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    Getting Engaged During the Holidays?

    Christie and Jim celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with both of their families. Just before the meal, Jim began to tell Christie how thankful he was for her. He also shared what he appreciated about her. A bit embarrassed, she asked him if he realized he was talking to her in front of their entire family. With a smile on his face, he responded, “Yes.”

    After a few more moments of sharing, Jim asked Christie to marry him. She said yes, and everyone broke out in applause.

    According to WeddingWire, almost 33 percent of marriage proposals occur between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

    “There is something special about celebrating the big moment with family and friends who are gathered together during this special time,” says Dr. Greg Smalley, co-author of Before You Plan Your Wedding…Plan Your Marriage. “However, the memories of the ‘moment’ are often shoved to the backseat as many of these couples hurriedly launch into planning for a June wedding. Since they only have six months to get ready, they spend all their time planning for the ‘day’ instead of doing things that will help them stay married for a lifetime.”

    Smalley contends that many couples make this common mistake: They think they have all the answers for marital bliss. Then they find out they were wrong.

    “We see so many couples who clearly want to have successful marriages,” Smalley says. “The good news is most of them can be successful as long as they get the right knowledge and skills. Research shows that couples who succeed gain the knowledge they need before they settle into destructive patterns that often lead to divorce.”

    A study conducted by Dr. David Olson indicates that 80 percent of couples who participate in premarital preparation report higher marital satisfaction. Additionally, studies show that couples who participate in premarital preparation are 31 percent less likely to divorce.

    “Most newlywed couples are clueless that they are getting ready to face enormous adjustments like managing expectations, dealing with disagreement and disappointment, household issues, financial decisions, intimacy in their relationship, in-laws, how to spend free time, personality differences, re-orienting old friendships and more,” Smalley says. “The key to successfully navigating these adjustments is: A) attacking the problem and not each other, and B) feeling emotionally safe with your spouse.”

    Two people who feel emotionally safe in their marriage are much more likely to reveal their deepest thoughts, feelings and desires because they know their partner will still love, accept and value them. When couples can share at this level, they're much more likely to get to the heart of issues and work through them. Interestingly, communicating at this level actually increases intimacy in the marriage relationship. The skills to do this are what couples learn through premarital preparation.

    “You can have a 'perfect' wedding day and a safe marriage relationship. It just takes some additional effort,” Smalley shares. “Building a safe relationship is key to a strong foundation for your marriage. Ideally, your marriage should feel like the safest place on earth.”

    Are you planning for the day, or are you planning for a lifetime?

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    What You Need to Know About Sexual Assault

  • Benefits of Pre Marital Education

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    Tips from Newlyweds for a Happy, Healthy Marriage

    The bride-to-be shared that it was only two weeks, four days and six hours until the wedding. Her eyes sparkled as she talked, and everyone could tell she was head over heels in love.

    Many brides who have gone before her know that feeling so well. They also know that starry-eyed love is not all you need to carry you through the marriage journey.

    What kind of advice would newlyweds give to engaged couples?

    One bride shared that she and her husband didn’t talk about finances before walking down the aisle. Even though they were set up for automatic deposit and bill payment, she was clueless about what was in their checking account.

    “Not too long after we married, I decided to spend a little extra on payday,” said the bride. “I almost caused us to bounce checks because it was the first of the month, when many of our largest bills are paid. To this day, we still haven’t established a budget.”

    Research shows that money is one of the least important factors couples consider when preparing for marriage. However, it is the number one thing that creates distress in marriage. Many newlyweds create massive debt furnishing their home, driving nice cars, and generally “keeping up with the Joneses.” Instead of trying to immediately have what your parents accumulated over many years, attend a money management seminar to learn how to budget your money. Most money experts agree there are three cardinal rules to follow when it comes to managing your money: Spend less than you make, avoid going into long-term debt, and put away a little bit for a rainy day.

    One couple shared that even though they love each other, adjusting to having someone else around and having to consider their thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes is a huge change. Everything from getting ready with only one bathroom and bedtime when one person is a night owl and the other isn’t - to spending habits, how to do the laundry, a clean bathroom, in-laws/extended family, visitors and time for date nights - are now up for discussion and negotiation.

    Learning how to do the marriage dance without stepping on each other’s toes is a skill that takes time to master. The best thing you can do is talk about all of these issues as they arise. Keeping your frustration to yourself will only create friction in your relationship. This is where you learn it isn’t all about you and your wants and desires. It is learning how to let another person be a part of your life. You have to figure out how to give and receive and compromise.

    One bride said she wished she had known she'd have to sacrifice who she was for the sake of her marriage. Healthy marriage isn’t about sacrificing who you are when you come together as one. Coming together should make you better as an individual and better as a team. Talking about career expectations, children, individual and collective goals before you marry will be helpful. There are seasons in marriage when you choose to make sacrifices because it honors your relationship. This doesn’t mean that only one person makes sacrifices.

    Finally, keep expectations realistic. The person you marry cannot meet your every need, make you happy and always be perfect. You will disagree. You will make mistakes. And believe it or not, there will be times when you don’t feel head over heels in love. That doesn’t mean you married the wrong person - nobody is perfect. We all have needs and growth opportunities. Don't focus on your needs and your mate's weaknesses. Instead, focus on their needs and strengths, and on your own opportunities for growth.

    A great start for your marriage takes at least as much prep time as you put into your wedding day. These couples have high hopes for a long lasting, healthy marriage. If that is your goal, make it a point to start investing now in your relationship.

    The return on your investment will be worth it!

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    How to Deal With Unspoken Expectations

    In his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Dr. Gary Chapman tells about the frustration he and his wife felt in the early years of their marriage. At one point, he shares that they went for weeks without cleaning the toilet. 

    He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t cleaning the toilet because that was something his mom always did. Carolyn couldn’t understand why Gary wasn’t cleaning the toilet because that was her father’s chore in her childhood home. Unfortunately, neither told the other about their expectation.

    When Chapman worked up enough nerve to ask his wife why she hadn’t cleaned their toilet, he finally learned she was waiting for him to do it. Needless to say, that became an interesting and eye-opening moment in their marriage.

    Truth be told, every married couple probably has a similar story. They walked into marriage thinking they knew and understood each other only to discover there were numerous unspoken expectations that each person assumed the other understood - little things like how to spend money, how many children to have (if any), where to spend the holidays, whether to buy new or used cars and how much to spend on them, who cleans the house and who handles yard work.

    Looking back, even the happiest of couples will acknowledge that these “little” unspoken expectations have created tension in their marriage. And, if they had it to do over again, they would discuss them ahead of time.

    So, what are some of the most common unspoken expectations? You can probably guess many of them. Many expectations revolve around: house cleaning and maintenance, money management, frequency of lovemaking, boundaries with the in-laws, work and marriage, childcare responsibilities, punctuality, celebrations, conflict management, meal prep and meal times. The list could go on, but you get the gist. There is lots of room for hurt feelings, misunderstandings and assumptions with unspoken expectations.

    Whether you are preparing for marriage or already married, having a conversation about unspoken expectations could be very enlightening.

    Where do you begin? 

    First, it’s helpful to write down your expectations, even if you think you have shared them before. Then ask yourself, where did these expectations come from? Many unspoken expectations are based on family traditions and values, past relationships, life experience and friends. 

    Next, share your unspoken expectations. As you walk through them, keep an open mind. Differing opinions don’t mean one is right and the other is wrong. The question is, how can you make that expectation work for your relationship? If you aren’t married yet, it is important to know your non-negotiables when it comes to expectations for your marriage. 

    If you are clearly on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to managing money, whether or not to have children, what a career path looks like, etc., do not expect things to change once you walk down the aisle. Many have led themselves to believe things will be different after marriage, thinking they would be able to change the other person’s mind. Not only did they not change their mind, each person can end up feeling angry and empty.

    Unspoken expectations can be the silent killer of relationships. Do yourself and your loved one a favor: be honest about your expectations and ask yourself if they are realistic. Just because your family did it that way doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do it the same way in your marriage. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches and heartache down the road.

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    4 Tips for Becoming a Team in Marriage

    After you marry, who should you approach first as your confidant, to ask for an opinion or to work through an issue? Your spouse or your parents? Many couples wrestle with this in the early stages of marriage.

    One woman shared that she resented her husband of two years going to his mother about everything. He responded that he is closer to his mother and that she knows him better.

    “My husband and I dealt with this in the first few years of our marriage,” says marriage educator, wife and mother, Gena Ellis. “When I showed up on my parents’ doorstep, my mother told me to go home. She said I didn’t live there anymore and I needed to go home to my husband. My husband was not being mean or hurting me. I was just spoiled and mad that things weren’t going my way, so I ran home to Mama. I am grateful my mom set these boundaries.”

    Even though you love your spouse, learning how to get along together and grow your trust level takes time.

    “I think a lot of men don’t realize how their relationship with their mom can lead to their wife's insecurity in the marriage relationship,” says marriage coach Dr. David Banks. 

    “For example, many well-intentioned men do not realize that confiding in mom after getting married is like being traded from one sports team to another and going back to your former coach for advice. This actually works against building trust in the marriage and figuring out how to rely on each other.”

    Both Ellis and Banks agree that parents should receive, raise and ultimately, release their children.

    “It is truly in a couple's best interest if parents are a safety net rather than the first line of defense,” Ellis says. “If your adult child is having trouble 'cutting the apron strings,' helping him/her do that provides the best chance of a healthy and successful marriage. It is not helpful to say things like, ‘You will always have a room here.’ Or, ‘If she starts treating you bad, you just come home to Mama.’”

    If you are a newlywed, Banks and Ellis offer these tips as you leave your parents and join forces with your spouse.

    • First, sit down together and talk about what it means to be a team.

    • Resist the urge to run to your parents at every turn. Set healthy boundaries for you as the couple and for your parents. Constantly turning to your parents creates difficulty in building trust and confidence in each other.

    • Watch the influences you allow around your marriage. People who have a negative view of marriage don’t typically help you to build a healthy relationship with your spouse. In other words, you may have hung out with people before marriage that you should see less often now.

    • Consider attending a marriage enrichment class. There are great tools to help you build a strong, lasting marriage.

    “Loyalty is foundational to a healthy marriage team,” Banks says. “You may feel like your parents know you better and can offer better advice. But think of your marriage as your new team. Even though your old team knows you better, your job now is to make sure your new team knows you. This isn’t about giving up your relationship with your parents. It is about creating a new system where there is balance and everyone understands their appropriate role.”

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    How to Balance Marriage and Children

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    How to Balance Marriage and Children

    Some couples marry and have lots of time to nurture their relationship before children come along. Other couples marry and bring children into the marriage relationship immediately. Either way, when children enter the picture, the marriage relationship often resembles two ships passing in the night.

    There is no question that parenting focuses a lot of energy and love toward the children. And sometimes it becomes a challenge to have anything left for your spouse.

    While research indicates that marital satisfaction decreases when you have children, it doesn’t mean couples should throw in the towel. Many assume that after children come along, the kids should be the main focus. But studies show that child-centered marriages are the ones that are most at risk for distress. Focusing on building a strong marriage is a wonderful thing to give your children... and yourself. But, any parent can tell you that is easier said than done!

    In many instances both spouses are running 90 to nothing trying to juggle the kids, work, take care of household duties and care for their marriage. If couples don’t have their guard up, tyranny of the urgent can push date night to the bottom of the list in a flash.

    “If your marriage is strong, your whole family will be strong - your life will be more peaceful, you’ll be a better parent, and you’ll, quite simply, have more fun in your life,” says Elizabeth Pantley, mother, author and parenting expert.

    Being intentional about taking care of your marriage doesn’t have to be complicated. Pantley offers some helpful (and free) tips that don’t require extra hours in your day.

    • Look for the good and overlook the bad. When you are tired and stressed, it's easy to focus on the negative. Train yourself to look for the good qualities in your spouse.

    • Give two compliments every day. Life often gets so crazy that you might think something like, “She sure looks pretty in that outfit,” or “I really appreciate the ways he engages our children,” without actually saying it. Think about how you feel when you receive a compliment. They aren’t hard to give and they don’t cost a dime.

    • Pick your battles. It is easy to fall into the trap of fighting over silly things that truly will not matter 24 hours from now. Before you gear up for battle, ask yourself if this is really a big deal. In many instances the answer is no.

    • Be intentional about spending time with your spouse. It might be early in the morning or in the evening after you have put the children to bed, or even better – a date night. This is the hardest part because the tyranny of the urgent typically reigns. Some parents have formed a co-op where they take turns taking care of each other’s children in order to allow for couple time.

    While loving your children is important, making time for each other should be at the top of the list. After all, the heart of the family is marriage and it's really important to keep that focus. Even though it probably doesn’t feel like it right now, your children will become adults in the blink of an eye. Then they will start their own families and it will just be the two of you again.