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As I think back to when my children were first born, there are many memories that come to mind of being bombarded with all the things that babies need. I remember attending a presentation for a $1,000 high chair. It was implied that if I didn’t purchase the high chair, I really didn’t love or wasn’t very concerned about the safety of my child. And I’ll admit, I began to struggle with the paradox of what my child needs versus what I, in my parenting, want my child to have.

If I were keeping it totally honest, I really wanted that high chair. Not for all the safety reasons or the fact that it would grow with my child, but the honest truth was I thought it made me look good to others. I heard messages that said to be a good parent, you provide what your children NEED, but even more so what they WANT.

Let’s talk about this struggle.

I should’ve owned stock in LeapFrog due to the number of their electronic toys that I purchased for my son, only because they were educational and would help with his language skills, color recognition, etc., or so I thought. I felt so disheartened when I found him playing with an empty 2-liter bottle rather than the toys I bought.

That was a pivotal point for me. I recognized that I was seeking external approval from friends and family rather than looking inside, and I realized what I was really teaching my sons. While I had taught them that they could have everything they wanted, I never taught them that there was a difference between a want and a need.

I composed a list of things that my sons really need from me, emotionally. It included:

  • Love
  • Time with me
  • Support
  • Discipline (teaching)
  • Comfort
  • Consistency
  • Teaching them values of hard work, sacrifice, persistence, grit, etc.

That was the easy part. The hard part was changing the expectations and behaviors of my sons. Every time we went to a store, their expectation was to get something because they WANTED it. Really, they wanted it because I taught them to expect it by usually getting them something. They didn’t like the word NO.

After one especially rough trip, we had a meeting of the minds.

  1. I no longer took them to the store with me.
  2. I explained to them the difference between a want and a need in practical terms.

For example…

Need:  Food (home-cooked); Want: Eating Out

Need: Shoes; Want: $200 name-brand that you are going to outgrow in 3 months.

Need: Uniforms for school; Want: Name-brand pants that you are going to get grass stains in and holes in the knee.

You get the idea.

As I look back, I’m so glad I made that pivot.

Even though that $1,000 high chair was fancy, I can’t put a dollar value on the lessons learned. My sons have grown into young men who know their worth doesn’t come from things like the right shoes or clothes or cars. And when they start parenting, they will know the difference between a want and a need.

Looking for more parenting resources? Click here!

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Oh, Valentine’s Day – the one day a year it’s okay to wear pink and red together, tell total strangers you love them, and spend way too much money on chocolate.

And don’t forget about celebrating your overwhelming, joyous love for your partner! Right?

For so many couples, Valentine’s Day is more of a routine than a holiday. Get the flowers? Check. Go out for dinner? Check. Eat (all) the chocolate? Check. Then… go back to the norm the next day. But why has the “day of love” turned into one day of over-the-top, mushy-gushy effort to prove our love to our partner?

It doesn’t have to be that way. You may have heard that couples should “treat every day like it’s Valentine’s Day,” and this is not a bad idea! Now, it doesn’t have to mean that you get flowers for your spouse every day or have a fancy meal each night. It does mean that you and your partner choose to express and celebrate your love for each other every day of the year.

It will look a little different for each couple. But here are a few great ways you and your spouse can celebrate Valentine’s Day every day!

  • COMMIT TO SERVE. The humility it takes to serve one another is a great foundation in any relationship. Commit to serving your partner in their needs and wants. Maybe they need some alone time, or they want to try out a new restaurant. Be aware of ways that you can give to your partner and go for it!
  • ALWAYS FORGIVE. This is easier said than done, of course! But try letting go of previous pains or arguments and focusing on the conflict as the problem. It’s a great way to start the process of forgiveness!
  • CELEBRATE THE GOOD. Every couple is guilty of forgetting to do this. Even something as simple as writing a thank-you note to your partner is a great way to bond!
  • BE GENEROUS. This is not financial generosity, but generosity with who you are, the energy you have, and what you give to your love. A balanced relationship is not where each is giving 50%, but where both are giving 100%.
  • ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER. This may not happen as frequently as most couples wish, but a “thank you,” “I’m proud of you,” or “You were great when…” can totally transform a relationship.

Don’t let Valentine’s Day be the one day a year you think through how you can love your spouse the best. Choose to do at least one thing every day to put a smile on your partner’s face, and see just how far it will take you!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Opposites attract. They really do! Then you get married and often opposites repel.

When my wife and I began dating in college, we couldn’t have been more different. Ours was really a case of “opposites attract.” Frankly, the differences were enchanting, fascinating and intriguing. Then we got married. About six to eight months in, those differences were not nearly as charming anymore – they were were just different. I remember thinking, “That thing you do that when we were dating was so beguiling and fascinating? Yeah, well it’s annoying now.” And my wife was feeling the same thing with my differences…

What did we get ourselves into? The rest of our lives seems like a long time to put up with this!

Are you really opposites? Below are some questions to turn this obstacle into an opportunity:

*Is this a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?

What kind of differences are we talking about here? Is one person laid-back and the other more assertive? That’s a tension to be managed – probably your whole life. Is one person trying to save money while the other person is blowing through it? That’s a problem that is a problem that is gonna have to be solved.

*Is one person taking the moral high ground?

I was fond of saying that all our differences were equal but some were more equal than others. My wife was more assertive, list-driven and task-oriented. I was laid-back and cared more about people. She always had “The Moral High Ground.” My wife would often say, “Well, at least I get things done!” (Aaaand you’re gonna die from a heart attack.) Try not to label the differences good & bad, right & wrong, helpful & unhelpful. They can just be different.

*Is there a duty to validate your spouse and their differences?

Do you have a chance to celebrate your spouse and the unique things that they bring to the relationship and the family? Be sincere and not condescending.

*Is there an opportunity for you to provide each other balance?

My wife and I finally learned that our differences should not be competing with each other, but rather, they could be complimenting each other.

*Is there wisdom in playing to your strengths?

Sadly, there are many “gendered” jobs around the house where we often just expect a certain partner to do it. But what if that is not their skill-set or passion? The other spouse is like, “I LOVE doing that job and I’m awesome at it!” Play to your strengths, not stereotypes.

*Is there a way for your kids to benefit from seeing your differences?

Absolutely – especially if you can show them how you work together through your differences. With an example like that, it’s more likely that your kids will be able to work well with people who are different than them. Plus, if you allow your differences to balance each other out, it’s more likely that your kid will follow suit. So, instead of constantly planning or constantly sleeping, they’ll have a deeper understanding of how to “work hard, play hard,” so to speak.

An important thing to remember is that a relationship with two people wired the exact same way comes with plenty of problems of its own.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

“Money, money, money. That’s all we seem to argue about.”

“She spends too much money at the grocery store on stuff we don’t need.”

“He always wants to eat out.”

“She’s always buying new clothes.”

“We’re not buying the furniture he wants. It costs too much.”

“He won’t let me loan my sister a few ($500) dollars.”

“She should get a better job.”

“He should get a better job.”

Countless marriage experts have documented that one of the top reasons couples give for divorce is – you guessed it – fighting about money. If that’s the case, why is the world’s richest couple, Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of Amazon) and his wife, getting a divorce when they have all that money?

I’ve noticed in my 14 years of marriage that although we have had countless discussions, arguments and conflicts about money, wait for it… the issue isn’t really money.  But if it’s not, then why do we fight about money so much? And why do we think it’s about money?

First, let’s recognize that every couple is different and there is no blanket answer. However, we know that our spending habits often reflect what we value. And if we disagree about what we should spend money on, then we disagree about what we value. And what I value is at the core of who I am and no one has the right to tell me what I should or shouldn’t value. Right?

For example, maybe I shop a lot because I value my appearance, because to look good is to feel good. Or maybe I value my independence and freedom and don’t like to feel controlled. Maybe I want to spend as little money as possible because I need to feel secure and if there’s no money in the bank, then I feel insecure. The issue wasn’t money in any of those instances. Instead, it was the symptom of a deeper issue.

If you feel like you’re fighting about money all the time, here are three things that can help:

  • Start with understanding what you value and your attitude toward money. There are tons of resources you can use, but I think Sybil Solomon’s Money Habitudes can really help you gain insight into your own personal habits and attitudes toward money. Check it out, and trust me when I say that your marriage will thank you.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Do ask questions. I’ve learned to ask some simple questions when we discuss money matters in my marriage. When my wife I disagree about a purchase, I may humbly and non-judgmentally ask, “Why is that particular purchase/outing or whatever important to you? Help me understand.” I’ve learned a lot from that question. And it doesn’t mean that we always end up buying it. But now we are communicating and understanding what we value, not just what we want to spend money on.
  • Seek to understand. (Did I mention that being humble really helps?) Perhaps your spouse has already spent money on something you believe was unwise, and you’re really unhappy about it. Before you accuse them and tell them they were irresponsible, inconsiderate or uncaring, check your own attitude first. Take a deep breath and ask why they thought that purchase or expense was so important at the moment. Humility + a non-judgmental attitude = Progress

Being humble and staying out of the judgment zone when it comes to spending can be a major win because the right attitude communicates that we care deeply about our partner, and NOT just about the topic at hand. Plus, moving past the symptom to the deeper issue is a major accomplishment you can both feel good about.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

The challenges of single parenting are many. Holding down a job, taking care of the children’s needs and household repairs, and a whole host of other things vie for the 168-hour week. How do single parents make it through the trials and come out feeling good about themselves and their children?

When Martin Luther King III was asked how his mother handled being a single parent, he responded, “My mother did the best she could. She surrounded us with caring adults, including my grandmother, who loved us and provided structure and security to help us grow to be responsible adults.”

Census reports indicate there has been a significant increase in single-parent households. In fact, more than 13.7 million men and women find themselves in the position of parenting alone. Things that have never been issues before are now on the radar screen, often producing anxiety, fear and many sleepless nights.

“I have been a single parent of three for six years,” says Richard.* “I didn’t know a soul when I moved here and had no family support. The biggest obstacle for me was keeping all of the balls up in the air. I was launching a new business and trying to keep my family going.”

Richard describes his transition into single parenthood as highly emotional.

“I was living in a one-bedroom place,” Richard says. “At the outset it was very difficult. I realized I was insecure emotionally. I remember taking lunch hours to do laundry at the laundromat.”

Fortunately, Richard found resources that were available to assist in his parenting efforts.

“The aftercare program at school was a lifesaver,” Richard shares. “There were teachers and friends who helped out in many ways. We were befriended by many people to whom I will always be grateful.”

If you’re a single parent trying to find your way, here are some helpful suggestions from seasoned single parents:

  • Be organized. Make a plan for moving forward. Take time to sort through activities, job demands, a budget, available resources, etc. This will help you to be more in control of your situation and to focus on what is important.
  • Focus on family. Set expectations, establish boundaries, keep the lines of communication open and set aside time to be together as a family.
  • Throw perfection out the window. It isn’t about having it all together. It is about doing the best you can under difficult circumstances.
  • Ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. There are resources available, but you have to make the connection. Neighbors, friends and co-workers are often ready and willing to step up to the plate.
  • Take one day at a time. After you have put a plan together, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture.

After going through the trauma of a breakup, loss or abandonment, it’s easy to shy away from asking for help for fear of being seen as weak. Most single parents say this is not how they wished things would go. But over time, many single moms and dads realize the experience has made them stronger and that it is truly okay to ask for help.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

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Popular talk shows imply that everybody intentionally cheats in marriage. “In reality, most people don’t cheat,” says Kristina Coop Gordon, co-author of Getting Past the Affair. “Based on research, approximately 40 percent of married people cheat on their spouse. Studies indicate the person most likely to cheat is someone who is dissatisfied with their relationship and/or feels insecure about themselves. They use the relationship outside of their marriage as a way to feel better about themselves.”

What is Unfaithfulness?

Some people believe that if sex isn’t involved outside the marriage, they weren’t being unfaithful to their spouse. However, Gordon and others such as Dr. Shirley Glass, author of Not “Just Friends,”disagree.

Being unfaithful to your spouse starts when you begin to hide what you are doing with someone else. If you’d be uncomfortable with your spouse knowing about conversations with a co-worker or a regular lunch appointment, or if you schedule workouts to spend time with someone, then you have probably crossed the line.

Only 10 percent of people who leave their marriage to pursue their affair partner actually end up with them. Many say they wish the affair had never happened. They often wish they had worked on their marriage instead.

“It is not uncommon for couples who have experienced infidelity to believe that their marriage is over,” Gordon says. “However, based on 20 years of research we have found that at least 65-70 percent of couples survive the affair.”

For many, this seems impossible. How can you ever re-establish trust? At least one spouse has betrayed the marriage relationship, creating a lot of trauma and questions. The offended spouse often experiences great anxiety and wonders if it will happen again.

“If you are willing to do the soul searching in your marriage, I will just about guarantee your marriage will not only survive, but you will be happy in your marriage,” Gordon says. “In fact, a couple I recently worked with shared that as difficult as the affair was to get through, while they would not want to experience it again or wish it on anyone, they are grateful it happened because it was a real wake up call for their marriage.”

Gordon’s step-by-step guide helps couples dealing with infidelity. It encourages them to look at themselves and their marriage, discover where things derailed and identify steps to get back on track.

A huge piece of the restoration process is forgiveness.

“Some people confuse forgiveness with excusing unacceptable behavior or no accountability,” Gordon says. “This is not true. Forgiveness is very freeing. Just because you forgive, it doesn’t necessarily mean immediate reconciliation. Questions still have to be asked. People have to be willing to look at themselves and acknowledge, ‘I messed up. What caused me to do that?’ Couples willing to do the hard work receive a gift because they learn a lot about themselves, their spouse and their marriage.”

“The affair is one layer of our relationship,” says a couple who used Gordon’s book to help them heal from an affair. “It is a painful, awful, yucky layer. We are continuing to weave our relationship and lay so many more layers on top of that layer that it will be just one line in the many layers of our marriage.”

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

When David and Ellen* married, Ellen never suspected David might be an alcoholic.

“We had a large time with friends and family,” Ellen says. “I knew he drank a lot, but it didn’t cause issues for us. I never felt unsafe. My life looked very normal to everyone around us. David was a good provider and the good far outweighed the bad in our marriage.”

In 2004, David and Ellen moved to Atlanta with their 6-month-old daughter. While Ellen noticed behaviors in David that raised red flags, she didn’t think it was a big deal.

“I noticed David was drinking more at night,” Ellen says. “In addition to David being super-stressed at work, I was terribly lonely and did not want to be away from my family. We had some knock-down drag-out fights which I attributed to both of us having too much to drink. Several times I left and stayed with my parents for a while. When I came home, we both apologized and life went back to normal. The fights were few and far between. We did not realize they were warning signs of things to come.”

In 2008, the couple moved to Chattanooga feeling like this was a great opportunity to advance their lives.

“I convinced myself that a new house, more money and getting out of Atlanta would help our situation. As time unfolded, things remained the same. We had great times and really bad times. Sometimes I wondered if I was crazy because life could go along for so long and be wonderful, then wham.”

In 2012, Ellen began to notice a significant difference in David’s behavior.

“I honestly believed he was having an affair,” Ellen says. “He was unhappy with everything including me and drinking seemed to be the only thing to help him cope and relax. Finally, David acknowledged he had a problem and tried outpatient treatment. Shortly after that he quit his job of 20 years, convinced that was the problem and took a new job in Louisiana. At that point, I was ready to do anything to get my husband back, even leave Chattanooga and friends I loved to support him.”

In Louisiana, David was only home on weekends, and he hid his drinking well. Unfortunately, things went south pretty quickly. After months of living in denial, Ellen finally acknowledged her husband was an alcoholic. Now with two children, she decided she could no longer live with David. She left with the stipulation that if he went to treatment she would commit to trying to salvage their marriage.

“While I was gone, David got a DUI and was fired from his job,” Ellen says. “Once again he entered treatment. When he came home, we made a plan to move back to Chattanooga. David found a job pretty quickly. I knew he was having relapses, but I overlooked them thinking that if I could just be a better wife, I could make him better. I now know that was not true.”

In 2013, David’s life spiraled completely out of control. While David was away on a business trip, his co-worker notified Ellen that David had called to resign from his position—and it sounded like he planned to take his life.

“At this point in our marriage, we are barely speaking to each other,” Ellen says. “I had no idea where he was and I had no interest in going to find him. I was actually determined not to go—I was tired and had rescued him one too many times. My heart was done with him. Something in my core kept saying, ‘Show him grace one more time.’ I resolved that I did not have to be nice to him, but I had to go get him one more time and then I could be done with him.”

Read part two of Addiction and Marriage for the rest of the story, and find resources for those who struggle with addiction in their marriage.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Getting Past the Affair

Giving up on your marriage may not be the best thing if one of you has been unfaithful.

“Life is Short… Have an Affair!” 

That’s the tagline for Ashley Madison, a website encouraging married people to have an affair. When hackers exposed more than 300,000 people connected to Ashley Madison, the media went crazy. Many reporters ended their story saying that divorce lawyers need to prepare for a steep increase in business. 

But wait. It may not be time to file the papers just yet.

“If we could speak to those 300,000, we would tell them to push the pause button and don’t automatically head to divorce court,” says Carrie, whose husband Greg (not their real names) utilized social media to initiate more than one affair.

Infidelity rocked my world. It was embarrassing. I asked myself a million times, ‘How could my world look one way and have such a dark underside I had no clue existed?'” Carrie says. “I am a CEO and have been a policy advisor. I am a smart woman. You would think being married for 29 years, I would have a clue something was going on, but I didn’t.”

Greg describes himself as “that guy nobody could believe would do this.” He was a family man, active with his children and various religious activities.

“For 27 of our 29 years of marriage I was in and out of affairs and dabbled in porn,” says Greg. “I had decided my marriage would not survive when I engaged in my most recent affair. When the affair was exposed, I found myself confronted by what I had become. All these years I was oblivious to the destruction I was sowing. I know it’s hard to believe, but it is true. Looking back, I can’t believe I operated like that.”

Initially, Greg told his wife what he thought was just enough. He described a battle going on in his head over telling her everything or keeping her in the dark.

“At some point I couldn’t take the hiding, lying and deceit anymore and decided to tell my wife everything,” Greg says. “That is when things started to change. I had no idea whether my marriage was going to survive, but I knew I was moving away from something that had had a stronghold on me for a very long time.”

Counseling can help.

Greg and Carrie entered counseling with someone who understood the traumatic impact of marital infidelity. Additionally, they attended a weekend intensive for hurting marriages.

“When I first found out about the affairs I was devastated, in shock and then furious,” Carrie says. “I curled up in a fetal position for a couple of days. I journaled hundreds of pages as I walked through grieving what I thought had been my marriage.

“When we entered into counseling, I remember the counselor asking me why I wanted to stay married. I responded that I honestly didn’t know that I wanted to stay married. He said, ‘OK, let’s explore that.’ It was through counseling and the weekend experience that we learned we had no idea how to talk to each other or care for each other. We learned how to stop doing things that were hurting our marriage and utilize tools to help us communicate better. We learned a path to intimacy in our marriage we had never known before.”

Greg and Carrie began this journey 15 months before sharing their story. Though it hasn’t been easy, they’ve been able to bury their old marriage and build a new, 100% different marriage.

Rebuilding trust is possible. But it will take hard work.

“We have worked hard to rebuild trust,” Greg says. “I have accepted responsibility for my behavior and Carrie, while she is not to blame for the affair, has been able to look at her behavior as well. We have set healthy boundaries and put safeguards in place and we attend support groups both individually and as a couple. What we have found is an amazing marriage we didn’t know was possible.”

“With every crisis there is an opportunity,” says Kristina Coop Gordon, co-author of Getting Past the Affair. “What Greg and Carrie have described is not just luck on their part as a couple. It is not uncommon for couples who have experienced infidelity to believe that their marriage is over. However, based on 20 years of research and clinical experience, we have found that at least 65-70 percent of couples who choose to work on their relationship survive the affair.”

If you are reeling from infidelity in your marriage, you might find these resources helpful: beyondaffairsnetwork.com, and the book, Getting Past the Affair: A Program to Help you Cope, Heal and Move On –Together or Apart by Kristina Coop Gordon.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***