Finances in Your Twenties: Don’t Waste the In-Between Years

Finances in Your Twenties--Don't waste these years, even if you're single!

Did you ignore finances in your twenties? Or did you meticulously budget?

If you chose the latter, you’re in a very small group, because most twenty-somethings don’t worry much about finances–especially if they’re still single. I remember speaking once at a women’s event, and a representative of a Christian financial company had sent a guy to come give a quick talk and a draw for a prize. He was only 22, but he was married, with a kid, and he had his finances in order. I was super-impressed.

So I wrote this column about him, and I thought I’d rerun it here today.

Let me give you the stories of two men. One we’ll call Jim. He married straight out of high school—rather an anomaly today. He didn’t go to college, but immediately took a job at a financial planning firm in Windsor. He became certified in investments, and worked his little butt off building his own client base. He looks about 12, but he always dresses impeccably in suits.

Jim’s first child was born two years ago, when he was about 20 or 21. Today his family is still doing quite well, despite the economic downturn. They’re saving up for a downpayment on a house, building their little nest egg at a time when most men his age are still living in their parents’ basement. At one point Jim would have been quite typical; today he sounds like a dinosaur.

Now let’s talk about Bob. When Bob was Jim’s age, marriage was the furthest thing from his mind. He concentrated on working as little as possible so that he could play as hard as possible. He took extended vacations to the Caribbean so he could scuba dive, renting apartments with other twenty-somethings. He lived a carefree life until well into his late thirties, working odd jobs, minimizing his income and maximizing his fun.

At 38, though, he met the woman of his dreams and settled down. They’ve since had three kids, and while both he and his wife are working, money is tight. They’re starting almost twenty years after Jim did, and neither of them used those in-between years to shore up any sort of nest egg.

Many people just don’t worry about saving when they’re single.

But in the long run they do themselves a disservice, because when they do marry (if they do), they’ve lost about a decade or so of good earning years and saving years.

Now 44, Bob is juggling saving for a house, putting money aside for his kids’ education, and contributing to a retirement savings plan. He’s in a really difficult bind, because time is no longer on his side. He has to put money into a retirement savings plan if he’s going to have anything at retirement, but he also has incredible family expenses right now, too.

One thing Jim teaches his financial clients is that if they save $2000 a year in a retirement account from ages 19-26, as he is planning to do, they can then afford to stop for a bit and save up for a house. If you wait like Bob did, though, and don’t start contributing until you’re in your late thirties, putting in $2000 a year until you’re 65, guess who has more money in the end? Jim does, even though he actually contributed far less. That money has more time to accumulate and grow! It’s starting early that makes all the difference.

If you’re in your twenties right now, even if you don’t have a family of your own, chances are one day you will.

And if you want the rest of your life to be much less stressful, squirrel away money for a house and retirement now, before you need it, to avoid feeling the crunch later.

I know cash is short when you’re in your twenties, but you don’t need a big-screen TV. You don’t need to eat out every night.

You don’t need all the latest gadgets. It may seem like responsibility is a long way off, but think instead of these years as the breather years. You don’t have any major expenses, so now is the time when saving is actually the easiest. Don’t just coast through life until responsibility hits. Act responsibly now, and you’ll be so much more comfortable in the end.

We Stopped Having Sex–and Here’s What I Learned

We Stopped Having Sex--what it did to our marriage, and why I'm glad we started again“We stopped having sex.”

A woman wrote her story on my Facebook Page yesterday, and I thought it was worth sharing with you, and could help clarify perhaps my thinking around the post yesterday–”Should you have sex even if you don’t feel like it?”

I’ll share her comment in just a moment, but first a few quick things!

I’ve been camping for a week so I wasn’t active in the comments, but I’m thrilled you all liked my post about what to do with your wedding dress so much. Boy, did that get shared! That post meant a lot to me, so I’m glad it touched you all, too.

Now, a few things about yesterday’s post.

I totally get what some people were saying about the word “duty”. As soon as we make sex into a duty, we make it EXTREMELY unsexy. I don’t think that’s the way Lindsay meant it, though, but I’ve actually written about how unsexy obligation sex is before, too.

We’re not arguing you should let your husband use you!

Neither Lindsay nor I was arguing that you should just say to your husband, “you can if you want to”, especially if you really don’t want to. That’s not really making love. That’s letting him use you. And that’s rather unsettling.

What we were saying was this:

If this is something your husband really wants (and some could argue needs on a regular basis), then why not just jump in? It’s our attitude that is the key. If we say to ourselves, “I don’t want to do this, and I hate doing this, but I’ll just get through it,” you will hate it. If you say to yourself, “what a great chance to bond when I feel rather icky. Maybe this can change the whole dynamic,” you’ll likely enjoy it.

It all depends on how you think about it!

Let’s do a Thought Experiment: What if you stop having sex?

What would happen to your marriage? Here’s what one of my readers wrote on Facebook:

I have to be honest and I’ve never told anyone this.

I have been married almost 10 years and we did not have sex before marriage. I expected it to be great, especially since we waited like God had asked of us.

Life went on and it really wasn’t a priority for me. Wasn’t that it was bad, I just had too much on my plate in my mind. We worked different shifts at our jobs (worked for same company) but enjoyed each other when we had time to spend together–usually out to dinner or a movie.

Then after 3 years we got pregnant. My husband was just convinced we shouldn’t have sex during pregnancy…And I was okay with this. What a dummy I was! We were not intimate at all for almost a year.

Then after our son came, it didn’t pick up immediately. I was over tired and was NOT in the mood what soever. I was not too excited about the extra weight from my pregnancy and I became a stay at home mother stuck in the frump that can often come with it.

Shockingly (sarcasm), we started to really go through rough patches. Sex was still not a priority for me and I couldn’t figure out why he just wasn’t listening to me! I was his wife. I thought he was my best friend. What had happened to us?!

We had another child almost 2 1/2 years after our son. Obviously we did have sex a few times during that time but to be honest it was a chore now. Then after our daughter and son turned 3 and 5, I had had enough. He works 6 days a week and is tired to do too much on the one day off he has. I stay home all day with the kids and about to start homeschooling….I need some time alone! So when we did have any time together, I just preferred to not be touched, loved on and pretty soon I didn’t even like him to kiss me.

One day I finally got on my knees and poured my heart to God. I surrendered myself and everything to Him and asked what could I do to bring my husband and I back to what we once had….really, better than ever. One thing was to start praying for a heart for my husband again. I wanted to work on me for once and not pray that he would change like I had for years before. I prayed I would enjoy his touch again, etc. Then one day I read a blog (maybe this one) that talked about stop saying no! Take a challenge to stop saying no to your husband no matter what.

Sounds primitive to most but I was willing to give it a try. What could it hurt?

But I didn’t even get a chance to it in action…the more I was praying, the more I was wanting him more than I ever had! Even times that I was so exhausted and got in the shower (where I do a lot of my praying), I was anxious to get out and spend time with him. Sometimes that led into sex but sometimes it was just being together and NOT him on the sofa and me in the chair across the room…like it had been for years.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I didn’t feel like it but I just knew it would be better in the long run if I did because it brought us closer than I could ever explain. My husband is a very personal person and still has a hard time opening up to me, even after all these years, but started to almost immediately. I’m not saying it was all me during all these years but I can honestly say that when I stopped taking the focus off myself and what I deserved, I started seeing my husband and our sex life very differently. I am not saying sex is the answer to everything but it should does bring a closeness that you may otherwise never get–especially with spouses that have a hard time communicating. I hope this some how helps with the conversation and even a situation someone is dealing with today. I’ve never told a soul but I felt led to take to speak up after reading this.

Thank you for sharing that comment! I do believe that that story will resonate with a lot of women. Most of us have been there. We stop making love for a variety of reasons–we’re tired, there are babies, maybe a few health concerns–and then we find our marriage drifting and we don’t know why.

Let’s make sex back into a priority!

And so here are a few other posts that can help you do that, that may apply to your specific situation:

Good Girls Guide My SiteBut what if sex actually hurts? Do I still have to?

No–you have to figure out why it hurts! This post on vaginismus may help. I also have quite the section in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex for women struggling with this.

But why should I have to fake it? So what if he needs sex–aren’t my needs important, too?

Yes, absolutely. And that’s why I believe that sex should be mutual. But here’s the thing–you, as a woman, actually control your sex drive. He doesn’t. That’s because our sex drives are almost entirely in our heads. So we have to get our heads in the game and start anticipating sex ourselves.

What about other problems–like porn, or sex not feeling good, or past abuse issues?

Many of us have reasons that sex isn’t really happening, and I’ve written so much on this subject it’s hard to point to every possible relevant post. We’re all coming from different places. But I do have a round-up post of different marriage and sex advice that talks about all of these different issues. Chances are you can find a link to your own obstacle there.

31 Days to Great SexAnd almost all of the obstacles I can think of are dealt with in 31 Days to Great Sex. It’s a great one to work through with your hubby!

So please understand–I am not saying that we should let ourselves become some sort of receptacle for our husbands. Absolutely not! But sex was created to be something beautiful between you and your husband. It binds you together. It helps you sleep better! It helps you feel closer and helps you communicate. And it was meant to be fun. If it isn’t doing those things in your marriage, then take the initiative to do something about it. Don’t just stop having sex–figure out what the problem is and throw your energy into fixing it. Your marriage is worth more than just a hum-drum existence. When we prioritize sex again, we can find that marriage becomes so much more invigorating!

Don’t miss out on that. Please.

 

Should You Have Sex Even if You Don’t Feel Like It?

WifeyWednesday175It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! Recently I noticed a great post linked up in the comments by one of my frequent readers–Lindsay Harold from Lindsay’s Logic, answering the question “what should you do if you don’t feel like having sex?”

She was responding to some major controversy she started on the Matt Walsh Blog in the comments section, leaving a comment about sex which generated over 1,300 likes and dozens of comments in the first 24 hours. So she turned it into a post, and then said I could feel free to post it, too.  Here’s Lindsay:

I wrote on Matt Walsh’s blog comments:

“Feminism told them that it’s degrading to be a stay-at-home mom or to submit to a husband or to want a lot of children. They should never have sex with their husbands unless they feel like it. They should never let a man make decisions for their family.”


Specifically, a lot of people had a problem with the second sentence in that quote. They objected to the idea that a woman should ever have sex with her husband when she doesn’t feel like it.

But I absolutely stand by that statement. I think it’s perfectly normal and right for a woman to have sex with her husband even when she doesn’t feel like having sex.

In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that a woman ought to have sex with her husband even when she doesn’t feel like it - at least sometimes.

Should You Have Sex with Your Hubby--even if you don't feel like it?

That sounds like a radical idea, I know. Our society has become so feminized that this idea is actually considered crazy or weird or somehow the same as saying women should be raped. It’s not.

You see, there are lots of things we do that we don’t feel like doing.

I don’t always feel like getting up in the morning, making breakfast, feeding my kids, cleaning the house, changing diapers, going to the store, or a million other things I do. But I do them because they need to be done and because I love my family. My feelings don’t rule me. I make decisions based on love for my family and what needs to be done to care for their needs.

It should be the same in for caring for my husband’s needs, including his need for sex.

Of course, the usual response at this point is to ask whether I consider sex some painful, unpleasant duty. I get people saying my sex life must be horrible. On the contrary.

It is a modern and erroneous notion that “duty” is a bad word and the opposite of “pleasant.”

But that is a false dichotomy. There is no inherent reason that duties cannot be pleasant. Nor does doing something out of duty mean that one cannot enjoy it. Of course, not all duties are fun, but they don’t have to be unpleasant simply because we have a duty to do them.

For example, I may not feel, at the moment, like taking my girls outside to play. It’s hot. I’m tired. I have dishes to do. But they want to play outside and the fresh air and sunshine will do them good. So I go because I love them and have a duty to care for their needs. One of their needs is play time and time with mommy. But once we’re outside, we have a great time and I’m glad I did it. Duty, in this case, was not preventing me from having fun. In fact, duty helped me overcome laziness, lower priority tasks, and distractions that would have prevented me from having fun with my girls.

There are many other things which work similarly. I have a duty to read and study the Bible, and I enjoy it. I have a duty to feed my family, and I also enjoy it. I have a duty to vote and participate in my government, and I don’t find that duty horrid or burdensome. I have a duty to be a witness to those around me, and I find that duty agreeable.  I have a duty to clean my house…ok, maybe I don’t necessarily enjoy that one, but it isn’t some horrible thing I do just because I have to either. I do it because I love my family. And having a clean home is certainly enjoyable.

In the same way, I have a duty to have sex with my husband, and I also enjoy it greatly. There is no contradiction there.

Another thing to consider is the design of female sexuality. Women are less likely than men to be aroused out of the blue. We women often need touch, closeness, and the right mindset to get us in the mood for sex. If a wife is waiting for the mood to strike her before she says yes, it may be a long time and it will take a toll on their marital intimacy. Thus, women who go ahead and engage (not just laying there, but actively participating), even if they weren’t initially in the mood, will often find that they warm up as they go along and end up enjoying it. And the emotional intimacy that comes from physical intimacy will strengthen the marriage and bring husband and wife closer together.

So, if duties aren’t necessarily unpleasant or a hardship and women can often enjoy sex if they will choose to engage, then pointing out the duty to have sex within marriage doesn’t mean that sex becomes unpleasant or forced. Sure, it could be that way if you let it. But it doesn’t have to be. If you have the right mindset, recognizing the duty to have sex can help you overcome laziness, lower priorities, and distractions that would prevent you from having the vibrant, intimate, and fun sex life that God intended you to have in your marriage.

I appreciate the flak that Lindsay took for this, because I had to write a post defending something I said in similar vein a few years ago–when I had some feminist groups saying I advocated rape when I said that wives should try to have sex if their husbands wanted it, even if they didn’t always feel like it. My response to their criticism is here–being selfless in marriage. I wish people could see that marriage isn’t a trap; it’s a chance where both spouses can give!

 

LindsayHaroldLindsay Harold is a preacher’s daughter and a former homeschooler with a Master’s degree in Biology. Until recently, she taught college biology courses (including General Biology and Human Anatomy and Physiology). She is now a blogger and stay at home mom of two little girls, ages 2-1/2 and 1. She and her husband, Doug, live on a small farm in the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia.

Lindsay writes about Biblical worldview, marriage and family, inalienable rights, politics, creation/evolution, and a variety of other topics on her blog, Lindsay’s Logic. She and her husband also write a blog together called The Rational Abolitionist where they make a logical and scientific case for ending legal abortion.

Get Out with Your Husband–and DO SOMETHING!

Do you know what kills love in marriage faster than anything else? Boredom. When we get bored with each other, it’s all too easy to start ignoring each other’s needs, and to stop being kind. Contempt all too easily follows.

The key, then, is not to get bored, and the way to not get bored is to actually do things together! Even weird things.

How often does the whole evening go by after the kids go to bed with you on Netflix, watching movies, or playing video games? It seems fun at the time, but if you try to remember some great, fun event 10 years ago, I can practically guarantee that it didn’t have to do with television or computers or games. It had to do with something you were actually doing together.

Making memories means you have to be doing something memorable.

I know on Tuesdays I usually do a top 10 post, but I’ve been on vacation a lot in August and taking it easy, and I thought instead I’d share with you something kinda funny that happened to my husband and me while we were camping.

One week last month my husband and I decided to set up our tent trailer at a campground just north of the city where Keith works. He commutes everyday, so it took 40 minutes off of his commute, and let us enjoy the great outdoors. They had internet in the main building, so I could walk there every morning and tend to the blog, but then we could “switch off” and just have fun at night (and I could read and knit a storm during the day!)

I made these socks:

Homemade Socks

But then I had a bunch of pairs of handknit socks that were wearing through (like the one on the right), so I cut off half of the food and reknitted it (like the one on the left):

Socks Fixed

Anyway, that’s not the fun part. I just wanted to show you my knitting!

We booked in from Saturday to Saturday. And on Thursday I became very alarmed because a bunch of new RVs were setting up. And almost every single one of these RVs had dogs. Lots and lots of dogs.

We went for a walk that night and I saw a big dog (maybe a sheepdog?)–the prettiest sheepdog I had ever seen. But it was a little startling, and I said to my husband, “I think that dog has been blow dried.”

DogShow4

And sure enough, right across from us was an RV with a mobile dog blow-drying and grooming facility. Dog after dog was lining up to get so groomed. And all because, as we found out, there was a dog show on Friday and Saturday at this particular campground.

DogShow1

All I could picture was dogs barking all night and keeping me awake. But thankfully, these dogs were actually well behaved and the night was silent.

And so, my anxiety over, on Friday I decided to go see what all the fuss was about.

I wandered over to the “big top” tent and saw different breeds being led around the ring by their intrepid owners.

DogShow3

DogShow7

But, as I was informed by a rather nervous man from Montreal, whose corgie was about to compete against 29 other corgies, some of those people leading the dogs weren’t owners. They were “ringers”, hired for the purpose to help the dogs win.

Seriously? They have ringers for dog shows?

I thought this was a riot, and I went back to my camper, grabbed a canvas chair and my knitting, and plopped down next to an older couple who had also just been camping and decided to watch the show.

DogShow2

By the time Keith came back from work that afternoon I had a feel for what was going on, and he joined me and took pictures and we laughed and had an amazing time talking to some of the “junior trainers”, the kids who would be competing later, and many of the owners. And we saw this poodle (and a black one just like it that won “best of fair”. Seriously. I thought people made this up, but they really do look like this):

Dog Show 2

I kept trying to ask the competitors, “what do you get if you win?” Is it prestige? Is it money? Can you charge more for breeding your dogs if you win? But I never did get a satisfactory answer. It’s like people just enter to win because they love it. This was their life.

DogShow5

DogShow6

It’s probably going to be one of the highlights of my summer. I’ve never seen people actually blow dry a dog before, and I’ve never seen that many dogs behave so well. And I’ve never seen people so nervous about whether or not their beagles will properly run in a circle.

And we never would have seen it if we hadn’t have been camping at the right campground.

It got me thinking: there’s a lot of fun to be had just meeting people and doing crazy things.

People have all kinds of neat hobbies–arts and crafts, model trains, model planes, gardening, wine making, tons of stuff! You may not be interested in any of those things yourself (I don’t even own a dog and never will; I travel too much), but going to community events can teach you something new and give you a ton of laughs. How many things do we miss because we’re afraid to do something impulsive, and do a little bit of exploring?

Why don’t we try making memories more often?

Why is it that we turn to Netflix out of boredom, rather than check out the community section in the paper and see what’s actually going on?

I would bet that if you opened it up you’d see some neat contest or show or event that would end up being fun! Old movies in the park. Jazz by the beach. A train show. A dance recital.

Pick one this weekend and just go. Put the kids in a stroller if you have to. It’s those memories that make your marriage fun–and push boredom away.

Making memories with your husband: shut off the computer and do something!

Tell me: What weird and quirky things have been going on in your community this summer? What strange things have you done that ended up making the best memories?

Here’s What I Did with my Wedding Dress

Last week I did something very odd.

After almost 23 years, I opened up the box that held my wedding dress (it was vacuum sealed and taped), and let my youngest daughter try it on.

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It was a little wrinkled, but still looked pretty much like it did that day 23 years ago!

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We tried to steam it a bit and then we headed outside for some fun photos.

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Here’s the two of us wearing it:

Wedding Dress Cmpare

I was 21; Katie’s 17.

So why did we do this?

Well, as much as it was fun for Katie to try it on, it’s a very 90s dress:

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…and neither of my girls wants to wear it for their weddings. And that’s honestly okay. The bodice is nice, but they aren’t overly enamoured with the puffed sleeves or all of the lace.

And, you see, my mom headed back for the seventh time to a children’s home in Kenya last week (we’ve been there as a family 3 times). We love it there. The Mully Children’s Family has rescued over 2000 abandoned or orphaned children from the streets and from prison, and given them a home, education, and love. They even raise money so that the kids who are able can go on to post-secondary education. They also have a program where they rescue teenage moms and put them in a 3-year intensive training program so they can acquire skills to get a job or start their own business. And they supply these girls with micro-business loans upon graduation. My mom and I have been involved with setting up knitting enterprises with many of these girls.

And one thing that often happens when you have loads and loads of young adults living in close proximity is that some will fall in love and want to get married.

And they don’t have wedding dresses.

So I decided that since my daughters would not be wearing it, I would send it somewhere where it could bless a number of young women. And in Kenya, they don’t mind the bows and the lace! They like it!

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(My mom has beautiful pictures on canvas of some of the women from Kenya in her backyard.)

After my reunion with the dress, then, we put it in a vacuum bag,

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sealed it all up,

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and stuck it in one of the many hockey bags my mom is bringing over there.

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I prayed over it that it would bless some young women, and that their marriages would be wonderful, godly ones. That they would raise the next generation to love God and to support each other.

It’s really neat at Mully Children’s Family, because all the different tribes in Kenya are there, and often marriages that happen are cross-tribal. For those of you who understand the history of tribal violence, this is a really big deal. And it’s nice to think I may play a very small role, and that my dress can have another life.

It occurred to me that many of my readers may also have wedding dresses that, like mine, won’t be worn by their children or grandchildren.

And so you wonder what to do with it. Mine was in that huge box and moved with us about 5 times over the years. It was time for it to go.

If you’re looking for something to do with your wedding dress, I saw an absolutely lovely news item about a group of women in Fort Worth, Texas, who take wedding dresses and transform them into beautiful gowns to put on babies who never make it home out of the NICU. They can be laid to rest in something beautiful that symbolizes love.

What to do with your wedding dress: NICU Helping Hands will transform them into gowns for babies who never make it home from the hospital.

I dare you to watch this news item without tearing up. It’s so lovely. (I can’t embed the video, but please click through and watch!)

Here’s a shorter video of what they do:

I was going to send my wedding gown there, but I have such a connection to Kenya it seemed better to send it with my mom. But for those of you wondering what to do with your wedding gown, I think this is a beautiful opportunity.

If you would like to send your wedding dress, or volunteer as a seamstress, or make a donation, or RECEIVE the gowns for use in a hospital where you work, all the information is right here (along with lots more videos). They distribute the gowns to NICUs throughout the United States and Canada.

My son was buried in his christening gown that his grandmother made, but many families don’t have that option. I think this is such a wonderful way to touch a family that is hurting, and bless them with something tangible. If you’re interested, please look into it–and let me know if you do! In fact, send me pictures of you sending off your wedding gown (or starting to sew some gowns), and I’ll put them up on Facebook!

And now I have said good-bye to my dress for good. And I’m honestly okay with it.

Is Marriage Worth It? Ending Marriage’s Bad Rap

Is marriage worth it? Why we shouldn't talk down marriage so much

Is marriage worth it?

That’s a question so many people ask today. All around them it seems like everyone is divorcing and married people are miserable. But is that actually true? I wrote a column a few years ago where I tried to end marriage’s bad rap, and I thought it was time to post it again.

If an alien were to peruse the magazines at the checkout counter, he or she would likely conclude that humans are all masochists: we’re inexplicably drawn to the institution of marriage even though we know our partners will cheat on us, denigrate us, and complain about our lack of bedroom prowess. Our kids, reading those same headlines, are likely to become disenchanted with the institution, too. Marriage is a pipe dream. The most we can hope for is a few years of happiness before it all falls apart.

After all, even beauty, that most prized possession, can’t keep a spouse in line. Tiger’s wife is beautiful. Sandra Bullock is beautiful. Jennifer Aniston is beautiful. But their husbands all ran around on them. And women aren’t that much better. Leanne Rimes, Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum–even Whoopi Goldberg!–have all been caught cheating.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceDisastrous relationships and celebrity seem to go hand in hand, of course, from as far back as Cleopatra. But today it’s not just celebrities whose marriages are failing. Many kids who have witnessed family breakdown firsthand. Those they know and love couldn’t make it work, so why should they expect to find lifelong companionship themselves?

Let me attempt to answer that question. Yes, marriage is hard. Yes, people can have affairs. But despite the epidemic of non-commitment in Hollywood, more than 50% of marriages do survive in the here and now—and the rate is higher for first-time marriages. Sure many marriages fail, but it’s not as if the institution is dead. In fact, Shaunti Feldhahn crunched the numbers in her book The Good News About Marriage and found that the divorce rate is closer to 30%. Things are not as bad as magazine covers make them out to be.

Thinking marriage is going to fail, though, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we figure marriage is doomed, we’re far less likely to look for someone that we can see ourselves growing old with, and far more likely to seek someone to be with right now. That can cause immense heartbreak, but also more seriously it can lead to pregnancies that hand us the hardest job in the world—parenthood—without a partner to shoulder the burdens and the joys with. When we don’t believe in long-term relationships, we often get too involved in short-term ones, even if these short-term ones have long-term consequences.

The problems with forsaking life-time commitment don’t just fall on those who have yet to say “I do”, though; they chase those who have already promised it. When people think that they can run if things aren’t going their way, they’re far less likely to work on problems. And if you feel like your commitment isn’t solid, you’re less likely to bring up problems, too. Your marriage can’t grow.

Case for MarriageYet problems don’t have to signal the end of a relationship.

In their book, A Case for Marriage, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher reported on a five-year study of couples who rated their marriages as terrible. Those who divorced in that five-year span were less likely to be personally happy than those who stuck it out. But even more striking, 78% of couples who stayed in their marriages, even during the tough times, five years later rated those marriages as very good. In other words, if your marriage is in the toilet, it’s not necessarily time to flush it.

And so is marriage worth it? Well, you have to believe in marriage to see it work: it’s just too hard to keep a relationship together when one person has left the escape hatch open. Yes, people can cheat on you. Yes, they can betray you. Maybe you’ve already been married and you’ve experienced this firsthand. But it doesn’t mean that all potential spouses will forsake you. Most marriages still work. Marriage is worth it. And marriage is worth fighting for, because life is just too lonely without someone to walk through it with us.

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Huge Back to School Shopping with Kids, Friends, and Staples

It’s hard to believe that we’re in the middle of August, but we are. And that means that summer is almost over–and school is just around the corner (though I don’t like to think about that!)

So when Staples contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a Back to School post, I jumped at the chance, especially since they were including a generous gift card. So I called up my best friend, who has Samantha (about to start kindergarten), Blake (starting middle school) and Mickaula (starting high school). That’s right–three kids starting three different schools this fall! And I said: “hey, wanna go to back to school shopping, on me?”

She said yes.

Big surprise.

I took my youngest daughter with me, too, since she needed a few things, but since we homeschool, and her desk/office is pretty well set up, I didn’t need a bunch for us (just an ink cartridge for my oldest daughter and some pens). But we had a blast with Susan and her kids!

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Samantha was overjoyed with the thought that SHE GOT TO GET A BACKPACK AND A LUNCHBOX!!!! OH, JOY!!!

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In fact, we had a hard time getting her to put the backpack down. She insisted on putting all of her school supplies inside the backpack (I really don’t think Staples likes you to shop that way, but the staff at Staples in Belleville, Ontario, was awesome!), so she did. And then we had to take it all out to pay later. (Here she is with my Mom, who is also her “Nana”).

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Staples also had lots of “regular” backpacks for people who might not like Minnie Mouse, and, of course, they had lots of lunchbox accessories, like thermoses and water bottles.

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After checking out all the “little kid” stuff we needed for Samantha, including crayons, a glue stick, pencil crayons, and some kindergarten scissors, we turned to the older kids. Staples does have “Back to School” checklists for different ages, too:

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We decided to head mostly for the portable school supplies, but Blake and Mickaula did have fun trying out the chairs:

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And the desks:

Staples Back to School 8

It is so important that kids have a good place to do homework. The kitchen table will work in a pinch, but to have a desk with a chair with proper back support is a wonderful thing. I work too much on the couch and it is so bad for me–I’m trying to move back to my desk, too. Help you kids develop good habits when they’re young!

One thing they had that I don’t know if it existed when I was in high school was locker organizers. So cool–you can get little shelves and magnets for the inside door for post it notes, calendars, pens, etc.

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Mostly, though, we bought the typical school stuff: pens, pencil cases, binders, highlighters.

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Here are Sheila’s tips for school stuff:

Buy the heavy, durable binders, not the floppy ones or fabric ones. If you buy good ones, and insist your kids organize their papers when they do homework at night, those binders will last you for years. If you get the floppy ones, you’ll be lucky if they see you through the school year. It’s better to invest in good binders early.

And buy highlighters! They make note taking so much easier. I loved highlighters when I was in high school and they really helped me study. I colour-coded everything. Maybe it’s a girl thing more than a boy thing, but it does make things easier. And it helps you take notes in an organized fashion (so does buying pens of different colours).

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One of the most fun parts was all the deals! I guess Staples Canada is trying to get moms in the door, because they had crayons for a quarter, pencil crayons for 80 cents, packages of paper for a dime, and notebooks for a dime. It was awesome!

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Staples Back to School 14

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I bought a ton of crayons to put in the Christmas shoeboxes we do with Samaritan’s purse–so if you do shoeboxes, now is a great time to stock up!

It took us about an hour to get absolutely everything for everyone, but we did it!

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Samantha lost steam pretty early, but luckily the iPad display captivated her, and she climbed right up and played a game.

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After we checked out, we had spent a grand total of $375, which helped 6 kids (my two girls, Susan’s three girls, and a foster girl she has who isn’t pictured for obvious reasons) get equipped for back to school for absolutely everything they could possibly need. And a lot of that stuff will last for several years yet!

When they were walking out, Samantha insisted on putting her backpack back on immediately.

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I just want to say a special thank you to everyone who reads this blog faithfully, because my blog readership is large enough that I get to participate in fun events like this–and then I can bless others with it, too.

So thank you for reading, because you set up Samantha, Blake and Mickaula to go back to school–and gave my kids some fun stuff, too! And we had an awesome time.

Does Marriage Counseling Help?

Does Marriage Counseling Help

WifeyWednesday175It’s Wifey Wednesday, the day that we always talk marriage! Today I thought I’d address a question I often get when I advice people to find a third party to talk to about their marriage. Does marriage counseling help?

A few years after our son Christopher died, Keith and I relocated to the small town we live in now. We were established in our own home (finally!), Keith started his pediatric practice, and I was home with our two young daughters. We were finally out of student mode and into adult mode.

And perhaps because of that, a lot of “stuff” started surfacing. All the feelings that we hadn’t dealt with when we were always in crisis mode with babies and school and training bubbled up, and I, especially, had a hard time coping.

So for about 6 weeks we went to see a marriage counselor.

It was really very helpful. We managed to talk through a lot of issues, work through a lot of pain, and get some new tools to help us process things, especially the grief we were feeling after our son Christopher died.

For us, marriage counseling helped. We weren’t at any risk of divorce, but we simply had some bumps in the road that needed to be smoothed over.

All couples go through rough patches.

Some of the patches are rougher than others. Sometimes you need to work through a major sin that needs to be forgiven, like a physical or emotional affair, or addiction, or porn use. Sometimes you need to talk about boundaries. Sometimes you just need to figure out how to resolve conflict and make sure you’re truly listening–and hearing–one another.

I think more couples should likely go to counseling, and when I talk to counselors, most of them say, “I just wish this couple had come in three years ago when the problems could be more easily addressed, rather than now when it’s such a big mess!”

And so I want to encourage you today that if you need help, go get it. It doesn’t mean your marriage is failing or at risk of failing; it simply means you want it to be the best it can be.

At the same time, not all marriage counseling is equal. So if you want to get the most out of it, here are 4 things I think you should look for:

1. Marriage Counseling Works Best When It’s Time Limited

Does your counselor want to see you on a weekly basis forever and ever until you announce you’re done? Or does your counselor tend to see people for 6-12 sessions to sort out a specific issue?

Unless you have deep seated psychological issues, I think time-limited counseling is more helpful. It says, “we’re addressing one problem, not everything that could possibly make you sad under the sun.”

When you focus on ways to make things better, you tend to make them better. When you focus on everything that’s wrong, all you’ll see is all the problems.

I’ve written at length on my issue with counseling that doesn’t work well, and this is the heart of it. If the counselor wants to talk through all of your problems and psychological issues, then you’re really just focusing on the bad. It’s better to focus on solutions.

2. Marriage Counseling Helps Most When It’s Solutions-Oriented

And that’s what good marriage counselors do: they find solutions. The key is to modify behavior and thought patterns rather than trying to figure out every single root cause for why you’re insecure and why he’s controlling, or vice versa. Certainly a good counselor will probe this a little bit, but understanding why you’re insecure can only go so far. Ultimately you have to figure out what to do differently in your marriage to make both of you feel accepted and loved.

Ask your counselor, then, if they are solutions-focused rather than therapy focused, and ask for some examples of what kinds of solutions they suggest to their clients. Counselors who give homework and who teach you how to communicate are focused on solutions; counselors who only want to talk about emotions usually aren’t.

Happily, counseling has really changed in the last twenty years, and more counselors are now focused on solutions. And that’s great!

3. Marriage Counselors Should Be Committed to Marriage

Nevertheless, not all marriage counselors are created equally, and not all marriage counselors believe in marriage. Many marriage counselors, especially secular ones, are more focused on words like “happiness, inner peace, identity, strength, fulfillment.” They really don’t like words like guilt, fault, and shame.

A counselor who is focused on helping clients find their fulfillment and happiness may not be committed to helping a struggling marriage survive. They may too quickly decide that fulfillment is best found separately. If you are committed to the marriage, make sure you find a counselor who is as well.

4. Marriage Counselors Should Be Committed to Health and Wholeness

At the same time, don’t get a counselor who veers too much to the other extreme. Yes, I believe in marriage, and yes, I believe that God hates divorce. But do you know what God also hates? God also hates abuse, and He hates people hiding behind their marriage vows to avoid growth or repentance or doing what’s right.

A marriage counselor should have a healthy respect for boundaries, and should not want her clients to violate their boundaries by not holding someone accountable for violence or for controlling behavior, even if the one who is violent or controlling is a spouse. A counselor should not believe that marriage vows mean that if a man refuses to stop using porn, or if a woman refuses to stop her emotional affair, that the spouse should just do the Love Dare and leave it at that. The Love Dare is great–don’t get me wrong. But sometimes people need to be told: you need to stop what you are doing; it’s not acceptable; and just because you’re married doesn’t mean you can treat your spouse like this.

So, yes, a marriage counselor should believe in marriage. But they should not believe in marriage at all costs. They should believe in working towards wholeness and health within the marriage–and sometimes that wholeness and health can’t be found without setting some clear boundaries and even separating for a time (though this is only in extreme circumstances. James Dobson in Love Must Be Tough talks a lot about this, too).

Why don’t more people do marriage counseling? It’s often a combination of fear, embarrassment, lack of funds, and a fear that it won’t actually work. But I’d encourage more couples to try it. Sure, it may cost $1500 or so for your sessions in total , but that’s a lot less money than a divorce lawyer will charge. And if you and your husband will get on good ground, it will likely help you succeed more at your careers, too. It’s really worth it if you need it and have the funds at hand. I know many of you don’t, but if your marriage matters and you need it, plan on putting it in the budget for the coming months, if at all possible.

I was sent this great infographic on how marriage counseling helps couples from a couples counselor in Austin, TX: Louis Laves-Webb. It’s great, and he said I could share it with you. I hope it dispels some myths about whether or not marriage counseling works, and I hope it may encourage some of you to give it a try before issues get too big–and before you give up.

How Marriage Counseling Can Help Your Marriage Infographic

 

Now let me know: have you ever tried marriage counseling? How did it work for you? Tell us in the comments!

Top 10 Tips for Transitioning After a Long Absence with Your Spouse

Transitioning Back with Your Husband--when he's gone a lot for workIs your husband a pilot? A trucker? In the military? A business manager? Maybe, like many, your husband travels for work.

Lots of us are married to men who need to be away for long periods of time, and making that transition home can be quite difficult. Today guest poster Liz Millay shares what she’s learned about renewing that bond when your husband arrives home. Here’s Liz:

I have come to learn that spending time away from a spouse is much more common than I would have realized prior to entering marriage. I have a friend whose husband  travels for work for weeks at a time regularly. One of my husband’s best friends spent the first two years of marriage living in a different state than his spouse.

Sometimes life just doesn’t pan out the way you had hoped, and you find yourself having to spend a significant portion of time away from your better half. Times like this are so very difficult–but while it may seem that the time apart is the hardest aspect, the tougher transition may be right around the corner, as the transition back to living together can bring a whole new set of challenges.

So what can you do to ease into this transition? Now that my husband has been back with us for the last couple months, I’ve looked back on the experience and have come up with my top ten tips for transitioning back together after a long absence from your spouse.

1. Begin to prepare yourself as soon as you part ways.

Stay involved in each other’s lives as much as possible. Do things for each other whenever you can. Keep each other updated on what’s happening in life and stay on the same page in regards to finances, plans, dreams, etc. For more ideas on surviving your time apart, check out this article I wrote here.

2. Know your triggers.

Before we even reunited I already knew exactly what would be the most difficult aspect for me: my independence. I like doing what I want, when I want. I like being in charge of my own schedule. Transitioning back to bending to someone else’s agenda and desires after a time apart is always difficult for me. I knew it could easily become a trigger for tension and arguments. I had to be prepared to let go of always getting what I wanted. When you’re married both parties have to put each other first day in and day out. Although we weren’t without bumps, recognizing this trigger ahead of time helped greatly.

3. Don’t be like the Israelites.

Do you remember what happened with the Israelites after they left Egypt? It didn’t take long for their excitement to fade into bitterness. They started complaining and in no time they were wishing they were back in Egypt. In slavery! What a 180! So how does this relate to reuniting with your spouse? It is very easy to go from “over the moon excited to be back together” to “oy, life sure was easier when you weren’t here doing xyz.” Excitement fades and real life starts to grind away. He leaves his clothes on the bedroom floor. She never remembers to put away her hair dryer. You can easily get lost in the excitement of reuniting and be blind-sided by those annoying day to day things you’ve forgotten. I’m not saying it’s bad to be excited about your reunion, but if you’re not careful you can go from an emotional high to bitterness and frustration in 6 seconds flat. Keep your expectations in check and stay focused on the positive.

4. Remember where your strength comes from.

Especially towards the end of our time apart, I remember just wanting to be with him again. I wanted someone who would hug me after a bad day and then go get me a bowl of ice cream. I was tired of being lonely. When you’re apart, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything is going to be better when you’re together again. However, even though it’s definitely nice to have someone at your side to go through tough times, your husband is not your Rock. God is. The same God who got you through your time apart is the same God you need to lean on in the day to day once you’re back together.

5. Get on the same page.

Don’t withhold any reservations you’re feeling as you transition back together. Take it from a self-proclaimed, bottling introvert—you need to put everything on the table. Knowing each other’s concerns and struggles helps you encourage and build each other up, and give a little extra grace. My husband was aware that I was going to struggle with losing my independence. Knowing this made it easier for him to extend an extra dose of grace in those bumpy moments.

6. Don’t be afraid to fight.

Yep, you heard me. Fight. I’m not saying be mean and nasty; however, knowing that there are going to be some bumps in the road as you readjust to life together helps you take those arguments in stride. Shortly after being reunited with my hubby, we spend around 30 hours in the car together in the span of less than a week. At times we found it hard to keep a conversation going. At one point during the drive, we had a fight. It wasn’t ugly, but we were both frustrated. We were misunderstanding each other. But, you know what? We worked through it and got on the same page, coming away with a deeper understanding of where the other was coming from. After it was over, I found myself glad that we had gotten into the argument, as it was much more productive than just sitting in silence!

7. Have fun.

Be silly. Do something interesting together. Go on a date if you can. At least sneak in some alone time. Snuggle a lot. Enjoy each other. Spend some time just getting to know each other again. Be proactive in making sure you are having more positive moments than negative ones.

8. Reclaim your intimacy.

After spending an extended period of time away from each other, the intimacy you’ve built as a married couple is bound to suffer to some degree. You might find yourself wondering “who even is this person I’m married to?” Honestly, there is no easy fix for this except to just start doing it again (pun intended). Open up and be vulnerable with your spouse. The best place to start this is in the bedroom. I don’t want to speak for all men, but there’s probably a good chance your husband is feeling deprived in the sex department. Don’t think it’s just for him though, the benefits extend to both of you! See some of Sheila’s posts on intimacy here, here, here, and here.

9. Be understanding of changes that happened while you were apart.

Especially if you spend a very long time apart, there are bound to be some changes that could possibly take you off guard. There were two big ones for us. The first was that while my husband was away our son transitioned from a baby-like toddler to a 2 going on 20 toddler. You parents know what I’m talking about, the change that happens between two and three – the whining, the stubbornness, the “where-did-my-sweet-baby-go”? It totally threw my husband off guard and it was tempting for him to wonder what in the world I did to our kid. He had to take a step back, give me the benefit of the doubt, and realize that the changes were normal. The second thing was that for our last five weeks apart my husband had officers training for the Air Force. Being in such a strict, rigid environment changed him. I had to make sure I was understanding as he adjusted back to family life.

10. Have a truckload of patience.

For me, this was probably the most important thing. Once we were back together it was tempting to feel like everything needed to be perfect RIGHT THEN. I had to realize that we didn’t need to fix every single problem in our marriage overnight. Honestly, that realization alone relieved the pressure and made things so much easier. Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. On those days when it feels like your feet are dragging and the finish line is nowhere in sight, remember that it’s okay to slow down, just keep moving forward, loving and giving grace along the way.

We are a military family now, and while my husband’s position isn’t likely to experience frequent or extensive periods of deployment, the job will definitely lead to times where we are apart. So, I would love to know, if your husband travels for work, or if he’s in the military what life lessons have you learned?

LizMillayLiz is a twenty-something wife, mother, and jack-of-all-trades. When she’s not reading books, cooking, or crafting, this chocolate lover can be found outside. She admits she’s a nerd and maybe a teensy bit stubborn too. Liz blogs about faith, family, and life’s adventures at Simple Life. Messy Life.

 

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Making That Time of the Month More Comfortable

That Time of the Month--make it more relaxing and comfortable!

 

“That time of the month”.

It almost seems like the phrase should be accompanied with creepy background music, doesn’t it? It’s that DREADED time when you’re moody and you’re crampy and you feel like you can’t do anything fun. I can’t exercise the day before my period or the first day of my period or the cramps come in full force, which is ironic, because the more I exercise in general the fewer cramps I get. But I just can’t exercise then. And, as I’ve told you all on this blog, my uterus has gone into overdrive this year and I’ve been anemic and overwhelmed and oh so very tired. The good thing about all of those health problems, though, is that it’s made me pay much more attention to my body and to the effects that it has on my mood especially. I just don’t want to get into a downward spiral again, and I don’t want my family to suffer for it. So today I thought I’d share some fun things that I do now to make “that time of the month” something not quite so dreaded, but instead something that’s got some benefits for everyone.

Keep Track of Your Cycle

Seriously. Just know when it’s going to happen. I love the Pink Pad app that helps you register everything, because it tells me when my grumpy days will be, too. And then I’m warned not to get on the treadmill the day before, too. I can just go in and see what today’s going to be like. I never used to keep track, and then I’d be stressed if I were going away. I’d be packing my bags and I’d think, “Am I due?” And I could never remember. Now that I keep track, I can even schedule camping trips so that it won’t hit then. And that’s a big bonus! Another trick my doctor told me: If I had been keeping track earlier, I likely would have noticed earlier when I was going all wonky and would have sought help sooner. So know your body! One other nice thing about most period apps (whether you use Pink Pad or not): you can keep track of high heavy your cycle is each day. DO THIS! That way you’ll see if there are weird changes, and you won’t second guess yourself.

Be Good to Yourself

Here’s the fun one: be good to yourself! I have a whole bunch of strategies, like this:

Grumpy Day = Take Out Food Night and Netflix marathon. Always.

I don’t have to cook, and then we watch TV so that I don’t have to talk. I can knit instead. It’s not that I mind talking; it’s just that on those days I tend to blow things out of proportion and all kinds of misunderstandings take place. So now we have something to look forward to! I don’t get to have Netflix marathons often. I’m just too busy. But it makes the day actually something to anticipate! And who doesn’t like Indian food? With garlic Naan? And veggie samosas? Yum. We don’t order take out too often, so this makes it special. And that makes the whole thing not quite so dreaded! Pamper Yourself During Your Period

Period = Pretty Flowers

I don’t do the flower thing often, either, but when I go grocery shopping during “that time of the month” I always pick up a nice bouquet. Again, it’s just something to make me smile. And then I’m thinking “fresh”, not “gross”.

Period = New Kind of Tea

And not only have I shared with you about all my health issues. I also spilled about my struggles quitting Diet Pepsi. I think I’m over that now, largely because I’ve started drinking loose-leaf teas instead. I just love the smell, and it seems luxurious, like you’re pampering yourself, when you get to open up the tea drawer and figure out what kind you feel like now. So that time of the month, when I’m at the mall, I treat myself to a new kind of tea. I still haven’t figured out which ones are my favorites yet–I think anything mint and a lot of the oolong ones–but I figure the more I try, the more I’ll figure it out! Berry teas don’t do it for me like I thought they would, but the orange spice and pineapple and pear ones are great!

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