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    8 Must-Have Conversations for Couples

    How do you know if love will last? Some say you don’t, that it’s just luck of the draw if your love lasts over time. Many believe that the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to be compatible over time. Others say, not so fast. 

    With more than 40 years of love and relationship research under their belt, The Gottman Institute says that whether love will last is more about how couples address their differences and support one another’s needs and dreams. 

    In studying successful couple relationships and couples whose relationships fail to thrive over time, The Gottman Institute found that people connect and fall in love by talking. John and Julie Gottman and their co-authors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, discovered eight crucial conversations that couples need to have. These conversations can either help couples know that love will last or help rekindle love that has become lukewarm. The authors made the crucial conversations for couples into dates in the book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

    These conversation-based dates have the potential to help couples increase understanding and commitment regardless of how long they have been together. The topics for discussion include:

    • Trust and Commitment. Trust is cherishing each other and showing your partner you are reliable. Choosing commitment means accepting your partner exactly as he or she is, despite their flaws.
    • Conflict. Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship. There is purpose behind it and it is an opportunity to take your relationship to a deeper level. 
    • Sex and Intimacy. Romantic, intimate rituals of connection keep a relationship happy and passionate. Couples who talk about sex have more sex. 
    • Work and Money. Money issues usually aren’t about money at all. Instead, they are about what money means to each person. Learning what money means to each person can help take your relationship to a totally different place. 
    • Family. It is not unusual for relationship satisfaction to decrease after the birth of a child. The decrease often continues with each subsequent child. Couples who maintain their sexual relationship and learn how to manage conflict in a way that builds up their relationship can avoid this drop in relationship happiness.
    • Fun and Adventure. People are often so busy “adulting” that they underestimate the importance of play and adventure in their relationship. They actually are vital components to a successful and joyful relationship. While couples may not necessarily agree on what constitutes play and adventure, learning more about the one you love can be part of the fun. 
    • Growth and Spirituality. The only constant in a relationship is change, and how each person in the relationship accommodates the growth of the other partner is key. Relationships can be more than just two individuals coming together; they can be stories of transformation and great contribution and meaning to the world.
    • Dreams. Honoring each other’s dreams is the secret ingredient to creating love for a lifetime. When dreams are honored, everything else in the relationship gets easier.

    The Gottmans contend that every strong relationship is a result of a never-ending conversation between partners. This book will guide you through how to talk and how to listen in a way that will benefit you as an individual and as a couple.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 10, 2019.

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    4 Keys to Help You Survive Wedding Planning

    “I had no idea how much planning was involved in getting married,” remembers Amy Carter. “On top of wedding plans, my fiancé and I were trying to sell my condo so I could move to Nashville. Fortunately, both of our families were very supportive of us as we planned for our big day. I was surprised how much my mother and I agreed on details of the wedding.”

    Carter is lucky. Many couples preparing for their wedding day find themselves between a rock and a hard place by trying to please their parents, siblings, friends, grandparents and others who have an opinion on how the wedding should go. One bride’s mother refused to help because her daughter preferred a small and intimate wedding instead of a large formal affair.

    Most experts agree that planning for a wedding is something most brides and their moms look forward to. Things can get a bit sticky, though. But don’t fear; there are some things you can do to help avert bitter feelings.

    First and foremost, this is your day. Others may give their opinion about how things should go, but ultimately the bride and groom get to have the final say.

    “We are probably different than most couples because we were more concerned about doing it the way that made us comfortable instead of being so concerned with stepping on toes,” says Rebecca Smith. “We set the rules early.

    “There were certain things that I really didn’t care about, like the flowers. When my mom asked me what I wanted, I told her whatever she picked out would be fine. For us the overriding theme was we are incredibly excited about being married. We don’t want our focus on the wedding to be more than our focus on our marriage.”

    At some point during the planning process, Rebecca and her fiancé acknowledged that something could go wrong. They eventually realized it really didn’t matter because they would still be married. They didn’t pursue a perfect production.

    According to the experts, the Smiths would get an A in wedding planning.

    Here are some additional tips to help you have the wedding day of your dreams:

    • Decide what matters most to you. You can’t give 100 percent of your attention to everything, so decide where you want to focus and delegate the other things. This is a great way to involve family members without feeling like they are trying to control your day.

    • Decide on a realistic budget. Although the average wedding today costs between $20,000 – $25,000, couples can have a beautiful wedding for significantly less money. Since money is the top area of conflict for couples, one way to begin your marriage well is to be realistic about your finances. Know what you and your family can comfortably afford. The amount of money spent is not a determining factor in the success of your marriage.

    • Plan for your marriage. It is easy to get so caught up in your wedding planning that you neglect to plan for your marriage – all those days after the wedding. Take time out to attend premarital education classes or a marriage seminar. Read a good book together, like Fighting for Your Marriage: A Deluxe Revised Edition of the Classic Best-seller for Enhancing Marriage and Preventing Divorce or Before "I Do": Preparing for the Full Marriage ExperienceYour marriage will be stronger if go into it with your eyes wide open.

    • Enjoy this time. Even though the preparation may be a bit stressful, schedule your time so you can truly enjoy these special moments. For many, this is a once in a lifetime experience. Instead of looking back at a whirlwind of activity that you really don’t remember, take non-essential things off the calendar. Rest adequately, eat well and don’t let others steal your joy.

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    Engaged Couples and Expectations

    Are you headed down the aisle soon? If you are, whether this is your first marriage or not, you probably have some thoughts rolling around in your brain in terms of what you expect from your soon-to-be spouse. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

    Almost everyone comes to marriage with some pretty specific ideas about how things will be, whether they realize it or not. These expectations might be based on what people have experienced in their own family (things they liked or didn’t like and don’t want to repeat), a romantic movie, a previous relationship or even the Hallmark Channel.

    Here’s the thing: Whether it’s how you plan to handle money, accepting support from family and in-laws, how often you will make love, being on time, handling conflict, career aspirations, helping with chores or cleanliness, if you don’t talk about your expectations ahead of time, there’s a really good chance it could lead to some disappointing and frustrating moments in the future.

    People often don’t voice their expectations because they fear the other person won’t live up to them. If you do talk about them and your spouse-to-be doesn’t see these expectations as a big deal or doesn’t plan to change their approach to these issues, you may try to convince yourself that once you have a ring on your finger and things are more final, things will be different. Don’t be fooled, though: There are plenty of studies indicating the best time to look for behavior change is before the wedding, not after.

    Unspoken expectations can silently kill relationships. Do yourself and your fiancé a favor: Be honest about your expectations. Just because your family did something a certain way doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do it the same way. It could be that in the midst of discussing what is important to you both, you realize your expectations aren’t realistic or that you want to tweak them a bit to better fit your relationship. 

    One thing you want to guard against is sacrificing who you are in the name of your relationship. If your faith is very important to you and you strongly expect your fiancé to one day share your faith values, realize that change is possible, but it could place a hefty load of tension on your relationship if your faith is in conflict with what they believe.

    It’s totally possible that you and your fiancé have expectations of each other that you don’t even realize you have. Taking the time to go through a premarital education experience either in person or online could help you both identify things you feel strongly about and help you to work through those issues before you get married. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches and heartache down the road.

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    Money and Marriage

    Solomon and Deona married with $90,000 in student loans and consumer debts. For the first two years of marriage, they struggled to find common ground when it came to handling their finances.

    “This couple’s story is not unique,” said Howard Dayton, co-founder of Crown Financial Ministries and Christian author of Money and Marriage God's Way. “Over time, I have noticed that a significant number of people calling into our money management radio program were married and dealing with financial issues concerning their spouse. Add the intensity of the financial crisis we have been in the middle of and you have a recipe for major league problems for many marriages. It's why I decided to write this book.”

    Dayton has now been happily married for more than 45 years. But as Dayton conducted research for Money and Marriage God's Way, he realized that while he had the money thing down, he needed to focus on the marital side of his own house.

    “We put a focus group together of marriage experts, including those who deal with stepfamilies and people recovering from divorce,” Dayton said. “For me personally, the experience of writing this book has had a huge impact on my own marriage. It helped me in many different ways to enhance our marriage relationship on top of what is said about money. I am convinced that many people totally miss the boat when it comes to money and marriage. God wants to use money to bring couples closer together instead of dividing them.”

    If you are considering marriage, Dayton believes you should think about these key factors.

    • Honesty tops the list. Research indicates that 55 percent of married couples are dishonest about what they do with their money. This clearly has the potential to destroy trust, so it is really important to start out your relationship with financial honesty.

    • Have a weekly money date to keep the lines of communication open. “While this may not sound very romantic, this exercise does have the potential to greatly enhance your marriage relationship. Start out your money date by praying and inviting God to be a part of the process. Review what happened last week in terms of income and expenditures, and make plans for upcoming bills. This is not a time to fight and nag. The goal is to make sure both of you are on the same page. I find in many marriages one person knows what is going on with the finances. And, the other doesn’t,” Dayton said.

    • Celebrate victories in your financial journey. More often than not, discussing money equates to a negative experience for couples. “Very few couples celebrate their financial accomplishments,” Dayton said. “I encourage them to be intentional about celebrating, encouraging one another, and expressing gratitude when they reach financial milestones.”

    Despite feeling like they were drowning in debt, Solomon and Deona decided to try these principles. Thus far, they have significantly reduced their debt. They attribute this accomplishment to creating a financial plan, sticking to it and learning how to make wise money choices.

    Check out Crown Financial Ministries, Financial Peace University and MagnifyMoney.com for information regarding budgets, reducing credit card interest and debt. You'll also learn more about eliminating unnecessary fees, maximizing cash back on everyday spending, and earning savings account interest.

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    Prepare for Marriage, Not Just the Wedding

    Looking for ways to strengthen your marriage before it starts? Try these tips to help you prepare for life after the wedding day.

    First, attend a premarital education class or premarital counseling. Eighty-nine percent of married couples who attended premarital education BEFORE marriage found it to be helpful down the road. Worthwhile classes will teach you communication skills and conflict management tools, along with addressing appropriate expectations.

    Find a mentor couple. Seek out an older, more experienced, happily married couple to provide wisdom and support to you as you begin your adventure together.

    Start thinking "We" instead of "Me." Marriage is a partnership. It will serve you well to remember you are on the same team. Make time to pursue activities together and explore common interests.

    Talk about your expectations for marriage. What are your goals for your marriage? How will you decide who does what around the house? Who will manage the money? Discuss your goals to help ensure a successful marriage. Unrealistic and unmet expectations often lead to resentment.

    Be committed. Since commitment is a choice, believing in the permanence of your marriage will actually help your relationship over the long haul.

    Talk about money. Save yourselves a lot of future headaches by discussing your spending habits and spending plans and goals. Always spend less than you make, save a little for a rainy day and try to avoid debt.

    Talk about children. Will you have children? If so, how many children would you like to have? When would you like to have kids? Will both of you work or will one of you stay home?

    How will work/friends/family/social activities affect your marriage? Also, discuss boundaries for your marriage.

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    How to Handle Grief

    It’s been 10 years since Ron and Nan Deal unexpectedly said goodbye to their middle son, Connor.

    “You never expect to outlive your children,” says Ron Deal. “We actually joked about the fact that Connor, who was 12 at the time, was the healthiest of our three boys. The other two could come down with the flu and Connor kept on trucking. One day, he got a headache. We gave him ibuprofen and sent him to bed early. Ten days later he was gone.”

    The Deals have no idea how Connor contracted MRSA, an infection that is very difficult to treat.

    “I love talking about Connor and at the same time, I hate talking about him because it is so incredibly painful,” Deal says. “I now talk about life before Connor died and life after Connor left us, and I long for the innocence of before. I am keenly aware now that life can turn on a dime and you will never be the same.”

    When talking about the grieving process, Deal shares that early on, it felt as if they were buried up to their necks in mud.

    “You can’t walk and can’t move,” Deal says. “In the beginning, I think my wife and I grieved similarly, but as time moved on, we have grieved differently, which has meant we have to pay really close attention. After Connor’s death, I went for years literally not able to experience joy of any kind. My wife didn’t smile or laugh for a year. The grief just consumes you and you feel like a shell of a person. 

    “My sister saved us,” Deal says. “We really went numb for a couple of years. She would show up once a month for an entire year just to be with us. The kids were thrilled because she would cook for them.

    “Once we got to the 3-year, 5-year marks, I found that I could compartmentalize my grief to some degree, but then out of nowhere a song or a smell would take me right back to that place,” Deal shares. “Nan has carried it with her 24/7 like a parka you never take off.”

    The Deals learned they had to be intentional about talking and engaging with each other. Through the grieving process, Deal says they learned many other lessons, too.

    Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing after Loss is a must-read for anyone entering into a hard space with someone who is grieving. If you haven’t walked this road, just show up. Step into the living room and be present. You can’t fix it.” 

    When you lose somebody, studies show that about a third of people in your life are helpful. Deal learned it was his job to seek out the therapeutic third and hang around them.

    He found that sometimes even extended family members weren’t part of their third when their grief was big. During the early years, the Deals were never at home for the holidays or on Connor’s birthday, but they made it a point to go be with safe people or get involved with an activity where the day passes quickly.  

    Deal maintains that in any loss in our lives, we need to find an expression of that loss equal to the magnitude of the loss. You have to find some radical way of blessing other people.

    “Give expression to your grief and sadness, especially those you share it with,” encourages Deal. “You will be tempted to isolate yourself. Don’t do that. You have to get outside yourself.

    “Through a crazy series of events, we ended up going to Ghana, West Africa, working with a ministry that rescues trafficked children,” Deal says. “They raise and educate them. We decided to build an art center in Connor’s name that provides therapeutic, emotional and psychological support for them in the healing process. We get to go once a year and be with the children. Connor would love it! He was artsy and musical. There is a lot there that is him. My grief is alive when I am there. I can’t get Connor back, but I can bless others. These are children who have been sold into slavery. To be a small part of rescuing them and helping them heal is such a joy.

    “Serving others is not denying your own sadness; if anything, it’s saying I know what I am going through and I need to do something with this energy. You do that with tears and you do that with action.

    “We had a counselor to help guide us through this,” Deal says. “The seasons change and with it comes a new little hurdle. It’s helpful to have a professional to walk with you over the course of time.

    “The grieving process is not a sprint or even a half-marathon. It’s a full-on marathon and you have to stay after it. There are lots of ripples from the grieving. Some are beautiful and some are painful. It is a long road. Over the last 10 years we have seen beauty out of the ashes, but it doesn’t get rid of the ashes.”

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 17, 2019.

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    8 Must-Have Conversations for Couples

    How do you know if love will last? Some say you don’t, that it’s just luck of the draw if your love lasts over time. Many believe that the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to be compatible over time. Others say, not so fast. 

    With more than 40 years of love and relationship research under their belt, The Gottman Institute says that whether love will last is more about how couples address their differences and support one another’s needs and dreams. 

    In studying successful couple relationships and couples whose relationships fail to thrive over time, The Gottman Institute found that people connect and fall in love by talking. John and Julie Gottman and their co-authors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, discovered eight crucial conversations that couples need to have. These conversations can either help couples know that love will last or help rekindle love that has become lukewarm. The authors made the crucial conversations for couples into dates in the book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

    These conversation-based dates have the potential to help couples increase understanding and commitment regardless of how long they have been together. The topics for discussion include:

    • Trust and Commitment. Trust is cherishing each other and showing your partner you are reliable. Choosing commitment means accepting your partner exactly as he or she is, despite their flaws.
    • Conflict. Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship. There is purpose behind it and it is an opportunity to take your relationship to a deeper level. 
    • Sex and Intimacy. Romantic, intimate rituals of connection keep a relationship happy and passionate. Couples who talk about sex have more sex. 
    • Work and Money. Money issues usually aren’t about money at all. Instead, they are about what money means to each person. Learning what money means to each person can help take your relationship to a totally different place. 
    • Family. It is not unusual for relationship satisfaction to decrease after the birth of a child. The decrease often continues with each subsequent child. Couples who maintain their sexual relationship and learn how to manage conflict in a way that builds up their relationship can avoid this drop in relationship happiness.
    • Fun and Adventure. People are often so busy “adulting” that they underestimate the importance of play and adventure in their relationship. They actually are vital components to a successful and joyful relationship. While couples may not necessarily agree on what constitutes play and adventure, learning more about the one you love can be part of the fun. 
    • Growth and Spirituality. The only constant in a relationship is change, and how each person in the relationship accommodates the growth of the other partner is key. Relationships can be more than just two individuals coming together; they can be stories of transformation and great contribution and meaning to the world.
    • Dreams. Honoring each other’s dreams is the secret ingredient to creating love for a lifetime. When dreams are honored, everything else in the relationship gets easier.

    The Gottmans contend that every strong relationship is a result of a never-ending conversation between partners. This book will guide you through how to talk and how to listen in a way that will benefit you as an individual and as a couple.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 10, 2019.

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    Life Lessons from Drew Brees

    Thousands of Saints fans have been very vocal about the Saints’ loss in the playoffs. They say they were robbed of an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl due to a game-changing missed call by a referee.

    Football fans around the world have seen the response from players who were impacted by such a huge loss: sullen faces, tears and a painful press conference where the magnitude of the loss got drilled down even further.

    So after Drew Brees’ loss to the Rams in the playoff game, one might expect him to be off somewhere alone, licking his wounds; that is, if you don’t know Drew Brees.

    Facebook user John McGovern, who was actually at the game, posted the following statement, along with a picture.

    “This has been on my mind all day... I don’t know who took this picture but I am in the group of people up against the wall to the right of the goal post. A couple hours after the game was over and the cameras were all gone, I stood and watched a man who was without a doubt THE most affected by the inexcusably ignored event that changed an entire season put everything aside and take care of what is most important. Most people would have wanted to go home and not even speak to anyone. Instead, he laughed and played with his kids and as seen here even held a football for his son to kick a field goal. If kids are looking for a professional athlete to look up to, they can find no one better than this man. Drew Brees makes me very proud to be a New Orleans Saints fan.”

    Perhaps his children knew how big this loss was for their father, but it’s quite possible they had no clue because of how Brees handled the situation. In fact, Brees has been quoted before reminding people that at the end of the day, it’s a game.

    The true character of a man reveals itself in the most challenging and difficult moments. Children young and old pay attention and take Dad’s lead.

    Sometimes it’s hard to separate one’s identity from these situations or to not take it personally, but what we do in the face of adversity teaches children important lessons like how to deal with disappointment, placing value on what matters and how to handle failure. 

    Here are three takeaways from watching Drew Brees interact with his kids after the controversial ending to the football game.

    • Deal with extreme disappointment in a healthy way. Disappointment is inevitable. When dads model how to walk through disappointment, talk about it, work through it and move forward, they are showing their children how to encounter and deal with hard situations.
    • Place value on the things that really matter. How Dad deals with his relationships when he experiences disappointment sends a powerful message about what he values most. The fact that Brees was out on the field playing and laughing with his children after such a huge loss lets his kids know they are more important than a game. Whether they innately understand that today or figure it out a few years from now, it is a powerful play for sure.
    • Don’t allow failure (real or imagined) to define you. Sometimes it’s really tempting to allow failure to invade your DNA and define who you are as a person. The most important lesson about failure is that it is not final. It is a moment in time where one has an opportunity to glean important and helpful life lessons for the future.

    Whether it’s a disagreement with their spouse, a toxic work situation, a car that breaks down, a financial setback or the loss of a championship game that was seemingly stripped right out of his hands, how Dad responds sends a powerful message to his children about what matters most in life.

    Photo Credit: Heather Cohen

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 3, 2019.