The Truth About Valentine’s Day

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In the dark of night, under the cloak of secrecy, she said, “I do” to the man who had walked with her through the pain and terror and the excitement and laughter of the past two years.  Quietly, guided by the whispers of the Christian priest Valentine, he said, “I do,” with a silent prayer that it would not be for the last time.  In the morning he would be headed off to war – to battle – called to fight for Claudius II Gothicus, one he does not believe in for a cause he does not agree with, at the penalty of death. His only earthly light was the love of this woman beside him.  The least he could do was set her up to be taken care of should the unspeakable happen.

There are many stories behind the history of Valentine’s Day.  Some say it was because St. Valentine performed secrete marital ceremonies against Emperor Claudius II Gothicus’s decree against engagements and marriages in Rome.  Some say it was to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia (a celebration of purification and fertility).

Whatever the reason, the reality is we celebrate the day in practice as a way to celebrate those we love.  The day has become one to celebrate your significant other.  But, it is more than that. 

For those of us who have to spend days like this apart from our “better-halves” or for you single parents who are widowed, left, or worse, it is a day to remind you that you are alone. 

I do not think that is true.  I think this day is a great way to remember those who love you and those whom you love. It is a day to act in love, mercy, and kindness.  It is a day to remember that you are never alone.  A day to count your blessings.

In a social distancing world, where we have pitted ourselves against the other because of a sniffle or politics or the way we dress, this is a great time to remind ourselves that we all bleed the same.  We all cry, laugh, mourn and dance.  This is a time to change our hearts and practice what we preach – love.

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Here are some ways to bring more love into your marriage: 

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  1. Schedule priority time together. I have said this again and again….dating should not stop just because we said, “I do.” Dating should just be beginning. We change so much as we grow. Dating helps keep us connected to the changes of the other person. This is valuable invested time in the marriage. Pull out your calendars and set a date every week or two—just to spend time together and talk.
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2. Laugh together. One of the reasons I married my awesome husband was he made me laugh.  That sounds cliché, but in reality, it is really hard to get me to laugh – much less guffaw.  Laughter truly is the best medicine and brings healing and bonding.  When was the last time you shared a funny story and chuckled with each other? We like finding little jokes and sharing them with each other (especially when we are apart for work).  As the song goes, “Girl, let your hair down.”  Laugh freely – give yourself permission.  Live lightheartedly!

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3. Play together.  I love this one.  It is so easy to forget how to play as adults when faced with the reality of the world.  We get stuck in bills, taxes, doctor appointments, and dinner we forget how to play.  That childlike view of the world disappears.  Another reason I adore my husband, he makes it easy to find that child again.  We love to play together.  We especially like crating together (and yes, I will watch the stories of the video games he plays…they can be quite good).  I encourage you to find a hobby or activity you both enjoy: fishing, bowling, tennis, hiking, biking, crafting.  It is also ok to take turns on things only one of you enjoys and spend time doing what the other likes.  You learn a lot about your mate that way.

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4. Be romantic together. It is no secret to those who know me well, I love words of affirmation.  I love hearing compliments.  I love quality time hanging out with Hubby.  My husband, on the other hand, loves gifts and service.  He feels most loved when something has been done for him or a special trinket arrives for him. Our love languages are different, but not incompatible.   For my birthday I asked my husband to write a letter, poem, or story of why he loves me.  For his Christmas present, I cleaned the garage and got him the gaming system he wanted.  Send your spouse a note of encouragement in the mail every once in a while, just to say, “I love you.” (I keep a list and little sticky notes around my office and bathroom of the romantic and uplifting things he has said to remind me on days that feel distant). When possible, spend one or two weekends away each year just with your spouse. (No buddies or children allowed.)

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5. Be grateful.  I was reminded this week how much we take for granted in marriage and in partnership.  It is easy in marriage to compare the circumstance of each other and think one has it harder than the other.  In reality, it is just as hard for your spouse as it is for you.  That is why love is a choice.  Love is work.  Love is patient. Love is kind.  Love keeps no records of wrongs.  So, say “Thank you” to your spouse.  You know you are not perfect.  They choose to love you anyway. They choose to work through your baggage with you.  They choose to walk through life with you.  So thank you.  Purpose your days to see all the things they do that make your life better and acknowledge that. 

While Valentine’s Day is a good time to put some spark into your relationship, the only way to fan the flame of a good relationship is for every day to have a Hallmark moment. 

What are you doing to fan the flame of your marriage?

New Year New You: 5 Tips for a Happy Healthy New Year

Congratulations!  You survived 2020!  Whew!  If you are anything like me, it felt touch and go there for a while. 

Welcome, 2021!  After last year, it will be really easy for you to be better. 

But, how can we be better? Better physically? Emotionally? Mentally?

Five days into 2021 and the world was shocked by riots in Washington, DC.  I had a few friends reach out in utter dismal disappointment.  Five days.  That was all it took for them to feel like they had no hope in the world. 

I introduced this group of friends, whom I love dearly and have known most of my life, to one of the five practices I will share with you today.  That group text went from disappointment and fear to light and edifying.

How can we be the best we can be in 2021?  Here are five simple steps I use that may help you.

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  1. Live Loved: Don’t be a slave to emotions.  The last year was a roller coaster of emotions – fear, anger, depression, hope, joy, defiance.  We have all felt them in such intensity for so long, it is easy to forget the most powerful emotion, word, magic, verb in the world: Love. As Lysa Terkerst so aptly put it, “No one can soar to the place of living loved when it’s a performance-based endeavor.” It is time to stop treating ourselves like we are reacting vessels.  It is time to start acting.  Time to reclaim the gift you are to the world.  You are uniquely and wonderfully made for a purpose for a time such as this.  Claim this.  Love yourself.  Love all the uniqueness that is you.  Love the quirks.  Love the weaknesses.  Love the strengths. 
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2. Love your body: It took one hour for my inbox to be flooded with weight loss and exercise tips and workout boot camp invitations from when the ball dropped on December 31, 2020, and January 1, 2021.  First, let me remind you: the weight loss industry is designed for you to FAIL and they KNOW it.  So, ignore that. You know what you should eat and how you should work out. The healthiest thing you can do is start where you are and love your body. I love the above picture – she is so graceful and confident! Find one thing on your body you like and look yourself in the mirror daily and complement it. Eventually, you will come to love it and be able to find more things to love about yourself. When you love yourself, much like when you love a child, you want what is best for yourself.  See yourself as the healthier version of you now and you will find you start choosing the healthier food at the store, ignoring the food table at gatherings, and investing in the people you are with more. 

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3. Speak Life: This past year has brought out the worst in people.  Our language has turned against each other – our politics, our friends, even our families have been divided over how we view the state of things.  Division is high and our language isn’t helping.  Instead of listening to the views of others, we ignore them.  Unfollow.  Unfriend.  We spread hate and insult those who disagree.  We speak negativity and hate.  But, our words have power.  2021 is a time to take our tongues back.  It is time to speak love and life.  We are uniquely made, so we have different opinions.  That does not make one stupid and the other brilliant.  It means our lives are different and the realities of what is happening in them are different.  Stop. Listen. Then speak love.  When we change our language to love and light we open doors to unity, growth, wonderful friendships, and grand love.

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4. Be grateful: If follow me, you know how much I believe in the power of gratitude.  There is a change that takes place in the heart when we recognize things we are thankful for.  This year, thank you body.  Your body does amazing things all day with your consciously thinking about it.  Blood cells move to make sure organs work. White blood cells come to fight off bacteria and viruses.  You have completely new skin every 27 days! Thank your body.  Your family knows the worst of you (you know what I am talking about) and loves you anyway.  Thank your family. Your teachers, therapists, and doctors are working diligently (some more than 60 hour weeks) to help ensure a healthy and smart community.  Thank them.  I practice a discipline of gratitude daily.  I attempt to write out 3-5 things daily I am grateful for.  This is particularly helpful on those days I am tired or short-tempered.  It recenters me.

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5. Take Chances:  The new year is a great time to evaluate where we are and decide where we are going.  What will your path be this year?  One of anger and hate? One of love and acceptance?  One of accomplishment? One of excuses?  Be honest with yourself when you make this evaluation, and start moving those dreams to goals. Dreams are passing thoughts – goals are paths to reality.  Goal setting can be easy and fun. So dream big and start making the reality you have always wanted. If you are new to goal setting, pick a small goal.  Maybe you want to lose weight and have yo-yo dieted for years.  Instead of a diet, set a goal to drink more water daily, or eat less sugar.  This is quantifiable and you can it in baby steps. The single change will have a big change.  Maybe your goal is to write a book – but you are not sure you’re an author.  Set a goal to write 10-15 minutes two days a week.  This is measurable and will get you in the practice to write the book later.  Whatever the goal, if you survived 2020, you are set up with more grit, strength, and perseverance than you ever had in the past.  Claim that and use it as fuel to take chances of making your dreams a reality.

If 2020 taught me anything, it is that I am stronger than I ever knew and able to do great good.  I want you to know: you are loved.  You are smart.  You are important. You can do all you set your mind to. You are uniquely made for such a time as this. 

I would love to hear your goals and thoughts on how you are going to make 2021 the best year yet. Drop a comment.  If you like what you read, please share.  Together, we can make this world a positive one.

10 Tips to a Peaceful Christmas Season

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Quartine.  Sickness.  Riots.  Arguments.  Politics.  Tantrums. Deadlines. “I wants.” 

Kids home most of the year. Routines completely out of whack. Families apart for the holidays.

It seems like Christmas 2019 was a different world.  This year peace seems so much farther away than usual.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are some of the things my family does year-round to help us remain in peace.  May these simple tips help you and yours this Christmas season.

  1. Deep Breathing: Breathing is essential to life.  Deep breathing is essential to self-control and calmness.  Along with regulating blood pressure, helping relax muscles, deep breathing decreases the stress hormone cortisol – and who doesn’t want less stress? When things seem out of control, take a deep breath.  Recite a favorite verse or proverb and remind yourself, this too will pass.  Here is a great article for Harvard Health on how to make deep breathing a routine.  this more a routine.

2. Go to bed on time (maybe even a little early): For my followers, you know how much I value sleep and the many benefits it gives.  In addition to improving concentration, lowering health issues (like heart and diabetes), sleep is good for emotional response. A study done on this by the Mental Health Foundation found that people that didn’t get enough sleep were four times as likely to suffer from lack of concentration, have relationship problems and 3 times more likely to be depressed, and 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.

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3. Go outside: Something is calming about being out in nature.  Seeing the colors, feeling the warmth of the sun, or the comfort of a cool breeze, it a sensation unlike any other.  More that, being outside lowers depression and stress, is social, and increases short-term memory and concentration.  But, more than that, it gives the brain a minute to take a break and process the day.  For those who need it, it is also a safe way to take a break from family members or use it as a way to talk through a situation.

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4. Make a list of things you’re thankful for: I am a big proponent of counting blessings. There is something about writing them out that does help shift the mind from a “Woe is me” to a “Blessed is me” attitude.  Gratitude helps physical and psychological health and is a benefit to getting good sleep.    

Reading

5. Read/watch something uplifting:  What we put before our eyes affect what we think and feel.  Ever walk out of the theatre after watching a suspense movie and take extra precaution walking to the car?  This year there has been so much negative news and more movies and shows of intense drama, fear, and, call it what it is, poor behavior.  When I talk to friends and family who have been reading and watching these things, their anxiety and fear are much higher than those who have chosen to spend that same time watching and reading positive and uplifting things.  Positive words are healthy for one’s body and mind.

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6. Listen to uplifting music: Some of us do not have time for books and TV shows.  Instead, we spend our days working and running the household and driving kids to this appointment or that.  But, during that time, we are still taking in messages.  Use this time to listen to what is uplifting.  In the car, limit how much news and talk radio you listen to.  Set a specific time frame and then move on to uplifting audiobooks or music.  At work, create a playlist or station on Spotify or Pandora that is designed to help focus and still brings in good vibes.

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7. Write down your worries…then burn them:  This is one of my favorite things to do.  There is something powerful about writing down the worries.  It gives them a concrete feeling.  And concrete can be destroyed.  Once they are written down, it allows me to see the worry as a challenge with limits.  Once there are limits to the fear, that means there is a way to conquer the fear.  Once I can see the worry is not abstract, I then pray over them and then – burn them. 

8. Spend time with a close friend: When we are busy (or quarantined), it is easy to forget to invest in other relationships.  We forget to do things that bring us joy and help us relax.  But something is refreshing about spending time with people we love.  As a military family, we have lived all over.  It is still my favorite thing to screen time family and friends, not near us.  The apps Marco Polo and Whatapp are particularly great for this because you can send video, text, and audio no matter the time of day for them to open when it works for them.  But, there is something wonderful about sharing a cup of Joe and playing a game or watching a movie together (either in person or on a Zoom). This also helps us carry each other’s burdens and reminds us we are not alone in this. 

9. Enjoy a delicious, nutritious meal: I love food! I also believe it has a major impact on our health, behavior, and attitudes. Health food helps my body to operate better.  But, more importantly, I feel better.  When I feel better physically, I feel better mentally.  I also respond to information with more logic and less emotion. When we are pressed for time and/or overwhelmed, it is easy to let good healthy habits fall by the wayside (especially with the holiday goodies at every turn).   However, taking a little time to eat nutritiously, will change the impact on your life and the life of those in your household.

10. Be playful and laugh a lot! This year, more than most, it has been easier to forget to laugh and play. But these two things are so important to our relationships, heart, and mental health. Adults need recess too! Play is both fun and motivating. Studies show that people and leaders who laugh are more composed in the face of adversity and have a “bright side” mentality.

This Christmas and holiday season, as we are celebrating with new traditions, different people, and face the coming New Year, let’s remember we can be at peace in the face of adversity.  May these tips help you, as they do me and mine, this season and year to come.

6 Steps to a Gratitude Attitude

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Happy Halloween!  Belated as it might be.  I apologize for the silence the past two weeks – technical issues abounded.  All bugs have been sorted and we should be fully operational.  Thank you for being patient with me.

This month is all about gratitude.  Thankfulness.  Something most Americans, and I would wager most first-world citizens, are in desperate need of. 

This past month, as a mom of an adolescent, I found myself often frustrated by the poor choices my son made.  It felt like no matter what we as parents did, my son was determined to make poos choices.  My son was successful in breaking something every – single – day for one week straight. Dealing with crazy work demands and trying to figure out how to balance everyone’s needs seemed more complicated than usual.

Honestly, there were some days it felt hopeless.  I felt the world against me.  I felt frustrated with the special needs I have to deal with, the demands of work for both myself and my husband.  I felt very alone. But that is never the case, is it?

So, how do we pull ourselves out of these dark moments as moms and dads?  How do we remind ourselves of the enormous amounts of blessings that are part of our lives daily? How do we develop a Gratitude Attitude?

Here are my five steps to having a Gratitude Attitude as a parent, and for life:

  1. PERSPECTIVEDid you know, according to an article published by Anup Shah in 2013, at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day ($3,640 annually)?  Almost 2 in 3 people lack access to clean water to survive on less than $2 a day ($884 annually)?  More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day?  More than 385 million live on less than $1 day ($364 annually)?  Or that 1.6 billion people (1/4 humanity) live without electricity?  The stats are a bit outdated, but the principle remains the same.  The first world has champagne problems.

As I write this, I am sipping my fair trade Laughing Man coffee (super yummy), my son is creating art with actual paper and pencils and we are enjoying a beautiful sunny cool fall day on the deck in our backyard.  We have a wonderful home, a beautiful big yard, and my husband and I both have jobs.  Our bellies are always full, and we can pull out water from any faucet (or our fridge) whenever the notion strikes.  And my son had enough in our house to break something every single day in one week and still, our house functioned just fine. I find a gratitude attitude starts with the right mind set – reset your mind.

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2. RENEW YOUR MIND: If you are like me at all, what you watch, read, scroll through, etc. all affect your state of mind.  When I watch scary movies, I get scared.  When I focus on the negative comments in a scroll, my mind is negative.  When I read an intense book, my anxiety rises.  We need to renew our minds – start treating them like we do our bodies. 

Just like a healthy body needs exercise and quality food nutrition, a mind needs exercise and quality food nourishment.  Reading is essential to renewing your mind.  Don’t just read novels (though I like those).  I find reading historical books, world solution books, and culture books help me to see the world from another’s perspective more.  I have attached some of my favorite books to help get you started in this.  

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3. MEDITATE: This sounds New Age and for some a little hippie, but what a difference it makes!  Most people picture meditation as sitting on a yoga mat with your feet crossed and saying,” om,” in a quiet voice.  There is so much more to it.  Meditation is simply the practice of focusing your mind.  What you focus on is just as important.  Focusing on whatever is true, beautiful, pure, lovely, admirable, think on these things.  For those who pray, this is a great time for that.  I find doing this throughout my day is beneficial to keeping my mind in a good place.  There are a lot of apps that can help make this a daily practice.  I like Calm and the Abide podcast.

4. WORKOUT I try to do a 30-60-minute workout four times a week.  Ideally, we should be moving our bodies cardiovascularly at least 30 minutes a day, but in life, I find that is not always possible. I have a love-hate relationship with working out.  I hate the getting started part…and doing the workout part.  But, I love how I feel when I am done.  I find I feel less stressed, more energized, and sleep so much better.  There are other benefits to working-out too – higher happiness levels, better success setting and meeting goals, improved memory, and concentration and so much more.  

5. GET OUT IN NATURE: In a world of computer screens, tablets, phones, and social media, we often forget the importance of getting outside. So often, people get their dose of nature from a documentary in the comfort of their own home. But that does not have all the same benefits of actually walking outside, getting sun on your face, and enjoying the sights and sounds around you.

There is a great article, The Positive Effects of Nature on Your Mental Well-being, published on October 16, 2020, that goes in-depth into the numerous benefits of nature. Here are just some of the highlights. Nature helps emotional well being, and memory focus (for those with special needs kids, this is a wonderful FREE tool). Nature lowers stress and helps those suffering from depression. Nature walks and other outdoor activities help build attention and focus. This is a great way to spend time with the family and increase school focus later. And one recent study shows spending more time outside and less time in front of a computer can help increase our problem-solving and creative thinking.

6. CHOSE JOY: This may sound the simplest, but it can be the hardest.  It is so easy to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of life – the doctor’s appointments, the tantrums, the politics of the world, the pandemic.  There is so much negative out there.  It is easier to find the negative and focus on that than it is really to choose joy.  This is different than happiness (a fleeting feeling).  Joy is a deeper peace and understanding that it is good in the world.  Good will win.  Joy is actively counting our blessings and naming them one by one.  This is hard in a society where we judge each other instantaneously on 15 different social media platforms.  This is hard when everyone’s voice is fighting to be heard.  This is hard when we encourage the negative in our feeds.  To make this a higher priority in my life, I have ceased actively participating in social media – outside of this blog and its Facebook page.  Oh, sweet relief!  Oh, calmer and happier self!  I highly recommend at least a social media fast for a bit and see how it affects your mental and emotional state.

Having a gratitude attitude is not always an easy process.  It is often contrary to our society’s love for drama, negatively, and sin – let’s call it what it is.  Our society has been constructed to be all about Me and less about others.  When we change our perspective to helping others and focusing our minds on what is true, noble, pure, and good, it is amazing how grateful we are.  It is amazing how truly blessed we are.  It is amazing how these small actions can change our lives for the better forever.

For more tips and tricks on how to have a gratitude attitude, check out my Facebook page.

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.