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 #3: For you, for me or for us?

If you have been married any time at all, you know that there are moments in marriage that are very imbalanced. One person is out doing the other person by carrying the emotional weight of a stressful conflict or by doing the bulk of the supposedly shared responsibilities. There are a number of very good reasons for imbalance, the most obvious being that one person is going through a particularly stressful time, for whatever reason, and the other spouse has to pick up the slack.  However, there are also times when life does not necessitate an imbalance and one person gets sick and tired of doing most of the emotional or physical lifting, when they are married to another perfectly capable human being.  When couples end up on my couch, oftentimes that imbalance has gone on too long and some reorganizing has to be done to save the harmony of the home.

Much of the time, in conversations surrounding the “who-does-what”, it becomes very clear that  people do the tasks or take on the emotional burdens that make sense to them. For example, one spouse may not mind a little clutter around the house, while their honey may need things tidy at all times. So each time the neater spouse picks up something left out-of-place, they are making a mental checklist of their efforts and then slowly, like a crock pot, resentment is building.

A quick reframe that can be used in these situations is to ask yourself who you are actually doing this task for….yourself, your spouse or for the marriage!

Couples that live well together have usually figured out a system that works…each of them have areas of their shared life that fall within their “jurisdiction”. For example, regardless of my strong views on equality for women, it is best if I do the bulk of the laundry in our family and Mike tackles all things related to our cars. It is an area of our life that we are both comfortable with traditional roles. These are not the areas where conflict arises.

The areas of conflict for married folks, arises where there is expectation on one person’s part that the task should be performed by the other person OR the other partner is not pulling their weight. For example, I have the expectation that my husband should be able to get his socks in the hamper and he has the expectation that I will close the cupboard when I take a dish out. (We both have improved in these areas over the years, but honestly, the struggle is real.)

Of course, neither of the above scenarios should land us in counseling but you would be surprised, how if gone unchecked, numerous imbalances can lead to built up frustration between two people. I once had a family in counseling that literally talked about kitchen responsibilities in my office for a solid three months. Each person had different expectations of the part they should play and it lead to some intense conflict. Fortunately, we were able to reframe their approach to shared responsibility, not only in the kitchen, but in their interpersonal dynamic as well.

A healthy switch in viewpoint can sometimes change the whole dynamic.

Step one: Ask yourself why the task or issue at hand is important. Who does this affect the most? Are you making something that is only important to you, everyone’s problem? Or is the task or idea being challenged something that has to be addressed, in order for your home to function properly? Set expectations and communicate time lines so that you avoid disappointment.

Step two: Realize that even though you have pledged to cleave as one, it doesn’t mean that you are going to share a brain. Don’t expect that your spouse knows what you think is the priority for household chores or child-rearing. Each of you were raised in different homes, by different parents. Blending those experiences takes numerous, ongoing conversations, to find a happy medium that you both are comfortable with.

Step three: Find ways to serve one another. Healthy marriages involve two people that WANT to help one another get through life. When I toss those wayward socks into the basket and Mike closes the cupboard, without making an issue of it, it should not feel like a big sacrifice. You are doing those tasks for harmony within your marriage! Also, remind yourself not just of the tasks your spouse doesn’t do, but what they do! You may even find that it is not as imbalanced as you thought.

Step four: Own up to the areas you fall short and work to improve. “It’s just the way I am” seems like an authentic, self-aware statement, but it does not usually promote positive feedback from the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with. For goodness sake, give them some hope that your relationship is going to improve with age!

While I purposefully used simple illustrations, I am aware that imbalance in relationship can run much deeper than who is mowing the lawn each week. If you sense there is an imbalance that is rocking your marriage, don’t wait until you are ready to leave your spouse to start the conversation!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With 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.

Wedding Vows: If I had known then what I know now

In just a few weeks, Mike and I are going to celebrate 25 years of marriage. I am amazed that the two of us have lived together now, longer than we lived apart and I am eternally grateful for the relationship we have. If I am honest, had I known the trials we would face and the mountains we would have to overcome, I am not sure that my younger self would have taken that walk down the aisle.

Sonia Nelson - Moriah Ventures, LLCThe week before my wedding was tumultuous to say the least. The minister scheduled to marry us, a dear friend of the family, got really sick and was hospitalized and there was a military coup in Venezuela, making it impossible for many of my relatives to attend. However, as a young bride, head over heels with the most handsome boy I had ever known, I was not going to let anything come in the way of my wedding. I practically ran down that aisle into a marriage that I truly believed would be picture perfect.

A couple days before the wedding, we met with the pastor replacing our family friend. He had vows that he liked to use in wedding ceremonies, so we had to make sure that we were all in agreement. We were not. He and I had a back and forth about the word “obey” and I left him with, “I am going to have 350 guests at my wedding. If you ask me to commit to obeying my husband, I will say no. You decide if you want us to have that moment.” He did not use the word obey.

Because of that interchange, I am not sure I stopped to think all that long and hard about the vows I was committing to…the vow for better or for worse…the vow for richer or for poorer…the vow in sickness and in health…the vow till death do us part. Maybe because I did not think there would be a time of worse, or a time of poor or a time without health.

Sonia Nelson - Moriah Ventures, LLCBut we have had them all. The last 25 years have not been picture perfect as I had hoped. We have endured trials that many marriages would not survive. We have faced infertility, numerous moves, struggles with family dynamic, unemployment, loss of fortune, and grave sickness. Had I known that sharing my life with this man would bring all this, would I have said yes?

Maybe, just maybe, the reason we agree to these vows in front of our closest friends and family and in the presence of God, is that true death-to-us part love can only be found in the dark times. When I think of the times in my marriage where I have felt truly known and truly loved, is was not necessarily the good times. I felt most loved when my husband held my hand through doctors visits, when we were told we could not conceive, when he stood up to people who were not treating me well, when he spoke at my parents’ memorial services, when he drained tubes of disgusting fluids out of my body following my double mastectomy and slept on a blow up mattress on the floor next to my sleeping chair for two months. I felt most known when he agreed to me going to graduate school a second time, when it was not a wise financial decision. I feel cared for each day when he carefully makes me the best cup of coffee because Starbucks is no longer an option for us. I feel truly blessed when this man listens to my crazy dreams for our future and when I hear and see him parenting his college aged children with crazy love. While I do miss that head over heels, bubble in my tummy, want-to-shout-it-from-the-mountain top love feeling, would I trade it for what I have now?

This summer, Mike and I are going to stand on the sands of our favorite place on earth. I most likely will wear a sundress from TJ Maxx in lieu of a two thousand dollar dress. My miracle babies will be beside us and I will walk, not run, into renewing vows for the rest of my life. This time I know what I am getting into. Life is hard. Life brings unimaginable trials. But it is worth it when you find your person to love and cherish; your till-death-do-us-part soul mate.

So I say yes, yes to all of it.

Sonia
720.449.2235 (voice & text)
snelson@moriahventures.com
Moriah Ventures, LLC