10 Lessons I’ve Learned (the hard way) in 10 Years of Marriage

10 years.

Rich and I have been married 10 years!

I know it’s hard to believe Meryl.

That’s the same amount of time it took Einstein to come up with E=mc2. That’s how long it took Julia Child to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That’s how long it took to create the Brooklyn Bridge. And that’s how long psychology professor John Hayes says it takes to become an expert at something.

How fantastic.

On this momentous occasion (and since I am now a marriage expert!), I thought I would take it upon myself  to bestow upon you 10 years worth of my hard-earned marital wisdom. Or rather, I will share with you 10 mistakes I’ve made that turned into important lessons. Marriage is a laboratory after all, and I’ve had some doozies of failed experiments.
If you are recently married or about to be married, this is your lucky day! Sit yourself down, I’m going to give you a little cheat sheet here so you can have a smooth ride into marital bliss.
With this handy list, you can just start right off loving your spouse unconditionally without screwing things up first!
Lucky lucky you!

Marriage Lessons:

10 Marriage Lessons Learned in 10 Years of Marriage.

1. Acceptance is where the magic happens.

This is lesson numero uno for a reason. In my opinion, learning to accept your spouse whole-heartedly exactly where they are (instead of where you wish they were) is the most important and impactful marriage lesson. It’s also the one that has taken me the longest to learn.

You see instead of understanding that my job is to love my spouse, I mistakenly thought it was my job to improve my spouse. I made this mistake for years. I took the responsibility of Rich’s physical health, emotional health, and spiritual health upon myself. I picked these (plus a few more) millstones up  one by one and lugged them around for YEARS.

My mindset was- if I wasn’t helping Rich to be the best he could be, who would? (spoiler alert- the answer is Rich, who by the way is definitely not and never has been in need of my unsolicited personal-improvement-services).

I didn’t understand that the way to help him be the best he can be is simply to love him exactly as he is instead of reminding, manipulating, and encouraging him to do things I thought would make him happier and better. (If you are seeing co-dependence written all over this, you’re not wrong. Co-dependence= my well-being is dependent on your well-being).

I really thought it was my job to point out his faults to him. Guess how that turned out for us?

Let’s just say there is a reason that studies have shown men’s #1 complaint in marriage is nagging.

via Kevin Spear

I mean who doesn’t love having their imperfections pointed out to them??

I didn’t realize that these weights I was carrying that I thought were necessary to be a “good spouse” were the very things dragging me down. Keeping me from loving my spouse unconditionally.

I attribute this blog and all the interviews I’ve conducted and marriage books I’ve read to finally realizing that the answer to improving my marriage wasn’t to dig in harder in trying to “improve” my spouse. The answer was to LET GO.

There is a test given to navy seals before they can become navy seals where they have their hands and feet tied up, are thrown into the water and have to survive for five minutes. Many never pass this extremely difficult test. Many try as hard as they can to kick and squirm in order to keep their head above water. Ironically, these very attempts to survive are what cause them to fail. The harder they try to stay afloat, the less likely they are to do so.

It is not in kicking and swimming that they succeed, it is by letting go. By not moving, they sink. Once they sink, they can kick off from the bottom of the pool and get that life sustaining breathe before sinking again and starting the process over.

This has sort of been my experience in marriage. The harder I try to change my spouse, the more miserable we both are. The more I let go and just accept him exactly as is, the more I am able to love him and the closer we become.

Marriage Lessons
It’s actually quite easy to love him 🙂

2. The good news and the bad news: I determine my experience in my relationship, not Rich.

The quickest way to be unhappy in life is to hang your happiness on something you don’t have control over.

The quickest way to be unhappy in your marriage is to hang your happiness on your spouse’s behavior.

I mention some form of this lesson in every. single. post I write. I do this because it is SO crucial to understand and yet SO easy to forget.

And even though I’ve written some version of this lesson every. single. week. for the past four years, I also tend to forget this lesson every single week.

It has taken me many, many years to figure this out, but I have discovered that when I feel the MOST sure that something in Rich needs to change, these are the times when I in fact am most in need of changing.

Such a bummer, that.

The more we take ownership of controlling the things we can control (our attitude and behavior) and letting go of what we can’t (our spouse’s attitude and behavior), the happier we will be in our marriage.

This has absolutely been my experience.  (I write about all about this in what I call the very first step to your happy marriage).

Its good news and bad news. I mean I am in control of my own happiness in marriage?! Great! But also, oh, I am responsible for my own happiness in marriage?

Thankfully, I married someone who makes it pretty darn easy for me to choose happiness 🙂

Marriage Lessons
It is, isn’t it?

3. It’s not about what I say, it’s about what I feel.

My number two marriage tip after focusing on what you can control is to hold weekly marriage check ins. Rich and I call ours companionship inventory and we’ve been doing it for over 10 years (we started when we were dating).

These Sunday night chats have been a HUGE mechanism for personal growth for me. Maybe more than anything else I’ve done.

One of the biggest lesson these inventories have provided me is that my words are not nearly as important as my thoughts and feelings.

Oh man, did this one take me a long time to learn.

I can remember SO many inventories when I would think and re-think of how to say something, falsely believing that if I could just find the right words, then Rich would understand my side perfectly and act exactly as I wanted him to (this, I believe is a common misunderstanding- when people say the main problem in their marriage is “communication”  what they really mean is – I can’t find the words to get my spouse to understand me or do what I want them to).

The problem was not our communication or words. The problem was that my heart was in the wrong place.

I was asking the wrong question.

I was focused on, “What can I say to get Rich to see my side?” When the more important question was, “What is the state of my heart? Is there love in my heart?

I have found if I start with love in my heart, I can communicate what I need to a million times better than when I am focused on getting Rich to see my side of an issue. (I write all about this in a post called forgive before you fix– one of my most helpful marriage hacks).

A loving heart is the most valuable commodity I have to offer in my marriage.

I wrote about this in a Facebook post recently:

4. Oh and have fun!

The first and only time I’ve been skiing, my friend who went with me frantically listed off a bunch of instructions on the lift up. “Just keep the top of your skis together.” “Bend your knees.” “Just go from side to side if you want to go slow.” “Lean into the curves.”

“Oh and have fun!”

Have fun?!? I have a million things to remember to keep from falling of this mountain and you want me to focus on having fun?

I wonder if marriage advice isn’t the same way. “Focus on making your spouse happy, but make yourself happy first!” “Be completely giving and selfless, but you also need to set boundaries!” “Your spouse isn’t a mind reader, you need to tell them exactly what you need, but don’t be demanding!” “Oh and have fun!! Savor every moment!”


But seriously have fun in your marriage 🙂

Sometimes when we’re in a rut, I often think the answer will lie in airing out all our grievances in big, deep serious conversations where we get to the heart of our disconnect.

And sometimes that’s true. But often, things get solved all on their own when we just have fun together. When we plan activities regularly where we laugh and have fun (even if its just from our couch), this tends to nip problems in the bud and smooth over existing disconnect.

Fun is healing and helpful and . . . fun!

Here are some things Rich and I like to schedule regularly:

1. Getting together with other couples. THIS. This helps us have fun faster than any other activity. When we’re with other couples, there is just a new side of us that gets brought out. We’re playful, we’re laughing. Sometimes if I haven’t spent much quality time with Rich for a while, I will think we need to be alone, but often we bond just as much or more if we get together with friends. Game nights are our love language.

Marriage Lessons
Guess who won this particular game night? (thus earning the coveted winner’s hat)
So many good times on this couch. Ah, Calvin Court where the livin and monitor swappin was easy.

2. Playing as a family. We started doing these quarterly bucket lists where every member of the family gets to choose two activities that we HAVE to do that season. And it has been so fun. Everyone is so creative and the list helps us get things on the calendar that we just wouldn’t do otherwise. We’ve filled our whole tub with Orbeez gel balls, we’ve recreated a Good Mythical Morning episode together, we’ve seen how many apples we can balance on our heads. We have fun 🙂

Marriage Lessons
family talent show.
Marriage Lessons
Anybody know who’s hiring apple-head-balancers? Clearly I’ve missed my calling.

3. Watching hilarious things while eating junk food. Occasionally, Rich and I will kick back, watch some funny sitcoms or YouTube videos while eating sugary cereal. We call these nights week nights. 😉 I’ve been a bit harsh on TV watching as a couple (as opposed to spending quality time together sans screens ) on the blog in the past, but seriously, laughing together with Rich at the end of the day with my cereal is MY FAVORITE PART OF MY DAY. Everyday. Forever.

4. See lesson #6 of this post 😉  (more on how to make that fun here)

5. Creative projects. Rich and I are at our best when we’re working on something completely meaningless (no deadlines, nothing important) yet creative together. Be it lip syncs, Halloween costumes, gingerbread houses, or video invites to our parties, we love to create epic-ly awesome projects.

Rich’s sense of humor and his eagerness to go all in in our creative endeavors is one of my very favorite parts about him. We’re hoping our new podcast, Marriage Theraoke (where we give therapy to popular love songs and then re-write them to be more emotionally healthy- debuting Sept 1!) will fall into this category for us.

Marriage Lessons
Donny and Marie Osmond lip sync- a running Christmas party gag in our last church congregation.

A video invite to a Christmas party we threw 🙂

Marriage Lessons
Late night Halloween costume creation with Rich is my fave.

5. Every effort to improve life in the bedroom is worth it (and fun!)

Who knew right?

I talk about coming around to this whole “having a good sex life” thing here and here.

Basically, through a series of experiments where we worked hard to improve both the quality and the quantity of our sex life (and by gaining new information via books and e-courses), I found that by improving this particular area of my life, positive ripple effects spilled into literally every other area of my life.

Everything about my life is better when I focus on improving our sex life.

I still find this revelation shocking.

And fun!

(I know, who knew right?)

family council meeting

6. It can be surprisingly easy to become unhappy in marriage (alternate title: you find what you seek).

Even though I run a marriage blog, even though I think about how to have a good marriage all the time, and even though I’m married to freakin’ Rich Davis (aka the easiest person in the world to be married to), I am shocked at how easily I can slip into being unhappy (which, as we established in lesson #2, is on me, not him).

It all starts with a thought. Just a little thought. An innocent little thought (noticing something that I wish was just a little bit different) that can slip in and if, instead of letting it go, if I hold onto it, before I know it BAM! Misery.

Rose-colored glasses can be replaced by what John Gottman calls negative-sentiment override simply by holding onto those negative thoughts that creep in.

Our thoughts create our feelings, which create our actions, which create our results (thanks Jody Moore!).

Thoughts –> Feelings –> Actions –> Results

Ergo, if you want to change your results, focus on changing your thoughts. Watch what story you are telling yourself and question it.

Truly, you find what you seek. (here’s my best tip on focusing on the good rather than the bad).

14 Days of love letters
I mean, there is just so much good to find in this guy.

7. Empathy and active listening don’t just happen, they are skills to be forged.

Because you’re my friends, I’ll be honest with you . . . I like to think of myself as a good person, as someone who is basically compassionate and sympathetic to my fellow humans.

I had this idea going into marriage that I was going to be GREAT at it. Better than most due to aforementioned good-personness, which I possessed in spades.

Get it? Humble pie? . . . . Did ya get it? via dribble

Marriage is the best teacher, and it has humbled me. As Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, “Every relationship is a mirror into how we have yet to grow.”

The mirror of my marriage has taught me (among many other things) that even though I thought I was a good listener, I really wasn’t.

When Rich would be talking (particularly if the topic was something I was emotionally charged about), I would spend that time in my own head figuring out what I was going to say next or how I could get him to see my side of an issue.

A few years ago, I had an experience where I actually really, really wanted to understand Rich. To understand where he was coming from, what he was thinking, what made him sad and glad and what was going on in his head.

I’m so grateful for this desire because it was my first step into learning how to actively listen and empathize (and it only took me eight years to get there).

As I tried to practice, I realized how far I had to go.

My default is still to not actively listen, but with practice I can feel I’m getting better. When Rich opens up to me now, I really try to listen to what he is saying and put myself in his head instead of my own.

It’s SUCH a powerful tool. I highly recommend forging this skill.

Marriage Lessons

8. Fill your own love tank and it will spill over.

If you’ve been following along for some time, you’ll know that I think at the very heart and root of most marriage problems isn’t a connection problem with your partner, it is typically an integrity problem in one or both partners- a weak sense of self, an inability to self-confront, or a need for validation from others.

This is why this is the YEAR OF THE SELF on Marriage Laboratory where all of our love experiments will be focused on developing a stronger sense of self.

Anyway, I’ve found again and again that if I focus on filling my own love tank- be it through healthy self care, time to myself to read or write, meditation, listening to uplifting podcasts, going for a run, praying, or scripture reading- that my good energy fills me up and then will spill over onto everyone I encounter, specifically my husband and children.

Often I want someone else to fill my love tank for me (namely my spouse) because that is so much easier and less work for me, but when I focus on filling my love tank and by extension others’ love tanks, the love comes right back to me. Every time.

It’s the best kind of cycle.

What is your spouse's best quality?

9. Love really is a choice (a very mature choice).

Marriage expert Dr. Terry Real talks about the three stages of love:

Stage one is LOVE WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE. This is the butterflies, head-over-heels beginning stages of the relationship that songwriters love to write about. Typically, in this stage we aren’t fully educated on our partner’s imperfections (hence love without knowledge).

Stage two is KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT LOVE. Inevitably a few years into the relationship, we start to become intimately familiar with our partner’s faults. We start to see that they can’t meet all of our desires. The love part of our relationship becomes overcast with wishing things were just a little (or a lot) different.

Both stages one and two are IMMATURE LOVE. Love based on “what am I getting out of this?” It is reactive love. It is focused on love happening TO you.

Stage 3 is LOVE WITH KNOWLEDGE or a KNOWING LOVE. This is I love you because I choose to. I see all of your faults and imperfections and I see that you can’t meet all of my needs (that’s my job) and I love you regardless. It is a PRO-ACTIVE love (instead of a reactive love).

I’ve certainly traveled through stages one and two, and I can feel I am getting closer and closer to stage three (I talk more about stages of value maturation here).

When I feel myself slipping into immature love thoughts, I try to remind myself I am married not to have someone love me, but to have someone to love. When I love another person, I feel love.

Having someone to love is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Marriage Lessons

10. Marriage is a laboratory.

Hey! That’s the name of this blog!

Perhaps my very favorite marriage researcher is Dr. David Schnarch. He says that marriage is the best people growing machine there is.

If you are feeling unheard, lonely or frustrated in your marriage. Usually, this is not a sign that anything is wrong with your marriage. It just means that someone else is pushing you up against your comfort zone or your values or boundaries.

Sometimes this means we need to set stronger boundaries, sometimes it means we need to figure out how to be ok even if we don’t get our way, sometimes it means we need to forge more integrity in order to sit with the anxiety that comes with growth.

But it does mean growth.

awesome spouse love letter

It is easy not to confront our weaknesses when we live alone. But when we are in a close relationship to someone else, our imperfections and weaknesses will inevitably bump against those of our partner’s.

This doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Or that we made the wrong choice in partner.

It means we need to experiment a little to find out how to grow, how to be ok when we don’t get our way, how to set boundaries, how to forge more integrity.

And if our current experiment is failing?

No matter, let’s switch it up and try another approach. Now we know what DOESN’T work, let’s find a new mindset or attitude or therapist or ritual that WILL work.

My marriage has been my laboratory of growth. I’ve figured out who I am, who I’m not, what I like, and what I don’t. I’ve grown. I’ve loved.

I’ve got a long way to go to be sure, but I’m infinitely grateful for the experiments I’ve lived through with Rich- both the failures and the successes.

I mean, is there anything better than becoming a better person? No! (that’s why where here).

And I love that I get to experiment with my very favorite lab mate in the whole world- this guy.

Note Six of 14 Romantic Love Notes. Click through for free printable
The most patient, funny, caring, smart, compassionate and fun lab mate around.

Thanks for 10 years of experiment failures and successes, of too-late nights, early morning runs, sippy cups, hiking adventures, cheap vacations, tooth fairy letters, stinky sheets, messy storage rooms, loving texts, inside joke side eyes, stolen halloween candy, embarrassing tennis matches, lost keys, temple trips, hot tamales, burned dinners, sushi dates, game nights, GMM, kid-wrestling, Valentine fancy dinners, salsa dancing, huevos rancheros, scenic bike rides, GBBO, sleep training, monitor-swapping, snow shoveling, elevator kisses, and LOTR marathons.

I would never want to spend these 10 years with anyone else. You are absolutely irreplaceable. Thank you for making me the best version of me. Love you Rich.


The Very Best Gift to Give and to Receive

A dear friend of mine’s husband was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. The terminal kind. The life-changing your-time-together-now-has-a-deadline kind.

I found myself desperately racking my brain for how to best help her. Clean her house? Watch her kids? Pray?

Yes, yes and yes, but would be the MOST meaningful gift to offer?

Also, when I see my husband going through a rough patch, I’ve often asked myself, “How can I be of best service to him here? What can I say? What can I do?”

As fellow humans, we all at some point come upon hard times. Eventually, we all come upon REALLY hard times.

Be it death of a loved one, financial crisis, health problems, feeling unloved or unwanted, or making major mistakes, we all come to those points where we just NEED something.

What do we need? What is the best remedy in our times of need? How can we be a good friend to those we love when they go through these hard situations?

Of course there are many answers and every situation is different, but I think one of the best gifts both to give and to be willing to receive is the gift of true acceptance- of hearing someone, empathizing and loving them.

It is the gift Christ gives to us. It is one of the most loving gifts we have at our disposal to give to others.

However, I’ve found true acceptance and empathy are not the first gift I think to give. In the above example with my friend, it wasn’t, and in the example with my husband, I almost always go to solutions before empathy.  “Have you tried keeping a gratitude journal? Maybe we could exercise more?”

Often when we are met with our own or other’s problems, our knee-jerk reaction is to go to solutions FIRST.

We’re natural problem solvers and sometimes solutions can be the answer, but often, it means more when acceptance and empathy come before solutions (or in lieu solutions all together).

Here are a few examples to back this empathy first thing up:

Examples of Empathetic Response


Perhaps nowhere is this tendency to focus on solutions, when we should be focusing on empathy, more apparent than in parenting.

via Unsplash

In two of the leading parenting books of recent decades: How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk and Parenting with Love and Logic – both state that loving empathy (instead of solutions) is the key to unlocking successful parenting.

Typically when our kids get hurt or don’t make the team or get made fun of, our knee-jerk reaction as parents is to FIX IT. To take away their pain. Do you want to go to the ice cream shop? How about we pick out a new toy? I’ll call the coach.

We want to offer pain-relievers when what our kids need is our love and empathy.

These pain “solutions” we try to offer also have the potentially dangerous side effect of not allowing our kids to learn to solve their own problems and crippling their ability to deal with their own pain productively instead of running from it or numbing it.

Sheryl Sandberg

In the book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg relates how alone and isolated she felt after the tragic death of her husband.

She said the friends who helped the most were those who were just willing to sit with her, who never ignored her pain like an awkward elephant in the room, who didn’t say, “Well, at least . . .”

It was those who accepted her in any state she was in and let that be fine  that meant the most. Those who didn’t rush her recovery or feel uncomfortable around her pain.

via Irish Times

She said she made mistakes with those suffering with loss before the death of her husband:

I remembered the year before Dave died when a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, I thought the best way to offer comfort was to assure her, “You’ll be O.K. I just know it.” Then I dropped the subject for weeks, thinking she would raise it again if she wanted to. Recently, a colleague was diagnosed with cancer and I handled it differently. I told her, “I know you don’t know yet what will happen—and neither do I. But you won’t go through this alone. I will be there with you every step of the way.”

The presence and acceptance of a friend meant so much more than silver linings, certainties or solutions.

Experiencing a Major Life Transition

The LDS (Mormon) church is such an all-encompassing community, that leaving it can often be a difficult, lonely and life-altering experience particularly for those whose family and friends are all LDS.

In doing research for my upcoming book, I asked several people who have left the church to tell about one person who really helped them through this difficult transition.

Without hesitation, all of them responded with people who offered acceptance instead of solutions. It was those who listened empathetically and were willing to sit with them through their pain even if they didn’t experience it also, even if it made them uncomfortable that meant the most. It was not those who offered (well-meaning) suggestions of, “Well have you tried ____?”

via Unsplash

In answer to the question of what was the most helpful thing during this difficult time of transition, one man said, “Just having someone I could talk to about stuff who would listen. [My friend] was hands down the most helpful. He said, ‘I’m not going to encourage you in or out of the church, but you are going to get through this’ And when you think there is no one willing to just listen and talk and give credibility to what you are going through- that was the most meaningful thing to me. It saved me.”

Mental Illness

In the FASCINATING book Voices of Hope for Mental Illness: Not Against, With, author Jackie Goldstein explains how in the U.S. and most of the Western world, when we encounter those with mental illness, we are obsessed with SOLUTIONS: more medicine, a different medicine, one kind of therapy, a different kind of therapy, etc.

But we don’t often talk about how focusing on all these solutions, ends up making those who struggle with mental illness feel very, well, PROBLEMED.

In the book, she talks about a community in Geel, Belgium that has a centuries-long tradition of caring for their mentally ill without any stigmas or typical “solutions” at all. Instead of trying to cure the mentally ill, they accept them. Just as they are.

The community has a tradition of having the mentally ill as boarders in their homes. These are not their family members, just community members.

They don’t try to change them or offer therapies or solutions, they just accept them as their friends and roommates.

via CBC News

And the results? The results are pretty amazing. Paradoxically by not offering solutions, these people’s problems do get better. The mental illnesses don’t go away, but the people are able to live peaceful, productive lives. Read the book, or at least listen to this podcast (totally worth your time!).

In a quote I think about all the time, Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Making people feel loved, appreciated, noticed, heard, understood and accepted are among the greatest gifts we have to offer one another. This is true for good times and bad.

But particularly in the bad, when we are in the midst of shame, suffering, loneliness and despair, a friend who can say, “I don’t know what is going to happen, but I’m here. I hear you, I’m with you and I love you.”

Those are the friends who mean the most.

Brene Brown, a leading authority on empathy, having spent her career researching human connection, has come to the same conclusion. She says,

“The truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection . . . .Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they can derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”


(the religious part of this essay)

Speaking of Brene Brown, I love her personal story of faith and how she came to find the perfect friend after years of researching what it took to be a good friend.

In an interview about her religious life, she says she was raised very religious in Texas as a Baptist, went to a Catholic high school, but by college she saw the many faults that can come with organized religion and stopped going.

She also thought the role of church and of Christ was to solve problems, to take away people’s pain and suffering. She thought that is what they were there to do, and she saw they were doing a pretty crappy job of it.

Fast forward 20 years, Brene was immersed in researching what it means to be a whole-hearted person, what empathy means, what it means to be connected to each other and what it means to be a good friend.

She had a bit of a mid-life crisis when she realized her own life would have to change pretty dramatically in order to align with the results she was gathering from her research. This shook her deeply.

So she went back to church.

But this time, it was different.

In her own words,

I went back to church thinking that it would be like an epidural, like it would take the pain away …. But faith and church was not an epidural for me at all. It was a midwife, who just stood next to me saying, “Push, it’s supposed to hurt a little bit.”

I thought faith would say, I’ll take away the pain and discomfort. But what it ended up saying is that I’ll sit with you in it.

I never thought that that would be enough. But it’s perfect.”

I LOVE this story. I love thinking of Christ as our perfect friend. Not there to take away all our pain and suffering, because truthfully some pain and suffering is fundamental for our growth. I love that He loves us enough not to take it all away, but to always, ALWAYS sit with us in it.

And what better person could be designed for empathy than the only one who truly has experienced all our feelings, pains, emotions, problems, loneliness, loss, grief and sorrow?

The only being in the entire universe who is capable of 100% true empathy of every situation we could come across, is the one God has sent us as our perfectly reliable companion. Always there for us, waiting for us to realize the healing balm right there for us within his presence.

Sometimes, many times in fact, our expectations of His role get in the way of us experiencing His empathy and healing. We want that epidural- we want that solution to our problems, we want the pain and suffering to be taken when WE want them to be taken away.

But love isn’t the absence of pain. He loves us enough to allow us our pain, to allow us to solve our own problems, but He never makes us do it alone without that love and empathy we all truly needs when we are in struggle.

His love also means he allows us to come to Him as we are. He accepts us as His, even in our faults and mistakes. He wants us to be the best we can and helps us to change, but His love is not dependent on our actions. He simply waits for us to come and accept His love and help.

via Unsplash

Being a Better Spouse

In thinking of the best, most powerful thing we can offer our spouses, I think it is this- being a good friend- offering true acceptance, nonjudgmental listening, and loving empathy.

So often we’re afraid of our spouse’s weaknesses. Or we feel like its our job to correct them (thinking if not us, who else?). So often when our spouses come to us with their struggles, our reaction is to say, “Well, at least . . .” or “Have you tried?” or “Well, maybe you should . . .”

When more helpful responses would be: “Wow, that’s hard, I’m so sorry.” or “I don’t know what to say exactly, but thanks so much for telling me.” or “I know how you feel” or “I don’t know what will happen, but I will always be here.”

It is human nature to put our defenses up when we feel attacked or misunderstood. Bad behaviors result from feelings of shame. But empathy is the antidote to shame. When we meet our spouses with empathy, we offer them POWER to overcome their own shame.

via Unsplash

We hold a real power in our spouse’s lives.

And my friend whose husband has brain cancer? I came to watch her kids and clean her house. She said, “ya know, what I really need right now is just someone to talk to.”

I’m not perfect. I’m not a perfect friend or spouse, but I hope in my loved one’s times of need, I will be able to provide them with that sweet healing nectar of acceptance, empathy and love.

I am infinitely grateful I have found those basic human needs met in Christ- a perfect friend, always there to remind me of my worth and value. There to perfectly empathize with every thought, mistake, feeling of shame or loneliness.

There to say, “You are not alone. I love you.”

Saving a Marriage From Divorce

Can a marriage be saved from the brink of divorce? What would that even look like? I’ve collected stories and advice for couples hoping to save their marriage from divorce.

When someone signs up for my email list, they get a little welcome email which asks them to respond back stating something they are currently struggling with in their marriage.

I get quite a few of these emails each week.

At first I was surprised to find how many of these emails expressed marriages in dire straights- on the brink of divorce, dealing with things like infidelity, addiction, abuse, etc. I’ve received three such emails dealing with infidelity just this week.

This has caused me concern many times because I feel inadequate to offer them anything helpful, never having experienced any of those problems firsthand.

But then I thought, while I don’t have experience with a marriage in dire straights, I can certainly point you to people who have been there and who can offer hope.

So the past two weeks I’ve been scouring the internet for helpful articles and stories for couples on the brink of divorce who are making it work.

Because if you are in this situation, it can often seem like you are all alone- surrounded by happy couples with no problems. Like this woman said,

“I always wound up asking [my friends] if they knew anyone—anyone—who had been through this and made it out the other side, anyone who’d survived an affair and come out happily married. Because I wanted to believe it was possible, and to know how it could be done. What was normal? Was there a road map? How long would it take? None of my friends seemed to know such a couple. Other marriages might have survived an affair, but no one was talking.”

At the outset, let me say that you are certainly not alone, and I sincerely hope you find peace and hope and forgiveness regardless of where your marriage lands.

Let me be clear (again) that I am not anti-divorce. I do not think every marriage should be saved and I don’t judge couples for whom this is the best option (the stories of hope section includes two such couples).

Saving a Marriage From Divorce | The best articles on coming back from infidelity and the brink of divorce.

This post, however, is primarily for those who have already made the decision to stay and need some hope and direction for what is ahead.

So here are the results of my digging for stories of hope for couples on the brink of divorce:

Stories of Hope: Saving a Marriage From Divorce

(the titles are links)

He Cheated: She Stayed: One Woman’s True Story of Getting Over Infidelity

I found this little gem in O Magazine online. The author is utterly real and relate-able.

Her story starts out with her being the mistress to someone else’s affair before she was married, so she begins by outlying why affairs are so alluring.  Then, years into her own marriage, her husband cheated and she got the other end of the experience.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“The year following Sam’s confession was wretched. I felt as if I were living forward and backward at the same time, excavating details about the past—ours and theirs—as I tried to figure out what came next: How could I keep our family on an even keel, and what could I do to fix our marriage, and was it even worth the trouble?
…It is very hard to fall back in love with someone you know as well as you know a spouse after 12 years. You have none of the momentum of early love to propel you forward, and all the habits that drive you crazy to drag you down. But we both cared for our marriage enough to want to give it a chance, and to try our best not to damage it further.
Much as I am loath to admit that anything good could come out of his affair, our marriage now is, in important ways, often better than it ever was. Sam doesn’t dismiss his anger in hopes that it will go away—and he’s getting better at pinpointing some of the vulnerable feelings that the anger, like a guard dog, protects.” 

How I Saved My Marriage

This one, written by Richard Paul Evans doesn’t involve infidelity and I’ve shared it before because I find it so powerful. Definitely worth the read for any relationship.
“Our fighting became so constant that it was difficult to even imagine a peaceful relationship. We became perpetually defensive, building emotional fortresses around our hearts. We were on the edge of divorce and more than once we discussed it.
. . . Finally, hoarse and broken, I sat down in the shower and began to cry. In the depths of my despair powerful inspiration came to me. You can’t change her, Rick. You can only change yourself.” 
Saving a Marriage From Divorce
Richard and his wife Kerri. Source: Hoopes Vision

Surviving Infidelity

This is written by a man whose wife of 35 years cheated on him. I was very impressed by how committed they both seemed to be to making it work (I’ll say more about this one in the ‘my two cents’ section).
“. . . even after I forgave her, I still hurt, I still hated, and I was still crying. But I realized at that point how much I loved my wife. And I believed that, even though she did what she did, she still loved me.”

The Big “D” Word

This is another long-time favorite marriage article of mine. All about disappointments and adjusting your expectations.

“There may come a time when you look at your spouse and look at your life and come to the hard realization that the dreams you once had will never come true with this person.  That truth hits hard.   You may feel trapped and backed into a corner with the only feasible solution being the big “D” word.  The thought of moving on can be so scary and yet alluring all at the same time.  The thought of a fresh start, a second chance to begin again and to get it right this time around.  These thoughts begin slowly at first like a quiet whisper at the very back of your mind.  But with every argument, every hurtful word, every disappointment, that voice that tells you that, ‘you deserve better’ gets louder and stronger.  It will convince you that you’ve done all you can.  It will try to steal your hope.  That voice will make you believe that things will never change.  And then, as the final and fatal blow it will stir up bitterness and resentment.  That voice will aim to harden your heart and convince you that the only thing left to do is walk away.” 

Pam and Greg. Source: Clean Life, Happy Wife

Life After Porn Addiction, Affairs and Lies . . . It Does Get Better

Alright, so this couple did get a divorce, but I put it in here first off because it shows that even with divorce, there is still a lot of work to be done in healing, forgiveness and self-growth. Also, I like what he says about the importance of overcoming shame (which secretly underlies a lot of our misery and bad behavior) and how he describes why he cheated.

“You can change your thoughts which change your actions. You do this by getting help from someone you trust. You do this by choosing to believe that you can be more than just these addictions, or problems. You CAN do something about it.

. . . To this day, Lynn and I are still friends, business partners, and co-parents and we get along just fine. That is thanks to both of us, putting in the work to heal, grow, forgive, and strengthen our relationships with ourselves.”

The Lie and Truth About Marriage

So this couple also eventually ended up splitting up years after this was written (yet remain very close), but I include it here because it is such a good description of what making it work when its hard actually looks and feels like.

“Real love is about METAMORPHOSIS, and metamorphosis IS FIFTY SHADES OF PAIN – just ask the butterfly. To let love work on you, to let the metamorphosis happen- you must allow the illusions of who you thought you were to fall away,  look reality dead in the eye and open your arms wide to the REAL him, the REAL you, REAL marriage.  

. . . Start feeling loving feelings a little each day. Download the truth that: Yep. FEELINGS FOLLOW WORK.  REPEATEDLY ACT LOVING AND EVENTUALLY- You will find yourself FEELING LOVING. Promise yourself you will never forget that love is not something to wait for or wonder about or search for or hope for but SOMETHING TO SHOW UP EVERYDAY TO CREATE. LOVE Does Not Just Happen. It’s FORGED.”

Advice from Experts

If You Want to Save Your Marriage After An Affair, Read This

This is a great article written for a spouse who has had an affair who wants to save their marriage. It is full of experts and authors sharing actionable steps.

“Research shows that if the betrayed spouse needs to process what happened or talk about feelings, healing won’t happen unless the unfaithful spouse is willing to participate in the conversation openly and honestly, in a reassuring way,” she said. “Sometimes the unfaithful spouse’s shame gets in the way of being present for these conversations. Know that you can acknowledge that shame and still be willing to put it aside so your partner knows their needs are paramount.”

I Just Discovered I Was Cheated On, Now What Do I Do?

Written as a partner article, this is what to do if you have been cheated on. Again, full of helpful quotes from experts.

“Give yourself permission to feel every emotion that comes your way: sadness, bitterness; hopelessness; total, utter rage — all of it. 

. . . You may feel like a victim now but you remind yourself that you haven’t been totally robbed of your agency. You still have a say in what happens next in your relationship.” 

We’re On The Brink, Can My Marriage Be Saved?

This is a reader question answered by a couple’s therapist. In it, she gives eight insightful questions to ask yourself as well as some strategies to heal.

“As a couples therapist, I see many couples that come into treatment despondent and angry.  There are years of damage and mistrust. . . . In all of these cases, at least some of the time, there is hope for true and genuine reconciliation.  Of course, this can happen if and only if both spouses are open to the idea of changing how they think of the relationship and how they interact with each other.  Don’t expect this to be a quick or easy process, but it is possible and I have seen it happen.”

My Two Cents

As I read through story after story after story of infidelity and broken marriages this week, I started thinking about my research as a graduate student studying criminology.

For my master’s thesis, I wanted to answer the question, “Why can some prisoners come out of prison and stay out and when so many end up back in? What is the difference between them? What characteristic or factor is the turning point?”

To answer this question, I spent hours and hours interviewing prisoners and former prisoners. I attended re-entry programs and questioned the instructors.

I’m not the first person to ask this question of course, and the literature outlines many contributing factors to recidivism: employment, family support, access to good programs, social economic status, race, etc.

But what I found in my interviews was that some people could have every box checked- a good job, friend and family support, the best programs and still end up violating their parole time and time again. Whereas others had everything against them and were still able to stay out of the system.

I concluded that the biggest factor boiled down to DESIRE. The important role of personal desire and conviction just couldn’t be ignored. If a parolee didn’t REALLY want to stay out of prison or get clean- no program, child or job could make them change.

And for those who seemed to have all odds against them who got clean and stayed out of the system- the difference seemed to be that they really, really wanted it. Wanted it enough to change at great personal sacrifice. Wanted it enough to seek and receive help. Wanted it enough to go through the really, really tough times.

Saving a Marriage From Divorce | The best articles on coming back from infidelity and the brink of divorce.

I wonder if it isn’t the same for the couples who make it work and those who don’t? (not that I think marriage should be likened unto prison 😉 ) I’m no expert in this field, so it’s just a hypothesis.

The tricky thing in marriage, though, is that it takes TWO people who really, really want to make it work. Want it enough to change at great personal sacrifice. Want it enough to seek and receive help. Want it enough to go through the really, really tough times.

We can only ensure one-half of the desire necessary unfortunately. Our spouse is responsible for the other half.

I think this couple is a great example. While reading this man’s story, it felt different from the many, many other infidelity stories I had read that day.  It felt like, wow, I actually believe they are going to make it work. The difference was that they convinced me that they both REALLY wanted to make it work.

Its like what Richard Paul Evans said, “We’ve learned how to take care of each other and, more importantly, we’ve gained the desire to do so.”

The desire needs to be there. A lot of it.

I know its not that simple- that a strong enough desire isn’t the ONLY thing necessary. Just like its not that simple for parolees to break free of the criminal justice system for good. Some people have every factor against them and for them its almost impossible. Its SO much easier to go back.

Likewise, some couples have every factor against them- histories of addiction, infidelity, depression, mental illness, personality disorders, financial strain.

For every couple though, I do believe a strong desire to stay is the starting point. And I definitely believe in the power of selfless love, devotion and commitment to work miracles. I really do.

I don’t believe saving a marriage is the best path for every couple. There is legitimate abuse out there.

Only you can decide whether or not your marriage should be saved. If you are trying to make that decision, marriage therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife offered some great questions to ask yourself in my interview with her for my upcoming book. She said to ask yourself:

  • Is making room for this person going to make me give more than I can really give?
  • Am I prepared to live with the consequence of breaking my family?
  • Can I stand by my decision weighing the cost it will be to all of us?
  • Is this decision being driven by my fear or by my clarity?
  • Ultimately do I want this enough? If I don’t want it, is it because of my weakness or my strength?
  • Is my decision coming from the best in me or the worst in me?

Whatever you choose, I believe the path ahead must include a lot of inner-work toward healing, peace, hope and forgiveness.

Good luck friends. I’m rooting for you.


Spiritual Sunday: Am I a Success?

Happy Sunday everyone!

This month for my spiritual Sunday post, I’m going to re-post something I wrote for lds.org that got published a week or so ago.

When I submitted the article I called it, “Am I a Success?” In publishing it was changed to “How I Learned My Worth Isn’t Measured By Checklists” which is totally fine since admittedly my title-writing skills are mediocre at best.

I’ll just say that this article deals with measuring success. I discuss measuring worth in this article (note: our worth is innate and not dependent on our measurement of it).

That said, here’s the beginning of the article- read the rest by following the link at the bottom.

When I was a teenager, if someone asked me about Mormonism, about what differentiated it from other faiths, I usually listed off a few outward expressions of what made our church stand apart:

  • Three hours of church
  • No drinking or smoking
  • No sex before marriage
  • Tithing
  • Dressing modestly
  • No rated-R movies

Since these things tended to outwardly distinguish me from the rest of my friends quite notably, they became what I thought were the “biggest deals.” They came to define my religion, becoming the benchmark of a successful Mormon in my mind. No coffee or beer? Wore sleeves to prom? Didn’t see American Pie? Check, check, check. I’m a success!

I see now that these things easily became my standards of success because they were measurable. They were the outward stuff. Anyone could see them and check them off lists.

Inner vs. Outer

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to see the gospel as much, much more than those “outward” commandments. I’ve grown to trust and love the inward ones as well:

  • Love
  • Faith
  • Repentance
  • Hope
  • Charity
  • Gratitude
  • Devotion
  • Goodness
  • Kindness
  • Humility

These inward features have largely formed my new standard of “successful” righteousness. But there is one main problem with these new measurements: they are almost impossible to measure!

Do I have enough humility? faith? Do I love enough? I don’t know! How much is enough, anyway? 

[Read the rest here]

Spiritual Sunday: Why Do I Need Jesus?

Happy Easter dear readers.

My thoughts today have been on the question: why do I need Jesus? 

Not, why do YOU need Jesus, but why do I need Jesus.  This isn’t an essay to convince you to accept Christ (that essay would look very different), but rather to boil down what purpose He serves to me that I can’t find elsewhere.

Which is a little difficult to test since I don’t have a control group of me without ever knowing Christ.

So our starting point is the FAITH I’ve already gained in Him, which is may be a bit of a biased starting off point since I have found that when I do what He says (pray, repent), I get back what He says I will (help, comfort), which has caused quite a bit of trust going on, but it’s what we’ve got to work with.


So as a Christian, I believe I need Christ to help make me clean from sin and progress to a point where I can be clean enough to live again in God’s presence in the afterlife.

But, what about in this life?

Why do I need Jesus here and now? What benefits does He afford me that I cannot find elsewhere?


I’m a bit of a self-help junkie. I LOVE the feeling of empowerment when I read all about how to solve my own problems. I LOVE the feeling of progress. I love setting goals and working toward them.

This process of gaining knowledge, applying that knowledge and improving my life brings me deep joy.

So if I can improve myself all by myself by learning new things and applying them, why do I need Christ?

Often I think I say I need Christ in order to change and progress. I still absolutely think that is true for me, but is it true that a person CAN’T change or progress without Jesus?

It can’t be. People are doing it all the time! There are testimonials to every self-help book I’ve ever read that people are making all sorts of amazing, incredible, laudable breakthroughs in their lives- be it through their health, business, marriages, parenting or productivity- every single day without even knowing who Jesus is.


My next thought in answer to the question of ‘why do I need Jesus?’ was happiness. My relationship with Christ brings me happiness.

Does Jesus make me happier than I otherwise would be if I never knew Him? I like to think so, but its hard to measure.

Do I think people can be happy without knowing Jesus?

Yes of course they can. Millions of people are doing it right now all around the world. In fact, I think we do non-believers or former-believers a GREAT disservice when we don’t actually believe them when they say they are happy.

Research shows that happiness can be measured by positive emotions (peace, love, gratitude), engagement with a worthy cause, meaningful relationships, and a sense of purpose.

Can you accomplish these things without Jesus?

Yes you can.


The next thing I thought of was comfort. Does Jesus comfort me? Absolutely! Can people find comfort without Jesus?

Of course they can. They’re doing it all the time. In fact, it would be terribly biased of God to only comfort those of His children who believe in Christ. God loves all His children equally and I think He wants to provide comfort for them all equally as well.


If I don’t absolutely NEED Jesus for progress, happiness or comfort, why on earth do I need him??

In order to unearth His unique contribution to my life, lets first look at what makes Him unique.

1 He was uniquely perfect.

While Christ was on the earth, I believe he was perfect and was in fact the only perfect person to ever live, so He uniquely presents me with a PERFECT example of kindness, returning love for hate, forgiveness, mercy and compassion to follow.

I notice a difference in the scriptoral depictions of him that is different even than other scriptures, which were written by and about awesome, but imperfect people. For instance, elsewhere in scriptures there are countless instances of common prejudices against other ethnicities and peoples. Christ, amazingly defies the very ingrained prejudices of his day toward other ethnicities and races (Samaritans who were looked on as less than by all Jews), gender (there are more references and stories involving women in the Gospels than anywhere else in scripture) and even those with horrible untouchable illnesses (lepers) and mental illnesses. Jesus loved and served them all. His example is unique.

2 He is uniquely all-knowing.

He is omnicient. He is all knowing. He knows what will happen when I die, what my potential is, what my purpose and meaning is.

Another unique feature of Christ is that He knew me personally before I came on earth. Because of this, we can have a very unique relationship indeed. No one else knew me before I was born, so no one can really provide me with the same level of companionship, connection and understanding that He can. He knows my unmarred potential, my faults, weaknesses, strengths and abilities better than I do, and that connection is unparalleled elsewhere.

3 Back to that progress, happiness and comfort thing . . .

Without meaning to diminish anyone’s experiences and beliefs who differ from my own, I think I could find happiness without Christ, but I have learned through experimentation that personally, I am HAPPIEST when I do what Christ says and strive to live as close to Him as possible.

And while I think I could certainly improve and progress many aspects of my life without Him, I have found a strength beyond my own as I ask for grace and divine help in my personal development.

And while I could find comfort elsewhere, for me, there is no comfort sweeter than the love and acceptance of one who has gone through everything I have already and still loves me.

Now. As I said this essay was entitled “do I need Jesus?’ not ‘do YOU need Jesus?’

DO you need Jesus? Well, I don’t know, that will depend on what you WANT.

I don’t know everything about God, but my faith is anchored in two great truths:

  1. God loves His children.
  2. God respects people’s agency.

Meaning, you get to choose where you end up and God loves you enough that He won’t put you somewhere where you won’t be comfortable -like in God’s presence when you don’t want to be there OR out of His presence when you DO want to be there.

I have found, I want to be there- in God’s presence and I believe I can get there- BOTH here and in the next life through Christ.

So, yes, I need Him. He is uniquely positioned to put me exactly where I want to be.