Marriage: Five years in

D and I are still babies at this marriage thing, but we recently celebrated five years as Mr and Mrs.


This pretty much sums us up – me laughing at D being silly

We have our ups and downs, but mostly we get along well and enjoy each other’s company.  Our mutual happiness must show, as I’ve been asked a few times what the secret of a good marriage is!

Here are a few things that have helped us build a strong marriage:

  • We chose each other!  Whenever I’m asked what our happy-marriage-secret is, I reply ‘Marrying D’.  Before he came on the scene, I was drawn to brooding, moody types but I am sooooo glad that I have ended up with my sunny and silly husband.  For my fellow Jane Austen fans, I liken it to marrying Mr Bingley instead of Mr Darcy.  I’m joking, but kind of not.  I suspect that I would have found life with a moody, brooding type quite difficult.  D is a heart-on-sleeve, uncomplicated soul who is unfailingly kind.  D and I are also fortunate that we don’t have a lot of stresses that many couples have – we’re from the same culture, have nice families, share the same faith, same political views and have no debt.  I’m not saying any of these things mean a couple is doomed – far from it, as I know many ‘opposites’ who are perfectly happy – but our sameness means those stresses just don’t exist for us.
  • We carry each other.  D could get mad about the times my auto-immune disease renders me a tired slug.  Or the fact that I cannot deal with sleep-deprivation AT.ALL.  He has picked up my slack on countless occasions and even took on night-feed duty with our children (because sleep-deprived Angela was just too awful to live with!).  Likewise, I’ve picked up his slack when he’s been busy with his studies or his new business, or has just got some new invention in his head that he needs to get out.  As our ‘busyness’ ebbs and flows, so do our negotiations over who does what.  D is probably going to resume his studies soon, and I’m already thinking of how I can support him during this time i.e. what chores can I take off him so he doesn’t become a stress-bunny.
  • We prepared for marriage well.  We had a short engagement (just over three months), and were blessed to have marriage preparation with a mature couple as our guides.  As it wasn’t available when we were engaged, we ended up doing the Alpha Marriage Preparation Course after we were married, and that was fantastic too.  I highly recommend doing a marriage preparation course to any couple, as the benefits are huge: it gets you in the habit of having intentional conversations, and you don’t get blind-sided by the big (or little) stuff.  Marriage prep covers everything from what your idea of a husband or wife is, your previous relationship history,  how you plan to share finances and household chores, to which side of the family you will spend holidays with.  It covers things that you’ve probably never talked about before.  Marriage prep is not for the faint-hearted.  You go deep.  You may cry.  But it gets you to lay all your cards on the table; the good and the bad, so you both know what you are getting into.  Because of marriage preparation, our transition to married life was seamless.
  • We work on it.  I think the litmus test for any couple is whether you are both prepared to get help if things start to go pear-shaped.  You can’t work with someone who isn’t willing to see a counsellor, a minister or good friend when bad times come.  As my background is in psychology, I ask D regularly to do stuff that I think will enhance our marriage.  And he always says yes.  Together, we’ve read books on marriage, watched a dvd on boundaries, developed a set of family values, gone on retreats together and alone, and had many, many intentional conversations (thanks marriage prep!) that have soothed the sting of our arguments.
  • We connect regularly.  We have a ‘date night’ once a week, and take turns being the one to organise it (see here for cheap or free date night ideas).  Sometimes we get a bit slack or busy and date night doesn’t happen, but we find that we are more content with our relationship when we make date night a priority.  We each get a kick out of planning something we know will make the other one happy, and have both surprised ourselves with our creativity.  D has surprised me with several trips and meals out (one of the best was an anniversary dinner where he treated me to a meal he’d cooked over at his mother’s house, while she babysat our children at our house!), and my favourites have been surprising D with a picnic at a ‘secret’ lake, and a dance party where we each chose our three favourite ‘dancey’ songs, and our three favourite romantic songs.  There’s nothing like dancing with your spouse to remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place.  Unless they have two left feet.


As I said, we’re still babies at this marriage thing so take this with a grain of salt.  I’m sure my list in ten or twenty years time will look different, but for now, happy fifth anniversary D!




Taking it one month at a time

A few weeks ago I mentioned taking a morning off by myself to do some thinking.

As I was turning 40 I wanted to reflect on my life so far, and ponder what the next forty years might bring.  I also needed that uninterrupted, creative time to prepare for my next project.

My current guru is Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project.  She’s basically an introverted, more pedantic version of myself, and her entertaining books have given me much food for thought.  Her book Happier at Home charts her year of experimenting with making changes around her ‘home’ in her pursuit of happiness.  She picks a certain area to focus on for a month, and then drills down into three or four specific activities that she will do to enhance that area of her life.  For example, one month she focuses on her children, and they agree to give each other warm greetings and farewells each day.  She also takes her oldest daughter out on an afternoon adventure once a week.  In another month she goes through all her possessions to see if they are ‘her’ or not, and in another month she focuses on connection with her wider family, so they experiment with how best to regularly communicate with each other.

The idea is for the month not to be an onerous list of tasks, but rather a handful of opportunities to enhance what you already have.  Choosing two or three specific tasks to focus on seems achievable to me, and certainly none of the things Gretchen does are out of the realm of regular people.  She does not have a month devoted to buying a whole new wardrobe of clothes that are ‘her’, nor does she have a month travelling to exotic locales in order to appreciate what she has at home more.

Happier at Home is a very interesting read, as even though Gretchen has a strong sense of ‘self’, it takes her some considerable experimentation and detective work to figure out what ‘being Gretchen is’, and what truly makes her happy.  As a people-pleasing chameleon, I do not have this strong sense of self (which may sound crazy to those of you who do, and will resonate with others who are like me), and so embarking on this sort of project myself seems like a fun and hopefully edifying experience.

As I sat under a shady tree overlooking a lake, I scribbled down my ideas and came up with the twelve areas that I will focus on over the next year.  I’ll be blogging about it retrospectively each month so you can follow along.  The areas I’ve chosen are:

August: Marriage.  What little things can I do to enhance our marriage?  Our marriage is pretty solid, but I thought of several nice things I could do for D over this month.

September: My health.  I put this area early as I am currently so rundown that I keep getting sick.  I’m going to up my fruit and vegetable intake so I’m getting the full whack of vitamins, get outside as much as possible, exercise daily, and guard my sleep to see if it makes any difference after a month.

October: Family.  This month I intend to focus on doing some fun things with my immediate family, and also with my wider family who have been quite neglected during all the sickness in our house.

November: Spirituality.  I’m a Christian and sometimes God gets a little lost in the busyness of my daily life.  This month I plan to memorise a scripture each week, and throw in a couple more things to prepare myself for Advent.

December: Traditions.  This is the perfect month to create new family traditions around Christmas, and I will be setting aside some time to brainstorm with D about some other traditions we might create throughout 2016 (and scheduling them in!).

January: Possessions.  January is the perfect month to have a good clean-out.  I will be going through all my possessions and getting rid of anything that no longer serves me.  I will also be creating a playroom for my children, and an office for me out of spaces that are currently used for other things.

February: Exercise.  This month I will try out some new forms of exercise to see if anything grabs me e.g. crossfit.  I will also be trying out things that I used to love as a kid, like roller-skating, dancing and horse riding.

March: Children.  This month I will be focusing on saying ‘yes’ more to my children and forgetting about the housework, and spending more one-on-one time with them.

April: Purpose. This is a big one.  Why am I here?  What am I supposed to be doing?  There is a particular area that I have been intending to study, but is this the best use of my talents?  During this month I will be seeking guidance from others and doing a lot of praying about it.

May: Household.  How can I make my life easier?  Are there any ‘hacks’ I could try to streamline my long list of chores to be done?

June: Hobbies.  I am not a hugely crafty person, so apart from writing, and loving movies, I don’t really have any hobbies.  This month I will try out a couple of potential hobbies to see if they are for me.

July: Community. This month I will focus on making the area I live in just a smidge better and more connected.  I plan do things like to hold a midwinter Christmas party with my neighbours, and introduce myself to neighbours down the street that I haven’t met yet.

So how did I do with my marriage challenge for August?

It went spectacularly badly.

I thought I’d start off with an easy challenge.  I could happily think of a dozen things I could do to enhance my marriage.  Our marriage is not in trouble – far from it – but almost everything I had planned didn’t happen because of sickness!!!

I had a list of things I wanted to do for or with my husband, and instead spent August either caring for sick children or being sick myself.

My husband is soooooo tired and worn out, I knew he’d appreciate a weekend away on his own (he’s an introvert).  I picked a weekend and encouraged him to go for it.  D was incredibly grateful and appreciative of the chance to get away.  The afternoon D was meant to leave, Chip started projectile-vomiting everywhere.  D kindly decided he couldn’t possibly leave me alone with the kids if it was a contagious gastro-bug (it was).  ‘How about you go next Thursday?’ I offered. ‘That will give the kids plenty of time to get better’.  So D changed the dates.  Just as he was about to walk out the door on Thursday, Chip started vomiting again.  D sighed and said ‘How about we just forget this weekend away of mine until the Winter from Hell has passed?’  He’s a good man, that D.

I had a few nice surprises planned that never eventuated because I was ill, but D and I did manage to get a weekend away before I came down with yet another illness(!).  We had a lovely time, and it was a good reminder to schedule in breaks for just the two of us as much as practically possible.

August was a total dud.  So much so that I am going to repeat marriage month again in October (along with family) to give it a fair go.  I won’t go into any more detail yet as I want D to be surprised, but I do have some pretty cool things up my sleeve.  Fingers crossed that D gets his weekend away in October!  D had no idea that I was focusing on our marriage over August, but now he has a little heads-up.  🙂


Date Your Spouse Without Leaving The House: 15 free & cheap date night ideas

One of the things D and I have sacrificed this year during our Spending Fast is our date night budget.  But just because we won’t be going out to restaurants or to the movies doesn’t mean that we are resigned to a year without date nights.  Oh no, that would never do!

Date nights are extremely important to us.  They give us some sacrosanct time in our busy lives where we can enjoy uninterrupted time together, and time to shine a spotlight on our relationship. We haven’t always been diligent about having them once a week (oddly enough, they tend to get derailed for a while after a baby shows up…) but we’ve always taken turns to organise the date.  It’s actually loads of fun trying to think of things to do that the other one would like, and the best spin-off was we’ve often surprised each other with our creativity.

There are heaps of ‘date night idea’ posts out there with some really cool things you could do together.  However, at this time in my life I tend to read ideas like ‘Go away for the weekend’ or ‘Take a cooking class together’ and think to myself ‘these things either cost money (hello, Spending Fast) or are for people without tiny tots at home’.   And while there are plenty of free or frugal dates we could have outside the home thanks to our willing babysitters, we aim to have loads of fun on our date nights without even leaving the house.

  1. Make a list of your top 3 (or 5 or 10…) favourite songs and play them to your spouse.  Try to articulate why that song means so much to you.  Is it the lyrics?  Is it the memories of a good/bad time in your life?  D and I did this a couple of years ago and this still remains hands down my best-ever date night.  We learnt a lot about each other, got introduced to some wonderful new music and it didn’t cost us a bean.
  2. In a similar vein, watch each other’s favourite childhood movie.  You might get an insight into your spouse once you’ve seen Tron or Clueless.
  3. Have a themed night.  Choose a country/genre/tv show or whatever takes your fancy and work that theme into your night e.g. French – cook some delicious French recipes, serve your spouse using a ridiculous French accent and watch a wonderful French flick like the hysterically funny ‘Bienvenue chez le Ch’tis‘ (Welcome to the Sticks).  Ooh la la!
  4. Have a picnic on your living room floor.  Because food just tastes better when you are sitting on the floor.  Or something like that.
  5. Play board games.  I struggle with this one a little myself because on the one hand, I love board games.  But on the other hand, D is WAY better at games than me (he’s very logical, I am not) so I usually suck at the games he likes (although I can still beat anyone at Cluedo…).  It can be a bit demoralising to lose at Citadels 50 times in a row, although my one victory is a sweet, sweet memory.  Some games are no good with two people, but we love Citadels and Pandemic.
  6. Watch a TV series together.  This is our go-to date night for times when we are knackered.  Which is a lot.  We’ve been through Prison Break, Midsomer Murders, 24, Downton Abbey, Homeland and are in the middle of Foyle’s War.  (In case you can’t tell I LOVE murder mysteries, WWII-related stuff, and plenty of action.)
  7. Make a special dish together.  If you’ve got little ones at home, let’s face it, it’ll probably be dessert as you’ll be starving if you have to wait for your dinner until the tots are in bed.  You don’t have to spend heaps of money to create something yummy.  My husband makes plain old self-saucing pudding every now and then (we use a sugar-free alternative) and I like it so much I even made up a special pudding song.  True story.  Anyway, get cooking together and reap the reward.
  8. Go through a book together and discuss.  Get a book out of the library for free (or peanuts).  It doesn’t really matter what sort of book, but I would recommend choosing a topic that appeals to you both (D might salivate over ‘Adventures of an IT Nerd’, but I will be snoozing in 5 seconds).  Books with a bit of philosophy in them are great like ‘How to Be Free‘ or something on a controversial topic like ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin‘.
  9. Even better, go through a book about marriage/relationships together.  Relationship are hard work, even for the most compatible couples.  Invest in yours, and dig deep into your trouble spots together.  It’s not for the faint-hearted, but as a couple you MUST GET USED TO TALKING ABOUT THE HARD STUFF TOGETHER.  I highly recommend Harville Hendrix’s ‘Getting the Love You Want‘ and Timothy Keller’s ‘The Meaning of Marriage‘.
  10. Write love letters to each other.  Okay, so this one is dripping with cheese, but go with it.  Cast your mind back to when you first met and started dating.  What attracted you to your partner?  What do you still love about them?  What are you grateful for about them?  Write it down and then read them out loud to each other.
  11. Play the ‘What If…’ game.  This one is fun, fun, fun and will give you a lot of insight into that guy/gal of yours.  Try and think of some really curly dilemmas (there are lots of great resources online like this), you know, stuff  like ‘If you had to press a button which meant one person would die, but hundreds of lives would be saved, would you do it’?
  12. Record each other telling your life stories.  This is gold.  Like heirloom gold.  Ask questions like, ‘What are some family traditions you remember’?  ‘What was school like for you‘?  ‘Walk me around your house, describe what it looked like‘?
  13. If one or both of you are musical have a jam session/singalong.  My husband likes to make up terrible songs about me that don’t rhyme.  I love it.
  14. Dig out your old pre-partner photos of your life and go through them together.  Ask questions.
  15. And last but not least, D says: assemble flat-pack furniture together.  Not only do two pairs of hands get things done faster, NOTHING strengthens a relationship more like trying to figure out why the heck your bookcase is wonky and you’ve got three screws leftover.  IKEA: the place that screams are made of…