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Written by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, the Marriage in a Box blog shares insights into common relationship struggles, gives ideas for moving beyond the roadblocks, and helps you find your path to happiness – both individually and within your relationship.

Should You and Your Spouse have Separate Finances?

The American Dream is to find the love of your life, marry, pool everything you own as the two become one and live happily ever after. Alas, every marriage is not the American Dream. The love of you life may be a terrible money manager, owe a mountain of debt, or be a financial control freak. More and more couples are deciding that, while they love each other, joint accounts and finances are not for them.

Why Separate Finances Makes Sense for Some Couples

The rate of dual-income households has been steadily on the rise and the absence of a dedicated homemaker relieves the need to merge finances since both partners have personal streams of income. 

More people are getting married later in life, meaning by the time many settle down with a spouse, their spending habits are deeply seated and individualized. Separate accounts eliminates have to seek permission for purchases and allows for independent choice.

Many previously divorced couples opt for keeping their finances separate because they may have been burned in their previous relationship. Their Ex may have left them with no money and a pile of debt. Maintaining separate accounts provides a sense of security and harmony in the relationship.

How to Make Separate Accounts Work in a Relationship

  1. Define Responsibilities. Divvy up expenses so everyone involved is aware of what they need to take care of. For example, one person may make the mortgage payment, while the other takes care of all the utilities and childcare bills.
  1. Create a Bill Paying system. Agree upon an administrative system for paying joint bills. This could include, for example, picking a particular date each month to transfer a set amount into a joint account that the couple subsequently uses for those monthly joint expenses like rent, groceries, utilities, and childcare.
  1. Account for differences in income. One spouse may make more money than the other, so it would be more equitable to divide your shared expenses according to a percentage of your incomes. So if one partner makes twice as much as the other, one would pay 1/3 of the shared costs while the other pays 2/3.”
  1. Communication is Essential. Having separate bank accounts doesn’t mean you should feel free to buy whatever or hide financial difficulties. Don’t keep financial secrets from your spouse. Talk about any personal situations that may cause you not to be able to meet your share of the expenses. Agree to discuss any major purchase over a certain amount.
  1. Monthly Check In. As a couple you will still have goals to save or invest for certain things such as a house, a big vacation etc. Additionally, you both will want the peace of mind knowing that all of the bills are paid. Sit down once a month and go over where you are in your bills and financial goals to make sure you on track.

Separate finances might provide each spouse some financial independence and may eliminate most financial arguments. Joint finances may allow each partner compete transparency and commitment to do it together. However you decide to manager you r finances, it takes a lot of up front planning and communication to get it right. The important thing is to find a system that both of you agreed upon, works for both of you, and supports a harmonious relationship.

Posted 5/15/2020

Sharing the Chores Can Save Your Marriage

If you ask couples what the top three things they argue about are, who does what around the house is usually one of those things. When one partner is unhappy about the allocation of household chores, the stress level increases in the house. Surveys indicate that even though man women work outside the home, they sill do most of the household chores. During this COVID-19 pandemic, couples are sheltering in place. The practical business of running the household like shopping, cooking, household cleaning, and laundry have increased since the family is at home 24/7. Couples that do not team up to run the household together develop feelings of irritation, misunderstandings are overblown, and a conflict erupts.

Marriage is a partnership and that means you and your partner need to act as a team and approach everything in your lives together. Together you should be discussing goals, setting priorities, dividing up responsibilities, and evaluating how things are going. That includes all of the practical aspects of running the household.

Sharing Household Chores

When you both work together to share the running of the household, there is peace and harmony in your marriage. Here are five tips to help you and your partner share the household chores.

  1. Communicate Priorities

Many people look at chores differently. One spouse may not be able to stand dirty dishes in the sink and insist they be cleaned as soon as they are done being used. Another spouse may be okay with doing the dishes at the end of the day. You and your partner need to sit down and discuss what chores need to be done and how often. Some chores may need to be done daily like cooking, cleaning the dishes and pots and pans. Other chores may only need to be done weekly such as dusting, sweeping, mopping, cleaning the bathrooms, and cleaning the sheets. Then there are those chores that should be done on an as needed basis like laundry, taking out the trash, etc.

  1. Divide the Load Fairly

There are a number of ways to approach dividing the work load. You could write down all the chores on separate pieces of paper and put them all in a jar and draw lots. You can each chose those chores you like to do and then do the chores you each hate to do together. Whatever system you come up with, the chores need to be divided fairly. One person should not be left with the majority of the chores.

  1. Decide on a Timetable

When will the chores be done? You and your partner need to decide which day and what time of the day to take care of household responsibilities. Both partners may be working from home. You may have young children that nap during the day. It’s best to discuss and decide when to do the chores, so that they don’t disrupt work or other priorities. You and your spouse may decide to set aside one morning or afternoon or early evening to get weekly chores done. Daily chores could be done at a certain time period of the day.

  1. Plan for the Week

Let one another know what the coming week is going to be like in terms of meetings, errands, special occasions, etc. Then decide how chores need to be adjusted to accommodate those instances. Make a list and post the list.

  1. No Nagging

Don't nag each other about what each of you volunteered to do or how you do it. Be flexible and allow your partner to accomplish their chores in the way they see fit. Does it matter if they don’t fold the shirts they way you would? Discuss each of your expectations and decide whether some standards need to be relaxed or others need to be increased. Sanitizing the kitchen counters and food surfaces require an increased level of cleaning during this period of coronavirus. If the chore hasn't been done or is done poorly by the following week when you sit down to plan the week, that's the time to bring it up for discussion.

Working as a team to get the practical chores done requires some organization, but it will eliminate misunderstanding and arguments and allow peace to reign in your home.

Posted 4/26/2020

Creative Date Night Ideas When the Family is Quarantined

Creative Date Night Ideas When the Family is Quarantined

Government mandated shelter-in-place orders have put any activities outside of your home on hold. If you are married with children, you are likely spending your days homeschooling and entertaining the kids. Then there are all the sanitation chores to keep everyone healthy. It can take its toll on your marriage. Just because you are in quarantine does not mean that you can’t still have date nights with your spouse. You just need to be a little more creative. Here are 25 great date night ideas that you can put together without leaving the house. 

  1. Share a late night candle-lit dinner
  2. Watch a romantic movie together
  3. Cook a new recipe together
  4. Play a board or card game together
  5. Star gaze on your porch together
  6. Watch a concert together
  7. Make your own photo booth
  8. Make a bucket list together
  9. Play Truth or Dare
  10. Take an online personality test
  11. Give each other a Spa Massage
  12. Have a Wine & Cheese Party
  13. Slow Dance in the Living Room
  14. Reminisce with Photo Albums
  15. Take a Bubble Bath or Soapy Shower
  16. Have Breakfast in Bed
  17. Write each other Sexy Messages
  18. Build an epic puzzle
  19. Do Yoga together
  20. Have an indoor camping trip
  21. Turn your bedroom into a romantic hotel room
  22. Play strip poker
  23. Dress up as your favorite movie idol
  24. Fire up the grill and cook out
  25. Dress up in your sexiest outfits

Keeping the home fires burning is essential to keeping your marriage strong. Take turns choosing a date night idea to try each week and see if your love life doesn’t improve.

Posted 4/15/2020

Keep A Disagreement With Your Spouse From Escalating

Being in the same house or apartment 24/7, with no obvious end in sight, can make it feel like there’s a storm coming just around the bend.  As this pandemic stretches on, conflicts will arise. What’s the best way to resolve those conflicts in a way where both people feel heard, but you’re also preserving the relationship? 

With this period of shelter-in-place, we can expect a honeymoon period, where people are sticking together and trying to make the best of it, or even enjoying it. Many will have time to get to those projects they never had time for and be able to spend more time as a family.

As time goes by, conflict is going to emerge. There’s no way around it. Some couples may be dealing with a situation where one or both have lost their jobs and money is tight. One partner may be hyper-anxious about the virus and project their anxiety and fears on to others in the family. If you have children, there is the added worry about keeping up with schoolwork and finding ways to occupy their time. In this type of pressure cooker situation, couples will argue, and those arguments can escalate. 

How do you resolve an argument without escalating into a full-blown fight?

The Cool Down Period

Ideally, the best way is to go to a separate space to calm down. One goes in the bedroom, and one goes in the kitchen. If you can’t do that, there are things like headphones or earplugs, to create artificial boundaries. The point is to take some time away from each other to calm down and collect your thoughts, so that you can come together later and talk.

What is the Real Issue?

Often times, the thing you and your partner are arguing about is not the real issue. Are the dirty dishes in the sink the issue? Or is it more about asking your partner to please help keep the home clean instead of leaving it all to you. Try to sort out the real issue you want to talk to your partner about. 

Approach Your Partner in Love

Sometimes, when you speak to your spouse, you can say hurtful things while trying to get your point across. “You are such a slob! Can’t you even wash a dish?”  After that comment, your partner has stopped listening. You, the one person that is supposed to love them, have just wounded them. Never, ever attack your partner’s character. Start with your feelings about the issue. “ I feel overwhelmed when the dishes and cleaning is left up to me. Could we find a way to work together on this?”

Don’t Do All the Talking

Try to understand where the other person is coming from and what their needs are. Give them a good dose of active listening. Then you set the stage for good communication.

Talk it Out

Now that everyone is calm and the issue is out there, you both can talk about ways to resolve the issue. May be each of you cleans up after yourself in the kitchen and the bathroom. Or maybe you schedule alternate days where each is responsible for cleaning particular areas of the house. Whatever you decide to work out, you did it together.

During this period of COVID-19 self-quarantine, it will take more effort than ever to stay calm, work together as a team, and nurture your marriage.

Posted 4/8/2020

Marriage Isn’t Something You Can Settle Into And Forget

When you and your partner said “I DO”, you both chose to “love, honor, and cherish each other until death do you part.” You couldn’t wait to get home and be intimate with your partner. As the years go by, life naturally has a way of getting in between you in your partnership. That’s the natural flow of things. Each of you becomes distracted, and busy with the other things in life such as work, maintaining the household, relationships with relatives and friends, social engagements, and children etc.

How we drift apart

We forget to put our marriage and our spouse above other things.

We take each other for granted.

We don’t make an extra effort to please our spouse.

We spend less and less time together.

You did not marry your spouse so that you could continue to live apart from them. You are not a single person going through life. You are one half of a partnership. On your wedding day, “From this day forward” , you vowed to love and care for your souse.

Intentionally choose your partner

It takes real intentionality not to let the marriage drift apart, but to find ways to “drift” back together in marital partnership and intimacy when stuff happens. Marriage doesn’t just happen then continue on auto-pilot. Maintaining and growing love consists of decisions. It’s a matter of daily choices. You have to make an effort to choose your partner with your head, your heart, and your actions to make your marriage work.

You can choose each other everyday in small ways.

Here are ten ways you can choose each other:

Choose to consult your partner before making a big purchase.

Choose to talk to your partner instead of spending your time on the cell phone.

Choose to believe your partner when he or she calls to tell you that he or she will be late coming home from work.

Choose your partner when you check with them before you make a social engagement.

Choose to spend time with your partner when you could be on the computer instead.

Choose to spend time with your partner rather than watch a TV show.

Choose to defend your partner when in-laws criticize them.

Choose to forgive your partner when they have made a mistake.

Choose to side with your partner when making decisions about the children.

Choose to love your partner when they try to initiate sex.

Be intentional in growing your love and marriage by choosing your partner, or it may die from neglect.

Posted 3/27/2020

Be Nice-Even When Your Spouse Isn’t

The reason many couples fall out of love is because they stop treating each other with a certain respect, warmth, attraction, passion and affection that makes up romantic love. At a particular point in their relationship, one spouse stops leaning in, quits showing care and concern, and ends their acts of kindness. Why stop treating each other with kindness?

Fear of getting too intimate. Many of us have unconscious fears around intimacy that cause us to want to keep our partner at a certain emotional distance. We resist getting too close in many, often unconscious, ways in order to maintain old, familiar defenses that may keep us feeling safe and self-protected but that actually limit us in our lives.

Viewing Love as a fantasy. Without realizing it, couples can form a fantasy relationship based on what they think love should be instead of what it really is in order to feel a sense of safety. However, what they end up feeling is resentment and frustration. Instead of seeing their partner as someone they chose, they may feel like their partner is someone they’re stuck with.

Focusing on yourself. So often we can get wrapped up in a “me, me, me” attitude without even realizing it. We become so distracted and lost in our own heads that we stop thinking of our partner as a real person being affected by us. We may feel victimized because we do and give so much, but we refuse to slow down and see things from our partner’s point of view. 

Projecting the past.  We all have an inner voice that can send thoughts to us when we feel as if we are in danger. A person with a bad relationship in their past may project negative thoughts onto their current partner. “He’s cheating again!”  “She doesn’t want to be with you, you’re being used.” The old experiences control how you react in your current relationship.

How to return kindness to your marriage

The only person we have any real control over is ourselves. You need to make the first move. You have to lean in, show you care, and begin to change your romantic relationship. It starts with kindness. Being kind is the only real action we can take to improve our relationship. 

  • When you feel triggered by your partner, try to take a breath or take a walk before you react. Find ways to calm yourself down, so that you can feel whatever you feel then act in a way that reflects the outcome you truly desire. 
  • In order to move forward, you have to be willing to let go of the past and surpass it by being even more vulnerable and open to love. Letting go of your defenses will let more love into your life.
  • End an argument by dropping your half of the argument and saying something kind, open and vulnerable like “I care more about being close to you than I do about winning this argument.”  
  • Paying attention to your partner and acknowledge their feelings. It will make them feel safe and seen. Then, you can be kind by engaging in behavior that acknowledges their wants and desires.

Reach out to your partner, show concern and care and stick with the behavior of being kind. You’ll be amazed at the way this can melt your partner’s heart and cause them to reciprocate.

Posted 3/18/2020

Move Your Marriage Away From Discontentment

Don’t confuse being discontent in your marriage with falling out of love. Being discontent means that there is an issue that can be worked on and fixed. Falling out of love means that you gave up on your marriage and chose not to love your partner. Discontentment stems from anger with your spouse. Anger usually stems from a build up of many little annoyances that grow into big annoyances.

Problem: He won’t take the garbage out unless I ask him to.

Thought: I’m not doing his laundry until he starts pitching in and taking out the trash.

Words: “Are you going to take out the trash or do I have to do it?”

Problem: She stays on her phone texting the majority of the evening.

Thought: “I’ll turn the football game on loud, that will get her attention”

Words: “ I’m just going to watch the game since your busy texting your friends.”

Problem: She leaves the sink full of dirty dishes every night.

Thought: “I’m not cleaning those dishes, it’s her job.”

Words: “Did it ever occur to you that germs grow on those dirty dishes!”?

Problem: He frequently stays late at work.

Thought: I’m not making dinner for him, he can make himself a sandwich.”

Words: None. Silent treatment

The thoughts that you dwell on eventually begin to control your words, your actions and your behavior. When you become critical and condemning of your spouse, what’s essentially happening in your mind is that you’re breaking down the respect you once had for him or her. 

You hold the keys to whether you will continue to love and respect your spouse or not.  

Take a look in the mirror. Be mindful of your own shortcomings, and failures. When you look at life through a clear lens, it will be easier for you to let go of your spouse’s past mistakes, shortcomings and failures.

Communicate. Secretly thinking revengeful thoughts or making snarky comments does not let your spouse know what is really wrong. You and your spouse need to find time to sit down and calmly discuss what is annoying you and what can be done to fix that.  Examples:

“Honey I feel like you don’t care about our home when you don’t bother to take the garbage out.”

“Sweetie, I look forward to spending time with you in the evening and when you stay on the phone texting, I feel like you don’t want to spend time with me.”

Polish your spouse up. Start using encouraging words and actions.  When you do this, your heart towards them will start to grow softer and the respect you once had for them will start to develop again.

This will help your spouse feel your respect and it will help you to dwell on the good in your spouse.  If you continually do things like this, your spouse will start to move closer towards you and become more attentive towards you.

Posted 3/10/2020

Two Ways to Improve Communication With Your Spouse

Communication is one of the most vital aspects of an intimate relationship. When communication breaks down or becomes almost non-existent, this big signal that something is wrong in the marriage. 50% of couples that divorced claimed it was due to the inability to communicate with each other.  What are the 2 big culprits?

  1. When something happens, you assume you know the reason.

You and your spouse had plans to meet at that wonderful Italian restaurant near his office for dinner. He arrives late and you feel angry and disappointed. You assume that meeting you didn’t mean much to him or that something else was more important and sit in silence through the entire dinner.

What really happened?

You bought into your assumption instead of asking that he didn’t care enough about you to be on time for dinner rather than ask him calmly what delayed him. Traffic could have been bad, an important meeting at the office could have run longer than expected, or any number of things. Asking why he was delayed allows him the chance to explain things.

You did not communicate your feelings. Your spouse cannot read your mind and will not know what is bothering you if you do not calmly explain. “ I am annoyed that you were late because I was really looking forward to spending time with you tonight and I feel like you may not have been looking forward to spending time with me.”  Expressing your feelings allows him the chance to understand why you are annoyed and make it right.

You did not make a clear request. In the future, if you are not going to be able to arrive at the agreed upon time, please excuse yourself and call me to let me know so I don’t worry.  

Neither one of you spends time listening to the other.

Deep, positive relationships can only be developed by listening to each other. If there is no communication in your relationship, maybe neither spouse is truly listening.

Here are the most common listening mistakes:

  • Daydreaming or thinking of something else (even something as simple as your list of groceries) while another person is speaking;
  • Thinking of what to say next;
  • Judging what the other person is saying;
  • Listening with a specific goal/outcome in mind.

At last twice a week, try this listening exercise together.

One spouse gets 10 minutes to talk about their day, while the other spouse listens actively and with a genuine interest. The other spouse can ask questions to clarify but cannot interrupt the first spouse.

After 10 minutes), the other spouse gets to talk for ten minutes about their day as well, while the same listening rules apply to the first spouse.

 

You will be surprise at how much you learn about each other. Watch the quality of your relationship and your communication improve. It is an intentional way to practice active listening to each other.

Posted 3/1/2020

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