocent enough, consider that one-third of divorce cases cited social-media as part of the problem (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jan/21/facebook-cited-in-a-third-of-all-divorce-cases-its/).

Flirting of any kind, old flame or new friend, can be potentially harmful to your marriage. What starts innocently enough can all too easily become something it was never meant to be. According to Psychologist John Grohol, the CEO and founder of Psych Central, “Readily available communication on Facebook leads people to pursue temptation or engage in risky behaviors. Facebook makes it easy to engage in less inhibited communication — which can lead to taking risks we wouldn’t ordinarily take in our everyday life.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-ways-facebook-can-ruin-your-relationship_us_56706867e4b0e292150f80b6).

One couple, marriage educators K. Jason and Kelli Krafsky, authors of The Social Media Couple, gained personal experience when Kelli started catching up via Facebook with her first love. She was having a rush of happy memories and emotions, while her husband started feeling pangs of anxiety and jealousy. The couple started talking about what was happening and reversed course before any more damage was done. “We came to the conclusion that having Facebook friendships with exes wasn’t good for our marriage,” says Jason.

Keep in mind that you can be emotionally unfaithful to your spouse just as much as you can be physically unfaithful. Even becoming emotionally involved with someone of the opposite sex puts a hurtful wedge between you and your spouse. Talk to your spouse about what you are both comfortable with and consider ruling out connecting with old flames.

Beyond connecting on social media, the Internet also provides access to the other ugly technological weapon that is destroying marriages by the minute: pornography. Husbands and wives alike can be drastically hurt by the effects of pornography. One 2004 study found that its use is so rampant that 56 percent of divorce cases involved one party being obsessed with pornographic websites (Manning J., Senate Testimony 2004, referencing: Dedmon, J., “Is the Internet bad for your marriage? Online affairs, pornographic sites playing greater role in divorces,” 2002, press release from The Dilenschneider Group, Inc.). In another study, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, polled 350 divorce attorneys in 2003 and found that two-thirds of them reported that the Internet played a significant role in the divorces, with interest in online pornography contributing to more than half of the cases.

According to Dr. Peter Kleponis, a licensed cinical therapist in Conshohocken, PA, the use of pornography is a violation of marital trust to love and honor each other. He explains, “Viewing pornography is akin to breaking these vows because they are in no way a sign of a man’s love, honor and respect for his wife. For these women, the men they married all of a sudden seem like strangers. Many feel like a fool for ever having trusted their husbands. For some women, the violation of trust is so deep that they question if they can go on with their marriage. . . . Pornography invading the home can also lead a wife to feel old, unattractive and sexually undesirable.”

To avoid the kind of serious damage that can come along with pornography, the simplest, safest plan of action is to avoid it all together. Consider using Internet filtering methods to limit the kinds of images that can come into your home and keep an open dialogue with each other about how you will safeguard your marriage.

What to Do

Absolutely use technology in your marriage! But use it to connect when you are apart, to share moments from your day, and even to enjoy a good show or video game together. In other words, use technology to enrich and strengthen your relationship.

But be aware of how you are using technology, and consider whether you are distracted by it. Are you spending more time connecting with others through your gadgets than with the person sitting right next to you? Remind yourself how important this person is to you, and be sure to invest in that relationship first and foremost.

For the health of your marriage, avoid using technology in any way that will damage the trust between you or cause feelings of jealousy, irritation, lack of respect, or unfaithfulness. Have an open discussion about who you will connect with online and agree on reasonable amounts of screen time. Above all, remember that the person you love is right there waiting for, and needing, your attention. Don’t let the little screen take anything away from you.

Easy action steps:

  • Think about how you use technology in positive ways to connect with your spouse. How do you regularly reach out with phone calls, emails, and texts when you are apart? The next time your spouse has been away for more than an hour, send a photo or a message that communicates your love.
  • Think about how much you use technology in the evening when your spouse is home. Are you spending more time on your phone than you are interacting with your partner? Tonight, make a goal to have your bedroom be technology-free.
  • Consider whether you have ever used a social media site to flirt with an old flame or used the Internet to view something that would make your spouse uncomfortable. Make a date to talk to your spouse about rules for using the Internet and commit to only doing what will benefit your marriage.

How my husband surprised me with Hamilton

I just had the most amazing weekend with Scott. For our birthdays he planned a trip to New York City with 15 surprises (including all sorts of amazing restaurants, activities, people, and even a new set of carry-on luggage because ours was always too big to fit in the overhead bins). I knew this guy was good, but this trip was beyond my wildest imagination. It will never be beat, I’m pretty sure.

Let me preface everything by saying I am obsessed with the Broadway hit Hamilton (as is much of America, evidenced by the fact that the show is sold out for about a decade, or something close to that). My kids and I know all the songs and listen to the music repeatedly. I now have a hard time listening to anything that doesn’t have an amazing, dramatic storyline that will keep me engaged, laughing, crying and basically spellbound throughout the duration of my listening session. When I found out we were going to New York, my first thoughts went to Hamilton, but I had no idea how he would get us in. And he would not spill the beans, no matter how hard I tried. He wouldn’t even say if he was trying (though he did ask permission to possibly spend a ridiculous amount of money on something we would never forget, IF he could make it work. I, of course, said yes. But then a few hours later he said he wasn’t sure if HE could. That of course made me bonkers, because I thought, “Well then why did you even ask??”). More on that later.

We got to the city via Uber and met up with cousins Megan and Preston, who live in upper Manhattan. We caught up over dinner at a yummy Indian restaurant Thursday night and slept on a blow-up mattress in the middle of their darling little apartment. On Friday our first stop was at a quaint bakery that created the now-famous “Cronut,” which is basically a croissant donut with banana cream. Super yummy–though I don’t know that I’d stand in line for 2 hours for one. I don’t think any food is worth that sacrifice.  We next img_1561walked in the rain to the 9/11 Museum, which I’ve wanted to see. It was sad but powerful walking through and reliving the events of that awful day and seeing some of the artifacts left behind, like twisted steel and a ruined fire truck. There was a beautiful wall of 3,000 blue watercolor squares and a quote from Virgil about time not erasing you from our memory and a room full of photographs of the people who were lost. Outside we visited the large square waterfall memorial. Beautiful. Touching. Amazing.

Next we went to lunch at a restaurant called Max Brenner, which specializes in chocolate and has a menu that says on the cover “Chocolate is Good for You.” Ha! I liked this place instantly. I shared a bit of Scott’s chicken salad but wanted to save room for my chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and shot of cold chocolate. Yum!!! Keep in mind, at this point there himg_1566as been no mention of the musical I am dying to see, in New York. And we’re IN New York, 2200 miles from home. But I wait . . .

After lunch we went to 30 Rockefeller Center and saw the view of the city from the top of the building. They actually warned us that their was no visibility but we had no time to come back so we pressed our luck and ascended in a musical, colorfully lit elevator ride to the top. When we stepped out we saw the clouds clearing away for us to see beautiful views in all directions. It was perfect! We saw the leaves changing colors in Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and thoimg_1576usands of other buildings (with, apparently, more than 30 million windows in sight). I loved it.

Afterwards we went downstairs to a tour of NBC Studios, where we got to see the sets for Saturday Night Live, the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and the Seth Meyers Show. So cool.

Next we went to dinner at a darling restaurant called Bea with brick walls covered in theater photographs and a lighted tree growing inside. We shared a delicious pear salad, shredded pork appetizer, and a pizza. So good! Great company. Scott then relayed the secret of our next adventure. We were going to see… the Broadway hit…. Something Rotten! My heart about stopped with anticipation, but I had heard great things about this show, so I was immediately excited. The show is about a writer in the Renaissance who is trying to beat out Shakespeare and learns that in the future musicals are the next big thing, so he sees a fortune teller who mentions something about Shakespeare’s next big hit, “Omelet could it be?” and tries to beat Shakespeare to it. The best part was the portrayal of Shakespeare as a David Bowie-like, black leather clad, self-absorbed pop star. He had us cracking up the whole time.

Then we went back to sleep at Megan and Preston’s where I tried not to think about the impossible–actually getting tickets to Hamilton. I wasn’t sure if Scott could make it happen. And he, of course, wasn’t saying a word.

First thing Saturday morning, we went to a little French bakery. It was so cool because we had just been walking along this beautiful tree-lined street that reminded me of Paris. Then we sat down in this cafe for another Cronut (and hot chocolate. I was on vacation, ok?) and the couple at the table next to us was speaking French! Were we in Paris? Wormhole? Too funny. We sat and talked about how inflation works and our feelings about the coming election as it drizzled outside. “Bubble effect” we call it.

We finally left the restaurant and headed for the Museum of Natural History, where we saw the outside but didn’t have time to go in because of our long and lovely conversation at the cafe. We were taking a stroll through a wet and beautiful Central Park when Scott got a phone call. He said something about “ok” and “Marriott Marquis.” After he hung up I said “who was that?” And Scott said “no one” and then said we needed to go to the Marriott for a minute. So we high tailed it out of the park and back into the city. When we got to the Marriott, he sat me down and said “I’ll be right back.” I was so curious!! When he came back 10 minutes later I couldn’t exactly read his face but something was going on in that head. Good or bad, I couldn’t tell, but he wouldn’t look at me. I asked if everything was OK and he said “it will work out.” Ah!! I was dying to know if he had been able to get tickets!

Next stop was a little Italian restaurant called Cielo in the theater district. I went to the restroom and then joined Scott at this adorable table up in a little nook by a window. I said “so when do I get to know about the next surprise??” He said “as soon as you find it!” I looked around and saw nothing and he said “look under your seat.” I lifted the cushion on the bench and there, sitting on the dark wood, were. . . get ready. . .  two tickets to Hamilton!! I couldn’t believe it! I jumped up and down and hugged Scott and said I was so excited! This was the impossible, and Scott had achieved it! I asked himg_1595ow he did it and he told me about the process. He had read about ten ways to get tickets. He tried one through eight with no luck. The ninth option was to wait until the hype died down–which would not work for a scheduled birthday trip that we were already ON. Last option: pay a line sitter. He ended up figuring out the best group to do that (Same Old Line Dudes) and paying for two guys (it had to be two because of the particular rules of Broadway line sitting) to stay out all night in sleeping bags. Good at their job, they were the first two in line when the theater released the small batch of daily available tickets (which sometimes don’t get released at all depending on whether the actors have special guests attending). It had worked and we had our tickets! Unreal. I was so full of emotion and excitement I felt like I was going to pop right out of my skin. I held it together enough to avoid making a scene, but just barely.

The show started at 2:00 so we made our way down the street to get in line at the theater. Where Hamilton was playing!!!! What a dream.
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We sat down in our amazing seats (we had to buy premium seats–or enough tickets for our line sitters to attend, which would have been just a few dollars less expensive. Again, line sitter rules! Whatever–it worked.). Our seats were close enough to see all the incredible emotion and expression on the actors’ faces. Wow. I mean, I already loved the music, but to hear the music AND see the actors and the expression and movement and dancing and lighting–it was even more brilliant and amazing and wonderful than I could have imagined. I loved every single minute of it (and those were some expensive minutes–but worth it). By the end I was so emotional from the beautiful story and performance and the fact that I was even there that I started to cry right there in my seat. The theater staff finally had to kick us out so they could prepare for the next show. Outside I just stood there and let tears drip on to Scott’s jacket. It was an experience I will never forget and that will surely never be replicated. I am so grateful to Scott for the incredible effort and thought and time he put into giving me this gift.

We ended the trip with a wonderful reunion dinner with Josh, Mike and Lex and their family, who had taken a bus down from Boston. We ate pizza and then walked out by the water and looked over the Manhatten skyline. Then kids got ice cream and I got yet another hot chocolate (I’d be concerned by now but we calculated that we walked something like 35,000 steps in the last two days so I figured “Why not?” Still on vacation).
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We said our goodbyes and went back to end the evening at Megan and Preston’s place. As I write, I’m sitting on an airplane headed for home, with Scott asleep beside me. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to wake up from this dream but I guess real life needed to come back at some point. It always does. Thankfully, I have a pretty darn good life back at home. And a pretty darn good man going there with me–dream giver, Scott Poelman.

Time to Love Our Spouse

More from The Two-Minute Marriage Project…

“The ‘secret’ to loving is loving: the more we give of that vast and powerful force called Love, the more it returns to illuminate our days with hope, simple bliss and heart-happy wonder.”

-Margie Lapanja, author

Loving our spouse takes time and effort. Yet many couples today get swept away in the chaos of a distracting and busy life. We have sports and competitions and recitals and deadlines and politics and schedules to watch. We have texts and tweets and a barrage of information constantly ready for our review. We have streaming sports scores, advertisements everywhere, and endless pressures to succeed. How can we remember to show love to our spouse daily when there are days we hardly see each other?phone

For parents, the battle for time is even more difficult. Parenting has become busier than ever before as moms and dads seek to ensure their child has a rock-solid self-esteem and a leg up on the competition. We enroll our three year olds in sports and music and camps, hoping that they can keep up with the neighbor kid who is enrolled in even more. As parents, we want our kids to have every advantage and we want them to know we love them and would do anything for them. That’s all fine and good for the kids (for the most part). It’s not so good for marriage. Studies show we spend far more time with our kids today than parents of previous generations, which leaves significantly less time to our marriages (For Better 176). When researchers ask kids what they want? Rather than more time together, they want happier, less stressed out parents!

I can relate to the transformation from loving and attentive newlywed to distracted, busy parent. My husband Scott and I met 13 years ago at a college barbecue. A mutual friend introduced us and we couldn’t be separated the rest of the evening. In the months that followed, I found myself falling hard. We talked until the wee hours of the morning, he brought roses and wrote poems, we dated, we danced. The whole thing was as natural and effortless as breathing . . .but substantially more exciting. Nine months later, a ring was on my finger and we found ourselves debating an August or December wedding. The only point in the December column was Christmas lights, so we began planning for summer.

The wedding was picture perfect, even with the rain that poured down on us. Everyone else ran from tree to tree trying to stay sheltered as we walked around for our photos. We couldn’t care less that we were getting soaked. In fact, I’m not sure we even noticed. My cheeks hurt from smiling at the end of the day. This was my ideal life partner and our life together was going to be all roses and sunshine.

As newlyweds, we were still as happy as ever as we adjusted to our new life. No one else competed for our attention at home, and our only real responsibilities were to do well in our college courses and earn enough to pay for our 600-square-foot apartment and meals for two. We walked to school together, took classes together, shopped together, ate together, read books together, and played together. Showing our love every day in small and meaningful ways was effortless.

Fast forward a decade and then some. Things are a little different now. Responsibilities are many and time is scarce. Between us we have four beautiful kids ages 1 to 10, a lovely home with attached mortgage and two-car garage, two cars, a new business with all the added excitement and stress, multiple church responsibilities and volunteer hours at school, grocery shopping and meals for six not to mention soccer games and music recitals. It probably goes without saying that the number of love sonnets I once received has reduced dramatically.

Some days we don’t see each other for more than ten minutes as we both race in different directions. He’s up to go to the gym and the office. I’m up to get kids and breakfast going. He’s working hard at the office. I’m working hard at home cleaning, cooking, carpooling, shopping, washing, folding, ironing, writing, and finding moments to sit down and play with the kids. What a gift it is to raise a family with the partner I love. I wouldn’t trade it or go back for anything.IMG_0157

Here’s the tricky part: showing our love to each other in our marriage now takes more effort and deliberate attention. Much more. We must be doing something right. We still often get what we affectionately refer to as “tingles” when we see each other at the end of the day. And it’s not entirely a matter of luck (though we both are fairly cheerful people). I can say that we are still best friends and more in love now than on the day we married. Partly, that’s because we focus on loving each other every day.

Many couples end the honeymoon stage of their marriage and become so focused on their own paths that they forget one simple thing: their relationship needs tending. In the romantic comedy How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days writer Andie Anderson is assigned to write an article on how to make a man break up with her. One thing she does in her attempt to get him to throw in the towel is deliver a “love fern.” Andie dramatically explains to Ben that the fern symbolizes their love and that he must care for the little plant like he cares for their relationship. Later Andie pretends to be horrified when she finds the plant withering. “You let our love fern die? Are you going to let us die?” The scene is comical because Andie is so dramatic. Yet I see some truth in the metaphor. Just as a fern or a garden needs daily attention, so does a marriage. 

plantSo ask yourself today, what do I need to do to tend to my marriage?

More to come…

Falling and staying in love

Below is an excerpt from The Two-Minute Marriage Project, a book I wrote about staying in love over the long haul. It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about in order to find the secret of a lasting, fulfilling marriage. Here’s what I found it comes down to, from social scientists, personal experience, and interviews with happily married couples: the little things. Over the next few weeks I’d like to include excerpts here on what I found. For today, a bit of background on love:

Right now in the United States there are 60 million married couples. We still love and believe in marriage. We love marriage so much that we fight over how to define it and exactly who can do it. But marriage today, by most accounts, is not thriving. Experts calculate that only about 40 to 50 percent of married couples stay together. People quit their marriages every day, and here’s the sad thing: The majority of people who quit simply fell out of love. As author Pamela Haag reports in the book Marriage Confidential, more than half the couples who divorce had a relationship that was “amiable but listless.” Basically, they just didn’t thrive. According to studies on couples who divorce, the vast majority of people who end their relationship report that they simply lost a sense of closeness and did not feel loved or appreciated (as reported in Gottman, 2000 The Timing of Divorce). 

Even many couples who stay together aren’t fulfilled in their marriages. Of the couples who do stay married, according to a group of marriage researchers at the University of Denver, only half are actually happy. (Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, and Susan L. Blumberg, http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/10238.html).

What is going on? Most people, at least in the western world, marry because they are in love. But that wasn’t always the case. For thousands of years, marriage wasn’t about love or personal satisfaction. Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz reports in her book Marriage, a History, that marrying for love didn’t come about until the late 18th century with the Enlightenment focus on individual rights. Before then, most marriages were arranged by outside influences who would be positively affected by the union. Something as important as marriage couldn’t be based on “something as unreasoning and transitory as love” (p. 5). Yet during the Enlightenment, a marriage revolution began to occur. We started seeing marriage as what it could be–a private relationship with the potential to provide great happiness for the couple, regardless of family wealth or political alliances (New York: Viking, 2005).

Staying in love

So we came along way as a society. We decided that it should be in our control as individuals to choose who we marry, and that we should do it primarily for our own happiness and not for the betterment of our relatives. We decided that marriage could be our greatest human relationship and the source of our deepest satisfaction in life. Yet, as Coontz reports, “the very features that promised to make marriage such a unique and treasured personal relationship opened the way for it to become an optional and fragile one.” (p. 5). Marriages are breaking apart because people are falling out of love. We aren’t staying in the same state we were in before, and that scares people. As George Bernard Shaw humorously pointed out, marriage brings together two people “under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausromanceting condition continuously until death do them part.” (Quoted in John Jacobs, All You Need Is Love and Other Lies About Marriage, New York: HarperCollins, 2004 p. 9).

We “fall” in love–suggesting something outside of our control. Our brain is malfunctioning, to a degree. Staying in love–now that’s something we have some control over. It isn’t easy. Over the years, as a culture, we have lost some of the glue that helped couples stick together. As John Jacobs, professor at NYU’s School of Medicine, has written, some of the martial glue that helped keep couples together from the past is now largely irrelevant. The glue of women’s financial dependency, the belief that happiness is rare or unnecessary, prevailing religious dogma, and legal constraints are all gone. The only glue holding couples together now “is the glue created by the two of you–the glue of mutual satisfaction, gratification, appreciation, and respect. The glue of mature love.” (All You Need Is Love and other lies about marriage.)

We simply cannot forget to show love and affection to our spouse every day. As Dr. Jacobs declares, one of the greatest threats to a marriage relationship is complacency.  “If you want your marriage to survive,” Jacobs writes, “you must actively cherish your spouse and protect your relationship” (Jacobs, 234). Staying in love isn’t as easy or effortless as falling in love. It takes time, attention, and deliberate effort. But if we do it right, our marriage relationship can provide the same tingles and excitement as it did when we first came together as partners, soul mates, and best friends. Indeed, if we do it right, and if we do it consistently, staying in love can be the happiest, most fulfilling part of our lives. The trick is to do that even while living in a chaotic modern world. 

More to come…

How You Can Keep Your Marriage Fun and Exciting While Caring For Your Kids, Advancing Your Careers and Managing Daily Life

Below is a guest post by marriage therapist Waverly Hanson on keeping marriage fun. This is relevant to my research into the little things couples can do to keep the love alive in their marriage over the long haul. Happy reading!

How You Can Keep Your Marriage Fun and Exciting While Caring For Your Kids, Advancing Your Careers and Managing Daily Life

Marriage is an opportunity for you to commit to spending the rest of your life with another person whom you love and respect. Often, the first year or two of marriage is filled with excitement. However, once children enter the picture, it can alter the scene dramatically. Instead of two, you are now three or more. This does not mean the end of your status as a couple unless you allow it to.

Unfortunately, many couples become so caught up in raising children and bucking for promotions at work that they forget to prioritize their relationship, taking it for granted. However, without intentional nursing, you will grow apart. You both need to reaffirm your love and relationship as an entity separate from, and a part of, your family.

Some people have a difficult time doing this because they believe or are told such behavior is selfish. Quite the opposite is actually the truth. You see, if you have the love and support of each other when troubles arise, you will be able to handle them more readily. So, you will actually be better, not worse, parents.

When you have younger children, you will need to plan for a babysitter for those occasions where you want to leave the home. Hire someone with impeccable references and CPR training for infants and children.

If you have friends with little kids as well, you may want to swap watching them on the weekends. One couple could go out Friday and the other Saturday. You could also plan for alternating weekends.

Plan for fun activities that you can do at home in addition to going out on a regular basis. Naturally, the frequency of your outings can depend on many external factors, and leaving home to have some adult only fun may not always be an option. Also, it can become expensive.

You may be able to arrange for the kids to spend the night with grandparents or other relatives so you two can have the house to yourselves. If this is not an option and your kids have friends with whom they spend the night, try to coordinate a night where they are all at someone else’s house.

When going out, sometimes keeping things simple is best. Take walks in the park or along the beach like you did when dating. Play a round of miniature golf, or visit an arcade while you are out. Stop and get some ice cream or frozen yogurt. Planning a fun, teenager style date might even include “parking” somewhere and making out before going home. Just make sure you don’t break any indecent exposure laws!

Another inexpensive idea is to order some pizza and watch movies together. Each of you can pick a movie and the toppings for your half of the pizza. Women can wear one of his large t-shirts and snuggle on the couch during the latest action flick or whatever else has been chosen. The point is to enjoy the time together, not to focus on getting your way or only watching movies you like.

In fact, you can plan dates where you focus upon a particular like, taking turns to keep it fair. Technology should be turned off, snacks available and questions asked. For instance, you may give him a lesson in crafting with clay, explaining the various nuances and why it matters to you. In turn, enthusiastically listen and respond as he teaches you about the intricacies of hockey. While you may not convert each other into being fans, you will learn more about each other and grow closer as a result.

You can also leave sexy notes for each other, learn about sexting and have a quickie once in a while. Buy some inexpensive dice for romantic play or a similarly themed game. Go on a picnic together, have a couples massage or any other activity that will be enjoyable. Make sure to get in plenty of laughter-inducing choices.

Talk to your spouse now about planning some special time together!

About the Author

Waverly Hanson is the best-selling author of “How to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage” available on Amazon in print and Kindle formats. She has been assisting individuals and couples with relationship and life transformations for more than 25 years as a therapist, counselor, coach and consultant.  Visit her website <a href=”http://marriagecounselingonline.mywebpal.com”> marriagecounselingonline.mywebpal.com </a> to learn more.

 

 

Cruisin’ around the Caribbean!

OK, so I haven’t been in the habit of writing lately–something about having four little kids maybe? Well, I’m recommitted to jumping on here more regularly simply to share what is happening in my life. I’ve been inspired by the minimalists, who used a great phrase: “Sit in the chair.” As a writer, sometimes I feel like I need to wait to be inspired before I actually sit down (oh, and when I actually have free time, which is . . . let’s say rarely). I suppose you need to make your own time if you want to fit something in. So, here goes. I’m sitting in the chair.

The first thing I wanted to write about was Scott’s and my 15-year anniversary cruise. We snuck off for a whole week just the two of us to go explore the Caribbean. Wow. Can I just say, wow? I’m a big fan of getting away as a couple occasionally. It’s a wonderful way to reconnect with your spouse as husband and wife again, leaving Mom and Dad roles behind for just a bit (while kiddos are in good hands and loving their own adventures at home with Grandma and Grandpa and Grams and Papa in our case!).

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Yummy breakfast on the ship in the Solarium.

Let’s start with the ship. We sailed on the Oasis of the Seas, the biggest ship on the ocean. We stepped on board and set off to explore (no simple task). This ship had 17 floors. 17! That is a lot of floors. Swimming pools, hot tubs, restaurants, rock climbing walls, theater, ice rink . . . you name it, this ship had it. I still don’t understand how it even stayed afloat. My favorite moments were sitting in the hot tub at the top of the ship, watching the ocean or the towns as we pulled in to port, reading a book next to Scott on the top deck in the sunshine, and eating at the top floor restaurant for breakfast, where every morning greeted us with a beautiful, colorful buffet.  Anyone who knows me well knows I love breakfast food and am quite happy enjoying breakfast for any meal of the day (and snacks too!).

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Does this look like the Caribbean? Yeah, I didn’t think so either!

We stopped at three ports–Nassau (Bahamas), St. Thomas, and St. Martin. When we pulled in the the Bahamas, it was pouring rain with 25 mph winds. It was February, remember, and I had just left months of cold, gray, and snow. I was so distraught over this unpleasant welcome that I literally broke into tears when I realized we couldn’t go on our little beach outing in the sun like we had planned. I know that sounds pretty pathetic, but we only had three days to get off the ship and enjoy the beach (my favorite part of vacation) and now Day One was a gonner. Sigh.

But I pulled it together and determined to enjoy. We decided to go explore Atlantis, the resort I had heard so much about. Trying to get a cab was a bit comical. One of the locals would put us in the cab and then we sat there for five minutes wondering what happened. Then we got out and asked for another cab, and they stuck us in a different cab and left. This happened three times. We realized that the locals were trying to fill their cabs so they could earn more on the 10 minute drive over to Atlantis. Crazy! We finally made it over there after a woman promised to leave “Right now” and spent the rainy afterIMG_0248noon wandering around inside Atlantis, checking out their aquariums and grounds. I imagine it’s beautiful when it is sunny and warm. Windy and gray made it less than magical.

One thing that made me smile was this funny sign at Atlantis, their best attempt at asking people not to leave cigarette butts on the ground!

We made it back to the ship and crossed our fingers that the sun would come out for the rest of our journey.

Luckily, it did! On St. Thomas we wanted to see Magen’s Bay, dubbed one of the world’s most beautiful beaches by National Geographic and the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die (my regular go-to resource).

By the time we got there, sadly, we only had 30 minutes before it was time for us to head back for our kayak tour. We only had a few hours on the island, so we had to make it count. I’m glad we went to see the Bay, because it really was beautiful and peaceful. It would have been more so without all the people, but I guess that’s the price you pay for seeing the most beautiful places in the world. Everyone else wants to see them too!

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Magen’s Bay

After our brief jaunt at Magen’s Bay, we took a cab back over the top of the island to our kayak spot. This was a fun way to mix things up. We got to kayak through a lagoon, then pull over and walk on a pebbly path to a blowhole on the island. (Basically where the waves crash into a rock that has a hole at the top and water sprays out of the hole.) Pretty cool. Then we snorkeled for a bit in the lagoon. That was fun, but a little chillier than I expected and frankly not as much variety of fish and things to see as I was hoping for. (I think I got spoiled in Maui by Black Rock where there are so many colorful fish!). Still, it was fun, good exercise, and beautiful. Scott and I had a great time.

Our last port was my favorite. We went to St. Martin, where we went with a IMG_1278snorkel company on a boat tour around the island. The sun was out all day, thankfully, and the water was a beautiful blue. We enjoyed a yummy barbecue lunch on a pretty secluded beach and then stopped at a couple different places to snorkel. Again, the snorkeling wasn’t as spectacular as I would have hoped, but the water and island were lovely and fun to circumnavigate. One of our stops was to the island of Pinel, which I think you can only access by boat. There was a little restaurant and a few shops and it just felt really quaint and relaxing. My favorite moment was sitting by Scott on the dock and dipping our toes in the water, while we did some people watching.IMG_0287 We also watched a woman pull up a big crate of lobsters, fresh caught that day, and let a customer pick his meal!

I wish we could have stayed longer, but I guess that’s the nature of these port stops. You’ve got to keep moving or you’re going to get left behind!

Back at the ship, we enjoyed ourselves completely with more food and rest and reading time. And some more food. Wow, there was a lot of yummy food. I couldn’t get over the fact that if I couldn’t decide what I wanted for dinner, I could order two things! How fun is that? I even asked if I could have a tiny bit of two different desserts one night (since, again, I couldn’t decide) and our awesome waiter brought me this:

IMG_0323That made me laugh! Then he brought me out another plate with some decent portions. I can’t remember what it was, but it was tasty. After all this food, it’s a good thing the ship had a pretty amazing gym (where Scott spent a good portion of each ship day) and a running track that went around the outside of the ship. I had so much fun running around the track, looking out at the sea and listening to the soundtrack of the new musical “Hamilton.” Way cool. I also spent my time while Scott finished his workout for the day on our balcony, with more deliciousness and a good book. The ocean, the sun, some chocolate, some reading, and then a short nap to energize me before the evening festivities. Wow–I’m looking back at how extravagant that was. Taking care of four little kids every day is a wonderful, amazing blessing, but it is hard! I look back at this and think “Did I really get to do that for a whole week?” Alas, real life is not sunshine and chocolate. If it were, then this wouldn’t have been a dream vacation and it wouldn’t have tickled me every time our room attendant left us a towel monkey or grabbed a cup of fresh fruit at the Park Cafe for no charge. Oh, it was fun.  At least now I have these amazing memories and pictures of the time we had. I’ll look back every now and again and remind myself of the beautiful adventure. Some days, that’s just what I need to pick me before getting back to the daily grind. Luckily, I have a pretty blessed life, and four little people who made it happy coming home. Still, I don’t think it will be long before I start planning another sunny escape…IMG_1306

15 years together!

On August 18th Scott and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary (yes, I’m a little behind!). I can’t believe how fast, and how wonderful, the time has been. I can’t believe how much I didn’t know then about life and marriage and parenting and careers and bills and compromise . . . and I can’t believe it has been as rich and rewarding as it has been. I am so grateful for the man I married and all the potential that was in him that I didn’t even know. I didn’t know what a wonderful husband he would be–how he would take care of me, and make me laugh, and listen to me, and bring me flowers, and tell me jokes, and rub my shoulders when they are sore, and take me out on date night every single weekend, and change baby’s diapers, and be my biggest fan, and bring me Ben and Jerry’s for no reason at all. I didn’t know that he would be the kind of Dad who studies scriptures with his kids, and wrestles with them, and takes them out on dates, and coaches their soccer teams, and snuggles them on the couch during movies, and laughs and plays and takes them on adventures. I didn’t know he would be more than just a good student but that he would be great at his career–and love it too. I didn’t know he would be a devoted church member and Priesthood holder and home teacher and spiritual leader in our family.  I hoped all these things. But 15 years later, I can look back and say I didn’t know for sure then, but I know now. What a blessing it is to have chosen the right guy–to have found the best friend to spend all my days with–the first time around. My kids sometimes ask me about my parents and how they got divorced, and why. I just say to them, “Sometimes two people get it right the first try, and sometimes they get it right the second try, and sometimes they don’t even get it right then. Mommy and daddy nailed it the first try.” IMG_0301

To celebrate, Scott planned a backpacking trip to the Tetons. I had never been backpacking, but I’m all about new experiences and I like being out in nature. So I figured, why not? Lucky for me, it was beautiful and sunny the whole time. We hiked up Paintbrush Canyon and came down Cascade Canyon. It was an incredible experience to be in such a beautiful place in our country, away from modern distractions, for three days. We slept in a tiny backpackers tent, and with the top flap open, we woke up to a pink sky the first morning (well, I woke up to it briefly and went back to sleep. Scott stayed up to enjoy.). We discovered it was freezing to sleep like that, so we woke up to the closed tent flap the second morning. Besides the beautiful scenery of trees, lakes, waterfalls, streams, and wildlife, I also loved simply spending time with my husband to talk about our experiences, thoughts, dreams, things we’ve read, things we hope for, or just to be quiet together. It was an experience I will never forget. Thank you Scott for being who you are, for planning this adventure, and for being my best friend for 15 years and counting.  IMG_1625

Daisies

When my husband and I were first dating, for my birthday, Scott surprised me with a dozen white roses. Boy did I love those roses. And I was falling hard for that boy. He got me a dozen roses on our honeymoon and another dozen on our first anniversary. He’s a “go big or go home” kind of guy. I think he thought that was the only way that giving flowers should be done.

As time went on, as the story often goes, life happened. We got busy with school and jobs and kids and cars and mortgages and everything life throws. I didn’t receive the beautiful bouquets for some time. Which was fine–because for so many of those early years we were poor students with no extra spending money.

A few months ago, Scott was having lunch with a client (we weren’t students anymore) who asked him, “When’s the last time you brought your wife flowers?” Scott hummed and hawed a bit and then said, “It’s been a while.” The man replied, “Go get her some.”

Scott followed his orders and came home with a lovely bouquet. I was surprised and touched by the gesture. Almost every week since then, he’s brought home flowers. They haven’t been the big, expensive bunch of roses. Instead, he’s often come home with a simple group of colorful lilies or daisies. Just this weekend he came home from getting a haircut with a little bunch of daisies for me. It costs him less than $3 for those daisies. (I know because I do the finances.) But oh how well spent that $3 is! In that simple gesture, I know that my husband is thinking of me, wanting to make me smile.

Sometimes we think that only the grand, sweeping gestures matter when, really, the little things mean just as much, or more. I always loved the roses. But it’s amazing how much a simple bundle of daisies, given for no reason on a rainy Saturday afternoon, can communicate about love.

What have you done to love your spouse today?

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Escape

Recently Scott and I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I loved the story of a man who finally decides to start living his life outside his own head. As I sat in the theater, Scott and I listened to the theme song “Escape,” sung by Jack Johnson. I knew the tune, but it was the first time I’d ever really listened to the lyrics.

The song is about a man who is lying in bed one night looking at the personal ads, when he reads one from a woman who is looking for someone who likes pina coladas and dancing in the rain. The man considers for a moment his long-term relationship and the fact that he and his gal have slumped into the “same old, old routine.” So he answers the ad. He wants to escape too, just like she does.

As he walks into the bar to meet this exotic new lady, the man finds her and realizes “It was his own lovely lady.” They laugh and say, “I never knew . . .”

Sometimes the thing we are yearning for is sitting there right there in front of us. We think we need to escape our situation to feel better, to feel alive, when really, we might just need to mix things up a little.

For spring break this year, Scott and I are taking our little family beach camping. This is new for me. I love the ocean, so I figure that with a little, sand, water, and sunshine we have the perfect cocktail for a fun family getaway. I hope. As long as the dirt, wetness, and far-from-pillowtop sleeping arrangements don’t get in the way. If nothing else, we are stepping outside our old, old routines and trying something new. That should be enough for one family escape, with or without the pina coladas.

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He shoots, he scores

Monday night we got free tickets to take our family to the Jazz game. Our girls had never been before, and we were all excited for a night out. We sat down at the top of the arena and looked down on the players. They were so small, and the giant screen in front of us was so . . . giant. I don’t think the girls were paying as much attention to the actual game as they were to the dancers, the gift-giving blimp, and the little bags of popcorn I brought in my purse.

Third quarter got ugly. Our players weren’t shooting well. We were fouling left and right. We were even missing our free throw shots. I told Scott “This isn’t looking good.” He smiled as the girls were climbing all over him, clamoring for turns to be tickled. He offered to take them for a quick walk around. Zach and I stayed to watch, since he was into the game. He was cheering out “D-fence,” as the jumbo-tron encouraged, but we gradually fell further and further behind. I was looking at the clock, feeling like maybe this hadn’t been the best idea to keep our kids up so late. Especially if we were going to lose. (I know–terrible attitude, right?).

A few minutes later Scott came back with the girls. In their hands was a giant bowl of ice cream. Cookie dough and Moosetracks–my favorite. I had to smile as everyone huddled around and dug in to the bowl with their own personal plastic spoon. Scott doesn’t even eat dessert (hasn’t for years) but he seemed to get as much joy out of watching us as we got consuming it. The night had been redeemed.

We didn’t win that game–not really even close. But as we were walking home I asked Ellie how she like her first Jazz game. She smiled at me and said “I didn’t even want to leave!” She didn’t care at all that our team was shooting terribly that night. She had her family, and a fun outing, and part of a big bowl of ice cream. Who really needs anything more?

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