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Happy New Year! Did you make all your resolutions? What are your goals for this year? Whether you made some or not, I’d like to challenge you to add one resolution: Make this year one of growth for your marriage.

Marriage isn’t easy, but a great marriage is achievable with intentionality and commitment. You can form and keep habits to help you strengthen your relationship and grow your marriage in this new year. 

Here are six good habits to start for your marriage:

1. Be intentional about intimacy.

I get it. Life can be hectic. We all have those times when we let intimacy slip a little. With intentionality, you can make intimacy a central part of marriage. But intimacy isn’t just sex. That’s part of it, but there is much more to it. There are actually six types of intimacy: intellectual, experiential, emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual. When you’re intentional about increasing intimacy in these areas, your marriage grows deeper.

2. Date regularly.

Regular date nights are crucial to a healthy marriage. There are numerous benefits to date nights as well. Here are some of them:

  • Help couples connect
  • Build resilience
  • Increase happiness

Date nights don’t have to be expensive, either. You can get creative and go for a picnic, enjoy a park together, or just grab a coffee or hot tea and chat. Dates don’t have to be limited to the evening, so get creative with what works best for your schedules. If you don’t date regularly, start with once a month and increase frequency to fit your lifestyle. Pull out those calendars and make sure you’re both aware of what each other has going on. Schedule your date nights so you don’t book something else over them. 

3. Express appreciation for each other.

As we navigate the daily grind, it can be easy to take each other for granted. Expressing appreciation helps connect us, and it starts with a simple “thank you.” Science tells us the benefits are enormous. Helping our relationship thrive and making us physically healthier are just a couple of advantages. Make gratitude an everyday habit in your marriage.

4. Play together.

Remember how fun it was to date before you got married? If playing is no longer part of your relationship, it’s time to create a new habit. Playing together can range from just being goofy to playing games together. My wife and I have always enjoyed a good Nerf battle.

5. Make time to talk.

Communication is essential in any relationship, but it’s at the core of a healthy marriage. We must make time to talk daily to strengthen our relationship. Setting aside at least five minutes per day to talk with your spouse can make you both feel more connected and understood. This means sitting down face to face – no technology, no kids – just the two of you. According to Dr. John Gottman, “If you don’t work at communication, the relationship will deteriorate over time, just like a car that’s not taken care of will fall apart.”

6. Share your dreams and goals.

Remember when you were dating, and you’d share your dreams? Well, don’t let that die! Our dreams change as we get older, and that’s ok, but keep sharing your dreams. My wife and I started keeping a dream journal a couple of years ago. Nothing complicated – we just grabbed some notebooks. We started writing down places we wanted to go, things we wanted to accomplish, and any other dreams we had. 

Also share your career, health, and financial goals, or whatever they are. If you set goals for the new year, share those. Be each other’s accountability partner and cheerleader. Your marriage will thrive when you’re growing together. 

Start this year off by forming habits to deepen your connection and strengthen your marriage. Although it takes time to create a new habit, the time it takes depends on you. Your marriage is worth the effort and focus. Don’t give up! Keep working to make this the best year yet for your marriage.

Other blogs:

Couples Who Play Together – First Things First

What to Do When My Spouse Feels Unappreciated – First Things First

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage

6 Exercises to Strengthen Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage

How Failed New Year’s Resolutions Can Affect Marriages

If you don't reach your goals, it doesn't mean your relationship is a failure!

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions going?

According to data collected in 2018 by the fitness app Strava, January 17 is when many start to give up on their resolutions. By early to mid-February, many have thrown in the towel. What does this mean for you and for your relationship? 

If you set goals as a couple, maybe to rein in finances or invest in your marriage, failure can seem detrimental, especially if one spouse is ready to give up. At the same time, the other wants to push forward. When both partners aren’t on the same page regarding goals for their relationship, resentment can develop. One person throwing the towel in may lead the other to think they don’t care or are lazy. So what do you do?

A failed goal doesn’t mean that your relationship is a failure. 

Remember, your relationship’s health is most important. It may be time to press pause on the pursuit of the goal and reevaluate. Have a conversation about why one or both of you gave up. Communication is a necessity! Don’t wait. Talk. 

Ask yourselves if the goal is a mutual interest or if one spouse wants this and the other went along trying to support it. My wife and I have the goal to be a healthier couple physically. We want to be healthier for our kids, but we don’t go about it the same way. I may have my eyes set on running a marathon. She may be pursuing healthier eating habits and consistent cardio workouts. We support each other and are each other’s #1 cheerleader. We’re committed to helping each other reach our goals. 

Don’t worry; January 1 doesn’t hold any magical power when it comes to goal setting. 

You can adjust and start fresh on whatever day you choose. (YES!)

Here are some questions to ask if you feel like your relationship goals aren’t going as well as you hoped this year:

  • Who do you want to be as a couple? As a spouse?
  • What is the motivation for the goals?
  • Do you have a plan?
  • Are the goals realistic and achievable?

Knowing the why and how is essential to accomplishing the goal. Identify who you are as a couple and your identity, then work the plans out from there. Maybe as a couple, you want to influence others to prioritize their relationship by having consistent date nights. That’s your goal. How do you work it out? Schedule your date nights and make them a priority on your calendar. Other people will recognize this, and you may influence another couple to do the same. 

Realizing a goal is about who you want to be as a person; achieving it is a journey, not a pass/fail. 

You can and will make adjustments as you go. Adjusting is not a sign of failure but a sign of growth. Commit to working together and supporting one another.

Don’t let failed resolutions affect your marriage. Step back, have a conversation, reset your goals, and plan for success. 

Other blogs you may want to check out on this topic:

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Can You Really Prevent Divorce?

Put these protective measures in place.

Whether you are thinking about getting married or you have already jumped in with both feet, you may be wondering if it’s really possible to prevent divorce. Or, to put it another way, is it just wishful thinking to believe this is forever?

  • If you have lived through your parents’ divorce, you might be wondering if you have what it takes to prevent a divorce in your own marriage.
  • If you have ever heard the statistic that half of all first time marriages end in divorce, you might be questioning whether or not you will make it is just luck of the draw.
  • Perhaps you have read about or know couples who have been married for 50 years, and you might be asking, “What’s their secret?”

Regardless of your responses, I’m going to give you some good news, straight up. The answer (based on research) is YES! You really can prevent divorce, and the even better news is, it isn’t rocket science.

First, the reasons people cite for wanting to get a divorce:

The National Fatherhood Initiative conducted a national survey on Marriage in America and found that the most common reason couples gave for divorce was “lack of commitment” (73% said this was a major reason). Other significant reasons included too much arguing (56%), infidelity (55%), marrying too young (46%), unrealistic expectations (45%), lack of equality in the relationship (44%), lack of preparation for marriage (41%), and abuse (29%). (People often give more than one reason, so the percentages add up to more than 100%.) Other more recent surveys of adults have come up with similar findings.

Keys to Prevent Divorce

Clearly, there are some valid reasons people divorce. However, a huge percentage of couples are divorcing for reasons that are preventable with some intentional focus. So, if you are considering marriage or you’re already married and you want it to last forever, here are some things you can do to increase your chances of staying together:

1. Communicate!

Keep in mind that just because you love someone doesn’t mean you communicate well with each other. Be intentional about making time to talk with each other not just about intense things, but life in general. Pay attention to how you listen—or actually don’t listen. So often, people are more interested in what they have to say than what their partner has to say. As a result, they only halfway listen because they are preparing for what they want to say next. Practice being in the moment and really listening to your partner. This seems to come easier when you are dating than after you get married.

2. Pay attention to how you handle conflict.

Every great relationship has conflict, but it’s the way people engage each other in the midst of it that matters. If the win for either of you is to get the last word or to be right, your relationship loses. The goal with conflict is to actually increase intimacy in your relationship, not create disconnect between the two of you.

3. Commit.

This might be the super secret sauce for marriages. If you enter into marriage with the idea that if the going gets tough you can always leave, it will be hard to build a strong relationship over time because in the back of your mind you are always entertaining the notion of leaving. The thing about marriage is that it is challenging at times. It’s impossible to bring two people together and not experience some strenuous moments. However, healthy marriages aren’t challenging all the time and they take advantage of the challenges to bring them closer—as in, “Look what we just came through/survived together!” This makes you stronger as a team and also builds confidence that whatever the next challenge is, you can work together to get to the other side.

*To be clear, if you are experiencing abuse, addiction or affairs in your marriage, this is different and you need to seek professional help to determine your best next steps. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors. You can be committed to your marriage and love your spouse and also know the relationship cannot continue along the same path with these unhealthy behaviors.

4. Be intentional about connecting.

When couples talk about lack of commitment, a lot of this centers around feeling disconnected. They are committed to the relationship, but slowly over time, children come along, careers get more intense, parents struggle with illness—all things that require your time, energy and emotional bandwidth. Before you know it, instead of feeling like a team, you feel distant from one another. When one or both people in a marriage start feeling disconnected, they consciously or unconsciously begin to look for connection elsewhere. And you know, the grass is always greener in the yard that gets attention. Take inventory of your activities. Every couple should have activities they do together and apart, but if you find you are doing more activities separately from your spouse, you may want to evaluate the impact it is having on your relationship connectedness.

5. Make time to play together.

Being playful together releases dopamine—the feel-good hormone. When you do things with your spouse that make you feel good, you create powerful positive memories and you associate those feelings with being with your spouse. The University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies research finds that the amount of fun couples have together is the strongest factor in understanding overall marital happiness.

6. Train your brain.

It is true that we teach our brains to think a certain way. If you start feeling negative toward your spouse and you avoid letting them know how you feel, you will probably start to notice the things they do that bother you even more often. Before long, you have built your case for why they are no longer the right person for you. On the other hand, if you look for the good in your spouse, it’s not that you never see their faults, you just don’t let them take up residence in your brain and impact how you see the one you love.

7. Look to the future.

Dream about things you want to do or accomplish together. Write them down and revisit them annually to see if there are things you want to add or delete. This gives you a future focus together. It also provides a focal point for when you face challenging times and need something to keep you motivated and forward-facing in your marriage. It’s kind of a reminder that in the midst of hard, it’s not always going to be like this. Kids get potty trained and sleep through the night. Teens eventually become adults. Illnesses go away or you learn how to manage them.

No marriage is 100% risk-free of divorce. However, there are definitely protective measures you can put in place to significantly decrease your risk for divorce, both before and after marriage. Guard against putting your marriage on auto-pilot. Be intentional about the choices you make on a daily basis. Avoid comparing your marriage to someone else’s, as you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Think of your marriage as a never ending adventure. It’s going to have some insanely crazy times you don’t wish to repeat and some wildly exhilarating moments that you won’t want to end. But consider this—if you quit in the middle of a perfectly good marriage, you will have no idea what you missed out on.

Other blogs you might find helpful:

7 Ways to Reduce Your Risk for Divorce

Couples Who Play Together

10 Things Every Married Couple Needs to Know About Sex

Help! My Spouse Hates to Talk About Boundaries!

***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.***

Image from Pexels.com

16 Ways to Score in Team Sports

Here are some things that matter on and off the field.

If you happen to be a football fan, it can be painful watching your team struggle to even get on the scoreboard. There’s usually a lot of armchair quarterbacking and coaching going on anyway, but it can reach a fever pitch. People start calling for the coaches’ jobs and trash-talking team members.

Coaches of team sports are often fired because of a losing season.

One coach commented that it’s always interesting when the fate of one’s career rests in the hands of 18- to 22-year-olds.

After a weekend of tough losses in college football, posts like this tend to appear on social media:

“ … I grew up in a house where my Daddy was born and raised an Alabama boy and my Mama was born and raised a Tennessee girl. We never ever talked trash. Did we have healthy teasing? Sure! But never ugly at all! I also grew up with my Daddy being a referee and was taught to show respect to the umpire or referee and to never EVER run my mouth. What I have found is we have a stadium full of disrespectful people who boo kids, coaches and referees and could care less what anyone thinks. 

“ … I challenge anyone who has ever played a competitive sport to stop and think. Did you ever think, man I can’t wait to go out and suck today?! NO! Not once did I ever think that and I bet there isn’t another athlete OR COACH who has either! How about your boss?! How about if you messed up or if your team messed up and people started screaming for your job!? Tonight I hurt for a couple who I met and know are amazing because I know their love for these kids. So scream all you want but maybe just maybe it might be about more than points on a scoreboard. Maybe it’s about a family, a kid who did their best but still isn’t good enough but had so much pressure.” 

This post brings up a really great point – what exactly are these kids doing? Is there more to this picture than winning and that college athletics is a big business that brings in money for the school? Every institution of higher learning would probably say their goal is to produce successful leaders, and for their athletes to graduate. They understand that very few of their athletes will go on to play professional sports.

It’s helpful to know that the brain’s prefrontal cortex, where mental control and self-regulation occur, isn’t fully formed until around age 25. These coaches and their staff are taking kids who are still maturing and not only helping them develop as players, but as people. They spend a lot of time making sure team sports players have access to helpful resources for academics, character development, personal boundaries and decision-making.

Family members of coaches or players on the field also feel the sting of the boos from supposed fans when their family member or their team isn’t having a good game. Even some coaches’ family members experience ruthless bullying. People talk about players on social media as if they were NFL professionals, when they are only 18- to 22-year-olds.

So, what exactly is college football or any other collegiate team sport really about?

When Kansas State University Head Coach Bill Snyder took over the football program in 1989, he took over the “worst NCAA Division 1 football program on planet Earth.” The team is now ranked third in the Big 12 Conference. In his book, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, Snyder outlines how he transformed a losing team into a winning team with his 16 goals for success.

Here’s the list:

  1. Commitment – To common goals and to being successful.
  2. Unselfishness – There is no “I” in TEAM
  3. Unity – Come together as never before.
  4. Improve – Every day … as a player, person and student.
  5. Be tough – Mentally and physically.
  6. Self-discipline – Do it right, don’t accept less.
  7. Great effort
  8. Enthusiasm
  9. Eliminate mistakes – Don’t beat yourself.
  10. Never give up
  11. Don’t accept losing – If you do so one time, it will be easy to do so for the rest of your life.
  12. No self-limitations – Expect more of yourself.
  13. Expect to win – And truly believe we will.
  14. Consistency – Your very, very best every time.
  15. Leadership – Everyone can set an example.
  16. Responsibility – You are responsible for your own performance.

Snyder’s list is clearly about far more than football – it’s about life. It’s about helping college football players to be winners in life, understand a commitment to something they believe matters, and pursue excellence in their accomplishments. It’s also about helping these men understand what it means to persist against the odds, teaching them how to pick themselves up after making a mistake and carry on, and showing them what it looks like to give their best. This mindset can lead to success off the field, on the job and in all of life’s relationships.

When former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling coach Heath Eslinger spoke to Chattanooga’s Downtown Rotary Club in February 2017, he shared a story about watching his daughters play basketball on their second and third grade team.

“It was late in the fourth quarter and the score was tied. With about 10 seconds to go, our team was throwing it in. The coach called a play, the girls scattered, we passed it in, took the shot and missed,” said Eslinger.

“The best player on the opposing team, who was possibly the best player in the age division in the entire league, gets the rebound, takes one dribble and goes right back up – putting the ball perfectly off the square – makes a layup and the ball goes in.”

The young lady put forth great effort. She spent energy to make it happen. And, her technique was the best on the floor. Unfortunately, she put the ball in the wrong basket and won the game for the opposing team.

Eslinger asked Rotary members a to consider a question.

In all of the places where you spend your time – home, workplace, places of faith, schools, etc., are you shooting in the right basket?

“I work in the world of athletics where we may be missing the mark as much or more than any other,” Eslinger shared. “We have great intentions, spend lots of energy and give great effort. But often times, we are shooting in the wrong basket.”

Eslinger embraces two guiding principles in all that he does:

  • Put focus on the good AND the great.
  • We must teach both global and stable attributes.

“Jim Collins wrote Good to Great,” Eslinger said. “It is a phenomenal book, but I believe we must have a priority on the good as well. Great is the evaluation of what we do – wins and losses, GPA, test scores, etc. Good is the essence of what we do – providing hope, instilling a moral compass and teaching someone how to build meaningful relationships.”

When it comes to global and stable attributes, Eslinger quipped that it had been a long time since he had used a wrestling move to get something he needed in life.

“Qualities such as empathy, teamwork, resilience, discipline, self-control – these traits cross boundaries and will stand the test of time.”

What about you? When you catch a pass, get a rebound, or go to the free throw line in life’s journey, do you consider what basket really matters?

According to Eslinger, if we want our education system to improve, we have to determine what basket really matters.

“If we want our teams to excel, we must invest in the right basket. If we want our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren to survive in this world that often seems chaotic, then we must make a decision to invest in the right basket,” he said.

Finally, Eslinger cited Andy Stanley’s book, The Principle of the Path.

“The principle of the path is simple. Direction will always determine destination,” Eslinger said. “I challenge all of us to run in a direction that matters and shoot in a basket that counts.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 19, 2017.

In 2009, Brookings Institute scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill proposed a successful path into adulthood. Called the “success sequence,” this path is most likely to lead toward economic success and away from poverty.

It includes finishing at minimum a high school education, getting a job, followed by marriage and then having children. Since proposing this path, no real test has been done to see if that approach applies to today’s young adults.

Researchers Brad Wilcox and Wendy Wang decided to measure the impact of the success sequence messaging on millennials. Wilcox is a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. Wang is the director of research at the Institute for Family Studies and former senior researcher at Pew Research Center. Their findings reveal some interesting data about millennial behavior regarding education, employment, marriage and family.

According to the study, a record 55 percent of millennial parents (ages 28-34) have put childbearing before marriage. This indicates that today’s young adults take increasingly divergent paths toward adulthood when it comes to family formation. These divergent pathways are associated with markedly different economic fortunes among millennials.

“We found that 97 percent of millennials who followed the success sequence are not poor and are in the middle income track by age 30,” says Wilcox. “Based on every indicator, from our perspective, the success sequence is still quite relevant and compelling.”

Fully 86 percent of young adults who married first have family incomes in the middle or top third. Compare that to only 53 percent of millennials who put childbearing before marriage. For young, single and childless adults, 73 percent have family incomes in the middle or upper third income distributions.

The pattern holds true for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as young adults in lower income families.

  • 76 percent of African American and 81 percent of Hispanic young adults who married first are in the middle or upper third of the income distribution. With them are 87 percent of whites.
  • 71 percent of millennials who grew up in the bottom third of the income distribution, but married and then had a baby, moved up to the middle or upper third of the distribution as young adults.

“Some have questioned if the success sequence is all about education and work, with marriage being an afterthought,” Wilcox says. “Are education and work the only pieces really driving the story?

“Based on our findings, the link between marriage and economic success among millennials is robust. Compared with the path of having a baby first, marrying before children more than doubles young adults’ odds of being in the middle or top income tiers. This holds true, even after adjusting for education, childhood family income, employment status, race/ethnicity, sex and respondents’ scores on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) which measures intelligence and knowledge of a range of subjects.”

Findings from the study also show:

  • A stunning 97 percent of millennials who follow the success sequence are NOT poor when they reach their prime young adult years (ages 28-34).
  • 31 percent of millennial high school graduates (who didn’t follow the work and marriage steps by their mid-20s) are in poverty during their prime adult years.

According to Wilcox, data that tracks adults across the transition to adulthood indicates good news for following the success sequence. That path is the most likely one to guide people to realize the American Dream. Education, work and marriage are important – even for a generation that has taken increasingly varied routes into adulthood. Considering this, business and civic leaders should promote public policies and cultural changes that esteem this sequence and make it more attainable.

Based on this report, it appears that millennials are beginning to see the value in marriage. They’re also finding out how the timing of their decisions impacts their ability to achieve their long-term goals.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 18, 2017.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!