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.