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𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝗺𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗼𝗳 𝘂𝘀 𝘄𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝘄𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗺𝗮𝘀𝗸𝘀 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻 𝗯𝗲𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗲𝗺𝗶𝗰? The ‘Perfect Mom’ mask, the ‘Successful Business Person’ mask, or the ‘I Got It All Together’ masks…Almost everyone wears some sort of mask.

One woman shares her story

It’s Time To Take Off The Mask by Faith in the Mess – Melissa Neeb, Writer

I wear a cloth mask everywhere now. It doesn’t really bother me.

What did bother me was the metaphorical one I wore for years. I wore a smile but it was a lie.

No one knew the pain I was in. It was difficult to even admit it to myself. I stuffed it down. Locked it up tight in my heart.

It was my box of darkness. Only mine.

So in the world, I pretended. I faked it. I told everyone I was fine. I was ok. I was good.

Those masks, layers of them, kept my secrets and tears hidden.  I hated who I had become but I didn’t know who to be anymore.

I came to the end of myself, the edge of the proverbial cliff. Dangling. Desperate. Alone.

Then I walked into a room and sat down with a bunch of strangers who could see the face behind the mask because they recognized the pain. They had worn it themselves. They had put it down and left it behind.

So slowly, my masks came off. One by one. Ever so carefully.

I didn’t have to be afraid of my reflection anymore. I could change. Grow. Transform into something I never imagined.

I could learn to love myself again.

And so, my smile turned real.

I was accepted. I was welcome here.

And so my masks stayed off.

And I never want to wear them again.

By Jenni Brennan of Changing Perspectives

Remember the early days of your relationship with your spouse?

  • Butterflies
  • Romantic dates
  • Flirty messages
  • Anticipation around next steps
  • Long conversations as you got to know each other
  • Excitement over your potential future

Today, if you are like me, you and your partner are mere versions of your younger selves, focused now on things like:

  • Raising your children
  • Meeting financial goals
  • Addressing health needs
  • Tackling career aspirations
  • Cultivating friendships
  • Taking care of household tasks like laundry, cooking, and cleaning
  • Trying to complete those never ending “to do” lists

The reason so many couples find themselves feeling distanced from each other at this stage of life is simple—We all have a tendency to put our romantic relationship on the back burner after marriage because we think all of the other needs and responsibilities are more pressing. 

The kids need you. Work needs you. Your aging parents need you. The youth sports teams need you. Your friends need you. Your house needs you.

After all, this is the person you are spending the rest of your life with, so they will always be there beside you. It’s okay to put your relationship on the back burner right now. How exciting will it be to spend your golden years of retirement with them?

What if you never get to enjoy those years? What if you make it to retirement but after spending decades focusing on others, you realize that you no longer know your partner. Worse yet, what if you realize that you no longer like each other? What if something terrible happens and you don’t get to make it to retirement age?


Sure, putting things on the proverbial back burner can work for a little bit. But, what happens if you leave something on the actual back burner? Eventually it dries out, maybe burns, and becomes a failure.

Marriages are the same.

It’s time to take your relationship off the back burner and start nurturing it now, before it’s too late.

Here are 9 ways to reconnect with your spouse and put the focus back on your relationship without compromising your other responsibilities:

1. Date your partner
I cannot stress enough the value of dating your partner. While you may not be able to afford to hire a babysitter for at least one night each month, you can certainly find a way to creatively date your partner.

Maybe it means taking a day off from work during the day while kids are at school or at grandmas house so you can be alone. Maybe it means working out together at the gym while the kids are in the child care room. Maybe it means simply shutting off the tv, ignoring the dishes, and having a date at home after the kids go to bed. Maybe it means using your money to pay for a sitter and then having an inexpensive date while you walk around Target together.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, romantic, or cost money. You just need to make time for the two of you.

2. Hold staff meetings
You and your partner are essentially running a business. You’re managing a household and that inevitably means there are things like bills, repairs, and maintenance that need to be addressed. If you have children and/or pets, then you also have medical appointments and logistical considerations for others. Let’s not forget about things like laundry, meal prep, shopping, and cleaning.

Would you ever expect a company to run effectively without having some type of formal and consistent check in? 

Marriages are the same. Schedule 30-minutes each week to check in with each other on the business aspects of your relationship. This can be a great time to compare calendars, identify breakdowns in communication, plan for next steps, and highlight accomplishments and sources of pride. You can also combine this with a date night — just make sure it’s only a portion of the date!

3. Don’t expect mind reading
So often we fall into the trap of expecting our partner to know us so well that they know what we are thinking and what we need. That’s not fair to your partner or to you.

Communicate your needs with your partner. If you come home expecting your partner to have started dinner but you never asked for that to happen, it’s not fair to then be angry or hurt that it didn’t happen.

Don’t let missed opportunities for communicating your needs lead to built up resentment.

4. Learn your love language
So often members of a couple feel as though their partner is not showing them love. In reality, though, they aren’t speaking their partner’s love language.

My partner may bring me flowers and little gifts, thinking that I know it means he loves me. But, we have learned that Gift Giving is not one of my love languages. Instead, Acts of Service (things like unloading the dishwasher or making a doctor’s appointment for the kids or taking out the trash) make me feel loved.

Get on the same page with each other by reading Dr. Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts so you not only know how to recognize your partner’s expression of love for you but so that you can also more effectively show love to your partner.

5. Take a couple’s vacations
Once you’ve been able to make date nights or date days a priority, the next step is to find a way to take vacations together. This could be a big vacation like a few nights in the Caribbean or traveling through Europe or it could mean you rent an AirBnb or cheap hotel room the next town over for one night.

The location doesn’t matter; what matters is that you have the opportunity to step out of your everyday life just the two of you and reconnect away from the normal routines.

6. Try new things together
Remember what it was like going through all the firsts in your relationship? There is something exciting about experiencing something new with your partner and we lose that spark the longer we’ve been together.

Consider taking up new hobbies or trying new things together. The options are limitless- golfing, dance lessons, hiking, reading a new book together, trying a new restaurant together.

The actual thing you do doesn’t matter. The key is for it to be something new for both of you.

7. Do things that your partner enjoys
It’s very rare that two members of a partnership enjoy all of the same things. Is there something that your partner enjoys that you find extremely boring? Find a way to try to do some of those things with your partner.

Learn that video game they love to play. Go to the concert of the band they really like. Go to that Indian restaurant even though you don’t like that type of cuisine.

Make them feel valued by showing an interest in the things that make them happy.

8. Physical connections
Don’t wait for there to be a natural physical spark between the two of you. With kids and work and responsibilities and pressures and competing schedules, it’s very likely that by the time the two of you reach your bed at the end of the day, the last thing you have the energy for is sex. Those are exactly the times when you need to make a priority though.

What would happen if the next time you found yourself with a fleeting thought of physical connection, you actually pursued it and put sleep or that pile of laundry off for a little bit longer? 

What kind of impact would it have on your relationship if your put physical connection a bit higher up on your list of priorities?

9. Lean into each other, not away
When things get hard many couples lean away from each other. They complain and vent to their friends when their partner does something hurtful or irritating. They ignore opportunities to communicate directly with each other about concerns, instead leaving their relationship open to built up feelings of resentment and anger.

Lean into each other during those difficult times. Have those challenging and uncomfortable conversations with each other.

It’s what we do in almost all other aspects of our life, right? We have difficult conversations with our children, our friends, our coworkers, other parents on the sidelines at our kids games, and even strangers on social media. So, why won’t we do it with our partners? Is it maybe because we are leaving our relationship on the back burner, assuming we’ll have time to address it in the future?

The time to strengthen your marriage is now and you can find ways to reconnect meaningfully with your partner without taking your attention away from the other important relationships in your life.

Wouldn’t those younger versions of yourselves want you to make your marriage a priority now? 

Photo by Julia Volk from Pexels

The in-between is where I reside these days. This strange place, not yet an empty-nester and not a young-mom anymore, either. Just here. 

Sometimes it seems like I’m just floating in ‘the in-between.’ Un-noticed. Fading into the background.

This wasn’t how I imagined this season of my life…

Don’t misunderstand…my husband and I have people in our lives, dinners out, events to attend, and parents we enjoy on the sidelines of our kid’s sporting events. Still, it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s like we’re just here, as spectators to all of it. Most of the time, I feel lonely— even in a gathering of friends.

We’ve talked about it, my husband feels it too. There used to be couples we’d get together with, at a moments notice, for game nights or spontaneous barbecues in our backyard. But as babies were born and our kids grew up, our social life began to revolve around their activities.

Slowly, without even realizing it, our couple friendships began to fade—maybe even taken for granted.  

You see, twenty-three years of marriage will do that sometimes. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, driving the kids around to all their activities, while my husband has been working long hours at the office. He’s been focused on our family-owned business, and I on our kids, and the business of everything running smoothly at home. 

In some ways, this may sound a little circa 1950, but that’s just how it worked out for us, in terms of sharing the workload. I feel our marriage is solid. We’ve enjoyed a date night almost every week for twenty-one years, and we have fun together. But still, we’re both finding ourselves in ‘the in-between.’ Is it a mid-life crisis? Perhaps. But neither of us is vying to buy a little red convertible any time soon—this feels different somehow.

We have one who just headed off to college and one who is currently managing his days wading through the muddy waters of middle school. So, empty-nesting may be a little further off for us than many of the people we know who have kids heading off to college. 

Our kids and their activities have filled up our lives in so many ways and yet, I am not sure where I fit in anymore. 

I feel like I’m floating between two different friendship groups—the parents of college-age kids and the middle school parents. It is a strange place to find one’s self. Not knowing where I’ll land.

At 48 years young, I consider myself the pretty typical age for a parent of a college freshman. Yet, I didn’t make many deep connections with the moms in that group while my daughter was in high school. Many of them are empty-nesters now, and we never found enough in common to move our friendship forward—I never felt like they got me. 

No matter how many walks, coffee dates, or days I spent volunteering at school events, I never really felt a deeper connection with any of them.

I also have insecurities about feeling like the “old mom” in my middle-schooler’s class. For many of these parents, their middle-schooler is their oldest child, and most have more littles at home. And it certainly doesn’t make me feel any younger to have to pull my readers out in front of them, every time I want to look at my phone or read something.

While they are discussing American Girl dolls, Magic Tree House, and the intricacies of making slime, I am thinking about my daughter off in her dorm room. I’m hopeful she’s headed to her classes and college parties are not her main focus. So, college is not on many of the middle school mom’s radar yet; I wouldn’t expect it to be.

Whenever I talk to the moms in each of the groups, I don’t feel like I fit into either one. Don’t get me wrong—everyone is friendly, everyone is nice.

The ‘middle school and younger moms’ are in the thick of busy, driving every which way with car snacks and activity-filled days. The ‘college-age moms’ are mostly empty-nesters, focused on how well their college students will fair away from home. And a few seem concerned about how they’re going to reconnect with their partner after so many years of focusing on their kids.

I’m finding the rush of activities for my middle-schooler is humming along at a pretty relaxed pace for us right now. It’s low stress since he’s the only one in sports and after school activities. We drive around, talk easily, and have great conversations. I enjoy all of it. The craziness seems to have calmed.

But here is the real deal; my days are full spending time with family. I am content, yet still, I have a sense of loneliness—a sense of not belonging. My deep-rooted insecurity of wondering if anyone really “gets me” still nags at me from time to time.

I turn will be turning 50 in what feels like a minute, and my husband and I are still looking for “our people.” People to connect with on a deeper level, fewer surface friendships, and more real connections. We would like to develop friendships with couples that have found themselves in this same place. 

We can’t be the only people feeling this way, can we? We feel like we missed the window when we were supposed to make these deeper friendships. What do we do now?

Are there any other couples out there, caught in ‘the in-between’ like us? How do we go about finding those people? Is there an app for that?

We told our college freshman to “put yourself out there, meet new people, join clubs, and get involved! That is how you will make new friends.” She has taken our advice and is thriving. We are working on taking our own advice. 

Being a “joiner” is hard after so many years of not working at it.

Maybe you are out there too, feeling the same way? I hope we meet you soon. I believe we can all benefit from deeper connections and more intimate friendships. So, we aren’t giving up on finding our people just yet.

Maybe in a few years, there will be an app for that, but in the meantime, we’re trying to take our own advice…

My husband and I have been making time for more outdoor adventures, and we’re trying to play at the local golf course more often. We’ve made it a priority to attend sporting events and concerts at local venues—where our kids are not the main attraction. 

Now we attend, hoping to meet people like us who are still floating…hoping to meet people like you. 

3 Minute Read

“Cuddle with me so I can put my freezing cold feet on you and probably use you as a pillow and steal all the covers.  K.  Thanks.”  (Pinterest)

On our wedding day 28 years ago, my husband’s father and our best man, implored us in his toast that the THREE MOST IMPORTANT words in our marriage to come would be these:  Pirates.  Penguins.  Steelers.

I can’t say he was entirely wrong.  Having been raised in the Steel City, my husband IS all about these black and gold teams that grace the small city of Pittsburgh. 

Little did I realize the sacrifice he was making on our honeymoon when his precious Penguins were in the Stanley Cup final (that’s the Super Bowl of hockey) and I was completely oblivious (and possibly admonishing) to Allen’s frantic search for a newspaper some mornings to find the score of the game the night before (this was during those olden days without internet or cell phones)! 

Happy to say they won their VERY FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP that year and don their team name on the trophy!

Heeding Allen’s father’s advice, I have embraced these three words (well, two of them fully and one of them only if I can get to a live game because watching baseball on TV is akin to watching golf…not heart-pumping enough for this wiggly, mile-an-hour girl).  They have been a tremendous plus to our marriage, and as many of you know, I am now almost a bigger Steelers fan than he is!

Fast forward.  Four houses.  Four kids.  Four jobs.

Unhealed, hidden selves (very hidden on the day we said “I do”) bubble to the surface and bump up against one another.  As our marriage clock tick-tocks, the bumps get stronger and louder and more painful.

Words of defeat and shame are uttered (by me).  “Are we going to make it?”  “What is wrong with me/you/us?”  “Is there any hope?”

THREE choice, sacred, life-giving, hope-gathering words are voiced (by my husband).   “WE’RE STILL LEARNING.”

I am taken aback, the words bouncing around like a super ball, uncatchable.

“But,” I whisper to myself, “we’ve been at this for a long time.”  Defeat and shame creep back over and over, sometimes kept hidden inside, other times shouted in anger and most often, spoken desperately alongside tears of fear.

Again and again, time after time, the three words of life and hope and healing pour from my husband’s mouth.  “WE’RE STILL LEARNING.”

These simple THREE words:

  • allow grace to cascade over us like a waterfall in the middle of a marriage drought
  • bring mercy to the unhealed selves that keep banging into each other
  • remind shame (in no uncertain terms) to “GET OUT of our house and our lives and our marriage!”
  • spark forgiveness as we stop demonizing and begin humanizing each other
  • usher discovery, newness and life into what seems unchanging, decrepit and even dead
  • grant bravery to our fearful parts, allowing for a life-long journey of change, growth and healing
  • energize our hearts to experience freedom from the past and anticipation for the future
  • breathe desperately-needed and longed for HOPE to the deepest parts of these two souls and bodies, uniting them again and again in ways previously unknown

Today, on our anniversary, we headed on a hike through a windy, periodically smooth, sometimes unmarked, gloriously scenic, often rocky, difficult-to-navigate in spots, kind of scary, breath-taking trail in Allamuchy Mountain State Park. Our favorite part of all was two swans (did you know they mate for life?) with their babies!

We talked about our favorite memories of this marriage we’ve shared. 

Two things we noticed:  most of them were hiking of some kind and lots of them were when something didn’t go quite as we planned (like the time we ended up in some woods filled with mosquitoes and we had to sprint from one end to the other, laughing and swatting as we went).

Marriage is like hiking

It’s windy.  It’s periodically smooth-sailing.  It’s unmarked in places.  It’s gloriously scenic.   It’s difficult to navigate in spots.  It can be scary.  It definitely takes our breath away at times.  We need hope every single day. 

We need all that these three simple, yet profound words speak to. 

Today, this best gift of my husband, “WE’RE STILL LEARNING,” wash over my soul afresh, hope and life breathed anew.

Here’s to AT LEAST 28 more years!

*If you’re not logged into Facebook, you may leave a comment below the Author’s Bio section. Thank you for taking the time to read this story!

Photo by Arthur Ogleznev from Pexels

It’s taken time to understand and recognize, perhaps years if I really think about it, but something amazing happens when you get “shoulder to shoulder” with a loved one.  

In my case, it’s been with either my wife of 25 years or one of our 20-something daughters.  

Conversation and communication unfold with a depth and authenticity that doesn’t happen any other way.  

Living in a house full of lovely women, there’s rarely a lack of conversation. As a mild introvert, I haven’t always been central to the conversation; I was never excluded but neither did I always include myself. Fortunately, that’s changed in a monumental way.

When our daughters became teenagers, my wife and I discovered an openness and honesty our girls conveyed only during our “shoulder to shoulder” runs.  

Something changed as our gaze looked ahead and our breathing became more and more distressed.  

Real stuff started coming out of their mouths, stuff neither of us had heard from them before.  Stuff that mattered: hopes, dreams, fears, concern, you name it, it came out on those runs and they volunteered it!  

I loved, and still do love those runs. I would learn more about my daughter(s) in 30-60 minutes, than in a month’s worth of everyday interactions.  

What was going on, how they felt about it, what should they do: questions they sincerely wanted mom or dad’s advice and opinion on.  It was the opening for real conversation that every teenage parent hopes for. 

Could the same principle hold true when it came to conversations with my wife?  

Without making any direct efforts to apply it, I discovered this to be absolutely true. Evenings spent walking our dog around the neighborhood, have turned into significantly important connection time.  

Over the course of our well-worn route, amazing conversations take place.  All the stuff married couples MUST talk about: kids, jobs, plans, money, and schedules.

We’ve found that we are able to talk and connect at a deep and focused level.  For me, it’s being able to really listen without any household, device or family distraction.  

Just my wife’s words, her tone, her inflection without the eye-to-eye contact.  It enables me to talk, and my wife to listen and respond openly and honestly.

It’s my experience, being “shoulder to shoulder” creates a very safe environment to converse with a loved one.  

In our marriage, intimacy and trust already exist, so gazing forward together has empowered us to be vulnerable, while avoiding the eye contact that might make us feel hesitant to share what’s really on our mind. Eye contact that has, at times, been unintentionally passed and received as judgmental.  

Certainly, I am not saying we don’t or shouldn’t look each other in the eye- that’s critically important.  What I am saying is that walking with your spouse, maybe hand-in-hand, allows a level of authenticity that we might be uncomfortable with when we are face-to-face.

Sometimes the walks are impromptu or one of us will say, “Let’s walk the dog tonight.” Planned or unplanned they have become an amazing way for our family to connect in the deepest and most meaningful way.

*If you’re not logged into Facebook, you may leave comments below the Author’s Bio section. Thank you for taking the time to read this story!

Couple golfing

4 Minute Read

Even though most experts would agree it’s more of a mental game than a physical one, it was painfully obvious I was going to need a lot of practice. So, when I casually mentioned to my husband I was going to hit golf balls, I wasn’t expecting his reaction.

He was ecstatic! “Wow, I’ve just never heard you say that…what prompted this?”

“Well, it’s I Do Part Two yeah know,” I laughed in response. This phrase has become our mantra ever since I started trying to figure out why some couples thrive after decades of marriage and why others quietly grow apart.

I always wonder, what happened? Could it happen to us too?

To his credit, my husband, Phil, has asked me countless times to play golf over the last thirty years—yes, 3-0! But, I rarely found the time.

I don’t hate golf, but if a genie granted me four kid-free hours when the kids were little, I would not have chosen to spend them trying to hit a tiny white ball into a little round hole. Regrettably, I never considered playing golf with my husband as an opportunity to simply enjoy time together.

For us, although we haven’t golfed much, but we still enjoy each other’s company. We do projects around the house, we take the kids on fun outings, and we eat dinner as a family almost every night. Plus, Phil’s had carte blanche to play golf with his friends, so why is it so important that we play together?

As we talked about it one evening, my husband, Phil, recalled how before kids we used to ski in the winter almost every weekend, and he loved that I was always up for trying to beat him on the tennis court. “It was one of your most endearing qualities,” he said, before hesitantly adding, “You used to be game for anything.”

When had I stopped being game for anything?

I always assumed it was fairly normal to have completely separate interests until I started reading about the importance of “recreational companionship” in Dr. Willard F. Harley’s book, His Needs Her Needs.

Dr. Harley stresses my assumption is true… but only to a point. He asserts, “Men typically place a surprisingly high importance on recreational companionship, second only to sex for the typical husband.”

The doctor’s words wouldn’t have cut so deep if Phil and I had at least one activity we regularly pursued together; but sadly, we did not.

I’d never even heard the term “recreational companionship,” let alone understood it was important to my husband. How had I missed this?

For years, my husband’s said we need to find activities we enjoy so when the kids move out, we have fun things to do together. I often laughed when he said it, but as our youngest gets closer to leaving for college, his words carry more urgency.

Sure we travel together and enjoy an occasional date night. We even Netflix and chill, but apparently this “isn’t enough to sustain most couples,” according to the book, “especially if either spouse has additional needs that are not being met.”

When we were dating, I jumped at any chance to spend time with him. We’d take road trips, ski and attend all sorts of sporting events at a moments notice. Once we married, I guess I didn’t feel like I needed to as much. Somewhere along the way, our careers, our house and eventually our kids all vied for my attention.

Spoiler Alert:  I was shocked to read (and I paraphrase Dr, Harley), that not having activities couples frequently enjoy together is one of the most common reasons for divorce, regardless of how long a couple has been married. (Yikes!) It’s typically one of the root causes that can be traced to other, more obvious issues that have crept into the relationship over the years.

We all know those couples that seem fine and even look happy together, but then all of a sudden they’re getting divorced. What? But you two just posted beautiful, Instagram-worthy pictures together!

Eventually you hear, “they just grew apart” or “they don’t have anything in common anymore.” I’m not immune to realizing if it can happen to them, it can happen to us.

So, now what? I’m taking golf lessons and trying to play golf more often, that’s what!

I can finally play 9-holes of golf without sounding like a little kid in the backseat whining, “Are we there yet?”

We’ve also created a list of activities we’d like to try, and Phil says he’s game for hiking the nature trails I’ve been talking about exploring for years. Who knows, maybe we’ll even try skydiving.

It’s become an adventure just trying to find new things we both enjoy—together. Because at the end of the day, we all know, foreplay is the most important part of the game anyway.

Who is your favorite recreational companion?

Epilogue: I am happy to report that since this article was first published a year ago, we have added a few more fun activities we like to do together and with other couples…we skied Mt. Bachelor in Oregon and Sun Valley, Idaho last winter, started paddle boarding and kayaking this summer, and finally tackled a few hiking trails. Cheers to finding your own fun activities to do together!

If you’re interested in learning more about recreational compatibility, Dr. Harley offers a free Recreational Enjoyment Inventory at www.marriagebuilders.comIt covers hundreds of activities from stamp collecting to skydiving.

*I Do Part Two does not have a direct affiliation with Dr. Willard F. Harley or marriagebuilder.com.  For more information, see the Disclaimer statement at www.idoparttwo.com

**If you are not logged into Facebook and wish to leave a comment, you may do so below the Author’s Bio section. Thank you for taking the time to read this story.

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