Five Minute Sherpa

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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)

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Show Me the Money

Sex get’s most of the hype as the big conversation topic prior to getting married. This is probably because, in general, sex is a lot more enjoyable to practice than any of the other issues a couple might face. With that said, the issue of money will usually be a more divisive topic than sex throughout a couples’ marriage.

Money will usually come up more than sex because we deal with it every day. The limitations placed on us in life are generally most evident when we look at our checking register.

So, what needs to be discussed about money prior to getting married? I’m glad you asked, because there’s plenty to cover. Before this conversation is had with your significant other, agree to be curious and graceful with one another. This is not a light-hearted topic. The below list is not an exhaustive list of questions and topics, but is meant to set the table for which to have an ongoing conversation about money.

Family history of money

What were the financial aspects of growing up? Everyone comes from someone, and everyone is shaped by the way that their family of origin handled their money. Some questions to consider here: What was important for your family? What or Where did they spend their money? What was their philosophy on saving, giving, and debt? Did you ever feel pressured to spend or not spend mom/dad’s money? Did money get talked about, and was this appropriate?

Purpose of money

Believe it or not, we all have very different ideas about what money is to be used for. Some view money as a security blanket, shielding them from the harsh realities of life. Some might view it as a fleeting object, to be spent when you have it. Can money buy happiness? What is the purpose and meaning of money?

Personal stories with money

What are the three to five most influential acts you’ve done that have had to do with money.? This could be a poor decision that resulted in a hardship (like the time I bought a pager when I was 16 so that my work, a shoe store, could get a hold of me — I spent hundreds of dollars on that pager and maybe received a total of 10 pages). On the other side, this could be a gift made to someone in need. Regardless, we all have stories about how and what we have done with money that reflect some of who we are.

Financial truths today

What are the financial details of your current situation? What is your salary, bonuses, commissions, etc? How much money do you have in savings, retirement, checking accounts, etc? What about debts, student loans, car notes, etc? What’s your credit story (if I pulled your credit report, what story would it tell)? Is there anything that you would change about the way you deal with money today?

Financial hopes tomorrow

One of the great aspects of getting married is that we get a chance to start fresh with some areas that we might not have handled well in the past. Money is one of those opportunities.

Do you anticipate both husband and wife working outside of the home indefinitely? How do the prospect of kids influence this decision? How do you want to handle saving, spending, retirement, college, etc?

If both husband and wife are working at the beginning of marriage, how do you want to harness the power of two incomes? A lot of times couples increase their standard of living once two incomes are put into the pot. I always suggest keeping the same standard of lifestyle for the first year, and then adjust as you see fit. Having more money in the bank will generally provide a safer place from which to have discussions about money together.

Beyond these topics that help you to address the past, present, and future, I suggest putting some boundaries in place that help couples succeed in their financial marriage. Firstly, once married do not have separate checking accounts. Open a joint account as soon as possible, and begin paying everything together from that account. Secondly, have bi-weekly and monthly budget meetings. Lastly, dream big. Talk about vacations, cars, trips, and home decor. Do some fun things together with money, and make your money work for you.

Money can be an incredible force in marriage. If you begin having these conversations today, you can set the table for your marriage to have healthy views and interactions about money. Be intentional with each other in talking about money, it will pay off.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Stay Here And Feed Your People

 

One of my favorite podcasts is The Moth, a story-telling organization that hosts “story nights” around the country.  Audience members, similar to the Price is Right, are the stars of the show. They get on stage and tell a story, sometimes in reference to a theme of the evening, and they do this without notes. It’s often exciting, usually moving, and always beautiful. Stories make the world go round, and The Moth offers an intimate glimpse into some of these stories.

Last fall, The Moth hosted a “Grand Slam” event that brought 10 storytellers to the stage, and they competed against each other for the title of Grand Slam Winner. This event was in Chicago and was hosted by the Peter Sagal of the NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t tell Me.” (Wait Wait is another one of my favorite podcasts.)

Towards the end of the show, Sagal was sharing a story of his own. He had a friend, Morgan, who helped to put on a develop plays in the local theater. During this time in her life, Morgan began asking questions about her own significance and place in this world. Consequently, she became a huge fan of Mother Teresa. When Mother Teresa came to town Morgan found her at her hotel and to meet her.

Morgan expressed her admiration and respect, and said she wanted to join her in Calcutta doing work in the orphanages. Morgan said, “The work you do is wonderful and important, I want to come with you to Calcutta.”

Mother Teresa replied, “No. You don’t do this work because you think it’s wonderful. You do this work because you so love the poor people of Calcutta that you can’t be away from them. That’s when you come and do this work.”

“What do you do?” Mother Teresa asked.

“What I do isn’t important,” Morgan said. “I work at a theater and I help put on plays. What use is that?”

“There are so many different kinds of famine in this world,” Mother Teresa said. “In my country, there is a famine of the body. In this country, there is a famine of the spirit. Stay here and feed your people.”

Who are ‘your people’?

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On the Money

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

The American Dream has altered over the years but still fuels our culture. Its message permeates the airwaves, social media and modern advertising. We’re promised a better body, popularity and sexier hair all promising a happy life. In the place of the white picket fence and 2.2 kids is the good looking, popular and rich homestead.

A big motivation (whether known or not) for people to make a lot of money is to buffer the realities of a life that doesn’t work. A friend shared a great line with me the other day. He said,

If we can buy our way out of a problem, it’s not really a problem.”

I hadn’t considered it that way but believe it’s true. You can’t buy happiness but you can put some margin between you and life. (Despite the studies that show you can indeed buy happiness up to making around $80,000 per year, I think money delays and buffers disappointment).

Marriages contend with this struggle for happiness and financial freedom on a daily basis.Gone are the days that your paycheck is yours and yours alone. Instead of being able to easily decide the impact of a purchase, the married person now has to consider, engage and discuss the impact of a purchase on the other person. Watching the issues of money erode marital relationships is what we have all thought about the Titanic sinking: Just slow down and heed the warning of those before you.

… continue reading over at Start Marriage Right