Marriage Makes You Happy, But Offers So Much More

I had the opportunity to be a part of over 50 weddings and vow renewals on Valentine's Day 2015 through Young Hip & Married. It was a day of joy and love filled the air as the crowds around cheered on every couple that spoke vows of commitment to each other and sealed their love with a kiss.
Many of the couples that came that day had been together many years but came to commit themselves in this official way.
The act of commitment for life speaks volumes on a day that glorifies romance.

What makes a couple make this commitment?

The Sun's Coverage of the Day
One study released in December shows that those who marry actually are happier than those who do not. And though often short term happiness leads to disappointment as expectations are not met and frustrations develop, studies have shown us that couples who stick with each other for a few years through the hard times, are happier in the end Pew Center).

In addition to happiness, this article from Newsweek explains that marriage offers stability that leads to better health, longer life and even appears to offer higher incomes. Yet, the greatest gift marriage offers is stability for our children and the happiness that comes with a secure family; psychological, social and emotional.

I have no doubt that marriage pushes and tests us. I let every couple I do a wedding for know that they will be challenged in their marriage; their weakness and selfishness will fight against it. The greatest gift marriage offers us is to teach us what it really means to truly love someone. Something that is hard to learn until you are faced with someone in your life 24/7.

If you are in a marriage and struggling, remember, there is a happiness on the other side of the struggle. A good place to start might be with what Dr. John Gottman says is one of the most important things you can do in your marriage. He explains it clearly in this video.

If you are doubting that marriage is right for you, know that it offers joy and happiness, but that it comes in a complex package, not a fairy tale. Perhaps you're in round two. You don't have to give up, but look at marriage with a new perspective.

If you are expecting marriage to be the answer to all your life's woes, please know that you will find fulfillment in marriage, but be open to the challenge it brings. As you learn what it means to truly love, you will find a fulfillment that is greater than you hoped for.

Romance is a wonderful thing, but it's not love, only a part of it.

Ironing Things Out

This morning I spent a few minutes ironing a couple of my shirts. You see, last week, I grabbed a shirt after a shower and rushed out to a meeting, only to realize on the way there that the shirt was a wrinkled mess. The permanent press label didn't seem to mean much. I survived the afternoon without too much humiliation.

But it made me think of the bigger wrinkles in our life.

We've been doing some ironing in our marriage lately.

What - marriage isn't permanent press?

Though our vow (our covenant) in this relationship, is permanent, that sure doesn't mean we are wrinkle free. Eighteen years in, we are realizing some of the wrinkles have been there quite a while and we haven't really dealt with them, for many reasons. Sometimes they are hidden deep inside us, sometimes we deny them, sometimes we don't think they are that big of a deal.

Sometimes we realize that it will take new courage or gentleness and than we have enough now.

My wife recently pulled a fun dress out of the recesses of our closet (in our Vancouver downstairs bedroom) to find that it was wrinkled and musty. Thankfully, a quick wash later and all is good.

It doesn't seem to work that way with our relational wrinkles. No quick wash and wear. Some deep ironing is in order; with patience and persistence.

I'm thankful that some of our relational habits (as faultily as we keep them), have enabled us to engage some of these deeper issues, instead of just drifting apart.
I think I default to giving us a little too much grace (ie. 'We are in a busy time in our lives - as things balance out, our wrinkles will iron themselves out' - or something like that). I'm thankful that my wife isn't as laid back and has encouraged "ironing" in the midst of craziness.

As I type, I'm listening to the song, If You Fall - achingly beautiful. It speaks to the power of covenant to stick to each other and make it through.

If you fall, I fall with you
If you hurt I feel it too
Even if my heart turns black and blue
I will love you

So we light a fire, once we get the kids down.
It's late, we try to stay awake.
We have some harder conversations.
There is some silence.

And as we stare at the flames, popping and crackling, I picture the irons of old being heated over a fire like this. Then, hot enough to burn, being applied, gently but firmly and patiently to the wrinkles.

We'll do the same ...

The Simple Things That Are Saving My Marriage

(even making it thrive)

Most of us know how it feels to be disconnected in marriage.

Perhaps it's just a phase. Hopefully a short time in our lives.

Sometimes we try to find the quick fix.

You don't have to look far to find a myriad of options to ensure you have the best marriage possible: 7 principles..., 10 keys..., 5 reasons..., etc.

Most of these include great ideas about improving communication, understanding conflict, navigating finances, a great sex life, family relationships, etc. These are all very important and helpful, but knowing about these things is one thing, putting them into practice is more difficult.

When there is so much that seeks to pull us apart in our daily lives (never mind the idea of conscious uncoupling), it's the simple things that keep us together.

My wife and I began to implement 3 things into our schedule and we're finding they make a huge difference for us.

1) Date Night
I know, I know - old news. 
Who doesn't know they should have a date night as a married couple. Actually committing to it is a different thing. 

This year we booked our date nights a year in advance by buying a package of tickets for the Symphony as well as a theatre company we love, rekindling shared loves. Any other date nights we throw in are bonus.

You don't need to spend money for a date night though, or even get out for that matter. Some of our most romantic evenings have been after putting the kids to bed and doing something special together. No guys - not just that. 

Think: a candle-lit dinner, easels set up and painting together (even though I'm not so artsy!), time reading a book out loud, listening to an album, watching a documentary that's especially meaningful to one of us. 

Date night is setting aside time to connect or reconnect - sharing who we are with one another, enjoying the gift of the other person, no matter if that's on a walk, on your couch or a night out.

2) Marriage/Couple Time
Now I have you thinking, "wait - didn't he already say date night?"

Let me ask you this: have you ever been on a date night and one of you brought up a topic that ended up totally sabotaging the date night? You end up having a needed conversation but it's not the right time to have it. Someone is surprised by it, one or both get emotionally flooded and date night doesn't end up like either of you hoped or expected.

So, why not set aside date night as a positive connection time and set aside another time for those intentional conversations that need to happen. That way, you can know that there is a time to bring up something that needs to be discussed. I'm not saying the conversation will be easy, but at least it won't be a surprise.

Not that Marriage Time always has to be a heavy. It's a time to check in and encourage each other about how you feel the relationship is going. To ask how the other is really feeling, to connect at that deeper level. Of course, sometimes there will be harder conversations as we struggle with disconnection, are honest about hurts and open up with our desires. 

Marriage Time is a weekly time and place to discuss these things. Put it in your schedules, open up time for each other and see what happens.

3) Business Time
What does Business Time have to do with your marriage? No, this is not a Flight of the Conchords reference, though that is also an important subject matter.

Setting aside time to look at your schedule and discuss expectations for the upcoming week is very important. This can be a quick meeting (maybe a bit more than just 2 minutes), where you connect with your calendars, clarifying any abnormalities in the upcoming week(s) and ensure you both feel understood about your priorities.

This helps limit negative surprises and builds positive connection. It also saves having to discuss "business" items during marriage time or date night.

It might be good to start with Business Time in order to start setting up the others.

When we put all three of these together, we found that we feel much more connected, moving through our days as friends and lovers, not just as parents to our kids or roommates or worse.

This covenant commitment for life takes intentionality, sharing in all of each other's joys and sorrows, relating at the deepest level.

With all the pressure of life, we shouldn't be surprised that our relationship seems to get hijacked. Yet, with some simple intentional times scheduled into our days, we can take it back.

5 Things Frozen Teaches Us About True Love

(or How Disney Finally Gets Romance Right With Frozen)

Out kids have not stopped singing all the songs from the latest Disney offering since before they even saw the movie.  Frozen has topped the charts as a movie and as a soundtrack, even inspiring a release singalong version (you can practice here).

What impresses me more than all of this is the about-face that Disney has taken. Okay, yes - the princesses are still beautiful and in flowy gowns - but in Frozen, Disney redefines TRUE LOVE. Perhaps in part because this is the first Disney movie to be co-written and co-directed by a woman, Jennifer Lee.

This movie actually helps us and our kids understand romance, friendship, singleness and the responsibility that comes with them.

1. True Love isn't found in a day
The movie starts out on the classic Disney track, with Ana, our protagonist, longing for love - wondering if she will meet "the one" on the first day she's allowed to meet the public. Our hopes rise with hers, hoping this endearing princess will not be disappointed. And sure enough, by the day's end she is engaged to Prince Hans, a man she just met. Hans stands by Ana's side as she tries to save the town and her sister Elsa.

Everything is going just as we would expect. When Ana's heart is accidentally frozen by her sister, only an act of true love will save. Immediately everyone assumes that she must get to Hans so that he can kiss her - True Love's Kiss. I guess they were all raised on Disney films too.

Okay - spoiler alert.

This is where Disney derails the romance train. When Ana finally makes it to Hans, he doesn't kiss her. Hans ends up being the villain, interested in Ana only to get to the crown. He leaves Ana freeze to death and tries to kill Queen Elsa.

Moral of the story - get engaged to the man you just met and he may let you freeze to death.

2. True Love isn't limited to romantic relationships
I see this movie as Disney seeking to rewrite the story of romance that they have fed to us for years. Perhaps its even an apology.

In the end, Else and Ana are both saved by an act of true love. True love being the self sacrificing action of a sister. The 'romantic feelings' of 'true love' are not to be trusted. There is a true love much deeper that we will have to rely on if we are looking for true happiness.

3. You can be single and happy
Yes, this is still Disney.
Elsa rises above her fears and then above her self-preoccupied freedom to realize that she can live out her life in loving service to others, without the need for romance or fear. For once Disney shows us that we don't need to find 'the One' to be complete. This is a huge step forward for the acceptance of the single person in our society.

4. In a relationship, romance is only a taste of True Love
Ana learns not to fall headlong into romance just because "Love is an Open Door". Of course, she does find her real "true love" in the socially awkward but still very handsome Kristoff, but at least she seems to be letting that develop a little slower. Though she may not have considered him "her type" at first, she begins to see that love is better than romance.

5. True Love is a journey that is complicated
We learn that true love goes beyond our feelings, forcing us to face our own fears. To also take responsibility for our actions, learning why we respond and react the way we do to others and learn to love instead. Maybe this is why I love the "Fixer Upper" song in the movie - are we all a fixer upper? Married or single, we can apply this to our lives. 

When the initial euphoria of a romantic relationship wears off, we are tempted to consider that we got the wrong person. This is where true love starts; where we truly learn how to love.
"What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility," Leo Tolstoy.

When we find that we are single without romance, we are tempted to buy into the old lie of Disney; you need "the one" to complete you. The reality is we need others and true love, but not necessarily "the one".

"Ana's armed only with love, and that's all she needs... Her journey is about learning what love is", says Lee in this interview.

I think we can all say the same.

U2's "Ordinary Love"

When I first heard U2's new song, I immediately was asking myself - what is Bono talking about?

U2 was asked to write a song as part of the Mandela biopic, Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom. Since then, Nelson Mandela has passed away and we have lost a great hero of equality, courage and love. He has inspired so many people, including 4 Irish boys who like to write songs. 

And though the song points to realizing a love that can impact national and racial relationships, I think most of us could relate to this song by looking at things more personally.
When I saw the boys at BC Place

 Hear it here. 

Bono is no stranger to love and romance. He has been married to his wife, Ali, for over 30 years. And though you won't find a "Love Songs for Ali" album being released anytime soon, we can hear themes throughout his lyrics. A favorite of mine is from A Man and A Woman:

"Well I could never take a chance of losing love to find romance

In the mysterious distance between a man and a woman"

You see - Bono gets it. I'm sure there were sparks as that young Irish couple came together in high school. Bono is a romantic, but he knows that love is so much more than romance.

John Gottman knows all about this. After years of studying couples, he continually points us back to the little everyday-ness of our relationship. Whether he's teaching us about the 7 Principles, the 5 Steps, or the 10 Lessons (all great books by the way), he's encouraging us to live out an ordinary love.

He says it like this:
"Our research shows that to make a relationship last, couples must become better friends, learn to manage conflict, and create ways to support each other’s hopes for the future." 

It's about building a deep friendship. 

And though you don't see it much in Hollywood, Ben Affleck knows about this, as he told us at last year's Oscars, that marriage is work ("the best kind of work"). During his followup SNL monologue, he invited his wife, Jennifer Garner, onto the stage with him to help clarify. She says that she'd prefer to say that marriage is a GIFT. Yes, Jennifer, it is a gift, but a very complex one that does take work. Much of that work is learning an acceptance of ordinary love.

The trouble is that this forces us to look, not at what we get from a relationship, but what we can give. And that forces us to look at our own selfishness and shortcomings; dealing with ourselves.

Most friendships don't ask this much of us.

That's where the real work is. Once we humble ourselves to learn what it really means to love someone else, we truly begin to enter into the covenant we committed to.

It's time to see the beauty in Ordinary Love. To realize that there is a deep mystery in the most ordinary of relationships. Of course - this leads to something extraordinary - a love that is so much better than romance.

Are you willing to take that journey?

5 Reasons to Consider Marriage Preparation

“Um, to be honest, what would we talk to a mentor about for 6 hours?”
I had just explained that I usually recommend a minimum of three, 2-hour sessions (for a total of 6 hours) for premarital mentoring. The bride-to-be (let’s call her Kate) on the other end of the line couldn’t imagine needing to talk for so long about their relationship. I had them complete an online assessment, and once they began to see their assessment results, they decided that it couldn’t hurt. Halfway through the second session they, specifically the guy (let’s call him Will), commented how much they enjoyed the process: exploring their differences, looking at the families they came from and their styles of communication. Now they are eager to get to the next topics of discussion (finances, sexuality, kids, etc).
I’ve seen dozens of couples in the Vancouver area make discoveries like this.

With estimates of over 10,000 weddings per year in the Vancouver area and the vast majority of them going ahead without any thought of marriage preparation, I can see why it’s hard for many to consider this option.
Why should someone consider marriage preparation? Here is a top 5 list of reasons:

5. Your communication can always get better.
Much of marriage preparation is identifying your strengths and growth areas as a couple. You’ll have the opportunity to build on the strengths you have and find tools to improve on the weaker areas. Communication is a tricky thing. It’s something we usually do well, but learning what can turn it into conflict and how we deal with that isn’t easy. This is something you’ll have to do for the rest of your life together – it makes sense to get a little help with it.

4. It’s much cheaper than a divorce.
A friend of mine told me how much his divorce cost him. Aside from tens of thousands of dollars there was also the individual pain and separation of his relationship with his kids. He wishes he had done some good marriage preparation. Maybe it would’ve helped avoid what he never imagined would happen. A church program may cost you nothing but time. Meeting with a mentor or counsellor may cost somewhere between $150-1000, depending on the number of sessions. I think it’s worth it.

3. Studies show that with marriage preparation, marriages have a 30% increase chance of being long-lasting and satisfying.
Couples who participate in premarital programs experience a 30% increase in marital success (study by Carrol and Doherty, 2003).There are a number of marriage preparation options out there: a weekend conference hearing from a speaker, a video series put on by a church, seeing a professional counsellor, or perhaps a few sessions with a pastor. Barnabas, which is a retreat centre on Keats Island, hosts an excellent premarital weekend. The best approach I’ve seen is focused mentoring with the premarital couple (either with an individual mentor or a mentor couple), enabling true communication about the core areas of the marriage relationship. Finding something that isn’t just to check off your list, but a good fit for you, is important.

2. You don’t know what is to come in your life.
Nothing will cause me to question my love for my partner. Do you agree or disagree? Most premarital couples would agree, until we begin to talk through realities that couples face in marriage. “Oh, that won’t happen to us,” is often the response. It’s worth talking through some of these potential realities and how you might react. Our expectations, usually quite high, will likely set us up for disillusionment. But talking them through can bring an acceptance of the complexity that marriage offers.

1. You don’t know each other as well as you think you do.
Most of us fall prey to the myth that we know each other, almost completely. The reality is, as you get older you even learn so much more about yourself as an individual. As we prepare to give ourselves to someone in marriage, it’s a great time to have someone guide you through exploring where you and your partner have come from (family of origin) and how that has affected how you’ll respond in marriage. This gives you the opportunity to offer even more grace to the other when they act completely different than you’d expect.
A favourite question of mine is “What would the marriage of the groom’s father with the bride’s mother be like?” And if the answer is, “Oh that would be a train wreck!”, I remind them that they both bring aspects of their parents into this relationship.
Another favourite question of mine to ask is, “Is love all you need for a happy marriage?” Most would answer like you probably have – no, there has to be more than romantic love. But what does that look like?

Marriage is an amazing relationship. I love doing weddings and seeing the joy of two people coming together in a lifelong covenant. The shared joys, companionship and deep love bring a smile to my face. Yet, I love to see a couple ready for all the years ahead; ready to face all that marriage has to offer.

Taking some time before you get married or in your first couple of years to prepare for your marriage will pay off. It doesn’t have to happen in those stressful months right before your wedding, but anytime, from pre-engagement to the first years of your marriage. And ladies, if you can’t get your guy to read this, drag him to some kind of marriage preparation. 80% of the time it’s the women who initiate it, it’s just how we’re wired. And men – you’ll be surprised how beneficial it is.

Our couple from the beginning story, Will and Kate, will be getting married under “their tree” soon, and their community will dance a jig in support of their marriage (during the ceremony.) And I will rest assured that they are well prepared for all that will come their way in marriage.

This post originally appeared on Tim and Olive's Blog
Make sure you check out their blog. They have also written two great books. The first is, “Fight With Me: How We Learned to be Married,” you can get as a FREE gift for subscribing to their newsletter. The second book is “Then Came The Baby: The Wonder, Mayhem and Hilarity of Our First Year As Parents.” Both books are available as Kindle ebooks and as hard copies on Amazon.

The Beauty Behind 'Marriage Isn't for You'

With over 24 million views in the first couple of days and every major news-feed responding with some form of criticism, I think its worth pointing out the good of Seth Adam Smith's blog post "Marriage Isn't For You"

If you haven't yet heard of it, you can follow some of the fascinating debate here.
Seth's turn of phrase makes one wonder if he's saying that marriage isn't the right choice for you, when in fact he's talking about something totally different.

What cord did this strike in so many people to send this thing viral? 
Perhaps there were a few women encouraging their would be fianc├ęs to take his advice and get on with the show. (Seth said that he was following the advice of his dad, which was given as he was deciding if he should get married or not.)

The beauty underneath this is much deeper. The sense that love is a selfless act. Can you imagine being loved without any condition? I think we all do. This is why romantics read the post and want to share it. Here is a man realizing and seeking to enter into true love! 
Of course, this is also why there is such a backlash - does something like such a pure love exist? All who have been hurt know its not so easy. 

What I've realized in my 17+ years of marriage is that one's love is often selfish and we must learn to love as Seth's dad encouraged him too. Though,  I'm sure that's not the only thing Seth's dad has to say on marriage.  It takes a lifetime to learn to love like this, so don't think you have it down pat in those early, easier years. 

The Hidden Beauty
The amazing thing is that as we seek to learn to love the other, we realize that we are changing into a better person. I'm not talking about becoming a doormat, but a truly empathetic listener, a caring person and able to put our agenda on hold. It also means being willing to be vulnerable and be loved in return. 
As Seth has already pointed out, it's not as clear cut as some might think he's being. It's not purely romantic.
We can tend to be idealistic romantics or pessimistic realists.

I try to be a realistic romantic.

The beautiful thing about marriage is how complex it is; a wonderful complexity that invites us to truly learn to love and to be loved in return. 
In the end, marriage is for you, maybe just not the way you thought it would be. 

An Arcade Fire Marriage

The latest release from Arcade Fire has me thinking about marriage.
Not that they have a lot of songs that you'd necessarily play at your wedding, though I think a few would fit very well in a vow renewal.

Reflektor shows a depth and complexity that reflects the whole of our lives, including marriage. As the band first began its crazy journey to indie/mainstream success, the lead couple of the band, Win Butler and Regine Chassagne were married. I can't imagine what their marriage must be like - (of course, I can't really imagine what anyone else's marriage is like.)

Though it was drummer Jeremy Gara, in an interview with Jian Gomeshii on CBC's Q, who brought up marriage. When asked what success looks like for them, now that they're 4 albums and 10 years in, Jeremy responded simply: "Happily Married. Honestly. Like, feel good at home."
He explained how, yes, they work hard on their music - but its the balance of things that's most important.

Maybe this is why in certain songs of theirs you can find themes of the complexities of marriage and hear so much hope in the midst of reality.

Go ahead and give Afterlife a listen (and a great watch with this stage show performance).

And after this
Can it last another night?
After all the bad advice
Had nothing at all to do with life
I've gotta know
Can we work it out?
Scream and shout 'till we work it out?
Can we just work it out?
Scream and shout 'till we work it out?
But you say
When love is gone
Where does it go?

Sharing from the Heart

One thing that amazes me with marriage is how hard it can be to share your heart. This is meant to be the safest place - the closest relationship ever - and yet couples everywhere struggle to share deeply from the heart, starting even at engagement.

We had a great summer in many ways (see last post). I'm thankful for all that we implemented to be intentional about our core relationships. One thing that being intentional can do is make you realize that you'd love to be further along than you are.

Unity Sand from a recent
wedding I officiated.
Perhaps this is why we can tend to find it hard to truly share our hearts in marriage. We've tried to and it hasn't gone like we thought it would. It's not like we really give up either. We try different things, but slowly move toward accepting what we think the reality is: that we are not going to experience what we hoped we would.

Before we were even dating, I remember watching a lunar eclipse with my wife. For some reason the song, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" came up. I boasted that I could see into her heart anytime I wanted. 18 years later we are still trying to get beyond some of our eclipses.

Don't get me wrong - we have shared deeply from our hearts and have experienced each other's innermost feelings. We have loved and expressed that love in wonderful ways. We have also had three kids, vocational changes and family stresses which have taken their toll. So what are we to do to go further, to continue exploring?

1. We need to be open to what we have.
What we have now and what we will have is going to be different from what we had. Yes, there are some past hurts and challenges that may need to be addressed, but we need to move forward. We also cannot expect the same experiences, we can only receive what is present and is to come.

2. It's important to do our own work.
We are both finding out more and more about ourselves as individuals. Realizing why we respond the way we do and seeking to change. I need to forget about changing the other, let marriage do its work on me and become a better person. Often it's our own insecurity that keeps us from opening up.

3. Examine our expectations.
A favorite marriage preparation question I use is: do you expect that your marriage will sometimes be disappointing and frustrating?
The younger the couple the more they disagree. With maturity we understand that every relationship, including marriage will be disappointing and frustrating. Mainly because we have unrealistic expectations that need to come into line with reality. But that doesn't mean we need to lose hope. With realistic expectations, marriage can grow into a relationship that is truly satisfying.

4.  Risk, again and again.
It's worth it. Remember that the other is learning too. Open up and share. Be honest. Get a list of emotions and figure out what I'm feeling and tell my spouse. Model what it means to listen when she speaks.

5. Realize this is what is at the heart of most of our conflicts.
The reason we have conflict with our partners is because of the disconnect between the two of us. The angst we have because of the disconnect is usually a much bigger deal than the issue currently being discussed. Sometimes we think if we can just solve the issue we'll be okay. The reality is that we need to move toward opening up, sharing and listening to each other's hearts, and then the issues we conflict over will come into proper perspective.

Even though we know where we want to go, the map is not always so clear.
We're still figuring this out.
These hearts - they are so complex.  

Summer Loving: Intentional Ideas for Marriage and Family

Summer has come and the change of schedule seeks to enliven us and wear us down all at the same time.

When will these kids go to bed?
How can we meet everyone's expectations for the summer?
Just how many toys can be out at one time around the house?

To seek to do more than survive the summer we're doing a few things, attempting to thrive, as a family and as a couple.

1) We've made a bucket list of the things we would like to accomplish/ experience as a family and have begun to prioritize which we can do and schedule them (everyone was open to brainstorm all options).

2) Hannah and I looked at various date night options that we'd love to experience together (including free public lectures, dancing in the park, concerts, museums, movie nights- outdoor and indoor, house
parties, etc), chose a bunch of them and emailed the dates out to our group of our friends/ babysitters.

3) We've also taken the opportunity of a little more relaxed schedule to book a few sessions with our marriage counsellor for a tuneup.

4) We have also intentionally planned to stick around a lot of the summer for a staycation and have down time.

As John Gottman says, sometimes `it is the small things done often that make the most difference in a relationship.`

Making a little extra time and space for each other - living life to the full, without over-scheduling. 

Hopefully we`ll end up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, much more connected as a family and as a couple.

We`ll let you know.

Loving a Person

One of my favorite songs about marriage  is 
Sara Groves', Loving a Person.
She starts by saying:
"Loving a person just the way they are, it's no small thing
It takes some time to see things through
Sometimes things change, sometimes we're waiting
We need grace either way"

We will all say that unconditional love is an incredible gift to give someone and something amazing to receive. To be loved for who you are, not what you do or can give. This is true love. 
But this takes time. We change, things change, we learn, we grow. 
This is why marriage is a life long covenant - to learn to love.

As Sara says in the chorus, as hard as it is - there's a beauty to seeing things through to the other side:
"Hold on to me
I'll hold on to you
Let's find out the beauty of seeing things through"

The other side of what you might ask?
"There's a lot of pain in reaching out and trying
It's a vulnerable place to be
Love and pride can't occupy the same spaces baby
Only one makes you free"

She speaks plainly of the pain we feel when we are vulnerable. Reaching out when we want to retreat. 
Trying again when we want to give up. 
Then she kicks me in the gutt - am I choosing love or pride? They can't occupy the same space.
If I hold on to being right, to getting my way, to my hurt - I'm holding on to pride. 
I can choose to humble myself and love.
It's easy to find the faults of others - to focus on the offense, but can we choose love?
"If we go looking for offense
We're going to find it
If we go looking for real love
We're going to find it"
And she knows, she's able to admit that loving her isn't easy either.
"Loving me just the way I am, it's no small thing
It takes some time, It takes some time,
It takes some time, It takes some time"
Maybe you aren't in this harder place. I'd encourage you to be honest and open to the pain you do feel in being vulnerable. If we can learn to express it when things are better, we can move into an authentic relationship easier. 
If you are in a harder place, know that you are not alone. Know that it's expected. 
It's a part of how we learn to love. 
It takes some time...
give the song a listen...

Chocolate Dipped Bacon Roses - Really?

Is there a better way to say I love you than Chocolate Dipped Bacon Roses?
I decided to make some for my wife as we celebrated her this past weekend.
Why would I, some may ask?

Is it because there is no better way to say I love you? I think not.
Is it because they are the perfect metaphor for marriage: beautiful in their own way, sweet and salty, rich and fulfilling with a touch of bittersweetness? Don't think so.
Is it because my wife is infatuated with bacon? No - sure, she likes it, but it's not like she is a subscriber to 365daysofbacon or anything. (It's where I found the recipe.)

So why, when I had so much else to prepare for her party (and you can ask her - I pulled it off without her help - mostly), did I take time to make these?

1. Mainly because it was a little thing. John Gottman tells us that it is the little things that make a difference. It is the little things we do for our partner that says we care about them, that we know them and want to please them. Find out what your partner loves and look for little ways to surprise them and you'll both be better off.

2. Also because it was something different; something that we will remember. As one friend said that night about the roses, "I'm not sure whether to be impressed or disturbed." Either way, they will be a fun memory of my love for my wife.

And surprise, surprise, they taste great. She did have one - and said as much.

by the way - i have some stems available for anyone who wants them...

Only Love

Mason's book, The Mystery of Marriage, is filled with gems like this.

If you think back through your past and present relationships, consider those things which have robbed you of intimacy. To know our own personal dialogue is one of our biggest challenges. If we are able to, I think we can understand this quote quite well.

It is no surprise that judging the other in a relationship and rejecting them, as well as being judged and rejected ourselves, would spoil intimacy. The surprise comes in Mason's answer - love.

I think that this is marriage's greatest gift to us - the gift of learning how to love. Yes, it is trial and much error. Yes, it is learning when we feel rejected and condemned and reaching back in love. Yes, it is in recognizing when we act out of insecurity and defensiveness, judging, condemning, rejecting our partner - and choosing to love instead.

This is a daily thing. It is the small hurts that add up and steal our intimacy. And it is the small, moment by moment, acts of love, turning to the other, turning away from bitterness, that can bring it back again.

Knowing Me, Knowing You: The Step Before Good Communication

    If you ask couples what the main thing they need for a good relationship, most would say good communication.
     I know about communication. When my wife and I were long distance dating we wrote letters, sent faxes (yes it was before email), and ran up enormous phone bills. Now we live in the same house, but our three kids and busy lives do almost as good of a job keeping that long distance feeling.
     Yes, it's important to find the time for good communication, but as important as communication is, I think it's important to go back one step.

     ABBA released their hit song, Knowing Me, Knowing You back in the 70's. (No, I didn't own it on vinyl.) The song talks about the end of a loving relationship:
 "Knowing me, knowing you (ahh, a-a, aah), there is nothing we can do...."
     Too bad Abba didn't see the importance of truly knowing oneself and knowing the other in a relationship.  (Of course, I know they were using the phrase colloquially.)
     This is what I mean by taking one step back from communication. Before we can truly communicate with the one we love, we have to have an honest look at what our own motivations and intentions are in a conversation. More than likely, those have been set up for us by our family of origin and how we were raised.

Knowing Me
     As we try to communicate with our spouse or partner, we find that we are not connecting well; that we feel misunderstood, so does our partner. The reality is that we need to stop and take a look at ourselves. Why am I so angry? Why am I so hurt? What did I expect this to be like and why?
     As we come to terms with our own emotions and why we have them, we can enter communication with our partner in a whole new light. Of course, this takes time, and will usually require the listening ear of good friends or mentors, and perhaps a counselor or therapist. If you have coverage on your extended health from work, then this is a freebie. Find someone you can trust and have some solid discussion.
     Read some Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence; even his Primal Leadership book deals with this. If you're a parent, John Gottman's book on Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child has lots for you personally as you seek to help your children.
     If you're planning for marriage, going through a mentoring program is a great idea. Explore your differing expectations in all the major areas of your relationship with a counselor or coach or a mentor couple. This creates a safe place and accountability to talk through each area!

Knowing You
     Once we recognize that our spouse will often have completely differing expectations from us, then we can enter into communication, trying to understand where they are coming from. When we recognize our own emotions, we do not have to be run by them. Then we can focus on the other. Ask your partner about them. And LISTEN. No need to defend, or explain - seek to understand.
     I'm not sure of a better gift to offer the other in our life than understanding. It means putting our agenda on
hold for a few minutes (or more). A practical way to do this is to offer the other 10-20 minutes to tell us about what's going on for them: in life, work, your relationship and then just asking followup questions to go deeper.

     Of course - they may just think you are up to something. And you are - something wonderful. I don't think they'll be thinking you've been listening to too much ABBA. And just maybe you can have much more of what you've always wanted in your relationship.


Whether its the pre-engagement stress of the would be groom, or the inevitable stress of the bride-to-be, the stress before a wedding is an opportunity.
An opportunity? For what?
Every marriage will experience unwanted, surprise times of stress. If a couple can get into the habit of dealing with stress at this point, it will prepare them for the future.

A couple of points of how to deal with stress:

1) Find time to communicate.
You need to set aside relationship time - face-to-face, putting aside distractions, in order to make the space necessary to hear each other. Nothing adds to stress like bringing up issues and hard decisions without time to be heard. Brew a pot of tea, open a bottle of wine and sit with your lists, with an openness to hear and understand the other for an hour or more, at least once a week, more if you time.

2) Find time for yourself.
Yes you need to get the lists done, but you will not be able to function well if you are depleted. What brings you joy and life? Look at your weekly calendar - look at today - and see where you can find a few moments to enrich your life. It might mean less veg time, but if you are energized, you'll need less veg time anyway!

Look at the stress you are facing as an opportunity to learn how to be a team, to practice for the future. Remember, this is for the long haul!

Engagement Season

This is the time of year that everyone seems to be getting engaged. Either you did recently, know of someone who did over the holidays or maybe are looking toward the holiday of love to pop the question.
I love the transition a couple goes through at this point in their relationship. The idea of taking the love they have and committing to explore it for the rest of their lives. Its a huge step - full of romance, anticipation, joy and excitement. Then comes the planning. The venues, photographer, florist, etc. In the midst of it all, it can be easy to forget that this is not just a wedding that is being planned but a marriage.
I encourage you to consider what you are doing to plan for your marriage. And if you know someone who is engaged, what are you doing to help them in this.
Whether its reading a book together, going on a marriage retreat, developing a marriage plan or a team of support or taking the time for Marriage Preparation, remember that marriage is for the long haul - and not just one day. So, if you're getting marriage - have a blast planning, but set some time aside for preparing for marriage too. If you know someone who's getting married, ask them what they are doing to prepare for this huge step - and offer to help. Perhaps you can mentor them, or offer a book or send them my way. I'd love to help.
Wanting to make sure marriage is the joy its meant to be,


My name is Randy Hamm and I would love to help you with one of the most important relationships in your life. Whether you are considering marriage, engaged or already married,  this is something to think through with someone else.

We will use the Prepare/Enrich Assessment to facilitate your sessions, ensuring that you cover all the necessary areas of your marriage. (See what others are saying about this assessment on
There will be frank, practical discussion regarding your expectations and issues within your relationship, including your core differences.