Monday, October 24, 2016

This Journey Called Marriage - Day 6

This Journey Called Marriage - Day 6

5 Steps To Take Toward Two Becoming One 

Yesterday I shared a story about how my husband and I had assumptions and expectations based on our family of origins that led us to approach vacationing in two different ways. This created a divide in our relationship. So we had to figure out a way for our family to vacation.

Your Turn! Choose an area where you feel you and your spouse have yet to become one and determine how you can work toward unity. 
Here’s how:
1. Determine an area in your relationship - such as holiday celebrations or handling money -  where you feel divided, but would like to feel united.
2. Set aside a time, with a time limit of about 1 ½ hours, to talk about the agreed upon topic. (This is a good opportunity to use the Dialoguing Tool.)
3. Talk about what each of your experiences has been:
  • ·       For example, let’s say you have very different spending habits and you’ve identified that this is an area where each of you have been impacted by the way your family of origin dealt with finances. You've discovered distinct differences in your approach as a result.
  • ·       What did you see/experience in your family regarding finances? Each of you should take a few minutes uninterrupted to talk about your experience.
  • ·       How are these approaches different? How are they the same? Discuss.
  • ·       What is most important to you regarding your finances? Is there a habit or tradition you’d like to keep that has been passed down by your family (a detailed budget, for example).

4. Talk about how you can “marry” both of your approaches.
  • ·       Where can you compromise?
  • ·       What needs to change?
  • ·       What would you like to keep from your family of origin and what would you like to change?
  • ·       Are there any non-negotiables? Can you agree to them?
  • ·       Now discuss how you can go forward as a couple, working on your finances in a way that is agreeable to both of you.

5. Still need more time to discuss? Set up another intentional time to talk more about your finances and be accountable to that meeting time.

There are lots of other similar opportunities to become one. In the case of my husband Chris and I there were definitely times when we wondered what we were doing together because our preferences were so very different. A few areas that Chris and I have worked through in our marriage include choosing how we as a family celebrate holidays, figuring out social balance, developing time and house/clutter management habits, and more. 

Sometimes, the working out of our differences is stressful, but in the end it’s always been worth it!<=Click to Tweet

Sunday, October 23, 2016

This Journey Called Marriage - Day 5

This Journey Called Marriage – Day 5

The Way We Do the Things We Do

So how do two separate people become one? <=Click to Tweet

Well of course there is the obvious that happens through intimacy in the one flesh relationship. And there is also the reality of developing a new family. And that means embracing traditions, celebrations, habits, communication styles we agree on.

We can get into a whole lot of trouble when we assume that the way we WILL live out our lives in this new family is going to be the same way we did through our families of origin. 

We may not even realize that we are expecting life to be much the same as life in our “old” family. Yet, we may find ourselves arguing with our spouse about some things over and over again. Whether we’re newly married or we’ve been married for several years, these assumptions and expectations can wreak havoc until we identify them. Then, once identified, we can either take steps to blend our family of origin’s way of doing life or choose entirely new ways to move ahead on this journey called marriage.

Here is one example of how Chris and I, (two separate individuals with different family histories and traditions,) worked on becoming united as one.

Many of us come to our marriage with established ways of vacationing – renting a home in the same place and at the same time every year, cruising, international travel, a family reunion every year, or no vacation at all because the idea is frivolous or too costly.

I had gone to Cape Cod with my family of origin pretty much every year all my life when I met Chris. In fact, Labor Day weekend on the Cape is a pretty sacred tradition among my sisters and another family we’ve all known since we were five and under. So I assumed we would continue this tradition forever…duh! Well, Chris wanted options. He didn’t value this trip the way I did…and these friends weren’t really his friends at the time (though they have since become very good friends!). To me, however, these Cape Cod friends were and are extended family.

After a few years of heading up to the Cape together, Chris began to resent this trip and feel a little trapped. When he suggested we change things up, I was resistant. I tend to be nostalgic and I had so many happy family memories of this magical place. It was a place where growing up, despite an often-tumultuous family atmosphere, we experienced an unusual level of harmony.

Through a few sometimes stressful conversations, Chris and I came up with a plan to forge our own vacation path. We decided to go to Cape Cod for a week before my family of origin came together for the final weekend of the summer. This way, Chris could get to know Cape Cod with our family and possibly grow to love it too. We had a wonderful week together and by the time the whole gang convened, we were ready for the rest of my family to join us.

The next summer, I was even ready to try a new location for our family vacation. Together Chris and I decided to try Maine. With Acadia National Park’s kid-friendly off-road bike trails and hikeable mountains, it sounded like a beautiful, family-friendly destination. So off we went. And wouldn’t you know it, Southwest Harbor, Maine, became our new family vacation spot for many years to come. We would go there the last week in August and head for the Cape for Labor Day Weekend on our way home. This trip became a very happy vacation arrangement for us all.

One summer, Chris decided he wasn’t coming to the Cape for Labor Day weekend at all. He wanted a true break from the tradition. He headed off instead to Colorado to be with his best friend. I wasn’t thrilled, but I knew he was again feeling like he was obligated to come to Cape Cod every single summer. He needed to feel like he had more of a choice. So this one Labor Day, I went one way with the kids in tow and Chris went the other to Colorado. As a result of this trip, Chris realized that actually he wasn’t trapped at all, that he could decide not to go to Cape Cod anytime. Rather than feel forced, this freedom enabled him to choose Cape Cod, which he did pretty much every summer after that.

Next we'll talk about steps to a productive conversation on how two people can become one in marriage despite differences. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Journey Called Marriage - Tales, Tips, and Tools - Day 4

Ever hear of “The Wedding Song”? Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary wrote and first sang this song at bandmate Peter Yarrow’s wedding back in 1969. My sisters and I sang this song at weddings for many years, including our own.

One of the lines that stays with me is “A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home, they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.” This is based on the Scripture, That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh, in Genesis 2:24.

I’ve learned through my own marriage that separating from our families of origin and creating a new family is a critical component of a solid marriage.<=Click to Tweet

After all, marriage is between one man and one woman, not between one man, his mother, and a woman. And not between one woman, her best friend sister, and a man.

On Day 2 of This Journey Called Marriage, I talked about my husband wanting to straighten a few things out on our marriage prep weekend. One of the things Chris was concerned about was my very tight relationships with my family, in particular my sisters, and my oldest sister especially. I was crushed by Chris’ view of these sacred relationships. How could he want me to change these relationships? But it wasn’t that he didn’t love my sisters. Or that he wanted to hinder my relationships with them. It was just a little too much.

The problem really was me (well not, entirely, the fact that my sister was the first of the entire next generation and was adored by my relatives, treated like a goddess, particularly by my childless aunt who literally wanted to adopt her, may have had something to do with my feelings of self-worth!). I am a second child. And I have had to overcome a lot of the traits that go along with that role – comparison, envy, lack of self-esteem, never quite feeling good enough, easily offended, and often feeling left out.

As a result of my feelings of inadequacy, I looked to my sister as THE standard. I too felt the sun rose and set upon her. She could do no wrong. Everything my sister did and had was better – her job, her plans, her social life, her house, her marriage.<=Click to Tweet

I was not really aware of my viewpoint. But Chris could see it, very clearly. There were a few incidents that really pointed to my position in the family vs. my sister’s. And my husband was having none of it.

I remember one evening my father and his wife were having a dinner party with many of his work associates. Candles flickered throughout their beautiful home, the warmth of chatter and laughter filled the air. Just lovely. My sister was married and pregnant with their first child. It was an exciting time. However, my father went a little too far in his enthusiasm when he literally proudly paraded my sister and her hubby around the party and asked my then-fiance and I to please take peoples coats. While I kind of noticed this, it didn’t really affect me until Chris expressed his shock. “Wait…what?? We’re taking coats while he introduces your sister and her husband?” Oh he was so offended. I had a glimpse of what Chris saw.

Because my sister was older by only a couple of years, we shared many good times together and plenty of mutual friendships. We really were best friends. She had the upper hand and I was okay with that. So when she had an idea of a fun activity or event, I was all in. When, for example, she rented a home on a lake in New Hampshire, I wanted to do the same.

Chris wanted us to establish our own traditions and develop our family culture. I wasn’t outright opposed. It was just very natural to me to do what big sis was doing. And frankly I resisted my husband’s desires. What was the big deal? My sister had awesome plans and fun ideas, why couldn’t we just go along?

It took a while and it was painful for me to let go of wanting all of us, my family and my sister’s family, to be one big happy family. Chris, however, felt strongly about developing our family. It definitely caused some friction between us. Letting go is not my strong suit; I hold on pretty tight to the way things are. Eventually, however, I came to a place of understanding and Chris and I began to forge our own path.

I had to go on my own journey of self-acceptance of who I was. That helped Chris and I to determine what was most important to us within the context of our new family. I had to separate to some degree from my sister. And Chris and I had to determine our own set of values, carve out our own boundaries, make the relationship between us the primary one. We had to figure out who we were as a couple and a family apart from anyone else.

In time and with intention, Chris and I did work this out. It was part of our marriage journey of becoming “us.” And, thankfully, while my husband and our family comes first, my sister remains my best friend.

How about you? Is your marriage between you and your spouse? Is there a friend or family member(s) who may have a little too much influence on you and your marriage?

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Monday, October 10, 2016

This Journey Called Marriage - Day 3

Marriage Tool
The Gift of Dialoguing

One of the things I’ve learned in our almost 32 years of marriage is the importance of clear and ongoing communication.<= Click to Tweet

So much can derail the best of intentions – the demands of work, raising children, Bible study, volunteer commitments, writing (or trying to), the house, the meals. We all get it, right? Life is busy!

Chris and I learned one of the most effective tools for communicating during one of our church’s options for marriage preparation, a weekend called Engaged Encounter. That weekend investment reaped a harvest for us. We learned the concept of Love is a Decision, which was new to me and a little hard to believe in light of how star struck I was with my husband at the time. It wasn’t completely blind love, but it was close. Would I ever really have to “decide” to love this man who I felt totally in love with? We’ll talk more about that later…

The tool we learned that weekend (and relearned during a Marriage Encounter Weekend) that we still use to this day is called dialoguing. It’s a bit of a misnomer, as the definition of the verb dialogue that we’re all familiar with is: to take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem. Conversation is part of this method of communicating, but the first part of dialoguing is actually in the form of a written letter to one another. This allows you to stop and think carefully through your answer on paper before you speak. It allows for more a response than a reaction.

Dialoguing can be used for:
  • Resolving a problem when you’re at an impasse and just can’t seem to resolve through conversation.
  • Connecting when you and your spouse’s lives have gotten so busy, you feel like ships passing in the night.
  • Deepening mutual understanding on an issue where there is a misunderstanding.

  • Rather than describe this any further, here are the steps to dialoguing:

1.     Set a specific date and time you will set aside to dialogue for about 45 minutes. You will need about 10-15 minutes for writing. And then 30 minutes to actually exchange what you’ve written and talk about it.
2.     Determine a question you would like to use to dialogue on. Some examples to consider*:
a.     We seem disconnected. How can we be more intentional about communicating regularly and How Does This Make You Feel?
b.     We don’t seem to agree on the best way to deal with our teenage daughter’s rebelliousness. How would I like to deal with this…and How Does This Situation Make Me Feel?
c.     What am I struggling with right now and what is something I am having success with right now? How Does This Make Me Feel?
3.     Grab a journal or notebook you will keep specifically for dialoguing.
4.     Share the question with one another. Then set a timer for 10 minutes and write an answer to the mutually agreed upon question. Sometimes it helps to be in separate rooms.
5.     Reconvene when the timer goes off. Exchange notebooks/journals and take 10 minutes to read your partner’s letter. Then read your partner’s letter out loud. This enhances understanding.
6.     Once you’ve both read your letters, take an additional 20 minutes to talk about what you’ve read. Use this time to further understand one another. Ask questions for clarification. Try to listen carefully.

Dialoguing Tips:
1.     Use “I” statements, especially regarding your feelings, rather than “you” statements. <= Click to Tweet This helps guard against defensiveness, offensiveness, accusations, finger-pointing. For example, “I feel hurt by your comment regarding the time I spend on writing” versus “You make me feel guilty about the time I spend on my writing.” Or “I feel overlooked when you leave the house without saying goodbye” versus “You never say goodbye when you leave the house.”
2.     Discuss feelings. It’s important to write out your answer and equally if not more important to understand one another’s feelings. That’s why you want to include a “feeling” question as part of your overall dialogue question, such as “How does this make me feel?” or “How does my answer make me feel?”
3.     Use a letter format that includes:
a.     A loving salutation – Dear (Name), Dear Beloved – This gets you off to a welcoming opening no matter what your feelings might be.
b.     Affirmation – Again, no matter how you’re feeling, find something affirming to say about your spouse. For example, “Today I really appreciated it when you got the kids breakfast and let me sleep a few extra minutes.” Or “You are a very kind person and I saw this in the way you greeted our neighbor yesterday.”
c.     A few sentences in response the dialogue question.
d.     A reflection on how your answer makes you feel.
e.     A loving sign off, such as, “I am your devoted wife forever” or “You are my true beloved,” and there have been times when I have even signed off with something like, “Though I am feeling angry, I am still your loving wife.”
4.     Materials Needed
a.     A calendar to set up a time to dialogue
b.     A journal or notebook and pen/pencil to dedicate to dialoguing.
c.     A timer – It is important to stick to the time suggested. If you allow this time to go beyond the limits you’ve set, the time may become overwhelming and prohibitive.

* Note: You can tweak dialoguing to make it your own. My husband and I are grateful to Engaged Encounter and Worldwide Marriage Encounter, where we learned to use this tool. More information can be found at and

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Friday, October 7, 2016

This Journey Called Marriage - Tales, Tips, and Tools - Day 2

This Journey Called Marriage – Tales, Tips, and Tools

I had high hopes for our Marriage Prep weekend. We were joining about 15 other couples for a few days that would be like a private little bubble, removed from the hubbub and stress of planning a wedding and solely devoted to getting to know one another better. I imagined us holding hands, gazing into one another’s eyes, falling deeper and deeper in love, as we shared our hopes and dreams of our life together. So romantic!!

As we began our weekend, we met two couples and a priest who shared many stories of their lives all weekend. They shared their experiences to launch discussions between my husband-to-be and me and all the other future husbands and wives, which is done by way of writing letters to one another. Throughout this weekend, we would discuss just about everything – finances, sex, job and career expectations, children, family, goals, faith.

Our first session came with a warning, “There are people who find as they go through this weekend that they may not be ready yet for marriage. If that turns out to be you, talk to us. But realize that this is part of the purpose of this weekend…to make sure you get to know each other better and to pay attention to any red flags that may indicate you are just not quite ready to commit to marriage.” <=Click to Tweet

I may have thought to myself, “Oh how awful…Thank God I know that won’t be Chris and me!”

The first presentation was a young couple who shared their story of how they had grown apart as a result of having their first child. They were so focused on that little miracle of life that when they finally had their parents babysit and were able to go out for a bite to eat just the two of them, they sat across the table with very little to say to one another. They had lost their connection.
Again, I thought to myself, “What a shame. I’m sure that will never happened to us.”

The weekend was designed to teach us how to communicate more clearly, foster honesty, and dig deeper into our relationship. <=Click to Tweet

We were taught specifically how to dialogue. This is a fairly simple but powerful technique for sharing with one another. You basically pose a question, take about a half hour to write your answers separately, then come together and exchange your written answers. After reading one another’s answers, you discuss and ask questions about what you’ve read.

Oh I was so ready…So excited to share my heart. I loved this kind of reflection; an opportunity to know one another better and grow in love!!

The first question of the weekend was “Why are you here?” Easy enough.
We went off with our Engaged Encounter notebooks and I eagerly started writing.

“Oh my dear Chris,
I am here this weekend to grow in the beautiful love that’s already grown so deep. I just want to know you better. I love taking this next step toward our wedding day. I am so excited to be here. So thrilled to be heading toward life together forever…”

And on and on. I was so in love!!

Each couple was reunited in separate rooms to share in complete privacy what we had written in our journals. I was eager to read Chris’ letter which of course would mirror mine.

Whoa…our letters couldn’t have been more different. As I started reading Chris’ response, I quickly understood the reason Chris had come to our Engaged Encounter weekend was to straighten out some issues. For example, he was concerned about the impact my family might have on our marriage. Maybe I needed to separate a bit…

My heart pounded, tears stung my eyes as I shook my head in disbelief. I was 
crushed. Oh my gosh! We were one of “those” couples. We were going to have to leave. I sure as heck wasn’t staying all weekend with this heartless unromantic brute. I began to sob and was seriously furious, broken hearted, and ready to bolt out of the room to explain to our weekend leaders that we would be leaving, thank you very much.

Chris was stunned by my reaction. He was just being honest. Of course he loved me, but he wanted to answer the question truthfully. He pleaded with me to stay…at least through one more presentation and opportunity to dialogue. I reluctantly agreed.

We stayed. And as the weekend went on, we grew closer, climbed hurdles, and opened up new understanding between us. Overall, it wasn’t fluffy and romantic, though there were moments that were. It was hard and gritty, honest and sometimes tear-filled. It was real. And we learned we could work through our differences. If we persisted and followed a few simple rules that ensured clear communication and respect, we could grow a deeper and richer love that would prove to be so much better, fiercer, dedicated than the sweet romantic notions I had conjured up.

How about you? Have you found ways to go deeper, even treading into rough waters, that have enriched your love? I’d love to hear about it. 

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

This Journey Called Marriage - Tales, Tips, & Tools

We’ve been married 31 years, 32 in November. I suppose this could be a source of pride. After all, we’ve been able to “accomplish” what many cannot. But I’m not proud…I’m humbled. I’m grateful.

I didn’t have good role models of marriage…at least not in my home. 
My parents divorced when I was 17, but the deterioration of their marriage began long before. Some of my earliest memories were hearing my parents fighting loud, hard scary. The anger between my parents grew roots of bitterness and resentment. And eventually, there was nothing left. No passion, no understanding, no love. There was a huge chasm between them until they were quite literally separated and finally divorced.

Would this story have been different if they were better equipped? If their marriage had been more intentional?

We’ll never know the answer. But I can tell you because of my family background and my husband’s too, we hadn’t a clue about how to have a successful marriage. So I am grateful that my church required marriage preparation and we chose a weekend away called Engaged Encounter.

And I am also grateful that during that weekend, I learned something that I didn’t like hearing at the time. But it turned out to be the big takeaway that has influenced our marriage time and time again. 

Love is a decision. <- a="" href="" target="_blank">Click to Tweet

What? Love is a decision? But I already loved Chris. Maybe marriage was a decision. But a decision to love? How utterly unromantic! But how absolutely least for us. And maybe for you too.

That one weekend laid a foundation in our marriage. Though we discovered some things that we didn’t necessarily see eye to eye on, we took the first steps together, united in our desire to not just get married but to stay married. We believed we would be married till death parted us. We just had no idea that this commitment would be dramatically tested, shaky, more than once.

Marriage is a journey. Each one as unique as the two people it represents. <-- a="" click="" to="" tweet="">

Ours has been a bumpy ride, with hills and valleys we never could’ve imagined, detours that took us far off the path of what we had hoped for, potholes that threatened to cause damage beyond repair. But we kept on driving. The adventure has been laced with the greatest of joys and rock bottom sorrows. We have learned a lot along the way.

There were times when our love was nothing but a decision…void of warm cozy feelings, missing the magic of passion. We were drained, broken, empty. Still, we decided to love, to stay, to work, to not give up. 

So here we are…many years after that Engaged Encounter weekend. We just downsized. Moved from our home of 26 years, where we raised our family of four daughters. It was hard to leave, hard to say goodbye to the well-known, well-worn floors and walls, but our footsteps were starting to echo. And as we looked for our new home, it was as though we were looking for our first home together…as we had so long ago.

This. This here. Where we are now. This has made the decision to love so very worth it.

How about you? Did you learn something early on in your relationship that has stayed with you? Been a lifeline? I'd love to hear about it!

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