Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

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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Cheering for the Same {Marriage} Team

Monday, March 10th, 2014

From our marriage/parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Mary Carver, from Giving Up on Perfect, is truly the perfect voice for our marriage & family section of our site. I never had the right words to say on these topics, but what I love about Mary is that she has the *real* words to say on family & marriage. It isn’t easy and we all know that. I know you will want to share her posts with others as soon as you read them. I am thrilled she is sharing her heart here!
Cheering for the Same Marriage Team - MomAdvice.com

I have a newborn who doesn’t believe in sleeping through the night yet – or sleeping more at night than during the day, actually. And while I’ve heard of moms who can feed their babies while vacuuming or fixing lunch or knitting, I’m not nearly that coordinated.

All I can manage during those late-night feedings is to hold my phone and scroll through Facebook. Which means, of course, that I’ve taken every “What [Disney princess/Friends character/Muppet/arbitrary object {WHAT?!}] Are You?” quiz that exists.

{In case you’re wondering – and of course you are – I’m Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey, Leslie Knope from Parks & Recreation, Jessie from Saved by the Bell, Jerry from Seinfeld, Leonard from Big Bang Theory, Princess Leia, Hermione and Rumpelstilstkin. Don’t even ask me what that last one means. I don’t want to talk about it.}

Most recently I took the quiz asking which celebrity couple my significant other and I are. According to this highly scientific test, my husband and I “are” Barack and Michelle Obama, the powerhouse couple.

Ummm, okay?

Politics and pretend psychology aside, the definition of our spirit celeb couple had one good point:

Despite being two individual powerhouses, you make a perfect team.

I still don’t know about the powerhouse thing, but I do know that we’re at our very best as a couple when we function as a team.

Two years ago my marriage faced some major challenges. When crying and yelling about everything didn’t work, we spent our 13th wedding anniversary with a marriage counselor. I won’t tell you that we have a perfect relationship now, but we’ll celebrate our 15th anniversary in a few months in a much better, healthier, more loving place than we could have imagined two years ago.

And what changed us most was a lousy counselor and cheering for the same team.

Cheering for the Same Marriage Team - MomAdvice.com

At first our counselor seemed nice. But eventually we came to the conclusion that, as a counselor, she was actually kind of terrible. She asked bizarre questions, focused on the least important part of our discussions, and assigned us ridiculous homework. And each time we met with her, we had to remind her about our background, our problems and our progress.

So the counselor we saw wasn’t great. Coming to that conclusion with my husband, though? Kind of great.

See, throughout our relationship what has glued us together is the mindset that we’re in this thing together, that we’re on the same team. And we’d forgotten that.

Being on the same team means we fight together, not each other.

After years of unmet expectations and disappointments, we’d unknowingly worked ourselves into a combative relationship. It was me against him, and neither of us was winning.

But when we took time to reflect on our relationship – the good parts, too, not just the bad ones – we remembered that the times we’ve felt the closest are when we worked together on a project, when we faced a common “enemy,” when we cheered for the same team.

And nothing changed our attitudes about each other and our relationship faster than realizing THE TEAM WE NEEDED TO CHEER FOR WAS US.

At first simply attending counseling appointments and doing our homework together was enough to nudge us into the mindset of us-versus-the-world (and our problems), instead of me-versus-him.

Then, as we realized that neither of us liked our specific counselor (but we were determined to stick it out and glean what we could from our sessions), we remembered we were on the same team, facing down a weird therapist and a whole host of marital mountains we needed to climb together.

We started talking more, problem solving and coming up with ways we could fix this mess together. TOGETHER – that was the key word. The moment we abandoned our posts in the war between us and starting fighting FOR us instead, life changed. WE changed.

I’m not telling you that everything was roses and sunset walks after that. No, it was certainly a process – one that we’re still working through – and a strategy that even now, we have to remind ourselves to use instead of falling back into old habits and turning on each other at the slightest provocation.

We have to remind ourselves which team we’re cheering for.

I’m thankful for that counselor, even though she was far from what we initially hoped for. I’m grateful our sessions with her reminded us that we are in this together – and that we are fighting for this, for us, together.

What helps you remember that you and your spouse are on the same team?

{Photos by istockphoto and chase_elliott}

 

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