What’s the plan?

People tend to make New Year’s resolutions or set goals for themselves in the new year. It tends to be personal goals like lose weight, get a new job, buy a house, and so on. But what about goals for your marriage or family? Have you set any goals for your marriage?

We didn’t, until a couple of years ago. On New Year’s Day 4 years ago, we sat down for the first time to write down our goals for the year. We each wrote them out separately, using the categories of Faith, Family, Friends, Finance, Marriage, Health, Travel, Personal.

Then we compared our goals and created a document that included those we chose from our two lists. Let me tell you, it was eye-opening to see how DIFFERENT our goals were in certain areas! And I was surprised at how little I knew of Steve’s true desires for the year. For example, he listed under “travel” that he really wanted a vacation away for just the two of us. At the time, we had a baby and I was still a little nervous about leaving him alone. But doing this exercise helped me to see how important this was to Steve. So, we put it as a priority goal for our year (and we accomplished it!).

At first, Steve wasn’t really into my little New Year’s goal setting fun. But when he saw that it allowed us both to express what we truly desired for our year, he was all in.

Setting goals for your family is a great way to start a new year!

Part of setting those goals was expressing our desires for our marriage. It’s a great opportunity to share with your spouse what you wish to see happen in your marriage. Do you wish that you would have more date nights? Set a reasonable goal that you both agree on. Does your spouse want you to join them in an activity you don’t normally participate in? Set that goal. Do either of you want to see a marriage counselor for a “tune up” or take a marriage bible study together? Use this time to discuss what you both will feel comfortable with.

Once you set those goals, its time for a plan!

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

You have to have a plan! It’s one thing to say “we would love more date nights.” How are you going to make that happen? What are the obstacles?

If the goal is one date night a week, an obstacle might be your busy family schedule. Another obstacle may be childcare. Spend some time identifying the obstacles and finding solutions to them. Make a plan.

Your goal-setting will feel very defeating when you don’t attach a plan to it. Don’t just wish for your marriage to get better…set some goals and make a plan to make it better!

We would love to hear from you about your goal-setting for this year!

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Book Review: The Antelope in the Living Room

Sometimes it’s nice to read a book that is marriage-related but it’s not a “how to” or “top 15 things you are not doing well in your marriage.” Can I get an AMEN?

I just read one of those books and I figured it might be nice to share that with y’all. It’s called The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle. She blogs at TheBigMamaBlog.com and also authored Sparkly Green Earrings. 

**Let me tell you now….this book is for the ladies. Sorry, guys. I mean, you COULD read it…but in my opinion, you may prefer different reading material. I actually think there is language in this book that is only translated to female ears. Just sayin’.

The Antelope in the Living Room is a memoir. Each chapter is a separate story, but there is a through-line within the entire book of the authentic, no filter, fun-loving, humorous life of the author. She openly tells us about some of the big and seemingly small challenges that we all can be faced with in a marriage, but does so with an edge of (dare I say) sarcasm and humor.

There are lovely moments, too. We get a clear picture of the love and grace in Melanie and Perry Shankle’s marriage and a clear image of the godly commitment they have made to each other. They take the covenant of marriage seriously. But they don’t take themselves too seriously.

I recommend this book if you would like to read a light, fun-hearted, transparent memoir of a marriage that is grounded in faith and still growing and maturing. If you are in your 30’s-50’s, I think you will especially enjoy the cultural details she includes. It’s a walk down memory lane for those of us in the “middle years.” Gosh, did I just admit that?

You can pick up Melanie’s book here or visit her blog at www.TheBigMamaBlog.com. (Disclosure: I have not read her blog yet!)

Why aren’t you like me?

Have you ever wondered how it’s remotely possible that someone could think completely differently than you? Is it just me that is continuously shocked that people don’t view things the exact way that I do?

I find myself falling into the trap of desiring “sameness.” And it creeps it’s way into my marriage the most!

I will say to my husband, How can you possibly rationalize THAT? Or WHY did you think that was ok? Or worse…have you LOST YOUR MIND?

What I really mean is…

Why aren’t you like me?

There are so many well-meaning spouses out there that fall into this same trap. We want to connect with our spouse, we want to love them well…but we get stuck…primarily because we have a hard time stepping outside of ourselves.

In it’s extreme, this can be a form of narcissism. For many of us, it’s simply a lack of understanding. We have yet to understand HOW to connect or give love to someone who is different from us.

There is no greater lie than a truth misunderstood.

-William James

First of all, let’s lay this out…gender differences are real. There is a marked difference between men and women. We must see that for what it is.

Generally speaking, men tend to be motivated by achievement and women tend to be motivated by relationship. When you have a conversation, it’s likely a woman will want to extensively chat it out and a man will want to fix it quick.

Beyond gender, we have our unique personalities. We are each created in the image of God, with unique characteristics and gifts. Each of us is a one of a kind, yet we tend to fall into general personality styles or traits.

Have you ever taken a personality test?

There are all kinds of them out there…many people have take the Myers-Briggs test for their job. Some folks have done a quick Facebook test. There are plenty of options.

Whether extensive or not, a personality test can help to give you insight to understand yourself and love who you are. When you understand yourself well, you can communicate to your spouse how they can best love you well. It’s a win-win, if you ask me!

Understanding our personality types has taken our marriage to a new level.

By identifying our individual needs, desires, fears, and default modes of operation, we are able to understand each other in a deeper way. Even more important, we are able to communicate and love in a way that is edifying for our spouse.

You may be saying, where do I even start? Good question!

Specific to your marriage and helping you understand how to love each well, Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages is a great place to start! It’s an easy to read, concise tool to get you loving your spouse according to THEIR love language by the end of the week!

If you want to dive a bit deeper into how you can enhance your marriage by understanding you and your spouse well, check out How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich. This book helps to identify the things that are disrupting your marriage and leads you to make lasting changes.

How about taking a real good look at you? Want to learn more about yourself and how you tick? If so, the Enneagram is a stellar personality test that can help you discover yourself more deeply. The book we reference the most for Enneagram is Understanding the Enneagram by Don Richard Rios and Russ Hudson. The Enneagram test that we took is here. (Please note there is a small fee for this one, but there are also free tests out there)

One of the most important skills you can learn is how to talk so your mate will listen and how to listen so your mate will talk.

That skill is much easier attained when you both have a true understanding of WHO you are and WHY you think the way you do.

So, with a better understanding of your spouse’s personality type, the question of “have you lost your mind” won’t be relevant anymore. You will KNOW that their mind isn’t lost…it’s just different from yours.

And that makes all the difference.

Are you happy?

I was anything BUT happy.  It was the holiday season, which seems to be increasingly more and more busy.  We were in the thick of creating a Christmas concert for our church, we had house guests coming, we were hosting a large Thanksgiving feast, we had a small child who didn’t seem to like sleeping much.  There wasn’t a moment of our day that wasn’t filled with a “to do” or an “oh no!”  

It was a high-paced, stress-filled, energy-depleting time.  Have you ever experienced that?

I was not happy.

We barely had moments to breathe much less have a romantic date night.  We had filled our schedule so full that there was barely any room for any nurturing of our marriage. Has your marriage ever experienced that?

WE were not happy.

But we were committed.  Happy? No. Committed? Yes.  Thankfully, that commitment would help us set a new course.

Commitment says, “I love you because you are you, not because of what you do or how I feel.”

-Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Happiness is something we strive for…something we pursue. (unlike joy, which is a gift!)

When we are committed to our marriage, we desire to strive for happiness TOGETHER.  

We have found that couples who are not fully committed to their marriage tend to strive for happiness individually.

Happiness seems made to be shared.

-Corneille

You see, happiness is a habit that must be formed and cultivated.  Happy couples decide to be happy.  EVEN when circumstances are troubling or stressful.

During that season of stress, both of us allowed ourselves to be unhappy.  We CHOSE to allow the circumstance in our lives to alter our entire state of being.  We allowed negativity to enter in and we even spent valuable energy feeling sorry for ourselves and blaming others for our unfortunate situation.

As a committed married couple who love each other deeply and desire a happy life, we have a choice to make EVERY DAY.

We can choose to be positive and see the good or we can choose to be negative and focus on the bad.

And what one of us chooses affects the other, of course!  So, I tend to be more negative and Steve errs to the positive. If I continually stay in a negative mindset, it rubs off on him.  And thankfully, his positive attitude can pull me out of a negative spin as well!

We learned a lot during that stressful season.  We realized that we had taken on too much, that our marriage could not be nurtured well with so much on our plates.  We made some serious changes moving into the next season.  Together, we decided what needed to happen in order to cultivate happiness in our marriage and our family.

In all honesty, we are in a similar season right now.  Not the same circumstances, but we are both seeing the need for some shifting in our lives in order for us to experience more happiness together.  We welcome your prayers as we navigate this new season.

Happy couples decide to be happy.

What changes will you make in order to cultivate a habit of happiness?

Do you need to remove self-pity, blame or resentment to make room for happiness?

Can you think of a time where you rose above circumstances and chose to be happy?

www.sidebysideministry.org

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We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is fully funded by our community.

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Thank you for supporting our mission to see all marriages God-centered and thriving!

 

 

 

 

DO OVER: 3 Keys to Unlock a Lasting Love.

 

We are reading Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts by Dr. Les and Leslie Parrott.  We love this book.  We have walked through it with a soon-to-be-married couple and we are learning so much even as we encourage them toward a God-centered, thriving marriage.

Why read a book meant for those just starting this journey of marriage?

I don’t know about you, but my days and weeks are filled with “do overs.”  For example,  I have had to humbly ask my husband for a “do over” because some heinous statement has just come barreling out of my mouth and I wish I could stuff it back in my face.

Or my husband asks for a “do over” when he realizes he was trying to show me love with HIS love language rather than mine.

Or I create a “do over” for our family’s schedule because I become aware of an alarming statistic about a person’s need for rest and how it affects health and wellbeing.  New information tends to create new thoughts and ways of functioning.

“Do over’s” are simply…grace.  Allowing someone another chance.

When our marriage was riddled with lies, betrayal, anger, hurt and pain, it was a lifeless marriage.  So, when God provided a way through the storm and we began to heal our marriage, it became very clear to us that it was going to be a NEW marriage.

Reading books meant for newlyweds was amazing, because it helped us to look at our marriage with fresh eyes.

Every new day is a fresh start to get closer to the life God wants us to live.

That includes our marriages.

Do you want a marriage that lasts a lifetime?  Let’s think like a newlywed and hear from Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott!

Lifelong love does not happen by chance but is an art that must be learned, practiced, and honed.

-Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, Save Your Marriage Before It Starts

A marriage must be nurtured well in order to grow and flourish in a healthy way.

The Parrotts share 3 ways to cultivate a healthy, thriving marriage:

Making Love Last a Lifetime

1.  Cultivate Passion

2.  Cultivate Intimacy

3.  Cultivate Commitment

Let’s dive deeper into those 3 keys for a lasting love.

Here are some ways to CULTIVATE PASSION, according to our esteemed authors:

  • Practice meaningful touch.
  • Plan mutually enjoyable experiences.
  • Compliment your partner daily.

I don’t know which of these is most difficult for you, but mine is the complimenting.  You see, I tend to see flaws first.  I am not proud of it, but I am hard-wired to “make things better.” I have a hard time giving praise if everything isn’t “perfect.”  Meanwhile, my husband feels most loved with “words of affirmation.”  Tough combo.  So, this is what I am working on right now…complimenting my husband DAILY!

How will you apply these principles of cultivating passion?

Let’s strive to CULTIVATE INTIMACY, shall we?  Here are ways to do so:

  • Spend time together.
  • Listen with a third ear.  (not just “half-listening”)
  • Practice unconditional acceptance.
  • Focus on commonalities.
  • Explore spiritual terrain together.

Which one of these resonates most with you?  Which one feels completely foreign?  The book goes deeper into what each of these means, so we highly recommend you consider grabbing Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts to read more.

Do note that cultivating intimacy isn’t just “have more sex.”  Many of us equate intimacy with sex.  I surely believe that when a couple is cultivating a higher level of intimacy, more sex comes quite naturally.  But the act of just having more sex isn’t going to gain you a deeper level of intimacy.  This is especially true for women.

(This is a topic I have considering writing about….if you would like to hear more about sex and intimacy in marriage, let us know in the comments or send us a private message)

Our third key to lasting love is to CULTIVATE COMMITMENT.  Here’s how:

  • Assess the high level of commitment.
  • Meet your partner’s needs.
  • Honor your partner’s promise.
  • Make your commitment part of being.

There may be nothing more important in a marriage than a determination that it shall persist.  With such a determination, individuals force themselves to adjust and to accept situations which would seem sufficient grounds for a breakup, if continuation of the marriage were not the prime objective.

-from the book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male

One of the most important changes we made in our marriage after the betrayal was to not allow an OUT.  We have agreed that we are married until death.  Period. End of story.

There is a huge amount of freedom in that choice.  It is a choice.  We ALL have that choice.

Is that a choice you and your spouse have made?  Are you completely committed to your marriage or is there an “out?”

Friends, in order to have love that lasts a lifetime, we must cultivate passion, intimacy and commitment.

When we do, we experience a love like NONE OTHER.

Based on this truth, what will you “do over” TODAY?

www.sidebysideministry.org

 

 

 

Summer Fun: Date Challenge!

We are smack in the middle of summer.  Are you wondering where the time has gone?  Have you planned plenty of activities and fun for your kids but none for you and your spouse?

Welcome to the club.  sigh.

How does that happen??  Somehow, we find our calendars filled with all kinds of summer activities, most of which are not dedicated, intentional time with our spouse.  Even those of us without children will tend to focus more on group activities during the summer, rather than dedicated alone time with the one we love.

Group summer activities are not “date night.”  A fun group softball game with friends or a bbq with neighbors are great, social summertime fun!  However, those activities do not count as dedicated, intentional time nurturing your marriage.  

If we are not leaning in to our spouse, we are slowly leaning away from them.

SO, let’s lean in!

Let’s plan some intentional, summer fun for just the two of us!!!

Here are 5 ideas for affordable, easy, fun (and some you don’t have to leave the house) dates for you and your spouse.

5 SUMMER FUN DATES!

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  1. Farmers Market Surprise:  Go to a local farmers market.  Give yourselves $10 each. (or whatever amount you prefer)  Split up for a short amount of time and find something (or many things!) for your spouse, only spending the amount given.  Enjoy the time thinking only of what your spouse would like and then have fun surprising each other!  Once you have your gifts, spend as much time enjoying the market together.

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2.  Game Night:  Grab a board game, new or one you’ve played a million times, and play.  No kids allowed.  If you want to go the extra mile, get The Discovery Game, which is specifically for couples.  I have a good one planned for us…..BeanBoozled.  That looks like it will be a hoot!

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3.  Row, Row, Row Your Boat:  Find a body of water, rent or borrow a canoe or kayak (preferably one you share) and spend a couple of hours rowing your boat.  You can learn a lot about a couple by how they row a boat together!  LOL!  Seriously, though…we’ve had some stressful boat experiences because, shocker, we were fighting over who was in charge of steering the boat!  (Disclaimer: I was in the front and should not have been steering even though I totally was)  However, we have had some beautiful moments on a boat surrounded by nature.  Conversations are different on a boat…I don’t know why, they just are.  Try it.

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4.  Food Adventure:  Time to get daring!  Go to to a restaurant that you NEVER thought you would go to….or make a recipe together that seems a bit scary or includes ingredients that kinda freak you out.  Whichever you choose, decide together to try something new and strange!  What’s the worst thing that happens?? (Don’t answer that)  You could discover–TOGETHER–something new and exciting that you love!  *see above, I LOVED this beet pizza! Steve, not so much.

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5.  Tourist Time:  Find a local “tourist trap” that you have never been to and visit it, just the two of you.  It doesn’t have to cost a thing.  We have local museums with free admission.  Or you can visit a local park or beautiful vista off the side of the road (see above!).  It’s amazing how many wonderful things are all around us…and we only see them when we have guests in town.  (can I get an Amen?)  Go enjoy those interesting, fun and gorgeous places with the one you love most.

OK.  There they are.  Five, easy, totally do-able dates for you!  NOW, go do them.  Here’s the deal.  We are issuing a challenge, that we will do right along with you.  We challenge you to pick 3 of these dates.  Schedule them on the calendar.  Plan your babysitting swap or whatever it takes to free up 3 days or nights BEFORE LABOR DAY.

Experience 3 of the 5 date nights prior to Labor Day (September 3, 2018).  Take pictures (we need proof, kids!) during your date.  Post them to our Instagram or Facebook page with the hashtag #sidebysidedates.  When you have posted 3 dates, you will receive a gift from us!!!

Summer Fun Date Challenge:

  1.  Go on 3 of the 5 dates (just the two of you!)
  2.  Take pics on all your dates and post to FB or Insta with #sidebysidedates
  3.  Receive a fun gift from Side By Side!
  4.  Most importantly….lean in and have fun!!!

We can’t wait to see your #sidebysidedates pics!

http://www.sidebysideministry.org

 

 

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…

This month, we are focusing on celebration! Woohoo!  We recently celebrated our country’s birth and we tend to spend July vacationing, spending time with family, and generally enjoying all that this life has to offer.

So, it may seem odd to you that, in this celebratory season,  I have chosen to share with you the words I spoke at my mother’s funeral in January.  Until you read them.  

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it.

This was a statement used by my mom, Valerie Strouf, on a regular basis throughout her life.

As a child, she would practically sing it while waking me up in the morning, yanking open my white eyelet curtains.

As a teen, she would remind me, after a bad grade or tough day, that there was always another chance to get it right.

As a rebellious college student, she would write me letters of encouragement and sometimes with rebuking, ending the letters with this statement.

As a young adult, she would end many of our hour-long phone calls with this statement, reminding me that, no matter what, I always had another opportunity to “go for it.” This was especially uplifting when I was auditioning as a green actress in New York.

Once I returned to the path that God had paved for me, as opposed to the self-reliant, destructive road I had chosen for several years, this statement had new meaning to me. It felt best accompanied with Psalm 118:24 “this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it.

This is how my mom lived her life. She had a blessed life. But it wasn’t an easy life. She had hardships, hurts and plenty of health issues. I am sure that there are many people here that can relate. Life can be hard.

AND she had an amazing strength, given to her by God. God gave her strength, grace, courage, and perseverance. I have walked 44 years with my mom, and I have watched her overcome so much, because of her faith. Not religion…faith. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

There are so many things that I could share with you about my mom. I have lost the woman who knows me best in the world and I just keep thinking about all the wonderful times we had together. From a tiny apartment for two, road trips in the station wagon, perming my hair in the basement, ice cream at Beernsteins, shopping for prom dresses, Macys Thanksgiving Day parade, a perfect hair styling for my wedding, to high tea for two. She was an extraordinarily special woman. I could speak about my memories of her for hours. I miss her deeply.

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But I also know her quite well, and I can confidently tell you that the most important thing she would want me to share with you is that her beauty, strength, grace, perseverance, love, and joy came from Jesus and Jesus alone.

She faced the hardest moments and the most joyous moments of her life with God as her guide. Including throughout her final days. And she had peace in those days because she knew she would be with her Savior in heaven for eternity. And knowing her as I do, I know she would want each of you right there with her.

In the past couple weeks, I have heard many people refer to my mom as “such a special lady” with a “sweet smile” and a “beautiful soul.” Yep, that was my mom and what we all saw in her…that sweet smile and beautiful soul….was the love of God shining through her.

In these last several years of medical issue after medical issue, my mom made the courageous choice to face each day saying to herself, and all those around her, something she has been choosing to greet the day with for most of her life….

This is the the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…..Go for it.

I love you, Mom, and I plan to do just that.

I pray that, whether you are riding high or at the lowest low, you would celebrate the life that God has given you and see that He has made this day…which is reason enough to rejoice…and celebrate.

www.sidebysideministry.org