Monday, December 13, 2010

19 years + blowing snow

Today was our 19th wedding anniversary!

What does one do to celebrate 19 years of bliss ( er, um, er, I mean 19 years of hard work, and some grumpy evenings, and many sweet love notes, and wonderful laughter, and arguments about how fast you drive or how much sleep children need)?

You get a snowblower, that's what.

While I sort of - not really - looked high and low for the recommended 19-year-wedding-anniversary-gift ("Bronze" was suggested), we decided we should get a snowblower. Actually, it wasn't even really an anniversary gift, but today happened to be the day to secure one. And how perfect the day, as more than 19 inches of snow blanketed our city over the past 3 days.

As I thought about it, a snowblower is an apt metaphor for what happy couples do.

It's powerful (just like our relationship history). It makes things easier (like learning how to fight fair or repair when things get 'stormy'). You don't think about it most of the time (read: April - October), but when you need it, there's no substitute (reminds me of "commitment" ... the deep structure of all happily married souls).

I'll spare you my other more trite associations, but you get the point: snowstorms in MN are inevitable. Being prepared is priceless.

Happy anniversary to me ... and you (honey).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Super Sad

We were married almost 19 years ago (December 13th, 1991. Holy cow, that's a long time ago).

A few weeks ago our sweet friend and priest ... the beloved man who married us ... died peacefully and unexpectedly in his home. We are super sad.

But we also feel lucky to laugh heartily every December 13th when we pay homage to our couplehood by watching our hour and 47 minute wedding ceremony (yes, ceremony. The reception adds another few hours to the video). That night, Fr. Tom Campion told stories of goodness, happiness and previewed the hard work we would encounter in marriage. Dang, he was right! He was a smart ... brilliant ... man. Fr. Tom gave us a foundation of key wisdoms that eve, as he has many times since. About life. About sacrifice. About marriage. We still practice what he taught us. He really knew - some how - what happy couples must do.

In memory of Monsignor Thomas Campion, we say "Amen!" to him. And we are ever-thankful because, as he was oft-heard saying, he'd "rather marry 'em than bury 'em."

You've touched us and made us happier. Thanks, Fr. Tom. We will see you again some day.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Grateful For

It is a national holiday today (my favorite of the year, actually): A day of being thankful.

So, here's my short list of things (Carol writing here) I am most grateful for:

1. Claire and Matt (the neighbor kids who are out shoveling the snow off our sidewalk right now). Why? Because their parents have raised them to feel awesome about helping others. I love Portland Ave.
2. The way my husband calls me "his bride" when talking with .. well .. everyone. I heard my dad refer to my mom the same way last night. It's contagious.
3. Cream. (For the first time in 42 years, I started drinking coffee. Yes, I know. Welcome to adulthood.) All I can say is frothed milk is best. Cream is a close second place when other milk-altering techniques are not available.
4. My kids, who don't like to wear what I tell them, do what I tell them nor have the manners I tell them they must. But, my life is richest with them keeping me real.
5. And hand sanitizer. Because everyone, especially my groom, knows what I'm LEAST thankful for: puking. Amen for that little bottle of liquid germ killer which keeps the barfing at bay. At least some of the time.

What are you thankful for? Gratefulness, like happiness, is contagious, so be sure to tell someone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Couple Challenge

Dearest Readers, we have some exciting new ventures we'd like to tell you about.

First, you know about our product line, right? In case you hadn't heard, in addition to our three books, we now have a set of giftware/housewares designed to remind couples to connect as frequently as possible. Research by John Gottman shows that couples who maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative moments are happiest. Happy Couple products motivate couples to live the ratio. Who likes being happy? I do, I do! Check out our online store and read about our mission.

Second, we have an exciting challenge going on here, at a new blog, The Happy Couple Challenge (click here to check it out). Here, real (cool) happy couples will be documenting 30 days of using Happy Couple Company items to bid for connection. Two women (so far) have agreed to participate. Both are amusing, smart, fun, witty, and overall awesome. Kristen was one of my (Anna here) first friends in graduate school! She talked me off the ledge after a full-blown panic attack in the TA office one day. She rocks. She also blogs here: Alisha went to high school with me and we've remained close friends even though we've lived in different states for the past 10 years. She and Cameron are one of my favorite couples; they know what it takes to connect under all kinds of circumstances, including living in different countries. She also blogs here:

Kristen has already started posting and Alisha will be starting soon. I can't wait to see the creative ways these volunteer bloggers integrate our products into their already fun and positive relationships. Follow along. Join in the fun!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Happy Parents...

This happy parent (Anna) realized something this morning.

My hubby and I have mastered the art of descending the stairs of our glorious, new-to-us, old dream home in just the right way so they don't creak! Here are the rules:

1. Walk sideways.
2. Step on your tiptoes.
3. Step as far from the edge of the step as possible.
4. Skip the third step from the top. It's not worth the risk.
5. Try synchronizing your steps with the artificial ocean waves sound we have playing.

How ridiculous are we?!

I know, I know. They tell you to be as loud as you can be with babies so they learn how to sleep through anything. We tried. It worked for several months. And then it didn't work anymore. Somehow he turned into the type of baby who wakes up when Daddy's ankle cracks when putting him in the crib. How? No idea. How to change it? We've tried everything.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love mommyhood. So much it hurts. But today I feel tired. So tired, in fact, that I cried when there was no apple cider in the fridge. My little "Happy Couples Are Fulfilled" glass - just waiting to be filled - was mocking me! My hubby and I then started laughing.

Get some sleep, you say? I wish that solved it. I'm not tired because I didn't get enough sleep (9 glorious hours), but because I just want a lazy day. One of those days that you keep pressing play on the DVD player because you're so enthralled with the new tv series you rented on netflix. One of those days that Carol has never experienced because she's never lazy!

All this to say, I am so thankful for my happy marriage. Because happy marriages make for happy parents! We certainly are fulfilled, as my little glass reminded me this morning (hey, we were able to laugh about it. That counts, right?). With or without apple cider. Fine, it's even better with apple cider.

Happy Sunday.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Like Us?

If you like our blog, sign into Facebook and bid for a connection with us by "liking" Happy Couple Company. We promise, we'll bid right back.

Heck, we'll have a whole auction full of bidding!

Or, simply click on the link at the top of this page for our Happy Couple Co. website and then press "like" at the bottom of the page.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Just Bidding"

After having an engaging conversation with my (Anna here) family communication students about researcher John Gottman's idea of "bids of connection," I walked home thinking to myself, "I need to do a better job of bidding to connect with my own hubby." In his book entitled, The Relationship Cure: A Five-Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships (2001), Gottman defines a bid for connection as, "A question, a gesture, a look, a touch - any single expression that says, 'I want to feel connected to you.' A response to a bid is just that - a positive or negative answer to somebody's request for emotional connection" (p. 4).

I told my hubby that I wanted to do a better job of bidding for connection. I also told him that I appreciated his call during the day to check and see how my day was going with Thomas (a clear bid that I hadn't recognized or acknowledged to the best of my ability). His work days can be quite unpredictable, so a call is not something I expect. The next day he had time to call me again to ask how our day was going. He also added, "...just bidding."

All together now: "Awwwwwwww."

Bid away, Happy Couples. It takes very little effort, but it makes a really big difference!

And because blog posts are more fun when they include a photo, below is a picture from Halloween.

No, Thomas did not dress as a cute kid for Halloween (well, as his mom, I'm allowed to think he accomplished both!). He's Marty McFly from Back to the Future! See the resemblance? He had a costume change into a pea pod later on. His dad was very particular about the costume's authenticity. They ran all over town trying to find the right articles of clothing. We had a blast in our new neighborhood!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What's He Trying to Tell Me?

Is all I (Anna) can ask myself tonight. It's rather obvious, you'll see. But funny nonetheless.

As I was tidying the bathroom after giving our son a bath, I noticed that my husband had placed his brush on top of the mirror above the sink, hoping it would stay hidden from me. My silly husband must think I'm even less observant than I really am. You see, I've been borrowing (okay, maybe pretty much exclusively using) his hairbrush. I didn't think he minded. Until one day last week I noticed his brush was standing up, leaning against the side of the medicine cabinet, as if playing hide and seek. And boy did I seek. Did I note the traveling hairbrush as a sign that perhaps my hubby prefers I use my own brush? Yes. Did that stop me from using it? Not that day. So, apparently he had to take more extreme measures by finding a better hiding place. I get it, Hunny. Me and my long hair won't bother your cute, perfect little brush ever again!

I know what you're wondering. Why didn't he just ask me not to use it? And better yet, why am I not even going to ask him why he didn't ask me? Because I already know the answer(s). Given our relational history and the spot we're at in our lives, he didn't bother to ask me not to use his brush because a) it's not that important to him, so he didn't need to make it a bigger deal than it is, and more importantly, b) he knew he'd forget to ask me because we have other (hint: he remains toothless, but is trying to walk!) things to occupy us. Messages can't be sent as clearly--say, in the form of a long conversation-- as they could be 9 whole months ago. Either way, oddly, it makes me love our marriage even more. We get each other. And we certainly can have a laugh about things like this!

Don't you just love love? The traveling hairbrush reminded me, once again, of why I love studying marital communication. Because it can be hilarious sometimes! And serious others. But it's always important.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Should I Wake Him Up?

Because these pictures make me (Anna) want to! He's been sleeping for over two hours now, but now I'm craving a snuggle. Carol captured every ounce of his sweetness in these photos, don't you think?

Sigh. I guess I'll just have to wait until he wakes me up at 2 am.

Photos by Carol Bruess

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What's up, Max?

He's 3 now. Wow.

Who's Max? Go back a 106 or so blogs ...

and you'll see ...

how he's grown ...

and see solid evidence that Carol ...

still has ... three years later ...

... very average photography skills.

Ho hum, I say (Carol typing).

But it makes me happy to keep trying ... to be better.

Can you say that about yourself as a spouse? Hope so.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How Marriage Survives

Okay, so no one wants to hear any more about the big fridge that nearly tackled my own marriage. No worries, I'm done writing about the fridge (it's in, cooling, and fabulous). Done.

Instead, click below (or copy and paste in your browser - it's worth it) to read the fabulous Op Ed in the New York Times yesterday called "How Marriage Survives." Justin Wolfers provides a smartly researched and rather compelling look at contemporary marriage rates, the un-effects of the economy, and the way we couple-up in the 21st century. I (Carol) give it a big old thumbs up (just like my husband is now gesturing toward our new fridge, because it easily holds an entire case - in the box, no rearranging required - of his favorite beverage AND all of the green leafy things I make my kids and him consume too).

I love research, don't you? It gives us clues and answers, sometimes for things we didn't even know we had questions about.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The fridge is actually IN the house (yes ... it's true). And I'm still married despite it.

For those of you who have no idea what I'm (Carol) talking about, read previous blogs for clues.

Seriously. Getting the over-sized appliance in the door was way more painful than getting my dear hubby to agree to it in the first place. Here is the score:

1. 12 (the number of guys it took to get it in the door).
2. 3 (the number of visits the 12 guys, 4 at a time, had to visit our new home to make said delivery a success).
3. 28 (the number of dirty looks my husband gave me during those 3 visits from the 12 guys).
4. "Are you upset, sir?" (direct quote from one of the handsome young men who carefully noted my dear husband's nonverbals as he watched them give up after attempt #2 to get big fridge in the door). I promptly explained, "Yes, he's upset. But not with you."
5. 29000 (the lbs of spinach and other goodness I hope to fill the new fridge with, as soon as it's officially "hooked up" - yes, I know the 20-something meaning of term. Seriously. Stop it).

Instead, please pray (for me) that the dang fridge will actually cool items and make ice once it's plugged in tomorrow. Seriously. I'm worried.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

And mean it.

We had the occasion last evening to chat with a man who has been very happily married for 58 years. He is an acquaintance who we (my husband Brian and I) have admired for many years. What an opportunity, we thought, to find out what yet another wise married person has to say about the truths of a long and blissful wedded life.

His advice?

"Be willing to say you're sorry. And mean it."

My husband quickly burst out with laughter: "I'll be waiting a long time for that!"

What? I scowled at him with disgust, assuring our guests that I am surely and very capable of apologizing.

My dear groom clarified: "She's always right; she never needs to apologize."

Ah, indeed ... the second secret of a happy marriage: make the other person appear greater than she really is.

Good advice, huh?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Older Love

While packing up our belongings to move (I, Anna, am moving too...into Carol's old house!), I ran across a book by Warren Hanson, Older Love (Waldman House Press, 1999). I've read it before, but as I paged through it this time, I had a completely different perspective (hint, the perspective change might have something to do with the newest member of our family, who, I am convinced, is part puppy). I was reminded, once again, of the power of ritual throughout the course of our lives. Hanson writes:

We hear this old love every day, in ways we'd never think. The gentle plink of dishes swishing in the kitchen sink. The sound of slippered footsteps in the hallway overheard, when I have risen early, and you have stayed in bed. The morning paper. Coffee in the same old favorite cups. The fond, familiar rituals that nothing interrupts. The joyful jingling of your keys. Your telephone hello. The quiet, happy humming of that song from long ago.

We could choose to get upset by the little (and big) things that bother us. Like when my husband is adamant about selling my huge, ugly-but-useful desk on Craigslist because "it won't fit in the new house" (oh I'll make it fit, darn it!). Thank you, Warren Hanson, for reminding me to always find joy and gratitude in my marriage. It's not that hard, really. He is moving without me while I attend a wedding across the country. Ultimately, it's the little things that we do, each day, that contribute to long-term happiness and success in relationships.

One of my favorite rituals these days is sharing a massive mason jar as a water glass at dinner. We share these days because one person carries Thomas to the table and the other person carries the food. 4 hands, 1 baby, 2 plates, 2 glasses. You do the math.

Be happy with the little things. Every day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Construction Bounce

We (Carol here) are in the middle of renovating a big old house. It's a combination of "What were we thinking?" and "This is incredibly fun" and "Holy cow, how many staples did they need to put down carpeting?"

It's also a bit of my dearest husband and I having a nice little set of arguments about, well, everything from "Wear the damn earplugs before using the sawsall, seriously." and "How much did you spend on that fixture? Stop spending money!"

But ... alas ... in the midst of painting, demolishing a kitchen, pulling up carpeting, stripping wallpaper, yanking up staples and then back for another layer of painting (and, of course, baking many pans of brownies for all the people helping paint/demolish/strip/yank), I recalled the stunningly sly advice of my dear friend Molly, first shared in our Tuesday Sept 4, 2007 blog. Suga, you are so wise.

Readers, go back and find this post; it's worth it (moving/constructing/yanking/painting or not).

Long live the construction bounce!

Anyone know a good piano mover?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Another upside to love letters ...

... is finding them 22 years after you've written them, re-reading them, and enjoying them all over again. (It's Carol writing this ... although I'm guessing Anna might have similar discoveries to report?)

Although my lower back is screaming and my house is a mess of boxes because we're in the middle of moving, today's packing uncovered a box in the garage rafters marked "memories" in my mother-in-law's hand writing. My hubby had secretly tucked the box of goodies (letters, poems, scrapbooks, cards ... and a boy scout patch or two) away for, well, finding them again some day! Today he sure did.

There he was ... in a lawn chair in the middle of the garage on this 97 degree day ... with a huge smile and a rather large pile of letters I had written him during our first years together. He demanded I look at all the sweet-nothings I had written him. He could hardly contain his boy-ish joy. I could hardly believe that our world has changed so much in 20 years; who writes 4-page hand-penned love letters?

And then I asked myself a few more questions:

Did I really make my own envelopes out of magazine pages? Did I really draw silly little illustrations - most of them with word bubbles - on every page? Did I really inflate a huge balloon, write a letter in permanent marker, deflate the balloon and send it to my then sweety/now husband, complete with instructions on what to do when he received it?

Am I really telling the world how silly and corny I was as a young gal in love?

Yes, it's the 20-year return on love letters: Finding. Opening. Remembering. Laughing our heads off at how goofy in love we were.

Maybe, after we move, I'll write another love letter or two, craft an envelope out of a page of the NYTimes, and tuck it away in our new rafters. Who knows how long it will be until we find them again. But when we do, how grand it will be.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Answers to My Own Questions: 9 Months Later

Last October, I (Anna writing here) posted ten of the many questions I had as an expectant mother. So much has changed in the nine months since I wrote the original post! This post will tell us if all those anxious questions I had during my pregnancy were actually worth worrying about. Below are the things I've realized, just as all those moms who have come before me have.

1. Will I still love my work?

Yes! I still absolutely love teaching and researching. Finding the time to conduct said work is another story. While I was pregnant I thought that having a baby would change me so much that I wouldn't enjoy the things I did before baby came. In terms of work, this has not held true. Now I just need to learn how to accomplish my work while also being a mom. Trickier than I once imagined.

2. Will my husband and I struggle to find our joint parenting style?

Not yet, at least. The biggest struggle is probably with time management. Do we clean up the house, or relax and watch Mad Men? Mad Men has been winning the past couple of nights. We try to never have the tv on when Thomas is awake (and unfortunately, he's awake more than he should be! The stinker fights his sleep). Sweeping can wait.

3. Will I experience the love everyone describes they have for their children?

Yes, instantly, yes. Carol told me not to worry about this one, but for some odd reason I still did. One thing I have learned, however, is that even though the love is unconditional and so very, very strong, I still get frustrated with him. When his razor sharp nails claw me or he pulls my hair, I get a little peeved. When people kept saying, "it's different when it's your own kid," I thought it meant that these things wouldn't bother me. Wrong-o. But then he giggles and it doesn't matter anymore. Maybe that's what they meant?

4. Will my view of the world change? My thoughts on politics or religion?

Nope. I haven't experienced a shift in either of these views. Perhaps, though, my opinions have more depth to them these days.

5. Will I still like my regular tv shows?

Yes and no. I miss having the time to watch them. But if I missed an episode of my shows, it doesn't bother me. I didn't finish the seasons of several of what my favorite shows used to be. And I don't really care. I never thought I'd say that!

6. Will I finally feel like a grown up?

Absolutely not. I still look at Thomas and think, "could this seriously be my child?" Aren't I still 18 years old? Not by a decade, but it feel doesn't feel that way.

7. Will I remain connected with my friends?

Yes, I have definitely remained connected to my friends. One thing that has changed, however, is that I cannot just pick up and go anymore. It takes a long time to pack the little guy up. And as soon as we're ready to head out the door...whoops...someone needs their diaper changed again. My friends definitely accept my role as a mother and the best of friends even help out with Thomas. I love my friends for loving my baby.

8. Will my baby be as fun(ny), cute, and smart as my nephews?

He is, objectively (ha), the cutest, smartest, most fun baby that ever lived. Ever. Right up there with my nephews!

9. How will I ever survive without sleep?

Well, Thomas was an excellent sleeper for the first 4 months of his life. So, I think he eased us in quite gently. The past two months, on the other hand, have been more challenging. But each day we keep on going. Somehow. It must be one of life's little mysteries. It helps to hear people say, "this is just a phase." And I'm certainly trying to not wish away this very sweet phase of his, just because I'm not sleeping as well as I used to.

10. Will my husband and I still laugh multiple times a day? Will we adapt our rituals?

I can finally understand why, time and again, studies have found that the years with young children are some of the hardest for married couples. Yes, we laugh multiple times a day. But the laughter that was once directed toward each other is often focused on Thomas. He'll make a cute face or noise and we'll laugh. One of us will do something funny to make him laugh and then we're all laughing. Our house is full of joyful moments. But it is definitely much harder to have in-depth conversations with our new addition and work schedules. We always loved to take walks and talk together, and this ritual has only become more important to us. Only now, our walks have several purposes: getting or keeping Thomas sleepy, chatting, and exercise.

I admit, there are times when I miss the ease of my childless life, but I cannot imagine my life without my little pumpkin. What would I do without him? I never want to find out. Were all these things worth worrying about? I'm once again reminded that it all works out in the end, just the way it should.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Marriage Party

A little over a month ago my handsome hubby and I piled into the car and road tripped (no kids allowed! Woo hoo!) to DePere Wisconsin, home of St. Norbert College where we -- each barely 19 years old and each beginning our first semester of college -- met.

We were heading east that day because St. Norbert had a really brilliant idea: let's host a party for couples who met at St. Norbert and are (still) married. "That's us!" we exclaimed.

We promptly sent our registration. The day approached. We selected and pressed our best attire. Then happily left our kids behind and headed east in our station wagon across Wisconsin, anticipating a fabulous trip down the lane of fond courting memories.

And what a party it was! We gathered with a bunch of people we'd never met but yet knew, without needing to speak, shared an intimate (pun intentional) connection to the spiritual and physical place of our beginnings (Sensenbrenner Hall ... Burke Lobby .. Tommy's Lighted Dance Floor ... the banks of the Fox River ... The Knight Club ... Old St. Joes ... and the front row of Psychology 101 with Dr. Zurowsky ... ).

The Wedding Party evening began with a renewal of vows and mass followed by -- what else? (think wedding reception) -- dinner, dancing, wedding cakes and a photographer! There were even gifts for all. Corny? Not at all. Lovely? Absolutely ... and then some. As someone who studies but claims very little expertise on coupledom, my only point of contention with the night was the name (it really should be called "The Marriage Party"). Because, really, the day was a celebration of so much more than weddings. It was a big party to shout out marriages! It was a tribute to us mundane couples who work - not always successfully but faithfully - at sustaining our connections. It was a chance to pause and say "Yes. I'd choose you again."

That, as those of us who are married know, is easier on big/celebratory/happy days such as this, but is harder yet all-the-more satisfying on the mundane and especially challenging days (case in point: the day we returned home to find out one of our dear children had announced to all his 212 "closest" facebook friends he was home alone all weekend. WHAT?! Intense marital/parental discussion ensues as we drive even more quickly west again ...)

But, alas, our weekend was indeed quite memorable and lovely. And now our wedding album now has yet another page, this one subtitled "18 years, but who's counting ... "

Photos by Mary Majella Baugnet of Majella Studio, Green Bay, Wisconsin (www. Thanks, Mary, for capturing our aging joy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Some Science of Happy Marriage

I (Carol here) was rummaging through the it's-summer-so-let's-clean-up-the-office-desk pile (yes, I only have one of those piles; don't hate me) and came across an article I knew I'd want to read. Amen for a pile! The article is indeed one I wanted to read and its lessons are ones I now want to share with all of you. The brief piece called "Keeping Marriages Healthy, and Why It's So Difficult," admittedly did first pique my my curiosity because the sentence beginning the fourth paragraph uses the words "That is what happy couples do." WHAT?! That's my line! I use it with friends. My husband. Colleagues. And work it into as many conversations as possible. Yes, my friends are sick of hearing it. My husband, of course, is always eager to hear more. My colleagues? They're just too kind.

Dr. Karney, author of the Keeping Marriages Healthy, is also co-director of the Relationship Institute at the University of California and is on to something (note to self: "What Happy Couples Do" sounds like a great book title). He offers a smart, concise, and beautiful summary of why marriage IS so darn difficult. At the same time, he uses decades of research - both classic and contemporary - to point out what happy couples do differently than their unhappy peers. I'll attempt a summary of what he tells us:

Karney says, "People rarely change their minds about subjects that are important to them." (If you believe in gun control now you will likely believe the same 10 years from now. Same goes for abortion/women's rights, political leanings, etc). Marriage, unfortunately, is the exception to this rule. Even for people who stay married, high levels of marital happiness tend to decrease over time. What are the happy couples doing, those who maintain more of their initial levels of happiness?

1. If we are to stay happily married, we must learn how to "believe" our spouse is wonderful (over time, globally).
2. Happy couples, over time, "change their beliefs about what is important in their relationships." In other words, they believe (and this is a good thing) that the aspects of their marriage which have declined must simply not be as important after all (it's not that important that we don't hold hands when we walk. It's not that important that we don't kiss passionately every time she walks in the door). Instead, they selectively attend to only those parts of their marriage which they think are positive (We trust one another. He'll be there for me. We have a long and interesting history). Basically, they choose to focus on the positive (globally).
3. Although happy couples "believe" pretty consistently over time that their marriage is - from a balcony perspective, or globally - pretty positive, all couples naturally have day to day variations in how they feel about their partners. The difference between the happy and unhappy couple is this: Happy couples make "charitable explanations" of the other spouse's undesirable behavior. Example: "He left his socks on the floor yet again, but it's probably because he had a rough day at the office." And "She was really withdrawn and self-centered tonight at dinner, but I'll bet it's not because of lack of interest in me, but a hard day caring for her aging parents."
4. In a way, such "charitable explanations" of the other person's behavior - when explained as isolated and specific to the day, mood, or context - don't allow for overall change in the positive view of the marriage (again, from the "balcony" perspective).
5. As Karney explains "Making charitable explanations severs the link between specific negative perceptions and global evaluation of the marriage." Or, as he even more clearly explains: "Couples who are able to acknowledge their partner's faults while maintaining positive views of their marriage overall" are, simply, happier. They are also less likely to divorce."

So, dear spouse of mine (who surely is an avid reader of his wife's blog. Dude, seriously, you should read these at least once a year to find out when I'm sending important metamessages to you!), keep in mind that while we may disagree on how much to spend on that new refrigerator and the material of the counter tops which will soon grace our new kitchen, I'm still that spouse you love and trust ... 18 years and counting ... and I do make a great gin and tonic, eh? And you like my quirky, neat-nik-ish, silly tastes, right? And the way I have to make the bed right when the last toe is out. And the way I wash the dog with Rosemary Mint "Buddy Wash" (plus Buddy Conditioner). Globally. 48" refrigerator not withstanding, correct? Of course you do. Because that's what happy couples do.

* To read the full article by Benjamin Karney in the APA Science Brief, copy and paste the following link into your browser:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Feeling Ignored?

How nice to hear from friends and loyal Happy Couple Blog readers that you're feeling ignored! Stiffed. Abandoned! We had no idea so many of you cared or logged in. We're touched you noticed our lameness at blogging lately.

What I've been noticing lately (Carol here) is how during summer my bids for connection are more often to my neighbors, extended family, out-of-touch friends, long-seen buddies, and new acquaintances. How my attention shifts slightly from being "on" my email, text messages, and blogging urges to being on my kid at bat, my garden in waiting, my husband reading the morning newspaper on the porch. Yes, dreamy. Yes, easier. Yes, all excuses for ignoring all of you who want to read about Happy Couples!

Instead of making excuses, I'll make an invitation, a bid for connection (read back a few blog posts if you don't know about Bids): Respond to this post and ask us questions. Start a discussion. Tell us what's on your mind. Declare your favorite post. Make a request. Tell us what you notice, want to know, wish to learn (about relationships). Happy people let their feelings be known (sometimes, and with a smile, of course).

Thanks for noticing that we haven't been noticing you enough! And now if you don't respond, we'll really feel badly.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Happy Dog Owners Do.

They laugh when their cute dog gets curious during a photo shoot of some of your new products!

Yes, you're seeing a sneak peek at the soon-to-be-launched Happy Couple Company glasswares! Cute, eh?

Almost as cute as Fred (woof).

Check the site in the next few days. You might just be the first to own some of these and some other nifty little ditties, each designed to inspire.

P.S. Yes, it was glasses and mugs in the boxes from last post! Wahoo. We can't wait to show you everything.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hmmmm ....

Wonder what is in these boxes?


You will know too.

Check back.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Clarity and Care

Today we returned home from the funeral of a great man. He was not only my husband's undergraduate advisor and mentor, and a dear friend to us both, he was an awe-inspiring and award-winning professor of family, marriage and sociology ... still affecting both Brian and I 20 years later in our lives, relationships, marriage (and in my classes, of course). As I listened to his children summarize the traits of their most beloved father - Dr. Tom Faase - I was reminded yet again of Dr. Faase's core philosophy: "When the time of our particular sunset comes, our thing, our accomplishment won't really matter a great deal. But the clarity and care with which we have loved others will speak with vitality of the great gift of life we have been for each other." (A Celebration of His Life, Tom Faase, April 29, 2010).

Thank you, Tom, for once again being a teacher. Your goodness lives on in so many of us, no doubt more deeply than your humble self would ever have let you imagine. Thanks to your model of unconditional kindness, we are better people (and a happier couple, no question).

P.S. How perfect that we pay homage in this - the 200th posting of What Happy Couples Do blogspot! - with a nod to the man who found happiness in EVERY (literally - not kidding - in delightful simplicity) moment. To Debbie, his dear wife, and to his beloved children, may you find peace in Tom's rest.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hot ...

... off the press!

We received sample copies this weekend and, oh my, we are two of the happiest women in town or what? Although the entire shipment won't arrive for a month or so, we couldn't resist a "new arrival" photo of our little baby sitting happily (yes, we like that word) on our desks.

Fairview Press and Steve Deger: we adore you! Have we mentioned that lately?

Happiness reigns, again and again. Three cheers for joy (... as well as for making it to Happy Couples Blog post #199. Holy cow. Thanks for continuing to read along).

Friday, March 12, 2010

5 weeks of Parenting

What I've learned in the five weeks of Thomas John's life:

1. Putting on socks is impossible to do while holding a baby. It's challenging even when he's in a sling. And with a baby who loves to be held (yes, even during naps), this can be a challenge. For warm feet, I must put socks on immediately after showering.

2. Babies are cute even when they're crying! However, cuteness decreases after an hour and a half of continuous crying.

4. I wish I could bottle up his sweet little squeaks and grunts and save them for a rainy day in about 14 years.

5. I hate to admit it, but everything I heard about parenthood is true. It does change your life. You do love them to pieces. You are sleep deprived. You shouldn't expect to get anything else done while at home with a baby all day.

6. He's started to smile and coo and it melts my heart.

7. I can hardly wait for 5:00 because I know Brent will be home soon. I celebrate each passing hour after noon because I'll soon have my companion back. Also, nothing is more fun than seeing Brent be the best daddy I ever could have imagined.

8. Thomas spends most of the day hanging out in one of these: He loves it and so do I. I wouldn't want to go through the infant stage without it. In fact, as I write this, I'm standing up and bouncing while Thomas looks calmly looks around and fades in and out of sleep.

9. Cloth diapering is not as bad as people make it out to seem. The price is certainly right, and you can't deny the environmental benefits. Plus, they're kind of cute.

10. Family is amazing. We've had so much help and support from both of our families. Both my mom and Brent's come one day a week to spend time with Thomas and help me get some work done. We're so lucky that our parents love Thomas (and us) so much and live close enough to help us out.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Passion. Clarity. Wants me to succeed.

A few years back I (Carol writing here) sat down with my academic dean for a cup of coffee. We are friends and thus we often chat about life. About our kids. About students. And about publishing and theories and what great recipes we've tried lately. The conversation that day turned to teaching, of course. We teachers can't help ourselves but to muse about how to be better, brighter and grade more essays in shorter periods of time. Something my friend/dean/colleague Tom said that day stuck with me. I actually wrote it on a sticky note and secured it right next to my office computer on a steel file-folder-organizer-thingy. It has remained there for a good 4+ years now. In three memorable phrases he smartly summarized what distinguishes the creme de la creme teachers from all the rest.

The best of the best professors ...

1. are passionate.
2. are clear.
3. want their students to succeed.

It dawned on me yesterday as the sticky note caught my gaze once again: Maybe these are the same "secrets" of the happy couple masters? Of the creme de la creme relationship partners? Of the people who seem to really find deep gladness and awesome giddiness in one another, year after year. Of those darn happy couples most of us yearn to become.

1. Passion. (Gosh darn it, let's be happy! Let's do things to keep us connected. Strong. Repaired. In "like" with one another, even when the economy plummets, the children are melting, and the laundry is piling up).

2. Clarity. (Of vision. Of purpose. We do whatever it takes to remember, time and again, that "we" come first. And that "we" stay happy. And that "we" keep our priorities straight. Before jobs and kids and cars and mortgages. WE matter, yes we do!).

3. Holding up the other. (Does your partner - the other part of your team - really know, deep in her/his heart, you want her/him to succeed? That he is smart? That she is valued? That you are open to his smart influence? That she will be listened to?)

Thanks, Dean Connery, for your wisdom. You never cease to impress and amaze (dude). Let's grab a cup of coffee soon, eh?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Happy Couple (+ One More)

Thomas + a happy couple = a really great photo shoot.

(photos by C. Bruess)

More updates from the happy parents soon ... !

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Arrival (!!!!)

It happened yesterday at 6:32 p.m. The waiting ended and into the world appeared Anna and Brent's new little love: Thomas John. The perfect name for the perfect baby.

Anna, you are a mountain of strength. Brent, you are a rock-steady presence. Together with Thomas, you are an unstoppable threesome. Welcome to the new chapter in your life! May it be filled with lots of sleep, many new loving little (couple/child/parent/partner) rituals and even more moments of pure and unfettered gladness (even when those moments are in the middle of sleepless nights).

We can't wait to hear all about your first days, and the wise insights you'll share about "What Happy Parents Do" ... direct from the trenches.

Sleep well. Find joy. And tell us all about it as you do!

Monday, February 1, 2010


I (Anna) never thought the day would come. Today marks my 39th week of pregnancy. Our baby might still be nameless (that's a whole different blog post!), but he's fully cooked. This means that no matter what, in less than three weeks, I will be a mother. Um, whoa. Ever seen someone go from thrilled to terrified in the span of five minutes? Come to my house. In the past few days, looking at this little sweater and hat, knitted by my sweet mom, instantly renews my excitement when fear sets in. Have you ever seen anything so cute? I'm trying to explain to him that he needs to come greet the world so I can see him wear his sweater. ASAP.

We're seemingly ready for Baby to come. The hospital bags are packed and perched by the door. The car seat is installed. The clothes are washed and folded. Thanks to Carol, the baby's room is perfect. She's been sewing, stitching, and carefully crafting all the little details to make it both adorable and functional. But how come I still don't feel ready? I choose to believe it's because "readiness" is a parenting myth.

While waiting, we're trying to spend as much quality time together as possible. Because before we know it, we'll need a babysitter in order to spend any time alone! We've been pretty much inseparable these days and I'm loving every minute of it.

Wish us luck. Any day now, Baby!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The List

Well, the idea grew out of an argument. A big one. Yes, we "happy couples" fight too! In fact, we fight quite a bit (it's Carol here, although Anna admits a good "care-frontation" with her spouse now and again). In case any readers are feeling disappointed, remember: reserach shows that happy couples can fight a lot (it's how they handle their disagreements that makes a difference!).

Our (Bruess couple) latest "handling" of conflict looks something like this: Make a list. On the white board. In the basement. In the corner. Where we each check in periodically and perhaps more now since the "list" is new and fresh and in the just-initated phase. On the list you jot things (key words, phrases, whole paragraphs) that irritate you, jab you, rub you, warm you. Things that make you CRAZY. And things that make you smile. But mostly, the list is designed to highlight things that aren't quite right at the moment (of the "when you walk OVER the dirty clothes which have come down the laundry shoot and landed just inches from the basket but you don't actually pick them up, I think I'm going to SCREAM" variety). Or, one that I'm confident is going to be on my husband's list sometime today or tomorrow: "Selling the sofa and chairs without telling me and buying new ones." Oops. Good point. Not a good idea of a "surprise" (despite my best intentions. Honestly. I had good motives, honey).

Happy couple or not: we ALL have things that make us "slightly irritated." Why not find a way (a visual and ever-developing-but-easily-erasable list) to get them addressed and expressed?

I'll keep you posted on how ours goes.

(And I'll be sure to post a photo when our new sofa arrives!)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


As many college roommates experience, the women who lived with me on 331 Wilder Street became my "sisters." Since our college graduation, we created a ritual (inspired by my cousin and her college roommates, which you'll read all about in our forthcoming book What Happy Women Do), our very own holiday: 3/31 Day (March 31). Each year, on March 31, we try to celebrate our friendship all day. Sometimes it's via morning email and then happy hour later. One year, we were fortunate to all be able to take a day off of work and school! This year, we'll have the birth of not one but two babies being born. Another roommate graduated from law school and passed the bar exam. Another is about to start nursing school. Another is potentially planning a move to LA. Big year for us "sisters." So big, in fact, that it seemed that one day per year just wasn't enough to devote to our friendship.

Therefore, we decided to try for a monthly celebration, too. So on the 3rd Wednesday (which happens to be the 3rd day of the week) of every month, we have lunch for 1 hour: 3-3-1. We can't all be there each month. But we sure try. We realized that when we don't see each other often enough, we end up spending all our time "catching up" rather than building on the sisterness we already share.

We love our partners and families dearly. But no matter how hard they try, they can't comprehend everything we went through together at 331 Wilder. No one else can understand the funny notes we left each other, requesting checks for rent, energy bills, cable, and water.

Or the "rules" we developed for conducting life under one roof.

Or the fun we had together.

Celebrate your sisterness! And take pictures and share them (and your stories) with us.

A Must Read

I know I've mentioned my friend's blog before, but I think this entry is worth sharing again!

Najla and her hunky husband, Paul, have started a new ritual. They're cross-country skiing together this winter. They happen to live in Fargo, North Dakota, which is one of the coldest places I've ever been. The wind has been known to whip Fargo residents to the ground! With recent temps dipping well-below zero (try twenty below zero), these two remain committed to their new ritual. Check out her blog for some fun dialogue between she and her husband during their ski outing this week.