Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Books Have Arrived!

Yes, they're here. Our little, beautiful, What Happy Couples Do books. So precious. So adorable. What can we say, except that we feel like proud parents giddy to show off our new baby.

If you'd enjoy one of your own, let us know!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Saying Goodbye to Ben Tracy

How did I spend my Friday night? Not in the usual very-lame go-to-bed-shortly-after-my-kids way. Instead, I (along with colleague and good question-answering friend John Tauer) journeyed to downtown Minneapolis (where the cool people go on the weekends, I quickly found out) to raise a glass and bid farewell to our friend Ben Tracy (co-founder and superstar of CBS affiliate, Minneapolis WCCO's Good Question feature). Ben recently accepted a job with the CBS Evening News (yes, he gets to work with Katie Couric!) What a fun night it was, seeing all the lovely WCCO folks who, truly, have developed their own loving little family. No shortage of fun people in that organization, for sure. After all the laughs, toasts, and hilarious stories, I returned home feeling a bit somber, realizing I was saying goodbye to Ben, my favorite reporter ... and someone I have started to refer to as "my friend Ben" (vs. "that cute reporter guy Ben Tracy"). He is surely so much more than just a (did I already mention adorable?) reporter-guy; he's a genuine, grounded, super-smart, and exceedingly-nice guy who is going to, no doubt, wow the world with his coverage of huge and happenin' things! Ben-- congratulations and best wishes! The twin cities will miss you. I will miss you too (... way more than Tauer will).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

My friend Sal

I (Carol) received the following e-mail today from my college roommate, Sal. It made me smile. It also reveals precisely why Anna and I love what we do.

Hi Carol -
How are you??? My goodness you have been busy - you wrote a few books! I have to tell you that your email took me completely off guard. I was having "one of those days" where I was complete hormonal and hating my husband, and having a HEAVY conversation with a probation/parol agent about .... (I've evaporated the details here; Sal is a social worker) ... and then your email came - and the website is so simple and beautiful - and the music is perfect. I cried. Really - I did. I had to close the door to my office. (Remember, I said I was HORMONAL!). Then I went home and decided that I liked my husband again. See, you helped one couple already! ...

As we keep saying: Your marriage is up to you! Decide, right now, to like your spouse again. It's really quite simple.

Thanks, Sal, for making my day.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How do you "say" I love you?

Many of the ritual stories we receive reveal adorable expressions of couples, kids, parents, grandparents, sisters, uncles, and best friends who find creative, private, and/or unique ways of saying "I like you." "I love you." and/or "I'm glad you're in my life."

How do you "say" as much to someone special in your life? Do you surprise your spouse by filling up her gas tank on a frigid winter day? Do you leave loving little notes by the coffee pot? Maybe you bake your best friend a batch of gooey monster cookies -- for no particular reason? Or send your college-aged kid a care package overflowing with peanut M&Ms, his cherished childhood treat? Or have a saying, word, or hand gesture that privately means "I love you" .. an expression just between the two of you?

Do tell! These are kinds of small but significant rituals in all of our lives ... and we'd love to hear about yours!

Monday, November 19, 2007

A China-Free Challenge

The Bruess family recently participated in a China-Free Challenge. What's that? Check out the video.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bad Dreams, Najla, and Caramel Corn

Anna and I just returned from a few days in Chicago (yes, we drove by Oprah's studio ... still waiting for her to call!) attending the national communication association conference. Besides taking in a few new theories, networking with a bunch of other people who talk and teach about talking, and presenting a few papers ourselves (about rituals and marriage, of course ... as well as about teaching courses in family and interpersonal communication), the best part of the trip was meeting, eating with, and sipping a few chocolate martinis with my new friend Najla (one of Anna's best graduate school friends!) Okay, so can you get any more charming than Najla? No. Can you get any smarter? No chance. Can you be any funnier or more down-to-earth? No way. The mother of 4 boys (sainthood, anyone?), Najla is a funny and witty conversationalist, super smart (did I already say that?), and -- our favorite quality about her -- real. Yep, she's a real, soulful person.

Here are the other highlights (and lowlights) of the conference. You decide which are which:

* A guy on the elevator at the Hilton is so interested in What Happy Couples Do (Anna happened to be holding a copy) that he refuses to get off on his floor and continues to ride the elevator up to ours ("I'll just take another ride back down...") to hear more about it!
* Anna gets caramel corn -- Carol's most favorite food in the world -- from the most famous caramel corn maker in the world (Garrett's) but eats it all before she returns! What?!
* Chicago style pizza.
* Carol (why am I disclosing this?) has a really bad dream and wakes up Najla and Anna at 4:45 a.m. Saturday morning with -- as they report -- a 3-tiered scream that sounded much like a bad voice lesson.
* $8 bowls of oatmeal
* Seeing old graduate school friends (... is that a highlight or lowlight?)
* Hotels with 2 bathrooms per room.
* Mark Orbe (you continue to energize me with your vision!)
* Chocolate Martinis (yes, they are worth mentioning twice).
* Oxford University Press (gotta love Peter).
* Rich West and Lynn Turner (please stop writing such brilliant and engaging textbooks ... so Orbe and Bruess will sell more copies!)
* Big & ugly blue name badges (with zippers that hold lip gloss and cell phones, at the same time).
* A conference program that you would easily mistake for a chemistry textbook. Who makes 6 lb programs? Better question: Who reads them?

If I disclose any more, I might get in trouble. Happy Day of Giving Thanks, everyone!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Pretty (Cool) Pram ...

... graces the cover of our next book (What Happy Parents Do: The Loving Little Rituals of a Childproof Marriage)! And who is pushing the pram? Wait until you see! It's adorable. Loving. Happy. In this one image the artist captures "what happy parents do" with simplicity and complexity in this luscious design. And do you know who's responsible? Yep, it's Steve (our editor, for those of you new to this blog).

For those who aren't new to our blog posts, do you think we blog too much about our editor, Steve Deger? If so, oh well. We love him. He, once again, deserves a big happy hug for commissioning and directing the original art (and being patient with our chase for just the right color scheme, only to come back to the ones he first proposed) for the next cover. If anyone knows how to shriek via e-mail, it's Anna and me (in response to Steve's latest good news and/or great ideas!) And indeed, he's done it again. Can't wait to show you the insides (and outsides) of book #2 (which we'll post on our website soon. So stay tuned)!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Happy Birthday, Carol!

For 39 years, the world has benefitted from Carol's amazing ways. And today, on her birthday, I've (Anna) got to publicly state: Carol, you're the best!

Carol has made many lives (especially mine!) more joyful, peaceful, meaningful, organized, and simply better. Nearly every day I'm compelled to say, "How does she do it?" while watching her as a mom, wife, professor, researcher, colleague, co-author, friend, athlete, seamstress, card designer, photographer, and cookie baker! Who else can successfully fulfill all of these roles with such grace and style? Carol, everyone would agree, you're something else. Enjoy your birthday!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Tay-Tay Wompy and BillyBob Barefoot

What a hoot! Students in my (Carol's) Family Communication course the other day went around and shared their nicknames (those loving terms of endearment bestowed by or on family members, friends, and significant others). We were discussing the way private language -- everything from those quirky nicknames to those phrases that have meaning just between friends and intimates -- serves incredibly important functions in relationships. And, to almost no one's surprise, we discovered that most of us take these terms, names, and creations for granted.

We also discovered that students in our class possess some incredibly creative nicknames, such as:

BillyBob Barefoot, Brown Sound, Keebs, Crisco, Schnitzle, Sr. Rantz Alot, Itty Bitty, Light-els, Shellyn, Twiglet, Pancakes, Scout, Shreck, Annie Margo, Taylor Womp Womp (or Tay-Tay Wompy), Buddah, and Blade of Grass. Others shared the wacky and intriguing details of a completely private language between friends (they call it their "Choo" language), using the term "oodabotchie" when rough-housing needs to end, and employing two claps followed by a stomp (of the foot) to indicate an attractive guy is near (!)

What a hoot, eh?

Take a moment to share (via "comment" below or "share your stories" on our main website) your nickname(s), private codes, and/or personalized ways of communicating. Don't worry, it's anonymous!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Family Matters

For a little peek into Carol's home and family life (the inspiration for her life's work) check out the fall catalogue/magazine of Minneapolis design company Room and Board (visit for an online glance). You will, no doubt, notice that Room and Board chose to feature one of Carol and Brian's favorite Sunday rituals!

Without question, family matters (more than anything else) to both of us!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Can You Hum The Tune ...

... for "Who Wrote the Book of Love"? We can (have been all day) after a singing telegram (yes, someone still does those!) was delivered at Carol's door this morning at 9 a.m. (yes, today is Saturday) by an adorable (okay, let's just call him VERY handsome) young man in a top hat and tails (yes, a full tuxedo and tall gorgeous top hat!) singing "Who Wrote the Book of Love .."

Why? Because he was holding the very first copies of What Happy Couples Do (Yes!!! A first glimpse at our new baby)!

Who else, but Steve Deger (our editor at Fairview Press), would craft such a thoughtful and creative introduction to our firstborn book? Who else would treat us, two first-time authors, with such loving attention? Yep -- that's Steve. Maybe it's the makings of a new ritual? (no pressure, Steve).

Oh, and our book? It's absolutely dreamy (can't wait to show you all)! Yes, we're living a dream. Please don't wake us up.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Will You Marry Me?

So many happy couples have told us, in interviews and surveys over the past 15 years, how the way they were engaged inspired one (or more) of their marriage rituals down the road! If the proposal happened over chinese food, all future anniversary celebrations include egg rolls and fried rice. Or if a proposal happened in a church, they recite the story each time they attend or drive by, paying homage to where "they" began (see story linked below, published last week in the Milwaukee Sentinel, about how Carol's husband proposed at a church in Athens, Ohio!)

The article in the Sentinel made us wonder how couples develop rituals out of the wildly creative (and expensive) proposals many couples currently experience? The story: Upsizing the Proposal: Popping The Question Means Engaging All of Your Resources, makes us even more curious about how proposals might predict (or inspire) marriage rituals.

check it out:

Then tell us your proposal story (whether it is sweet and simple or large and luxurious!) ... as well as if (& how) you celebrate those first beginnings in something you do currently as a family or couple?!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Picture This

Why is it that we are willing to spend so much energy, time (and money!) having our babies, toddlers, and graduating seniors captured in professional photographs yet we almost never (after our wedding day) have our coupleness -- our marriages -- documented in a similar way? All of us who have kids know that we have (countless) photographs of our kids on their first day of school, on their birthdays, of their special events (piano recitals) and of the mundane moments (rolling in the leaves). Why don't we, as couples, create a yearly ritual of having ourselves -- our loving culture of two -- documented in the same way?

One of my (Carol's) favorite photographers (and people!) of all time is Claire Kayser ( Her photography and spirit will inspire you -- if you're not already -- to go ahead and develop such a ritual. Invest in your marriage. Document its legacy. If you don't, who will?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What Loving Grandparents Do.

We've been noticing lately the truly tremendous way grandparents serve as models for loving little rituals that create bonds between the generations. Check this one out, a ritual of Anna's parents and their first (and only -- so far) grandson Jacob:

Every Sunday grandma and grandpa have an "appointment" with their grandson. They call him "the little professor" because he appears to be keeping "office hours" at the dinner table, where he sits in his high chair eating his dinner and chatting adoringly with the webcam his parents have set up nearby. Grandma and grandpa ask questions about his day in sheer delight as they visually (virtually) absorb his smiles, giggles, and wiggles. Jacob, in response, tells stories, asks questions, and often pretends to "feed Papa John," holding his fork up to the camera while grandpa opens wide.

What better way is there for grandparents to hangout with their one (and only) grandchild who lives states away?

Are you a happy grandparent? Do you have rituals of connection with your grandkids? If so, tell us about them!

Friday, October 19, 2007


That's exactly what Anna and I (Carol) said today when we saw the first round of designs for our second book (August, 2008, Fairview Press): What Happy Couples Do (After Becoming Parents Too). The colors, design, and layouts are stunning. Gorgeous. Vintage yet contemporary. Simple yet sophisticated. Playful yet powerful. OMG (Oh My Gosh)! Can't wait to show you all.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ritual Recognition

Even though we study rituals, almost every day we recognize a ritual that we hadn't noticed before in our own marriages, families, or friendships.

This past weekend, I (Anna) was out to dinner with my husband Brent. One of my favorite loving little rituals is when he, after we both have placed our orders, will order up a little "surprise" ... a little appetizer ... a little something that I don't expect! Almost every time I forget that it's our "ritual" until I hear his sweet words to the waiter: "Oh, and we'll have ..." Even after seven years, it is still a delightful surprise.

If you are like a friend of ours who recently declared: "But my husband and I don't have any rituals!" ... it's actually that most of our rituals are so woven into the fabric of our days, lives, and relationships that we forget to notice them. That's what makes them so lovely and comfortable. See if you can recognize at least one comforting and repeated pattern in your marriage, family, or friendships ... then tell us about it!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ready, Set, Take Off ...

Our beloved editor, Steve Deger, delivered some very exciting news this morning: What Happy Couples Do will be featured in airport bookstores all around the country! I (Anna) nearly drove off the road when I heard.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Think about it.

Okay, so this might sound obvious, but something I read today served as one of those eye-opener-moments. Author John Gottman, in his book The Relationship Cure, observed how our complex and satisfying relationships don't just suddenly appear in our lives. WE build them: Moment by moment; interaction by interaction; connection by connection; one conversation after another.

We build relationships ritual by ritual. Think about it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Seeking Your Holiday Ritual Stories.

What is your favorite memory of holiday time with your family? Do you have a holiday ritual that is particularly unique or special? We're talking about any and all holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years, Christmas, Easter, Labor Day ... you name it.

If you have one (or two!), share it here (or at

As the weather turns chillier and the leaves turn more colorful, recognize the ways your family, friends, neighbors, and loved ones connect through ritual. And then appreciate those rituals for the many wonderful ways they bring you and those other important people in your life comfort, predictability, and -- quite simply -- something to look forward to.

On a Boat, In a Crate ...

No, it's not a Dr. Seuss story ... it's where our first shipment of books is right now. On a boat, in a crate, on their way from China to bookstores everywhere (well, maybe not technically everywhere ... but in lots of stores, bookshelves, and bedside tables!) According to our publisher (Fairview Press), they expect the first books to arrive in mid-November (ahead of schedule)! Can't wait to get a first glimpse of those beautiful little things. Can you?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Fish Are Biting ....

A first bite: An editor at Cosmo e-mailed yesterday after seeing What Happy Couples Do on They are doing a story on a related topic (top secret) and wanted to interview us! We'll keep you posted ...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Benefits of Father Involvement (and how to make that happen)

On this steamy fall sunday in Minnesota, when both of us had a chance to interact with our own wonderful and loving fathers, we wanted to share the latest research on why fathers matter:

You've seen the shows: Everybody Loves Raymond, According to Jim, The Simpsons, and Home Improvement. Did you ever think about what two things these four shows have in common? They've each been a popular show in the last 10 years, and they each depict fathers as incompetent parents. In each of these shows, moms are portyrayed as the responsible, competent figure in the family, while fathers are often portrayed as an additional child--someone who hinders mothers' parenting styles. Fathers are seen as voluntary parents while mothers are seen as primary parents. What do researchers have to say about this? And how does it relate to your own family?

Research shows that fathers often see themselves as incompetent to handle the regular activities of family life (i.e. changing diapers or dealing with kids' teachers). When issues arise, fathers frequently retreat, resulting in what researchers have begun to call the "rescue phenomenon." The advice to dads: Stay involved. Stay confident. Stay connected.


Because father involvement is a key component in raising healthy, happy children. Did you know that children whose fathers are involved in school activities have improved verbal and mathematical abilities, are less likely to repeat a grade or be expelled, and earn better grades in general? And that, according to at least one study, father involvement in child care was the most important factor in children growing up to be compassionate adults? Here's the secret researchers have found: The stronger a marriage, the more involved the father.

For more on this topic take a look at the book: "Why Fathers Count," by Dr. Sean Brotherson.

We also explore this topic in our forthcoming (second in the series) book, "What Happy Couples Do (After Becoming Parents too)" (for release in August, 2008, Fairview Press)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

We Love Our Editor

Okay, we just have to say this out loud: We love Steve Deger (and his wife, of course, the one who first told him he "had to" publish our book). Steve is our editor at Fairview Press. He's the best. Do other authors say the same of their editors? Not in any blogs we've found ... nor in person ... nor in e-mail ... nor nearly ever. But we can say it. Because it's so true. Thanks, Steve, for all the care, creativity, and attention you've brought to WHCD!

No more gushing today (check back tomorrow).

Is Marriage "Breaking" Your Heart?

Did you read the fascinating article in the New York Times on Tuesday about how expressing your feelings in marriage is as important for your health as quitting smoking or reducing your cholesterol?! The research, based on a comprehensive study of over 4,000 men and women, reports a most stunning finding: Wives who keep quiet during arguments with their husbands are 4 times more likely to die than women who speak their minds.

Although the study and article is worth reading in full, what do we think? Being "silent" too often in your marriage takes a toll not only on your immune system, but will eventually take a nasty toll on your marriage, too. What happy couples do, on the contrary, is develop safe and productive ways to express their gripes, complaints, and/or irritations with each other. Frequently. Routinely. Warmly. And in a way that actually invites the complaint instead of avoids it. Does that give your a free pass to bicker and criticize? Not exactly. What it does suggest is that if you aren't currently doing so, you might want to develop a ritual (or two) that will encourage each person in your relationship to share what they really think (the good, bad, and ... yes ... the ugly too). It seems a complaint or two a day can keep the Dr. away!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Consent to Share Your Stories

At communication researchers, we follow a number of guidelines at our universities for ensuring all research is ethical, fair, and does not cause harm. As such, the process we have followed for gathering stories for books in the What Happy Couples Do series has been approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of St. Thomas (where Carol is a full-time faculty member; where Anna serves as an adjunct faculty member part-time). Below is a consent form which explains, to all individuals who submit stories to our website, exactly how their information will be used and handled. Because there is not a great way to link to this form from our home-page, we are including it here. Please contact us with questions. As always, thanks for participating!


What Happy Couples, Families, and Friends Do: A Study of Rituals
IRB log number: A-07-032-1X

We are conducting a study about the way married couples, families, and adult friends use rituals to enhance, maintain, or simply manage their relationships. We invite you to participate in this research. You were selected as a possible participant because you have been identified as a person who has either a marriage, family, or friendship in which rituals are likely created. Please read this form and call with any questions you may have before agreeing to be in the study.

This study is being conducted by: Carol Bruess, Ph.D., University of St. Thomas and Anna Kudak, M.A, North Dakota State University. Please contact Carol Bruess (651-962-5820 or with any questions about this study.

Background Information:

The purpose of this study is to explore the types of rituals people create and use in their many significant relationships. Rituals are defined as those repeated interactions or events that have meaning or significance to members of that relationship. Rituals have been shown to make many important contributions to healthy relationships. Our study hopes to extend that knowledge, understanding the many diverse ways that people ritualize in their relationships.


If you agree to be in this study, I will ask you to do the following things: Log onto our website ( and submit examples of rituals in any of the relevant categories (rituals in marriage, rituals with family members, and/or rituals with friends). It should take no longer than 5-20 minutes to submit your examples, depending on how many you choose to share. You can submit as many ritual examples as you choose. You can visit the website and submit ritual examples at any time, as many times as you wish. You are free to skip any questions you choose not to answer.

Risks and Benefits of Being in the Study:

Although all submissions are anonymous and any names or identifying information included will be removed, the risk of participating in this study is observing and sharing something that is personal to you.

If you are asked to encourage others to participate in this study by encouraging them to submit their ritual stories on the website, you might be eligible for class extra credit points as detailed by your instructor.


The records of this study will be kept private. In any sort of report we publish, we will not include information that will make it possible to identify you in any way. Research records will be kept in a locked file; we are the only people who will have access to the records. When submitting information via the website, no identifying information of the sender is sent without their knowledge (if you wish to submit your e-mail address so that you can be notified when the studies are published, you have the option, but are not required, to do so).

Voluntary Nature of the Study:

Your participation in this study is entirely voluntary. Your decision whether or not to participate will not affect your current or future relations with the University of St. Thomas or any other institution with which you might be affiliated. If you decide to participate, you are free to withdraw at any time without penalty.

Contacts and Questions

The primary researcher is Carol Bruess, Associate Professor Communication Studies at the University of St. Thomas. As stated above, you may ask any questions you have at anytime (office phone: 651-962-5820). You may also contact the University of St. Thomas Institutional Review Board at 651-962-5341 with any questions or concerns.

Statement of Consent:

I have read the above information and all questions have been answered to my satisfaction (either in this statement or by contacting the primary researchers). By submitting information at, I am consenting to participate in the study.

Our Book is in China ... and on Oprah (we hope)

Right now, as we type this blog entry, What Happy Couples Do is being printed (in China!) Yea! And, as we type, Oprah's producers have received a "pitch" to do a story or segment on What Happy Couples Do. Doesn't everyone (married and otherwise) want to know what happy couples are doing to stay satisfied, connected, and happily connected for life? We, of course, think so. Let's hope Oprah and her producers agree. We're looking forward to sharing what we think is incredibly important information with billions of amazing women and men around the world ... making a difference in state of marriage, one couple at a time.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Few Notes on Marriage and Housework

... A very interesting study, just out, found that for every $7500 increase in a women's salary, she reduces her household chores by 1 hour per week. And did you know that research suggests that women find men who do housework more sexually attractive than men who don't? And that, on average, in the dual-career couple, women do approximately 80% of all housework and childcare? The good news: In happy marriages, both partners can learn, over time, to share the chores (or at least perceive they are sharing). Grab a broom, honey.

For the latest news-worthy research on family and marriage issues, log onto one of our favorite sites where the BEST of the best family researchers in the country have formed a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the national conversation about what contemporary families need and how these needs can best be met: The Council on Contemporary Families (

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

We're Live ... With Thanks ... And First Stories ...

We're Live with our new site! What do you think? We invite your stories of rituals, your observations of couples, marriages, friendships, and families. Your reflections. Your Thoughts. Your ideas. We'll share the same ... as well as the latest (and what we think are the greatest) readings, insights, research news, tips, and findings/notes/advice from other marriage/family/relationship experts. 

For instance, here's a great ritual story overheard at a gathering of friends the other night. (And, as is almost always the case, the couple who shared the story didn't think of it as a ritual ... but it surely is the beginning of a very fun one!) The details:  A friend and her husband are doing a pretty major construction project. It's messy. They're getting crabby. Things are taking longer (don't they always?) than expected. Then there was the big mold discovery. Yikes. To lighten the mood, Mandy (we'll call her) initiated "The Construction Bounce."  Here's how it works: When tensions are rising, she simply says, "Hey, Larry (we'll call him), does this cheer you up?" ... while promptly lifting up her shirt and doing a little bouncing up and down.  

No question: Mood immediately lightened. And the birth of a great new ritual! Why not start a little construction project at YOUR house sometime soon?

One last thing: Now that we're finally up and running with our new and improved website, we'd like to extend a huge thank you to Tony Bruess (Carol's 11 year old son) for all of his tech support, ideas, patience, and help. What a brilliant and creative young guy! He is the genius behind most of this new site (that and ... a VERY cool company). Additionally, many thanks to Anna's great friend, Cory Hollenhorst, for his support, advice, and expertise.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Blog is Born

Welcome to Carol and Anna's first-ever blog. Share. Reflect. Tell us what you're thinking. It's all good.