The Devil Really is in the Details

How the Details in a Couple’s Life “Make or Break” Them

There are two main ways to understand the details in your life as a couple:
• Details that are the real minutia. That only get in the way and get your relationship derailed; or
• Details we need to investigate to see what is going on deeper, underneath

cookie communication details

Scenario 1

It’s a Friday night and a man and a woman have just finished eating pizza. “What’s for dessert?” says the woman. “I’m having applesauce” says the guy. “I want thin mints!!” says the wife. (Girl Scout Cookie season don’t ya know) “Are you suuurrrre you want thin mints?” Pause. “Ok,” she says, “Bring me an applesauce.”

The next evening the wife appears a little low, a little quiet. She finally turns to him and says with watery eyes,
“I really need to tell you something. It really hurt my feelings when you said I couldn’t have thin mints last night. You love pizza; that is your favorite cheat meal for the week. But you know I love chocolate, and I want to be able to have my favorite cheat food too.”

What do you think he did?

He could look at the details of exactly how the conversation really went. And tell her “I didn’t say you couldn’t have thin mints. You can have whatever you want. You are upset over nothing. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Three Real Differences in the “Average Couple”

How we Talk, How we Care and Are we Engaged

Average couples wanting their relationship to be better have a very similar story. It goes something like this:

Communication lack

“We don’t talk very well together, she says. The little things become bigger and bigger. I don’t even know what we fight about. I don’t feel like I’m very important to him. He doesn’t listen to me. So I get upset and try to get him to understand.”

He says: “We just don’t communicate. I can’t seem to do anything right. She gets upset a lot, and so I shut down. We can hardly talk about anything without fighting”.

“We are just so different,” they both say.

How We Talk

So many couples see their issues as ones of differences and communication. Certainly, there are difficulties with communication with couples. But that difficulty is usually HOW they talk to each other in terms of their value. Do they feel good about how their partner speaks to them? It is essential to grasp the difference between “what is talked about” versus “how you talk.”

Most couple’s issues at their base are about differences between how partners feel about positive and negative emotions! And, how they accept or dismiss them in their conversation. Are their thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and desires validated and accepted, or not?

Couple’s real issues are about:

What’s At the Core of Every Great, & Terrible Marriage?

The Key Component of Great Marriage is the Heart

Couples need to see their relationship through the eyes of the heart.

heart soul green eye

Think: What’s deeper, what’s underneath, what is really going on inside? We can’t just look at the outside, and the “what’s happening,” at the event or circumstances, or just what is being said. We have to look deeper. There is always more going on underneath.

We start with the heart.

A story:

Phil and Brenda have been married for 15 years, have three kids, and both work. They have plenty of issues, debt and finances, parenting differences, and family of origin issues. Phil is a very friendly guy, and everyone likes him. The big issue in their relationship has become Phil’s friendship with other females at his work. Brenda has always been ok with his friendships because she knew most of them. She has met, socialized with them, and Phil talks with her openly about them.

But she found out that he has not talked about one of his co-workers. It seems to be a closer relationship than with the others. It is a secret, so to speak, and she feels it is inappropriate. Phil disagrees. He has done nothing wrong and has no intentions of doing anything wrong. Phil loves and is committed to Brenda.

Although Brenda doesn’t believe he’s been unfaithful, she feels lied to, not as important, and it brings out all the other differences, conflicts and insecurities of the relationship. He would not end the relationship with the co-worker because he is not doing anything wrong. Brenda is angry, anxious and distant; she is hurt. She feels betrayed and insecure. It is an issue of the heart.

The condition of your heart will determine the quality of your relationship!

What is the Heart?

What are we talking about? Well, we are not talking about the pumping organ inside your chest. In terms of marriage relationships, the heart is the center of one’s being. This includes the mind, will, emotions, passions, and appetites. It is the center of moral, spiritual, and intellectual life. Also it is the center of the human spirit and includes motivations, courage, and action. The “whole soul.”

One of the reasons we look at the heart is that when relationships feel emotionally unsafe, we naturally protect ourselves by shutting down and closing our hearts & spirits. All Kinds of “fears” can creep in like rejection, disrespect, am I good enough? Am I loved? Will I be accepted?

When a relationship has fears couples:

  • Close Their Hearts & Spirit
  • Get Defensive & Reactive
  • Become Disconnected & Conflicted
  • Have a Lack of Understanding
  • Show Little Empathy/Compassion
  • Are Unsafe Emotionally

So how should we see our partners in terms of their heart?

We see the heart as a treasure.

And the characteristics of a treasure are that they are very valuable and very vulnerable

As couples, we must see each other as a treasure. That our hearts are valuable; we are created in God’s image, and we are dearly loved. But our hearts are easily hurt. They are vulnerable. And so we must be very careful with each other.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Back to our story:

So Brenda’s heart is closed and defensive. Her and Phil’s relationship is emotionally disconnected and distant. Conflicts are easier to become fights, there is avoidance, withdrawal and they are getting farther and farther apart.

It is an issue of the heart. Phil needs to open his heart and see that his actions are hurting his wife. It isn’t about ”right and wrong” as much as a deep longing she has to feel like her heart is being cared for above all others. He needs to care about her pain and make a decision for Brenda.

It is an issue of the heart. Brenda needs to open hers too. She needs to express her need to feel valuable and loved without the anger and punishing withdrawal. She needs to express her desire to be important to him and close to him. And to speak from her deep desire to be safe and secure in his love.

They begin talking about their hearts, that both have deep desires to be chosen, accepted, heard and understood, to be wanted. They open their hearts, and attitudes and behaviors begin changing.

An open heart is the key to life! 

What do you think? Are there “heart” issues in your relationship? Ones where you can think or do something different because you want to be careful and sensitive to another’s valuable and vulnerable heart?

Couples Accomplishments Can Lead To More Satisfaction

Using After Action Review can Lead To Fulfillment

We were recently at a conference in Nashville with Michael Hyatt and Best Year Ever LIVE. This is our 2nd year to attend this two-day intensive goal setting event. But goal setting just doesn’t encompass what this time is really about. One aspect is reviewing the accomplishments of the past year.

Accomplishments couple

I am a driven, high achiever; so goal setting isn’t new to me however it’s not usually accompanied by a review of the past. If I’m looking back, it’s to check something off as “complete” or because I feel regret and shame about not accomplishing something I set out to do.

Spending some time revisiting the past year’s goals and dreams was very helpful. It revealed action patterns and beliefs that could be getting in the way of my success.  Hear Michael Hyatt’s podcast on Setting Goals as a Couple.

One of the tools taught at this event was developed and is still used by the US Armey called the After Action Review. The steps are pretty clear and here’s how they play out:

  • State what you wanted to happen
  • Acknowledge what really happened
  • Learn from the experience
  • Adjust my behavior

State what we wanted to happen. 

Now that’s an interesting step.

Mike and I set individual goals for several areas of our lives, but we also set goals together. Being married, it is important to us to move in the same direction with our relationship. One way to do this is set goals together.

One of our goals for the past year is to take 3-4 trips (breaks) from our usual daily life to reconnect and recharge.

We find that a minimum of one time away every three months or so is the best rhythm for us to step away from the day-to-day. This break can take many forms. It could be a week-long cruise or just a couple of nights at a friend’s home.

Acknowledge what really happened.

So, how did we do? We accomplished this goal for the past year! YES! Was it easy? NO! Life is always trying to get in the way of things we claim as important. However, that’s why setting goals together is even more important. This way you’re both anticipating the same outcome. Here is how it was to get away and reconnect and refresh.

Learn from the experience.

We dreamed about what would be ideal for us. Decided specifically how much money we could afford to budget for get-aways, and then we PUT THEM ON THE CALENDAR. Then, we made reminders to book reservations or make plans with friends. Now you know just because you put stuff on the calendar doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. You have to be intentional and do the work. But we did, it worked, and we WENT!

Adjust my behavior.

No adjustments needed here since we accomplished what we set out to do – Right? Well, every year is different, so it’s not going to work the same time after time. But we did accomplish what we’d set out to do, and this gave us confidence and fuel to do it again!

This goal is on our couple’s goal list again!

How can you use this After Action Review process to your advantage?

Start small. Set a goal as a couple that will have a deadline of one or two weeks. Use the After Action Review to see how you did and adjust. Reset the goal or set another for the next one or two weeks and go for it. By repeating the process and stretching out your deadlines, you’ll see results and be able to dream a little bigger.

The more you practice these skills, the better you’ll get at winning each one!

Tell us what goal you’re going to set for your first attempt at a couples’ goal.


9 Key Characteristics to Good Mental Health

Are you mentally healthy or do you need a booster shot?

We often get asked questions like, “Is there a checklist for good mental health?” or “How do I know if I’m more on the mentally healthy side or if I’m a little crazy?” These questions are usually asked during a high-stress time in someone’s life; when things feel out of control, and they aren’t feeling confident about the way they are viewing the stuff going on around them.

healthy married couple
  • Maybe you’re in the middle of a separation or divorce
  • Perhaps a close friend or relative moved to another state or country and you miss them
  • You may be relocating all your belongings (home or office) from one place to another which is very stressful
  • You’ve experience the death of someone you love
  • You may have chronic Illness

Any of these high stress and mentally demanding times can sometimes create questions in our minds about our ability to cope in a healthy way with what’s happening. Mike and I recently put this list together as a first line checklist for good balance. See if you connect with these:

  • Reasonable independence.

Do you believe in the Marriage Fairytale?

How marriage can be IDEAL!

A fairy tale is a short story that features fantasy, and usually has an “unusually blessed happy ending”.  Plus it’s a far-fetched story.


Let’s face it.

Anyone who has lived with a mother and father, or has been married knows that marriage is not a fairytale.  Scene from Princess Bride.

Many times, first time couples go into it thinking it is going to be all “roses” and beautiful sunsets. They may think they understanding that it can be difficult, however they just can’t see a vision for the reality of real life that will come their way. In other words, you don’t know, what you don’t know, until you know it. Those of us who have been in a marriage awhile would call that ignorance.

 And yet, people get married for a second or third time.  They believe the next relationship will be different and “happy.” Many times they say, “I just didn’t find the right person the first time, but this one will be different.”  I’m not sure what we call that, but here is a truth we do know:

A solid marriage relationship happens with intentionality and awareness, not with passivity.

They don’t just happen. No two people are going to meet and their circumstances and “happenings” just fit perfectly together for “happiness.” We can’t go on automatic. But many do just that.

We must:

Can shutting down Emotion help me stay in control?

Using Emotions Correctly is helpful in making Logical Decisions

Emotions are essential to all logical decision making.  Years ago it was commonly accepted that our brain had a reasonable side and an emotional side.  The thought was that we controlled our emotions with reason.  So how can we handle our emotions and still make high level decisions?

Emotion vs. Logic seesaw

It’s the last week of the quarter and sales numbers are not where they should be according to the goals set by corporate.  The regional office is buzzing with activity as all associates are trying to close that last deal to make those corporate goals.  There’s electricity in the air that you can almost feel as everyone is digging in to find missed opportunities.

All the sudden a hush falls over the office as raised voices began rumbling through the closed door corner office.  Everyone can hear the undistinguishable vocabulary between their sales manager and the boss who reports to corporate.  Voices rise louder as the conversation gets more heated and electricity in the air pops with anger.  Heads in the rest of the office stay down and conversations muffle.  There’s a raised eyebrow or two at the coffee bar.  Everyone silently acknowledges that tension is high and the story being told in corner office isn’t good.  Angry words are dispersed again like gunfire and then the anticipated door opening and slamming as the red-faced sales manager storms to his office and slams his door, not appearing for the rest of the day.

If you’ve ever worked with more than a few people in an office setting, this scene is probably one you’ve experienced.  You might agree that this anger filled environment is not the best in order to make those last sales happen for the quarter.

So how do you have emotions and use them to your advantage for decision making?

Am I a Victim or Just Blaming Someone So I can Shirk Responsibility?

Whose Fault is it?

When we blame others for situations and circumstance in our lives, we give up!  Rather, we give up the right to make a change.  When the right to change is gone, there is no more hope of something different.

Not long ago I got really frustrated with a perceived problem.  This is really a very 1st world issue.  We live in a lovely suburb neighborhood with curbed streets and sidewalks and yards.  In our part of town the houses are on pretty small lots and very close together.  Our neighborhood is also blessed with lots of growing families with teenage kids who are learning to drive and getting cars of their own.

Now to my frustration.  There used to be a town ordinance prohibiting overnight parking on the street.  Everyone had to move their cars onto their driveways overnight.  Fast forward to today – no more ordinance.  Now we have multiple cars on the narrow street that sit there daily.  Not only is this inconvenient but unsafe for young kids chasing balls and riding bikes.

The blame game begins in my head –

  • It’s the city’s fault – They should reinstate the “no overnight street parking” ordinance and make people move their cars off the street overnight.
  • It’s these families fault. Why does every kid need a car when they turn 16?
  • Or, why can’t people clean out their garages and park their cars there. Isn’t that what they’re built for?

I was bound and determined to have my voice heard and MY PREFERENCES UNDERSTOOD!  Surely they would all make adjustments if they knew how nice it used to be to just drive down the street without doing the weave and bob like they had too many at the brewery.  I’m sure they all want our neighborhood kids to be safe and the street to look less like a car lot.

I was blaming them for their actions and failure to understand what I understand and prefer!  Surely, if I talked with them they would understand the error of their ways.  By blaming my neighbors and not taking any positive action, I gave away my rights and power to make change!

Imagine Your Happy Family Holiday

How Preparation Can Transform any Holiday

“If you knew my family you would understand”!!

holiday family

Recently I heard from a young woman who was sad and rather depressed about the holiday season. Her parents had passed away unexpectedly around Christmas when she young. The following years had not been happy experiences during the holidays. Her current husband’s family had some “real issues” including anger and alcohol. But family is family and she had to participate.

“How can I enjoy the holidays rather than dreading them and making myself depressed”?

Separation at the holidays from loved ones, a history of negative experiences and difficult people can make an otherwise joyful and celebratory holiday a real downer. But you can take some small steps to feel more of a sense of control and peace so you can create a new reality around the holidays.

Here are 5 tactics to imagining a happier holiday:

  • Have a plan– Before the holiday get-togethers, be realistic to what might happen. Make a time to arrive and a time to leave. Imagine different scenarios of dealing with any difficult family members. Know how you will respond to past types of situations so you don’t end up reacting. Stay close to safe people, avoid being alone with unsafe ones. Think through conversations that might come up and how you can change the subject or politely not engage in the conversation. “Oh, let’s not talk about that today, let’s just enjoy our holiday.” Or, “I don’t really have an opinion about that” or “I don’t care to discuss that.”
  • Examine yourself- Understand the situations that can trigger you. Get rid of the “I should do this” or “I have to do that.” It’s the holidays! Enjoy what you want to enjoy and let others enjoy what they want to. We are all different. Encourage yourself and everyone else to honor differences. If talking about loved ones who are passed is too hard, just let people know this is a sensitive subject and one you would rather not discuss right now.


Three ways you can have more hope in your life.

Most of us have heard a variation on this story about the monkey but let’s revisit it.

monkey with no hope

Monkeys were stealing food from a village. So the natives devised gourds that would trap them. The gourds have a hole just large enough for the monkey’s hand to slip into. They then weight the gourd with sand and one piece of food. The trap is set. The monkey sticks his hand into the gourd in hope of getting the food — but with the prize in its grasp, the monkey cannot get its hand back out. The hole is too small for the monkey’s hand to pass through so long as it’s holding the treat, and the gourd is too heavy for the creature to carry. Because the monkey doubts that he can obtain this food another way that is less dangerous, it becomes trapped. The animal gives up its freedom to hold on to a small piece of food.

The monkey is the “Doubting Thomas” in this story. This is a phrase we use to describe people who are most often skeptical of what others have freely believed in and accepted.

Who is the Doubting Thomas in your life? Is it you? Are you the thumbs down at every change, adventure, or thought that goes against what’s comfortable?

“Hope is putting faith to work when

doubt would be easier.” Thomas S. Monson

When was the last time you said, “I doubt…”? Do you realize that this attitude could be removing hope from your life’s equation? By removing hope, we destine ourselves to a downward spiral – no end in sight. Without hope, there is no brighter, better future.

Most of us humans live with varying degrees of hope on any given day. Mine moves up and down although the older I get and more equipped with strategies, the less I swing on this chart.


  • Our kid’s or grandkid’s sports team will win their game.
  • The medical test will be negative.
  • Someday we will feel loved and accepted by a significant other.
  • We will have money to retire and not be a burden to our kids.

What Influences our degree of hope?