Families With Grace

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

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.

Our family tent camping fails

Camping and life lessons learned from tent camping failures

I’m a relatively simple person. I enjoy the small things in life and quiet moments. I love nature and feel at peace in the solitude of being in the mountains or on a lake. And so I feel like tent camping should be a great activity for me. I mean, of course, I’m not all that outdoorsy and am kind of allergic to the sun (I get hives). I also can’t sleep on the actual ground because my fibromyalgia-ridden body would complete revolt. But otherwise, this camping thing should be perfect for me, right?!

In theory, tent camping is completely up my alley. It’s something I’d enjoy and be happy with. I don’t even mind too much getting dirty. I’m the kind of girl who baits her own hook when fishing with worms. (I’m also the kind of girl who goes on said fishing trip with a full face of makeup!)

But, alas. Tent camping seems to be something I just don’t have a knack for. Or maybe it’s just something that I have bad luck with. Each time we go tent camping, I go with a positive attitude that this time will be different. And, other than two overnights in a tent at a theme park (which doesn’t completely qualify as camping), I have been wrong.

Tent camping fail number one

My husband and I took our first camping trip just the two of us a few years before we had kids. We headed about three hours away. We left most of our belongings in the hatchback of our vehicle because the tent wasn’t huge. It worked just fine.

We camped in an area surrounded by sand dunes and lakes. We rented a dune buggy and had fun. Then we decided to rent a jet ski. While I grew up nearly constantly being in the water, my husband didn’t. Without thinking, he put the car keys in the pocket of his athletic shorts. He wasn’t planning to do much swimming.

But the jet ski tipped over on a wave in the huge lake and into the water we went. Back on shore after our rental ended, we realized my husband didn’t have the keys. Yep. They floated out of his pocket and were somewhere in the lake. We couldn’t get into our car, back to our campground or to any of our dry clothes. We were stuck. Doh!

My parents came to our rescue and headed to us with the spare set of keys from our house. They got an unexpected trip and rescued us. I’m not sure this fail was from tent camping or just our crummy luck, but it was my first experience as an adult with camping. It is certainly an unforgettable one!

Tent camping fail number two

Fast forward about eight years and our family had grown. We bought a larger tent on sale a couple of years previously and decided our kids were old enough to try some tent camping for a night. They were 3 and 6. We loaded up the car. Our first stop was to see Thomas the Train and then camp. But, the town where we planned to camp was inundated with rain with more forecasted. My husband suggested we look somewhere without rain and change our plans. So, we did so. We drove in the opposite direction and found a campground.

The campground was a bit soggy, but no rain was predicted for a couple of days. We didn’t get to roast marshmallows or anything by the time we got there, but we did get settled in for the night. I woke up in the middle of the night to hear the pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent roof. I thought it was relaxing. When I woke up cold soon thereafter cold, I even felt wet. As I woke up even more I realized it wasn’t a brain trick; I was wet. It was the middle of the night and the roof of our tent was leaking horribly.

We all woke up, cold and wet. I settled the kids in the car then helped my my husband tear down our tent in the rain and mud. We were soaked through and covered in mud. In our frustration, we threw the tent in the dumpster, assuming the rain protection was faulty.

Because all the nearby hotels were inexplicably booked, my husband drove us three hours home. I tried to keep the kids happy since they were tired.

When we got home and reasonably clean, we fell asleep — after remembering that we had packed ponchos in case we needed them. Doh!

Successful camping

Our next camping experiences were about two years after the rain leak fail. The kids wanted to go to a theme park nearby to ride roller coasters. I discovered the theme park offered an in-park camp night once a summer. It was a great deal, and we decided to go for it. We did that camping trip two years in a row.

I’m not so sure it was actually so much camping as it was sleeping in our (now new, bigger and easier to assemble) tent on a manicured law. But we liked it and made good memories. So, I’m calling it successful camping!

Tent camping fail number three

And that brings us to the most recent tent camping failure that happened just a few weeks ago. My kids keep wanting to go camping. As summer break wound down, we had a lapse in the heat and headed to a state park for two nights of tent camping. Our kids are now older (8 and 11). We were now wiser. This would be the camping trip of our dreams. Plus, the state park offered horseback riding — something both kids love right now!

The first night went swimmingly. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. We played some games and had a good time. It rained overnight, and we didn’t get wet at all. The next morning we were raring to go and hit up the horseback riding. After lunch and a couple of excursions, we headed to our camp site to rest. Backing into our parking spot, we hit a tree stump that pulled about 1/3 of the front bumper loose.

It wasn’t a great way to start our downtime that afternoon. With some ingenuity and a carabiner clip, my husband got the bumper to stay in place until we got home the following day and he could repair it.

We all had a rest after that and then decided we’d go out for dinner. The sky was a beautiful blue. The weather forecast said 0% chance for rain. We talked about it and decided leaving our tent windows open was a good plan to keep the tent cool while we ate our pizza in town.

As we sat down for dinner, the wind dramatically kicked up. The sky grew dark. The rain poured down for about 10 minutes. We hoped the trees shielded our tent. We speculated that maybe it didn’t even rain at the campground, which was about five miles away from town.

But, we were wrong. We arrived back to camp to find our tent wasn’t in standing water, but it was wet. Our bedding, chairs and clean clothes were all wet. We discussed options and decided heading home a night early was the best choice. We tracked mud through the tent as we packed up to leave. In the end, we tied the wet, muddy tent on the roof of our vehicle. On the way home we frequently checked to make sure the bumper and tent were still attached.

The next day, we spent a few hours (quite literally) cleaning mud off of things. We hosed down the tent a couple of times and used the wet vac. My husband repaired the bumper. The kiddos sprayed down the chairs. We took a brush and hose to our shoes. Exhausted, we got everything put away and ended our camping adventure.

What we taught our children

While our oldest daughter remembers the second tent camping fail, our son doesn’t remember it quite as well. But now at 11 and 8, they certainly remember the most recent fail. We had discussions while we were unexpectedly packing up our campsite and the following day as we cleaned.

We told our children feeling disappointed by cutting our trip short was normal. In fact, we were disappointed, too. I mentioned that having had very minimal positive tent camping experiences, I felt all the more determined to go tent camping again and not let it defeat me. (Though I had a moment the day of scrubbing mud from the tent where I was fine to let camping be the victor!)

We also talked about working together. I was incredibly impressed with my children. They helped us pack everything up at the campsite and also clean everything up when we were home the following day. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but we determined this crummy thing happened and we got to choose how we reacted to it. Both packing up and dealing with the disappointment were much easier working together.

My husband and I each felt some responsibility for the soggy tent. We decided to take the risk and leave the windows open. But we didn’t blame each other. We explained to the kids that we had certainly learned a lesson. (Never again will we leave tent windows open while we’re away from the campsite!) And that’s what failure is about. We learn lessons, take them with us for the next time and move on. I pointed out to them that everyone messes up, and we don’t have to get really angry at ourselves when it happens. It’s an important lesson to learn.

In the end, our tent camping fails have given us memories at the least. And they’ve allowed us to teach our children how to react when life goes sideways. These weren’t the first time we’ve taught them that lesson, and they won’t be the last. I want my kids to be prepared for times life goes unexpectedly, because it surely will.

Now we just have to gather the courage to take on tent camping again with our lessons learned. One of these days, we will prevail in tent camping. At least I’m pretty sure we will!

5 Ideas for a great Father’s Day celebration

How to give him a meaningful Father’s Day celebration

Coming up with ideas for a Father’s Day celebration can be tricky, to say the least. If the men in your life are similar to the ones in mine, they are low-maintenance guys who will tell you they don’t care what they do for Father’s Day. They aren’t rolling in suggestions of what a perfect and meaningful Father’s Day celebration would be.

So, I’ve been doing some thinking and a bit of chatting with my own husband to come up with ideas I think most dads would really love for celebrating Father’s Day. I looked at ideas across the internet and found most of them weren’t actually created with dads in mind. Maybe some dads would love to do a family workout, scavenger hunt or puzzle to celebrate Father’s Day, but I don’t think the guys in my life would.

Instead, I’ve got some low-key and meaningful ideas for a Father’s Day celebration, because more than anything we want the dads in our lives to know how much we appreciate them and love them.

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1. Let him rest.

Last Mother’s Day, I shared some no and low-cost gift ideas for moms. At the very top of the list was giving her the gift of a nap. I have to start in the same place with dads. Parenting (and adulthood in general) is exhausting. Especially dads who are living with young kiddos at home could use some rest. While I love a good nap, my husband loves sleeping in.

Whatever rest looks like for your guy, let him enjoy some rest and downtime on Father’s Day. Maybe it doesn’t mean sleeping in or napping. Maybe he wants to watch a show in peace or read a book. Let him have some downtime.

2. Keep it low-key.

So, I will say that maybe not all guys would love low-key Father’s Day celebrations, but the ones I know really would. In the past, I’ve tried asking my husband for ideas of what he wants to do. Honestly, I think it just adds more pressure to him. Of course he wants to be recognized and appreciated for all he does, but he also doesn’t want a big to-do that means he has to act really excited about something he really doesn’t care so much about.

You can ask him if he has anything he wants to do, but keep it low pressure. If he says he doesn’t have anything he wants to do, then let him be. Use some of the ideas on this list. Dads are under so much pressure in taking care of their families and managing work and everything else that the last thing we want to do on a day that’s all about them is add more pressure!

3. Do his favorite activity.

Think about things your husband likes to do and figure out a way to make that happen as a family. For example, if he loves golf, plan a trip to play mini golf or at a driving range. If he loves watching movies, plan an afternoon movie you can all watch together with his favorite snacks. Maybe your guy likes playing games. Pick a game your whole family can play and make memories.

The other thing I know about dads is that it’s often hard for them to find time for their hobbies or things they enjoy in the midst of all they have going on. Taking the time to plan something you know he’ll enjoy will make his Father’s Day celebration all that much better. Getting to do that activity with his family is great, because dads like making good memories and having fun with their kiddos. Father’s Day is a great time to be intentional about making that happen in a way your guy will love.

The bonus we’ve found is that anything my husband or I are into or excited about, our kids are also at least interested in it as well. They want to be involved in things we’re interested in or excited about.

4. Eat his favorite food.

Whether it’s from a restaurant or from your kitchen, your guy’s favorite food should be on the menu for his Father’s Day celebration. My husband loves the bacon ranch cheese bread I make. I don’t make it all that often, so it’s definitely a treat for him. Even if it’s a dish you make all the time, if he loves it then Father’s Day is a great time to make it. Or take him out to eat at a restaurant he loves or a restaurant he chooses.

While my love language is food, my husband’s isn’t so much. But still knowing you’ve made the effort to have food he enjoys will make him happy.

5. Give thoughtful gifts.

You can find all sorts of gift ideas for Father’s Day, but the gifts that mean the most are the ones with the most thought behind them. Just like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is one of those holidays where it really is the thought that counts. Dads want to know they’re appreciated. They want some acknowledgement that their family sees and appreciates their hard work.

When I stop to truly think about what all our husband does for our family, I am overwhelmed and humbled. He makes sacrifices the kids aren’t even aware of. He is a steady, calm presence that makes us all feel secure. My husband can make the kids and me laugh like nobody else. The list goes on and on. Father’s Day is the perfect time to let him know you see what he’s doing and you appreciate it.

Go for a card (homemade or store bought) that you write in. Have the kiddos draw pictures or write what they love about dad. Buy him a gift you know he wouldn’t get for himself. Give him a photo of the kids (or him with the kids!) that he can put on his desk. Heck, you can even give him a cheesy mug or t-shirt proclaiming how great he is along with a nice card. He’ll enjoy being appreciated. We all need that acknowledgement and dads are certainly no different!

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!

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.

20 lessons on marriage in 20 years

What the past 20 years as a missus have taught me about love and marriage

Last week, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. I can scarce believe it’s been two decades of marriage! We married young. I was 20 and only halfway through undergrad. He was 22 and had just gotten a full-time job while going to school part-time.

A lot has changed since we first said “I do,” and yet a lot has remained the same as well. We have grown and changed together. We have learned so much about what love and marriage really mean.

1. Being married doesn’t mean losing yourself.

Since we got married young, we were both still figuring out our place in the world. We knew some of who we were, but we hadn’t had a huge amount of life lived to really refine and define us. We just knew we loved each other and God — and that was enough.

Through the years, we also learned that being married as one didn’t make each of us any less of who we were individually. In fact, being together brought out the best of our individual selves. I am a better person today because of my husband. And sometimes it’s OK to do things apart from one another. Even as husband and wife, you still need your own space.

2. Marriage is a team sport.

I probably say this more than anything else when I talk about marriage and relationships. We are a team. Though neither one of us are sports fans, we learned early on to be a team and have a team mentality in our relationship.

Our goal above all is to support one another and be on the same side. My husband and I do best when we approach life as a team working together instead of as opponents each looking out for ourselves. Nobody else has my back more than my husband and the same is true in reverse. We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders and are the safe place for each other to land when life is hard.

3. Laughter and fun are vital to a happy marriage.

We laugh a lot. Life is serious. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes it brings us to our knees, but any chance we find for humor, we take it. We laugh together as much as we can because taking ourselves too seriously never ends well. Laughter also gives us perspective on whether something is really all that important. We try to adhere to the thought that if we’re going to laugh about it later, why not go ahead and laugh about it now?!

And my husband 100 percent gets my quirky, punny sense of humor and exploits it often. I’m not sure I should be as old as I am and still giggle, but he still makes me giggle. For that, I am thankful!

We also have fun together playing games. Gaming was his hobby when we first got married. Through the years I have evolved from a gamer’s wife into a gaming wife, and I’m so glad I did. We have such a good time together when we get a chance to play together!

4. Marriage is made for giving grace.

My husband has taught me so much about grace just by giving it to me. Sometimes I get snippy with my husband because I’m having a bad day or a bad moment, and he will respond with love instead of irritation. I’ve done the same for him. Grace isn’t an excuse to treat each other badly. It just means that when one of us is having a bad moment, the other one recognizes it and doesn’t respond with anger or irritation and escalate the situation.

We also don’t partake in the blame game when someone messes up. We learned that the second day we were married when we ran out of gas on our way to our honeymoon. We were both so excited to be married and going somewhere together that neither of us remembered to get gas on the way. Instead of blaming one or the other of us, we both realized it was a mistake and figured out how to fix it while also having a great story to tell for years to come.

5. You’ve got to make each other a priority.

My husband and I both work from home. While I’ve worked from home since 2003, he has only worked from home the last few years. For the last year or so, we’ve shared a home office. So, we are together a lot. In fact, we’re together more than we’re not.

Yet, we still have to make connecting with each other a priority. Because life gets in the way. While we work side-by-side, we have different jobs. Add in house stuff and the kids, and actually connecting can be challenging. We’ve found that making time to have a meal just the two of us or chatting once the kids are in bed is important for our relationship.

6. Being married means being your true self with someone else.

I think one of the best ways to know if you really, truly love someone is how comfortable you feel being yourself with them — being your true self that comes out when you’re at home and nobody is watching. My husband and I have that comfort with each other. He has seen me at both my best and worst and loves me still. I have seen him at his best and worst and still love him. I am thankful we can be comfortable with each other.

7. Spouses aren’t mind readers.

While my husband knows me better than anyone else, he still can’t read my mind. Early on in our marriage, I learned that communicating well is important. If there is something I want or need my husband to do, I ask politely.

My husband is highly annoyed by passive aggressive behavior. (Really, who isn’t?!) We have learned to cut it out of our interactions. It’s nice because we know what we say is what we mean. The only games being played around our house are of the video, board or role playing variety — not in our relationship.

8. Poking fun at each other isn’t a good idea.

We don’t make fun of each other. It’s another lesson learned early on that poking fun or joking at the other person’s expense can lead to hurt feelings and undermine our relationship. We do joke with each other and can poke fun at ourselves. But we definitely know the limits.

9. Keeping God in your marriage is important.

From the beginning of our relationship, my husband and I strived to honor God with our choices. When we got engaged, that only became more important and more serious. Our engagement in the middle of college caused some friction, and we found ourselves in prayer and Bible study to determine whether we had heard God correctly or not.

Our marriage spiritual walk has changed and grown as we have. We did a pre-marital Bible study together. We’ve done couples’ devotion books together. We now do a family devotion together with our kids each evening. I’ve learned that my husband has some awesome spiritual insight and thoughts that haven’t occurred to me. He is one of the only people I feel comfortable with getting into the really meaty struggles of faith and my relationship with God because I know I can trust him fully.

We have kept each other accountable. We have encouraged each other in our faith walks. We have grown spiritually together. We have joint stories of God’s work, goodness, grace and mercy that we can share. I’ve also learned that when my relationship with God is on track and growing then my relationship with my husband is even better.

10. Talking negatively about your spouse to others isn’t helpful.

When we were first married, we had some friends who were also newlyweds and would gripe about their spouses. We made a deal that if we had a problem with each other, we would address it with the other and not complain about it to our friends.

That policy has served us well. First of all, we don’t want to focus on the things that can drive us crazy about our spouse, which is what happens with griping. Second, it keeps us communicating and fixing issues, which is healthy. And third, our friends will remember negative gripes we’ve had about our spouse long after we have forgiven them and moved on.

11. Bragging on your spouse is always permitted.

Everybody loves compliments. The more you can brag on your spouse about what they are good at or do well, the better you feel about him and the better he feels about him and you as a result.

Nothing feels better than being recognized for what you do or what you do well. So many life experiences go against positivity. Any time you can be positive about your spouse, do so!

12. Being best friends with your spouse is awesome.

While I do have other friends, my husband is by far my best friend. He’s the person I go to first with good news or bad news. He’s the person I laugh with the most and genuinely want to hang out with the most.

As an introvert who needs alone and downtime, I can enjoy the company of friends but still feel a bit drained as a result. That isn’t true with my husband. He sees the real me and is still my best friend. I am so thankful for that!

13. Sometimes you just have to trust your spouse’s knowledge.

One of the things that drew me to my husband way back when we were in high school was how intelligent he is. He is a smart guy. He thinks outside the box. He comes up with efficient ways to accomplish tasks. He can visualize things that I cannot.

Long ago, I learned to trust his knowledge when it is superior to mine. When we were looking for a new house a decade ago, we had a discussion as to whether the dining room set we had would fit in one of the houses we were looking at. I wasn’t sure. My husband said yes. I conceded he knew best because I really can’t visualize well and know he can. Our realtor was shocked. But it just makes sense. He has strengths. I have strengths. It makes sense to use those strengths instead of fight against them.

14. Romance changes as you go.

One time when my husband and I were dating, he gave me a small teddy bear holding a pair of earrings. Another time, I left him a note on his car while he was inside his work. Those were sweet and romantic gestures, but they were nothing compared to the romantic gestures of love that come with being married for so long.

For example, he’s driven me out of state for doctor appointments many times to allow me to see a specialist for my chronic health issues. While that may not scream romance as we see it in movies and on television, it does to me. He has given up his own time and comfort because he loves me and wants me to feel better. He has worked late to be able to take off and go with me. He hasn’t complained when I wasn’t up to even help with driving. That is romance and love beyond anything a flower or card could say.

15. Traditional romantic gestures are still nice and appreciated!

While number 14 is 100 percent true, we do also still appreciate traditional romantic gestures. Nice meals out just the two of us are priceless. A card left with words of love is sweet. Surprise flowers or flowers for an occasion are precious.

On our anniversary last week, for example, I spent the afternoon with both kids swimming on their last day of summer break. I came home worn out and found a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a nice card and my favorite candy waiting for me from my husband. It was unexpected, and I looked a frightful mess. I also loved every moment of it!

16. Good life experiences are even better when shared with someone you love.

I love being a mama. But I love more sharing the parenthood journey with my husband. I love sharing all my journeys with him. We can share a quick look and know what the other is thinking. No one else finds our children so adorable, smart, charming, precious and hilarious as we do.

No one else understands the small victories (or big ones) we have quite as much as each other. We’ve celebrated together over things that don’t make much sense to anyone else, which is exactly how it should be!

17. Marriage is made for inside jokes.

I’ve struggled many times throughout my life with feeling left out, whether legitimately or perceived. If there were inside jokes, I often wasn’t included.

However, that’s not true with my husband. And in 25 years of being together, we have plenty to go around. There are things that happened a decade or more ago that still can come up randomly and make us laugh together. Inside jokes are a pretty precious gift, even (and maybe especially) when no one else would find them remotely funny.

18. Take and print photos.

When my husband and I first got married, it was before digital cameras were common and way before phone cameras were around. In fact, a video from the day of our wedding includes a friend of ours talking about his new digital camera and how it holds six pictures!

In our early days we used film cameras. I started a photo album tradition for each year we were married of putting together photos for that year with captions. That meant having the photos printed, the typing, printing and cutting out the captions before putting them together into albums.

While my process has changed, thanks to online photo sites, I still make an album for each year with photos and caption info. I’ve found these to be priceless even after only 20 years. Having recently gone through photos of my parents for their 50th wedding anniversary, I can only say they’ll get more precious with time. I hope one day our kids will be glad to have them, too.

Taking photos of each other and together even when you aren’t social media ready is important. And I’d daresay it’s also important to have some cherished photos just for you and not just to post on social media.

19. Marriage means having a built-in sounding board.

I enjoy being able to bounce ideas off my husband, and he enjoys the same in reverse. Sometimes making both large and small decisions is just easier when you have someone to talk it through with.

We have talked together through major life decisions like having babies and moving. And we regularly talk through very minor decisions like what home project to work on next or what after-school activities our kids can participate in.

20. Marriage gives you a permanent sidekick.

This is one of my favorite parts of marriage. I’ve got a person by my side for always. Sometimes that looks like my husband going with me to a friend’s wedding or me going with him to a family reunion. Other times it looks like him taking over with the kids so I can go to dinner with a friend or I take over so he can play games with friends.

We’ve each gone to events for one another that we didn’t really want to, but it’s always been better being together than apart. We learned early on in our marriage to discern and communicate what activities are important to have each other there and what ones are OK to give a pass. Being honest with each other about what is most important to us has helped us know how to best be there for each other and be able to rely on each other to come along when we ask them to.

When your spouse gives you unsolicited advice

Accepting advice from the person we’re married to can be challenging!

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This post first appeared on my former blog in 2014. Its message still applies. While I continue to get better at accepting unsolicited advice from my husband, I am still a work in progress!

It happened this morning. I was in the kitchen making some homemade bread, which in and of itself sounds impressive, right? Add in that I was doing so while the toddler randomly swirled around my feet whining and while keeping track of eggs boiling on the stove for tonight’s chef salad dinner sounds even more impressive, I’m sure.

My daughter was at the table playing. My husband was on the couch in the dining room checking work e-mails and helping to keep the roaming toddler from eating things out of the trashcan. I got the bread going in my beloved stand mixer and set the timer for eight minutes to let the dough get worked around in the mixer. And that’s when it happened.

“Is the mixer supposed to jump around like that?” my husband asked.

I almost rolled my eyes. THIS was my domain. I was the one who was the expert. After all, I’d had the mixer just over a year and had read at least six bread recipes on Pinterest. I’d heard about stand mixers jumping around while kneading dough.

“Yes,” I said. “It did this last time, too.”

A minute later he piped up with, “Does it lock?  Do you have it locked?”

Another silent sigh from me. “Yes, it locks, but it’s not locked.”

“What I’m reading online says you’re supposed to lock the top down.”

Hhmmm. OK. I flipped the switch. “Now it’s locked,” I said.

And I noticed the mixer did settle down a bit. My husband went on to tell me that he had read some tips. He was right on this, even though I had not sought his advice.  

A moment later my phone dinged with new e-mail. I checked it to see if it was a source I’ve been waiting to hear from for an article. Nope. It was an e-mail from my husband with links to a couple of sites with helpful tips about my Kitchenaid mixer that I love so dearly.

“You sent me an e-mail about the mixer?” I asked, incredulously.  

I was trying to remind myself to be grateful for the accurate albeit unsolicited advice. In my head, I was thinking more along the lines of, “Back off, buddy. THIS is MY domain. Do I come into your office and tell you how to test the security of that company’s network?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I found some good information. From what I read, you could actually break your stand mixer and I know you wouldn’t be happy about that.”

I gritted my teeth. He was right. Dang it! “Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate it.”

I’ll pretend like I was gracious in that response. But the fact that he then looked at me and informed me he saw right through me to know I was bristling will tell you that my tone did not match my words.

We get all sorts of unsolicited advice from a variety of sources. If you’re a parent, it comes in from the beginning. Everybody and their brother tells you ways to get your baby to sleep better, eat better, poo better and on and on the list goes. From outside sources, it’s easy enough to be polite and then move on. But inside sources, like our spouses, offering unsolicited advice can be much tougher to handle.

This isn’t the first time my husband has given me unsolicited advice and I’m sure it won’t be the last. And while my response today wasn’t super stellar, it was at least tempered by the fact that I know his advice to be sound and I know it to be coming from a good place. Men like to fix things. He likes to help me fix things.

And he knows me quite well. I have done many tasks throughout our marriage and my life that I’ve made more difficult than I need to. He’s swooped in and saved me multiple times in the past.

I’m learning to listen. I’m learning to try and be more grateful on the outside in hopes that it will follow on the inside. I’ve also learned that I do eventually feel grateful on the inside. At the moment of the advice, I don’t. I feel criticized and annoyed. But later on, I realize that my life has been improved as a result of this advice. Because, shockingly enough, I don’t actually know everything!

I’ve learned this with parenting alongside my husband as well. He’s found tricks to help with the kids that I haven’t (and vice versa). Between our daughter’s and son’s births, I learned to listen better and not be irritated with him. After all, he was the first to figure out what was going on with our daughter’s feeding issues.  

He has good information. My husband is a smart man who thinks outside the box and is tenacious to come up with solutions and easier ways to do things. This is part of what I love about him. This is part of what makes him such a great husband and life partner.  

In fact, I’ve learned to seek his advice in areas of my life that I hadn’t thought to early on because I know he’s so good at coming up with awesome solutions. But when advice comes at me when I’m not looking for it and I think I know the best way to do something, then I get defensive. (And did I mention that I am also a bit stubborn?)

I’m working to accept unsolicited advice as graciously as if I had asked for the help. Later today, I will tell my husband that I am sincerely grateful for his tip about the mixer. It makes sense. His suggestions worked better and if it saves my beloved mixer from harm, that’s even better. I do appreciate it.  

And step by step, maybe I’ll get better at being more grateful sooner than later. Talk to me in another 20 years and we’ll see. I hope I make more progress. If not, perhaps I’ll ask my husband for his advice on how to do so!

With advice from my husband, my stand mixer is still working well five years later. I love it so much! Read more about my love for my stand mixer here:

Be sure to check out some of my favorite recipes I use my stand mixer for!

More tips for newlyweds (and the rest of us, too!)

Once I started with thinking of the advice I’d give to a couple of friends who got married last year if they asked me, I kept coming up with ideas. It’s grown into two blog posts with all the unsolicited advice I have to offer from my 19-1/2 years of wedded bliss. I shared my first 10 on Friday, and I’ve got eight more for you today!

11. Don’t stop dating. Once you’re married, it’s easy to become complacent, but never stop dating, wooing and romancing your spouse. Of course these things will change a bit once you’re married. And they’ll change when you have children. But, don’t forget the things you loved doing together before you were married. Go see a movie, go to dinner, go for a walk, play a game, color in a coloring book — just do something together that you enjoy. You can get creative when money is tight. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A date on the couch with a movie and microwave popcorn can work. Going out for a bagel instead of a full dinner when funds are tight can work. Just do something to date each other and reconnect.

12. Fight well. You are going to fight. It happens. But, make your fights productive. Don’t run away from them when things get tough. Don’t resort to name calling. Do try and listen to the other person. Do stick with it until you’ve come to a resolution you both are OK with. Do be willing to compromise sometimes. Do know that there are times you might need to take a break to cool down, but always come back to the topic. Don’t let issues go unresolved. Even the smallest issue will fester and cause problems if you let it go without resolution. Don’t press each other’s buttons. You know your spouse so well. You know what will hurt him or her deeper than anyone else. Never breech that trust and use it against them during a fight. Remember even in anger that words spoken can never truly be erased. No amount of apologizing and forgiveness can remove those words and the feelings they evoked. Just don’t go there.

13. Don’t try to change one another. Some things you know about your spouse before you’re married, and you think they’re cute. Then you’re married, and you find they lost some cuteness. Other things you maybe didn’t know until after you were married and you don’t find those things cute at all. Work through them. You can talk about them with your spouse, but the only person you can really change is yourself. Many times that means getting on your knees and asking for God to change you. And that’s OK. Remember my gaming example from last time? When we were first married, I sometimes wanted my husband to play games less often. It didn’t work. I just made myself miserable. This was a part of him I knew about before I said “I do.” Once I changed my attitude, then it all worked out. And now it’s a hobby we enjoy together. It’s also a hobby he still enjoys on his own sometimes, and I embrace having the time to myself to do things I enjoy alone like reading. Does it help that he makes our family a priority over his games? Most definitely. If not, we’d have a problem. We’ve learned how to work it for the good of both of us.

14. At the same time, be aware that you both will change, just make sure you change together. My husband and I got married young. I was 20; he was 22. We’ve gone through many life transitions together. We started as college students. Then we evolved into young professionals. Then we morphed into parents of babies. Now we are settled into parenthood of school-aged children. I’m not the same Stacey I was when we got married. My husband, Chris, is not the same Chris he was when we got married. We’ve both grown and changed as we’ve lived life. But we’ve grown together. Each stage of our life has brought its own challenges. In the early days, we’d struggle to connect in the midst of going to classes, studying and working. Then we struggled to connect when I dealt with some health issues. Recently we’ve struggled to connect while being in the fray of having young children. But, we’ve figured out — sometimes through trial and error — how to adjust to each phase as it’s come and how to stay connected when life changes and when we change. Some changes are pretty easily resolved, like how we’ve learned to ask each other if the timing is good before starting a serious discussion. Other changes are more challenging, like figuring out how to stay connected to my husband when we are exhausted at the end of the day after dealing with work, kids and responsibilities. We’re always learning and always growing. The key is to make sure that you’re learning and growing together and never ever forgetting your spouse or taking him or her for granted.

15. Respect each other’s privacy. Trust is a huge part of a relationship. If you work hard to be a team, to communicate well and to fight well, trust remains. Act in a way that your spouse has nothing to worry about in trusting you. Be honest. Be up front. Expect the same from your spouse. Give space sometimes. Respect and trust go a long way in a relationship. I have nothing to hide from my husband, but I still appreciate that he asks me before getting in my purse to get something. I give him the same courtesy and don’t go rifling through his wallet or cell phone unless I ask. Neither of us have secrets, but we are still human beings. We do still have belongings that are ours alone, and it’s important to respect that even within a marriage. If I went through his text messages or e-mails, all I’d do is communicate to him that I don’t trust him. And I do trust him — completely. Plus, who has time for that? If your relationship is at the point where you feel like you have to do those things in order to trust someone, then you’re not actually trusting them at all and need to work through the underlying issues.

16. Enjoy one another in every way. I’m not going to go into details of the physical aspect of a marriage, but enjoy that, too. Never use that against one another. Just enjoy your relationship. Enjoy your physical bond, your emotional bond, your spiritual bond and your friendship bond. Marriage is meant for the long haul. Enjoy it!

17. Keep a sense of humor. Laughter can diffuse any situation. When I was in college, one of my professor’s had a theory that if he was going to laugh at something later then he might as well laugh about it now. That’s not always an easy thing to do, but it can be helpful. We put this to the test on our second day of marriage when we ran out of gas right as we rolled into the visitor’s center in Gatlinburg, Tenn., where we were going to spend our honeymoon. We’d both been so distracted and excited about being married and getting to go somewhere together out of town that we completely forgot to fill up the gas tank. It gave us a bit of a chuckle then and still makes me smile to remember those kids we were. Never take yourselves too seriously.

18. Don’t listen to others. Yeah, I’m ending with this one, because it seems contradictory since I’ve been dispensing advice and now I’m telling you not to listen to others. What I mean, though, is don’t listen to others’ opinions about your relationship or marriage when it comes to little things. If multiple people you love and trust who know you and your spouse are sending up red flags, pay attention. But at the end of the day in most situations, it doesn’t matter what anyone else’s opinion is on how you’re doing things other than your spouse. If you’ve talked through your issues, if you’ve come up with your own game plans and if you’ve figured out what works best for the two of you, then so be it. Everyone else can butt out. It really isn’t their business. Do whatever it takes to protect your marriage. Go to counseling if you need help working through problems. Don’t allow others to plants seeds of doubt that don’t need to be planted. Cut off conversations if you need to. Cut off friendships if you absolutely have to. You know in your gut what is best for your relationship. Follow that instinct together with your spouse.

Marriage is an awesome journey. I can’t imagine my life differently. I love being a missus and wouldn’t change it for one second. Enjoy the journey.  Enjoy one another. Enjoy the journey together!

10 Tips for newlyweds (and the rest of us, too!)

In 2018, two of my good friends got married. Each time we go to a wedding or know someone getting married, I think of things I’d say to them if they asked me. I try not to just spout off unwanted advice, which is why I’m blogging about it instead! I don’t have a perfect marriage, because those don’t exist, but my husband and I have learned a few things along the way in our 19-1/2 years of being married. Today I’m sharing 10 of them. Once I got started, I had trouble stopping, so I’m breaking this up into two blog posts. Check back Monday for more!

1. Forgiveness. Learn it. Live it. Embrace it. Remember that the person you’re sharing your life with is human. He or she is going to mess up along the way. You have to learn to forgive easily and often. Never hold grudges. It’s not worth it. Love can prevail, if you let it. And, remember, your spouse is going to have to do a lot of forgiving of you. Sometimes I can feel all high and mighty that I don’t get mad at my husband for certain things he does. Then I think about how the crazy things I do and how he reacts so well, and I knock myself right off my pedestal.

2. Communication is sooooo important. I love superheroes these days. Some of them have the power to read minds. But, your spouse isn’t one of them. He or she has no idea what you’re thinking unless you tell them. Communicate often about everything from money to dinner to work to chores. Share what you’re thinking. Share what you’re expecting. See if it lines up with what your spouse is thinking and expecting. If it doesn’t, then communicate some more until you figure it out. Sometimes the best thing you can do is sit down together over a meal, focus on one another with no distractions and talk. My husband and I started our relationship with long phone calls. I wasn’t old enough to go on dates with him. Now, 25 years later, I feel like we still need to have those times that we just talk. If you find yourselves missing chances to connect, make them happen. Planning is OK.

3. Never compare workloads. This was especially an issue for me after the birth of our first daughter like I recently shared in “How to keep your relationship strong with a newborn.” We were 10 years into being married when it really cropped up, but I had to deal with it. Sometimes you’re going to do more than your spouse. And sometimes your spouse is going to do more. One of you may have to work longer hours at work. One of you may have to pick up slack at home. One of you may do all the cooking. But as long as both of you are contributing, let it go.

4. Going along with number three, appreciate one another. Say thank you often and mean it. My husband takes out the trash for us. I thank him almost every time he does. Sure it’s sort of his “job” around here, but it keeps me from having to do it. And I know that my husband doesn’t enjoy this task; he just does it because it has to be done. He thanks me for making dinner. Everyone wants to be appreciated for what they do, no matter how small. Saying a sincere thanks goes a long way.

5. Learn to enjoy or at least respect things your spouse enjoys. My husband has been a gamer since before I knew him. He loves role playing games, tabletop games and video games. He can spend hours playing games. I learned early on to let it go and let him enjoy his gaming time (as long as we still got plenty of couple time and everything else that needed done was getting done). We had our fair share of discussions of what this would look like. We set some parameters like designating one evening a week for him to get together and game with his friends. I realized that gave me one evening to do whatever I wanted to do. Along the way, I started asking questions about what he was doing. If it was important to him, then I wanted to hear about it. I slowly developed an interest in gaming, too. Now it’s a hobby we often enjoy together. And I sincerely wish we had the time and gamer buddies around to get back to the gaming once a week like he did in college. I’ve evolved. Our relationship has evolved and it’s better because of it.

6. Don’t forget who YOU are. While it’s important to do things together as a couple, you still need to remember that you’re individuals. In my dad’s speech to us on our wedding day he said, “Remember that you are Chris. And you are Stacey. And together you are Chris and Stacey.” It sounds a bit abstract, but I think what he meant was that we are a couple together. We do things together. We must spend time together to grow our relationship, but we can’t forget the individuals we are and the things we enjoy doing on our own. We can’t lose ourselves. After all, if I lost myself then I’d no longer be the person my husband fell in love with.

7. Talk about how you’re going to navigate extended family affairs before conflict arises. Each of you have your own family traditions. Each of you have your own expectations of how things are going to go. For example, my family used to get together to celebrate everything all the time. Come the month of June with a ridiculous amount of birthdays and you’d find us eating out and celebrating each and every one. That’s mellowed out as we’ve gotten older, but in the early days, I fully expected my husband would participate in every single family gathering and celebration. If he had a long day at work, too bad. If he had just been with my family the night before for something else, too bad. And that time didn’t count as our time of doing stuff together. Anyone else picking up on the unfairness here? I learned through the years to listen to my husband. I learned to communicate back to him what was important to me. Maybe he needed some downtime for one family activity but I really wanted him to participate in another one instead. We’d do that. I’ve learned that’s OK. We don’t even have to be tied at the hip for family activities. Let’s not even get started on holidays. Seriously, start figuring out your game plan for your first married Thanksgiving and Christmas by September at the latest. It’s tricky. Also know you probably can’t make everyone happy. Do what works best for you, but don’t forget to communicate that to your families and offer alternative days to celebrate if necessary.

8. Don’t put your business in the street. What I mean is if you’re having a problem with your spouse, talk to him or her about it. Don’t talk to your friends about it. Don’t talk to your parents about it. And definitely never post about it on social media. Keep your personal business personal. Your friends and family will remember all the negative things you said long after you and your spouse have let something go. Your relationship doesn’t involve anyone else besides your spouse and God. The only business you can share is positive affirmations. Go ahead and brag about your spouse to others sometimes. You get bonus points for bragging on them when they’re around. My husband and I aren’t a mushy, gushy couple, but I do like when chances arise that I can point out his good qualities or things I appreciate about him, which leads to number nine.

9. Be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. The world can be a cruel and harsh place filled with lots of naysayers and people who are thrilled to knock you down a notch. Your spouse is the person who should build you up the most. Take time to listen, support and encourage one another. Celebrate good news together. The first person I want to call or talk to when I have good news is my husband. I know he’ll be happy with and for me. Sharing good news with your spouse should just make the good news feel even better.

10. Be a team. Once you are married, you are a team. You are a united front. You will find lots of distractions ready to tear down your team. You will find people who will try to get you to talk negatively about your spouse and complain about your marriage. Don’t fall into those traps. Avoid them like the plague. Remember always that no matter what you’re facing, you’re facing it together as a team. You have to be a team to get through hard times. I remember very clearly the day my husband lost his job 12 years ago. I remember sitting together on the floor of my home office and just sort of holding each other up. We faced that challenge and so many others before and since then as a team. Don’t place blame when there is none to be placed. Support one another and move through life as a unified front. My husband and I have sincerely said to each other, “I’d rather go through hard times with you than good times without you.” Being a team — being together — makes any hard time so much easier to bear. And when times are good again, your relationship will be stronger for having survived the hardship.

Check back on Monday for part two!  You won’t want to miss it.