Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Moms with Grace: Mandy Farmer

Tips for Christian moms with a good dose of encouragement

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The “Moms with Grace” series takes a look at modern Christian moms and how they handle daily life with raising children. You’ll find monthly posts from moms with older kids, younger kids and all those in between. Let real-life moms encourage and uplift you!

Today is the kick-off for the “Moms with Grace” series. Mandy Farmer is the featured Mom with Grace this month. Mandy has a blog, “Mandy and Michele,” for which I have shared guests posts a few times. I am thrilled to share her story with you.

Mandy is a 62-year-old mom to four children ranging from 26 to 48. The oldest two belong to her husband from a previous marriage, but Mandy has raised them completely since they were 9 and 14 and lost both their mom and sister in a car accident.

Her experiences as a mom and stepmom (though she says they never use the term “step”) are uplifting to those of us still in the thick of everyday life with kids. Mandy has survived the young years and is now reaping the benefits in her relationship with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren!

Please share a little bit about your background. Are you married? If so, for how long? What is your occupation? 

I was born near Canton, Ohio, and raised on the family dairy farm. At the age of 13, we moved, cows and all, to Wisconsin where I graduated from a small high school. I acquired a B.A. in computer science at Asbury University outside of Lexington, KY and went to work in Columbia South Carolina for about five years.  

At that point, my pastor’s wife introduced me to Michael Farmer, a pastor in her hometown of Barnesville, Ga. Michael had recently lost his wife and daughter in a fatal car accident. He had two boys, 9 and 14 at the time. She had been after me for months to go to Georgia with her and meet Michael. I didn’t think I was interested in a pastor with two boys but I finally went…just to get her to quit bothering me about it. 

Four months later, we were married! Now 32 years married!  

Fun note: I said I didn’t want to be a farmer’s wife or a pastor’s wife…I married Pastor Farmer! 

We added another boy and girl to the mix and continue pastoring around Georgia and for six years in Milwaukee, Wis. – my home state. 

I never worked outside the home or church after marriage and my degree quickly became obsolete, but my education was well worth it. 

I jumped full-time into my love of children’s ministry. Homeschooled our two youngest and founded a homeschool co-op. In between that, sometimes I served as Michael’s secretary. 

In 2011, I was struck with chronic pain. This changed a lot. Our daughter was 15. She became chief cook and bottle washer, making most meals, doing the laundry, keeping the house. She also, became my chauffeur! In 2016, we retired and moved to Savannah, Ga., and I began writing.

At first, I wrote about chronic pain and then I moved into writing Bible Studies for our denomination and an online group called Gracefully Truthful. Last year I decided to try to publish a book of devotions. That is still in the works, but in the learning process I wrote a children’s picture book about milk cows: Holly the Holstein Talks About Milk Cows.  I will publish another picture book about a family whose mommy has Fibromyalgia. You can follow me at my writing website to keep abreast of my publishing. 

How have you changed from the beginning of your mom journey until now? 

Another piece of my backstory is that I was number three of six children growing up. My youngest brother was 12 years behind me. My mom had a bookstore, so I did a lot of caring for him. This gave me a great deal of knowledge about childcare. I loved being a mom, and I can hardly wait to have grandchildren. (Our oldest has children and grands, but they have always lived far away.) 

Our children are all grown now. We live in the same city. Two kids are married. They all pop in all the time to check on us. Our oldest has two grown sons and a daughter. And we have six great-grandchildren! 

What are some challenges you’ve faced as a mother? How have you worked to overcome them? 

My initiation into motherhood started right off with a preteen and teenager. One got the chicken pox while Michael and I were on our honeymoon, and the other got them when we arrived home!  

My husband and I sat down with them before we married and talked about things. They wanted me to adopt them but because of moving several times it never happened. Michael told them that I would end up being their mother longer than their biological mother. And we decided they would call me “Mom.”  

Michael said he would always back me up when it came to discipline, and they were not to try to play us against one another. What I said would be “law” and if I dealt out a punishment, only I could change it. We had some of the typical teenager-mom issues. But really not many big issues that all moms don’t have.  

I love them like my own, and they love me the same. As a matter of fact, one of them sends me flowers every year on the anniversary of their mother’s death. The card always reads, “Thanks for being my mom.”

In what ways have you and do you share your faith with your children?

It’s a lifestyle. Everything seems to have something to do with faith in our lives. We have had many discussions around the dinner table. (Dinner table: what an important routine for the family!) 

Being a pastoral family, our kids were saturated in our faith. I wanted to have a family devotion time, but my husband felt that they got so much from being at the church A LOT that he didn’t want to do it. I did get them to have Advent devotions with me most years. We also homeschooled our children, and they received Bible training through that. Our church had children’s and teen’s Bible quizzing, and we were deeply involved in quizzing. 

Once they were old enough, they were involved in any special programs we had at church. They enjoyed every minute…well, maybe not every minute. 😊 

Pray for and with your children. After the car accident, going to school was very traumatic for Brian. He was dropped to his school that day and the accident happened on the way to the high school. We ALWAYS prayed with him before he got out of the car. ALWAYS.  

What are some of your favorite parts of motherhood? 

I loved it all. From as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom. I was involved in their lives and they in mine. I loved cooking and baking with them from an early age. Also, I taught them music, and we played and sang together often. Homeschooling was wonderful. I was nervous about it at first. But my sister was doing it, and so I tried kindergarten (which wasn’t required) and we enjoyed it. That was the year my daughter was born and it gave Brett and me bonding time. If Mikaela was fussy, she was in a snuggly around me which left my hands free to teach. I think she learned a lot that way, school came easier for her. We considered every year what we would like to do the next year. Every year the kids chose to homeschool. 

How does grace play a role in your daily life? Do you have any tips or advice for how moms can show more grace to their families? 

3 John 1:4 image

Oh, goodness! Grace. Grace is the central theme. There are always mistakes made. On my side and theirs. Apologies and forgiveness are vital in a good family relationship. 

When discipline is necessary, it’s a good time to talk about the forgiveness of God. Be sure to tell your child how much you love them and that discipline is for teaching. Never discipline when you are angry. Always pray with your child after discipline. 

 What are you most proud of as a mom? 

 ”I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” – 3 John 1:4 (NIV)

All four of my children are serving the Lord in some capacity. Daniel is on the church board and serves in so many basic ways. He does a lot of those things that no one notices – lawn care, general checking on the building, usher. Brian served as a pastor in a small church for about 10 years until his health failed. Brett is the tech guy. He runs the sound and live stream at church. Mikaela and her husband serve as youth ministers and are both on the worship team. 

Do you have any resources that help you be a mom with grace?

You have to have a strong marriage to have a strong family. 

These are some of the parenting books I highly recommend:

Do you have anything else to add that we haven’t talked about? 

Prayer is a big key. Pray for guidance and wisdom. Pray for your children and their future spouses. Be specific as much as you can. Pray more than “Be with my child today.” Ask for wisdom and knowledge and protection. If they are attending public school, pray even harder. 

Make sure your children know that their parents love each other. Yeah, they might get disgusted, but let them see you hugging and kissing occasionally. This makes your child feel safe.  

Tell them you love them every day! Hug them even when your teenager doesn’t want you too. 

Have rules and abide by them. Children need boundaries. Back each other up. 

Connect with other Christian moms for support and encouragement in the private Facebook group, Moms with Grace!

Couple goals every Christian marriage needs

12 relationship goals to set with your spouse

For a while, I often saw #CoupleGoals on various photos of couples on social media. Usually these were couples being lovey-dovey and usually I was doubtful how authentic they were. But these aren’t the kind of couple goals that we need in Christian marriages. We need to focus on our own relationship and not worry about anyone else’s.

My husband and I started off our marriage on a different path from many other couples from the very beginning. We got married in between my sophomore and junior years of college. Many people were naysayers about us getting married so young. And I understand that. It’s not the right choice for most, but it was the right choice for us. I’ve never regretted becoming a missus at age 20.

Couple goals every Christian marriage needs Pinterest image 1

So early on, my husband and I learned to pave our own path with our marriage and relationship. In the 23 years since then, we’ve made our path work, and I love it. We didn’t sit down on our wedding day and come up with set goals. But, before we got married and in all the years since, we have talked about our relationship and our plans. We’ve worked together to envision what the future looks like for us as a couple. That’s what I think truly encompasses couple goals.

Whether you’re about to get married, one year into marriage, 10 years in or 25 years in, it’s never too late to talk about your marriage and what you need. This is the perfect time to set couple goals, starting with some of these ideas.

1. Go on regular date nights.

In the first decade of our marriage, going on regular date nights wasn’t much of a challenge. We didn’t have kids! But, especially since having our oldest 13 years ago, we learned we need to make spending time alone together a couples goal.

I remember when our oldest was a toddler and my husband and I had an evening to ourselves. In our conversation that evening, my husband told me he thought we’d have some work to do to reconnect with each other once the kids were grown and moved out. We decided we needed to be proactive to keep from growing apart during the hectic years of having small children.

We have found it easier to not have a set date night we adhere to, because life is unpredictable at best. Instead, we make use of the time we do have. And we get creative. For example, earlier this week we took our dog to be groomed after dropping the kids off at school and then had a quick breakfast out together alone.

2. Find new ways to connect.

In making dates a priority, we also work to find new ways to connect with one another. We do enjoy date nights of going out to eat and/or to a movie. But, we also want to find new ways to connect with one another. We have gone to paint pottery together in the past. We’ve walked through home stores and dreamed together.

Most recently, we’ve tried out date night boxes. For Christmas 2022, my husband gave me a subscription to a date night box from Crated with Joy. Each box is themed and comes with suggestions for movies, food, games and activities. Our first box, for example, included a gratitude journal for us to each fill out for 14 days about our partner. The boxes have been a great way for us to reconnect and have fun in new ways.

3. Enjoy hobbies together.

If you’d have asked me when we were first married whether my husband and I would find hobbies we’d do together, I probably would have been confused. My biggest hobbies are solo ventures. But, within the first few years of our marriage, I started taking an interest in his hobbies. I love him, and so I wanted to know more about the things he loves.

And that’s how I became a gamer. My husband has enjoyed role-playing games since long before I met him. (Since we met when I was 14 and he was 16, that’s pretty significant!) I never quite understood the draw to them. I decided to combine my hobby of reading with his hobby of role playing by reading a fictional book series based in the Dungeons and Dragons setting. Before I knew it, “The Legend of Drizzt” series became my all-time favorite, and I eased my way into gaming.

Having shared hobbies is an important couple goal because it lets you connect in different ways than usual.

4. Worship together regularly.

As a Christian couple, my husband and I have always felt like God is the third person in our marriage. And so one of our couple goals is to connect with God together. A great way to do that is through worship. A few months after we got married, my husband started a class that took place all day on Sundays. For a year, I went to church alone as a married woman.

When his class ended and we were able to go to church together once again, I appreciated it all the more. I love sitting beside him in church and joining together to worship and grow spiritually. Just this past Sunday, I closed my eyes during our praise songs and was blessed to hear my husband singing on the left of me and my kids singing on the right. My heart was full and I reminded that no matter what is going on, I am so very blessed!

5. Find ways to discuss big topics peacefully.

Communication has to be on any list of couple goals. No matter how well you and your spouse get along, there are hot-button topics that need to be discussed and resolved. I’m talking about the big stuff like finances and parenting.

When we were figuring out finances as a couple, we decided to work on them together, but I’d be the primary person dealing with bill paying. Mostly that’s because I stress a lot less when I know what’s going on! However, that also meant whenever we had a discussion about our finances, especially if money was tight, I’d take it personally. I would feel attacked and assume I was messing up.

We had to work through that. Now, I still can have moments when I start to take it personally, and my husband will pause to remind me (nicely) that I don’t need to. We’re just having a conversation.

Figure out each other’s hot button topics and then learn how to communicate in spite of them. You don’t want to use those against each other, but rather to help each other.

Couple Goal: Figure out each other's hot button topics and then learn how to communicate in spite of them. You don't want to use those against each other, but rather to help each other.

6. Laugh together regularly.

As a married couple, you want to have fun together. Nothing is more indicative of fun than laughter. Make laughter a priority. Set it as a goal. Find ways you can laugh together. My husband gets my sense of humor and makes me laugh more than anyone else in the world. He always has.

Life is hard. Keeping a sense of humor is important. Once you’re in the habit of laughing together regularly, you can even indulge in gallows humor to get your through the hard times. For example, a few years ago, as I was recovery from one of my pelvic surgeries, I was slowly walking laps around our living room to try and get some movement in. It was a struggle. My second time around, my husband started playing the “William Tell Overture.” I was off to the races! He gave me a much needed laugh.

7. Study the Bible together.

Another great couples goal for Christian marriages is to study the Bible together. This has had a few iterations in our decades of marriage. We have done specific couples Bible studies just the two of us. We have family devotion time with our children. And, more recently, we’ve found a small group study through our church we can attend as a couple.

One of the things I love most about studying the Bible with my husband is hearing his insight. He is such a smart man. I’m thankful to hear his perspective on spiritual topics, which is sometimes different from my own. He makes me think, and I’m glad for that. I hope I do the same for him.

8. Parent together.

We approach life as a team. That teamwork mentality has continued into parenting. Before we even had children, we talked about how we wanted to raise them. And since having children, we’ve continued having those discussions. We talk about how we want to discipline, the lessons we want to teach them and how we can parent them better.

We have agreed on many things, while on others we haven’t and have had to work through them to come to a solution. Our goal is to present a united front to our children. We want to be on the same page so they don’t get confused or anxious as a result.

9. Don’t make threats you don’t mean.

When we got married, my husband and I made it a goal to not threaten each other with things we didn’t mean. Sometimes when people are upset, they say things to be mean or hurtful in order to lash out. For example, we decided early on that if either of us talked about divorce, we’d better mean it. Divorce wasn’t a threat to throw around lightly.

Threats are just hurtful to a relationship and have no place in good communication. Make it a goal to not use threats with your spouse.

10. Pray together and for each other.

Prayer is an important part of Christian marriage. My husband and I pray for each other more than we pray together, because that’s what works for us. But both are important. Coming before God jointly is powerful in your relationship with each other and with God.

Praying on your own for each other is powerful as well. I pray daily for my husband as he is dealing with life, work and family. When he is having a difficult time with something, I remind him I’m praying for him and do so. There’s something comforting about knowing someone loves us enough to bring us before God.

11. Speak kindly to and about each other.

Another great couple goal is to strive to use kind words to each other. This goes as far as asking nicely for the other to do a chore that needs doing. If I can speak kindly to strangers I encounter at the grocery store, surely I can speak kindly to the man I’m sharing my life with. Yet, sometimes it can be difficult. So, sometimes I just keep my mouth shut!

We also work to speak positively about each other outside of our relationship. Neither of us are perfect. I know my husband has things he could grouse about when it comes to me. And I have the same about him. But, we don’t focus on those things, and we don’t talk about them with other people. Instead our goal is to speak positively about each other to our children and everyone else.

12. Give each other grace.

You know I have to include this one! I think giving grace to each other should be a couple goal for every marriage. I want so much to have a grace-filled marriage. I want my husband to give me grace when I fall short because I’m not perfect. In return, I need to also give him grace when he falls short. We all have bad days and bad moments. Oftentimes, a little grace can go a long way to avoid arguments and hurt feelings. And it makes us feel more loved and understood in the end.

Free summer date ideas for parents

10 summer date ideas that are free or nearly free

Whenever I hear the word “summertime,” I immediately hear the George Gershwin song in my head: “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” But I’m guessing Gershwin didn’t have kids. Or he at least wasn’t in charge of them. Summertime is busy and hectic with kids at home. Figuring out summer date ideas in the midst of later bedtimes, activities, making memories and keeping up with everything is difficult.

My husband and I have learned we have to be intentional about ways to connect, especially during summer months. And this summer, with the cost of everything on the rise, coming up with some free summer date ideas is a great plan. You can connect, even without a babysitter or spending money.

Summer date idea #1: Sit outside.

Whether it’s your front porch or back patio, sitting outside together on nice summer evenings after the kids are in bed can be a great summer date. When our children were babies and toddlers, we’d take the baby monitor outside with us. Once they were older, we knew they could come and find us, but made sure to mention that if they don’t see us, then to look on the porch or patio. (It was the back patio at our old house and front porch at our new house.)

Having time to sit together and just reconnect after a busy day of life is nice. Pick a night and plan 30 minutes to an hour of just sitting together and talking.

Summer date idea #2: Find a series to watch together.

While many shows go to repeats during the summer, it’s a great time to binge a series together after the kiddos are in bed or whenever you have time together. You can find all sorts of ideas online or your favorite streaming service. If all else fails, re-watch a series together. Either way, focus on finding something you both like, put down your phones, snuggle up and watch together.

Summer date idea #3: Eat a cold treat together.

If you can find a babysitter or if your kids are old enough to be home alone for an hour, go out for ice cream together. Going out for ice cream is the perfect summer date idea, because ice cream goes great with hot weather. Plus sitting and chatting while eating a sweet, cold treat is a fun way to spend time together. Ice cream (or fro yo) doesn’t cost as much as going out to dinner. For $10 or less, you can eat get a cold treat.

And if you just can’t find a sitter, then plan an ice cream date at home — without your kids. During naptime or after bedtime, sit at your table with homemade ice cream sundaes or other frozen treat.

Summer date idea #4: Go for a walk together, and hold hands.

My husband and I are very much fair weather folks. He doesn’t handle heat well and my skin doesn’t get along well with the sun. But, find one of the nice summer days and go for a walk together. Walk around your neighborhood during your kids’ naptime. Take a stroll along a nature path nearby and let your kids explore (if they are old enough and it’s safe to do so) while you and your husband meander slowly behind them. Even better, hold hands to connect physically and emotionally!

Summer date idea #5: Color together.

If you have kids, chances are really good that you have some art supplies around. Hang out together and color one evening after the kids are in bed. My husband does some really great coloring with markers and shading. I, on the other hand, am much more basic. I use crayons and just color princesses. It doesn’t matter what you’re coloring, though. What matters is that you’re spending time together. Sometimes it can even be easier to talk if you’re both focusing on something else that’s kind of mindless as well.

Summer date idea #6: Tackle a project together.

This sound suspiciously like work, but my husband and I enjoy having time to be productive together and do tasks that have been hanging over our heads. Last weekend, for example, we spent a couple of hours working together on hanging wall decor in our home that we’ve needed to do for three years. Our kids were too worried about getting roped in to work that they both disappeared to their rooms and occupied themselves. My husband and I had a great time working and laughing together.

Just be sure to keep a good attitude about it and be willing to accept some unsolicited advice that could come your way. (I’m not saying that happened to me over the weekend, but I’m also not saying it didn’t!)

Summer date idea #7: Go geocaching together.

Geocaching was super popular a few years ago, but it still around now. If you can get some kid-free time, download a geocache map and head out together to find some geocaches. Take your vehicle or, to make it a completely free date, ride your bikes and get to it.

Summer date idea #8: Play a game together.

My husband and I love to play games together. Plan a game night date night for after the kids go to bed. I’m not at all a night owl and am definitely more of an early bird. So for post-bedtime game nights, I tend to like short and easy games rather than longer ones. Whether it’s a video, board or card game, playing games together can be a great way to spend time together.

Summer date idea #9: Go for a drive together.

This one isn’t completely free because you’d have to spend money on gas, but sometimes a drive on country roads near your house can be a great summer date idea. Roll down the windows if you want and let the wind blow through your hair, listen to music together or just chat and catch up. If your kids are small and will sleep in the car, make naptime mobile one afternoon and hit the road. Otherwise, you would need a babysitter or have kids old enough to be home alone for an hour.

Summer date idea #10: Read a book together.

I’m a huge fan of books. Read a fiction book together or listen to the audio version together. (Don’t overlook your local library as a great and free resource for these!) You can even read on your own and then talk about it like your own book club. Nonfiction books on relationships or any other topic you’re interested in are also great for date nights. Or look for an activity book for couples that the two of you can do together.

What a grace-filled marriage looks like

10 Tips for having a grace-filled marriage

I’m not a graceful person. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I watched in awe as middle schoolers jumped hurdles during a track meet. I trip over my own two feet and can’t imagine I’d fare well trying to run and jump over a hurdle. I have given up hope on being graceful. But I continue to strive to be a grace-filled person. That affects my relationship with myself, my children and my husband. I want to have a grace-filled family life and a grace-filled marriage. I want my husband and me to be an example to our children as we live out God’s grace to each other daily.

After just over 22 years of marriage, my husband and I have learned a lot about what a grace-filled marriage looks like. We are not at all perfect. We’ve had our fair share of mess-ups, and we still do. But, we have grown and changed together through the years. God has worked in our lives and in our relationship to bring us closer together. He has given us grace so freely that we work to give it to each other as well. I’ve found that often the smallest things can make the biggest difference.

1. Ban negative talk.

This doesn’t mean you pretend everything is great when it isn’t. Instead this means, banning any talk that is harmful to your spouse. Name-calling, belittling or angry outbursts aren’t conducive to building a grace-filled marriage. In fact, a grace-filled marriage includes letting go of some of our own selfish desires like revenge and hurt!

Neither my husband nor I are yellers. We haven’t struggled with calling each other names either. But we have struggled with negative talk in other ways. Early on in our marriage, we realized that even if we were with friends or family who were joking about shortcomings of our spouse, it hurt the other for us to join in. In fact, we learned to shut it down nicely and change the subject.

We have also dealt with passive-aggressiveness. We make it a point to say what we mean. For example, if I’m irritated with my husband for not helping with something, instead of making snide comments or slamming kitchen cabinets as I work, I am direct with him.

Negative talk hurts your relationship and each other. It can make you feel bad about yourself or your spouse (or both!). None of that is good for your relationship.

2. Look at each other’s point-of-view.

Sometimes we think about looking at our spouse’s point-of-view when we’re having a disagreement and trying to compromise. But the more we often we look at his or her point-of-view, the more likely we are to have a grace-filled marriage. I’ve learned through the years that the more I can see my husband’s side of things, the fewer hard feelings I have and the less angry I feel. I understand him more than am irritated by him.

For example, my husband and I are very different when our vehicle is low on gas. He doesn’t mind driving until there is only a few miles’ worth left in the tank. I start getting antsy around 1/4 tank of gas. Once the light comes on, I MUST fill up right away! A couple of years ago, this was an issue when I had to borrow my husband’s car. I stopped myself from getting irritated with him as I realized he hadn’t expected me to drive it and the gas light being on wasn’t worrisome to him. He wasn’t intentionally making my life difficult. In other words, I gave him grace for being who he is.

Stopping ourselves and thinking about where our spouses are coming from allows us to have more grace for them.

3. Find ways to connect with each other.

In the busyness of life, it’s easy to miss connecting with our spouses. My husband and I share a home office, and we still don’t get to connect without being intentional. We do different work and are often in our own worlds as we go through the day. Being intentional about connecting with your spouse is important. Find time to talk after the kids go to bed. Schedule a lunch out once a month. Figure out a hobby you can do together. (My husband and I enjoy gaming together!)

Feeling connected to our spouse helps remind us why we love them so much. We end up naturally giving them more grace as a result.

4. Laugh with each other.

Laughing together is a great way to help make sure you have a grace-filled marriage. We bond with other people through laughter. Just having fun together is good for any relationship and makes it easier to feel more like giving grace to each other.

Find ways and reasons to laugh together. We watch funny shows or movies. Sometimes we even laugh ironically together at the craziness of life going on around us. We definitely laugh with our children as well. And, of course, laugh together not at each other in a harmful way.

5. Listen to each other.

In order to understand someone else, we have to listen to them. As the old saying goes, God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason. This is true in marriage as well. Listening is a big part of communication, and we all want to have good communication in our marriages.

We can’t possible understand where our spouse is coming from or how they’re feeling without listening to what they are saying. Listening to your husband makes it easier to give him grace when he is cranky after a really bad day at work. Or listening to your wife can help you give her grace when she snaps at you after being up half the night with the kids.

Of course we should always treat our spouses well, but we are also all human and sometimes we need grace. In order to give that grace to our spouses, we must listen to what they tell us.

6. Give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Another key to having a grace-filled marriage is to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. For example, when they do something that causes extra work on you, don’t assume they’ve done it on purpose. Making that attitude shift really is helpful. It can move you from thinking your spouse left the glob of toothpaste in the sink because he doesn’t care how hard you have to work to clean it to realizing he was in a hurry and just didn’t see it himself.

In a healthy marriage, you do well to give each other the benefit of the doubt and give grace for shortcomings. Chances are super high your spouse isn’t really trying to irk you or make your life more difficult!

7. Connect with God together and individually.

From the beginning of our relationship, back when my husband and I were very young high school sweethearts, we have been honest about our faith and relationship with God. In fact, it’s something that drew the two of us together even then.

Now, so many years later, our faith is still something that draws us together. Having time with God together is important. That can look different for different couples, but find a way to connect with God together. Maybe you pray together at bedtime or maybe you read a devotion book together. Perhaps you simply go to church together or participate in a small group together.

You also need your own time with God to connect with Him. I get strength outside of myself to give my husband grace from God. Each morning I pray to be the wife my husband needs that day. I want to see my husband like God sees him as much as possible. Because God made this really awesome guy whose insights on faith and God often blow me away. When I see him in that light, it makes giving him grace all that much easier and leads to a more grace-filled marriage.

8. Talk about problems instead of ignoring them.

Confronting someone goes against my nature. If you go by Myers-Briggs personality types, I’m an INFJ, and none of us like confrontation. I don’t like conflict and am inclined to just ignore it. But I’ve learned when I try ignoring a problem, it not only doesn’t go away but usually gets bigger and bigger. This is true in my marriage as well.

While we don’t want or need to nitpick our spouses’ every behavior, we do need to talk with them when there’s an issue to resolve. When problems are ignored and “shoved under the rug,” then they grow and fester. We end up taking those feelings out on our spouses in other ways like getting short with them and ending up with quite the opposite of a grace-filled marriage.

9. Ask your spouse for help.

I’m a happier person and wife who is more inclined to give grace to her family when she’s not overworked and exhausted. My husband is the same way. So sometimes that means we ask each other for help. It really is OK to let go and ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are somehow failing. It just means you’re human!

If you need another reason to ask for help, then ask for help because it will help you have a more grace-filled marriage! And don’t be afraid to kindly ask for help with things you think your spouse ought to know need done anyway. Go back to tip number 6 and recognize that maybe your spouse truly didn’t notice the sink full of dishes, the dryer of clothes to be folded or the bathroom trashcan overflowing. Instead of doing all the tasks in a huff, ask for help.

10. Be each other’s biggest support.

One of the most harmful things in a marriage is dwelling on the negative attributes of your spouse. Once you start doing that and grousing in your head and/or to others about them constantly, then you start seeing only the negative in your spouse. It can be hard to act gracefully toward them.

Instead, focus on their positive attributes and be their biggest cheerleader. I don’t think there’s anything with technology my husband can’t do or figure out. He’s so incredibly great at it. He doesn’t think there are any words I don’t know how to spell. When I’m having a moment of being hard on myself — something I excel at — he cheers me on and reminds me of the things I’m good at and doing right.

Being focused on the positive attributes of your spouse allows a lot more room for you to give them grace. You won’t be thinking about all the ways they come up short, but instead you’ll be thinking about all the things they’re awesome at. In turn, that will make it even easier to give them grace during a difficult moment.

Real marriage advice: Stop casting blame

How casting blame damages your relationship and you may not even realize you’re doing it!

I wrote these words about casting blame about a decade ago. While I’m not dealing with babies any more, I most definitely needed this reminder for myself. I’ve gotten better about it, but lately I’ve been struggling a bit again with feeling like I work harder than everyone else in my family. I start having a pity party, casting blame and being miserable.

But, I have it worse than you. No, I have it worse than you. Seriously, though, I have it worse than you. We all know people who are experts at casting blame. No matter what you say, they always have it worse. It’s a comparison game.  It can drive you batty. 

I have a person in my life who is an overachiever at this game. The problem is what she is comparing to whatever I’m saying isn’t even remotely close to being the same thing. It gets very frustrating to say the least. Most times I just laugh it off knowing that’s just her. Other times I want to pull my hair out.

I’m not sure why there is a competition over who’s life is the worst some times, but I’ve seen it so many times and it so many ways. Of course, I’m perfect and have never engaged in such a competition. Yeah, right. I’d love for that to be true. I’ve most definitely had my moments. It’s super easy when things get hard to look around and moan and groan about how easy everyone else has it. And if they only knew how hard things are for me. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’ve so been there done that.

The blame game as a new parent

As a new parent, I really struggled with that. The only problem was that I was competing with my husband more than anyone else. I was frustrated that he didn’t know how hard I had it. I had a newborn. I was up with her throughout the night. I had mastitis. I had to stay up past her and pump. I had another bladder infection. I had to get up before her and pump. I had to try to squeeze in work at some point. I had to change diapers. I had to wash pump parts. I had to wash bottles. I had so much to do. It was so hard on me. Me, me, me! (I’m sure hormones were in this mix somewhere, too.)

What I eventually realized is — even though I wanted to smack him upside the head when I’d fall back into bed in the middle of the night because he was sleeping — he had it hard, too. He was waking up throughout the night, driving three hours to work and back each day, figuring out how to be productive while there and then coming home and taking over baby duty for a few hours so I could snooze. And I never even thought to offer the poor man dinner. He had his own struggles and challenges.

How to stop casting blame

I still have issues with this from time to time. But, I’m learning to remind myself when I do to think of things I appreciate about my husband and what he’s dealing with. Instead of being jealous of the guaranteed three hours of alone, quiet time he gets during his daily commute, I think about the crazy traffic he has to deal with. And how tired I know he is after long days. It seems so less glorious then.

At the same time, he’s got to appreciate me and help me for me to be OK doing that. It’s a give-and-take. While I thought after five years of dating and 12-1/2 years of marriage that we have all the kinks worked out, I’m learning that we don’t. There are always new kinks. They especially spring up with parenthood. We are learning some new ways to communicate. 

While before we had leisure time to talk without interruption, we now have limited time to talk without interruption and added stress of taking care of a little person on top of that. Our communication has sped up and gotten clearer. I’ve never been a person to play games or beat around the bush, but I do have times where I tend to lean to passive aggressiveness. And nothing pushes my husband’s buttons more than passive aggressiveness.

Don’t be a martyr

I’m remembering that I don’t have to be a martyr. (Poor Stacey. Look at how hard she has it.) When he’s taking the kiddo’s weekend nap time to play a video game and I’m taking the same time to fold laundry, straighten up the dining room and start on dinner, I have a couple of options. I can ask him to help. Or I can do it on my own and be thankful he’s getting a chance to relax after a hard week, especially when I might remember how he snuggled and played with the kiddo just a couple of hours earlier so I could take a long shower or read a magazine. It’s much better than shooting him glares he’ll never notice while folding laundry or slamming kitchen cabinets to make a point he won’t notice while making dinner. 

The problem is if I’m feeling like I need help and not asking for it (and to my husband’s major credit, when I ask, he almost always complies without a fuss) then later in that day, I usually get incredibly angry at him. And it blows into this whole big thing and I get wrapped up in how much I have to do and how hard I have it that it becomes so much a bigger issue than it should have been. 

It goes back to communication. Heck, I have two degrees in communication (journalism), so you’d think I would never struggle with it. And it also goes back to being so focused on myself and how hard I have in in comparison that I don’t even see his side of things. Of course he can’t read my mind.

Casting blame keeps our focus inward

In the end, many problems in life and many disagreements really come down to who has it worse. In our human nature we get into that comparison game. I think I have it worse than my husband when I’m doing household chores and he’s playing a video game. One mom thinks she has it worse than another because her kids are younger. Or whatever. The thing is somebody does always have it worse than somebody else. Life works that way. 

We aren’t all dealt the same hand at the same time. But, we are all dealt struggles. Unless you know someone’s story — and really KNOW their story — you don’t know how hard their life is. You think they have it easy. You think they are better off than you. But, they’re dealing with their own worries, doubts and fears. They’ve got their own stuff going on.

The best thing we can all do is get outside of ourselves and listen — really listen — to what those around us are saying. What are our spouses dealing with right now that is weighing on them more than we had thought? What are our friends going through that is breaking their heart when they are home alone? It’s not a comparison game. It’s a fight and struggle to get through this life. And we’re not the only ones in the fray. Everybody is backed into a corner in some way throughout their week.

My challenge to myself and to you is to stop our comparisons when they creep in and start looking around us. Start looking outside of our own struggles and realizing the people we’re dealing with (who may be driving us insane) are struggling, too. Maybe they deserve to be cut some slack. Maybe they don’t. Or maybe they really just need someone to listen and validate what they’re dealing with. And maybe that can be us.

It’s not about who has the most battle scars. It’s about who helped the most soldiers survive the battle.

Marriage advice: keep a sense of a humor

Laughter is important for a happy marriage

For 22 years now, I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart. We are together more than we are apart, especially since we both work from home and share a home office. In fact, I’m typing this blog post at my desk while he’s at his desk a few feet away working on his computer. (Don’t ask me to explain what he’s doing, because I don’t understand most of his work as an IT security consultant!) We’ve learned lots of things through our couple of decades being hitched and we’ve got all sorts of marriage advice to dole out.

In fact, for this post, I asked my husband for some of his marriage advice or what we do well in our relationship. He gave me a few ideas like communicating well or working from home together, which I’ve written about. And then he mentioned a sense of humor. I’ve not talked about that so much, and I think I’ve been failing you guys in that regard. A sense of humor is a big part of a happy marriage.

You don’t take yourselves too seriously.

I’m human. My husband’s human. Neither of us are perfect. We mess up and make mistakes. Laughing about some of these mistakes keeps us from taking the mess ups too seriously. Obviously, some things aren’t funny no matter what. But other things really are.

Probably one of the things we laugh about most is miscommunication. When it comes to marriage advice, you must address miscommunication, because it happens!

For example, a couple of weeks ago, my husband was telling me about an article he read. Some homeowners put a rude note on their door about Halloween. My husband commented that people replied saying the homeowners might as well hang their own TP.

Now, typed out, you know that “TP” stands for “toilet paper.” Spoken aloud, however, as we were in the midst of folding towels and telling the kids to get ready for bed, my mind went to “teepee.” I didn’t get the joke. I thought maybe if those people were skipping Halloween, they were going straight to Thanksgiving and putting up a teepee to honor the Native Americans. But that didn’t really make sense. And who hangs a teepee anyway?

My husband noted my confusion. In just a few words, we cleared up my mistake and then laughed so hard I had tears rolling down my cheeks about my error.

While this was a small miscommunication of basically no consequence on our marriage, it is just one example of times we learn to laugh together at ourselves. Had my husband rudely laughed at me and declared I was stupid, then I wouldn’t have found it funny at all. But we’ve both learned to laugh at ourselves over small mistakes like this one. And even better, we can laugh at them together. You know the saying, “I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you.” That applies tenfold in a marriage. It ought to be found in marriage advice books.

There have also been times that I haven’t found humor in my mistakes, and my husband has helped me see that humor – in a kind and gentle way. It helps me not take myself too seriously. Life is too short for that!

A sense of humor gives you perspective.

Sometimes little stuff can seem like big stuff, but keeping a sense of humor about it keeps things in perspective. To keep your marriage happy, you’ve got to have that perspective when things go sideways.

My husband and I started our marriage learning the importance of a sense of humor. We were so excited to be married and going on a honeymoon together that we drove to our destination without thinking that cars need gas. Our car had a full tank when we left, and neither of us paid any mind to the gas gauge as we went.

We puttered into the visitor’s center just before our destination on gas fumes. It was a moment that could have been rife with tension. Instead, we figured out how to get to a gas station, fill up the car and keep going. Pretty quickly, we laughed at ourselves for not having thought to get gas. In the grand scheme of life, that extra half hour we spent dealing with a car with no gas was a teeny, tiny blip. It wasn’t worth being mad at each other about. And it certainly gave us a memorable moment!

Sometimes in the small moments that can seem irritating, we need to take a minute to regroup and even laugh. If nothing earth-shattering is going on, is it really worth arguing about? Why not laugh instead of snap?

Laughter is good for the soul.

Research shows laughter is good for your health. I know from experience that laughter is good for the soul, and that goes for the soul of your marriage as well. Sometimes you need that laughter more than others. During those times, the best marriage advice is to find ways to laugh together.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, my husband was fresh out of surgery for a rotator cuff repair. In fact, the day after my husband’s surgery, my children’s school announced the switch to virtual learning. I was overwhelmed to think of managing his care and their school. It was stressful.

While it got a bit easier as time went by and he was able to do more for himself, it was still a lot to deal with – especially considering we were also dealing with the stress and anxiety of a global pandemic. Though we couldn’t change the circumstances, we could take time to laugh together. So, we watched stand-up comedy together many evenings before bed and laughed.

We found “Dry Bar Comedy,” which is stand-up comedy with clean humor, and we’d laugh together before going to bed. It was a stress reliever we needed individually, but also as a couple. Health issues alone are a challenge to a marriage. Any time one of you has to be the caretaker, it’s a different dynamic. Laughing together helped us feel normal and relieved stress. It was a win all around.

Laughing together brings you closer.

You might have heard the person you look at first when you’re laughing is who you like the most. The could be true, but research has shown for sure that laughing together with someone else makes you feel closer to that person. Seriously. Truthfully, for this marriage advice, I didn’t know there was scientific evidence to back it up until I was researching for this blog post after I wrote this subheading. But I knew it to be true from my relationship with my husband.

We do a variety of things that make me feel closer to him and laughing together is one of them. At any given time, we are juggling various responsibilities and stressors. Life can bog us down, but when we laugh together even in the midst of challenging times, I feel closer to him. It doesn’t even have to be humor related to what we’re dealing with (though we’ve done that, too). It just is spending time together and realizing that life can get hard and crazy but together we can still have fun.

And nobody makes me laugh or truly understands my humor like my husband does. The man knows good puns and dad jokes crack me up. He knows that I laugh way too much at talking animal videos. Sometimes we need laughter to break tension, relieve stress and remind us that we are connected.

You create inside jokes.

Nothing feels worse than being left out of an inside joke with other people. But nothing feels better than being part of an inside joke with someone else. While it’s fun to smile or laugh together at an inside joke, it works well for your marriage because it makes you feel connected. It reminds you that you have a whole history with this person — in a good way.

My husband and I have a few inside jokes that have happened through the years. They evolve naturally. One of perhaps the oddest ones happened years ago before we even had children (and our oldest is 12!). We were walking into Target behind a couple of high schoolers. We overheard part of their conversation that went like this:

Teen 1: I wish I was like Nellie.

Teen 2: I wish I was Nellie.

(And then here comes the kicker.)

Teen 1: I wish my name was Nellie.

I’d guess you aren’t riotously laughing at that exchange right now, but the seriousness of their discussion and that the ultimate wish was to just have a different name made us laugh. We have brought that up at random times. That’s how the best inside jokes are. They aren’t so funny to someone who wasn’t there at the time, but they are to you.

In your marriage, it’s the small stuff like this that brings you closer together, makes you feel good and helps you remember why you love this person.

How gaming made my marriage better

Going from a gamer’s wife to a gaming wife changed our marriage

From the time I met him in high school my husband has been a gamer. He enjoys games of pretty much any variety from video to computer to roleplaying and more. I wasn’t so much a gamer. As a kid I played some Nintendo (I loved “Paperboy!”) and played family board or card games, but that was it. When we got married 21 years ago, I knew he was a gamer, but gaming was his hobby and not mine.

The early days of gaming and married life

In the early days of our marriage when we were still in college, my husband and his friends even had a weekly roleplaying night. I would sometimes bake treats for them (like brownies), but that was about the extent of my involvement with gaming. After all, I reasoned, spouses should have their own interests and hobbies.

I remember some of the other girlfriends and wives complaining about the guys’ gaming. It didn’t usually bother me. I knew my husband was a gamer when we got married. And his roleplaying nights gave me a chance to have some downtime of my own. The times he played video games through the week didn’t bother me so much. He didn’t put them before me, and I could easily tune them out while doing homework and such.

But, I began to realize that since gaming was such a big part of my husband’s life, I wanted to learn more about it. So, I took on a writing assignment for my college newspaper about a new gaming console. Off the record, I interviewed my husband for background information. After all, he wanted the new console, and I wanted to understand how it was different enough for us to budget money to buy it!

Slowly, I was starting to learn about his hobby, but I still wasn’t so into it. Every so often I played a video game with him, but I never participated in roleplaying games.

Starting to shift from gamer’s wife to gaming wife

Then, about five years into our marriage, things slowly shifted. We were no longer college students but young professionals. My husband’s video gaming with his friends was now more online than in-person. And he asked me to go along with him to a nearby gaming convention on a Saturday. It was a convention for tabletop games like roleplaying, trading card games, board games and the like.

I agreed to go and was overwhelmed by how many people attended and how much stuff there was. My husband tried a couple of game demos in the convention hall, and I watched. I didn’t feel comfortable at all with trying any demos myself.

Around this same time, my husband also shared with me a book series related to the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. We decided to start reading R.A. Salvatore’s “The Legend of Drizzt” books together. As a lifelong avid reader, I’d never been into fantasy books at all. But, it wasn’t long until I was so wrapped up in the story of Drizzt that I couldn’t put the books down. I passed up my husband and kept on reading.

(The series is now 36 books long and I’ve read every single one of them. We have a painting of Drizzt on our living room wall and a figurine of him on our mantel. To say I became a complete fan girl is a bit of an understatement!)

We returned to the same gaming convention the next year. I found myself getting more drawn in and fascinated to see so many things related to what I had read about.

Giving gaming a try

Soon I started playing games with my husband. I joined in on some video games (my favorites were when he could lead the way through a board). We started playing some board games that were more fantasy-related rather than family board games.

And then I decided to give roleplaying games a try. I started with my husband and his friends. It was a little weird to go from being the snack maker to being one of the gamers as well. But, you know what I learned? It was fun! My shifter from gamer’s wife to gaming wife had been made and there was no turning back.

Each year, we attended the same gaming convention for multiple days and played various games. I was hesitant to try demos at first for fear of not learning the game well and embarrassing myself. After a couple of years, though, I got more confident and could learn most games pretty well from the start. Demos no longer intimidated me.

Once we had children, gaming became more challenging. Many of our gaming buddies moved away from us, which made it challenging as well. But we still loved playing together whenever we got the chance. That remains true to this day (well, it will once we are through this pandemic). And as a result of gaming, our marriage grew stronger.

Gaming and marriage

While our marriage was first strengthened by my taking an interest in a hobby my husband enjoyed, it grew even stronger once I started gaming as well. I know some women grouse about their guys playing games. I get that. And I also understand video game addiction is real.

However, my experience with gaming and marriage has been positive. I learned early on to look at my husband’s gaming time as time for me to do things I wanted to do. My husband has always made me (and later our children) a priority over gaming. That helps as well.

Gaming together has brought us closer. We now get to see each other in new ways and have fun stories to recall together. We still laugh about the time my character nearly died just trying to walk around a valley in a roleplaying game years ago because I got one bad dice roll after another.

I love getting a chance to see my husband’s creativity come to life. He is a magnificent game master (meaning person in charge of the gaming session). He is quick-thinking and can come up with all sorts of scenarios and handle whatever the players throw his way. I also get a chance to see his leadership ability (which is one of his innate skills).

Gaming together helped me understand more why he is so good in a crisis; he sees multiple options and contingency plans. He’s a smart guy. He’s also a fabulous strategist. Once after my husband finished a demo of a new game at one gaming convention, the game’s creator shook his hand. He raved about how my husband had come up with such a great strategy.

Gaming has taught me more about my husband. I think it’s taught him more about me as well. And it’s helped me grow and evolve. Real-life Stacey wouldn’t be nearly as bold as some of the characters I’ve played. As an introvert, thinking quickly on my feet is often challenging for me, but I’m now much better at doing so.

Gaming as a team

The final aspect of gaming and marriage is working together as a team. In roleplaying type games, players work together for the common good. When my husband and I get to play together (when he isn’t in charge), we also get to work together. It’s good practice for real life. Just as real-life Stacey and Chris know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we also learn those of our characters and as gamers. We can better work together as a result.

And when we are on opposite sides and my husband is the game master in charge of the bad guys, I have learned he doesn’t have it out for us players. I don’t take things so personally. (It was a bit of a struggle in the early days, I admit!) I know he is working to ultimately make sure we have a fun and interesting gaming experience.

While gaming isn’t for everyone, it’s been a really good hobby for my husband and me. He’s still the bigger gamer between the two of us. However, I’m glad to have this hobby we can share together whenever we get a chance. Gaming and marriage really can go together quite nicely!

How to connect with your spouse while raising children

6 ways to connect in the busyness of raising kiddos

My husband and I were married for 10 years before our first child was born. We had 10 years of being able to do things like talk without interruption! Now as the parents to an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old life is different, and we can struggle to finish a conversation. Learning how to connect with your spouse in the midst of raising a family can be challenging. We’ve found a few strategies that work for us.

Connecting with your spouse is about more than going on dates. While date night is awesome and I highly encourage it, connection means taking the time to really listen to each other. You certainly can (and sometimes need to) share your deepest feelings, but you also should share the small stuff as well.

I mean all the things you think about in the shower that you mean to talk to your spouse about but don’t get a chance to. Or all the things you start to say and get interrupted. I’d say it even includes some logistical details sometimes that you just need to communicate and connect about. Connection is about sharing life together.

1. Find good times to talk.

One of the best ways to connect with your spouse comes by communicating well. I learned pretty early on in our just over two decades of marriage to start important conversations with the question: “Is this a good time to talk?”

That one question has saved us some grief and arguments in our marriage. Since my husband and I work from home together, we have plenty of opportunities to interrupt each other at inopportune times. So in order to connect with each other, we start with finding the right time to do so.

He may have something he wants to discuss with me and connect with me about right when I’m in the middle of trying to finish an article before my deadline. Or I might need to talk with him about something that happened right when he is preparing for a conference call.

By asking if it’s a good time (and being kind and honest with the question and response), our chance to actually connect improves. Some times are just not convenient times to listen — really listen — to what someone is saying to you.

2. Set boundaries with your kids.

This one looks different depending on your kids’ ages. We haven’t dealt with this with teenagers since our oldest kiddo is 11, but we’ve dealt with it through every stage previous.

The baby days are hard because babies are unpredictable. So, you have to get creative in order to connect with your spouse. When our youngest was a newborn, my husband knew I was struggling. While our daughter had always been a good sleeper, our son wasn’t. I had many nights where I was up the entire night only able to sleep about two hours before our 3-year-old was up for the day. I would literally fall asleep in the middle of saying something to my husband when he got home from work.

One night, my husband left an encouraging note on the changing table reminding me that I could wake him if I needed to. That short note, written on a piece of paper torn from a notebook was the perfect way to connect at that point in our lives.

As our children got older, we got into routines as a family. Their bedtimes coincided. Quiet or nap times overlapped intentionally. Even now they both have to be in their rooms for the night at the same time. So, my husband and I know that by 8:15 p.m., both kiddos should be settled in for the night. That’s important because those are times we know we can connect.

And then there are other times (especially right now with virtual schooling) that we stop our kids from coming into the home office during the day because my husband and I need a moment to connect. Sometimes we connect even by grousing about school assignments together!

3. Utilize kid-free time.

Kid-free time seems like it would be a no-brainer to connect with your spouse, but sometimes we get distracted and spend that time doing other things. I’m an introvert and recharge with quiet. I completely understand that sometimes kid-free time means you just want to not talk or do anything productive. And you need those breaks!

Just make sure that you allow some time for your spouse in the midst of it. Make some time to chat about what’s been going on in your lives or thoughts. My husband and I even end up spending kid-free time talking about the kids. We are in this parenting thing together and sometimes we need to connect about how we’re doing it to make sure we stay on the same page.

When it comes simply to connecting, no topic is taboo, not even your kiddos. The act of sharing your thoughts and concerns with each other connects you with your spouse.

4. Do something fun together.

One of the best ways to connect with your spouse is doing something fun together. This totally depends on what you guys find fun, but look for something you both enjoy.

That said, don’t be afraid to branch out and try what your spouse thinks is fun and vice versa. Since he was a kid, my husband has been a gamer. He enjoys both video games and tabletop games, specifically role playing games. While I played video games with him occasionally, I resisted tabletop role playing games for year.

When I finally tries role playing games with my husband, I found that I enjoy them as well. It’s something fun we love doing together and lets me see a whole different side of my husband and his creativity. And we end up with memories made together that we can talk — and usually laugh — about later.

We also enjoy watching movies together. While it doesn’t sound like something to connect us, we talk about them afterward. We usually don’t have in-depth discussions (though it’s happened and you totally could), but even just sharing what we each thought of the movie helps us connect with each other.

5. Go for a ride or run errands together.

The car can be the perfect place for connecting with your spouse when it’s just the two of you. Nobody can interrupt your conversations! My husband and I have done some of our best connecting on car rides and/or while running errands together.

We’ve connected and had fun while shopping for our kids’ birthday gifts. When we go on road trips for doctor’s appointments for me, we spend part of that time talking and going over topics we care about. We’ve talked through all sorts of things in the car.

Another way we sometimes connect on longer trips is listening to Podcasts together. My husband has some favorite ones he’ll listen to while I read or nap. But there are some we like listening to together as well. (One of our joint favorite Podcasts is a role playing game.) You could also listen to audio books together if that’s more your style.

6. Don’t forget the small stuff.

Finally, connect with your spouse in small ways that make big differences. The right words can make your bond stronger. Say thank you when you notice your spouse doing chores or taking care of something so you don’t have to. Stop and give your spouse a hug when he or she is folding laundry. Pick up their favorite treat at the grocery store.

Connection in marriage happens in small ways every day. You don’t have to have long discussions on deep topics. Your actions and facial expressions can connect you just as much as words. I love the feeling when my husband and I share “a look” about something adorable our kids have done or even something frustrating that’s happened. It reminds me we are on the same page and on the same team going through life. And that’s what connection is all about!

Valentine’s gift ideas for him

Sweet Valentine’s gift ideas your guy will love

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Valentine’s Day is coming. My husband and I have spent more than two decades celebrating Valentine’s Day together. Yet, I can still have trouble coming up with Valentine’s gift ideas for him.

I want a Valentine’s gift that’s sweet and not something generic or usually even something I’d get him for Christmas or his birthday. I’d much prefer to come up with Valentine’s gift ideas for him that have more meaning and less price tag.

With that in mind, I went in search of gift ideas that were a good amount of sweet as well as things guys would actually like and use.

Get cozy

Since Valentine’s Day comes during the winter (at least here in the U.S.), cozy blanket can be great Valentine’s gift ideas for him. And it’s even better since the two of you can snuggle beneath it to stay warm! But you don’t want to give him just any boring blanket. Consider a weighted blanket, which is super popular these days.

Or go for something fun and cozy like some of these unique throws.

This fun throw would certainly keep your guy toasty on cold days. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

If you’re married to a gamer who grew up in the 1980s like I am, these next two gaming throws would be a hit.

Game together

If you and your husband like playing games, couples-themed games are great Valentine’s gift ideas for him. It’s like two gifts in one. First you give the gift of the game and then you get the gift of time spent together playing it!

Picture this

Photo gifts are pretty fun, no matter how long you’ve been together. Find a photo (or a few) from a favorite memory, put it in a frame and you have a great Valentine’s gift!

Write it down

Take your Valentine’s card a step further by writing a book for your husband! With one of these fill-in-the-blank books, you can pretty easily write a sweet and sentimental book. And, unlike a card that’s easy to toss out, he can keep the book and go back to it time and again.

Laugh together

I have to be honest and tell you this final gift idea actually came from my husband. This is a book he got me for Christmas based on a series of comics that often remind him of us. Even better, he wrote on the inside cover a sweet note along with which comics reminded him most of us. It made me swoon!

Looking for more ideas on how to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your husband? Check out the easy Valentine’s tradition I do for my husband and kids to help them feel loved!

Working from home with your spouse

9 Things I’ve learned in the last three years sharing a home office with my husband

When I started working as a freelance journalist back in 2003, I was the only person in my family working from home. Since then, I’ve always worked from home. Eventually my only co-worker was our pooch and I worked from a home office with just him around.

Then in October 2009, we had our first baby. I didn’t do as much work or spend as much time in the office after she was born. My husband got to periodically work from home but not very often.

When I was pregnant with our second baby in 2012, I boxed up many of my work things in the home office because my husband was working from home a bit more often, and I knew I’d be working less once I had two little ones on my hands.

By 2014, when we had a 1-year-old and 4-year-old, my husband’s job changed so that he was working from home most of the time. He spent the first few years working from home nearly solo as I was taking care of our kiddos and only doing a bit of work here and there.

When we built our home in 2017, we knew I’d be able to start working more again because our son was heading to kindergarten that fall. We tweaked the floor plan so what was the formal living room became the home office. And, for the first time, my husband and I were going to share office space.

Getting on the same page

As we began planning the layout for our home office, I realized my husband and I had different ideas. I suggested we get matching desks and have them connected, facing each other.

My husband suggested we take a page from “I Love Lucy” and put masking tape down the center of the room to keep our sides — and our belongings — separate.

So we had to figure out how to best arrange the space to meet both our needs. As a writer and the manager of our family, I deal with a lot of paperwork. As a computer security consultant, my high-tech husband has very little paperwork. He didn’t want my paperwork (mess) spilling over onto his desk. Fair enough.

We decided that we’d each have desks facing the same direction (the door) with mine on one side and his on the other. Basically, we are sitting side-by-side but with a good-sized “aisle” between us.

I’ve got a filing cabinet behind me and one in my desk to help organize my paperwork. We have a shelving unit with our printer and other office supplies in one corner. We each have a large bookshelf as well for our books and other knick-knacks we like.

Working together but separately

One of the issues we’ve had to tackle is working together in the same room but doing completely different jobs. Because we aren’t doing the same work for the same company, we had to figure out how to make that work together.

We had some practice with this before sharing an office. If I had to schedule an article interview while the kids were home, I coordinated with my husband to make sure he could be available for kid duty.

Sharing the office works much the same way. If I’m scheduling an important interview, I check in with my husband’s schedule to avoid us both having important calls at the same time.

Every so often, we do have calls that overlap. In those instances, I leave the office and head to the kitchen table to do my call. I work from a laptop plugged into a monitor and am much more mobile than my husband in that regard.

Being noise considerate

One of the biggest issues in working from home together is dealing with noise. Work can be noisy. I generally work best with music on. My husband often needs to watch videos for work or has them on for background as he’s working. Other times, we need quiet.

But, our times for each of these things don’t always line up well. Sometimes I need my writing music while he is watching a video. Sometimes he needs to watch a video for work while I’m doing a phone interview. Headphones are awesome for helping us stay noise considerate of each other.

We don’t always use our headphones. There are times we don’t need to, but it’s nice to be able to pop in my noise canceling earbuds when I’m working on a big deadline and need to type to the soundtrack of “Riverdance” without distraction.

Being aware of call etiquette

Working from home almost always means that you’re going to have to make and take calls. Some are scheduled and some are random. I know, for example, that my husband has a conference call every weekday morning at 9 a.m.

So if I need to print something (which is a bit noisy), I’ll try and do so before or after his call. If I’m working in the other room (which happens more right now because I’m helping my 2nd grader with his schoolwork), I will try to get things I need from the office beforehand or wait until afterward.

We also pay attention if the other one gets or makes a call. If we have volume going on music or something else, we either pause it or switch to headphones.

The person on the phone or video call also usually uses headphones. We avoid speakerphone because neither of us needs to hear the entire conversation going on with the other person’s work.

If we have calls scheduled outside of usual times, we will often share that with one another just as a heads-up so we both know what to expect during the day.

Deciding on priority

This can be a touchy subject, but there are times we have to decide on whose work has the most priority. Right now when we are also virtual schooling, this is even more the case. For example, I have a weekly deadline on Mondays at noon. My husband knows this, so he will check in with me in between his work tasks to see if I need any help with schooling so I can work uninterrupted.

Speaking of schooling, we had to talk about who would be the point person in virtual schooling the kids. (For the majority of this school year, we have been virtually schooling by choice.) We talked ahead of time about how to make it happen along with our work. We determined I was in the better position to deal with schooling.

In our family, my husband’s job has higher priority because his is the steady, consistent income that also provides our family with health benefits. He also has a more rigid schedule for work than I do. So, we prioritize that higher. Each family and situation is different, but for us that’s what works best.

Finding good times to talk

While we give each other space and peace and quiet to work, we also do want to and enjoy talking with one another. The guy is my best friend! We’ve found one phrase that has helped so very much in working from home together: Is this a good time to talk? (Check out this post on improving communication in your marriage.)

We might want to run work-related ideas by each other, share a story about our kids, tell the other something funny we just read, go over finances or just about anything else. And all of that will go better if we both have the time and are in the head space to do so.

Because we usually have an idea what’s going on with the other’s work, we are almost always aware when is definitely NOT a good time to interrupt the other. And then we usually just wait. (Sometimes I make a note in my planner or set a reminder so I don’t forget to talk with my husband about the topic later. I get distracted by work, kids and life and thoughts can get lost!)

Helping each other

One of the neat things about working at home together is getting a chance to help each other with work. Back when I was the only one of us working from home, if I needed to bounce an idea off of someone or needed tech help, I’d have to wait until my husband got home. And then that only worked if we didn’t have anything else going on and if I remembered!

Working at home together, we have a co-worker with an outside perspective, which can be helpful to talk through an issue. We also can use our skills to help each other. Because my husband is a technology guru, he’s always been my tech guy. Nowadays he can even help me with smaller issues that pop up. Like if I’m having website trouble or need help figuring out a formatting issue in Excel.

And I can edit documents he has to write for work. Earlier this year, I was literally his hands after his shoulder surgery when he couldn’t type. He told me what to type for a report and I did so.

Working from home together gives my husband and me yet another way to be a team.

Knowing when to keep our mouths shut

Lest you think that working from home together is all roses, there are times we irritate with one another. I hate the sound of people chewing, especially crunching. So I’ve had times when my husband was having a snack that I popped in my headphones and cranked up the volume to not be so irritated.

I know I’ve irritated him as well. But just like with majority of time in our relationship, usually we’re irritated about something else that has nothing to do with our spouse!

Getting to see each other as professionals

Before we spent every day working from home together, I knew a bit of what my husband did and that he was good at it. Now that I hear him interacting with clients and doing research, I have a whole new appreciation for his work.

In the 26 years we’ve been together, I’ve seen him in many roles. Getting to regularly see him in his professional role is pretty cool.

Working from home together lets us celebrate our small work successes together. We get to cheer each other on. Having a co-worker who is always on your side and rooting for your best is priceless.

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