Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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On Healing

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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Making Room in Your Family

Earlier this fall I was asked to share some practices and habits our family does that help to make room for relationships. So much of family life is dictated by events and schedules that we often miss out on relationship building with our spouse or kids. Here are a few of the ideas I shared. Disclaimer: by no means does my family have it figured out, rather we are figuring it out as we go. Our kids are all under 12, so I expect these ideas to expand/evolve as our kids grow up.

We think of making room in our family in two sections: Work/school week, and weekend.

During the school week we attempt to eat together as a family as often as possible. We don’t allow technology or other distractions (books, TV, toys, iPods, phones, etc) to be at the table and we try to have conversations about our day. It usually begins with discussing our high and lows. It almost always includes at least one of our four kids trying to sabotage our efforts. I did the same thing as a kid, so I can’t blame them. Conversations are “boring,” as my kids put it.

We, my wife and I, limit our personal technology use. We try not to use technology (tv, phones, etc) while the kids are awake during the “school nights.” It’s really easy to want to come home, turn on the TV and check-out. The “screen” has become the biggest influencers of relationships.

For the kids, there is no tv, no video games, or other technology use on school nights. This helps the kids to focus on the homework but also allows for us as parents to play or relate to them in whatever it is they have going on.

On the weekend:

We don’t police tech use on Saturday. It’s the day to play video games, watch a cartoon in the morning, and let the kids be kids in this modern day and age. Surprisingly, whenever we ask the kids to turn their iPods off on the weekend, they rarely complain. They intuitively know that too much technology is not a good thing.

We have made Sunday until Noon our time of rest. We generally stay in bed and have all the kids with us after they wake up until breakfast. We lounge around together in our pj’s, reading, playing board games, legos, or something else that is open for everyone (Our kids range from 3-11 with one girl and 3 boys).

Sunday mornings are the few hours of the week that Stephanie and I feel the most present and available with our kids. It’s my favorite time of our week because there are no agendas, the kids know we’re not doing anything outside of being together as a family.

Lastly, one of our favorite practices together is sitting by a fire. We have the benefit of a big backyard that allows us to build a great campfire. Usually 2-3 times a month during the spring and fall we are outside sitting around the fire together. It is probably the single most influential relational time that we have together as a family. The fire sparks so many conversations and openness between all of us. The fire is one of those things that unites people. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case, but it slows us all down.

The main idea we have come up with for our family is the limiting of technology. There are very few places we humans can go where technology is not surrounding us. If you as a parent don’t do anything else with you kids but eat dinner together, and limit their technology use, you’ll be in rare company.

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Stop Trying to be Normal

There is no great genius without some touch of madness. ~ Seneca

The more normal you try to be (or the more like others you try to parrot) the less of you we will see. The move away from genius leads to people wanting to be normal, to not have to risk their necks with some dream, idea, or stroke of genius.

Normal is depressing. Normal is just plain vanilla, no toppings. Normal is the path of no resistance. Not least resistance, no resistance. Normal is normal, and more and more people are looking for the supposed feel-good nature of being normal. Let others define what normal is, then jump on the bandwagon to feel accepted, part of the team. But you’re not accepted or connected. You’re a drone that parrots what you think others want to hear, what you think others value as popular or normal.

The problem is, normal doesn’t feel good for long. It’s cheap. Like plastic forks. Good for the occasional use, but rely on it for too long and it’ll break. It’ll let you down. And then you’ll try another version of normal. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Trying to be normal is really about a misguided search for meaning. For purpose. For life.

Normal is death. It’s death to the soul. To the creative part of you that only you know, that only you see, and that only you choose to hide or show. Trying to be normal is self-rejection. It’s death.

It’s crazy to enter into and commit oneself to another person for life… It’s even crazier to become parents. Yet we put aside stats, conventional wisdom, and follow our hearts into some of the scariest, most dangerous, and land-mine-filled area called marriage. Over 50% of marriages fail today. Yet people still get married. Why? Because they’re in love. Because their heart believes that they cannot go on without the other person. That, my friends, is madness. Ignoring logic and going with you’re heart is madness.

And it’s genius. Pure creative genius. Picasso wasn’t a genius because of what he painted, he was a genius for when and how he painted.

The same is true for you. You’re not a genius for what idea you come up with, or what decision you make. You’re a genius for taking the risk to fulfill your dream. In putting your neck on the line and risk being called a fool. And trust me, those who will call you a fool are envious, because they’re normal and you’re not.

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Growing Up in Marriage

Author and speaker David Erickson recently said, “There is a child in me always seeking to destroy the man that I am.” As I sat with Josh and Katy a couple of weeks ago, I remembered what David said because it fit Josh and Katy perfectly. They had only been married a little over a year, but by the way they were treating each other one would have thought they were mortal enemies.

Just before their current argument escalated to war-like proportions in my office, I stopped them and spoke David’s words to them.”Josh and Katy,” I said. “There is a child inside both of you that is destroying this marriage.”

It’s easy to shame someone, especially when speaking about another’s immaturity or childishness, but my words to them were not about shame, they were about truth. Josh and Katy were both acting like four-year-olds who didn’t get a candy bar at the grocery store.

They were blaming each other for their unhappiness, and both were sounding like a whiny kid. They agreed with my observation and then chose to behave as adults for the remainder of the session. It was productive only because of this choice.

I recently wrote about approaching your marriage as though it is the first child. Taking this approach requires nurturing, patience, and tenderness. I want to piggyback on this idea and speak to the challenging side of seeing your marriage as a child. Children need to be taught, grown up, and loved well so that they don’t get their way. Dan Allender says that children are always asking two questions: “Am I loved, and can I get my own way?” Love means we sometimes say no, that we do what’s hard, not what’s easy. Ultimately, love will result in the greatest opportunity for growth. This is the challenge for marriages: To love the boy/girl inside each other so that the man/woman can be grown up and flourish.

Josh and Katy’s relationship is alarming to me because they are a microcosm of a larger problem for the newly married. The overarching theme I continually see in my work as a marriage counselor is couples’ inability, or outright refusal, to empathically view their spouses problems, hurts, and desires. In simple terms, this inability or refusal is childlike behavior. Adults do what is hard, children do what is easy.

I recently heard a comedian talk about the current generation of teenagers only knowing relationships through Facebook, texting, and twitter. He said, and I tend to agree, that these digital methods of relationship building are preventing empathy from being developed because there is no human face to engage. When we hurt someone, their face and body tell us before their words do. This creates challenging feelings for the person who offended their friend. These challenging feelings are what birth empathy.

Children are too consumed with their own wellbeing to want to spend much of their own energy on others. Just ask a 3 year old to share his toys with a friend … it’s not going to happen. That same 3 year old resides in each of us as adults. We are continually faced with the decision to let that inner 3 year old go on a rampage in our lives. When we do, the results are disastrous.

Our spouses need us to be adults, just as much as we need them to be adults. When we behave like children we cheat, lie, steal, call each other names, and ultimately live life for ourselves. This is the reason so many marriages are failing today. We fail to grow up and be mature adults. I want you, the reader, to consider what needs to be matured in your life. What is the child inside you doing that is threatening the marriage you want to build?

– See more at: http://www.startmarriageright.com/2013/11/growing-up-in-marriage/#sthash.E0FGnsqE.dpuf

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Celebrating the Big Days

A few months ago I was with my family eating at Chick-Fil-A and I noticed an advertisement next to the counter. It said, “Make your reservations today to spend Valentines with your Love here at Chick-Fil-A. We will be serving a candlelit dinner for 2 from 5:00-9:00pm.”

As we were leaving, I showed Stephanie, my wife, the ad, and half-jokingly told her that I’d made reservations for the two of us. She shot me a look that very clearly said: “Don’t bring me here for Valentine’s Day.” Yes, I was half-kidding, but I was also half-serious. Thankfully, I listened and we celebrated elsewhere.

Birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day are all jam packed with hopes and expectations. It’s really no surprise that Stephanie and I have had our most difficult fights surrounding these big days.

The distance between expectation and reality is the feeling of disappointment, hurt, and anger (unless, of course, the expectations are exceeded). As one who has failed mightily, the overarching advice for these days: Do not just go through the motions. These special days are far too valuable to be wasted by a half-hearted approach at celebration.

Birthdays
This day might be complicated for you or your spouse. Because birthdays are celebrated, or not, uniquely in different cultures, you or your spouse might have to have some big changes to the way you celebrate each other. In advance of a birthday, spend some time together talking about past birthdays. Ask questions like:

  • What was your favorite, and/or the most forgettable birthday in your life?
  • What was the most cherished gift you received?
  • Do you like surprises (parties, gifts, trips, etc)?
  • How best can I celebrate you on this one day of the year?

A friend of mine was thrown a surprise birthday by his wife over 15 years ago. He does not (and did not) like surprises. Today, they both still talk about this birthday as one of the low points in their relationship. Unfortunately as is the case with most of life, you will learn about how to celebrate your spouse by failing more so than you will by doing it right.

Valentine’s Day
Let me speak from a males perspective for a moment. Most men that I know do not particularly care for this day. This isn’t to say that all men don’t like it, but most do not. I think the reason is that there is a huge cultural expectation for this day to be the affirmation of a couple’s love for one another. It’s been marketed as a holiday that is focused on getting a gift for the woman in your life.

I have often heard from men that they don’t want a holiday to be what defines their love for their spouse. Some of this is because we men are arrogant and selfish. My advice to men is to think outside of the box on Valentine’s Day. Don’t just get her chocolates, cut flowers, or a balloon. Find a way to make this day special and uniquely centered around the love in your relationship. One of our favorite Valentine’s Days was when we went to a park, cooked our dinner together, and then had a “drive-in” movie in the back of our SUV (we watched a movie on a laptop).

Neither one of us remember the Valentine’s Dates when it was just about a gift, dinner, or just going through the motions.

Anniversaries
The great thing about Anniversaries is the two of you will create this day together. There is usually little personal history around this day for husband and wife, which makes creating a celebration a little less complicated than other special days. Similar to the questions in the birthday section, consider engaging ahead of time about what you want this day to look like together.

Thankfully, as I see it, redemption is only one year away. These special days come around every year, which means that if something goes awry this year, you get a chance at redemption the next year. The key to making these days special is to be intentional, plan ahead, and be creative. Do those three things and your spouse will feel loved and celebrated.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Three Ways to Grow Trust and Deepen Intimacy

There’s a simple formula that I use with clients in my counseling practice: Get you, be you, give you. This is the life process of maturing, and is a helpful mantra to live by. The problems occur when we try and do this formula in reverse, because one can’t give what one doesn’t have. We first must learn who we are before we can give.

This truth applies to marriages as well: We must first understand us (get me), then we can be us (be me), finally we can give (give us). The marriage is a combination of two uniquely individual people, and it is hard work to develop trust and intimacy. Relationships will not survive without trust and intimacy. Couples may stay together for the rest of their lives because of the commitment, but may never experience the redemption of trust and intimacy. With this in mind, here are three avenues that will grow trust and deepen intimacy in your relationship.

Date Night (Get Us)

Dates are one of the best ways that couples can engage to learn about themselves and each other. Anecdotally, one of the great regrets that I have about our newlywed years (first 3-4 years of marriage) is that we got sidetracked from dating one another. Our rationale (which was probably more of mine than hers) was that we were now spending so much more time together than we did when we were dating and engaged. This was both true and false.

It is true that the newlywed couple spends more time together, but often the quality of time spent is not as it was dating. It’s why I often hear spouses lament about the wish to return to the dating years. Having a regular and consistent date night can alleviate this dilemma. Date your wife. Ask her questions on the date to help you get to know her better. Questions like:

  • What can I do to make you feel more loved; valued; joyful; secure; and/or confident in the future? What character trait would you like for me to develop?
  • What attribute would you like for me to help you develop?
  • What goal would you like us to work towards together?
  • What would indicate to you that I really desire to grow?
  • How have you felt the most/least loved by me?

Find A New Community (Be Us)

Before getting married, most couples have already been living in a town/city and will return there after the wedding. It presents some unique challenges to transition from a single to married lifestyle. New habits and routines will change the way some old relationships function. This can be a frustration for newlyweds. Pressure to maintain old relationships out of loyalty can stress the building of the marriage relationship.

Finding a new community brings several benefits. For one, it offers both husband and wife the ability to be apart of the community building experience. Both spouses get a voice that will help to shape who and where the couple will spend their time.

Secondly, new relationships will usually result in new personal information. Longstanding relationships have built-in assumptions. Because familiarity is so normal, new data about a person doesn’t happen as frequently. By initiating new relationships, couples will have chances to hear and learn more about each other.

Lastly, new communities bring new opportunities. Charlie Jones said “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet.” Growth doesn’t happen by staying still. Read new books, and meet new people, together.

Find Service Opportunities (Give Us)

Finding and new community along with consistent date nights will give you and your husband a great groundwork from which to give. Giving will bring new levels of joy and intimacy to your relationship. You’ll rarely get to see the side of your spouse as you will when you serve together. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but it is. There is something about giving that brings out both our darkness and brightness. Ultimately, we cannot truly love someone until we have seen both.

This can take many different directions. You could serve at your church in the nursery, at the local soup kitchen, or in your neighbors yard. It also looks like parenting. Serving now before you have kids will be a great exercise in training. Having kids is the ultimate act of service, and is not natural in us.

In year four of our marriage, my wife and I began relationships with other pre-married couples who were close to getting married. We built relationships with them so that they’d have someone a few steps down the road from them giving guidance.

These are just a few examples of what can lead to growth and intimacy in marriage. If you will commit to accomplishing each of these in the next year, you and your marriage will grow. It might not take the path of growth you thought it would, but it will grow.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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A Father’s Redemption

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I was invited to be a guest speaker at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ this past Sunday on Father’s Day. I’ve spoken in many venues before, but it was a first for me to give the sermon in a church. I’m grateful for the opportunity and blessing of being able to share from my experience as a son and a dad to help cast a vision for father’s as they navigate the difficult waters of fatherhood.

There is a relational disconnect between a father and his children. For various reasons, this disconnect creates disharmony and obstacles as the children grow up to become adults. There are three roles that we as dad’s can play in our kids’ lives to not only raise them into adulthood, but also to ease the relational disconnect that exists. You can listen to the message here:

Click Here to Listen (35 minutes in length)

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It IS a Big Deal

A few weeks ago a friend asked me for a favor. He needed help sorting through some technology issues with his phone and computer. My first career, and current hobby, was in technology so it came as no surprise that he’d asked for my help. After I’d finished the project with him, he said thank you and for the third time in that setting apologized for inconveniencing me. “Don’t be sorry, it was no trouble at all,” was my response.

I was a bit surprised by how quickly these words came out of my mouth. One of my pet peeves is when people apologize for things that need no apology. It wasn’t true. I’d taken time out of my day to help him with an issue that didn’t concern me. The truth was, it was an inconvenience. But it was an inconvenience that I was willing to give because I care about my friend. I wanted to serve him and our friendship.

After realizing this wasn’t the truth, which wasn’t more than a couple of seconds later, I corrected myself.

“Actually,” I said, “it was an inconvenience.” I paused to let those words linger for a moment and continued. “Saying otherwise isn’t truth, nor is it honoring to you and our friendship for me to pretend it wasn’t a big deal. Me giving you some of me, my time and energy, is one way I’m able to show you that I value our friendship.”

This led to a different conversation about self-worth, value, and why it’s difficult to accept love/care from others. It was a conversation that never would have occurred had we both remained nice towards each other.

Our conversation highlights a challenge in relationships: telling the truth about the minor things in life is hard. “It’s no big deal…” is such a simple, polite, and well meaning statement that all of us have made to another person. Too often saying something isn’t a big deal sabotages giving the gift of love and acceptance.

Telling someone “you’re not bothering me,” or “It’s no trouble at all” communicates that the request they are making is easy for you to accomplish. Spoken in regards to a task or to-do list, perhaps “no trouble at all” has some truth to it (especially if the request of you is something you’re gifted at doing). The limitation of this statement is that we deny showing the other person their importance in our lives.

We’re selfish people by nature. We want what we want, when we want it. As we mature, it takes discipline and proaction to act contrary to this natural tendency. So when someone asks something of us, we have to sacrifice our selfish desires for the benefit of the other—this is love. It may be minor in the sacrifice, such as helping a friend with a technology problem, but it is still a sacrifice. In order for trust and relationships to grow, we need to know that someone is willing to sacrifice themselves on our behalf. Without this understanding and experience, and we’re left to wonder if the other really sacrifices anything for us.

Letting someone know that we’re willingly choosing to sacrifice, be inconvenienced, and not passively hold it over their heads deepens relational intimacy. Little things piled together makes a big thing. Be proactive in your relationship to intentionally build a big thing of trust by making mention of the little things.

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Peace

This season is so full.

Holiday parties, shopping, Christmas cards, kids activities all dot the calendar landscape. It’s only 30 days or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it might as well be one week. It sure feels that way.

Too much the antithesis of what I want this season to be about, though I realize I’ve dug my own hole and booked myself and family too much. Each year I anticipate the peace that the Christmas season promises, and each year am saddened with how busy it becomes.

It’s loud. Too loud. People shouting, shoving, and posturing on Black Friday. Others leaving notes on cars because they weren’t parked “correctly” in the mall parking lot. So much of the busyness is self-inflicted … and yet I wonder if this is an age-old dilemma.

I wonder if the fullness of the “holidays” are akin to what God-fearing people felt as they waited and anticipated the coming of Christ. Perhaps they too felt full and maxed out. They needed the Savior to come and relieve the tension, anxiety, and worry. To save them from themselves. To save them from trying to buy happiness, contentment, or fairness. They needed Christ in the same way we do.

Maybe that’s why Christmas day is about the only day of the year when many of us stop our normal comings and goings and accept peace. Accept the truth that we don’t have what it takes, but someone does and he came. For us.

I’m glad He came.

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The 15-Minute Date

(Authors note: This article was originally published in September 2012 at StartMarriageRight.com)

Most couples that I see for counseling have not consistently dated in years. It’s an odd phenomenon that usually happens after the wedding; couples stop dating. The most common reasons I hear and see have to do with the physical proximity of living together, having a difficult time transitioning past the “I got what I wanted, so why pursue” mentality, and lastly the change in priorities after marriage. Regardless of the reason, stopping activities that built the relationship will result in a loss of relationship.

In Western culture, couples don’t end up on the marriage alter without having spent some amount of time getting to know each other. There is usually a progression of attraction, pursuit and acceptance that leads to couples spending time together playing, eating, laughing and living life. These are the experiences that lead to connection which develops into trust and intimacy.

It comes as no surprise to hear a couple in distress mention they haven’t been on a date in many months, perhaps even years. It’s not that distress will be avoided by dating after marriage but the likelihood is reduced.

Some of the most fulfilled marriages I know today are where they are because the couple has made spending intentional time together (dating) a top priority.”

These couples spend time together, away from the normalcy of life, to rest, play and connect.

I’ve seen plenty of couples who’ve lived on both sides of the dating-after-marriage fence. In my own story, once we married I felt like every night was a date, as it was just the two of us at home alone. Why go on dates when we’re essentially doing the same thing at home? The other justification, or excuse, I used was that I had no idea how to be her husband. It was a bit of a personal crisis. I knew what the books and experts said about being a husband, but early on living into that role felt impossible. Prior to marriage, our entire relationship had been about spending as much time with each other as possible. Then we planned a wedding. We hadn’t really spent much time engaging and mapping out what we wanted life to look like after we’d married.

So much planning and work goes into the wedding celebration and honeymoon that couples often return home to the surprise of newly formed roles. They’re no longer living in a “me” or “my” world, but rather in a “us” and “our” world. This is a shock to our natural “me first” belief system.

When couples explain to me that they don’t date, part of their marriage therapy (therapy is rehabilitating something strained, broken or misaligned) is re-learning the process of dating. One of the first tools I use to help them re-learn dating is The 15-Minute Date. It’s a simple yet difficult task where each person gets the opportunity to speak and listen, in alternating roles.

There are two things to note here. First, on average, men typically speak about 10,000 words per day whereas women speak around 25,000. That’s a significant difference. Secondly, and this is more behavioral than gender focused, what I’ve found with most couples is a tendency for one person to be more pursuant than the other. This isn’t always the one who talks more, rather it’s the one who pursues connections in the relationship. The 15-minute date helps to eliminate the spoken-word gap that exists in the gender differences. It also brings equality to the pursuer/pursued dynamic.

How does the 15-minute date work?
Each evening of the work-week, I ask couples to set aside 15 minutes for a date. This needs to be done in a setting that is uninterrupted, especially for those couples with kids. The couple is to choose one person who will speak first, and this is rotated the following evening (allowing both equal opportunities to speak first).

The first person is to speak for 7 and a half minutes about whatever it is they would like to speak about. The other person is to remain silent for the entire time, practicing active listening. The speaker must use first person language (I, me, my), to avoid attacking or jabs at the spouse, and they must do their best to use the entire time to speak

Once the 7 and a half minutes are up, the roles reverse to complete the 15 minutes. The second person is allowed to respond to the first person if he/she wishes, but must use first person language. For example, if the first talker says something to the effect of, “I felt hurt this morning after breakfast because I had to do the dishes on my own.” The second speaker could respond to this, but only with “I” statements (try not to use you, your, or 2nd person language). Using second person language will be felt as an attack to the other person, regardless of intent. These 15 minutes are not for stirring up fights, but to give each person equal time to talk and listen to the other person.

The goal of this date is two fold.
Firstly, it promotes initiative for the speaker and active listening for the listener. These are both vital components of relationships that do not normally develop without intention. It’s amazing how difficult it is to be an active participant in a conversation when the conversation isn’t about you and your thoughts. This is why active listening is a learned concept; it doesn’t come naturally to us.

Active listening means that we suspend our judgements, counter-arguments, attacks, defenses and active thought responses so as to hear, to listen to what the other person is saying.”

Listening means that we don’t assume or “hear what we want to hear” but that we listen to the whole of the other.

Secondly, the 15-minute date promotes honesty and forthright communication. This is by far the most disruptive missing ingredient to relationships in distress. When truth is not being spoken (by truth I am referring to beliefs, opinions, thoughts, insights about me, feelings or actions), there is no grounds for connection or vulnerabilities. In taking 7 1/2 minutes, the speaker is having time to illuminate ideas, thoughts, feelings or anything else that has happened during the day or week they want to talk about. It’s an incredibly selfish act to only talk about me if there is no room for the other person to do the same, which is why taking turns and limiting it to equal time prevents this from focusing on one person.

This activity is simple in it’s concept but takes a lot of time and hard work to master. After the wedding day, it becomes an easy pattern to assume things about the other person. These 15 minutes a day could very well be the difference between a love-filled lifetime relationship and one that ends much like the majority of marriages.