Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays, Happy? Couples

The holidays can be stressful. I know. Travel, expectations, sugar, gifts. In-laws, out-laws, cocktails, more sugar. More expectations, a sideways look or three, a late night party or four. An argument or two ... usually in whispers or just with nonverbal huffs and puffs (as if no one is noticing).

Do what happy couples do: don't blame. Just laugh. Meaning, at yourself. It should work. Laughing is contagious, especially when first directed at self.

Diffuse the tense sugar-low/in-law high/don't-like-sleeping-in-this-bed/wish-your-relatives-were-more-perfect-like-me moments by being self-depricating and humble.

Like today when it took 36 minutes to find the single dog leash we brought on our journey to multiple houses. Did I laugh? Not right away. I was too busy sponging up dog pee on grandma's carpet. Then once missing leash was found, where did it end up? Yep - on the roof of the car. Then where? Flying into a ditch on the highway, of course, in the darkness of a Wisconsin winter night. Was it all my husband's fault? Of course it was. Of course I yelled grouchily at him (without contempt or criticism, thank you Dr. Gottman. Just with good old irritation).

Okay, so do what I say, not what I do. My kids know the drill ("Stop yelling at me from upstairs!!" ... Oh, yes, I just yelled that, didn't I?)

We eventually laughed as we bumped over the river and through the hills to grandmother's house where we ate, drank and laughed some more. And the dog only pooped inside once (but don't tell grandma; she didn't notice - yet).

Whatever you do and where ever you celebrate this season, may laughter fill most of your moments.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Twenty Years Today

Today was our 20th wedding anniversary. I know, right? Pretty exciting to make it this far. And, even better, to know for sure you'll likely make it another 20 and then some.

Students and others often ask: "What's the secret?"

No secret. Although I'm pretty sure about one thing after 20 years of my own marriage and reading most - but surely not all - of the research on happy marriage/relationships and taking in most of what the experts have to say on the topic:

Nothing as a couple will work if you can't figure out how to be, sustain, maintain, become, stay, and then fight for your lives to continue to be two healthy individuals.

And by health we're talking about the whole deal: psychologically, socially, physically, mentally, spiritually, economically .. and the list could go on.

And you do know such efforts will come back around to serve you well, right? In a magically selfless way. Trust me.

Today - yay! - we honored our own work (hard work, almost all of the time) toward staying healthy individually which has, no question, given us the chance to stay healthy together for -- but who's counting? -- 7,300 days.

And like most things in long-term relationships, the plan today didn't quite work out as expected.

I had hired a quartet to deliver a singing love card. We had a similar group sing from the balcony at our wedding. (It's a ritual!) They canceled last night at 9:30 p.m.


But plan B arose with the sun this morning.

At 2:15 p.m. I left work. And quickly ran - literally - home. Panting, I turned the iron to "silk/cotton." Heat up. Faster, please! It was a flurry about the house, but a calm and giddy one. I anticipated what was next.

One mile in the car and I arrived at my husband's university. It's now 3:05 p.m.

He looked a bit surprised. Because I had my wedding dress on. Oh my!

Yes, it was a tight squeeze. Please zipper, don't pop.

We skipped (not really) to the chapel. And stood on the alter. And as we lit our original wedding candle, the president of St. Catherine University -- Sr. Andrea Lee -- was gracious enough to join us. She was all smiles. You'd never have known she was very late for a board of trustee finance committee meeting. She read one of our wedding readings from the original paper on which it was typed (I store them in my sock drawer). The famous David Haas happen to be in the building. He joyfully sang a little verse. And read another piece. Yep. I know, right? If you don't know David Haas, quickly look him up. A few friends from St. Kate's fluttered in to take a photo or two. Thank goodness for iphones. Our dear pal Stacy helped coordinate the whole thing with, well, all of about 2 hours notice.

It was magic. And ultimate health.

We kissed and committed to staying real - and real healthy - for another 20 or more years.

Then we had pizza and wine down the street. It was now 4 p.m so we had the restaurant to ourselves. We read our readings again. And chatted with our kids on our iphones. And my dear friend for life sealed the day with the most perfect little gift: a framed version of the card we received 20+ years ago as we prepared for our marriage. On it is written the advice we use each day to, yes - you know what I'm going to say - stay healthy and kind to one another. It doesn't always work. Today it did. Amen for that.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Read this right now ...

... the piece published today called "The Generous Marriage" by Tara Parker-Pope in the NYTimes Well Blog. Tara (no, I don't know her but like to pretend I do by using her first name) is one of my favorite NYTimes thinkers and writers on relationships! Go Tara. Call me later, eh?

Seriously, though, she's smart. Right on. And this piece summarizes so much of what we keep saying in What Happy Couples Do. Yep, here it is again, something we qualitative researchers would call an emergent theme: Relationships thrive on us in them being kind (rocket science, I know, right?). Making thoughtful - even when we don't want to - choices. Being intentional. Creating positivity. Not giving up. Because it's worth it, and then some.

Just in case the link above doesn't work for you, it's worth your time to copy/paste/Control C/Control V:

Speaking of Kindness. If you live in the Twin Cities and need some inspiration for being kinder, stop by the Kindness Cafe. "Breakfast and lunch cooked to order. Tasty, feel good food prepared with you in mind." 350 Saint Peter Street Saint Paul, MN 55102 (651) 224-6440

I have no idea who owns it, why they created it, what their food is like nor even who goes there. I've never been, shame on me. But recently a pal said "This place is totally for you!" So true. I study kindness (oh, and try to practice it once in a while too). How could anyone be grumpy or impatient while at the Kindness Cafe?

Maybe a required lunch spot for all couples? Once a month. Or twice a day if needed.

Lucky us who live in St. Paul, MN! Kindness Cafe people: watch out. I'm coming on down for a bite with my spouse and kids. Or maybe we'll just move in.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Crafty Couple

Do couples who craft together, stay together?

No research has yet given us a definitive answer to this important question. But I, as you might predict, would theorize that the crafting could count as a ritual of connection, eh? Thus, a crafting couple would be boosting their odds of staying happy, right?

I think so. And indeed hope so.

Because today I engaged my husband/pal Brian in a holiday crafting task which, happily, reminded me of part of our hands-on-the-crafts history.

A little more than (can it be true?) 20 years ago he and I, hands together, constructed our first couple-craft: a wedding invitation. Long before DIY was cool, we were DIYers because we, well, were B. R. O. K. E. graduate students. The crafting must have been contagious, or just necessary. Probably both. My mother made all of the wintery table decorations, a simple white mostly-paper angel with curly blonde hair. That sweet symbol of our December wedding has since, annually, crawled her way to the top of our holiday tree. Today, to my delight, one of the gal pals (and my sister-in-law) in our wedding sent me a photo text of the tree topper she had just affixed up high on their family's evergreen giant: "Remember? She always tops our tree too." Twenty years, despite her yellowing wings, she carries on ... in our home and others.

Oh, right, back to the point of this blog, one which is not actually about crafting, nor rituals, nor holidays. Rather, it's about nuance.

If I was going to be crazily crafting holiday gifts for our family and friends, my not-so-crafty husband was going to participate. I don't care if the Packers are on. The holidays are near! Dear. You are going to help and enjoy it. "Oh, and, honey, no beer on the craft table, please."

He swiftly moved his bottle from the task at hand. I promptly smiled. Not because our tedious project was no longer in jeopardy of being bathed in ale. Rather, we had just mastered -- okay, it might have taken 16 or more years, and hey, it might have been just today -- what relationship guru John Gottman discovered over decades of discerning what predicts divorce and success: happy couples are those in which a husband is open to influence from his wife.

Sorry guys. The research does not suggest women need be open to influence from men. Maybe it's because, for hundreds of years, that's been happening already. But that's a topic for another day and a future post.

The moral of this story: today, in this tiny life, I witnessed a nuance which suggested we might just make it another 20 years or more. Whew. Husband + craft project + one beer + a small suggestion + a positive response = one pretty happy crafter. And the lesson for all of us: it's the little things, most of them in our control, that add up to the larger feelings and behaviors of happiness over the long haul.

How might you choose to change the way you respond, ever so slightly, to make your partnership a little happier?

CRAFTING DISCLOSURE: all of my crafting is totally copied from others' great ideas. For e.g., the mini trees in mason jars, below: spied as table decor at a local Anthropologie. No, my husband had nothing to do with their creation nor installation. But he did say "hey, nice." I like those compliments. More than that, I like making little art projects on tables.

The yet-to-be-disclosed craft with the paperclips (opening photo): seen at a local store where they sell only goods "Made in MN." I said to myself "I can make those. And, what do you know, I live in MN too."

NOTE: My best friend does, yes, call me Crafty Carol. As you blog readers know: nicknames are indeed good for sustaining marriage AND friendship. We, yes, do have research to support that simple fact.

ONE FINAL NOTE and I promise it's the last: My happy couple husband never reads this blog, hence why it's fun to write about him! I think that him not reading the blog is one of our keys to long-term happy couple-ness.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday Challenge: ADD 25%

What Happy Couples Do and Happy Couple Co is in the holiday spirit!

To celebrate, we're raising our prices on all happy couple items at by 25% - just for one day - on Black Friday. Yep, RAISING prices. If you buy something ... a cute mug, an autographed book or three, a set of witty wine glasses ... please add 25% to your total.

No, I have not been sipping from those wine glasses.

Yes, what I have been doing is thinking about culture, holidays, relationships and choices.

Instead of shopping and being busy this holiday infamous holiday weekend, I challenge you (and yes, I'll be challenged myself) to intentionally NOT do something "out there" (shop, run errands, spend money, be busy, create stress) and instead do something "inside" your relationship life - with a family member, significant other, partner, spouse, kid, sister, mother, grandparent, BFF. You might: play cards; write letters to old friends - together; stroll the neighborhood - and hold hands!; take a nap - at the same time; paint each others' toes; just sit and chat, with no purpose but actually, fully listening.

No, I am not opposed to stimulating the economy. And no, I will not confirm nor deny the fact that my holiday shopping is done already (... ok, it is). What I am is completely in favor of is reminding myself and anyone else who'll listen that relationships are completely and totally up to us. They thrive on positivity (read John Gottman's research) and intentionality (think rituals of connection).

So, the challenge in summary: take a day that has become about door-busting and spending and reclaim it. Without spending a dime, make a wise investment: in a relationship that you take for granted. And here some more free advice: you can apply this same challenge to any other 364 days in the year. Free. Not always easy. But priceless, like good, healthy relationships always are.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Happy Couple Secret ... Revealed

So, the big news is now out … and wait until you see it.

What is IT? Stop the suspense already!

Happy Couples and our cute little company is featured in the hot, 2011-12 edition of Minneapolis/St. Paul CRAVE - The Urban Girl’s Manifesto: The ultimate guide to women-owned business in the twin cities, featuring more than 100 entrepreneurs you need to know.

I know, right? Sweet!

And the first five twin cities’ women to email me ( saying they read this blog and want a copy of CRAVE, I'll march right over to the mailroom and send you a copy - free! Don’t forget to include your address (it's safe with me).

Last year CRAVE twin cities sold out within weeks @ $19.95 each. Yours if you are fast and a loyal WHCD blog reader or just a lucky first-timer to this site? Gratis. You might even want to re-gift it; I'll never tell.

I know again, right? Sweet(er)!

And not only will you learn about some really cool ideas and meet smart, inspiring women on every page, your CRAVE book comes with all sorts of discounts and ideas (think holiday gifts ... to yourself, partner, colleagues or pals).

Ready, set … crav(e)mail me!

NOTE: I'm adding this sentence at 12:29 p.m. on Friday, Nov 18. All five copies have been claimed. Congratulations! Check back early and often around Thanksgiving or the day after and we'll do this again!! Too fun.

(P.S.S. Not from the twin cities? My apologies. Maybe look for the CRAVE manifesto in your city. It's HOT hot hot!)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Couple Couple-Costumes

Happy couples have fun. That's a scientific fact. And I'm not saying that we did Saturday night, but I'm just sayin'.

Yours truly, Head Lock Lucy with awesome sis-in-law Bad Ass Betty (not her real name) and our happy couple teammates "sock-her moms" referees B and J.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

EVENT - calling all happy women!

The University of St. Thomas Alumni Association is sponsoring an evening event featuring ... ta da ... me and Anna and our latest book: What Happy Women Do. And Anna is going to tell us a bit about her awesome dissertation about women and our work around holiday rituals. Fascinating stuff!

And what's both fascinating and a bit scary, the invitation to this talk just went out to over 10,000 UST alumnae. Yikes. And I did promise them I'd post the invitation to you ... the happy couple blog-reading fans. So, check out your invitation below. You ALL are welcome.

Seriously, you're ALL really, really welcome! No need to be connected to UST ... or even have been to campus before. The more the merrier, right? And, if not to hear us speak, there will be some free cookies and things to sip, I believe.

Oh, and a fresh stack of What Happy Women Do books will be for sale, personalized and autographed by the authors (yay!). Can you say "I just finished all of my holiday shopping, in one stop, for every woman in my life?" (YAY again!)

From the University of St. Thomas Alumni Association

Did you know that women who form close bonds and relationships with other women actually live longer and have less illness? These relationships are more powerful than you might think!

So grab your girlfriends, sisters, mothers and all of the women with whom you share strong bonds and enjoy a night saluting sisterhood and the rituals that sustain us.

This will be a great opportunity to engage in a fascinating discussion with two of UST’s most charismatic professors: Dr. Carol Bruess and Dr. Anna Kudak. Together, they have written “What Happy Women Do,” which will be featured during the discussion.

Come and celebrate the relationships that we share with important women in our lives, and find new ways to make them even stronger.

Register online by Nov. 11. All women are welcome, both alumnae and non-alumnae of UST!

When: Nov. 15, 7-8:30 p.m.
Where: O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium, St. Paul campus

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Also ...

... (an addendum to the blog from a few moments ago) ...

Little tiny feet make me happy, like these I captured today for a happy couple of their new little guy Adam. Awwww, I know. Look at those 14 day old little piggies. Super sweet.


An email from a colleague-friend the other day said "Just popped into Patina and saw your latest book. Must make you smile when you see it all over :-)!"

What makes me smile is when people put contagious-smiley-happy-emoticons in their emails (ok, and when spying the happy couple/parent/women books results in a grin on their faces of course).

The happy trio -- What Happy Couples Do, What Happy Women Do, and What Happy Parents Do -- have been spotted a bunch around town lately! The store people say ... ah, what a treat ... they often can't keep them on the shelves. Yay!

If you're not from around town, here is a peek at the hottest gift stores in Minneapolis/St. Paul. And, I'll tell ya what, these are the stores where I'm doing ALL of my holiday shopping in the coming months. Sorry, family and favorite pals, I'm breaking my 12-year streak of only hand-made gifts. Instead, brace yourself for some cool, hip, Minnesota-made creative stuff.

Oh, and now back to our sweeeeet book sightings:

At Patina:

At Bibelot Shops:

And more at Bibelot
Happy Parents

At I Like You

And coming soon you'll also find us in .... SHHHH ... OH, that's RIGHT ... I can't tell yet! Sworn to secrecy.

Check back, right before BLACK FRIDAY. Ewwww, I can hardly stand the excitement. Can you?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Happy Couple Contagion

My besties have always given me solid and tailored advice, the most recent being "Don't go see the movie Contagion!" While the entertainment might be excellent, they know me too well: I'm already a tad freaked out by those tiny little things called germs. Ewww.

What I AM fond of is the research suggesting that happiness is contagious; and the research about how crucial it is, as a couple, to surround yourself with happy/healthy people who affirm you as a couple; and the research which confirms that having friends over is one of the key factors in happiness.

So, why don't we all do that - have our friends over - more?!

My husband and I asked ourselves that very question about 3 weeks ago.

And we answered it by, on a whim, by making invitations, sending them out, and throwing a "For No Reason" party. Inspired by our magical friends Jim and Bridget (see post from August "This is Big"), we gathered up a bunch of the affirming, fabulous, happy, smart, funny couples and singles and ... for no reason, well, except that their joy and happiness was contagious and thus we are better for them ... had a blast making the most of a mundane, non-holiday, no-purpose, beer-on-tap, average wine, easy snacks, balmy fall evening.

Thanks to all you cool people in my life. Because of you, we're a happier couple. That's the kind of contagion I like.

Let's do it again soon, k? Before we do, get your flu shots already.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cliché? or Nay?

As my students all know, I'm a cheerleader of communication THEORY.

Nothing is, no chance, more useful than a great theory for helping us understand or explain things. You know, thing like what happy couples do. What happy parents do. Families. Women. Friends ... et al.

Dialectical Theory - one of my all-time theoretical besties - explains that relationships of all sizes and shapes require on-going navigation of our very human, simultaneous, and contradictory needs: like, being open with each other and being closed (telling and keeping secrets); like newness and sameness; like togetherness and independence. Send me an email if you'd like a bibliography on DT. Really. You can love theory too!

Speaking of love, I just read an interesting review of a new book on the topic. Okay, so I haven't read the book yet. But the thesis and research supporting it makes my dialectical-theory-loving-self say hmmmm ... Interesting. Is the fondness/heart/absence thing cliche? Either way, maybe you'll enjoy the review (and the actual book. I'll let you know when I'm done with it) too: Click here for full article

Friday, September 30, 2011

totally 4 ever

Of course it’s fun to write about weddings on the happy couple blog. A great wedding is, as we’ve all either experienced or observed, the epitome celebratory moment for almost every happy couple! Love 'em, always.

But more beautiful than the recent wedding of my very lovely colleague Maria and her equally exquisite partner Nate is a loving little symbol that – to this marriage researcher – is a sure sign that this pair is starting off on the right foot (feet?)

To commemorate their bond, Nate created them a custom couple-logo. You know, a signature of their new duo-world-order. Their own couple-signature. A sweet symbol which now represents their one-ness. And perfectly revealed to all the world on their hand-crafted, multi-fold wedding invitation.

Ok, is that not the most explicit sign of a couple intentionally nurturing their culture of two?

Indeed, this marriage researcher says, it is!

And if I might offer just one more dose of (personal and academic) affirmation for such a cool idea, here it is: a shout out to Maria and Nate, and any other couple out there who has done something similar or the same. Thumbs for doing what happy couples do: making, with intention, something uniquely your own. Whether it’s a memory, nickname, private hand signal or signature logo, happy couples recognize that what they make of their marriage is really, from the very beginning and until the very end, simply up to them.

Happy first week of your new life together, Maria and Nate. May your logo be just the first of many symbols that glue you together, totally 4 ever.

BTW: Nate also designed the handsome-est and clever-est wedding invitations: a summary of their 'story.' It just keeps getting sweeter, doesn't it? click here for to see in pdf

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Our cute What Happy Parents Do in the hands of a happy baby shower recipient.

It's every author's dream to see readers enjoying the pages they wrote with joy and passion. Doesn't it look like they're having fun? Thanks to Tara for not only gifting the book, but for also capturing the moment! Best wishes to the parents-to-be.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A squirrel in the house ...

... does not increase your odds of being a happy couple (at least not in that moment). Especially when one spouse of said couple left the screen door open -- just a tad, honey -- for couple's small-scale dog to roam in and out. Yes, it was just the perfect space for squirrel to make her entrance.

I have no research to back up the squirrel-in-house + couple = temporarily-not-so-happy. But what I do have (Carol here) is a lived-experience. Yesterday we had a live squirrel in our house! OMG.

It was brief. It was hilarious (now). It was a bit crazy. Scary. Funny. And also not so funny. But like everything in our 20 year marriage, it taught us something.

The lesson? Shut the screen door (HONEY!). Applicable marriage research? Humor is forever useful in stressful marriage situations. Summary of my experience? My husband is really swift with a kitchen broom. And amen he's also quite adept at forgiveness.

(I'm also super happy the squirrel - I've named her Martha -- didn't jump up and try to lick my husband's face. Oh, Fred, you'll always be our one and only 5-lb-ball-of-furry-love).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


It started with a little bit of irritation and turned into an all out grumpy attitude. Yes, toward my lovely husband. All weekend. I'll spare you the details of my foul mood and how it emerged. I'll even spare you the sweet moment when my 15 year old said "Mom, do you need a hug?" because as much as I loved every ounce of the expression, even that sweetest-gesture-in-the-teenage-mom-world didn't change my grump! I know, right? Who am I? Last weekend, a VERY GRUMPY WIFE. A monster of grumpiness. U.G.L.Y. Not pretty in any way.

But then, there they were, finally clear in my mind: the words of my super smart, super awesome, rock solid friend Deborah.

"You've got fancy problems."

A while back she shared that wise notion.

Indeed, most of our woes are fancy ones when we really think about it. We don't have cancer nor are our parents ill or lonely. We aren't rebuilding our lives after a tsunami or hurricane. Our children are healthy and smart. We have homes, food, friends and jobs. We don't live amidst radiation threats nor real treats of violence. We have dogs and fish in bowls (seriously - pets are a luxury) and even some leisure time. Our 'problems' -- ha, they sound so silly now. Like being mad at our husbands; being 'too busy'; stressing about guests in our house; not liking colleagues; feeling tired; even fights with friends; the red sock in with the white shirts; kids who refuse to fold laundry; teens who spend too much time on Facebook and too little time actually reading a book -- they're all fancy problems. Very fancy, in fact.

Period. Lesson (re)learned. Mood immediately shifted.

And happy couple is happy again. Whew.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

This is big.

First, can we all believe this is Happy Couple Blog Post number 250? Happy birthday or anniversary or milestonersary -- or whatever you call it - to the WHCD blogspot! Big. Yay!!! That's huge. I know, right?

And how perfectly appropriate to honor our 250th post with what I (Carol here) think is one of the best stories - surely ever on this blog - about the hard work of creating ourselves as happy couples.

Here's the story:

It's about a gal name Bridget and a guy named Jim. They met, married, and struggled. They fought, laughed and loved. They enjoyed life and toiled away. They had three healthy and gorgeous kids, worked hard on their careers and worked even harder on being a happy couple. They compromised, insisted and opined. They moved half way and then all the way across the country … and even out of the country … then back … and moved again (even when one wanted to stay and the other said "get me out of this place!") They donated their time and talents, all over the globe. They put the time into each other. And tons into their kids and friendship. They argued some more. They were happy, mad, grateful, and irked. Sometimes all at once. But they continued to work HARD - with the help of friends, family and inspiration grabbed wherever it was readily available - at staying married and being happy.

And guess what? Were they always successful at the happy part? Nope. But are they continuing to work on it? Yep! And what did they decide to do to do a few weeks ago to acknowledge and shine a big, bright light on their 20 years of full, hard, wonderful, crazy, awesome, difficult marriage and family work? THROW A BIGGGGG PARTY (I want to say big ass party, but is that appropriate for a professor type like me to say that? Oops. Just did.)

They threw the most lovely, joy-filled, lift-your-spirits, make you cry, dance-all-night, give you goosebumps because they gathered all of their closest friends and family -- everyone who has helped them get to this point in their coupleness -- PARTY. They dusted off their two-decade-ago wedding attire and put it on! They hired a photographer. Set up tents. Sent out brilliant invitations. Assigned us all seats so we could get to know the other special people in their current/past/future lives. And set the scene for a river-side evening of lights, music, the most delicious food, friends, laughter, drink, dancing, more laughing, fireworks (for real), skylanterns (oh so very awesome-a-sight), and, well, celebrating the 20-year-marriage of one very cool couple.

How absolutely inspiring is that?


And from their choice to celebrate comes key lessons:

In the words of my dear friend Bridget when I asked her if I could tell her story and blog about their anniversary celebration: "As long as you somehow include that we have worked hard and struggled mightily for this marriage and family and that every bit of it has been worth it but NOT easy! I feel so much that we are not told how hard it is going to be to be married to someone - even when you LOVE them. And I really wanted to have this party because we seem to "celebrate" the sad stuff far to often lately and sometimes you need to combat the sad with a crazy big LOVE party!"

Jim and Bridget, if you're reading or even if you're not, I personally and professionally must thank you for sharing your story with couples everywhere (the not-so-happy/happy/very happy/sorta happy ... all of us and everything in between). For our challenge is to know and be taught and re-taught that being a happy couple is about DOing what it takes to make it that way. Every day. You two represent the best and greatest of What Happy Couples Do because you keep at it. Make adjustments. Tweak. Cherish. Enjoy. And are willing to embrace the struggle. AND say it out loud, so others in the middle of it know they're not weird or alone. You've stayed the course. You've been a model. And you're in it for the long, long haul.

Great work, you two.

And thanks for the LOVE party! It was, in every way, the most lovely evening of the summer.

Oh, and here's a great P.S. to the story; there's so much to tell!

The image at the top of this entry is greeting card given long ago (age properly noted by the many pinholes, one sign of how far this little dose of wisdom has traveled and hung and re-hung). Yes, it was from lovely Jim to his lovely bride Bridget. And guess where it is now? Indeed, front and center on their kitchen's bulletin board, an ongoing aide-mémoire of all that is and shall be. And soooo true, Shakespeare. So true.

[All party photos by the fabulous Katie Worple. Check out her incredible work ... and hire her! ... at]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Happy Couples Change

We all change. Happy couples have the special challenge of managing their individual changes in ways that are sensitive to the other's willingness, readiness, and/or desire to change too.

Why does one have to change just because the other does? They don't … except they DO.

Here's a one-sentence tutorial: As a two-human-system, one member of a couple will, no choice, affect the other whether they intentionally try to or not. Here's a one-sentence example (which might sound familiar since it grew out of a story in What Happy Couples Do): shifting from the rather flat "Oh, hi" or silence when your spouse walks in the end-of-the-day door to "Hello o' beautiful spouse of mine! How was your day?" … the dynamic changes even though only one of you changed your greeting. Get it?

For a real-time example: A change we're making in our house and marriage - right now - is shifting from pretty darn healthy eating to pretty-crazy-super-clean-eating. Evidence: A shot of our newly-stocked all-organic-grains/nuts/fruits pantry and the mountain of goodness on our counter after our CSA arrived the other day:

(NOTE: don't hate me because I have a label-maker).

Back to the change. We are, for sure, 1) getting older, 2) getting smarter (about food and the environment), and 3) did I mention we're getting older? Oh, and then there's 4) we really like being a couple and raising our two cool kids, so we'd like to do it for a really-lot longer. Four great reasons to change - together.

While I (Carol) am typically at the helm of the food ship in our house, past attempts to significantly change our family's eating patterns have been met with one or all of: "GROSS! Mom! You expect us to actually eat that?" and/or "Honey, how much does organic milk cost?" and/or "Can't we just have tater tots this one special night?" (No! That is GROSS.)

This time, as we shift to as much local, seasonal, dark and leafy, high-nutrient clean foods, my spouse has been fully on board. He even likes the kale-spinach smoothies (thanks for the recipe, neighbor pal Deborah). Crazy what 20 years of marriage will do! And how much happier and relationship-ly healthy it is when two people can change simultaneously.

P.S. 2 points if you can, without re-reading this blog, guess how many times I wrote the word "change" in this blog post? There just isn't a good synonym in this context. Oh, and 3 points if you happened to have noticed the Happy Couple Company very hip diner mugs and wine/juice glasses in the background of the veggie photo. Not intentional. But I love it when that happens.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Got Eudaimonia?

Not a vegetable. Not a disease.

Eudaimonia is actually a noun that I (Carol here) just learned. It's the contended state of being happy, healthy and prosperous.

A word so odd it must have come from Aristotle. Indeed. And is key in the study of ethics. Ew - ethics. That requires thinking.

I, of course, like to pretend I like to think … and do actually think this new (to me) concept might provide another piece of the happy couple puzzle.

As I paged innocently through my alumni magazine a few nights ago, admittedly irritated by the unyielding stack of unread mail from our recent journeys, the article "In search of happiness" grabbed my attention. Bills and even hand-written thank you cards could wait, thank you. There's a professor of philosophy (Dr. Leanne Kent) teaching a class (at St. Norbert College, DePere, WI) and doing research on Eudaimonia. Interesting. On how-do-you-pronounce-that?

Yes, I still - even after a few days research on the concept - prefer to pronounce the word like the basic, green, bean-looking vegetable.

Can eudaimonia help us understand (embrace?) the reality that happiness is "far from a simple pursuit?" That's what eudaimonists say. And you can't - they say - be happy one moment and unhappy the next. Incoherent, they say!

Ugh - darn it. It seemed more attainable before we started thinking too much about it, no?

If happiness as individuals is such hard work, does that mean it's twice as hard as a couple? The article didn't address that. But here's what I learned from my very rudimentary introduction what it might mean for us non-greek/non-ancient/average-thinking couples (and while you decide if that's you, let me take a moment and point you to the full article: St. Norbert Magazine, turn to page 16 and find the leafy-green page with the big white letters. Author, Lisa Strandberg). Four things:

1. Happiness is not a subjective state of mind.
2. Happiness is the end goal toward which all our actions are aiming.
But ...!
3. Happiness isn't a mental state; it's a state of life.
Tell me more (but not too much …)
4. Happiness means - okay it gets a little philosophical here - living a virtuous life. It means acting "right." It means being ethical. But what is the ethical, virtuous thing to do in relationships?

No answers, but some clues come from research on long-term, happy marriage: Basic kindness maybe?

And oh my, that's hard sometimes. Even with people we love and like.

But it's worth role-playing and forcing (the old fake it until you can make it technique): "Honey - could you, oh beautiful husband of mine, grab me a glass of water while I finish this blog? Thank you, thank you so much dear. You're such a doll, even after 20 years of marriage. You fill me up."

Barf. But how can someone be rude or unkind in response to such kindness, right? Exactly.

What do you think it means to be virtuous and act "rightly" toward your partner? Do share, eh? Feel free to re-read some previous blogs. Stealing ideas is absolutely ethical and okay when the author says you can. Sweet!

I await your thoughts. Come on. If you've read this far you're almost obligated to (kindly) share.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The newest happy couple

... my sister Lynn and her new husband Jim!

Ah ... happy couples made in Jamaica, mahn. Grand joy and a sunny, magical beginning to a brilliant new chapter in their lives!

Congrats, sis. Welcome to our crazy family, Jim.

P.S. As my dad told my husband within an hour after our wedding 19.75 years ago: Jim, there is a no-return/no-backs (period) policy on Sessler gals. 100% satisfaction "guaranteed!" It's a great deal. I know, right?

Here's to you! Enjoy each moment (and many loving little rituals - of course).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Happy Couples Do: In Italia!

Just a few steps from St. Peter's Square, here I sit (Carol) in awe of the depth, beauty and profundity of the Roman experience. I share my location and sense of awesomeness about Roma not to inspire envious drools of romantic getaways. Instead, context situates my fast-appreciation over the last many days of an Italian way: an embracing of the oft-Europen long view on, well, everything. What a stark contrast from the brief and short-view we U.S. American's often take on, er, just about everything (architecture, faith, large cars, meals, etc etc).

What I will say quickly (so I can get on with our evening stroll, wine, pasta and gelato) is a quick and embarrassingly-brief summary of an informal 'interview' (okay, gregarious chat) with Andrea and Erica, the soon-to-be-married Italian/American couple found running a restaurant in the heart of Rome.

He, Andrea (on-dray-ah), comes from the Trastavere region of Roma. She's from a small town outside of Detriot. He and she run a zero-impact Italian restaurant with a goal of only local, uber-healthy ingredients. Oh, and he's an educator ... both in his restaurant and at a local university.

Did we think such a place existed in Roma? You might have. But not me.

Happily situated in a nearly zero-tourist zone of Rome, La Fete Restaurant entered my life yesterday through a series of, yes, more fortunate events: a 5-hour cooking class in which I was the happiest of all ten giddy students. If this were a cooking or travel blog, I'd tell you all about the 5-course meal we joyfully prepared over a short 4 hours in this tiny, hot, glorious kitchen. And then I'd describe each delicioso bite consumed over the next two (wine pairings guided by our teacher? Of course). But this is a different blog, so I'll resist.

What I will bullet are five intriguing insights about the "typical" Italian couple which, Andrea and Erica assure me, they are not:
1. Most couples have babies and cohabit well before marriage.
2. Most wait until theit mid/late 30's to wed. Too expensive, they say. And maybe a few other variables (mammas, sons,???)
3. When they do marry, most cheat. Super common. Women don't like it. But, well, it's what they do.
4. Divorce is rare. "Too expensive. A very long process." The no-fault divorce? Ha. Not a chance. And cheating must be a "fault?" Another ha. You need many more reasons than that, silly American researchers (my words, not theirs).
5. Communication in the Italian marriage? Lots of yelling! But that's okay. You just have to know what it means (passion ... excitement ... caring ... interest? That and more ... just like Roma provides all of us, travelers and residents).

Happy couples: they're everywhere! How lucky am I to have met yet another one in this divine and eternal city.

Ciao ... and "Cin Cin!" to you, Andrea and Erica, and to all happy couples, everywhere.

(check back soon for photo of beautiful Andrea & Erica ... and Carol who - ugh - doesn't look so much so after sweating over that once-in-a-lifetime meal).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Series of Fortunate Events

A series of fortunate events led me to Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Twin Cities' 2011 first-ever graduation ceremonies yesterday. If you don't know about Cristo Rey, look 'em up. You'll be inspired and awed, just as am I (Carol) each time I walk through their doors and work side-by-side with the uber-talented and always-hope-filled students. As one of the inspiring teachers at CR once said: Cristo Rey is one of those places that seems to "find you" … you don't necessarily find them. So true.

For the first graduating class at CRJHSTC, Immaculee Ilibagiza was invited to speak. She gets an A+ from this usually-critical public speaking instructor. Immaculee has a story, and she knows how to tell it. She left me wondering … with those silly little bumps all over my skin as her words filled me with emotion: "How can I be a better ______ (human, wife, friend, neighbor, community member, employee, stranger …?)"

The author of "Left to Tell," Immaculee has written about, and enraptured us yesterday with the story of, how she and 7 other women hid in a 3x4' bathroom for 91 days, surviving in utter silence the genocide in Rawanda. She emerged after those dark, hungry, frightening months to discover the unthinkable. Each member of her family had been killed. Most of her friends were dead too.

She had only profound things to say (yes, I'll be buying her book and sharing her story with everyone who will listen). She speaks about forgiveness and hope and generosity and faith. About otherness, kindness and presence.

In her address yesterday, she also said something absolutely and perfectly pointed to us happy couple readers/inspire-ees .. those of us mindfully and urgently striving to be hopeful and faithful and kind in our ever-challenging personal relationships: marriage, long-term love, profound friendship, functional families, neighbor/community/global goodness (etc etc etc etc etc).

Her simple lesson and words: "Learn to fight, but without the intention to wound."

Ah, the ultimate challenge. Fight for what is right and just and believed. Leave no one harmed in the wake of your passions, words and motivations.

Thank you, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Twin Cities for teaching ME .. for teaching the world .. how to be better.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Always Learning: Marriage, Happiness, Selfishness and More

My friend Tom (Carol writing here) pointed me yesterday to the May 30, 2011 NYTimes piece of David Brooks. I adore Brooks. He's so dang smart.

Tom knew I'd enjoy Brooks' thoughts (as I usually do) not only because he writes in the piece about college students -- the lifeblood of both our life's work -- but probably because he writes about humans and their relationships with, well, other humans. You know, us tricky, emotional, happiness-seeking, sorta-crazy, always-seeking, usually-striving, oft-dissatisfied people.

What Brooks has to say surely did get me thinking about relationships (... and marriage .. and partnerships ... and happiness and self-centeredness and defensiveness). His take on the current generation got me thinking more about what we all - no matter age or generation - must (yes, must!) consider about who we are, what we need, and how we (of course I throw this one in here) go about finding "happy couple-ness."

While you might not like what Brooks has to say, might it be because we don't want to believe about ourselves what he says?

Below I've excerpted a few points from Brooks' editorial "It's Not About You." Toggle on over to for the entire read. You won't be sorry you spent the extra time getting there. Either way, consider the happy couple question of the day: what can "I" learn about how "I" go about "my" marriage/partnership/relationship given that "I" (okay, we) live in a culture of "ME and MY HAPPINESS FIRST, please and thank you."

His thesis sure got me thinking. What about you?

May 30, 2011
It’s Not About You
Over the past few weeks, America’s colleges have sent another class of graduates off into the world. These graduates possess something of inestimable value. Nearly every sensible middle-aged person would give away all their money to be able to go back to age 22 and begin adulthood anew. But, especially this year, one is conscious of the many ways in which this year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt. More important, their lives have been perversely structured.

... Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree. ... Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

... If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy. ...

... Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"What Happy Neighbors Do"


Quotable words (a book title?) from one member of today's early-sunday-morning-neighbor-crew, a collection of cool folks who embrace and sustain the neighborhood biking/coffee ritual (12.5 miles there … sip, chat, laugh, take-on-the-voice-of-a-male role play, sip some more … then 12.5 miles home … then gather on the patio of Bruess' backyard for more sips, chats, laughs). It's exactly what happy neighbors do: enjoy each others' company and good spirit. Regularly.

Amen! Exactly. No doubt. Yay!

In the infancy of the ritual, it was the neighbor guys who defined it and rode. Today and from here forward, us biker-gals have joined the ranks of the Portland Avenue early morning bike brigade. What have we been waiting for, gal pals?

It's what happy neighbors do! Ritual filled with goodness. And if you haven't already figure it out, it's really just what happy people do.


Joyful conversation. Good times. Super memories. Again and again.

See you next week, Portland people. I'm feelin' super lucky to know you.

- Carol

Friday, May 27, 2011

15 different years, same defining ritual

My hubby and I (Carol) texted each other midday today: "Can you believe we have a 15 year old? So cool. We're old."

Yes, we do, it is and we are.

Faithful readers know well the ritual at the Bruess house: door sign (whether the kid wants it or says he/she likes it or not) exclaiming the birthday child. While a photo was snapped with teen next to "15 OMG!" today, the words out of his mouth even before I could press finger on the button of camera were "You CANNOT put this on your blog." So, I didn't. I took another photo without him in it. Ha. Happy birthday, kid!

And while the defining door sign activity is, as of today, a good decade.5 years old, an activity we begin tomorrow will hopefully be the very first in a long-standing new birthday ritual: community-based-birthday-gifting. Instead of receiving (gifts, events, parties), my sweet teen decided that we would - as a family - give of ourselves and our time to help the North Minneapolis Tornado victims. In honor of his birthday, we give instead of receive.

And I would say, what an honor to be the parent of one very cool teen (whose photo is not included because of course I usually - not really - do as he says).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy Couple Company will be there. Will you?

Happy Couple Company will be on display at the Women and Children's Expo! Come check it (and us) out. Fun!