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?