Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

By

Anne Lamott on Brian Williams and scapegoats

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, recently posted some thoughts (originally posted here) about Brian Williams (NBC Nightly News anchor) and our common humanity. This is worth reading, even if you don’t have a clue what’s happening with Mr. Williams. My favorite line encompasses something most of us are afraid of doing: “Let’s be human together.”

 

Brian Williams is our new Old Testament goat. It’s like being the new It Girl, although of course, not quite as festive. And I’m caught up in it, too. It’s hard to turn away, and a part of me, the dark part of me with bad self esteem, is cheered. The handsomest, richest, most perfect guy turned out to have truthiness issues; and it was good.

He’s our sin offering. Wow, how often do I get to type those words? Not nearly often enough! It’s exhilarating. It’s Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery.” Each worsening detail is like a self-esteem ATM.

I’m watching talking heads on the biggest news stations come down on him, and I know some of these most famous men to have been unfaithful, and worse–way worse, with children. They’re in the delicious throes of schadenfreude, which part of me is, too. The sweeter part of me, the child, the girl in her little blue kilt, the mom, the nana, the black-belt co-dependent, wants to shake her fist at the bullies. Who here doesn’t lie, emebellish, exaggerate? (I’m reminded of the old joke about Jesus telling the crowd who is stoning the adulteress, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Suddenly a woman throws a rock at the adulturess. Jesus looks up, and says, “Oh for Pete’s sake, Mother.”)

No one, not one single person, has stood up for him. I would, but I’m a lying liar, too–well, maybe not as egregious as Brian Williams. I don’t tell people “I looked down the tube of an RPG”. Well, maybe that one time I did. But that was just so people would like me more.

I would stand with Mr. Williams, because he’s family. There’s a scene in Small Victories where I was giving a writing workshop to the prisoners in San Quentin, with my friend Neshama, and she told them. “I’m human. You’re human. Let’s be in our humanness together for a little while.” So yes, I stand with him.

But my solidarity wouldn’t mean all that much. My son rolls his eyes sometimes at family gatherings, because the story I’ve just told has changed from its last telling. But then again, so has his.

The sober people I know began sobriety by minimizing how bad their drinking and drug use was; by the end of the first year, they’re copping to the most graphic, disgusting behavior you can imagine. This was definitely my case; I started out mentioning that maybe I had a few too many a couple times a week, to the truth, which was that I was insane, trying to buy opiates, guys, the random RPG.

(Of course, Brian Williams did not do nearly as socially repellant things as my addict brothers and sisters did. In our defense, though, we rarely said we had been struck by RPG’s. So it’s sort of a wash.)

The truth eventually set me free. It’s the “eventually” that gets ya. But it did. I hurt a lot of people, mostly other women, but with a lot of help and solidarity, I told my truth, and there was great healing, for them and me; and what I did still sucked. Sometimes, they still do.

Take, for instance, the words for which I am probably most semi-famous, besides “shitty first drafts” and that my bad thoughts make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish. The words were not even mine: it was my wild Jesuit friend Tom Weston’s word who actually said that you can tell you’ve created God in your own image when He hates the same people you do. Father Tom said it in a lecture 23 years ago, at a small gathering. The first few times I quoted it–probably at Salon, and possibly in Bird by Bird–I attributed it to him. Then the next few times, I didn’t. I just shoe-horned it into conversation, as if I’d just thought of it that minute; brilliant daring me

And not exactly “conversation.” More like, “While being interviewed.”

Then, it got picked up, and it was everywhere, and I started trying to correct the lie–at a big public level. In print, and on Kurt Andersen’s gigantic show, Studio 360 on WNYC, New York City’s NPR. It was the childhood dream of going to school naked. But I did it.

The line is frequently quoted, as mine. It’s a great line; it says it all. But I’m sick of cringing and saying I borrowed it. Okay–stole it. Fine.

Me, and one of our greatest historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin, right? Do we say, as people are saying now about Mr Williams, “Well, we wouldn’t be able to trust Goodwin after she plagarized.” No. We absolutely trust her. We decided to. She earned our trust back.

The point is, we are gigantically flawed. Oh, my God, such screw-ups. We can be such total asshats. And if you’re in the public eye, like Brian Williams, or in the public baby toe, like me, it goes viral.

We do the best we can. Sigh. Some days go better than others. We get to start our new 24 hours every time we remember. I’m also remembering the old wisdom story about the elder who tells a young girl that inside him, inside all humans, are two dogs, a good dog and an aggressive dog. They’re always at war. The girl asks him which dog usually wins. He thinks about it, and says, “The one I feed the most.” So I am going to feed my kinder side, forgive and trust Brian Williams, me, and, sight unseen, you. His story will to play out however it does, almost entirely based on NBC’s financial considerations. In the meantime, we can wish him and his family well.

 

By

Relationships Need an Enemy

Most couples come into my office lacking a recognizable enemy they fight together. So instead, they fight each other. We often begin our intimate relationships based on infatuation, attraction, and fairy-tale dreams. Rarely do I interact with a couple that began their relationship because two people came together to fight something they couldn’t do on their own.

We all need an enemy. Not just for our personal lives, but for our relationships, too. When we get hurt and we don’t have an enemy, we often attack the closest person to us: Our spouse. We do this because they get in the way of our lives.They mess up our routines. They disrupt our creature comforts. They put the toilet paper on the wrong way. They don’t do hundreds of things different than we do that we didn’t even know was a personal preference.

These differences become something we hate if we have no other purpose in our life than keeping our lives comfortable and manageable.

It’s the age-old question: If you knew certain death was to hit your entire family in one week, how would you interact with your spouse? I’m willing to bet lots of bananas that you’d change the way you treat your wife, or husband.

The threat of death (the enemy) would become the common focal point for the two of you. You’d want to end your days smiling at each other, not with one of you sleeping on the couch because you got in a fight for reasons neither of you can remember.

If you do not have a common enemy, you will illegitimately make your spouse out to be one. And when that happens, watch out, because contempt is a slippery slope to a lake full of other victims.

Who is your enemy? Your spouse? A cause? What propels your fights in your relationships?

 

By

Project Parenting

What is your goal for parenting? Is it to just “survive” the process? Or perhaps might it be to “make sure I don’t screw them up too bad?” I often joke with friends that I don’t have a college savings fund for my kids, I have a therapy savings fund. My kids will probably need twice the therapy to work through their dad being a therapist. Bless them.
 
“What is your goal?” is an important question that I don’t think about a lot, but whatever my stated or unstated goal is, it drives my attitude and actions towards my kids. There are many days that I get home from work and don’t want my kids to be kids. I love them dearly, but goodness they can make a mess of things. Kids force me to see that life doesn’t work by my rules, nor does the world revolve around me (despite my best efforts to make it so). This is a big reason why I (and you, if you’re honest) both love and dislike my kids: They alert me to my self-centeredness. 
 
Poor parenting happens when my goal for life as an individual, a selfish person, is different than my stated goals for my kids. When I don’t pick up my shoes and socks on the living room floor, but get onto my kids for not picking theirs up, I’m not being a good parent. Living life with different standards will teach kids that duplicity is an acceptable way of living. 
 
Becoming a parent is a two-fold challenge (and there’s probably more folds than this). First and foremost, we have to learn how to raise the kid inside all of us. We have to be kind, respectful, loving and at the same time tough, hold boundaries, and be willing to say no to that part of us that wants instant gratification. We cannot be helpful parents until we have first learned to parent ourselves. 
 
The second challenge is to raise our kids as unique individuals with similar and different challenges in life than what we ourselves face. Parenting our kids as though they wrestle with the exact struggles as we do is myopic and not helpful guardianship. 
 
My goal as a parent is to be a guardian of my kids’ true selves. Said more simply: I want to help my kids find out who they really are … not just what they love to do, but to believe in and be able to express the uniqueness of their own voice. 
 
Most days, I get caught up in training my kids to be good performers. Showing them what is good and bad from a perspective of human doing. The days when am content with them are when I’ve not tried to control or train them like I would an animal, rather that I’ve allowed them to speak their own creative ways. 
 
One final thought. Err on the side of being in relationship (not a friendship) with your kids, that’s the only way you’ll thrive together once they are no longer under your care and protection. 

By

Book Review: Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

371fe__51vm4spIX8LDad’s beware: Reading this book will likely provoke anger, shock, shame, guilt, and fear. There are stats and eye-opening realities that the author presents suggesting the current and future perils our daughters will face in the world. For this reason alone, dad’s need to read what Meg Meeker has written. Yes, it’s a shock to the system, but that is sorely needed. While this is a book catered to dad’s with daughters, I think it’s a book that all parents need to read.

Some of material Dr. Meeker talks through is in regard to relationships, not only between dad’s and daughters, but also between daughters and boyfriends. Parents of all boys would be wise to read this because of the unique insights into the needs of young women. It takes a village to raise a child, and by engaging with our boys we will be setting up the girls to be treated respectfully and decently.

One thing I did notice about the book that seemed a bit heavy handed was the sole emphasis on the role of the dad in the daughters life as the most important parental relationship. While this may have been done intentionally to get through the “thick heads” of many men, it does leave a gap as to the importance of mom in the parental relationship. I don’t think Dr. Meeker would say that the mom isn’t important, but it’s omission was notable. This will undoubtably be offensive to some, but does not discredit the overall merit of the book.

I appreciate Dr. Meeker’s call to action, specifically to make dad’s aware of the overwhelming need of their presence in their daughter’s lives. Being engaged with their daughter is likely something already overwhelming for dad’s (at times, I feel this way with my daughter), which is why this point is made over and over again throughout the book. I agree with the reality that daughters need their dad’s to be present and to show up with them. Too often I hear of grown women lament their dad’s absence as a key factor in their lack of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-image.

This is a must read for all dad’s with daughters, regardless of their age. The stories she shares really help to bring home the heart of her writings, which was extremely helpful as a reader to put flesh on the ideas she presents.

By

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

By

Withholding Judgment

Early on in my career as a couples therapist, I saw countless couples who would come into my office, sit on my couch, and launch in to attacks against one another. These early days highlighted that I did not know what to do with a couple who was instantly and constantly judging each other. I read some books and found some resources that were quite helpful. These efforts culminated when I found another professional offering a class on an approach to help couples to practice relating to each other based on a non-judgmental stance. It was helpful for me as a professional, but also in my own marriage.

There’s rarely a worse experience in a relationship than to feel judged by someone we deeply care about. Judgements are those beliefs about another person that suggest they are only out for themselves. Our judgements show up in our need to label things or people as good/bad, right/wrong, and worthless/worthwhile.

However, there are some benefits of judgements in life. They allow us to make quick decisions by creating manageable categories for people or objects. Our preferences can often be explained by our judgements. When dealing with inanimate objects, judgements are a well developed tool. The problem with judgements is when they are directed towards people, especially those closest to us.

Relationships cannot thrive when one or both parties are fluent in judging. When we judge, we are building our case against the other person and cease observing objectively. This posture often comes from our need to be safe. Because of this need, we will seek out threats and dangerous situations that are not safe. In close relationships, the other person can easily be seen as a threat because they are not as concerned with my safety as they are with their own.

Approaching someone with a posture of compassion takes practice, intentionality, and a great degree of selflessness. This approach will also provide the greatest hope of providing intimacy, connection, and relational safety. It is also the scariest. Compassion first requires that we are aware of our own judgements.

Once aware of a judgmental stance, ask yourself these questions:

  • “What is the desired outcome of this situation?”
  • “Is my judgmental posture helping or hurting me?”
  • “If I were in his/her shoes, how would I feel about these judgements?”

The reality is that none of us know exactly what is happening in the others head. We can assume what their implications, motivations, and insinuations are in the statements they make, but ultimately we have to trust that they will tell us the truth. If we don’t trust that the other person is being forthright, we are going to be prone to judge.

Here are some steps to practice approaching your partner with a nonjudgmental posture. Instead of saying aloud or internally, “you just want…,” or, “you’re really saying this…,” exchange these judgmental statements with statements of preference such as, “I like,” or, “I hope,” or, “I wish.” Speak about yourself, not the other person. Ask clarifying questions that help you to see reality from the others’ perspective.

Practice letting what is, be what it is. Let the facts be the facts, don’t add emotions on top of the facts to create something bigger. For example, if a husband hears his wife say “you’re a failure!” when she reminded him for the 3rd time to take out the trash, the husband needs to tend to the reality of the situation. Take the trash out and then ask questions about her statements towards him to confirm what he heard. It might sound something like this: “When you said, ‘John, for the last time, take out the trash!’ I heard you say that I am a failure of a husband. Is that what you meant?” The wife can then clarify. Assuming that he is a failure will not do either of them any good.

Approaching others with a spirit of openness is a risky, but rewarding stance. Conversely, if we approach others with a spirit of judgment, it’s likely that we will be creating plenty of reasons for why the relationship will ultimately fail. It’s impossible to build connections when there is a fear of unnecessary judgments.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

By

Befriending Grief

As I was driving into work one morning this past winter, I realized something: I don’t take pictures of the sorrowful parts of my life. Instead, I only take pictures of happy moments. I think this must be true for everyone. Spend 5 minutes looking through Instagram, your digital camera archive, or a regular photo book and you’ll see almost all pictures of joyful moments.

I think this is true because we need photographs to remember the happy times. In general, these are not the moments that make us who we are. Happy moments are fleeting and usually leave us thirsty for more. Much like fast food, happiness satisfies the most basic and simplest of cravings.

Certainly there are some exceptions to this, but I think the reason we tend to take pictures of “happy” is because sorrowful or sad moments need no documentation. They are etched into our lives like a tattoo, never needing a video or photograph to summon their memory.

We are uniquely crafted and altered by the experiences of pain, hurts, longings, loss, joy, and gladness. Having sat with lots of individuals and couples, I’m convinced that the level of our maturity and health as humans is directly proportionate with our ability to grieve and find joy in the losses of life. If one cannot grieve, one cannot grow.

So, what is grief? It’s the process of letting go of what is, what was, what isn’t, and what will not come. Everyone has something in their lives that has not gone according to plan, and most of us do not have a medal, picture, or trophy to commemorate these events.

For some, this is a failed (or failing) marriage; for others, it’s the death of a loved one. Regardless of the loss, ultimately it’s the loss of hope in something desired. It could be that the loss of a dream is what has shaped you the most. The loss of trust, security, or relationships all summon the same feeling of being lost and not knowing where to turn.

Here’s the deal; grief doesn’t always mean heaviness, depression, or sadness. Usually what we refer to as “joyous moments” are the byproduct of something lost. For example, one of the biggest changes in my life happened when I became a father. Peterson (who is now 10) came into my life when I was 24 and I grieved the loss of my singular focus in my marriage. Now instead of it just being Stephanie (my wife) and I, we now had someone else to consider. I was glad to do this, but I had to say goodbye to my life as a self-serving person. The crazy thing is that this was also the most joyous event of my life. It is so difficult to hold both of these emotions together at the same time.

Dr. Seuss wisely says to not cry because it’s gone, but smile because it happened. Grief is crying because it’s gone and learning to smile because it happened. This doesn’t literally mean that we always shed tears, though often times we do when our old friend grief shows up. Regardless of where one is in life, grief and joy beckon. This is a difficult beckoning to heed, and often presents a challenge to our maturity.

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a hard battle,” (Philo of Alexandra). This is the truth of life, that you and I are both mired in a great battle, fought to secure hope and, at the least, to remain present enough in our lives that we can give and receive grace and love to and from those around us.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

By

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)

By

Just One Point

I did good. It was my wife’s 30th birthday, and I had the ultimate celebration for her.

We were in our first year of grad school in Seattle, thousands of miles away from friends and family. She was a bit homesick, and just beginning to understand that any season other than Summer means lots of grey skies and rain.

I arranged for some of her closest friends to send her a teacup that was unique to her, and write a note explaining the selection. On her birthday morning, the kids and I setup a tea party and she unwrapped a dozen teacups to complete the setup. It was glorious, and I was feeling quite proud of myself. She felt celebrated and all was well for that day.

I felt like I’d earned the mother lode of “points.” You know, “points” being the relational banking system (which I’m sure was created by men, for men) that illustrate how much one cares for another person. I was convinced that I’d proven my dad’s theory wrong that men can only earn one point per day with their wife.

If you’re not familiar with the point system, it’s pretty simple. Regardless of how great the act of service, expensive the gift, or sacrificial the behavior: Men earn one single point that says they loved their wife well. This point is non-transferable, expires at midnight, and cannot be redeemed on any other day than the day it was earned. It’s somewhat of a joke in our family that even if a husband buys his wife a diamond ring, he only earns a single point. It’s only funny because it is true.

This illustrates one of the great challenges men face in relationships. We want to fix, which is rooted in our nature that we are made for work. Fixing is a part of the drive that men use to make their mark on this world. Intuitively, men know that there is an infinite amount of work that is required in relationships. Searching for that elusive multiple-point gift or act is an ever present goal.

If there were such a gift or act that could solve the relational demands of a marriage, it would reduce marriage into an objective. This objective is what we men say we want, but it’s not what we are made for. The reality is that men don’t want to spend all day working in their jobs to then come home and do more work in their relationship. As a man, I don’t find fault in this desire but I do understand the challenges it presents in relationships. The mystery of a relationship is what creates the context for marriage.

Marriage is a divine mystery, and is something that we unknowingly admit when we get married. We join in this ceremony of matrimony that is far greater and bigger than the two people gathered at the alter. If the goal is to solve this mystery, it requires a view of marriage that is centered around a need we all, men and women, have for ultimate security. There is little security in a mystery, conversely there is little security in marriage. The security we hope to have is worked for and earned, which gives credence to the truth of the “point system.”

Many studies have shown that lottery winners end up worse off because of the wealth they luckily won. They no longer need to work, thus they no longer have purpose. Similarly, earning a lifetime of points in marriage would create an absence of work, an absence of purpose. Instead of hoping to earn multiple points in marriage, we men need to view the process of “earning points” with our wives as a process of getting to know them better. Not for the sake of arriving, but for the process of the journey.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

By

Four Conversations to Visit Regularly

My wife, Stephanie, and I just celebrated our 12th anniversary. Some days it feels as though we’ve been married for decades, and there are still times that I look at her and wonder who she is and what she’s doing in my life. I often think that I hardly know her. During our first few years of marriage, we spent regular time asking each other important questions about life. It was part of the rhythm that we adopted to learn more about each other.

Just this past holiday season on a family trip out West, Stephanie and I spent a few hours asking and answering questions about each other during our drive (we got a “road trip” kit that provided activities for the kids and the adults alike). It was a refreshing exercise to get us back into discussing some parts about each other that have not be regular conversations we have.

Like that infamous “new car smell”, the newness and excitement in marriage can easily wear off. Without an intentional approach to pursuing the other person, couples will grow distant. As I look back on our 12 years together, there are four conversations and questions that regularly surface for us: Sex; Money; Dreams/Desires; and Love language. These are excellent and challenging topics to keep couples connected and engaged in each others lives.

Sex
Outside of the bedroom, and not always in a romantically inclined situation, ask and talk to your spouse about your sex life together. Too often we express sexual needs only in the moment, and not proactively. This is a challenging topic because there is often so much shame associated with sex. Where there is shame, there is hiding. The goal here is to first and foremost be an proactive participant in your sexual relationship. Secondly, conversing will slowly and methodically bring sex to the table as a comfortable and unashamed topic. Doing this requires that sex not be a topic that is only expressed, it also must be discussed. Talk about needs, wants, and desires. Talk about what is comfortable for you, and what isn’t. Set boundaries, and respect each others’ needs in this area.

Money
Not only is money one of the most divisive topics in marriage, but it’s also the most difficult aspects of life to handle. Money puts a spotlight on our drive and passion, desires, habits, and what we find most important. Money is tangible evidence of where our values are aimed. Spending regular time to discuss money will help to weed out the potential traps that come when money gets scarce. These conversations can take place in the form of a monthly or bi-weekly budget meeting (which I highly recommend), or they can be conversations about what to do with a windfall, if you win the lottery, or what you want to save your money for. Regardless of how you talk about it, talk about money at least once a month.

Dreams, hopes, desires
In a similar light to money, discuss the passions you have for life. Explore old childhood memories of wanting to be a pilot, astronaut, or dancer. It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane aspects of life and forget to spend time dreaming about the future. If we do not talk about what our goals and dreams are, we will become bored and numb-out to life. Everyone has a dream, the questions is will you risk going for it. These conversations are both exploratory and accountability with your spouse. Name your dreams to each other, set goals, and help each other.

Here’s a way to do this: Take a couple of hours together one night and do the following: Get 2 poster boards from the school supply section at the store, get some magazines (as a side note, play the game “what are they getting ready to say” as you flip through the magazine and see people’s picture). Go home and spend an hour putting together a “dream board.” Cut and paste pictures, words, and ideas from the magazines onto the poster board that represent things that you want to accomplish in the next 5-10 years. After each of you are done with this, talk about your board with the other person.

How do you feel loved
Occasionally, 2-3 times per year, on our weekly date I will ask Stephanie how she has felt loved by me lately. It’s a simple question that invites her to share with me aspects of her life that feel meaningful to me. One of my goals as a husband is for my wife to know through experience that I love and care for her. I don’t want to rely on my words as the evidence of this, rather I want her to have tangible experiences she can remember.

This question also serves as an opportunity for Stephanie to share some areas where she wants me to improve. Rarely have we gotten into a fight after these conversations because I’m ready for the feedback and critique when I ask this question. I don’t ask this when I’m not able to hear her responses.

These four conversations topics can be setup in such a way that every month you follow a similar routine. Perhaps take one of these topics per week, and make it a regular part of your lives together. Don’t let the routine of Facebook, TV, sporting events, or other ways of checking out stand in the way of growing closer together with your spouse.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)