Marriage Seminar #6: Date Night

When I started doing things socially with my husband of 27 years…back in 1990…we were not really dating. We had known each other in high school (yes…you all know…he was my high school boyfriend’s friend…it is a story but not what you think) and we were simply hanging out a lot because we were back in our home town, working, without many people we knew who were our own age. I was teaching at California High School and he was in an entry level sales job…fresh out of college. We had money to spend because we were young and didn’t have a lot of expenses. He liked high school football and I liked having a super cute someone to go with me to those games. It took us at least 2 months to finally admit we were thinking it might be a relationship worth investing more in…

Mike and I were raised a little differently. I was raised in the Christian-live-by-guilt home where we were always having to consider the starving child in Africa or China when we bought something not on sale or didn’t eat our peas. Mike’s family knows how to party. There is always a reason to celebrate. When Mike and I started to actually call our relationship something more than “besties”, my heart was overwhelmed as he treated me to dinners, an evening at the ballet (I had never been!), a concert that was not something he necessarily would choose, and a bunch of other super fun stuff.  He would say, “There is a place I think you would like…”

When dating ends and real life begins, there is often a shift in marriage relationships. That may be why counselors often encourage suffering spousal relationships to re-instigate “the date”. Obviously there are major challenges to this when you have kids or are just super busy trying to build a future or a retirement fund. But bringing back the date has saved many relationships from stagnation or becoming that “we are just roommates” horror!

When couples come to me for marriage counseling and I ask about their dating life, 9 out of 10 times, the role of planning anything social has become the wife’s responsibility. And in most of the relationships I am asked to weigh in on, the wife feels like if she didn’t care about connecting emotionally, no one would care. Did you read in my last blog that emotional connectivity is what leads to physical connectivity????….keep reading.

So hubbies out there! Hear me! This is such an easy fix! If you did it well once, you can do it again!!! Date your wife or lose her forever!

Dating as a married couple can actually be easier if you think about it! You already know that your spouse will say yes! You also know what kind of activities they like to do, what kind of food they enjoy and what their calendar looks like most of the time! If you plan time for just the two of you now, the message is simply, “I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU AND YOU ALONE.”

Here are some guidelines:

Have a date night idea jar: Sit down with your spouse and come up with things you wish you would do together, what restaurants you would like to try, etc. Write them on pieces of paper and fold them up and put them in a jar. Pick one out at the beginning of each month and let the planning begin.

Now that you are married, try taking turns with the planning: We all get busy with life but the job of saving a marriage through time spent together should never fall on just one person. If you are the one planning date night, you also have to get the babysitter. For some reason, a common complaint that I hear is that it takes so much work to get the date organized that it takes the fun out of it. If you alternate the planning, one person gets to just show up!

These times together can be inexpensive or you can choose to splurge: Set a budget for your dating life so that it doesn’t get tossed aside just because the bill for Johnny’s hockey or Brooke’s dance popped up and you can’t justify it. Keep in mind that your kids will be happier in the long run if their parents stay married and they miss an activity as an 8 year old. Also, sometimes saving money one month by just grabbing a coffee or going for a bike ride can put pennies aside for a fancier dinner out or a concert that reminds you of when you met!

Be present emotionally and physically on date night: Remember the effort that you put into date night when you were first going out? You wouldn’t dream of not choosing your outfit carefully or brushing your teeth. You were sure to look your special person in the eyes and talk about more than your crappy day at work. Be a person that is engaging, flirtatious, interesting and a friend who asks good questions. You might be surprised how much fun you have!

My married clients know that I believe that the most important relationship in the home is the one between the two people that are married. There is no other relationship in the home that should compete with it. A family where the parents are working as a team are the happiest families overall…and when there is discord at the top, it is felt by everyone, even the pets…so rekindle that love in one of the easiest fixes out there…date night.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #5: Vows Then and Now

Today is 27 years for Mike and me…That feels like a super long time and yet, it seems like yesterday that we took the plunge. It has been hard and it has been easy to do life together: hard because life can be overwhelming, and easy because I could not have asked for a more loyal, encouraging and Godly man who is as committed as I am to live this marriage fully.

I have mentioned before that our pre-marital counseling was done by a pastor, not a trained counselor, and when I look back on it, I almost laugh out loud. Could we have talked any less about what is really important in marriage? So today, I am going to walk through some traditional wedding vows, similar to those that I repeated back on March 14, 1992 and reflect on what I wish I knew then and what I want my own girls to know, should they decide to commit to marriage someday. It is also what I try to share with the many broken marriages that I speak into on a regular basis. 

“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward…

Being married is a partnership. It is a commitment to love your person when they are beautiful and fun, and when they are ugly and being a pain in the butt. It is waking up together, sharing conversation, whether you feel like talking or not, dreaming together but sometimes having to be okay with Plan B or C or D…. driving carpool and sitting at soccer games and dance recitals together… and at the sides of hospital beds.  It is learning to live with each other’s extended family in a way that honors those people, but protects the family you have committed to be. It means giving in when you can, and not making things like how you load the dishwasher a moral issue. It is loving your person when they are less than perfect, but also encouraging and even pushing them, to be their best self. It is agreeing that their dreams are as important as your own and being okay with the fact that there may be times when one of you has to sit on the sidelines. It is saying, “I don’t really like you right now, but I am not going anywhere.” It is committing to love them so much, your competitive self refuses to give up.

Having and holding is sometimes having a great sex life but being patient in those times that it is not going so well in the bedroom. It is realizing that intimacy comes from looking into each other’s eyes and asking good questions so that you each feel known. It is realizing that physical closeness happens as a result of emotional connectivity, not the other way around. It is foreplay that starts with making their coffee in the morning or running their errands so that they can relax a bit or setting aside time for just the two of you to sit with one another. Sometimes the best connection happens when you awkwardly dance in the kitchen or belly- laugh-til-you-cry together… or when you hold your spouse’s hand when they need encouragement during a dark time or that long hug when you are both too tired for life. It is a commitment to be available, to listen, to be present… for the good days and the bad ones.

for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…

Better, richer and in health are way more fun than the other options, but a spouse that comforts and battles with their person in the tough times often gets the reward of forever love. Most marriages experience something less than fabulous, where one or the other has to give up time, money and personal goals for the other. It is important to realize that when you sacrifice for your spouse, or get in the trenches with them as a fellow warrior, it is powerful for your long term marriage goals. If this kind of love is reciprocal, you can create a relationship that no life circumstance or stranger can come between.

Infatuation often grows in the good times but real love is found in the tough times of marriage. How you and your spouse respond to life’s stressors determines the long term success you will share together. If you are married and going through a difficult life event, you should not feel alone. Often people tell me I am LUCKY for the relationship that I have with Mike. Are you kidding me? Our relationship is what it is, because we have not always been so lucky. We have had some most amazing times but we have also had life steal our joy and our dreams, have been poor and have been sick… and in those times, we have held hands, locked arms and prayed on our faces. The blessing is that we are, because of our struggles, the closest of friends, bonded and more in love than when life actually gave us space to breathe. But let’s be clear, there was no luck involved.

BTW, it also means that when you have good times, laugh and love as much as you possibly can…and lift those hands that prayed so hard, to the Lord in praise. It helps fill the tank for the not-so-great times, and reminds us that all good things come from God.

to love and to cherish, till death do us part,

Loving and cherishing is a sort of having-your-spouse-in-your-heart-and-on-your-mind-all-the-time kind of thing. Of course, saying “I love you” should happen everyday but showing “I love you” means learning their love language and acting on it, protecting your spouse from people who mean them harm and acting honorably toward your person whether they are in the room or not. It is having hard conversations and learning how to communicate so that you understand one another. It is wanting to grow old with them rather than getting upset when they are aging. It is believing that what’s mine is yours, so I want to be respectful and take care of what is ours.

according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you.”

Most marriages take place in front of God for a reason. That reason is that unless you are super-human, you are going to need supernatural intervention at least a few times to stay committed to that person you mistook for close to perfect. It is an accountability that should remind you that if you want God’s blessing in your marriage, you might want to consider some of the marriage advice He gives. He tells us to first seek Him, and then love each other fiercely and loyally. He tells us to even put aside ministry done for Him, if our marriages are not right. He tells husbands to love their wives as much as He loves us and wives to honor our men with our whole being. It is a pledge, not a warm fuzzy pinky promise…it takes serious commitment and selflessness, from both people, to fulfill… but if you truly want to grow old together, you may want to consider the benefits of starting now.

As always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #2: Choose but choose wisely

A Counseling 101 method, utilized by marriage counselors everywhere, is a “recounting”, done by each spouse, or when they met and fell in love. It is a way to start the “troubled marriage counseling journey” on a positive note, rather than with a list of grievances. So many people have truly beautiful stories about their first encounter, their whirlwind romance, the way they could not get enough of one another. Sure…every once in a while, there is a relationship that is so far gone that one or the other can’t remember feeling love for their then-boyfriend or girlfriend…but generally speaking, people have fond memories of the time they shared prior to marriage.

In my experience, a common thread that emerges in the relationship narrative is a time where someone chose to ignore a red flag in the relationship dynamic or that they had specific assumptions that were never actually discussed. When couples push away important conversations (i.e., roles within marriage, thoughts on parenting, finances, ideas on ethics) or fail to address dynamics they wish were different (i.e. time spent together or with friends, date nights, the way you verbally and physically interact, in-law dynamics) in the courtship process, they deny themselves an opportunity to really know if they are making a wise choice for a lifelong commitment.

Let’s be honest. We are all flawed people. We all enter into relationships with pre-conceived ideas, cultural norms, and wishful thinking. Every single one of us was raised in a family that shaped us in a particular way, both for the good and the bad, and when we attempt to share our lives with another person, lots of that “stuff” collides… However, a marriage is different from any other relationship in that you share space, more time than you can imagine, trials, finances, maybe children, physical intimacy, and the pursuit of hopes and dreams. Good marriages find two people that sacrifice for one another, finish one another’s sentences and care about one another as much as they care for themselves. Bad marriages find two people who feel unheard, unfulfilled and stifled by their spouse. And while it is EASY to fall in love, to stay in love, there has to be a whole lot of trust and respect, not just physical attraction and positive feelings.

If you are in the process of choosing who you want to spend the rest of your life with and hoping they choose you back, ask yourself some of the following questions:

1. When we discuss important issues, do I feel that we share similar values that will be put to use as we share life, pursue long-term goals and raise a family together? Are our disagreements about finances, gender roles, parenting, or whatever else, close to an obvious compromise or will they require a huge sacrifice on one person’s part?

2. Are there behaviors or attitudes that I am hoping this person is going to give up when they are in a committed relationship with me? Do they know I have that expectation and are they in agreement? If they do not change, will that be a deal-breaker for me?

3. Does this person have characteristics that enable them to be the father/mother I am hoping for my children? Are there characteristics they exhibit that I am not comfortable with now and will not be able to tolerate longterm?

4. Do we agree on the place that spirituality will have in our future home?

5. Have we had a chance to do life activities together? Do we enjoy similar hobbies or topics of conversation? Are the things we connect on today, things we can connect on when our life circumstances change, or we have kids?

Marriage is risky business for sure. When you commit to spending a lifetime with someone, you are banking on them growing and maturing into a person that you will love as much in 30 years as you do now. The risk of that decision is minimized if you ask the hard questions and make some of the tough decisions when you are still in the crazy-about-you stage! And the benefits of choosing wisely are SO WORTH the effort!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Recently, I read a book by Gary Thomas, a Christian writer, entitled The Sacred Search. While this book was written from a faith perspective (so it may not be for everyone), it has some very valuable lessons for people actively seeking to share their life with someone in a committed and mutually satisfying marriage. A general summary of the book would be that if you are looking for a longterm, healthy marriage, you must have a shared life vision and that while you definitely want to be attracted to your spouse and be able to have fun together, the conflicts that arise in marriage come from misconceptions about the other person, differences in life goals and inability to communicate and decision make. I will no doubt use a number of the concepts discussed in this book as I do pre-marital and marital counseling in the future.

Trash day was a little teary: New life sometimes means getting rid of the old.

Yesterday, trash collectors hoisted my sofa into the back of their amazing truck and within just minutes, it was shredded into a memory. When did trash trucks become so high tech?

When we moved to Colorado 16 years ago, one of the first things I purchased was a big leather couch for our family room. I bought quality so it would last, and even though it was on sale, it put us back a bit. To say that it has been “used” is an understatement. That couch was sat on, napped on, spilled on, snuggled on, everyday for those 16 years. In a weird way, it was a holder of some deep memories: Movie nights, game nights…and the place where the sick member of the house would lay to re-coop.  I remember sitting there to hear good news from my daughters’ days at school and also to hold crying members of my family when their day had not gone well. I was held on that couch in some very dark moments of my life. (It was also the place I was sitting when I saw the snake in my house and thought I would have to move, but that is a story for another day….)

In the last years, I went from loving the worn look of the leather to hating that my couch had holes. The worn leather was beautiful but the holes made me feel un-put-together and like I was not adulting well.  I even tried to repair it a number of times, using YouTube videos to assist, patching it up with a number of DIY remedies that worked for a while and then split like the old leather. Super glue and leather filler, it turns out, were no match for the aging cushions. So, even though it served us well, it was time for it to go.

Are there things in your life that have served you well but it is time for them to go? Are there some fresh starts that need to happen? As humans, we resist change sometimes, even when a change in our job, our activities, or our relationships could offer us a much fuller life. We are afraid of losing the positive memories from the old comfortable place and resist the work it will take to start again.

I attended a number of graduation parties this past weekend, where recent graduates expressed a lament for their time in high school coming to an end, mixed with an excitement to start something new. If they are like me, they will look back fondly on this time of their life but will also realize in a VERY short time that college is SO much better than high school! I was reminded that it is good that life forces some changes to occur, whether we are ready for them or not!

What changes do you need to make to help yourself feel “unstuck”, or even empowered, in a life of your choosing? Do you need a new couch, a new job, or a new adventure to help you to be more you? Are there activities or situations that should be life giving but they are sucking the life out of you? It might be time to graduate into the next season of life, whether you feel ready or not!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Thanksgiving: It is easy to be grateful when you have just been to Africa

Sonia Nelson - Couchtime.netRecently, I returned from a trip to Africa, feeling abundantly grateful that my calling brings me back to the safety of my comfortable home in the United States. I absolutely love and feel called to do the work I do: I serve those who serve abroad. But I would be lying if I said it was easy for me to go. There is a cost to this kind of ministry, physically and emotionally. That said, I cannot describe the respect and love I have for the women I meet, who serve daily in orphanages, on co-op farms, in refugee camps, in medical centers, and in missional functions, in places where they often cannot find what we, here in America, consider basic needs. They battle all the same problems in marriage, family and work relationships, only they do it in places where they do not always have command of the language, resources are VERY slim, and much of their financial and emotional support lives oceans away.

Spiritual Girls Weekend for Weary Souls

For those of you who might be confused about what I do on these trips, here is a brief description. I have a couple organizations that I am a part of, that offer restorative conferences for women serving overseas. Some of these women are with Christian missional organizations and others are with organizations that are committed to building up communities around the world, with or without a faith-based component. The teams I work with offer counseling, pampering, and encouragement through music and motivational speaking to women who are pouring their lives out for those less fortunate. Think “Spiritual Girls Weekend” for weary souls.

I recently served in Mozambique, a country who sits around #7 for poorest nation status. Of the 25 poorest countries in the world, only a handful are not in Africa so Mozambique is a nation surrounded by other poor nations, with no real hope of big change in the near future. Mozambique continues to struggle after a recent bout with communism and while there is progress, it is very slow. I left for this last trip on October 30th and returned on November 15th to the splendor that accompanies the holiday season in the United States. The contrast between the poverty that I viewed looking out of the hotel where we stayed, and Christmas lights lining the roads in my community remind me how fortunate I am. Even in the toughest of financial struggles, I have always had food and shelter. I have never had to watch my children go hungry. And without fail, someone decorates my community each year with a lovely display of light at Christmas time.

Move from feeling to acting grateful

I am aware that it is easy to say that I feel grateful for what I have, with the images of the poor so fresh in my mind. So my challenge to myself this year is to go beyond feeling grateful. When we go around the table and I say I am thankful for my family, my friends, and my warm home, do I check the gratefulness box or do I continue the conversation and explore what is required of me? For example, it is humbling when supporters share their financial resources with me so that I can do what I do. How do I show my team of generous people, who give so that I can go, how grateful I am for the part they play in making the world a better place? How else can I serve to make use of every penny they invest?

Sonia Nelson - Couchtime.netLuke 12:48 reminds us that to whom much is given, much is required. So today I have to ask, “What does acting grateful look like after we have cleared the Thanksgiving meal dishes?” What skills, passions, and gifts do I have to offer and where else can I make a difference in the life of another? How do I actively show that I am grateful for it all?

Are you ready to move from wanting more to giving more? What skill or gift do you have to offer the world? Are you ready to move from feeling grateful to displaying gratefulness?

With love,

Sonia

Donkey Dung is Your Friend: Turning the poop in your life into something beautiful

Masechaba - Sonia Nelson

In the last six years, I have been privileged to travel internationally, as a therapist, with various organizations who put on women’s retreats. In this capacity, I meet the most amazing women.  On my most recent trip to Lesotho and South Africa, I got to meet and visit the home of Ilza, known in her rural Lesotho village as Masechaba. Her story, her vision and her ability to transform, impacted me tremendously.

When the team and I arrived at Masechaba’s dollhouse sized hut, situated within a remote village, she toured us throughout the most remarkable, all-green, “small-house” I have ever seen. I have watched dozens of those small house home shows on HGTV and they got nothin’ on Masechaba and her ingenuity. She has utilized every inch of space, and powers her computer, lights and water systems with a creativity that could make her a lot of money in the states…but she is in Lesotho, in a village, saving the world one child at a time.

Part of the tour included a look at her makeshift greenhouse where she grows her food, along with trees that will eventually be used on the property. During this part of the tour, we were each handed a piece of donkey dung and instructed how to use our fingers to work it into smaller, usable shavings. We obediently put our smashed poop into a sizable bag where weeks of smashed poop had been accumulating and the ongoing joke for the weekend was birthed, “Donkey dung is your friend.”

Sonia Nelson - Moriah VenturesThe yucky parts of our life can be a thing of beauty

For those of you who know me, there is no explanation needed for my inner response to this situation. I am still unsure as to why, a therapist who likes to think of herself as pretty knowledgeable about personal boundaries, joined in this exercise at all, except that…maybe there is a lesson here for all of us. Maybe there is something that I can use, as I deal with the donkey dung of people’s lives in the counseling space. This is what Masechaba shared with us:  donkey dung is used to fertilize the garden that feeds Masechaba and her adopted daughter. The donkey dung is also used, when mixed with other ingredients, to construct walls and fix holes in her hut. Donkey dung is life saving, necessary for warmth and stability and yes, donkey dung is your friend when you live in remote Lesotho.

Obviously Masechaba’s gifts to the world and mine are very different. But like my new friend, I want to use the donkey dung in my life for something good. Masechaba’s entire hut is made of donkey dung cement and the handprints of fellow villagers are forever on the walls of Masechaba’s home. With heartfelt gratitude, she identifies by name, where each friend labored to help her construct every wall. Am I able to build a beautiful life with the donkey dung that I have been given? Am I able to let people in to shape the bad parts of my life into something beautiful? I better be, because my life work is all wrapped up in the concept of building life out of ashes!

Sonia Nelson - Moriah VenturesRomans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

No matter who you are, you have had trials and you have faced obstacles. You may have lost a job or a friend. You may have received a diagnosis or a Dear John letter that left you feeling helpless and abandoned. A wayward child or a wayward spouse may stir up a disbelief in your relational abilities or the goodness of people. Whatever it is, as you hold the donkey dung of life in your hand, you are faced with a choice and an opportunity: Do you embrace the yucky stuff and mold it into something usable and beautiful or do you gingerly hold it away from you, or toss it aside as useless?

Masechaba has chosen, after being raised in South Africa, under apartheid, to use her life for positive change. As a former South African police officer, she has been exposed to every side of the tough political issues of this complicated region. Today, Masechaba is choosing to shave her head in local tradition, live a sacrificial life, in a hut built out of donkey dung, Her name means Mother to the Nations and the local chief and other authorities in the community know that her home is available for children in crisis. Her life has not been perfect, yet she is living a most beautiful life of redemption and promise, because she is willing to grapple with and redefine what the yucky stuff of life can do, to promote better understanding and new life.

What does the donkey dung in your life look like? Does it need to be smashed up and put to good use? Are you ready to embrace the donkey dung and shape it into something beautiful?

Sonia
snelson@moriahventures.com