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What Mom Taught Me About Relationships

Mother’s Day is always bitter-sweet for me. Before I lost Mom to cancer, it was just sweet. We moved all the time and so she was truly my closest friend. She knew all my dreams and hopes, she gave me space to be myself even when it was awkward and stilted, and she derived great delight in watching me become the person that God had intended. She had a saying, “Find your children fascinating, and they will always be so.”

She was dying when I left for law school overseas. People had tried to talk me out of going – they knew it would be the last time I saw her even if I was in complete denial about it – but she was furious at any hint that I might be dissuaded from my dreams. Shortly before I was due to go, she called me into her room and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to get my butt on that plane to Scotland. My last memory of her is her standing, looking very small and frail, at the door waving as we drove off to the airport. I am told that once we were out of sight, she collapsed and had to be helped back to bed. “They don’t make movies this sad,” she told her best friend.

There were many motivating factors for Mom to make sure that I made it on that plane. She believed that I had worked hard for many years with law school as my goal, and she didn’t want to be the one to get in the way of those dreams. She also knew that I was slowly withering away in Texas, and I had to get out. My years in Texas gave me some tremendous gifts for which I am thankful, but I always felt like a fish out of water there. Going to Scotland gave me the chance to breathe again, and Mom recognized this as the necessary next step in my development.

But she was also concerned about the relationship I was in at the time. I was dating a guy (let’s call him Alex) who, in her mind, wasn’t the right fit for me. Going to school meant that I was moving 3,000 miles away before the relationship got too serious. At the time, I couldn’t understand this – Alex was amazing! And he truly was a great guy. But she asked me once, “Can you talk to him…I mean, really talk to him?”

In retrospect, I believe her inquiry was borne of painful insight that she had into her own marriage. My dad was a wonderful man in a lot of ways, but she often felt lonely with him. He was a pastor, so he worked a lot. My parents were great spouses and parents, but I don’t know if they were great friends. I don’t think she felt that she could really talk to him.

This shaped the way she taught me about dating relationships. Sex was a very open topic in our household, and I was fortunate enough to escape the whole “you are damaged goods if you sleep around” dogma. Sex was clearly taught as something to be saved for marriage, but my mother spent far more time talking to me about what type of man I wanted to spend my life with rather than simply what I would do once I found that man.

Texas was a great place for learning about different types of men. When I was a teenager, we didn’t do the whole courting thing. Every girl started to “car date” (the guy would pick you up in his car after meeting your dad…who was usually cleaning his shotgun) around the age of 15, and it was expected that you would date numerous people before you got married. While it scared the living daylights out of me at the time, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. I got to meet a wide variety of guys with different personalities and temperaments to see who fit me best. To this day, I don’t ascribe to the belief that there is one person out there for you, but I do believe that there are certain personality types that will suit you better and make marriage less tumultuous. Dating was my opportunity to find out what type of guy I was looking for as a life partner.

Over the years, my mother offered her input and guidance. Of one boyfriend, she said, “He doesn’t light up when you walk into the room. You deserve that.” Of another, she said “He didn’t open the car door for you. Chivalry is important.“ She did love one guy but unfortunately I didn’t, so that was the end of that relationship. And so when she asked me whether I could really talk to Alex, I took her seriously. Yes, he had great character. Yes, he was good looking. Yes, we had similar goals in life. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were things I just couldn’t share with him. I kept far too much of who I really was hidden from his view.

We did date long-distance, and it took time for me to break up with him. But when I met Eric, the first thing that jumped out at me was that we could talk. We actually started out by arguing, but we talked for hours and hours and we haven’t stopped. (Well, except for the few times during our dating years when I kicked him to the curb.) When the passion ebbs in our relationship, when we are stressed by the circumstances of life, and when we don’t agree on various points of view, we still have enormous respect for each other…respect is grounded in our deep friendship. Turns out, Mom was right.

Now, I am a mom. After enduring the bitter years of being both motherless and childless, I now have the sweetness of raising my own daughter, Riley. She has already had her first crush. We have had the first of many sex talks (in age appropriate terms, of course). Her body is beginning to change, and I already recognize the signs of hormonal fluctuations. Before I know it, she will begin on the path of looking for her life partner. Without a doubt, I will have challenging decisions to make about balancing the concepts of purity and sexual responsibility. I hope that I will do so with wisdom and grace.

But as I guide my daughter, I will do so with Mom’s model in mind. I will watch her with fascination to see who she is growing to be. As I learn to understand her better, I will have conversations with her about what type of guy will fit with her personality. I will support her as she goes through the difficult and yet giddy period of dating. I will speak honestly into her life about her choices and hope that she will listen…if not in the moment, at least when it comes to making the final decision. Most importantly, I will do my best to help her understand the importance of friendship and communication as a basis for marriage so she can choose wisely.

And I will do all of this with that an ever-present hollow place in my own heart…the one that represents how much I miss Mom; how I wish she had been here to meet the man I finally did choose, to see her granddaughter be born, and her daughter become a mom. It’s a scar that reminds me of how much I needed Mom and how hard it is to do this without her. But it also serves as a daily prompt for me to think back on all the things she did teach me, and how important it is that I never forget. Because of it, I pray every day that I am half the mother to Riley that Mom was to me.

Mother’s Day will always be bitter-sweet for me. I can’t make it through without thinking of what I’ve lost, but neither can I get through it without being in awe of all I have.

Bedwork 8: Happy Camper Date

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM this week:

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago in a post, Eric and I recently had our anniversary. And, as is our tradition, we went out for dinner and had our State of Our Union talk. (You can find a run-down on how that works here.) This year, I asked him to take me on a “creative” dates. Make no mistake, we have plenty of dates, but I felt that we had fallen into a rut about what we did each week. I knew that Eric would be up for the task because he used to make extra money to pay for college by planning dates for other dudes who couldn’t figure out how to impress a woman. He can definitely get the job done.

He didn’t waste a lot of time planning our first date. Last week, he surprised me by showing up in the middle of the work day with concert tickets in hand to the Pitbull/Kesha concert. I was ecstatic. Now, I can take or leave Kesha, but I fell in love with Pitbull last year when my dance group did a hip-hop routine to one of his songs. Please don’t judge me.

If I am being completely honest, this is not a concert that Eric would have chosen. In fact, when he let a friend know what he had done, his buddy responded by saying, “You know the best part of Pitbull announcing his name at the beginning of every song? You know to change the channel.” Eric would tend to agree with his friend. Well, he likes the new Pitbull/Christina Aguilera song, but I certainly wouldn’t call him a fan.

However, sometimes in marriage, you have to choose a “Happy Camper Date.” For a lot of couples, just trying to decide what to do on their date causes conflict because they have different interests and tastes. This leads to frustration…and then dates taper off altogether.

Here’s how the “happy camper” date works: one week you go on a date and your husband gets to choose what he activity he wants the two of you to do. (He gets to pick the movie, the restaurant, the hockey game, etc.) You go on this date with a great attitude – you are the “happy camper” this week. However, the following week, it is his turn to be the happy camper and do whatever you would like to do without complaining. This experience gives us greater insight into what makes our spouse tick and it builds our common history together which, in turn, leads to a stronger marriage.

Here is your Bedwork for this week: Plan two “Happy Camper” dates for the next two months (unless you are an overachiever and want it to be for the next two weeks). Draw straws to see who has to be the happy camper first if you have to, but make sure you each have a chance. If you like the concept, make sure to plan this type of date once a month.

Want more Bedwork? Check out my book The Essential Elements of Sex: 9 Secrets to a Lifetime of Intimacy.

 

4 Tips for Meeting the Parents This Thanksgiving

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM today:

So, you are spending Thanksgiving with your partner’s parents…and you have never met before. Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool! Meeting the parents is always a nerve-wracking occasion, but mixing it with a major holiday ups the ante even further.

Here are a few tips for you:

1)   Very often, things go awry when we have unspoken expectations, so talk to your partner before the visit. You can ask questions like, what does your family get-together usually look like? Do the women cook and then the men clean up? Do you want me to hang out with you, or can I ditch you to play Wii with the kids and gossip about the Kardashians with your sister? Does your mom make us say one thing we are grateful for around the dinner table? Getting answers to these questions will not only help you feel more prepared, but will also give your partner a chance to warn you about anything that you might want to know ahead of time. Like the fact that Aunt Gerta has a huge mole on her chin, and is super self-conscious about it.

2)   Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so find out what your partner’s family is passionate about. If his mom is crazy about gardening, then you might want to brush up on the basics of this hobby beforehand so you have some good questions to ask her. If her brother just had a baby, then be prepared to ask about the joys and trials of being a new parent. If his dad is a Toronto Bluejays fan? Well, that’s a tough one. Just be prepared to fake enthusiasm. In all seriousness though, ask questions. Be interested about their lives. Seize the opportunity to learn everything you can about your partner as a kid. This is all good information to have, and they will appreciate your effort.

3)   When the family asks questions about your relationship, be warm and respectful of your partner. Remember, your partner has been a part of their world a lot longer than he has been in yours. This is not the time to bring up the fact that he likes to cheat at board games or falls asleep during staff meetings at work. Emphasize the things that you appreciate about her and the reasons you enjoy spending time together. Not only will your partner appreciate the feedback, but you will be complimenting her family too. After all, they have played a role in how she has turned out.

4)   Get feedback after the holiday is over and you have returned to normal life. If you have long-term plans with your partner, you will run into his family again, so find out what his perspective was on the experience. If you royally screwed up, you can make adjustments (or apologies) when you see them again. If you knocked it out of the park, then you have a road-map for the next time you go for a visit.

Above all, relax, have fun and enjoy the turkey!

10 Ways to Reconnect with Your Spouse as Lover

In my business, I often ask couples to tell me what hinders them from having the sex life they dream about. The number one answer that I get is, “the kids.” These parents deeply love their children, but are keenly aware that their sex life began to abate when little Johnnie or little Susie was born. We live in a culture which dotes on children – we make them the center of our world; we make sure that they are exposed to every possible activity so that they can thrive in adulthood; we keep them up with us until we go to bed so that we can spend as much time with them as possible.

The problem with having our kids as an exclusive focus in our marriage is that we forget the romance, the friendship, and the attraction that drew us together in the first place. So many times, couples have very little to say when I ask what they talk about besides the topic of their kids. It seems to be the only thing that they have in common. However, if we want a long-lasting relationship with this person, we need to remember that the kids will eventually leave home (after all, we are raising adults, not children). And when that happens, we want to make sure that our companionship together was not built wholly on them.

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Here are 10 ways that you can stay connected with your spouse as a lover, not just as a parent:

  1. Start dating again. Go on regular dates with your spouse. Begin with once a month and then increase the frequency so that eventually you go on dates once a week. #1 rule of the date: No talking about the kids! If you are struggling about things to talk about, think of things that you used to talk about before the kids came along, what is going on in the world around you, or get a book which gives you questions to ask each other. Learning to talk about as lovers may feel awkward at first, but the more you practice it, the easier it will be.
  2. Establish good sleep patterns for your children. This includes having a regular bedtime for them that is earlier that when you and your spouse go to bed. If your kids are younger, have a set time when they have to be in their rooms even if their lights are not out. Not only is this good for your sex life, but it is also essential for the health of your children.[1] Need some advice on how much sleep your kids actually need? Check out the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations here.
  3. Establish good sleep patterns for yourself! Oftentimes, we fall into the trap of thinking, “If I stay up later, I can get more done.” However, exhaustion ultimately makes us less effective and it also undermines our sexual relationship (which, in turn, undermines our marriage). So, get into a bedtime routine which ensures that you will get enough hours of sleep. Not sure how much is enough? Find out here.
  4. Take time each day to connect emotionally. Have a time each day where you and your spouse sit down together and have a short conversation without the children present. Let the children know that Mom and Dad need ten minutes alone and make sure that they have something that can keep them occupied and safe during this time. This allows you to connect daily but it also models to your children the importance of your relationship together as a couple. They will reap the benefits of this modeling when they have their own relationships.
  5. Make sex a priority. Sex is the one thing that sets your spouse apart from a really good friend. It is the physical and spiritual connection that you have with this special someone that you share with no other. Set up “sex dates” so that you don’t allow too much time to pass between sexual encounters. Get answers to any physical difficulties that you are experiencing. Stop making excuses (when the kids get older, this will get better…).
  6. Ensure privacy. Are you one of those people who can’t get past the idea of your children walking in on you in the throes of passion? Start teaching your children the importance of Mommy-Daddy alone time. This is time when the two of you focus solely on each other.  It doesn’t have to be sex every time, but once the kids understand the importance of the uninterrupted time, you can worry less about, well, interruptions. But just to be on the safe side, put a lock on your door and get a white noise machine so that you can ensure that you will not be seen or heard by the kids. After all, the modeling I spoke of earlier only goes so far!
  7. Begin a regular exercise routine. What does this have to do with sex??? The science behind arousal is all about blood flow. When you are working out on a consistent basis, you are increasing blood flow to your extremities and you can reap the benefits of this in the bedroom. Not convinced? Exercising also leads to a better body image, helps us sleep better and reduces stress – all of which make intimacy easier.
  8. Variety is the spice of life! We all have our favorites (and knowing your spouse’s favorites is great way to make your marriage sizzle) but variety expands our horizons. How do you find our whether your kids like PB&J sandwiches? Or curry? Or sushi? You let them try. So, add something new to your “menu” once a month. If you both hate it, then scratch it off the list of things you will do again. However, you might be surprised and find a new favourite!
  9. Find out what makes your spouse feel loved. As spouse who feels loved is much more likely to want to jump into bed. Do they need a back massage? A heart-to-heart talk? An afternoon away from the kids? A compliment on how good they look? A love note tucked into the laptop? How about the having the toilets scrubbed? Find out what sets the stage for romance for your lover and then do it unbidden.
  10. Get out of town! Vacation sex is the best. The kids aren’t around (so you don’t have to be quiet or worry about them walking in on you), you can sleep when you want to, you don’t have to get home to a babysitter and you have time to linger. Figure out a way to spend at least one weekend a year away from the kids and try to increase this frequency as the years go on. If you don’t have a relative or babysitter to watch the kids, do an exchange with friends. You take their kids one weekend and then they take your kids another weekend. It’s a win/win for both couples.

Not to put too fine a point on it, there is a reason KT Oslin wrote the lyrics “Don’t kiss me like we’re married…Kiss me like we’re lovers”. All too often we separate the two – especially once kids come along. Never let that passion for each other fade away. It is much easier to stay connected in the first place than it is to re-connect after years of simply parenting together. As my husband likes to say, “parallel parenting is great so long as you can be horizontal in the bedroom too!”

If the spark is fading, then take the steps now to rekindle the passion that you once had (or always wanted). If you still “got it”, then don’t lose it through neglect. Work on it like you were losing it, and you will always have it!


[1] In the September 1 Issue of the Journal of SLEEP, Jacques Montplaisir, MD, of the Sleep Disorders Center at Sacre-Coeur Hospital in Montreal, Canada concluded that children who do not get enough sleep are at higher risk of obesity, ADHD and slower cognitive abilities.