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The Message of Marriage

Confession time. I’m a practicing Christian. Yep, I’m one of those card carrying Jesus Freaks that you may have heard of from time to time. Not the kind that pickets Gay Marriages (pretty sure they aren’t really in the club). Not the kind that thinks that you’ve got to be absolutely perfect to win the game of life (not that you ever could be.) But the kind that actually follows (as best I can) the teachings of Jesus as laid out in the Holy Bible.

As such I spend a lot of time looking at marriage in that “Gospel Light” and I take pretty seriously its depiction in the scriptures. Now there are a lot of differing interpretations about gender roles in marriage based on the lens that the reader uses. Personally I think that any reading of scripture that builds someone up at the expense of another misses the point entirely.

So what does the Bible really have to say about marriage, and, more importantly, what does that mean for you? (Believer or not.)

Pretty much every Christian based marriage book worth its salt lays out the same view of marriage, so I’ll follow suit (I like to think I’m salt worthy.)

Based on Ephesians 5:22-33 we see that human marriage is an analogy for the relationship between Christ and the Church (aka the Bride of Christ) Which is to say that it’s the job of one spouse (the bride) to follow the lead of, and support the other. While it is the job of the other spouse (the bridegroom) to lead and serve the first. Even to the point of death if need be!

To really unpack all the meaning in that passage usually takes professional authors from 5 pages to an entire book, so I’ll pass over that to make my point. Which is:

Ultimately marriage is a daily living out of our relationship to God as a “saved” human being.

Important Aside! That is from the perspective of both spouses, no one is “Lord” over another in a well functioning marriage. The reason why is found in that big unpacking I left out. For now just trust me on this.end aside

Which is to say that the ultimate message of marriage, how we are meant to act towards each other, is basically the same as how God expects us to act toward Him. And that really is good news. Because the message that God has for us, all the way through scripture is… Do the best you can, and when you mess up, acknowledge it and do better next time.

Really! That’s it. Out of love for your spouse do your best to love, respect, support, and serve them. When you make a mistake (and you will!) acknowledge it, ask for (and receive) forgiveness, and move on.

Does it really matter for your marriage if you are a Christian, or if you believe in a Higher Power at all? Not really. So long as you use this blueprint your marriage will be an inspiration to everyone around you.

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Working Together as a Team

One of the best things about our new home on the ocean is our huge air-tight wood stove. It sits in the corner of our living room right beside the picture window overlooking the ocean. There’s something just right about sitting by a roaring fire on a crisp winter evening with your significant other, getting warm and simply being together.

Honestly it was one of the main selling features of the house. Well, truth be told, it was a mandatory feature.

For the previous 9 years a familiar refrain was, “I want a fireplace.” Unfortunately, I had to keep pointing out that there was really no good place for one in our previous home. So we made certain that any place we moved to had to have one. (We lucked out, this house has two!)

Those of you who have a wood-burning fireplace know that there is a price to be paid for all that warmth and beauty, that wood doesn’t put itself in the hearth. Nope, all that wood has to be stacked away, then unstacked and moved indoors, unstacked and stacked up again by the fireplace, then placed in the fire piece by piece, all by hand. Every. Single. Piece. It’s actually a lot of work, (if you cut your own firewood, you can add several steps at the front end to this process.)

We just had a couple of cords of wood delivered to finish out the season, and it needs to be moved, first from the driveway to the storage hut in the backyard, then some of that to the large storage rack in the house, and finally, some of that is moved to the smaller holder in the living room. All by hand. All by us.

And really that’s the key. It needs to be moved by us. Not by me. Not by Vanessa. By us, together, as a team.

Over the years Vanessa and I have discovered a real synergy when we work together, especially when doing big, physical projects. It seems that whenever one of us is ready to give in a bit, the other one picks them up and we keep going. We take turns in getting tired, overwhelmed, or disillusioned. And every time the other takes a turn at cheering us on, focusing our attention on one part of the job, or pointing out how far we’ve come.

With the wood, for instance. I pick the time to get started. Vanessa figures out the best strategy for moving the wood to where it needs to go. She encourages me as the soreness in my back gets progressively worse. Then, as we stop for the day, one of us will point out how much smaller the pile is on the driveway, and we both feel great about what we accomplished.

Ultimately that’s what a marriage is all about, working together as a team. Two equal partners with different strengths who come together to make doing the hard work easier, (in many cases making it possible at all!)

Sadly, this is where a lot of couples break down.

Instead of seeing the differences in each other as a combined strength, they get angry at their partner for not thinking and doing things “their way”, or worse, “the right way”!

What is even more amazing, is that those differences, the very ones that are driving you crazy right now, are likely the very things that you loved most about them in the beginning.

I encourage you to look at those differences in a new light. Not as something to be tolerated, but as something to be enthusiastically embraced.

It’s good that she wants to leave the party now instead of later, otherwise you’d be out way too late and have trouble functioning the next day.

It’s good that he wants to take some time to compare prices and features instead of making an expensive impulse buy.

It’s good that you like different music, movies, sports, foods, etc. that way your world expands in ways that it wouldn’t otherwise.

Your differences are strengths, that when used correctly make you, as a team, practically unstoppable.

When you work together.

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Valentine’s Day Review

Valentine’s Day 2018 is now in our collective rearview mirror and today we are either basking in the glow of a job well done or ruefully making plans to make sure that next year will be different.

Last week I gave you all some advice on how to make this Valentine’s Day a winner for your wife (and, by extension, for you.) I really hope you all had a great time. Of course I know that everyone is wondering how my valentines day went. Did I sweep Vanessa off her feet, or did I crash and burn. (I bet that more than a few of you are cheering for the latter!)

Today’s bonus blog post is to let you know just that, how did the Professional Marriage Coach do in his quest to celebrate a fantastic Valentine’s Day with his Professional Marriage Coach wife.

First off, did I even follow my own advice?

Of course I did! I asked, I listened, I clarified, and, most importantly I wrote it down (this is key.)

Now, fortunately for me, my wife is a romantic who appreciates the simple things, so there were no horse-drawn carriage rides to arrange, nor even fancy dinner reservations to make. Nope, all she wanted was, a card, her favourite (easy to make) dinner, and to watch one of her favourite movies (The War Room, for those who care) with me in our living room. Easy Peasy.

Since we already own the film that part was done. And since we were in Florida on vacation I really had nothing to do until we came home, and that was to buy the card and groceries for dinner, then make it. No Problem.

So I really didn’t worry about anything until Wednesday… Valentine’s Day.

I had intended to go shopping the day before but I was super beat from our drive home so I didn’t. That meant a trip into town to shop on the day of, however all the ingredients are readily available here, so I was gold.

I went to town, ran my errands and came home around 3:30pm, plenty of time to do a bit of work, get dinner ready and prepare to enjoy the movie.

While I was thawing the lobster, I went through my mental checklist to make sure I had everything I needed. Sure enough everything checked out ok. I had even picked up the chocolates she asked for in Bangor on the way home.

— Pro-tip, keep your ears open all the time up to and including Valentine’s Day for any additional desires that you can fulfil, there are some serious bonus points to be had there. —

At this point I was feeling pretty good. Valentine’s day would be a huge success. For good measure I pulled out my planner and reviewed the list I made the week before.

  • A Card – check
  • Plentiful Lobster Rolls – check
  • War Room – check
  • Big Bloomed Flowers for her new Vase …

Merde

I had forgotten the flowers!

Oddly, I had considered them when shopping earlier, but all I saw were roses, and I know from experience that those don’t really work for her, so I dismissed them.

It is now 5:20pm and I am just this side of screwed. We live in a rural area. The nearest hamlet is 10 min away, and there are no flowers there. The nearest Village is 15 min away, in the other direction. Small town, closes up early, no guarantee of flowers there. Next on the list is the closest mid-sized town 15 min past the Hamlet. I know at least 2 places that have cut flowers there, so off I run.

On the drive there I’m weighing my options. There are flowers, or there are not. If there are, great, get them and get home. If not, well, Moncton is only another 10 min down the road, and I know I’ll win there.

I pull into the Sobey’s (yep, the best bet for cut flowers around here is the grocery store) and head for their floral display. … Empty! Nothing but sad empty buckets where flowers used to be. Hustle back to the car for option 2, the IGA.

Success, they have flowers, and some bundles have ones with large blooms (as requested). I grab the meagre bouquet and grudgingly happily pay the you-really-should-have-done-this-earlier price and head home.

I pull into the driveway at 6:23pm to begin making dinner. Thankfully, lobster rolls are super quick to make. I even throw in the Caesar Salad she mentioned wanting at 11:00am (keep those ears open men!)

Dinner is served at a respectable 7:15pm complete with, card, chocolates, and flowers. Success!

We not only watched the movie, but about an hours worth of the special features (my favourite part of most DVDs.)

Lessons Learned:
Always write things down, you will forget something.
Review your list BEFORE you go shopping, to avoid hassles later.
Check your list one more time so you can get it right.

Because I asked, because I wrote it down, and because I did everything she wanted, this was (and I quote) “Probably the best Valentine’s Day we’ve ever had.”

Then we went to bed for the final thing on her list… Snuggles.

I sincerely hope you all had an equally awesome day.

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You Don’t Bring Me Flowers

Valentine’s day is fast approaching. I know because this is the time of year that I start to feel the dread coming off in waves from my men friends.

“Should I get her chocolates? Nope, she’s watching her figure.”
“Dinner and a show? We both need to get up early for work the next day.”
“A dozen roses? May as well admit you forgot until the drive home.”

Husbands (the ones who remember Valentine’s day at all) face an annual quest to find the perfect gift. The one that will make her heart melt. The one that will let her know how much she is loved. The one that will get them laid.

It was so easy in the early years of dating and marriage. A group of hand picked wildflowers, a chocolate bar and dinner at (insert your favourite one-level-above-McDonald’s-sit-in-restaurant here) was a gesture so grand that she would be talking up your romantic skills to her girlfriends for weeks.

Now it seems like a chore. Where has the romance gone?

Once again Vanessa and I were listening to the oldies station on the way to church and the heart wrenching love song by Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers came on.

It’s a beautiful sounding song, unfortunately it is a real downer. It speaks of a couple whose romantic flame is all but extinguished. He doesn’t bring her flowers, She doesn’t write him love songs. Sex is perfunctory. And he is pretty sure that he wants out.

What went wrong?

In the beginning there was fire and passion, now they barely know each other. Longing for the past and afraid there is no future. Can they ever recover?

Well, of course!

As long as you are willing there’s always a way back to a healthy functioning marriage.

The couple in the song have failed to maintain their Love Maps (You may have noticed by now that I’m a really big believer in the power of Love Maps.) and, what’s worse, they have moved on to taking each other for granted. Each longing for what the other used to do to make them feel special, and neither willing to make the first move to give the attention their partner craves.

What does this have to do with Valentine’s day? Everything.

Valentine’s Day is a perfect opportunity for Husbands to decide to show their unbridled love for their wives. If only they knew how.

Well here’s the key…. Don’t guess. Ask!

Seriously, just ask. I promise they are dying to tell you EXACTLY what they want.

This is the most important thing… Ask them today, right now if you can. Ask them what would make this Valentine’s Day the most special, most romantic, most memorable one they’ve ever had.

Then Listen.

Without judgement, without butting in, without any negativity (If the words “Wow, that’ll cost a fortune.” or “You’ve got to be kidding.” come out of your mouth, just move yourself to the couch until July.) Ask for clarification, take notes. give her your undivided attention. After that there is only one thing you have to do to win at Valentine’s Day.

Do EXACTLY what she told you to do.

Nothing more, nothing less. Do it all. Start planning as soon as you finish the conversation (Do. Not. Wait.) Do it with a smile on your face and glee in your heart, and this will be the Valentine’s Day to end all Valentine’s Days.

Until next year.

Making Time To Talk

“We need to talk.” The most dreaded sentence a husband can hear. All men know instinctively that nothing good comes after these words. Our reaction is coded in our DNA through thousands of years of ancestral memory.

The irony is, we really do need to talk. Often. Attentively. Deeply.

To create and sustain a super strong marriage, couples need to communicate well. Not just about logistics, but about their needs, dreams, and yes, their feelings.

Talking about ourselves, how we feel about what’s going on in the world, (what’s going on in the house for that matter) about our dreams, our regrets, our favourite movie, about anything really, with our spouses is how we build those love maps. The bigger the love map, the bigger the relationship can grow.

However, many couples can barely find the time to say hello to each other throughout the day, let alone have a meaningful conversation about anything. What to do?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Make time. It’s important.

I can feel the eye rolls from here. “How do we make time? Our schedules are already full.”

My solution, do things together as much as possible and talk then.

Find times when you are together anyway (if you aren’t already in the same place for at least a half hour every day, take a hard look at your schedules, something needs to change.) and spend that time talking to each other.

Vanessa and I love to take car trips together for instance. It gives us time to really get into a topic while we drive. Over the years the conversations we’ve had in the car have been the catalyst for some of the biggest decisions we’ve made as a couple.

Make it your goal to spend at least 15 minutes a day just talking and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you grow together.

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A Matter of Perspective

I just finished painting my home office. It feels more inviting now. The questionable sailboat wallpaper border is gone, all the holes from previous wall hangings are filled and the colours are warmer, more “my style” than what was there before. I now enjoy being in here much more than I did last week.

Interestingly the painted walls are all that has changed. The furniture layout is exactly the same. I put the same artwork back in the same places. Heck, even the same paper clutter is back. Why then do I feel so differently about the space?

A few years a go in my Marriage Foundations seminar one of the participants complained to me about an issue he was having with his wife. It seems that she wanted to be in charge of the household finances. Unfortunately he wasn’t a big fan of how she was doing the job, and felt that he should just do it himself and be done with it. He was keen to get me to agree with him and give him permission to act on his desire. Instead I told him this story.

(Note, if you ever attend one of my workshops or seminars, you may hear this same story with totally different names. That’s not a mistake. As a coach I take my clients’ privacy very seriously. I purposely change various details like names, genders, geography, chronology etc. in my stories all the time to preserve anonymity. And I rarely remember exactly how I’ve told the story in the past. The important thing to pay attention to is the overall message.)

Once there was a woman named Susan. She was about 24 when she married her college beau Jeff. Susan was raised in a Christian home and was very comfortable with allowing Jeff total control of the family finances.

Over the years she started feeling some concern with many situations in the house. Utility bills with Urgent printed on them in bold red letters started arriving in the mail. Her debit and credit cards were sometimes getting declined at the store. She asked her mother what to do, and was told that Jeff was the man of the house and it was his responsibility to handle the money and not to nag him about it. She was certain that it would all work out.

Of course, it didn’t. It turned out that Jeff had a major gambling addiction. This led him to spend all of their savings, jack up all their credit cards to the limit and to default on the mortgage. Devastated, Susan ended the marriage, homeless and under a crushing burden of debt.

Eventually Susan sorted out her financial situation. Got a great job and put her life back on track. She vowed that she would always be in charge of her finances, no matter what, she would never be in that situation again.

Some time later Susan met Brian, a successful accountant. They fell in love and decided to marry. When the issue of handling the family finances came up, Susan was adamant that she would be in charge, despite Brian’s expertise in that area. Brian was well aware of Susan’s past hardship and asked only that Susan keep him up to date each month with the money situation.

After I finished I asked the fellow how he felt about his wife’s handling of the finances now.

He was stunned and it took him a few moments to regain his composure. He realized that he really didn’t care about how she handled the money (he trusted her and there was open communication) he just cared about getting certain numbers at a certain time so he could file his expense reports for work.

He later told me that once he explained that to his wife she made sure to have those numbers ready for him each month when he needed them.

What changed in that relationship? The roles stayed the same, but the resentment was gone. All that changed was their perspective on the situation. As soon as he understood that his wife might have a reason for insisting on handling the finances (It was a second marriage for both of them) and that he actually didn’t have a problem with her doing it, he was fine. Once she understood that he didn’t want to stop her from handling the money, he just needed certain info at a certain time, she was fine.

Just like how a simple coat of paint has enabled be to feel more at home in my office, a subtle change in perspective can free us from a host of judgements that hurt our marriages.

Escape

After listening to reruns of America’s Top Forty from the ’70s on the way to church for the past few months (thanks Max FM) my wife decided to create a playlist based on that music for the house and long car rides.

One of the songs that made the cut was the Rupert Holmes classic “Escape”, (you probably know it better as the Piña Colada song.)
For those of you who didn’t click the link to take a walk down memory lane, and may not know the premise of the song, here is a quick synopsis:

The singer (man) is in a rut in his relationship with his lady and decides that he wants someone new. He checks out the classified ads while reading the paper in bed one night (this is long before Ashley Madison was a thing) and finds his perfect match. He responds with his own ad and arranges a face-to-face at a local bar for the next day. At the bar, waiting in anticipation his “escape” arrives and (spoiler alert!) it’s his “old lady”! She sits down with him they laugh as he realizes that he had the perfect match all along.

So why do I bring this up?

Good question.

What the hero(?) of the song and his wife (live-in girlfriend? This isn’t made clear.) have failed to do is work on their Love Maps.

Gottman Sound Relationship House
Love Maps are the foundation of the Sound Relationship House as defined by Marriage Researcher John Gottman. I speak about them in great detail in my day long Marriage Foundations Workshop as well as in our Couples VIP weekends and my one-one-one coaching. (In case you hadn’t guessed, I think this is pretty important.)

A love map is essentially how well you know your spouse. The larger the love map the stronger the foundation of your marriage, period. Expanding the foundation that your marriage is built on allows you to build both a more stable relationship and a much bigger one as well.

We have “love maps” for everyone in our life, from the Server at Tim Horton’s (you know their name, that they work at Tim’s and they got your order right) to your co-workers, to your friends and relatives, and, of course, your spouse. The closer you are to someone, naturally the larger the love map and the bigger/stronger your relationship is with them.

Your relationship to the guy at Tim’s doesn’t need to be very strong to get your morning coffee, so the love map (foundation) is small. You know more about your co-workers’ lives and your relationship with them is stronger. Even more with your friends and (hopefully) the most with your spouse.

Take some time over the next few weeks to expand your love map for your spouse. Use questions like; “Who were your best friends growing up?” “What did you want to do for the rest of your life when you were 10.” “Who are your 3 best friends now and why?” And maybe even “Do you like Piña Coladas?”