Marriage Monday: Simple changes that make a BIG difference

This past Tuesday, we read a letter in the Dear Abby column in our local newspaper. Signed “Happier Than Ever,” the author of the letter shared how a simple change in routine THAT COST ABSOLUTELY NOTHING transformed her marriage.

After reading the column we decided it was good enough to share as a Marriage Monday post.  Let’s see what we can learn from this very wise mom:

DEAR ABBY: So often I read about troubled marriages in your column. May I share with you something that my husband and I started doing that has transformed what I thought was a good marriage into a blissful one?

One day, after complaining that we had no quality time together — we rarely talked, much less made love — my husband suggested we turn off the television and offered to give me a massage.

Ever since, four or five times a week, once the children are in bed, we go into our bedroom, take off our clothes and give each other long massages. Sometimes we spend the entire time in conversation, other times we savor the peace and quiet. Sometimes we make passionate love; other times we fall asleep naked in each other’s arms, completely content.

It doesn’t matter how it turns out; it’s wonderful and it has made the rest of our lives less stressful and more enjoyable. Our sex life is better than before the children came, and we sleep in the nude more often.

I hope you’ll print this. More marriages would take a turn for the better if couples made time for each other and discovered the wonders of massage. — HAPPIER THAN EVER

What we loved about this was the simplicity of the decision they made to turn off the television and INVEST in their marriage.

Over the years, we have used this strategy in different ways.  Many years ago we would turn the TV off and play Yahtzee…just the two of us.  In the summer, we step away from the TV and the computers a couple of nights a week and sit out on the porch swing after the kids are in bed and talk.  In the past year, our Craig’s list hot tub has provided a little getaway for us right in our own yard.

It’s always a challenge to start a new routine…but when it comes to our marriage it’s worth taking the challenge!  Yes, you might have to give us some computer time or your favorite television show.  But isn’t your marriage worth it?

Investing in your marriage doesn’t have to cost a dime…it just requires a little bit of intentionality.  Don’t you think “intentionally investing” in your marriage might be the best Valentine’s gift you could give each other this year?

What about you? What “doesn’t cost a dime” changes have you or are you making to invest in your marriage?

Best of 2010: Parenting Strategies That Work

Mark and I have been working with our teenage sons this year on the concept of “freedoms.”  We recently sat down with the boys and had a discussion about how we use our time.  We discussed three categories that our activities fall into:

Things we have to do.
Things we get to do.
Things we want to do.

Things we have to do would include activities that manage our home and personal life: household chores, mowing, housekeeping, laundry, homework, etc.

Things we get to do are opportunities that God gives us to serve others: help an elderly neighbor, assist family friends move across town, carry in groceries for the pregnant mom next door, etc.

Things we want to do would be the privileges we want to have: having a friend over, going to the pool, playing video games, being on the computer, etc.

We then explained that the way we get to do the things we want to do is by being responsible and having a good attitude when doing the things we have to do and occasionally get to do.

Doing the things we have to do earns us the freedom to do the things we want to do.

It’s taken a few weeks for them to catch on (and a few times where Mark and I have really had to be the bad guy) but they are definitely starting to get it.  In general, we’re seeing more responsibility and better attitudes.  And when we don’t, they already know what the consequences will be.

Marriage Monday: Date Night Over the Holidays

Today’s Marriage Monday will be the last new one until the new year.  Starting Wednesday, Dec 23 through Tuesday, January 4 (the two weeks our boys are off school), I’ll be taking off two weeks of active blogging. 

During those two weeks, I’m going to do a recap of the ten most popular posts of 2010, in case you missed some great conversations we had this year. 

We’re using today’s Marriage Monday to give you some ideas for planning at least one date night over the holidays.

Mark says…
With most of our extended family in Indianapolis, the holidays usually mean a trip to Indy for our family.  When the kids were small, Jill and I would ask her parents to babysit one evening so we could have a night out. 

Jill says…
We also traded sitting with other couples who had children similar ages to our kids.  Arranging that during the holidays works well, too, because people have more flexible schedules.

Mark says…
Occasionally we would do an overnight away during the holidays (or have the kids go to Grandma’s so we could stay home in our own home ALONE!)

Jill says…
Now that our kids are older, we don’t have to arrange for a sitter anymore, but we still have to intentionally plan some time for just the two of us.

Mark says…
We currently have two date nights planned during the holidays.  The first is a night out to dinner with some friends we don’t get to see very often.  And the second one is attending a wedding on New Year’s Eve.  We’re looking forward to spending time with friends and dancing the night away. 

Because we believe making time for your marriage is important, we are doing a giveaway over the holidays.  To enter the giveaway, just arrange some time for just the two of you over the next two weeks.  Once you take some time for yourselves, let us know how you arranged it and what you did (well, please don’t tell us EVERYTHING you did…just general info–if you know what we mean!)

You have until Jan 9 to post a comment on this post and enter the giveaway for a CD of your choice of any of our marriage workshops from the Hearts at Home conferences. We’ll announce the winners on the first new Marriage Monday of the new year on January 10.

Make your entry look like this:

Date: Dec 30
Event: We went out for coffee.
Childcare: Asked grandma and grandpa
Email: jillannsavage (at) yahoo (dot) com

By the way…we’re doing an ABC’s of a Healthy Marriage Seminar in Rapid City, South Dakota, Feb 25-27, 2011.  It’s a seminar that is being sponsored by Westway Christian Church in Scottsbluff, Nebraska and it is open to the public. For more information call Rick or Sherry Derr at 308.632.1055.  We’d love for you to join us for this great weekend getaway!

May you enjoy both the time away over the holidays and the giveaway!

Encouragement coming your way!

You can catch some “living with less” encouragement this week in a couple of media outlets.

Later this week, I’ll be continuing my weekly discussions with Sterling on K-Love about strategies for a “less is more” Christmas.

And Wednesday morning, Mark and I will be on the Harvest Show on LeSea television. If you’d like to see if the show is in your area or watch it online, you’ll find the info HERE.

We love bringing encouragement to families in whatever way we can!

Marriage Monday: What if your spouse isn’t interested in making your marriage better?

We’ve talked for the past few weeks about the importance of “download” time.  We’ve explored the importance of intentionally making your marriage better.  But what if you’re the only one in your marriage interested in making your marriage better?  Today’s “Marriage Monday” is about how to keep discouragement at bay when your spouse isn’t interested in investing in your relationship.

Mark says…
Marriage is a two-way street.  It’s about both giving and receiving.  And it takes continual investment to keep the marriage fires burning.  But sometimes people find themselves in a one-sided relationship. And if that describes you, it’s very important that you know some strategies to keep you headed in the right direction.

Jill says…
During our difficult years, Mark and I both have seasons where we were more interested in investing in our marriage than the other one was.  When one of us was really off track, the other found themselves feeling quite alone in the marriage journey.  It’s not an enjoyable place to be.  And it is quite a lonely place to be.

Mark says…
Looking back on those seasons, we can glean some lessons we learned about staying focused on your marriage even when you feel alone in doing so.

Jill says…
Here are some of the lessons we learned.

  • Keep your eyes on the Mountain Mover and not on the mountains.  Only God can change your spouse’s heart.  Keep your focus on God’s truth to give you the direction and encouragement to stay strong in a difficult situation.
  • Keep temptation at bay.  Do not place yourself in any setting where you are with anyone of the opposite sex alone.  
  • Do the right things that invest in your marriage, even when it’s hard.  Choose to love even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Ask your spouse to do marriage activities not because you both need it, but because you need it.  Sometimes an unwilling spouse will do something because their spouse needs it.  (Admitting that you need something is a sign of weakness for some people. This way of making the request helps them tap into their desire to help you even when they are unwilling to seek help themselves.)
  • Keep an ongoing list of the good qualities of your spouse.  When you start to focus on the disappointments in your relationship, look instead at the positives you do experience.
  • Pray continually.  Ask God to give you the love and grace you need for each and every day. 

Mark says…

We also found a great resource of encouragement for those in tough marriage situations.  How To Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong by Leslie Vernick is a great resource. 

Here’s a description:

Acting right when your spouse acts wrong will not necessarily guarantee a more satisfying marital relationship, nor will it automatically make your spouse change his or her ways–although both could occur. It will, however, help you see how God is stretching you in the midst of your marital difficulties, teach you to respond wisely when wronged, and lead you into a deeper relationship with Christ as you yield your will to his plan for your life and learn to be more like him. 

What about you?  How have you learned to act right when your spouse acts wrong?

Marriage Monday: The Value of "Download" Time

Mark and I have been reading a book together called Your Spouse Isn’t The Person You Married: Keeping Your Love Strong Through Life’s Changes by Paul and Teri Reisser.  Today’s Marriage Monday is focused on staying connected to your spouse during the changes that life brings.

Jill says…
When I first picked up the Reisser’s book, I was fascinated by the title alone.  What does it mean that your spouse isn’t the person you married?  It didn’t take too long for me to understand what the Reisser’s provocative title meant.  Here’s an explanation in their own words:

“The person lying beside you in bed night after night, year after years, is not the same individual who stood with you at the altar on your wedding day.  Everyone changes.  Everyone’s worldview evolves because we are thinking, emotional creatures.  It’s naive and foolish to believe that the views, opinions, and values held by you or the person you married were cast in concrete on your wedding day.” (pg 32)

Mark says…
What an incredible concept, but one that many married couples don’t really comprehend…including us. While I understood the concept personally, I’d never considered the implications that it had for our marriage. 

Jill says…
The Reisser’s believe that couples need to not only have date nights where they enjoy each other’s company, but that they should also have intentional “checking in” time where they talk about what they are thinking, feeling, and discovering.  This is a weekly time to “download” your thoughts and feelings with your spouse.

Mark says…
Here’s the Reisser’s perspective in their own words,

A wise spouse understands the critical importance of creating a scheduled and protected space on the calendar for the sole agenda of allowing the other person an opporunity to put into words what is currently incubating in the heart and mind. (pg 32)

Jill says…
This is something Mark and I discovered on our own last fall when we received the gift of a portable hot tub for two months.  Each night we would sit out in the hot tub and talk and talk and talk.  This was an important part of us navigating our career transition last fall. We talked, shed tears, listened to each other’s hearts, extended forgiveness, and made plans for the future. 

We learned the value of “downloading” and we experienced a deeper intimacy in our relationship than we had in a long time. 

Mark says…
As Jill was reading parts of this book aloud to me one night we both realized that what the Reisser’s are proposing is EXACTLY what we experienced last fall. We didn’t have a name for it, but we knew it made a difference!

Jill says…
We have found that “checking in” is an extremely valuable part of our relationship.  And honestly, we try to do it even more often than once a week (more about our “checking in” strategy in next week’s Marriage Monday!).

Mark says…
We highly recommend this book.  It’s full of just the right amount of wit to keep you entertained and a great amount of wisdom to keep the intimacy alive in your marriage.

Jill says…
Here are some questions the Reisser’s suggest for “checking in” time:

1. What was the best thing that happened to you this week?

2. What was the worst thing?

3. How did I best meet your needs this week?

4. How did I least meet your needs this week? (Be careful: Don’t become defensive when you hear the answer.  Just listen!)

5. What could I have done differently in that situation that would have been more helpful for us?

6. What are you the most worried about right now?

7. Is there any way I can help you with that concern?

8. What are you feeling right now?

If you don’t have much time, the Reisser’s say that questions 6 and 7 are the most important with #7 being the absolute most important question. (pg 41)

So what about you? Have you found a way to have regular time to “download” with your spouse?  Would you consider putting some “checking in” time on your weekly calendar?

Marriage Monday: Move from Me to We

The Bible says that when we get married the two become one.  Becoming one doesn’t mean that we lose our individuality. It does, however, mean that no longer make decisions without considering and/or consulting our partner.  Today’s Marriage Monday is about moving from a “me” mindset to a “we” mindset.
Mark says…
If we will allow Him, God will be faithful to show us places where we need to mature and grow. Over the past year, I’ve become aware of an unhealthy pattern that I had fallen into.  I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who struggles with this, so I thought it would be a good topic for Marriage Monday.  
The pattern I’m talking about is operating in a “me mindset” rather than a “we mindset.” When I dissect why I do this, I can follow my pattern of thinking to thoughts like: “I know what needs to be done. “ “I know this is a good idea so I am doing it.”  “I know what I want and am tired of waiting around for you to get on board, so I am doing it.”
Jill says…
It’s not that Mark has to consult me for every decision made, but this was often happening after he and I would discuss how he would handle a situation or a request and then he would get into the middle of it and would not stay true to what we had decided together.

Mark says…

Jill and I discovered this pattern a year ago and I’ve really been working hard to make a change.  But just last week we found ourselves navigating it again.  In this recent situation, I ended up hurting Jill because the Me Man led me to not stand firm in a decision we made together. In the moment I thought I knew best which was not what we had agreed upon. 
Jill says…
Needless to say, when this happened not only was it frustrating that we were navigating this again, but it broke trust and we had to sort through that once again.
Mark says…
When Jill and I discuss something and determine how to move forward, I have a responsibility to be a man of my word (and she has the same responsibility).  We have to honor the conversations we have.  If we feel the decision we made isn’t a good one, then we don’t have the freedom to change our answer without another conversation with our spouse.
In this recent situation, my people pleasing side also kicked in.  As I went into a conversation with some people, Jill and I determined that I would not commit to anything they might ask me to do.  I would hear their requests and then bring them back for Jill and I to sort through.  But when I arrived and heard them out, I didn’t feel they were asking for too much—and I like to please people—so I agreed to their request thinking that it wasn’t a big deal.
Jill says…
But it was a big deal for me…particularly because it was an old pattern (one that used to happen alot but hadn’t so much in recent months).  I certainly didn’t want to go back after we’d worked so hard to get where we were.  
But I also had to resist throwing out the progress we’ve made just because of one recurrence of the old pattern.  This didn’t mean we were back where we started.  It simply meant that old patterns are hard to break and we just needed to have a heart to heart discussion and recommit to the new pattern.  

Mark says…
This me/we thing also raises it’s head up in parenting.  Jill is pretty good about telling the boys, “I’ll talk with your father about this and get back to you with an answer.”  I, however, have been characterized by giving them an answer and then bringing Jill along on what I said.  The problem with that is that Jill often adds new information or gives a different perspective than I had considered when I gave my answer.  But because I operated with a “me” mindset, I now have set up a situation where it would be difficult to now go back with a different answer.  I’m trying to learn to say, “I’ll talk with mom and get back to you,” more often so we have the wisdom of both of us weighing in answering our boys requests to do something or handling their discipline with a united front. 

What about you?  Do you have a “me” mindset that needs to be changed to a “we” mindset?  Do you have any additional suggestions on how to successfully move from “me” to “we?”

Marriage Monday: Understanding Capacity

Every person is created differently. We have different personalities.  Different needs.  Different capacity levels.  Today’s Marriage Monday explores the concept of capacity in marriage.
Mark says… defines capacity as “the ability to perform or withstand.”  Jill and I use the term in our marriage to describe our general energy level and our ability to manage multiple projects at the same time.
Jill says…
Mark describes me as the Energizer Bunny.  I rarely tire and have a huge capacity. 
Mark says…
Sometimes just watching Jill wears me out.  I have more of a medium capacity. 
Jill says…
This difference used to drive us crazy until we were able to label it and then learn how to navigate it in our relationship.  One of the things I had to learn is that I do not operate independent of Mark.  I may have a higher capacity than he does, but if I am always operating at my full capacity level, it begins to affect Mark negatively.  I have to adjust my activity level to what’s best for our marriage—not just what works for me.
Mark says…
When we were first married, I felt like I needed to keep up with Jill.  I thought there was something wrong with me because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t.  I’m almost always tired sooner than Jill is.  I get stressed managing 3 projects when it takes managing 6 or 7 projects to stress Jill out. 
However, when I learned about the concept of having different capacities, I realized that I was simply wired differently than Jill.  There wasn’t something wrong with me at all.  I simply needed to understand my emotional and physical makeup and learn how to be true to myself.
Jill says…
Mark’s lower capacity actually brings a balance to my “Type A driven high-capacity” personality. He travels at a slower speed through life than I often do, so it’s good for me to slow down a bit.  His lower capacity is part of what makes him a good listener. That’s something I can definitely learn from! 
Mark says…
And Jill’s higher capacity sometimes inspires me to accomplish something that I might just be inclined to put off or find overwhelming.   
Jill says…
Our different capacities used to frustrate me, but now I better understand that they are just one more way that God made us different. And different isn’t wrong…it’s just different!
What about you?  Do you and your spouse have different capacities?  How have you navigated those differences?