The Number One Trait of Successful Marriages

wedding 1I think everyone who has ever been married would agree: when they first got married, they believed their marriage would be successful. They believed they would be together forever.

But if we all go into marriage thinking this, what goes wrong? What makes some marriages more successful than others? What is the secret to a happy marriage?

If you’ve ever wondered this, you’re in luck, because I have the answer! Last year, our church had the priviledge of hosting guest speaker Shaunti Feldhahn, best-selling author of books such as For Women Only and For Men Only, speaker, wife, and mother.

Shaunti recently released the book The Surprising Secrets of  Highly Happy Marriages, which is a book detailing the results of a nation-wide survey of married couples. When she spoke at our church, she shared some of the great insights she found when doing this survey.

There was one overwhelmingly common trait among the happiest married couples: choosing to believe their significant other had the best intentions, even when we’re hurt.

wedding 2In marriage and relationships, things are bound to go wrong. Your spouse will let you down. Your spouse will make mistakes. But in those moments, do you automatically assume the worst of your mate, or do you choose to believe that they had good intentions?

Your spouse said something that hurt your feelings. You can either choose to believe (a) they wanted to hurt you or (b) they didn’t know their words would come off the way they did.

Your husband is running late from work. You can either choose to believe (a) he cares more about work than you or (b) he tried his absolute hardest to get out of work to come home and be with family but some unexpected issues came up.

Your wife forgot to pick up that item you needed from the store. You can either choose to believe (a) the things I say don’t matter to her or (b) she had a lot on her mind and accidentally forgot.

I know this is something that I personally struggle with. I’m more of a glass-half-empty type of person. It’s not necessarily that I think the worst of others…it’s that I believe that others are thinking the worst of me! But in the end, that way of thinking comes off as negative as if I were assuming the worst of others.

This plays out in my relationship with Kevin. He will say something to me and I’ll automatically think he is putting me down. That is certainly not assuming the best in him!

wedding 3If we want to have more successful marriages, let’s choose today to change our thought-patterns.

That’s a nice principle, but how do you actually do that? Admit to yourself now that your spouse will inevitably make a mistake…we’re all human. Then, decide right now what you want to choose to believe whe that situation arises:

“I know he genuinely loves me and cares about me. I know that he would not choose to hurt me and that he has the best intentions. While what he did has upset me and frustrated me, I know that he did not intend to, so there must have been some other reason why he did it.”

Say that out loud several times. Even write it down. Really ingrain it in your mind.

It’s important to decide ahead-of-time what kind of attitude you will choose to have when problems arise. In the heat of the moment your emotions will take over. Your gut reaction will not be to believe the best. But if you have chosen ahead-of-time the attitude you want to have, it will be easier for you to think past the emotions.

Of course, choosing to believe your spouse had the best intentions doesn’t mean you should just shrug off the issue. Communicate openly with your spouse about what they did that hurt you and how they can avoid that in the future. Additionally, if your spouse is abusive, the time to “think the best” is passed. Do not stand for being abused.

wedding 4Now I don’t know about you, but I certainly want my marriage to stand the test of time. We can make that happen today in the tiny choices we make to choose to believe the best of our mate.

Is this something you struggle with too? Are you more of a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person? I’d love to hear in the comments! (No spouse-bashing, please)

You can listen to Shaunti’s full message, “There Is Hope For Your Marriage,” here!

7 Date-Night Ideas That Won’t Break the Bank

A successful marriage takes work. It takes a lot of intentionality: setting aside times to communicate openly, reconnect with each other, and of course, share life and laughs together.

That’s why it’s important to never stop “dating” your spouse. The fun and romance doesn’t end the moment you say “I do!” It is important to create time in your busy schedules to spend together, just the two of you. Designating one night a week or every other week as “date night” is a way to keep your relationship with your spouse a priority.

But of course, date night doesn’t have to mean a fancy dinner at an expensive restaurant. Here are a few date ideas that won’t break the bank!

1. Take a scenic drive to see fall colors

With it being fall and all, this is a fun and essentially free date idea (besides gas for your car). Ask around and find out if there are any especially scenic areas around you. Or be adventurous and take a drive down some random back roads (bring a fall leavesGPS with you in case you get lost!).

Bring your camera. Take pictures of the beautiful scenery and some pictures of you two together. Take some time to stop and soak in the nature around you.

This awesome web page from SmokyMountains.com shows you the estimated peak times to see fall leaves across the country this year. Check it out so you don’t miss the peak week!

2. “Chopped” dinner date

One of Kevin and my favorite shows is “Chopped” on the Food Network. If you haven’t seen it, the basic premise is a competition between four chefs who have to create tasty and attractive appetizers, entrees, and desserts incorporating four very strange and often unappealing ingredients.

chopped basketYou can do this at home for a fun and interesting date night. You and your spouse each pick two different strange ingredients. Shop your own pantry and fridge. Then work together to combine those four ingredients to create a meal.

It’s fun to work together and use a little bit of creativity. This is also a good way to use up items in your fridge that are about to expire, or those things in your pantry that have sat there for months and never been used.

Of course, be warned, you might experience some unusual flavors. It may be good to have a frozen pizza on hand, just in case your masterpiece isn’t all you had hoped! But focus on enjoying your time together and being able to laugh at yourselves.

3. Pumpkin carving

Another fall-inspired date. Pumpkins are usually priced for $5 at Walmart and a set of pumpkin carving tools is $1. Shop the grocery ads and you may be able to get them at a cheaper price.

pumpkin carvingLet your inner pumpkin-Picasso come out! Laugh at each other’s faces as you pull out the gross pumpkin guts. And while you’re carving, roast the pumpkin seeds and eat them as a yummy snack afterwards!

(And side note: look at how young Kevin and I were! This picture was taken 5 years ago.)

4. Game night

Pull out some of your old board games and have a game night together. Yahtzee and Scattergories are some of my favorite board games that can be played with only two people.

5. Go to your local dollar theater

movie popcornDo some research online to find out if you have a dollar movie theater in your area. Often these theaters only play movies once they are already gone from regular theaters. While you will have to wait a while to see that movie you are excited for, not spending $13-16 dollars per movie ticket is always a win in my book.

6. Attend a workshop or event at your local library

An often-overlooked resource in our community is the local library. Many libraries host free events like classes, workshops, game nights, book signings, and more. Attend one of these free events with your spouse and learn something new together!

7. Play with puppies at a local pet store

puppyAs long as you won’t feel obligated to take a puppy home, this is a totally free date! Pet stores often have rooms where you can play with one of the puppies. It’s a win-win situation: the puppy gets love and attention and you and your spouse get to play with an adorable little bundle of joy!

Feels Like a Festering Wound and Tastes Like a Grapefruit

If you’ve ever played the game Apples to Apples, you probably remember the card that says “Festering Wounds.” I laugh every time it comes up. So much that my mother-in-law took a picture of me holding that card, years ago.Festering Wounds

Even if you’ve never played Apples to Apples, you can probably agree that the idea of festering wounds sounds so ridiculously gross that it’s kind of funny. (I’m sure, unless you’ve actually had a festering wound or you work in a medical profession that deals with them regularly.)

Despite how ridiculous and [hilariously] disgusting festering wounds sound, the truth is that so many of us live day-to-day with festering wounds in our hearts. That is, we daily carry around bitterness in our hearts.

When I think of the definition of “bitterness,” I think of grapefruit. I hate grapefruit. It has such a disagreeable flavor. I eat it and my face scrunches up. And it’s not sourbecause it’s sour…I actually LOVE sour things. Grapefruit is distinctly different, it’s just bitter.

Carrying around the burden of bitterness toward others in our daily lives is like choosing to eat grapefruit all day long. It’s like we are continually choosing to take in something that is disagreeable. Or like we are continually choosing to keep a wound open and let it fester instead of letting it heal.

That’s why God tells us to rid ourselves of bitterness. The book of Ephesians says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)

How exactly do we do that? If we keep reading, the very next verse provides the answer: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

God says the way to let go of bitterness is through forgiveness. Now, hear this out; forgiveness isn’t denying that something terrible, maybe even something horrific, has happened to you. It’s not pretending that you weren’t hurt.

Forgiveness is choosing to release the debt that your offender owes you. It is the choice that you will not let someone else’s action dictate how you will live or the joy you will have.

You may think that refusing to forgive someone means you “have something on them.” But in the end it only eats you up inside and keeps you from living a whole, healed life. As one of my favorite quotes says, refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

forgivenessBitterness is something that creeps into my life quite frequently. I am prone to holding grudges. But when I choose to let go and forgive, I find my life is filled with so much joy and freedom. My wholeness and well-being doesn’t have to depend on how someone else has treated me.

But of course, it is so much easier for me to forgive others when I remember that God first forgave me. The way others have wronged me is nothing compared to how I have wronged God by sinning and choosing to disobey him. My sin separates me from him.

Nevertheless, God, himself, chose to pay the price for the sin of the world so that I, and you, can receive his forgiveness. I’m so not worthy – I will always mess up – but God loves me even still.

FieldI’m glad that God didn’t choose to hold onto bitterness. And today I hope that you won’t either. Instead of allowing the wounds to fester in your heart, choose to let it go. Choose healing. Choose freedom. Choose joy. Choose forgiveness.

Reversing the Negative Charges

Have you ever taken those personality tests – like, the animal test, the color test, Meyer’s Briggs, DISC, etc? I love those tests, they give you so much insight into yourself.

While I don’t remember what my results were on many of those tests, I can already tell you that whatever result most characterizes a precise, control-freak, detail-oriented perfectionist is what I am.

DiSC-test-breakdown

I’m one of those people who wants it done right…which is usually my way! (Can anyone else relate to this? *crickets chirping* Anyone?)

Thus, that often means that I am bent toward criticism and negativity. I can focus on tasks and perfect procedures at the expense of relationships with others.

However, at the end of the day, negativity only hurts rather than helps. With constant negativity and criticism, relationships do not thrive. That’s why I am striving to remember these 4 things every day to battle the negativity in my personality:

1. Criticize less

Because I want things done perfectly, it is my natural tendency to criticize others. It’s as though I continually wear these glasses that only spot the bad.

naggingHowever, I have been in workplaces before where I would receive much criticism and very little affirmation or praise, and it wore down on me. That past experience has taught me that it’s hard to stay motivated or feel significant if all you ever receive is criticism.

Though I’m still a work in progress, I have realized how important it is to build each other up. While my “criticism lenses” may never go away, I can still strive to be conscious of how much I am criticizing versus building up. There will always be situations when I will have to offer an opinion or critique, but I will try to be “hearty in approbation & lavish in my praise,” as Dale Carnegie says in How to Win Friends and Influence Others.

2. Be okay with things not being “your way”

Which way should the toilet paper roll go on the holder? If you said toilet paper coming toward you over the top, you’re right!

And, if you said toilet paper coming toward you from under the bottom, you’re right, too! (It still pains me a little to say that…)

toilet paperBut the fact of the matter is, it really doesn’t matter, does it?

I ask my husband Kevin to do some various chores around the house. He does them, but oftentimes they aren’t how I would have done them. However, the NUMBER ONE WAY to make sure no one ever helps you again is to criticize the way they did it or to go back and fix it to be how you’d like it.

In our house, we have decided that our rule is: whoever does it gets to choose how it should be done.

Being appreciative of Kevin’s hard work around the house and his willingnesss to help me is much more important than which way the toilet paper goes. Relationships matter more.

3. Say thank you

In our hurried lives, we flit from one thing to the next, going 100 miles an hour. I’ve noticed that sometimes my busyness or preoccupation with the tasks at hand cause me to forget to say a simple thank you.

thank youFor instance, I was exiting a plane not long ago. I was so preoccupied with getting my luggage and getting across the terminal out to the curb that I barely took notice when a lady near me graciously let me go first and get my bags from the overhead bin. It was only when I was darting across the airport that it dawned on me, “Did I even say thank you?”

Saying a simple thank you really goes a long way. How much would our relationships, our marriages change for the better if we just focused on using those simple “magic words” — please and thank you. I am trying to be intentional about saying thank you to Kevin and to my coworkers for all the hard work they do.

4. Remind yourself about the good things about YOU!

My critical nature doesn’t just extend to other people. I am probably more critical of myself than of anyone else.

As silly as it sounds, I have to continually remind myself of the good things that others see in me.

no negativityI have struggled a long time with thinking that I’m a huge failure, and that if others really saw the true me, they wouldn’t like me as much or think as highly of me. My gracious husband has helped me to see that that’s not true — that in fact, others see the truth while I am often blinded to my own strengths.

So whenever I start to feel very negative about myself, I stop to think about the things that people compliment me on, or the qualities they say they admire about me. I remind myself that those things are true and I should take joy in those strengths instead of focus only on my weaknesses.

I think we all need to give ourselves a little more grace and remind ourselves of the ways in which we shine.


This week, put relationships before regulations. Be uplifting instead of criticizing. And spread positivity instead of negativity. 🙂

My Tribute to Your Life

I don’t know about you, but something I can often forget amid the busy-ness of life and my endless to-do lists is that life is precious. The time we have on earth is precious. The lives of those around us are precious.

It’s good to be reminded of this, to take a step back and see the big picture of life (at least, as much as we can from our limited perspective). Unfortunately, oftentimes we are only reminded of this when tragedy strikes and that precious life is now gone.

Sad

This week was one of those times: my grandpa, who has had kidney problems for a while now, rapidly took a turn for the worse. His kidneys are failing and mixed with his other health issues, his condition is not looking promising. He was introduced to hospice this week.

As it turned out there was some good news: he and his primary doctor have decided to do a few more tests and try some other solutions before settling for hospice. They both want to keep fighting. We’ll see if they are able to improve his condition.

No matter if he takes a turn for the better or for the worse, this whole situation still forces me to the reality that one day I will lose my grandpa…one day I will lose all who are dear to me. Unfortunately, the price of living in a sinful world is that all of us must die one day. The hope that Jesus Christ offers us is that life doesn’t just end here: there is an eternity that God has prepared for us. Though we can’t work hard enough or live a good enough life to “get” there (because we are still sinful, no matter how hard we try!), Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins, and our belief in that sacrifice is the hope we have!

This hope is great and it definitely helps us as we grieve tragedy, but that still doesn’t null the fact that the time we have now is precious or that losing a loved one hurts.

So my thoughts today are simple: it is important to be intentional in our relationships and savor every moment we have with those we love. It is important to slow down, so as to not miss out on an opportunity you may never have again.

This challenge is two-fold. First, take time to spend quality time with your loved ones. I know that our lives get so hectic and our schedules get so full that visiting your friend, parents, or grandparents doesn’t always seem like the top priority. But I challenge you to think of one activity you could remove from your schedule this month and use it to visit someone you haven’t seen in a long time. And most importantly, savor the time you are together. Be fully present. Don’t think about your next task or keep looking at the clock. Relish in this beautiful moment that will soon be a memory. Make it a memory worth having: one full of laughter and meaningful conversation.

For some, this may not be possible. I live 1,500 miles from my family, so I totally get this! And it’s super hard to not be able to spend time with loved ones! But for those of us who fall into this category, especially consider my next challenge…

The second part of the challenge is to be overflowing in our love and gratitude for others. At many funerals, someone will come up to speak about the deceased person – they will share fond memories and express what made that person so great. Why is it that we only express how much we value someone after they’re gone?

Tell those who are dear to you (and, everyone!) just how special they are: show appreciation for an action they did, compliment a feature you truly value about their character, or reminisce a fond memory you have of them. Let’s choose to speak words that go beyond the surface level! You could do this in person or through a thoughtful card or letter (a great option for those who live far away).

Card

I don’t know about you, but I want to look back on my life with as few regrets as possible, knowing I made the most of my time with those I love. That kind of regret-free life starts now in our intentional decisions to make time for friends and family and to openly express our love.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18