7 Steps to Preventing Divorce Before It Starts

Marriage is a messy process.  Hollywood would have us believe marriage is happily ever after all the time.

“We grew apart.” “We just wanted different things.” “We had irreconcilable differences.” 

All of these things are often the reason for divorce. When they are simply saying the same thing – “We just didn’t invest in our marriage anymore; divorce was easier.”

Marriage is a choice.  Daily.  You must choose to love your spouse daily.  Choose to put their needs above your own daily.  Choose to see the good in them daily.  Choose to work as a team daily.

There is a reason weddings have vows and licenses are needed for marriage.  It is a heavy undertaking. 

Once the “honeymoon” has worn off (and it will), and life really sets in (death in the family, sickness, special needs, pandemics), that is exactly when the marriage starts.

It is easy to “love” when people agree with you and life is going your way.  It is a lot harder to love when you have been months out of work, or your spouse travels for work a lot, or your kids’ doctor’s appointments are never-ending and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

So how do you save your marriage before it fails?

1.       Avoid parenting your partner: I think this is harder for wives sometimes.  Often the comment about kids includes their spouse.  When we parent our partner, we are saying we don’t trust them as peers.  We actually disrespect them as adult humans.  We create a separation between us.  Instead, partner parent and see how that deepens your marriage.

2.       Embrace differences: Remember when you were dating and you just loved how different your partner was?  Being equally yoked is more than just a faith expression.  A yoke was used to pair animals together to work together toward a common goal.  It keeps animals moving in the same direction.  But, it only works well if you pair the right animals together.  A physically strong animal with a mentally strong animal is a great combination.  Marriage is no different.  You have been yoked together.  Where I am weak, my husband is strong and vice versa.  We pair well because we are different.  Embrace this especially in the hard times (like when one wants to grieve a diagnosis and the other pushes forward or one is fighting post-partum and the other fights PTSD).  

3.       Be proactive: Don’t let resentment build. I have so many people talk to me about how their partner doesn’t help parent, or clean, or spends too much time in front of the video game and not with their child.  But, these same people do not express that to their partner – the person who needs to hear it the most. Ask for help sooner.  If the laundry is becoming an issue, ask for help.  If mopping is your downfall, ask for help.  If you have to reschedule or re-order your schedule, ask for help.  The point of marriage is to have a  help-partner for life.  When we stop being helpmates and instead, become roommates, we invite separation and seeds of divorce to be planted.  

4.       Argue and Debate:  Hollywood has ingrained in western society that arguing is wrong and harmful to a romantic relationship.  Hollywood is stupid. Healthy arguing leads to creative solutions and stronger bonds.  I don’t recommend daily arguing, or insulting, or physically arguing, but a healthy argument and debate can lead to a deeper understanding of your partner, stronger family bonds, and some incredible solutions. Two different people are becoming one unit.  Change takes works, time, and is painful.  The orange tree doesn’t start with fruit.  It must stretch and go through growing pains, fight off insects and strong powerful winds, and more before it has a single fruit.  A good harvest is still years off at this point.  Marriage is no different.  Work. Argue. Learn. Grow.

5.       Get creative when it comes to romance: My husband and I have been on a handful of dinner and movie dates in the past six years.  We have a weekly date night.  It is easy to get comfortable and complacent in your date life.  Don’t.  Be creative.  Think about the other person. Take turns planning it.  Enjoy being silly or dressing up or just playing a game.  Dates do not have to be dinner and a movie.  Sitting in front of a movie where you can’t talk with your partner surrounded by a bunch of strangers is the farthest thing from a great date in my mind.  I much prefer creating something together or playing a game.  Check out these ideas for some creative date nights that won’t break the budget.  

6.       Appreciate each other’s efforts:  Share responsibility.  Before we married, we discussed the division of duties.  I dislike yard work.  He dislikes laundry and mopping.  We simply divided the chores.  His domain is outside and mines inside.  He is an excellent cook and I am a great teacher.  He does dinner and I do homework.  It is about balance, an equal yoke.  No one should feel they have all the responsibility all the time.  Remember, they are doing work and investing.  Thank them.  A “thank you, you are appreciated and valued,” goes a long way.  Recognize the effort.  Give a thank you card, or surprise present for no reason, or simply send an “I appreciate it when…” text to your partner and see how your marriage strengthens.  The Love Dare is full of great ideas and resources for this to become a regular practice in your marriage.

7.       Sleep: Sleep is hard to come by the older you get.  The lack of sleep leads to irritability, memory issues, anxiety, lower immune system functions, and so many other effects. When I have not been sleeping well, it shows in how I treat my spouse more than anyone else.  Study after study, show the importance of sleep for our health.  This translates to the health of our marriage as well.  Don’t argue when tired.  Table it.  Don’t express frustration when tired.  Table it. Don’t let yourself become sleep deprived in the first place.  Talk about the quality and amount of sleep you are getting with your partner regularly.  This will help them better understand you and may lead to some insight into the reason – ultimately leading to solutions that help you, your marriage, and your family completely.

For more ideas on how to strengthen your marriage, take a look at my Facebook page.

12 Date Night Ideas on a Budget

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Remember those days when you first met your partner and everything in the world was seen through rose-colored glasses?  That person could do no wrong.  All you wanted was to spend every last minute with them.

Then you got married.

Then you had kids.

Then you realized being an adult requires more work, patience, and determination that you ever thought possible.

Where did all the romance go?  With the doctors’ visits, the football practices, the late-night homework sessions…oh, yeah, and the cooking, and cleaning, and the working two full-time jobs that sometimes take even more time.

This is particularly difficult for those who have children with special needs.  It takes longer to trust other people watching your kids.  If you are lucky to find someone qualified, they usually charge an arm and a leg for their services.  As one of our daycare providers in Maryland once said, “We charge more because we know we are the only ones in the area who does this.”

In the special needs’ world, it is extortion at its best sometimes.  According to MarketWatch, in America, 29% of people aged 18 to 34 are more than $500.00 in debt from overspending on dates spending an average of $1,596.00 a year on dates! Just dates.  For those math folks, that is $133.00 a month and $33.25 a week. 

Watching my parents, who married at age 16, had their first kid at 18, lost a child, had 7 more, and have gone to college (earning JD and PhDs) while raising us, I learned a successful marriage requires date night. My parents did it at least once a week – leave the kids and spend time with your spouse. So, when I married my husband, we agreed this is a requirement for our marriage too. Thank God, he agreed!

How do you find time for romance in the chaos without breaking the budget?  First – make a budget.  When you have a good budget, you can really enjoy things more.

Also, for those who qualify, look into your local Respite Care providers.  Respite care is short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center.  We use this to help with grocery shopping, errands, prepping for holidays and so much more.

Before You Get Started

Before you get started, make sure you are scheduling this and putting it on the calendar. This is a priority. Then take turns planning them – surprise each other. Use this time to talk to each other (not about work, kids, or household). No excuses – date night is a priority. Never make excuses outside date night. I promise you date nights in your marriage will help you in parenting, relationships, and life in general.

Here are 12 creative no cost dates that helped our marriage cultivate instead of breaking our budget:

Without a sitter

1.       Movie and Wine: When we first married, this was a great one!  We would move the couch out of the way, lay down some pillows and blankets, and start a fire.  The lights low, the cozy setting was perfectly matched with our favorite wine and a good movie. It is important the movie is something you both can enjoy.  Some of our favorites are The Princess Bride, The Greatest Showman, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future series, and Indiana Jones series. ***This is great because you get to talk to each other during the movie without bothering anyone else. Talking is essential.

2.       Craft night: This is one of my favorites! My husband got me a subscription craft kit for Christmas.  Instead of doing the craft alone, he does them with me.  We like Adults and Crafts.  For $33.00 a month, we get everything we need for a great date night.  Once the kids are in bed, we enjoy time creating together.  The nice thing about this date night is it can happen over multiple days sometimes.  Certain crafts require setting/drying time, so date night becomes date weekend.

3.       Themed movie marathons: This is a fun one that can also extend beyond the single night.  We like to do movie marathons.  Movies with sequels are great, but you are not limited to just this.  We did a marathon of watching all Disney Animated movies in order.  Our next one will be to watch all their live-action movies in order.  This is also a great time to binge your favorite shows! This is great because it lets link back to our childhood, and often springs great conversation. ***This is great because you get to talk to each other during the movie without bothering anyone else. Talking is essential.

4.       Play video games: So many times, I hear wives complain their husband spends his time playing video games instead of investing in them.  Use this.  Before I met my husband, I did not know video games had stories…like movies!  Apparently, they do – and some are really interesting.  Husbands, play the stories.  Wives, watch the story (and your beau) conqueror all cheering him on.  Not interested in the story, I paint or do a craft while listening sometimes.  I am with my spouse, participating with him, and learning more about him. 

5.       Game night: This sounds like a cliché, but there is truth in this.  Games have the power of sparking great conversation, building trust, and bringing the gift of laughter.  We particularly like this night when we find new or unusual games (but the classic Sorry, Boggle, Scrabble, and Chess is just as good).  Some of our favorite games are Shut the Box, Liars Dice, Vertell’s, and Qiddler

6.       Read books: I am an avid reader as it is, but it is so much more fun reading with my hubby.  I like things like novels where he likes ghost stories.  We have both really enjoyed historical pieces as well. This often has given us ideas for travel, routines, and date nights.   We often switch between the two.  Or, my favorite is when we start with his ghost stories and finish with my devotional or scripture reading. 

7. Karaoke: There is something special about getting crazy in front of a mic with your special someone. No matter your skill level, this is a great date. Not ready to show off in public, show off in the safety of your living room with those you trust the most. Laughter is guaranteed no matter what on this date.

With a sitter

Movies and dinner are great.  But search out happy hours, Taco Tuesdays, and specials first.  The occasional, movie, fancy restaurant and trampoline park are great.  But do not make these the go-to.

8.       Coffee/Brew dates: These are so much fun and cost as little as $5.00 a person. We like to find a local brew company or coffee shop and enjoy the local fare.  This is great for nights that have trivia or open mic. If nothing else, it is cheap entertainment supporting the local small businesses in the community to reminisce about for years to come.  

9.       Painting with a Twist: This is a great night out as a couple.  Creating art (with someone to help if needed) and some wine/beer of your choice.  You both get to be a little goofy and come home with a souvenir at the end.  This is usually a splurge night for us as a couples event can range from $15.00 per person to $50.00.  It is best to look in advance to ensure you like what is being taught to make in advance. We especially like to do this on fundraising nights as we know the proceeds help a local non-profit.

10.       Dinner at a bar: This can also be a splurge night.  But we like to go during happy hours and specials.  With the right happy hour and special, we can spend less than $50.00 in total.  This is a great way to sample new places.  It is also fun to re-enact the first date or enjoy the simple pleasure of trying something new on the menu together.

11.   Fishing/hiking: We love the adventure of the outdoors.  A great hike (even in the winter with some hot chocolate) or sitting on the side of the bank with a book while he fishes are perfection. This FREE activity lends itself to experiencing nature, getting much-needed vitamin D, and feeling like you accomplished something together. Fish at the end of the day is also a great FREE meal.

12.   Beach day: There is something about the sound of the waves crashing onto the sand that brings a peace in the sole.  The sun, surf, and sand are a great way to get out and be silly.  We like to pitch a tent and then enjoy playing in the water, watching dolphins, and building sandcastles. 

13.   Bonus Sex: I debated putting this here, but I think it is vital to all marriages.  All marriages.  Going too long without sex is detrimental to the foundation of the marriage.  Many marriage counselors, pastors, and your parents (who are still together after decades of marriage) will all say sex is essential to the relationship.  Sex reinforces the foundation, reconnects intimacy, rebuilds, and strengthens relationships and so much more! For more on this, check out this great article on healthy sex in marriage, and this article on why married sex is the best sex.

6 Simple Steps to Partnership Parenting

September is a magical time in our house.  The leaves are changing.  The temperatures are cooling.  The sweaters and warm blankets come out.  Apple, cinnamon, and pumpkin scents are everywhere you go.

September is also a magical month because it is my wedding anniversary. 

As I ponder our marriage this month, I am so grateful for my husband.  The partnership we have grown together.  The father and mentor my husband is to our son.  The way he knows how and when to be our family rock and jester.  We are truly blessed by him.

In this spirit, I thought I would address some of the many times I have been told parenting is a one-person job.  The numerous times I have been told, “My significant other doesn’t help with the kids,” or “it is just easier for me to do it all then get my spouse involved.”

I understand this mentality.  It is really easy for one parent to take on all the responsibility of school, playdates, doctor appointments, therapies, homework, extracurriculars, etc.  This is especially easy if one is working and the other stays at home or both are working, but one has more work flexibility.

I remember one of our son’s medical team once sat us down (one or two years into our marriage), and said, “You know, people with special needs children divorce at 80% more than parents without.”  That was a scary number!  So, we became even more intentional with our marriage and parenting to avoid this.

I appreciate the difficulties of raising a child, especially one with special needs, I find this mentality of a single parent responsible for children’s development to be limiting, exhausting, and disrespectful.

You chose your partner, yes partner, because of the many good (and sometimes bad) qualities they have.  When you said, “I do” it was not just for a day, a week, or a year.  You chose to take that person in sickness, health, richer, poorer, good, bad, and (honestly) sometimes ugly. 

Marriage is a life partnership.  It is a daily choice to walk through life as a team.  And, trite as it might be, there is no “I” in “team.”

There is a reason two parents are ideal for raising children.  Both have different roles to play.  For example, I am not going to have “The Talk” with my son if my husband can do it.  My hubby isn’t going to take his little girl bra shopping – that is on me.  However, although we have different roles, those roles work in tandem with each other not against.

So, how do you make raising these awesome kiddos a team sport?  How do help your significant other become a player and not a spectator? Here are six rules we live by in my house.

1)      Be on the same page: If you are trying to implement a new routine, discipline, or change in the home, it means nothing if the parents in the home are not consistent with each other.  Dad cannot say no to something only to have Mom say yes two seconds later.  If a parent implements discipline, both parents have to support it.

Don’t argue discipline in front of kids. We disagree on how to discipline like any couple.  Whichever parent implemented the discipline is supported by the other.  Take the discussion behind closed doors.  After discussing, sometimes nothing changes. Sometimes the discipline is modified.  Regardless, discipline happens and a clear discussion of why there was a change (if any) is presented.  We discuss it as a unified front and implement the consequence as a team.

2)      Divide and conquer: A family is multiple people with different personalities, needs, likes, and routines all operating under the same roof.  The household is a mini economy and city (things break and need fixing, services need to be rendered, and relationships built). In a home with special needs, in addition to the traditional routines of school, playdates, sports, and extracurriculars, there are doctors, specialists, therapies all need to be addressed.  It can be overwhelming.

Both parents need to know these routines, doctors, therapists, teachers, and be able to jump in and do it at the drop of a hat.  Divide responsibility.  I have a more flexible schedule working from home, so I do school, therapies, and playdates.  My husband takes care of meals, all outside yard work, fixing EVERYTHING that breaks (cars, garbage disposal, washing machine, etc.).  My son takes care of dishes, his room, bathroom, and feeding the animals.  We all fill in the gaps. We work as a team.  No one person on the team is more important than the other.

3)      Fill the Void: We are a military family and my work occasionally requires me to travel.  Sometimes one of our team is MIA due to work obligations for days, weeks, months at a time.  When this happens, it is important to know how to fill that void.  When I leave, my husband has a schedule for our son, where to go, doctor’s names, etc.  When he leaves, I know he has taught me to fix somethings and where I should go if I cannot.  He also has ensured I have the tools I need for all the tasks he does in tip-top form and ready for use (he made sure I know how to use them too!)  While he is home, he will often take me aside to teach me something – like how to change my oil in the car. We are all responsible for filling the void when there is one.

4)      Invest in the fun: My husband is great at having fun, acting like a goof, and making everyone smile and feel comfortable.  I am more serious by nature.  For the first few years of our marriage, it seemed like one of us had to be the serious one and the other the fun one. But that is not so. In fact, it was detrimental to our kiddo. He learned I was the one to go to for school, clothes, and chores, while he went to Dad for anything else.  It caused a divide in the relationship with our son that took time to mend.  Having fun is SO important.  Find something fun to do with your child (even on hard days).  We do LEGO, art, science kits, dance parties, karaoke, you name it.  If your child finds it fun (even if you don’t), join in, plan some time for this, and enjoy it.  This will be the foundation for a healthy relationship in those teen years and beyond.

5)      Argue: This sounds counterintuitive, but it is so important.  Remember two become one.  That means two completely separate people with their own likes, dislikes, thoughts, and opinions come together to become one unit.  Simply because you said, “I do,” does not mean you magically agree on everything and life is perfect, happily ever after.  No.  To become is a process – a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.  Arguing is part of the process. It is ok to argue in front of your children.  I think this is particularly important for those kids who have a hard time processing social cues.  

Arguing is life.  You argue with your spouse, siblings, classmates, friends….pretty much everyone at some point.  Knowing how to argue in a constructive way is essential to social success.  To not show your child you disagree with each other does them a disservice both socially and, eventually, as they view marriage (more to come on arguing this month).

6)      Date each other: This is a particularly hard one for any marriage with children.  It is particularly difficult for marriages with special needs.  Babysitters are hard to come by.  It may feel like there is never going to be a date in your marriage again.  I tell you from experience, that just isn’t so.  If possible, find someone who will watch you kid while they sleep.  Or get creative with date nights at home (movies by a fire, game night, wine or beer tastings, craft projects).  If you can and qualify, look into your local Respite Care providers.  Respite care is short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center. 

Marriage is not easy.  But partnering in it should be.  Let me know what steps you use to keep your marriage fresh, healthy, and growing daily.

Celebrate Life

Being the middle of seven children, I have seen the gambit in behaviors. Everything from stitches and fights to games of “War” and dances. I have been blessed to always have a sibling on my side when life turns a sour leaf and family around for holidays…and sometimes when I don’t want them.

But, not everyone is as blessed.

Special needs children are one of the largest groups of children in America…and unfortunately, one of the most often forgotten and ostracized. Many hear the words “special needs” or “Autism” or “Down Syndrome” and immediately think “stupid,” “hard,” and “pity.”

They could not be farther from the truth!

Our little bundle of joy was diagnosed with Autism at age three. And, like all parents who hear that, there was some fear and trepidation (a discussion for another time). At the time, and up until he was about five, our kiddo did not speak. There was loud screams, throwing, tantrums and the like because speech communication was not possible. Getting dressed was a chore as he could not put socks on by himself much less zip a zipper to his pants or button his jacket.

Hard. Yes. But, do I need to be pitied? NO!

You see when my son first started to say small sentences – PURE JOY! When he started to be able to zip his pants – JUBILATION! When he started to got straight A’s having to be pulled from class on a daily basis for doctor’s appointments – PRIDE would be an understatement. I even told my husband my kid was the smartest because he did what streamlined kids did in half the time!

What living with a special needs kid has taught me is… [Read more…]

25550143_10155808483556142_2522427214469481469_n

1. Celebrate Life

In our day and age, it is really easy to get down and out. We are inundated with negative thoughts and reality. News broadcasts deliver only negative news and life hits hard when it hits. Seeing the negative is like pouring a cup of coffee – most of us do it without even thinking.

Living with Autism teaches celebration of life. When you can constantly find growth it is easy to be optimistic. When you can see that life is not in a diagnosis but a person it is easy to enjoy the beauty of a hand-painted birdhouse or a freshly made pot of coffee.

Life is about teamwork. And when you have a great team (my husband is a rock star!) the support makes life that much more colorful and brilliant.

43055501_10156528769791142_1288781623805870080_o

2. Enjoy the Little Things

I will admit there are days when life feels like it will sucker punch me every chance it gets. But who’s life doesn’t do that? Living with special needs does not mean that life is easier or harder than for anyone else. It just means we (those of us who have special needs in our lives) face different challenges.

So, like every other family, we celebrate the little things.

We celebrate cutting a straight line. We celebrate our little one talking and playing WITH a peer. We celebrate the full sentence. We celebrate jokes.

These little celebrations may seem little but they are HUGE accomplishments. And they remind us that we are more than scary words. Doctors do not always know best. Just like with every other kid, our kid is more than the sum of his doctors’ visits and school meetings.

17212145_10154950757971142_3958740544222602206_o

3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Prior to special needs, I would sweat the small stuff. Little things like my sister not emptying the lint trap in our family dryer or how much the scale tipped when I stepped on it were heavy weights on my shoulders.

Autism taught me life is more than the small stuff. There are bigger things to worry about in life like family, doctors, and school.

If it is a choice between my son thumb sucking while focusing on homework or throwing a tantrum because he does not want to do homework, guess which one I am ignoring?

If it is a choice between not reading and reading a comic book, guess which one I am telling his teacher he gets to read?

If it is a choice between rocking in his seat and being quiet or jumping out of it screaming, “Pick me! Pick Me!”, guess which one I am telling the teacher to ignore?

There are big battles and small battles and some battles you just don’t fight. Special needs have taught me how to better see the difference.

25446097_10155808485071142_794937375179414279_n

4. Don’t Miss Out!

I know many families in the special needs world. Many on the Autism Spectrum. A lot of families think this diagnosis is an end-all to life as a family. Many do not leave the home…ever. Vacation – thing of the past. Trips – never going to happen. Movies – dream on!

When the word “Autism” came into our lives, our son was not talking, not potty-trained, screamed 90% of the time, was very hyperactive and threw tantrums that would make The Hulk look like a mouse. But, we made the choice early on to not let the diagnosis dictate our lives. We made the choice to hold our son to the same standards as any other child and not let his diagnosis be his crutch.

(I know I hit a nerve with some of you just now. I know there is a spectrum and big trips are hard. I know about Regressive Autism. I know first hand about the challenges of tantrums, non-verbals, and the complete difficulty it is to even get childcare for a couple hours of respite. I understand the reason some families choose to stay home. No judgment. It is just not what we chose.)

We chose to take our son out in public to things like museums, theme parks, and, yes, movies.

We did not do this without a plan. We made sure to follow all applicable guidance. But we did discover, that for our kiddo, the exposure helped with social situations, speech, and relationships.

We have a don’t miss out mentality that has served us well.

50878353_10156772380841142_1424680359055851520_o28129

5. Make Time

It is easy to forget to set time aside for yourself in a regular run-of-the-mill-under-the-radar kind of life. But add in multiple weekly doctors appointments in different cities on different days, school IEP’s, parent-teacher conferences and regular life of working full-time and it becomes really easy to forget about yourself and your family.

I don’t mean you forget your family. What I mean is that it is easy to forget to spend quality time with them.

We have learned that time apart each day whether in a workout, reading a book or playing a video game (yes, I said it) is essential to sanity!

We have learned that game nights, arts and crafts and reading together unite us beyond diagnosis and beyond the stress of the battle.

We have learned that date night does not always (and usually doesn’t need) a sitter. We enjoy a movie night in front of the fire with a glass of wine. We enjoy reading to each other. We enjoy sitting out in the hot tub and talking about life. None of these cost a lot of money. None of these require a baby sitter. And all are an essential investment in our marriage.

More to Life

So, does special needs mean a life of hard work? Yes! But whose life is not hard? Does it mean my life is different than most? Yes, but who wants a normal life? Does it mean I am to be “pitied?” No! If nothing else, I have been blessed beyond most. I have learned more than most. I have enjoyed life more than most.

Don’t let the diagnosis stop you from loving and living life. Don’t let a diagnosis of others scare you off from participating in their life. Don’t let the social understanding of special needs (which is highly lacking and often a misrepresentation) be your understanding of them. Be open. Be honest. Be willing. Your life will never be the same again.