Posts Tagged ‘Marriage Tips’

7 Ways to Stay Connected During Busy Seasons

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

7 Ways to Stay Connected During a Busy Season

I told someone the other day that my husband and I aren’t even ships passing in the night right now. We’re more like ships in completely different oceans.

Thankfully, we do live in the same house. My husband isn’t deployed or traveling extensively for work. But he does work incredibly long hours on the night shift, which means our time together – as a couple and as a family – is extremely limited.

Recently we’ve been attending a marriage class at our church, and one of the topics we’ve covered is connection. In our particular group it felt like my husband and I have a unique struggle, but I know that’s not the case in general. I have many friends whose husbands are gone at either unusual or unpredictable times or for extended time (and sometimes both). When one or both spouses are away from home a lot, staying connected can be difficult.

If you or your husband work an odd shift, work more than one job, work in law enforcement or medicine, own or run a business, serve in the military, or any other number of things that keep you busy, connecting with him may take what feels like a superhuman effort. And, of course, if you’re already running on steam because of that exhausting schedule, that make seem impossible!

But it’s not. Staying connected to your husband doesn’t mean you need to plan (and pay for – ugh!) a weekend getaway every month. You don’t need to schedule walks on the beach or candlelit dinners, or fear the consequences. (Although, let’s be honest. If you live near the beach or own candles, those things never hurt!) Staying connected to your husband during super busy, crazy chaotic seasons can happen with a few simple, intentional moves.

First, maybe we should define “staying connected,” though. When I use that phrase, I mean that both spouses maintain a warm feeling about one another, showing each other kindness and attempting to make the other one feel loved on a regular basis. What keeping that loving feeling looks like, tangibly and practically, in YOUR marriage? That’s up to you (and your husband)!

Now, on to the tips!

7 Ways to Stay Connected During a Busy Season

7 Ways to Stay Connected During Busy Seasons

Date Nights: I know, I know – big surprise! Date nights = everyone’s solution for improving your marriage! But seriously, you guys. Finding time to spend together, alone, is crucial. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Last week we had our monthly date night scheduled but I couldn’t find a babysitter. So I reserved a movie rental and made sure we had popcorn in the pantry, and we still had time together after putting the girls to bed.

Eat a Meal Together: Since we’re already talking about busy seasons, it’s obvious that eating dinner together each evening may be difficult or even impossible. But if you can’t eat dinner together, can you eat breakfast at the same time? Meet for lunch? Feed the kids at the normal time and eat with your husband later? Skype while you eat your meals in completely different time zones? However you arrange it, something about sharing a meal creates a closeness that can’t be duplicated with other food-free interactions.

Send Him a Message: I send my husband a text message each night before going to bed. It’s the end of my day but the middle of his work day, and I just want to make sure he knows I’m thinking of him. We’ve also started using Voxer, a voice message (and text message) app on our phones that allow us to leave messages for each other when we’re thinking about it – without waking each other up (a problem since our schedules are opposite). Maybe those things would work for you, or perhaps you need nightly phone calls or morning Skype dates. The point is to keep communicating so you can stay on the same page, even if you’re not in the same room.

Watch a Show Together: One of the perks to having a husband who works nights is that I don’t have to share the remote or negotiate the shows we watch. However, it also means that we’ve picked a handful of shows that we record and watch together on the weekend. And when “our” shows aren’t on, we watch something together on Netflix.

Others might say that watching TV together isn’t spending quality time together. But for us, it is. It’s something we only do together and it’s something we have in common. And though you might not think deep conversations could come from watching the latest episode of Castle or catching up on all five seasons of Friday Night Lights, you would be wrong.

7 Ways to Stay Connected During a Busy Season

Share a Hobby: If TV isn’t your thing, maybe you could read a book together and discuss it when you finally have time together. Or plant a garden together or refinish furniture together or train for a 5K together. (Or train for a 5K separately and then run the race together.) As long as you’re doing something together that you both enjoy, you’re connecting!

Write Him a Letter: My husband doesn’t know it, but on the rare occasion he leaves a note for me (“Don’t forget toilet paper at the store,” “Please wake me up at 4:30,” “Here’s that check to deposit.”), I keep them. There’s something special about seeing his handwriting and his words written just for me – even if they are about mundane, everyday things. It reminds me of the days when we dated and exchanged notes and letters, the days when the most serious thing we had to discuss was our feelings for each other.

Today I’m more likely to send that nightly text or scribble a sentence or two in a birthday card than write him a love letter. But I do think about it sometimes. I wonder if I could convince him to share a journal where we left each other notes. I wonder if I could make time to actually write him a letter. On paper. With a pen. I can’t say I have experience with this tip, but after all my wondering, I’m certain that doing this – even every once in a while – would amp up my connection with my husband.

Think Happy Thoughts: Even before my husband worked nights, he worked evenings. And before that, he worked two jobs. So we’ve had lots of practice fighting the drift of missed connection. For many years I spent that time alone, annoyed and resentful. That strategy is NOT the way to stay connected with your husband, in case you were wondering.

I’ll be completely honest: I still struggle with resentment sometimes. A schedule like ours is super annoying and can be super frustrating, too. But when I maintain a good attitude, focusing on the good parts of our life, remembering all the many reasons I love him, and expressing gratitude instead of grumbling, it’s a whole lot easier to connect with my husband when he finally gets home.

How do you stay connected to your husband during busy seasons?

Photos by Richard Min, bigbirdz, and Natalie Lucier.

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What I Wish We’d Known About Money Before Getting Married

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Marriage and Money

I don’t remember getting a lot of advice before I was married. This may be the result of a faulty memory; after all, we’re talking about 16 years ago. Or it may be because most of my friends and family stuck to the party line: “Don’t get married. You’re too young.”

Those helpful folks were half right. We were certainly too young to get married, but we sure did it anyway. I’m glad – but I do wish we’d gone into the rest of our lives, forever and ever amen, with a little more wisdom. Okay, a LOT more wisdom – and especially in the area of finances.

Over the past decade and a half, my husband and I have made so many mistakes with our money. (SO MANY.) Today we’re feeling optimistic, though I’ll admit we’re still paying off some of our more recent and long-lasting mistakes. So while I’m certainly no expert on family finances, I do have a list of things I wish we’d known about money before getting married. We’ve figured them out along the way, the hard way. My hope is that if I share them with you, you won’t have to!

Practice living with one salary. This is actually the one piece of advice I remember hearing in the days before my wedding, but as a young, stubborn, modern girl, I ignored it. Because I wasn’t going to “just” be a stay-at-home mom! I was going to work! I couldn’t wait to work! And I would always want to work!

Right. You can see where this is going, can’t you? As it turns out, living within one salary is good preparation for times of unemployment or underemployment (we’ve had both, huzzah!) – even if both spouses continue working. And, what you don’t know at the ripe age of 20 is that you might change your mind on how much you want to work later in life.

Save now. And if you don’t need two salaries to pay your bills, you can save a whole lot of money when times are good. As it turns out, you should also try to save a little when times are hard, too.

Plan to give it away. (And then, you know, give it away.) Though I grew up going to church, I wasn’t necessarily taught to tithe (give ten percent). Though my parents and my in-laws are giving in their own ways, neither my husband nor I were taught how to align our giving goals with our financial priorities. The importance of this is different in each family, but we’ve grown in our desire to give more over the years – and wish we’d made choices early on that allowed us to give more now.

All the years we’ve spent paying ridiculous interest on credit card debts or car loans add up to a lot of years we’ve missed out on the gift of giving. We look forward to the day we pay off our last debt and can help others more.

Just because you are approved, doesn’t mean you should. Speaking of credit cards…

Actually, I’d say this goes for every kind of loan: credit cards, vehicles, homes. I’m not saying that it’s bad to have a car payment or a mortgage! What I’m saying is to really consider the reality of what a bank will give you compared to what you can truly pay back.

That starter house might be your home for 20 years. The one time we made a good choice (without making a whole lot of bad ones first) was when we shopped for our first home. Now, we made a whole lot of first-time home-buyer choices. Don’t even get me started on the wisdom of buying a house without a basement in a place very near the inspiration for The Wizard of Oz! But when the bank pre-approved us for a large amount, we said no thanks. We bought a house for much less than we were approved for, which is good because we’ve had many months (years? yeah…years.) of barely scraping by when even that smaller payment seemed impossible.

It’s also good because we’ve lived in our first home – our STARTER home – for almost 12 years now. Thank you, real estate market crash! And that leads me to…

Something always comes up. House repairs on that starter home you can’t sell? Check. I’m not talking about a tear in the screen door either. I’m talking about replacing an entire sewer line from your [only] toilet, under the house, through the front yard, to the street. And if such a thing happens and you’ve slacked off on your savings plan or don’t have any wiggle room in your budget because you’re using every penny of every salary, then you’re in big trouble.

Not all home repairs cost thousands of dollars, obviously. But something – daycare tuition increase, basketball shoes, speeding ticket – always comes up.

And ignoring it does not make it go away. I mean, maybe you wouldn’t try this strategy. But just in case you would, let me tell you it does not work. (Don’t ask me how I know!)

Those are the big things my husband and I have learned, the hard way.

What money lesson have you learned that you’d like to pass on to someone starting out?

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Planning for Your Marriage to Succeed in 2015

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Making 2015 Plans for Your Marriage

I’m a big fan of lists. Making lists, setting goals, creating intricate plans for success – all of these things send me to my happy place. But even the biggest list-loving nerd can admit that some lists are more fun than others.

Grocery lists aren’t nearly as fun as my list of books I’ve read. And that spreadsheet of bills to pay each month can’t hold a candle to my plan for an upcoming birthday party or the Pinterest board of craft projects and science experiments my seven-year-old picked out for her spring break.

That’s why I think New Year’s lists, goals and plans are so beloved. After the chaos of the holidays and the stress of DOING ALL THE THINGS ON MY LIST during the last quarter of the year, it’s refreshing to literally start a new page. Looking at the blank expanse of the first page in a new planner, calendar or journal can offer our hearts and minds peace that we crave after hectic holidays and the race to the final days of the year.

And so we sharpen our pencils, format our spreadsheets, crack open those notebooks, or line up our colored pens – and we dream. We dream and we plan and we hope for the very best in every area of our lives. And in that moment, the one right before the ink hits the paper (or screen, depending on your method, of course!), it’s all possible, isn’t it?

I see a beauty in this time of year, but also a balm. Often we can find ourselves limping toward the finish line of another year – grumpy, discouraged, disappointed and longing for that fresh start. What a relief to turn the page and begin again!

Nowhere is this more true than in my family, with the people I love most. Unless you count the state of my dining room floor, which is the sticky victim of a toddler who delights in throwing food. I’d love to begin again there, too! But if I focus on the things I can change (because no amount of firm redirection is phasing said food-throwing baby girl…), I find my marriage at the top of my list for 2015.

The past two months in my house have involved celebrations and joyful moments, for sure. But they’ve also included tension, misunderstandings and short tempers.

Like many of you, we have a busy schedule that leaves little time for long walks on the beach or meaningful talks over gourmet meals. But as 2014 came to a close, we made a point to spend some extra time together. I’m not saying we stopped choosing one more episode of our favorite show over gazing into each others’ eyes completely. But even a few minutes can make a difference. And this year, we’ve really enjoyed dreaming together and making a few plans for 2015.

We’ve done our best to set challenging but attainable goals for the year, and we’ve talked a bit about what worked last year and what didn’t. (And let’s be honest – picking Friday Night Lights as our show to watch after the kids go to bed on Saturday nights WAS a winner!)

If your marriage is on your 2015 list of things to improve, focus on, or otherwise nurture, here are a few ideas.

Goal Planning for Marriage

Plan those date nights: I don’t know how many times I’ve spent an evening clicking and pinning all those clever ideas for date night jars. Or date nights in a jar. Or a jar of date nights in a jar. Clearly, there are tons of ideas out there! (And for some reason, they all involve jars…) But for my husband and me, we don’t need an elaborate system or an adorable tool. We simply need to make a plan.

For us, that means deciding how often we can make a date night happen and then clarifying our expectations for what those evenings look like. It also means making a list (yay!) of new places to try and ideas for Plan B (when the kids are sick or the babysitter cancels or we just don’t have the money for a night out).

Set some goals: I’m not sure where your marriage needs to grow or change. Sometimes I’m not even sure where my own relationship needs the most help! And, actually, I’m not positive that my husband and I would answer that question the same if asked right now. For me, setting a goal or two for my marriage is a double win, because simply aligning our hearts on the most important things has huge value to us. Meeting that goal throughout the year is just icing on the cake. (Unless you’re one of those couples who sets goals like, “run a marathon together.” Then it’s hummus for your carrots or something…)

Take a test: Second only to my love of lists is my love of personality tests. My husband does not share this affinity, so I’m not sure this one will ever make it to our yearly planning session – but a girl can hope, right? Until recently, my favorite personality test has been the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (any other ENJFs out there??), but several of my friends have talked a lot about the Enneagram system this past year – and I’m intrigued. Perhaps I should sneak, “take personality or love language test,” onto my list of date night ideas…

Choose one word or a life verse: I know lots of people who have life verses from the Bible that they focus on as an overarching theme for their lives, as well as lots of people who choose one word to focus on each year. I also have friends who have family mission statements or vision statements for their businesses. Personally, I’ve chosen one word for the past few years and I have life verses for my children. But I’ve never chosen or created any of these for my marriage.

What difference could a word, a quote, a verse or a statement make in our relationships? I think it could be huge – giving us a touchstone, a reminder for what matters most and for what we value about each other, so perhaps this year will be the one we finish feeling closer and stronger than ever.

Make a vacation wish list: A couple years ago, my friend Amanda wrote about the list she and her husband had made – 100 places they wanted to take their kids. The places ranged from the Eiffel Tower to her grandmother’s house to a nursing home to summer camp, and I have not been able to shake this idea since! So this year, when Mark and I talked about our vacation plans for the summer, I mentioned to him that we only have 12 more summers with Annalyn (before she goes to college). That means, we likely only have 12 more big vacations with her – so we’d better plan carefully!

Next thing you know, Mark is looking at his watch while I click on link after link after link promising to tell me the Top Best Most Awesome Family Vacation Ideas Ever in the History of Family Vacations. Of course, that’s what happens when you start this list right before bed. We tabled the discussion for now, but later this week, we have a date to start it up again. I can’t wait!

Set a budget: Money is not always a fun topic, but making realistic plans for paying off debt, saving up for big purchases, or making work/life changes can be exciting. I won’t tell you that our budget conversation was stress-free, but it was good to put everything – our bills, our bank statements, our hopes, our fears – on the table and use it to form a 2015 game plan.

It may not be possible to do all of these things, but doing even one means you’re making your marriage a priority – and might just keep it at the top of your Important Things list all year. I’d even say that this time of year has the potential to be more romantic – and certainly more meaningful – than any Valentine’s Day date coming up next month. So, let’s not wait! Let’s plan for success in our most important relationship right now.

How are you planning for your marriage to succeed in 2015?

{Photo sources: Juanedc and Sergio Vassio Photography}

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5 Ways to Date Your Husband This Fall

Monday, September 8th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

NIKON D700, AF 50mm f/1.4G f/1.8, 1/400, ISO 200, 50mm

Fall is my favorite season. October, in particular, is my favorite month; it’s the month when I met my husband and when my oldest daughter was born. But I’m pretty partial to the entire leaf-changing, sweater-wearing, pumpkin-craving time of year.

And even though it can also be one of the busiest times of year (leading up to the holidays, which always take the cake as The Very Busiest of All), there’s just something about the combination of blue skies and crisp nights, colorful leaves and spicy breads that makes me want to plan a date or two with my husband.

Unfortunately, my husband’s and my schedules don’t always cooperate with each other – or with our budget. So sometimes date planning takes a little more creativity than checking the local movie times and rifling through my stack of nearly expired restaurant coupons.

I sat down and did a little brainstorming, and today I’m sharing five ways to date your husband this fall.

5 Ways to Date Your Husband in the Fall

1. Revert to childhood.

Take a look at all those fall bucket lists on Pinterest – and pick a few of the activities to save for the grown-ups. Carve some pumpkins together or pick some apples. Drink cider or jump in the leaves after the kids are in bed.

We know several couples who attend a Halloween costume party – in full costume – every single year. Why not? Why not make a fall tradition of being silly together?!

2. Walk down memory lane.

Visit your old campus for an afternoon. Take in a football game if you can! (This would be perfect for us, since I actually met my husband at one of our high school football games!) Go for a drive or a stroll or a hike, and reminisce a bit. (Remember, making – and keeping – memories can help you make the most of your marriage.)

Or pull out those dusty photo albums and recreate the poses and photos from your early days of dating or marriage. (Bonus points if you use a collage of the old and the new pics for your Christmas card!)

Dating in the Fall - 2

3. Try something new.

Cook something new for your dinner in, or check out the farmer’s market or antique shops in the next town over. Go to a play, or watch your favorite band – or maybe one you’ve never heard of! – in concert.

This November, my husband and I are going to a book signing for one of our favorite comedians – something we’ve never done together!

4. Act like a tourist.

When we first moved into our house, I decided to look up every fall festival in the metropolitan area. We never made it to the chili cook-off, but the sidewalk chalk festival was amazing and the Renaissance fair remains one of my favorites today.

Find your city’s visitor center’s website and pick an event or attraction you’ve never seen, and go together!

Dating in the Fall - 3

5. Get prepared and be spontaneous.

Fall can be a hectic season. And sometimes plans don’t work out; kids get sick or someone has to work overtime, and date nights get canceled. So what if we were prepared for those last-minute realizations that we have some free time?

I KNOW. It doesn’t happen often. But when it DOES … grab it! And if you’ve taken time to brainstorm easy dates, grab your “go bag,” too.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about tossing some paper plates and napkins, a bag of chips or trail mix or cookies, some water bottles and a blanket in a basket that you keep in a closet or the trunk of your car. Then when you discover a kid-free afternoon – or even an unscheduled lunch hour, you’re nearly ready for a picnic or a hike.

Next time I find myself with a few extra minutes to talk to my husband (this will happen someday … right?!), I’m going to ask him to brainstorm with me for fun, creative dates. That way, when we find time together that we weren’t expecting, we won’t be restricted to what movies are out and when the next one starts.

Of course, if all else fails, you can always do some early Christmas shopping. Together time and crossing something off your to-do list? Win-win.

How do YOU date your husband in the fall?

{Photos by Sean McGrath, Shaun Anyl and Seth Lemmons}

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One Surefire Way to Improve Your Marriage

Monday, May 12th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Improve Your Marriage - Mom Advice

Later this month I’ll celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary. As a matter of fact, come this October my husband and I will have officially been a couple for 20 years. Obviously that means a) we met at a VERY young age and b) I am a total expert when it comes to relationships.

Well, yes and no.

(Side note: I learned today that crystal is the traditional anniversary gift item of Year 15. And while I don’t anticipate receiving anything made of crystal this year, I also am happy to point out that crystal beats the traditional gift for the seventh wedding anniversaries: wool. Huh. Wool is the gift of choice for the year of the infamous seven-year itch? Surely THAT can’t be a coincidence! But I digress…)

Anyway.

While I’ve made it to my crystal anniversary and am happy to say my marriage is stronger than ever, I would never claim the title of relationship expert. I have much to learn and am thankful for the opportunity to keep doing just that. But even while I’m in the process of learning to be a better wife – to create lasting memories, healthy boundaries and open communication – I know there’s one surefire way to improve my marriage in an instant.

Are you ready? Here goes:

Say thank you.

Now, quit it! Don’t roll your eyes at me! Give me just one minute to explain this seemingly simple piece of advice.

I know – OH I KNOW – there are times when it’s easier to say thank you than others. Some days gratitude just spills out of us – whether it’s to the husband who gets the trash to the curb seconds before the garbage truck rolls around the corner or the one who holds our hand as we await results from that terrifying medical test. Little things to big ones force our thankful hearts to bubble over into our words, our faces, our touch – into everything.

But – and please believe me, I’m talking to myself here, too – isn’t the same true when we are LESS than thankful? When that husband we love so much insists it’s your turn (AGAIN.) to get up with the baby or forgets your anniversary or birthday or big-presentation-at-work day? When he doesn’t ask how your day went or isn’t thrilled to eat tacos (AGAIN.) for dinner? How thankful are we then? What overflows into our eyes and our conversations then?

For the first MANY years of my marriage, I offered my husband conditional love. In fact, I was convinced that he needed to earn my love, my appreciation, my gratitude.

You’re right. This was NOT the recipe for a happy marriage.

Once I realized that gratitude was the answer – and not just some irritating platitude of all the marriage conference speakers and cheesy plaque makers – my marriage began to change.

I’m not saying that expressing gratitude changed my husband. No, it changed me. It changed my heart and my perspective. When I focused on the things – something, anything! – that I appreciated about him, all of a sudden my Spidey Sense went alert for the good parts of the man I married instead of the mistakes and failings I’d been lasered in on before.

This isn’t easy. I mean, yes, sometimes it’s easy to look back on the day and recount all the wonderful ways my husband blessed me. But other days? Not so much. That’s what making this gratitude a habit is so vital.

In an era of “conscious uncoupling” (what the what??), why not make a stand for conscious coupling? Why not choose to be mindful of the things that still draw us to our husbands? Why not be intentional about choosing gratitude and choosing him?

Sure, fine, yes – but what does that even mean? Well, I think it looks different for every couple, but here’s what it looks like in my house:

Use your manners. Say thank you.

I know. I already mentioned this. But I know for me the first people to suffer my bad moods or exhaustion or stress or WHATEVER are my family. The people who I love most and deserve my best often get my leftovers – and when that happens, it certainly doesn’t include using my manners.

He passed you the bread? Say thank you. He helped your daughter with her homework? Say thank you. He brought in the mail? Say thank you. He rented the movie you suggested? Say thank you. For all the little things – the things you would thank a stranger for, perhaps – say thank you.

Keep a gratitude journal.

When we began doing this I really only meant to teach THE OTHER PEOPLE who live in my house to be more thankful. Obviously, I didn’t have a problem with it. Except – and I’m sure you saw this coming – it teaches me something, too. Every time. Taking time to be thankful, expressing gratitude on purpose somehow transforms us into more gracious, more appreciative people. Not just in the three minutes it takes to go around the table and share. No, when you know that you’re going to be asked to tell your family what you’re thankful for each day (or, in the more practical case of my family, each day that you remember to do it…which might be closer to once a week), YOU LOOK FOR THINGS TO BE THANKFUL FOR.

And so it goes with marriage. Before we even celebrate our 15th anniversary, I’ve decided what I’m giving my husband for our 16th. I’m committing to writing down something I’m thankful to him for EVERY DAY (or, again, every day I remember – but I’m really shooting for every single day!). Then after a year and more than 300 thanks recorded, I’ll have an amazing gift to give him (which certainly beats hollow silver items, apparently the traditional gift for everyone’s 16th anniversary – YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!).

End your day with thankfulness.

Whether you climb into bed together or not, why not make your last words of the day to your husband ones of thankfulness? My husband works nights, so I often text him a good night message before I hit the hay. Though he’s never mentioned the days I make sure to thank him for getting up early to play with the kids or grilling chicken for dinner or attacking the weeds around the front porch, I can’t imagine it hurts. (Plus, he’s a man of few words…unless the topic involves sports or cars or work…) And now that I think of it, I need to do this more often.

Our schedule is crazy; yours might be, too. Some days are so busy we barely see each other and my thank you might be for something more big-picture, like Thank you for loving our girls. or Thank you for working so hard at your job.

I realize that not every marriage presents opportunities for gratitude easily. And I definitely know from experience that every marriage goes through challenging seasons where you might have to look REAL hard for something to thank him for. But I sincerely believe – and I have seen it in my own life – that looking for the good (and then appreciating it) can go a long way toward improving your marriage, your outlook, your life.

What’s one thing about your husband that you’re thankful for today?

Photo by John Hope

 

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