Tag Archives: marriage

Letter to my Newlywed Self

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wedding

I’ve seen plenty of inspiring, wisdom-filled essays from people to their younger selves. They are generally uplifting and full of good advice about choices and chances—wisdom gleaned from painful years of wrong turns, shifting perceptions, and painful falls. Sure, their younger selves wouldn’t listen any better than they did, but it feels good to say it out loud, nonetheless, to acknowledge how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown. Looking back over almost 18 years of marriage now, I realized that I also have a lot to say to my younger self–specifically the self I was when I married Paul at the tender age of 22 and embarked, for better or worse, on the crazy adventure that follows the choice to spend the rest of your life with the person you love.

Dear Newlywed Katrina,

The wedding was beautiful, wasn’t it? Aside from you accidentally smashing your groom’s fingers in the car door before making your getaway, the day was sheer poetry. Looking over at your new husband, I know you can’t imagine that anyone before or since has ever had a love as profound and unique as yours. And all those people who talk about marriage being hard work full of fights and frustrations and misunderstandings clearly didn’t manage to marry their perfect soulmate, as you have cleverly done.

You might want to sit down, girl.

It turns out that the finger-smashing incident was a pretty good metaphor for marriage. Even when everything is beautiful and amazing between the two of you, blood and tears inevitably make an appearance here and there. Expect them, and learn from them (For example, you’ve already learned to check for fingers before slamming the car door. Don’t tell Paul, but there are a lot of accidental injuries in his future. Watch where you put your knees and elbows, and remember that your diamond ring can scratch.)

Anyway, here are some things I wish I could tell you before you have to learn them the hard way:

1. Guess what? You’re not your husband’s mother. I know, as the oldest child, that you have spent a lifetime assuming you know the best way to do everything and bossing around the people you love (in their own best interests, of course). But that’s a habit you need to break. Your husband needs a lover and a friend, not a nagging know-it-all correcting the way he loads the dishwasher or making sure he gets his work done. Believe it or not, he even has some things to teach you. Life will start being a lot more fun for both of you when you figure this out.

2. It’s his home, too. Sure, you’ve spent hours poring over magazine articles about decorating on a budget and combing through thrift shops for those beautifully aged shabby chic end tables. You consider your home an extension of yourself, an embodiment of your unique personality, and Paul’s framed Star Wars movie poster, as attractive as it is, just doesn’t jibe with the casual neo-Grecian vibe you’re trying to create. I mean, you’ve already given him a four foot steamer trunk in which to stuff all his unsightly computer cords and gaming paraphernalia; what more does he want? Well, I’ll tell you. He wants to feel like he lives there. He wants to be comfortable and at home in his own place. He wants to be able to see his stuff, and to use it without feeling like it’s a barbaric offense to the civilized world. He wants to meld your life and his into a new life that is better and richer than before; he wants to create a home for the two of you, one that reflects both of you and this new thing that you are together. Besides, deep inside, you are a way bigger geek than you even know right now. You’ll want to hang on to that Star Wars poster.

3. Let some things go. Right now, you think that good communication means airing your every single complaint and irritation with each other immediately and in full. You don’t want to “let things fester”, and that’s good. Festering is bad. But what you don’t know yet is that a lot of those things that bother you now just aren’t very important. They aren’t even big enough to fester. They’re more like little welts on the surface of your skin that will entirely disappear by morning. For example, it’s certainly not worth killing two hours of a precious Saturday night to wage war on his annoying habit of putting empty containers back in the fridge. Just throw them away for him. Seriously. It takes two seconds. Save your energy for the big battles, because there will be a few, and you don’t want to have spent all your emotional capital on empty Miracle Whip jars.

4. Make time for each other. I know, you think you’ll always have these late Saturday mornings to lie in bed gazing into each other’s eyes and talking about everything under the sun. You can’t imagine that a time will come when you don’t call each other at work to coo adoringly into the phone or spend evenings strolling hand in hand along downtown streets, dreaming about your future selves. But life has a way of happening, filling up the hours and days with children and projects and obligations. Before you know it, you can find yourselves falling into bed after a busy day without having said more to each other than “good morning”, “goodnight”, and “don’t forget your dentist appointment at four”. You have to fight this with all of your will! Connections are much easier to maintain than they are to rebuild. Don’t ever let busy schedules and worries make you forget what you have in each other. The back burner is no place for a marriage. Keep the heat on under it, and stir it constantly. Trust me, it will be delicious.

5. Be on the same team. The world is full of adversaries – people who want to tear you down or take what you have, people who only want to win, to dominate, to stand at the top of a heap of fallen opponents and bask in their victories. That’s the opposite of marriage. You and Paul are comrades in arms, shouting encouragement and sharing canteens as you take this hill of life together. You will disagree with each other; one or the other of you will fall down and lose focus; you will encounter obstacles so big they seem to block out the sun. At such times, it’s easy to turn on your teammate, but don’t. Take turns picking each other up. Forget about blame and focus on the next step. Carry each other when the need arises. To quote Malcolm Reynolds (from the show Firefly – you’re going to love it!), “You’re on my crew. Why we still talking about this?”

6. When it comes to sex, say yes as often as you can. Sex is glue for your relationship. Apply liberally. A few months after your honeymoon, when you’ve worked out all the mechanical details, you will fall back into bed one night, turn your eyes to the heavens, and ask blissfully, “Can it possibly get any better than THIS?” And the answer, I am delighted to report, is “YES!” Better and better and unbelievably better! (But now I’m just bragging.) Here’s the thing. You will be tempted to set the tempo of your sex life solely to the beat of your own desire. And, female sexual response being what it is, that desire will not come knocking on your door quite as often as it does on his. But if you say yes, even if you don’t feel like dancing at first, you will usually find yourself getting caught up in the beat. Sometimes you’ll want the seven course meal, and other times, you’ll just be in the mood for a quick burger and fries. (Wow, I’ve got like three sex metaphors going here!) Either kind of meal can be satisfying. The important thing is the nourishment it gives your relationship. It’s amazing how powerful sex is. When you’re stressed out, when he’s had a setback at work, when the argument is over but the tension isn’t — sex says, “I love you. I choose you. We are in this together.” It makes the highs higher and the lows less harrowing. Plus, it’s fun. Do it a lot.

7. Show Paul how much you admire him. You picked him for a reason — lots of reasons. Does he know what they are? When you find yourself appreciating his sense of humor, or his easy way of talking to strangers, or how good he looks in his jeans, open your mouth and tell him! Say nice things about him in front of others, and try not to share stories with your girlfriends that would embarrass him. (I admit that I still struggle with this. See if you can do something about our compulsive oversharing, will you, 22 year-old me?) Be the one in his corner, the one who cheers louder than anyone else, the one who speaks into the self-doubt and discouragement with words that build up and show him who he is in your eyes. He needs that, just like you do.

8. Do new things. Sure, you don’t like football now, and the mention of tabletop gaming makes your eyes glaze over with boredom, but don’t reject his favorite activities out of hand. Give them a chance. Yes, you’ll discover that you truly never, ever want to play Shogun again in your life, but you’ll also be surprised to find out that you quite like fantasy football and computer gaming. And the effort you put into sharing his interests will pay off in a hundred little ways, like the warm smile in his eyes when he has to crown you Queen and Champion of the Fantasy Football League in your very first season..

9. Don’t give up. There will come a time when you think about it, when the wrong turn your marriage has made takes you so far into the weeds that you can’t even see your feet. Don’t give up. You get back to the road the same way you got off of it — one step at a time. In a marriage like yours, made of two people who love and trust God, there is nothing He can’t fix.

10. Finally, I know you hate that ratty plaid flannel jacket that Paul always wears, but do not throw it away and pretend it got lost in the laundry. He will know it was you, and you will still be hearing about it 18 years later. Trust me.

You’re in for a wild ride, Katrina, but the scenery is fantastic. Hang on tight and don’t let go!

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Dynamic Marriage

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Paul and I had been married for a glorious eleven days before we had our first big fight.  It was over something silly, of course, but it didn’t seem like it at the time.  I felt like all our future happiness and self-respect was hanging in the balance, teetering on the outcome of our fireworks.  There was a great deal of shouting, a little theatrical crying, a dramatic exit, and a stony silent treatment that would have made Clara Bow proud.  Thankfully, it didn’t last long.  Within an hour, the clouds had blown over.  Our newlywed hearts went predictably mushy, and we approached each other sheepishly, full of regrets and apologies, ready to work out an adult solution to our impasse.

And from that day to this, we’ve never had another argument.

Okay, okay.  If you’re married, you already know that last line is laughably untrue.  In fact, I could barely type it with a straight face.  While Paul and I have what I would call a blessed marriage, we have driven a long and rugged road, full of potholes and wrong turns and flat out car wrecks.  Marriages, the best marriages, can be almost transcendent with joy, but even the happiest ones (I should say especially the happiest ones) require effort, sacrifice, and thoughtfulness to become the fairy tale.

We all believe in the fairy tale, or we did at one time.  If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have gotten married.  In our hearts, we carry around a beautiful picture of married love: best friends, shared joys, warm affection, great sex, acceptance, supportive encouragement, meaningful conversation.

Unfortunately, many married people have given up on that picture.  Natural conflicts and unmet expectations dull the focus.  Disenchantment sets in.  Some unhappy people leave their spouses, sure that they can create a better picture by starting over with somebody new.  Others, disappointed, simply resign themselves to the idea that “good enough” must be as good as it gets.

I am happy to tell you that it’s not true.  Anybody can have a wonderful marriage.  And if your marriage is already wonderful, believe me:  it can get even better!

This summer, Paul and I traveled to Vancouver to be trained as facilitators for an extraordinary course called Dynamic Marriage.  Dynamic Marriage is an 8-week, interactive course developed by the nationally recognized experts at Family Dynamics Institute .  It meets for a couple of hours once a week and is directed by trained facilitators (like yours truly), who are not just leading the class but are actively participating in it.  It is not just another marriage seminar or lecture.  It’s an experience, one that over the years has changed the trajectories of thousands of marriages across the country.

During our three days of training, we joined a group of other facilitator couples and met in a separate classroom to experience the Dynamic Marriage materials firsthand, as participants.  We had homework to do, both together and by ourselves, just like class participants.  The sessions were structured just like every other Dynamic Marriage session.  What took place was astounding.  Although all the couples in the training already considered themselves to have good marriages, we each found that there were areas of our marriage that needed attention.  Some of the breakthroughs that we witnessed were life-changing.  Paul and I were able to talk to each other about things that had never come up before in our marriage, and as a result, we’ve made changes that have blessed our friendship and our romance.  If this kind of transformation can take place over one weekend, I can’t wait to take part in the 8-week experience.

I came home with a big “Wow!” bubble hanging over my head, frothing over to tell everyone who asked me how great this resource could be for marriages in our community.

Now comes the fun part:  You are invited. We have our first course starting this fall, on September 23rd.  The class is open to any married couple who lives close enough to Coeur d’Alene to attend.  Old or young, Christians or non-Christians, even engaged couples who are soon to be married are welcome.  If your marriage is struggling, you can find healing.  If your marriage is good, it can be great.  If you know of a young couple just starting their married life, encourage them to join; a scholarship to Dynamic Marriage would make a perfect wedding gift!  Unfortunately, there is only space for 12 couples in each session, so registrations will be first come, first served.  But if you don’t make it into this fall’s class, don’t worry; we have another session coming up in February, led by our friends and fellow facilitators, Mike and Cindy Woods.  The registration fee of $150 per couple covers all the class materials and is easily the best investment you’ll ever make in your future marital happiness.

Click here for more information, and please contact us or leave a message in the comments if you have any questions.  We are so excited to be able to offer this resource to our community; we can’t wait for class to begin!

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Dynamic Marriage Q&A

*Note: This video is older, so the price of materials has gone up $10 from the price mentioned in the video.

Dilemma

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Over the breakfast table this morning, the classic first grade joke,

“Hey, Mom, if you love pepperjack cheese so much, why don’t you marry it?”,

gave way to a slightly more serious discussion of marriage, in which it was established that you only get married once, for life, and that you can’t be married to more than one person at the same time.  (Sorry, pepperjack cheese–our love just wasn’t meant to be.)

Caleb’s brow furrowed.  “Mom, I think I have a problem.”

“What problem?” I asked.

“Well, I have two girls I want to marry, and I can’t decide which one to ask.”

“Oh, really?  Who are they?”

“Kayla…and Morgan.” 

I knew sweet Kayla from teaching Caleb’s kindergarten class last year.  “Who’s Morgan?” I asked.

“You know, Mom–she’s the girl in kindergarten whose hair is the exact same color as vanilla ice cream!”

What woman, I ask you, is going to be able to resist such a poetic soul?

Safe Sex

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This dire statistic led the news this week: according to a recent study, 1 in 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. About twice that many are sexually active. Educators are aghast, while parents are shocked and dismayed, and why shouldn’t they be? After all, this is the enlightened age of comprehensive sex education, where condoms are passed out during health class and the safe sex mantra is splashed across prime time television in funny commercials and serious public service announcements alike. Students in public schools are presented with all the facts about intercourse, conception, and STD prevention at a very young age, armed with the knowledge which proponents of such education swear will keep young people safe from the traumas of sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy.

Except it isn’t working.

May I respectfully suggest that something is broken in the way we talk to kids about sex?

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe in comprehensive sex education. I just don’t think ours is comprehensive enough.

Information about STD prevention and contraception are important, but too often our treatment of human sexuality in relation to teens stops there, light years away from finishing the picture and telling them other things they need to know about having sex–like how it can impact their emotions, their relationships, and their futures. For example, studies show that teenagers who are sexually active are almost three times as likely as their non-active peers to suffer from depression and to attempt suicide. There are correlations between teen sexual activity and a broad range of negative experiences, including increased drug use, higher dropout rates, and less successful marriages later on. In contrast, teenagers who abstain from sexual activity are 50 percent less likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to graduate from college. They are less likely to engage in other risky behaviors and tend to form healthier, more emotionally mature relationships in adulthood. Even among teens themselves, there is a growing realization that early sexual activity is a mistake. Over half of teenage boys and nearly three-fourths of teenage girls who have engaged in sexual activity report that they wish they had waited. Sex is a whole lot more than a simple biological process; it’s also a complex mental, emotional, and spiritual act, and to ignore its far-reaching effects would be irresponsible.

There’s a pretty hot debate raging between proponents of current “safe sex” education and the “abstinence only” group, which believes that teaching kids about contraception and disease prevention is tantamount to sending them out in pairs with hotel keys in their hands. While I truly believe in teaching the whole truth of sexuality, I am concerned with the underlying anti-abstinence tone of those who tout “comprehensive” sex ed. From schools, from entertainment media, from politicians, the message a teen often hears is: “We know you’re going to have sex no matter what we say. With all those hormones swirling around, you just can’t help it. And frankly, if you don’t do it, we’ll think you’re a little weird.” It’s as if abstinence has been taken off the table as a realistic choice in today’s world. We need to challenge that assumption.

As a Christian, I’m teaching my children, as I was taught, that sex is wonderful, exciting, fun, and intended to be fully expressed only within the boundaries of a loving marriage. I knew, when I was growing up, that I was expected to wait, and though I sometimes struggled to honor that expectation, I did wait. Believe me, I experienced the same desires, the same passions, the same hormonal surges that teens everywhere experience, but I knew that I wasn’t a puppet of those forces.  I always believed, because it was what I’d been taught, that I was capable of controlling myself. I made choices, I drew hard lines in my relationships with the opposite sex, and I didn’t step outside of those lines, though the temptation was definitely there. At age 22, I came to the marriage bed a virgin, and twelve years of great sex later, I don’t have a single thing to regret in the experiences I passed up as a teenager. I truly hope that my daughter and my son will be able to say the same.

I realize I’m in the minority. And maybe you don’t agree with me that sex is meant for marriage, but can we at least agree to stop setting teens up for the fall with our message of helplessness and victimhood? Let’s empower them to make their own decisions about sex–first, by acknowledging that the impact of human sexuality reaches far beyond the physical to touch the very emotional center of a person; like a pebble dropped into a pond, it ripples out to effect every other part of a person’s life. And second, we can empower teens by showing our confidence in their ability to choose abstinence and self-control, even in the face of physical and societal pressures. Sure, they should know all the facts about protecting their bodies from pregnancy and disease, but they should also know that in the end, having sex is a choice, and not a biological inevitability.

Wedding Drums

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Well, Amber is a married woman now.

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I know she’s 29 years old, but she’s still my baby sister, and seeing her in a wedding dress was every bit as surreal as the first time I witnessed my brother (the one who used to give me Indian rug burns and wrestle with me for control of the TV remote) changing diapers and answering to the name of “Daddy.” Still, the look on her face was beyond description. I suppose I could say that she was glowing, but it doesn’t seem to do her justice. When that kind of happiness, so deep and transforming, shines out from someone’s eyes, it’s almost too beautiful to look at. Seeing it radiating from my beloved sister warmed me straight through.

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The wedding was lovely. It was a perfect reflection of the two hearts being joined together that day. Daniel’s twin brother and best man, Samuel, sang a song in Shona, and Amber walked down the aisle to the sound of African drumbeats. Then she and Daniel faced each other before a crowd of smiling witnesses and promised to love each other always, to build their lives on God’s truth, and to be home to one another forever. After their first kiss (which was heralded by Daniel’s sincere “Woohooo!” of glee and the onlookers’ appreciative chuckles), the newly married couple a-wimoweh-ed back down the aisle together to the strains of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens, grinning from ear to ear.

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DA Wedding 5

Thanks to the round-the-clock food preparation and decorating efforts of some very dedicated extended family, the reception was a vision of candlelight and white tablecloths, filled with the aromas of delicious Italian meatballs and skewered chicken. Our Aunt Linette made the wedding cake, a delectable Italian Cream cake festooned with red roses. Samuel made a sweet toast to the happy couple, and the bride and groom entertained the guests with their own harmonic performance, singing an array of songs, accompanied by their musical friends, Butch and Linda. A few brave souls even jumped up to strut their stuff on the dance floor; mostly the kids, who found it an excellent way to burn off their sugar high from the cream cheese frosting.

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Finally, the cake was eaten, the bouquet was flung, and Daniel and Amber were ready to exchange the noisy wedding festivities for the quiet refuge of their reserved room at a nearby bed-and-breakfast. Instead of birdseed to hurl at the bride and groom (possibly causing grievous injury or inviting freak bird swarm attacks) the guests received glowsticks to wave around and light the path through the dark parking lot to Amber’s well-decorated car. With one last run through the cheering crowd, the freshly joined pair jumped into their escape vehicle and drove away to begin their new life.

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Just like that, the wedding was over.

The cleanup, however, was just beginning.

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DA Wedding

Congratulations, Daniel and Amber. May God bless you with true friendship, self-sacrificing love, and more mountains than valleys. I wish you both very happy!

(Final photo courtesy of Mike McElhatton)

Smallville Saturation

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This morning I was showering when Paul stumbled, bleary-eyed, into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

Him:  *yawn*  Morning, babe.  *scratch*

Me:  Good morning yourself!  (peering out from behind the shower curtain)  Did you know your hair is sticking up funny in the back?

Him (sarcastic):  Yeah.  It helps me fly.

Me:   Very funny.

(Pause.)

Me:  If you’ve been able to fly all this time and you haven’t taken me for a ride, you’re in big trouble, mister.

Him:  This I know.

Friendship in Marriage

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Paul and I play Scrabble. It’s our dorky obsession. We even have a travel Scrabble board which rides around in our trunk just in case we’re stranded somewhere and are struck with a sudden, irrepressible need for a triple word score. We pull it out sometimes at restaurants and play through a whole game while sipping bottomless cokes and eating steak fries. It’s an acknowledged truth between us that, though I have the larger vocabulary, Paul is the master of Scrabble mathematics (a skill that somehow allows him to lay down only two tiles and still score a whopping 39 points.) This makes for close games, and we’re pretty evenly matched in the wins and losses department.

You know what they say: the couple that plays together stays together. Even if the play sometimes involves beating each other about the head and shoulders with a pocket dictionary. (“I told you ‘pukka’ was a word! You dare to challenge me?”)

This month’s Marriage Support Groups discussion topic is Maintaining Friendship in Marriage. Studies show that one of the biggest predictors of marital success is having a strong friendship at the foundation of your relationship with your spouse. Fun, teamwork, trust, communication, loyalty, laughter–the building blocks of a good friendship are also essential to a fulfilling marriage.

Here are this month’s discussion questions:

Ice Breaker: Many wedding invitations feature the popular phrase: “Today I marry my best friend.” What one characteristic of a good friend have you come to appreciate most about your spouse since your wedding day?

1. According to Dr. John Gottman*, the common denominator among most long-lasting, happy marriages is a firm foundation in friendship. He describes this as “an abiding regard” for each other that expresses itself in big and little ways every day. Share some of the ‘little things’ that you and your spouse do to nurture your friendship.

2. Most successful marriage friendships are characterized by something called positive sentiment override. This means that despite the usual irritations and disagreements two married people experience, their positive feelings about each other and their marriage are so pervasive that they tend to supersede the negative feelings. The natural state for a marriage in this condition is optimism. What can we do to help create this ‘positive sentiment override’ in our own marriages?

3. Research has revealed that there is one behavior that nearly all emotionally healthy marriages have in common. That behavior is called the repair attempt (though the couples who use it may not even realize it.) In an argument, a repair attempt is any statement or action-silly or serious-that prevents negativity from escalating out of control. A funny phrase, a sincere look, or a familiar hand squeeze-whatever it is, in healthy friendships it disarms the combatants and brings the tension back down to a manageable level. Share a common repair attempt you and your spouse use.

4. Emotionally connected couples tend to be very familiar with each other’s worlds–what their days are like, how they feel about things, their dreams and worries, their favorite dessert. How well do you feel you know the little details of your spouse’s life? What can we do to improve this intimate knowledge of each other?

5. Another key to a strong marital friendship is to create shared meaning, an inner life together that emphasizes the feeling of being part of a special and unique bond. We do this in a number of ways: traditions, inside jokes, personal rituals, shared goals and dreams. Give an example from your own marriage. How do you cultivate that sense of “us-ness” with your spouse?

6. Share one thing you could do to be a better friend to your spouse.

Assignment: Plan a date night this week for the two of you. Nurture that friendship with the gift of time!

*The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver

Thank You for My Husband

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Amber and Daniel are deep in the throes of wedding planning. They’re making reservations, designing table centerpieces, and trying to figure out the best way to mix Shona wedding traditions with those of the American south. Daniel is happily spreading the news to friends across the world and the glow around Amber has, if anything, intensified. It’s wonderful to see.

And who can witness the anticipation and joy of the soon-to-be-married without thinking back over their own wedding memories? I can close my eyes and remember the fun and frenzy of our days as Paul and I prepared to tie the knot, almost twelve years ago. We were engaged for six months, but sometimes it felt like forever. There was stress, a lot of it. Money worries, dueling schedules, and classes and tests that fell by the wayside in our dash to the altar all jockeyed for our attention. But beneath all that, I felt a constant rippling undercurrent of delight, a thrum of joy at the thought that, soon, I would be sharing a home, a path, a life with my best friend. I couldn’t believe I was actually getting the Happily Ever After.

Of course, Happily Ever After is more a descriptor of a general trend than a moment-by-moment guarantee. Anyone who has been married for a while knows that even the most durable “Happy” can occasionally give way to “Irritated”, “Misunderstood”, and “Violently In Need of Chocolate and a Back Rub”. You learn to roll with the punches (and keep the chocolate close at hand.)

Today, I give thanks for my husband, Paul. I really hit the jackpot the day he cut college classes with me so we could sit in the branches of a magnolia tree talking about school, and family, and the hazy, crazy, far off future. It was the first of many talks, back when I had an opinion about everything, and the world looked like a big, wide open oyster with a shiny pearl in the middle. He was funny, and kind, and we were friends before we were anything. I remember the first time he held my hand, reaching out to take it suddenly as I was about to slip it into my pocket. My small hand was instantly at home in his big one, and when we hugged, my ear lay close against his chest, just over his heart, and it felt like I had always been there in the circle of his arms.

Twelve years. I blinked, and twelve years whooshed by. And what years! Changing jobs, crossing states, adding tiny indispensable people to our family. Crying. Celebrating. Aching, hoping, growing, fighting, stumbling, learning. Choosing each other again, on purpose, every day.

Here are just a few of the reasons Paul is the greatest:

He instinctively knows when I need chocolate and a back rub, and delivers.

He listens, I mean really listens.

He understands the value of retail therapy.

He encourages my passions.

He holds my hair back when I throw up.

He makes sure I get time to myself.

He gives me remedial computer lessons.

He appreciates my strengths and accepts my failings.

He helps me make the beds in the morning, even though that’s my hangup and not his.

He knows what I’m going to say before I do.

He’s a loving, involved father.

He doesn’t expect me to cook, and is wildly appreciative when I do.

He loves God.

He still makes me laugh.

And have you seen the unibrow?

Truly I am blessed among women.

Can You Hear Me Now?

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I’m happy to report that our small group marriage ministry started this month and seems to be off and running. Paul and I really enjoyed our group’s first meeting; it is enlightening and a bit humbling to be able to hear others–whether they’re just starting out or have half a lifetime’s worth of marital experience under their belts–share from their own deep wells of dearly bought wisdom. It’s a relief to lay our struggles out in front of each other and recognize their common threads. We’ve all been there.

Anyway, I had an idea. Though our meetings are, of course, confidential, I thought it might be fun to post a copy of our discussion guide questions every month. I always love reading your thoughtful comments, and I know a lot of you have much to share when it comes to relationships. So let’s try it. If you’d like to answer any of the questions, or just posit your own theories on the topic, cut loose! I’m sure there’s someone out there who will benefit from your thoughts (me, for one!)

September’s topic is Communication.

1. Take a few moments to think about your goals for your marriage in the area of communication. How would you like your communication with your spouse to change or improve? (For example: “I’d like to be more clear in expressing appreciation to my spouse”, or “I want us to be able to talk about difficult topics without arguing”, or “I wish we could spend more time just enjoying each other and talking about something besides the kids.”)

2. What do you find are the most common roadblocks to clear communication with your spouse?

3. There are three basic levels of communication. At level one, we share facts and information. At level two, we share our beliefs and opinions. At level three, we let our guard down and share our emotions, our weaknesses, and our dreams. Drawing on your own experiences, what does it take for a couple to get to level three communication on a regular basis?

4. In our hurry-up culture, we’re often racing around from sunrise to sundown to accomplish our day’s to-do list. Much of a married couple’s communication revolves around brief scraps of essential information: when the plumber is coming, what bills are due, how Johnny did on his report card. How can we build time for unrushed communication with our spouse into our daily lives?

5. According to marriage counselors Les and Leslie Parrott, one essential rule for good marital communication is “Seek to understand before being understood.” Sometimes it’s difficult, in the middle of an emotionally charged conversation, to look at the issue from your spouse’s point of view, and yet good listening skills are perhaps even more essential to effective communication that talking. What are some ways we can make sure our spouse feels understood when we’re communicating?

6. One of the biggest communication mistakes we make is to read an imagined meaning into our spouse’s words. (For example, he says: Why don’t you treat yourself to some new clothes? She hears: I hate the way you dress, it’s so frumpy. He was actually thinking: I appreciate her and I’d love to give her something nice.) How can we avoid falling into this trap?

7. What’s one concrete change that you, yourself, can make today in the way you communicate with your spouse that will have a positive effect on your relationship?