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Children are funny—at least mine are. I love them to death, but if I had to explain why they do, say or think many of the things they do, I’d be up the creek. Sometimes there is no rationale or logic. Kids are weird sometimes.  And it’s very possible that, if your experience is anything like mine, they are doing just fine in quarantine during this COVID-19 pandemic situation – maybe even (dare I say) happier in quarantine. I asked my youngest (she’s 11) the other day if there was anything she liked about being in quarantine. She muttered, “Eh, I guess so. Maybe.”

Typical. 

Then she proceeded to play outside for three hours, baked some cookies, and watched a movie with the family. I think she’s doing alright. 

So this article is for all you parents out there whose kids seem happier being in quarantine and have thought, what do I do with that? And I’d like to suggest that exploring why our kids are happier during quarantine can make us a better parent. 

The Two Sides of Why Kids Are Happier 

So, just why are the kids happier during quarantine? There could be two sides to that answer— a healthy side and a not-so-healthy side. We can learn from both. 

Maybe you’ve seen the not-so-healthy side of happier-quarantined kids. You see the signs:

  • The video game console burns more electricity than the refrigerator
  • Their bedroom door is always shut, all day, and you’re starting to wonder what your kid looks like. 
  • The pantry is now a free-for-all, and you’re beginning to miss those sweet school lunch ladies who you had never met before. 

Granted, this doesn’t necessarily reflect every happy kid’s quarantine experience. But if it does, these are signs you might not have noticed before in the normal humdrum of life. Now that you are together more often, you notice the patterns and the red flags go up. 

But there’s possibly a healthier side to why children might be happier in quarantine. 

Kids are happier when families do stuff together. They love being around each other. Even teens, who typically need time away from parents as a normal part of their development, find comfort, belonging, connection and a more solidified identity when the family is more available. (But don’t expect them to tell you that!)

True, many kids miss seeing their friends (as do many adults). But consider the idea that the last few years of technology have possibly conditioned kids for quarantine. They, especially teens, are already accustomed to hanging out with friends and family electronically. 

Another explanation for quarantine-induced happiness in your kids: During the quarantine, have you noticed how much you are jumping from activity to activity, grabbing dinner on the go, not enough room for good family conversation, just like in pre-quarantine times? No? That’s because you probably aren’t. 

With the cancellation of baseball, dance lessons, band practice and other extracurriculars that devoured the family calendar, the pressure of jumping from activity to activity with little downtime has disappeared. Consequently, so has the pressure to do everything well. And kids really like this. 

One more possible reason kids are just happier in this crazy situation: They can focus on schoolwork better, and for shorter periods of time during the day. 

Schools are wonderful places, and the hardworking educators and administrators who devote their lives to kids are invaluable. But I also know that schools inherently contain distractions that, frankly, aren’t present at home. Rowdy peers, bullies, loud environments, busy hallways, busy lunchrooms, busy work—these can easily interfere with an otherwise productive day at school. At home during quarantine, kids can do what we all like to do—get in there, get their work finished and move on to more exciting things in the day. 

Ask ‘Em About Happiness

So how do we go about exploring these ideas with your children and gaining some parenting perspective? One simple answer to this is, ask them

  • What have you liked about being in quarantine? 
  • Is there anything you have not liked? If so, what is it?
  • What has made you happy being in quarantine? 
  • How has school been different for you in good ways? In bad ways? 
  • Are there things we’ve done in quarantine that we normally didn’t do before as a family? Are there things you would like to do as a family that we’ve not done before? 
  • Is there anything we did in pre-quarantine that we haven’t been able to do now, and you don’t miss it?

I believe knocking around these questions with your kids can make a big difference in how we parent and what we can look forward to in the future. It’s going to take intentional conversations, and depending on the number, age and personalities of your children, you may need to choose your strategy carefully. 

Younger kids may need help to articulate answers to these questions without putting your words in their mouths. With preteens and teens, you might have to wait for the “the right time,” the “teachable moment,” to bring up the subject. Some kids like to know these questions ahead of time before giving answers so they have time to think about it; others love spontaneous conversation. You know your children well and can figure out (sometimes through trial and error) how best to approach these questions with them. 

How It Will Be After The New Norm

The big question here is, how will what you learn from your kids about being happier in quarantine affect how you parent after the quarantine? 

What will your family focus on more? Less? And how do you want to direct your parenting based on what you discover during quarantine?  

These are the kinds of questions that simply take time and ongoing conversation in order to draw solid conclusions. But keep this one big idea in mind: The experience of going through quarantine will impact our kids for the future, but not nearly as much as how we parent during the quarantine. 

The ways in which your family has shifted during the pandemic—spending more time together, eating more meals together, slowing down, enjoying the outdoors more, having more intentional conversations, making time for more play and fun (in other words, all the reasons my funny, weird kids say they’re happier)—these are all touchstones to be cultivated by us, the parents, for the future. 

What we do now helps kids navigate transitions, deal with change and stress, develop resilience, foster positive values, make tough decisions in the face of the crowd. Because, hey—that’s life, right? 

Talk to your kids about what’s making them happy right now. Lean into what they say (or what they do after they mutter I don’t know). We can learn a lot from what’s making our kids happy.

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What are the words to describe this season of social isolation and self-quarantine during COVID-19? I can think of a few:

Frustrating. Stressful. 

Extremely inconvenient. 

Full of anxiety. 

Ruined my plans. 

What day is it again? 

(I could go on…) 

As I was talking with friends (six feet from my computer screen, of course) about how normal life has been turned upside down by this Global Pandemic, I was struck with an interesting thought: Social distancing has taken away all the excuses for not doing the things I’ve said I’m too busy to do. 

For those who are self-quarantined, it has removed a great deal of busyness. Sure, many of us still have to work or do school from home. But chances are we haven’t been fighting traffic to get home, rushing kids to ball games, or struggling to get dinner prepared at a decent hour. This weird point in our current history has created at least some margin in our daily lives. And where there’s margin, there’s an opportunity

I realize this calls for an intentional change in our outlook on our situation. You almost have to unnaturally choose to see the opportunities before you. But I really do think they are there. 

Below are five ways—opportunities, if you will—that social distancing can increase happiness in the home. 

  1. The opportunity to slow down. Social isolation has given us the margin of time. Even if you are working from home, or if your kids are doing school remotely, chances are you can dictate and shape your schedule more than you’ve been used to. 
    • Use that to your advantage. Ask yourself, what are the important things I’ve put off because I said I was too busy? Exercise. Taking a daily walk. Reading. Meaningful conversations with your spouse. Playing in the yard with your kids. Reconnecting with that old school friend. Yoga. Eating at the dinner table each night. Meditation. And don’t forget time to just sit on the front porch… and breathe. 
    • Make a list. Schedule it. Do it! 
  2. The opportunity to clean the clutter. There are two sides to this. Yes, now we have some time to fix that leaky pipe, clean out the garage, and weed the garden (how convenient for the pandemic to happen during Spring cleaning!). 
    • But there’s also the side of cleaning up the clutter that has built up in our relationships with the people we love in our home. Maybe the busyness of your previous life has caused some disconnection between you and your family members. Now is the opportunity to engage in good, healthy, deeper conversations and times of connection. 
    • Our family decided to open up the box of conversation-starter questions that’s been sitting unused on our kitchen table. Every evening at dinner, we’ve had some of the funniest and most interesting talks around these questions. However you decide to clear that space, make it an intentional and daily routine. 
    • One word of caution: Cleaning the clutter may also mean visiting some of the issues that have been lingering between you and your spouse or your kids. This may be a good time to work things out. However, be very aware of stress levels and be strategic as to when the best times are to talk things out. It’s not a good idea to work on old issues when the anxiety is particularly high. 
  3. The opportunity to focus on others in need. Obviously you are not alone in feeling the stress and anxiety. There are those in our neighborhoods and communities who are hurting right now. This is a great opportunity for you and your family to help ease the fears and uncertainties of others, even while you are social distancing. 
    • One charitable neighbor of ours set out a tub full of hand-sanitizers on the sidewalk in front of their yard for anyone who had need. My daughter (on her own) created cheerful cards to give to the neighbors. Someone else in our neighborhood organized a “bear hunt” through social media—our neighbors were invited to display teddy bears and other stuffed animals in our windows so that when kids walked by, they could “hunt” for as many bears as they could. 
    • Anything you can do to bring a smile and sense of cheer to those around you will most certainly bring happiness to your own home. 
  4. The opportunity to be appreciative. When we are super-busy, it’s easy to forget to stop and remember what we should be thankful for. Practicing gratitude increases a sense of happiness and well-being in the home. No matter how much or little one has, there are always reasons to be thankful—for food on the table, the air you breathe, a roof over your heads, the people you love in your home. 
    • Acknowledge what you appreciate. Make it a practice at mealtime to share with each other what you are thankful for. Make a daily “gratitude list.” Thankfulness is a strong tool to temper anxiety and to boost happiness. 
  5. The opportunity to play and be creative. At no other time in our recent history has it been so vital to inject some fun, laughter, and play into our daily lives. Now is the time for family Monopoly games, Nerf wars, movie nights, making breakfast for dinner, camping in the backyard, playing in the rain, and family dance-offs. These activities cut through the stress and provide the glue that bonds family members more closely together. Don’t let the tension of quarantine compromise the opportunity to make memories. Laugh and have some fun!

Opportunities don’t take themselves. You have to be intentional about using the margin you’ve been given as you incorporate social distancing into your life. However, the payoff for you and your family is tremendous.

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You said, “I do” and set out on a journey that you thought would last a lifetime. A few years go by and life feels more chaotic than ever. It can begin to seem like the tyranny of the urgent always takes precedence over spending time together. You may start to struggle with feeling unhappy in your marriage, but is there anything you can do about it?

“In general, what you get out of something in life is what you are willing to put into it,” says author of Divorce Remedy and marriage expert, Michele Weiner-Davis. “If you think about how fiercely people love their children, part of the reason for this is that they are super cute, but another explanation is how devoted you are to them—waking up at 2 a.m. because they are sick and throwing up, reading bedtime stories when you’re plum out of energy. Your investment results in intense love.”

The same is true of our partners, Weiner-Davis says. Early on in our relationships, we obsessively think about them and we’re flirty, attentive, and kind. These actions lead to connection. We’re enamored with each other.

Over time, however, one person might start taking the other person for granted and stop doing the things that lead to connection.

“When this happens, people say to themselves, ‘I’m not getting my needs met so why should I do anything for you?’” Weiner-Davis says. “That’s when most people start living separate lives. When people resent that their needs aren’t being met, they start to keep score—‘If you aren’t  kind or attentive, if you don’t initiate date night, I’m not going to have sex with you or invest in quality time.’ That’s when people say they don’t like their spouse anymore.”

Weiner-Davis describes a classic example: 

  • Women often want to feel close and connected emotionally before they are physical. 
  • Men want connection on a physical level before they invest in meaningful conversations or quality time together. 
  • Both people end up going to their respective corners and waiting for the other person to change.

It’s this slow drip of disconnection over time that leads to people questioning their feelings about their spouse or feeling unhappy in their marriage. And when this happens, irritability is a by-product. People start focusing on everything they don’t like about their partner. They micromanage how they load the dishwasher, how their partner chews their food and how they do laundry.

Even when things seem pretty hopeless, Weiner-Davis says there is a remedy.

Focus on Exceptions

“I encourage people to focus on exceptions,” Weiner-Davis says. “I tell them: ‘Ask, what was different about your relationship when you enjoyed your spouse and your relationship more?’ Some reflect on aspects of their lives that are irretrievable such as spontaneity before they had children. Although spontaneity may no longer be possible, people can plan carefree time together. They can get a babysitter or barter with a friend to watch the kids.

“People often discuss other ‘exceptions’ such as ‘We used to talk more, have more sex, go to the movies more, try new restaurants—most of which is possible to reproduce.”

Be the First

Next, Weiner-Davis tells couples, “If your spouse started paying more attention to you, making suggestions about trips you could go on, new hobbies you could do together, how would you be different in return?” Most say, “I would be nicer.” Then Weiner-Davis asks people to describe the ways in which they would be nicer and start doing that immediately. She always encourages people to be the one to tip the first domino if they are unhappy in their marriage.

“Don’t wait for your partner to be more likable—you be more likable,” Weiner-Davis says. “Ask yourself, in what ways have you pulled back from your relationship? Your partner’s distance might be the result of you pulling away, too.”  

Another mistake people make is putting all of their emotional eggs into one basket—assuming their spouse will satisfy every emotional need. And as a result, when their spouse falls short, there’s major disappointment.

Find Healthy Ways to Fill the Void

Find other ways to get your needs met. Be with friends. Get a new hobby. Once people feel more inner peace and happiness without the expectation that their spouse has to do all the heavy lifting, their spouse starts looking better. Consider areas of your marriage that do work and be grateful for them.

“Women will often come to me saying they don’t like their husband anymore,” Weiner-Davis says. “My first response is to assess how happy they are in their own lives. One woman said, ‘I don’t know why I am here, I should be seeing a divorce lawyer.’ She had no plan for her life after divorce. I told her, you can always get out of your marriage, but why not get all your ducks in a row first. She shared that she had an interest in horticulture and that a friend had offered her a job. I suggested she take the job and get herself financially stable.

“She took the job and started feeling better. Then, she didn’t want to divorce her husband at all. Her newfound happiness in her own life created new, more positive feelings about her husband.” 

Instead of blaming your spouse for your unhappiness, find healthy ways to fill the void. This will make your spouse look a lot better to you. If you are lonely, go find something you enjoy doing and avoid the temptation of telling your spouse it’s their fault.

All too often people walk away from a perfectly good marriage because they go through a season of being unhappy. If you find yourself in this place, take the time to examine what is really going on. The odds are probably in your favor that making a few changes could actually get your marriage back on track and on the road to thriving.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 7, 2020.

***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.***

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A few months ago, I asked my Facebook friends what brought them happiness. Although their answers varied, people said things like family, friends, being in nature, their faith, pets, their spouse and more made them happy. 

Here’s what I found interesting: Nobody listed money as something that brings them happiness, yet it is the thing many of us devote our lives to getting more of in the pursuit of happiness.

Gary Kunath, author of Life…Don’t Miss It. I Almost Did, worked in corporate America and bought into the idea that the more money you make, the happier you will be. The only problem was, he wasn’t happy and he was working long hours away from his family. Through a series of events, Gary did some tough soul-searching and decided to leave his corporate job and do something different.

He learned that the quest for net worth at the cost of life worth is not a good trade-off.

“A truly rich person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. The only reason to focus on net worth is to underwrite life worth,” said Kunath. “I promise you that in the end no one will care what kind of car you drove when you were 35 or the square footage of the largest home you ever owned. What will count and what does matter is what people remember about you.”

While heredity and other things affect happiness levels to a certain point, studies indicate that we can do certain things to impact our happiness levels. Kunath shared these keys to happiness: 

  • Money doesn’t make you rich. How you think about money really sets the tone for your priorities in life. Do you value things or experiences with others? Do you spend your money impulsively or are you thoughtful about expenditures?
  • Help other people with no expectation of anything in return. Kunath shared a story about a college intern for a baseball team who noticed a little boy at one of their events sitting on a bench crying his eyes out. The intern went over to see if he could help and showed great kindness to the little boy. Three months after his internship ended, an executive with the baseball team called to request his presence at a meeting. When the young man showed up, he learned that the little boy had lost his mom earlier that year and the kind gesture of the intern was not lost on the father of the little boy who happened to be working on a corporate sponsorship with the team. The father requested that the intern be given 100 percent of the commission from that deal. 
  • Practice the art of savoring. Kunath suggests that happiness comes from savoring moments versus being focused on the next thing. He shared that the three greatest gifts you can give your family are time (small things matter), memories and traditions.
  • Perspective is powerful. Don’t major on the minors. Irritating things happen to people all the time such as being cut off in traffic, being lied to by a co-worker or being taken advantage of. Consider how you will allow these things to impact your happiness quotient. The truth is, these incidents are moments in time and will only rob you of your joy and happiness if you allow them to. 
  • Life is fun and fun is good. Kunath quoted Dr. Gerold Jampolsky, saying, “We can only be happy now, and there will never be a time when it is not now.” In other words, fun matters. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You don’t have to have a lot of money to have fun. Fun enhances relationships, decreases stress and creates great memories.
  • Refine your relationships, or as Kunath puts it, thin the herd. It matters who you surround yourself with as you go through life. Kunath suggests that we take a look at who we have allowed in our inner circle. If there are people who are sucking the life right out of you or who are constant takers, some pruning might be in order. It isn’t that those people shouldn’t be in our lives at all – we just shouldn’t be spending most of our time with them. 

So, if you’ve been looking for happiness in all the wrong places, incorporate these keys into your life. Remember unconditional love, making a difference for someone else, giving without any expectation of getting anything in return, appreciating the beauty of family and true friends, slowing down and savoring life, and having fun are important components of happy experiences for yourself and the ones you care about. 

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 12, 2019.

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You’ve probably seen stories in years past about the Secret Santa who travels the country, randomly handing out $100 bills just before Christmas. In 2018 he struck again, but this time he landed in Phoenix, AZ and enlisted some help from a homeless man named Moses to give away – get this– a total of $3000.

Moses chose to give $100 to anybody who actually noticed him, and although many recipients were complete strangers, others were not. Moses also received a Secret Santa gift that he described as a new beginning for his own life.

You might think that Moses was happier about getting something for himself, but that’s not the case. Despite being homeless, he said it felt so good to give to others.

“Kindness is a bridge between all people,” said the Secret Santa. “If you are ever down and you want to lift yourself up, go do something kind for somebody.”

Believe it or not, there is truly something magical and actually chemical about the feeling you get when you give to others.

According to a U.S. News and World Report article, What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy, studies have consistently shown that giving makes people feel good as the body responds by producing “happiness” chemicals such as dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. Selfless actions like volunteering or donating money can help to decrease the risk and symptoms of depression and stress. One study even found that giving time and assistance to others also reduced the mortality risk tied to stress, a known risk factor for many chronic diseases.

Another study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that volunteerism reduced mortality rates more than exercising four times weekly and attending religious services regularly, which is also linked to improved mental health and a longer life. People who volunteered for two or more causes had a 63 percent lower mortality rate than those who didn’t volunteer during the study period.

Many believe it is better to give than to receive, and the research seems to confirm that giving in various forms contributes to our well-being. It has been said that giving is good for the soul, but it turns out that it is not just good in December. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that giving is good all year long.

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 23, 2018.

Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher explore five myths about marriage in The Case for Marriage:

Myth 1

Divorce is usually the best answer for kids when a marriage becomes unhappy. The authors discovered that the vast majority of “bad marriages” that don’t end up in divorce eventually become good marriages. In a study of people in “bad” marriages who chose to stay together, 86 percent reported five years later that their marriages had turned around and were now happier. In fact, 60 percent said their marriages had become “very happy.”

Myth 2

Marriage is primarily for the benefit of children. In reality, marriage has significant benefits for children and adults. Marriage is an important social institution that delivers big benefits in virtually every indicator science can measure.

Myth 3

Marriage is good for men but bad for women. Waite said a balanced look at the research shows that married men and women both report less anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, more financial stability, and a much higher level of general happiness. The research is compelling that people do better when they get married and stay married.

Myth 4

Promoting marriage puts women at risk for violence. In fact, the opposite is true: marriage seems to protect women from domestic violence and personal violence.  Married people are less likely to be victims of interpersonal violence. In studies of domestic violence between partners, married people are substantially less likely than cohabiting people to say that arguments between them became violent (4 percent married, 13 percent cohabiting).

Myth 5

Marriage is a private affair of the heart between two adults. Marriage is actually a public, legally binding, religiously supported promise that two people will stay together and act as a team for their entire lives. “Marriage changes the way they see themselves, and it changes the way other people see them and treat them,” Waite says. “It also strengthens the bonds between children and their father’s side of the family.”

***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.***

It was a turning point in the fictional marriage of Katie and Ben in the movie The Story of Us, starring Michele Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis. Katie tells Ben that she doesn’t want to end their marriage.

“…You always know that I’m a little quiet in the morning and compensate accordingly,” she says to him. “That’s a dance you perfect over time. And it’s hard, it’s much harder than I thought it would be, but there’s more good than bad. And you don’t just give up.”

Many couples in America today find themselves at the same turning point in their marriage. Many who choose to separate often find out that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Research has shown that if a person is unhappy, divorce is not necessarily the road to happiness.

A national study in 2002 of 10,000 couples asked them to rate their marriage from life in hell (1) to heaven on earth (7). The couples were interviewed twice, five years apart. The study found that most people rated their marriage as happy. Eighty-one percent of the couples who rated their marriage as life in hell were still together five years later. Out of that group, the majority said they were very happy after five years.

Following this study, University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite wanted to know what makes marriages miserable and discover how they can become happy.

“We often talk about marriage like a piece of fruit – it went bad, as if it is out of our control,” says Waite. “I was interested in determining if the couples who divorced were happier following the divorce than those who chose to stay together in spite of their unhappiness.”

Waite examined the couples who rated their marriage as “life in hell.” Of the couples who stayed married, 78 percent were happy with life five years later. Only 53 percent of those who chose to separate or divorce said they were happy.

Waite interviewed couples, asking them to tell their stories about how their bad marriage got better.

Alcoholism, infidelity, overly-critical spouses, chronic miscommunication, irrational jealousy, and emotional neglect all fit into the equation, but the four most common issues that made marriages unhappy were: bad things happening to good spouses, job reversals, the kids and illness. Examples included: a spouse losing their job creating financial strain in the marriage, the challenges of raising children which left no time to be together as a couple, or a spouse making a poor decision during a weak moment.

In response to the question, “How did things get better?” couples described what Waite calls the “marital endurance ethic.”

“Couples shared something like, ‘Mostly we just kept putting one foot in front of the other and things began to get better,’” Waite says. “Many of them were influenced by friends’ advice to hang in there, that they were headed in the right direction.”

A passage of time often has a positive effect on problems, according to Waite. Just because couples are unhappy now doesn’t mean they will be unhappy forever.

Katie and Ben understood that fact. “There’s a history and histories don’t happen overnight,” Katie said.

Katie was able to see past their present moment and look at the big picture. She realized that her husband was a good friend, and good friends are hard to find.

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

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

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

What kind of advice would newlyweds give to engaged couples?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The return on your investment will be worth it!

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

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

What’s the secret to a happy life? Many might say that money is a big part of the equation. But intrigued with discovering the secrets to a meaningful and happy life, a group of Harvard researchers launched a study in 1938. Then, they followed 268 male Harvard undergraduates – for 75 years.

The unique Harvard Grant Study collected data on the men’s lives through surveys and interviews. They looked at all aspects, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies and alcohol use. What they found may surprise you.

Perhaps one of the biggest revelations was that love really does matter when it comes to living a fulfilled life.

In his book about the study, Triumphs of Experience, Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, study director from 1972 to 2004, writes: “There are two pillars of happiness. One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

The study’s most important finding? Relationships are the only things that matter in life. You could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, you’d be unhappy. The ability to take in love is a great human skill.

Interestingly, Vaillant says that so many of the things people thought mattered when it comes to happiness don’t. For example, many believe money and social class are vital to success. These two things were at the bottom of the list.

Even our earliest relationships are important to long-term happiness, especially the mother-child relationship. Men who had a warm mother-child bond were less likely to develop dementia later in life. They were also more likely to have professional success.

Avoiding smoking and not abusing alcohol were by far the most important things to increase longevity. The study found that alcohol abuse was the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects. Alcoholism was the leading cause of divorce among the 268 men and their wives. Plus, a strong correlation existed between alcohol abuse, neurosis and depression. Interestingly, the mental illness followed the alcohol abuse rather than preceding it.

Another interesting finding: More money, power and intelligence do not mean more happiness. Vaillant found that men with IQs between 110 and 115 were no more or less happy than men with IQs higher than 150. Furthermore, the only thing that really matters when it comes to achievement is contentment at work. Having a meaningful connection to our work is more important than achieving traditional success.

Additionally, Vaillant found that early success did not necessarily mean future success. Conversely, failure early in life did not necessarily mean ultimate failure. In fact, some who seemed they would not end up doing well actually became successful. Vaillant shares that the journey from immaturity to maturity is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection. Moreover, a big part of this shift has to do with the way challenges are handled.

In the end, it all comes back to relationships, connection and love. Are you on a pathway to happiness and a meaningful life or a dead-end road?

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 17, 2016.