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    Getting Your Marriage Off to a Great Start

    What makes a marriage really work?

    Is there any way to guarantee that love can last forever?

    It has been said that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Many people are in love with the idea of marriage. However, many couples fail to prepare for inevitable bumps in the road ahead. Some are just not ready to handle the tough times. Before you take a walk down the aisle, consider making some wise choices that will help ensure a successful marriage.

    Get premarital educationEducation allows couples to identify potential areas of conflict and discuss them before saying "I do." Experts say that some premarital inventories can predict with 80 percent accuracy which couples have the potential for divorce. These inventories can give couples an idea of what issues to work on, therefore avoiding the divorce pitfall. Premarital education can resolve some important issues before they get out of hand and make it easier to seek help down the road. Some of the most hotly debated issues among couples are finances, in-laws, sex, employment, expectations and children.

    Learn how to resolve conflict and communicate effectively. How you manage conflict is a strong predictor of marital success or failure. Danger signs include withdrawing or leaving during an argument, attacking the other person's character instead of focusing on the problem, and escalation. When you listen to each other and talk as friends, you can learn a great deal about your partner and what is important to them. Resolving problems together is a win/win situation that encourages intimacy in the relationship.

    Learn what your partner expects from marriage. Knowing what you expect from each other can prepare you for the years ahead. Unrealistic and unmet expectations often lead to resentment. Knowing what to expect and how to meet each other's needs can be the glue that holds your marriage together.

    Be committed to the permanence of marriage. Commitment, as well as love, is a choice. Couples who believe that divorce is not an option are less likely to take steps toward ending their relationship. In addition, older, more experienced couples can provide much wisdom and support through the years. Sometimes, mentor couples can give insight on handling difficulties constructively within the marital relationship. Marriage is not a 50/50 relationship, as we often hear. It requires 100 percent from both partners. If you want to make your marriage last, it must be a top priority for both of you.

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    Are You a Keeper?

    FIVE areas a person should know about another person before marrying them:

    1. Make sure you have taken the time to get to know the person you are marrying.

    Get to know them, their family, what their conscience is like, compatibility potential, relationship skills and previous relationship patterns.

    2. How do you know you can trust them? 

    As you get to know a person based on the areas above, you shape a picture in your mind of what this person is like. From that picture comes trust. 

    3. Are they reliable? 

    As you really get to know a person, you look to them to meet certain needs that you have. People prove they are reliable over a period of time.

    4. What is their level of commitment? 

    As a relationship grows, it goes through different definitions. Each definition is a level of commitment. Friends have a low level of commitment, whereas best friends have a higher level of commitment to each other and soul mates have the highest level of commitment.

    5. What role does physical touch play in your relationship? 

    If you base your relationship solely on physical touch, you can easily deceive yourself into believing there is more to the relationship. Ask yourself: If physical touch was not part of your relationship, what would your relationship be like?

    Read more about this in How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk or Jerkette by Dr. John Van Epp or visit www.lovethinks.com.

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    10 Potentially Irreconcilable Differences

    The University of Washington has more than 35 years of marital research by Dr. John Gottman that determines with greater than a 90 percent accuracy rate what's going to happen to a relationship over a three-year period.

    In a national telephone survey, there were two issues that couples were most likely to report arguing about. What would you guess those two areas are?

    ANSWER: Money and Children

    Examples of common differences might include:

    • In-Laws & Extended Family Involvement

    • Balance Between Home & Work

    • Communication Patterns

    • Sexual Intimacy

    • Personal Habits & Idiosyncrasies

    • Sharing Household Responsibilities

    • Outside Friendships

    • Political Views

    • Debt Difficulties

    • Disciplining Children

    Here is the important takeaway: Differences are inevitable. It's how you manage the differences that matters. Discuss potential differences in your relationship.

    For example: Money

    1. Discuss how money was managed in your family.

    2. How would you want money managed in your marriage?

    3. Discuss: “What does money mean to you?”

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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?

    For more information on becoming a Newlywed get our E-Book "10 Things Every Newlywed Needs to Know" Download Here

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    What You Need to Know About Sexual Assault

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    For the Guys: Tips for Putting Your Wife First (Without Hurting Mom's Feelings)

    When you tie the knot, family relationships change. 

    Your mom was probably your first teacher, encourager and biggest cheerleader. And chances are, she's one of the first people you've gone to for advice since... well, as long as you can remember. 

    But now things are different, and while your mom is still there for you, your wife takes the top spot.

    Think of it this way: You've added an all-star player to your team who wants to be there for you in every way possible, and she is at the top of your priority list.

    Adapting to marriage and navigating the changing road with Mom will take skill and finesse, especially since you don't want to hurt Mom's feelings, but these tips can help.

    • Do your best to speak positively to your mom about your wife. If your mom starts to criticize her, honor your wife in the conversation. And let Mom know that although you value her opinion, you don't want to hear her speak badly of your bride. 

    • When you and your wife make decisions together, present your decisions as a united front. You should be the one to tell your mother about the choice you made. Don't make it sound like it you only went along with it to avoid rocking the boat--that will only create problems.

    • Check with your wife before making plans with your mom. Never, EVER commit to something with your mother (like bringing her to live with you) without completely talking it over as a couple first.

    • Got problems in your marriage? DO NOT talk about them with Mom unless your bride says she's ok with it. (Hint: Make sure she's REALLY ok with it!)

    • Remember, you're no longer single. Turning to your parents for emotional support is not a bad thing, but turning to them BEFORE you reach out to your wife is not the best idea for your marriage. Your wife is now your number one support system - make sure she knows that.

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    6 Keys to Being a ScreamFree Parent

    Hal Runkel and his family went to the Waffle House for breakfast one Saturday morning. Upon arrival they received coloring books and paper hats just like the cook wears.

    “Shortly after ordering, Brandon, our 2-year-old, became restless,” says Runkel, marriage and family therapist and author of ScreamFree Parenting. “Nothing made him happy. The waitress brought him a waffle which ended up on the guy’s leg who was sitting at the next table. At that point I picked Brandon up to go outside and in the process hit the same guy in the head with Brandon’s leg. By this time everybody in the restaurant was watching. As I went out the door, it slammed behind me, shaking the glass.

    "I stood outside shaking my fist and yelling at my son. When we came back inside I sat down and looked across the table at my wife who was trying to contain the smirk on her face. At that moment I realized I still had the Waffle House hat on my head. Clearly, I looked pretty silly, but the truth is I didn’t need that hat to make me look foolish.”

    Runkel contends that in many instances it isn’t the children acting foolish; it's the parents.

    Becoming a ScreamFree parent isn’t about becoming a perfect parent with the perfect techniques to raising perfect kids. You don’t have to have all the right answers at all the right times in order to be the parent you want to be. Instead, you just have to learn to calm down.

    “I am convinced that good parenting is about parents learning how to take back their own emotional remote control,” Runkel says. “Parents have to make sure they are being the grown up in every situation… no matter what the children do.

    "When a parent is screaming what they are really saying is, ‘Calm me down, I can’t handle what you are doing right now.’ At that moment the parent has lost control and handed the emotional remote control to the least mature person in the household.”

    According to Runkel, when parents focus on calming their own emotional reactivity, they begin to make parenting decisions out of their highest principles instead of reacting out of their deepest fears.

    There are six keys to being a ScreamFree parent:

    • Give your child physical and emotional space. See children as individuals in their own right, with their own lives, decisions and futures.

    • Don’t preach or threaten. Let the consequences of a child’s choice do the screaming.

    • Be an advocate for your child’s development.

    • Change your vocabulary. Don’t label children or pigeonhole how they see themselves. Labels can be very destructive and should be avoided at all costs.

    • See yourself as being responsible to your children - not for them. For example, when your child throws a temper tantrum in WalMart, you’re not responsible for it, but you are responsible for how you handle it.

    • Know that the greatest thing you as a parent can do for your kids is learn to focus on yourself.

    “What every child wants are parents who can keep their cool, even when things get heated,” Runkel says. “Children want parents who are less anxious and prone to knee-jerk reactions and far more level-headed. Your children want you to remain unflappable, even when they flip out. Most parents’ biggest struggle is dealing with their own emotional reactivity. That is why the greatest thing we can do for our children is learn to focus on us, not them.”

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    How You Can Help Prevent Suicide

    “What in the world do you have to be depressed about?”

    “Did something happen to make you sad?”

    “Just snap out of it.”

    Susan* has heard all of these statements her entire life from friends and family as she battled clinical depression.

    “Growing up I was a very shy person in a family of extroverts,” says Susan. “My siblings all love being social and funny. I’m the one who just wants to stay home and read. Throughout my childhood I was very moody.”

    It wasn’t until law school when she was waking up in the middle of the night with her jaw clenched that she decided to talk with a counselor. During her first session, the counselor asked, “At what point in your life did you determine it was your job to be the savior to everyone?”

    “It was at that moment that it hit me,” Susan recalls. “Up to that point, I was the person everybody came to with their problems. I learned I needed some serious boundaries in order to stop letting people walk all over me. I also learned I was clinically depressed.”

    Susan knew she had much to be thankful for, but that didn’t stop her from feeling horrible on a daily basis.

    “Living with depression is like this fog that minimizes joys and magnifies hurts and criticism,” Susan shares. “People who don’t have depression see the world in color. People with depression see the world in black and white. I have dealt with suicidal thoughts for 20 years.”

    Susan recalled a time three months before her wedding. She was driving home from work, planning her suicide in her mind. She wanted the pain to be over. Clearly, she did not follow through with her plan. Susan’s fiance was out of town on business, and she could not think of one other person who would know what to do. She got the help she needed to get through that moment, but every day is still a battle. 

    “In listening to people talk about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I think people don’t understand that when you suffer from depression, it’s like every day on this earth is a living hell,” Susan says. “My depression is so severe, it often interferes with my ability to function. For me, and I think many others dealing with depression, the thought of not having to deal with the pain anymore is very appealing.”

    When asked what people say as they try to help, Susan shared that it isn’t helpful to tell a depressed person to just snap out of it, pop a pill or ask if they had a fight with their spouse. 

    “It is helpful to ask, ‘What can I do?’ or to send a text to check in or call and ask how things are going,” Susan says. “Both my husband and I suffer from depression. He knows that when I am having a hard time, the best thing he can do is give me space and let me be quiet. I know that when he is struggling, the thing that helps him most is to get out and do something.”

    Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can feel awkward. But if you're unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can't make a person suicidal by showing that you care. Giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings, however, can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.

    If you want to be helpful to a person who you believe may be having suicidal thoughts, here are some things you should do:

    • Be yourself. Let the person know you care and that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.

    • Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair or vent anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, its existence is a positive sign.

    • Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm and accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.

    • Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.

    • Take the person seriously. If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.

    • Ask them how you can be helpful. They may not be able to immediately answer this question, but asking it encourages them to think about it.

    Here are some things you should not do. DO NOT:

    • Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: "You have so much to live for," "Your suicide will hurt your family," or “Look on the bright side.”

    • Act shocked, lecture on the value of life or say that suicide is wrong.

    • Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.

    • Offer ways to fix their problems, give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.

    • Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.

    If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).