Category Archives for "Helpful tips"

The Annual Marriage Assessment – 11 Questions to Get You Started

The Annual Marriage Assessment - 11 Questions to Get You Started!

The beginning of a new year is often a time for evaluation, assessing, and planning for the upcoming twelve months. We analyze things like our health, our spiritual direction, our priorities, our careers and set goals regarding what we would like to do different, better, or not at all. Let’s not forget our marriage in this annual assessment!

The beginning of the year is a great time to review the past year of marriage to assess what we did right, what is not working, what we can do better, what changes we can make to improve our marriage, and what goals we can work together to accomplish over the next year. Here are 11 questions to get you started.

To Answer as a couple:

Is there anybody in your life that is not supportive of your marriage or tries to undermine your relationship that you should consider limiting contact with this year?

Do you need to cultivate some couple friends this year who have positive attitudes about marriage to interact with?

What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve your marriage this year?

What’s the most important decision you need to make together this year?

What is the biggest obligation you feel needs to be met this year?

What area of your lives most need simplifying and what is one thing you could do to accomplish that?

If one or both of you need to get healthier, what is one change you could both support making to move toward that goal?

What is your biggest financial goal and what is one thing you could do this year to move closer to that goal?

For each spouse to answer individually:

If there is a time-waster activity that gets in the way of spending time with your spouse, what can you do about it this year?

What can you do to encourage/uplift your spouse on a regular basis this year?

What one change can you make that would help you be a better husband or wife this year?

Whether we are already amazing or working toward getting there, it’s easy to get caught up in the New Year changes we want to make to be better individuals. Make sure you spend at least, if not more, energy and effort with your spouse to determine what you can do to enhance your already-amazing (or on-its-way-to-amazing) marriage in the upcoming year!


10 New Years Resolutions for Couples

101 Things to Say to Make Your Mate Feel Great

Calling all Spouses: The 30-Day Gratitude Challenge


Last Minute Stocking Stuffers


Last Minute Stocking Stuffers

Are you hanging the stockings by the chimney with care and realizing there’s still lots of empty spaces in there? The 5-day Christmas Stocking Stuffer Extravaganza has been condensed for you. If you’re doing some last minute stocking stuffing, here’s some great ideas of how, what and from where to get your stuffing on! 

1. Budget friendly. Over 50 great stuffing ideas for $5 or less HERE.

2. Something for everyone. 75 gender-neutral ideas HERE.

3. It’s all about HER. Or HIM Oodles of ideas for the special man or woman in your life HERE.

4. Pick a theme. Animal lover? Coffee or tea drinker? Fitness buff? Sports enthusiast? Traveler? Cook or baker? Gardener? Artist? Knitter? Reader or writer on your stocking stuffing list? Check out the ideas for themed stockings HERE.

5. Last minute pickups. Plenty of suggestions for where to get and how to package those late additions to the stocking lineup HERE!

Last Minute Stocking Stuffers

             Whatever the weather, here’s wishing you a blessed and very MERRY CHRISTMAS!


5 Gifts to Have on Hand for Those You Care About – But Forgot

5 Gifts to Have on Hand for Those You Care About - But Forgot!This time of year can be absolutely crazy! We have so much to do, so many places to go, so many lists to write, so many things to remember. With all the hustle and bustle going on, it’s easy to overlook something. Or someone. One way to avoid being caught with a memory short and a gift shy is to have some great gifts on hand to present to those very special people you care about – but forgot. A great have-on-hand gift is one that is useful, not tied to a particular age, gender, or ethnicity, and – maybe most important of all – is something you wouldn’t mind owning if this is the year you forget nobody! Here are five that qualify!

1. Amaryllis in a box. This fast-growing flower comes in oodles of colors – including a cool peppermint striped variety – and can be found in big box stores and garden stores for $5-$10. The recipient will be delighted with the giant blooms (about 8 inches!) that erupt within 4-6 weeks indoors and last another two weeks on average. Bonus: the box is an easy-to-wrap shape.

5 Quick Gifts2. Bottled Quick-Bread. Layering these common ingredients in a bottle – or clear jar – with the simple instructions makes an attractive gift that anybody would eat up! Click on the picture for this Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Quick Bread recipe and how-to. Bonus: the mix lasts 2-3 months at room temperature.

Quick Gifts3. Holiday CD. Classics, instrumentals, children’s favorites, Big Band editions, country Christmas . . . there’s more choices and places to buy them than ornaments on a crowded tree! Bonus: If this one’s not claimed by Christmas Day, you can use it immediately – no mixing or growing required!

5 Quick Gifts4. Flavored Hot Chocolate Mix. You can present your gift in a jar as pictured, or fill cellophane bags, tie off and tuck them in a festive Christmas mug for two gifts in one! Click on the picture for this French Vanilla recipe. Bonus: this can be made in a batch and divided up to create multiple gifts.

5 Quick Gifts5. Windowsill herb garden. The pictured kit was found on for $18.68 (give or take a few pennies), but you should be able to find something similar at a local lawn and garden type store. From attractive package, to something that looks nice in the kitchen, to something one can eat, this gift has it all! Bonus: It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Italian herb rubs, rosemary bread – there’s so many yummy possibilities you may want to gift this to one who lives close enough to share!5 Gifts to Have on HandRelated:

Stocking Stuffer Extravaganza

Ten Good Holiday Deeds to Commit

A Christmas Carol – 5 Ghosts of Christmas Past

Christmas Table Talk


What Children Want Their Divorced Parents to Know About the Holidays

What Children Want Their Divorced Parents to Know About the HolidaysChildren anticipate the holidays eagerly – gifts, special food, no school – what’s not to like?  They are often oblivious to the stress adults may experience this time of year. Unless they have to divide their holidays between two warring parents. Nothing sucks the joy out of the season for a child faster than having to listen to divorced parents bickering about whose turn it is for visiting days, when the time should start, when the time should end, what their expectations are, and what their current (less than pleasant) opinion is of the other parent.

When I serve as a Guardian Ad Litem (an attorney who represents the best interest of the children during a custody dispute), one of the duties I am charged with is recommending custody and visitation plans to the Judge. I have had more opportunities than I would have liked over the years to hear about what stresses out children during the holidays that are split between two households. When talking to my children “clients” about their concerns, I often ask: “If you could tell your parents anything you wanted about this, and you knew nobody would get mad or have their feelings hurt, what would you tell them?” Following are some of the answers I hear often.

1. I don’t want to have to pick. It’s not your child’s job to come up with a holiday itinerary. Get with the other parent and have a plan that takes into account the special events you know your child would enjoy participating in even if it requires a deviation from the formal custody plan. Children are often very aware of the tension between the two parents. Asking them to select what activities or time frames they want to be at one house or the other sometimes makes them feel they are being asked to declare which parent they would rather be with. And they don’t want to. They don’t want to hurt feelings, tick somebody off, or create further conflict between the adults.

2. I don’t want to hear you say mean things about my other parent. Truth is not a defense to this selfish act. Badmouthing the other parent or making snarky remarks about their bimbo or controlling significant other is always harmful for your child. Doing so in conjunction with holiday plans robs the child of the joy that should come with such preparation.

3. It hurts me when you tell me what I’m missing out on. If you know the child can’t be with you for a particular event, whether it’s because it just doesn’t work out or the other parent is being totally unreasonable, buffer them from the hurt. Telling them how much they’ll be missed while the others are having fun, or how “but for” that other parent they could join in, doesn’t hurt the refusing parent – it hurts the child. It’s a cruel thing to do.

4. You make me feel guilty for wanting to spend time with my other parent. You should be encouraging a good relationship with the other parent. Undermining the value of that relationship with carefully crafted sentences such as “you have to go to your mom’s” or “we’ll do that when you get to come back home from your dad’s” does not go unnoticed.

5. You make me feel guilty about what I cost. Hearing references (digs?) about the limited gifts/festivities because you pay so much child support out, or don’t receive the amount you are suppose to receive, could have the desired effect of alienating the child from the other parent. But it could also result in the child feeling bad about himself, guilty about the lack you are suffering, and sad that he has to spend more time at your house feeling bad and guilty. Don’t talk about your child support gripes to or within the hearing of your child. Feel free to extend this rule past the holiday season.

6. When you’re late, it causes problems for me. You may not care how long your ex sits parked somewhere waiting for you to show up to the visitation exchange, but your child does. You have created a frustrating transition – your child now gets to hop in the car with a (potentially) angry parent who may be in a position of having to rush to get to specific plans. Not fair. Potentially not safe. Sure there are emergencies and weather issues that cause delays. But often being late is just a result of poor planning or vindictiveness.

7. I don’t like having to leave in the middle of things. Stop the tug-of-war over dividing the actual day if it is not easily divided or breaks into main-event activities. Instead of cutting the celebration short at the other parent’s house, celebrate the holiday before or after the calendar date. Your child does not mind having two celebrations. In addition, being considerate of your child’s time with the other parent gives you an opportunity to emphasize the spirit of the actual holiday – joy, thankfulness, generosity of spirit – that is being observed.

8. It’s not fair that you give me stuff then tell me I can only use it at your house. If it’s new, they want to wear it, use it, play with it and show it off. Having them take it off or leave it behind so that it “doesn’t get left” at the other parent’s is like taking the gift back. It’s either theirs or it isn’t. You refusing to allow them to take it with them (so they look forward to coming back? to ensure the other parent doesn’t benefit from it in any way?) is more about you than the child you gave the comes-with-strings-attached gift to.

9. Sometimes I’m super tired after leaving your house. But then, maybe that’s your intention? Do you want to start your own holiday visitation with a child who is so tired she’s dragging or crashes half-way through dinner, missing out on family festivities? Probably not. Don’t schedule so much while she is with you, or keep her up so late the night before the exchange, that she can’t enjoy the beginning of her visitation at the other household.

10. I don’t always want to talk to you when you call. He knows you love him. Calling him every day when he’s with the other parent or, worse, calling  multiple times a day, intrudes on the activities of the other household. Setting specific times for daily calls has everybody watching the clock instead of enjoying their time together. I’m not saying never call. I’m saying make it reasonable and recognize sometimes (often?) the call is more for your sake than the child’s.

While most of these points are true at any time, the holiday season often evokes feelings that heighten the usual sensitivities when having to co-parent children from two different households and, possibly, with someone you don’t like. When in doubt about any behavior or words you are contemplating with regard to holiday visitation, ask yourself the following questions: Which course of action benefits my child more? Which creates the best memory for him?

Allowing your children a conflict-free holiday season – one where they are free to love and celebrate at both households – is the best gift you can give them.



7 Common Mistakes Married Couples Make

7 Common Mistakes Married Coules MakeLittle changes can have big impact. Case in point: You write a lovely note to somebody you like and tell them how pretty they are. Except you accidentally leave out the ‘r’ in pretty. Such a little mistake. Such a big difference in how your letter is received! Here are some common mistakes that married couples make – and the little fixes that can have big impact!

1. Thinking fair means 50/50. Trying to divide household chores and obligations evenly often leads to scorekeeping, finger-pointing, and potential disharmony if one spouse feels they are doing more than their half of the duties. The Fix: Each spouse should do what they do best based on talents, opportunity, and ability. One spouse may be good at organizing meal plans and the other may be a better cook. You both may hate grocery shopping, but one has time off on a week day when it’s easier to get in and out of the store quickly. Avoid the temptation to mentally assign the little onerous tasks that don’t require specific skills – think taking trash out and emptying the dishwasher – to each other. Just do them as they come up.  While on any given day the chore split may end up something like 30/70, over the long run the division of labor will probably balance out.

2. Indulging your inner ostrich. Handing over the reins completely in any given area may be setting yourself up for problems. Often one spouse has the task of bill-paying, checkbook balancing, and other financial dealings because of talent, availability, or the other mate’s aversion to doing so. The result is one spouse is ignorant about what has to be done if the other one is ever out of commission for any reason. This same dynamic crops up in other household activities such as meal preparation, laundry, maintaining kid’s schedules, etc. The Fix: List the tasks that fall 100{2303b849a176fc4c55cbcb5b49f44c0b6a86ba83e746fb3d962701d1b8d54085} to each spouse. Once a month pick one from the list and do it together so that the partner less informed has a basic understanding of how it works. Once you have covered the list, start all over again so that every few months each mate is being exposed to the task they would have to suddenly take over in pinch.

3. Neglecting outside interests. It’s easy to get caught up in daily routines and ending up with a social life that revolves exclusively around each other. While couples absolutely should spend meaningful time together and engage in social activities they both enjoy, they shouldn’t be joined at the hip. No one person can be all things to another. Continuing individual growth and bringing that element to the relationship can enhance a marriage. The Fix: Set aside time as individuals to connect with old friends, take a class you’ve been wanting to take, or spend time on a hobby you enjoy. The key to a successful fix here is balance – don’t schedule so much you now have to set aside time to fit in your spouse!

4. Sharing TMI. Telling friends, family members or co-workers details about your marital tiffs or gripes may give you a much-needed momentary release, but have long-lasting effects.  Long after you have made up with your spouse, your confidant remembers the negatives. You may reasonably expect your buddy to keep mum about what you have shared, but you already know not all expectations are met, right? The Fix: Before you go venting elsewhere about the injustices in your marriage, ask yourself if it is a topic you can discuss with your spouse in a calm moment. If it truly isn’t, consider whether it is an issue that rises to the level of seeking some professional assistance from a counselor or your spiritual leader.

5. Reverse TMI. Couples should be able to talk about just about anything to each other. They should be each other’s safe place to fall. So, is it even possible to tell each other too much? Yes. If you are telling your mate about your day and his or her eyes glaze over, it may leave you feeling like they just don’t care. But it’s more likely a case of Irrelevant Information Overload. It’s not personal. The Fix: Unless it’s necessary to understand your point, leave out detailed descriptions, technical jargon they’re not familiar with, and too much talk about people they don’t know. We’re not talking about dumbing it down – we’re talking about speeding it up. Think about how long your own attention span is when listening to a fact-intensive narrative. Just because you sometimes wish your spouse would wrap up a story quicker doesn’t mean you love them less. Assume your mate feels the same.

6. Missing bedtime connections. Pillow talk is what evolves spontaneously when you’re both laying in bed, snuggled in, maybe with the lights out, sometimes almost asleep. A thought passes through your head that you wouldn’t get up and walk down the hall to tell the other, but the moment is shared because the other is a breath away. It is an intimacy we can’t recreate on our feet, in the living room, in the light of day. Sometimes conflicting work schedules, children’s needs or health issues keep us from going to bed at the same time. But often it’s a TV show, a video game or a Facebook chat that costs us that precious exchange. The Fix: If getting on the same nightly schedule is not practical or possible, be intentional about committing to how ever many nights during the week you can make that happen. Even one is better than none. But two is better than one. And so on. Make it happen – because you can’t get those nights back.

7. Embracing the “little white lie.” It’s not OK to lie about the “little stuff.” Shaving $20 off the price when asked about the cost, saying you mailed the bill you know is still sitting on the car seat, claiming to work late so you don’t have to deal with a visiting relative. The boundaries of what is “little” expand and blur over time. And, like anything else we practice diligently, lying gets easier the more we do it. This insidious tendency needs to be nipped in the bud before it blooms. The Fix: Ahhh, this one’s the easiest. Just don’t do it.


Introverted, But Not Shy: Does Your Mate Need Space?

Destruction That’s Good For Your Marriage

Is Snooping on Your Spouse OK?

Deadhead Your Marriage

 Current post is linked to MessyMarriage site


Getting Reel About Marriage

Get Reel About MarriageWatch a movie, save a marriage? Maybe.

According to the results of a recent study from the University of Rochester,  watching and discussing movies about relationships with your spouse is as effective in lowering divorce rates as more intensive marriage counseling programs.

While the study was done with couples married 1-3 years – one of the most vulnerable-to-divorce time periods – the study authors surmise it would be just as helpful to couples who have been married longer because some of the study participants had been together for significant lengths of time.

In the study, three forms of conflict management were compared. The first two more traditional models required substantial time investments and therapist participation throughout. The third, “Relationship Awareness Through Film,” included only about 10 minutes of lecture, a movie and discussion, minimal interaction with a therapist, and a homework assignment for spouses to watch a relationship movie once a week for four weeks and to discuss each movie after viewing using a provided discussion guide.

A diverse movie list was provided with 47 options to choose from. Comedies, dramas, classic and contemporary selections – From Funny Girl to Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner? – something for everyone! The one thing they all had in common was a focus on relationships.

The couples who chose that more portable self-help conflict management route had the same decline in divorce rates after three years as couples who participated in the two more traditional therapy methods.

Associate professor and lead author of the study, Ronald Rogge,offers this explanation for the phenomena: “The results suggest that husbands and wives have a pretty good sense of what they might be doing right and wrong in their relationships. Thus, you might not need to teach them a whole lot of skills to cut the divorce rate. You might just need to get them to think about how they are currently behaving.”

When it comes to keeping your marriage on track, you or your spouse may not have the time, inclination or funds for traditional therapy. But who can’t squeeze in a movie and a chat?

NOTE: Dr. Rogge has a website that has interactive tools to try the film-related relationship awareness program with or without participating in the actual study. The site also includes an expanded movie selection list with accompanying discussion questions. Click HERE to check it out.

5 Ways to Help Your Child Through Divorce

5 Ways to Help Your Child Through DivorceDivorce affects children in a myriad of ways. Just because they don’t seem depressed or their grades don’t crash doesn’t mean they are unscathed by what is going on around them. As a matter of fact, more than one psychologist I consulted with when representing children (whose parents are going through  divorce) has told me that grades going up during this time can actually be a red flag – it could indicate an increased focus on one small section of the child’s world that he can control when there is so much chaos in his environment.

Divorce for adults can be difficult, painful, and confusing. For children, we have all that plus a lack of understanding regarding the reasons or need for divorce and a lesser ability to process life events.There’s not an easy way to get everybody through it. But there are some things you can do to help make it less difficult for your child. Here are five.

1. Let teachers and child care workers know about your family situation. They spend a significant amount of the day with your child and  might pick up on behavioral changes in their environments that they could alert you to. It also allows them to understand changes in your child’s attitude or demeanor which might otherwise be attributed to willful misbehavior.

2. Explore support groups. While counseling can be helpful and sometimes necessary for children, support groups serve a different purpose. There are many good programs available that help children transition through divorce by participating in groups with other children their age that are experiencing the same thing. This is not a therapeutic relationship with a counselor. It is an opportunity for children to see they are not the only ones dealing with this, it is not their fault, and to participate in exercises that educate them about how to deal with some of the emotions they are dealing with. Calm Waters, one such program in Oklahoma City, offers such a program with separate sessions available for the parents at the same time to receive information about the topic being covered in the children’s session. You can find such programs in your own area by asking school counselors, your attorney, or court staff for recommendations.

3. Talk to a children’s counselor yourself. Make an appointment to sit down with a good children’s counselor to get advice. They can educate you on norms and behaviors that may manifest themselves for children of different ages as well as make suggestions for ways to share age-appropriate information about the process. They can also make recommendations for activities and reading materials that may be helpful to your children.

4. Don’t talk negatively about the other parent. The children are dealing with enough negative changes they don’t need negative words, feelings and attitudes heaped upon them, too. If you have it in you, you might take this one step further and go out of your way to be positive about the other parent and the child’s relationship with that parent.

5. Don’t expose them to romantic relationships. No matter how long you have been separated from the other parent or how convinced you are the current flame will be your future spouse. Allow them time to process the changes going on in their own family before foisting new ‘family’ upon them. There are so many negatives that can come from such exposure – confusion, anger, blame, lack of trust, aligning themselves with the non-dating parent – that when to introduce such a person to the children may be one of the topics you want to discuss at your meeting with the children’s counselor.

Related article you might find helpful: Divorce Through a Child’s EyesChildren and Divorce: 5 Things Parents Should Never Say


The Day of Divorce: How to Prepare

The Day of Divorce: How to Be PreparedFor some, the party is already planned for the night the divorce will be granted. But for many, no matter how much they wanted or didn’t want to be divorced, the actual day the marriage is legally severed is a tough one. It’s not only the official end of the marriage, it is also the official end of what dreams, expectations, and hopes were attached to marriage itself.

If there has been a lot of time and energy focused on the process of getting divorced, there can be an unexpected feeling of emptiness following the finality of the process. Even if you were fortunate enough to make it through the process without drama or a trial, having to say you are in court to get a divorce and hearing the judge announce that you are now divorced might bring on sadness or unexpected depression. I can’t tell you how many clients have turned to me at that point and asked: “Is that it? It’s over?”

Preparing ahead probably won’t make a bad day good, but it can make a bad day less bad. And that may be just the assistance you need to do to get on the other side of it without being totally overwhelmed. Here are six things you can do to prepare yourself for the actual day the divorce is granted.

1. Ask your attorney to explain the proceeding to you – even if it is a ‘simple hearing’ as opposed to a trial. What will it look like ? Will I be standing or sitting? Will I have to speak to the judge? How long will it take? Will anybody else be present? Attorneys do this all the time and sometimes they forget that what is routine for them is your first time experiencing it. No question is too silly. Have a clear picture of what you’re walking in to, how long it will take, and what is expected of you during the hearing.

2. Have a plan for what you will do after the hearing. Maybe you have a friend with a positive attitude that you can meet for dinner. Or some pals that you can do something with that requires focus – such as roller skating, bowling, or one of those group painting classes (with or without wine!). Or take the kids to one of those 3D theater cartoons and dodge the animated missiles with them.

3. Whether or not you have been journaling through the process, have a notebook or journal available to capture what the day was like for you – what feelings cropped up. Often the act of expressing those feelings in writing is very helpful for processing. It also gives you something to review in the future – because there will be a day when you look back at this day with the ability to appreciate the evolution and growth you have accomplished since. I promise.

4. Have realistic expectations. Know that it is normal to experience conflicting or painful emotions – even if you wanted the divorce, have accepted it is for the best, or thought you had already gone through this stage. There’s a reason it’s referred to as a “process.”

5. If you need to focus on future events, make a list and name it. 10 Benefits of Being Divorced. 5 Positive Changes I Will Make in the Upcoming Year. Friends I Would Like to Reconnect With. Documents That Need to be Updated. Recipes I Will Try in the Next Month. You get the idea – focus on something that is within your control, attainable, and enjoyable.

6. Plan ahead to be very, very kind to yourself. Make sure your favorite comfy clothes are clean. Have a splurge version of your favorite beverage on hand. And tape ahead that guilty-pleasure TV show so you can watch several episodes back-to-back if you are so inclined.

For many, no amount of planning ahead will make the day of divorce a good day. But some good planning can make a tough day less difficult – a day that possibly some good can come out of.




Laugh Your Way to a Longer Marriage

Laugh Your Way to a Longer MarriageLaugh, and the world laughs with you. More importantly, your spouse laughs with you. Just the words giggle, chuckle and chortle probably make you smile. Take it bigger with mirthful glee or bubbling laughter. Or over the top with a loud guffaw. Whether small, medium or large, laughter is good stuff!

Making your spouse laugh on a daily basis will not only add some fun to your marriage, it may make it last longer! Numerous studies show health benefits – both mental and physical – that result from laughing. Here are just few of the things that some hearty laughter can do for you:

  • Decrease stress
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Burns calories
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Increases blood flow
  • Protects the heart
  • Improves alertness
  • Relaxes your muscles
  • Decreases pain
  • Eases fear and anxiety
  • Improves memory
  • Strengthens relationships
  • Promotes bonding
  • Contributes to better sleep
  • Produces a general sense of well-being

BONUS: Laughter triggers the release of endorphins in your body. You know what that means? It FEELS good!

So get silly, watch a funny movie, text a joke, cut out a comic, or just tickle them until they beg for mercy – do what it takes to get  your mate laughing. Join in the merriment and laugh your way to a healthier, longer marriage!

Laugh Your Way to a Longer Marriage

Tip: If you need help acquiring the skill of laughing more often (yes, it can be learned) tune in to any morning radio show that has more than one host!