2-year anniversary and marriage management practices
J and I recently marked our 2 year wedding anniversary. Actually, it was in May, but we ended up celebrating in September. If year one of marriage could be described by the word “adjustment”, I would say that year 2 would be described with the word “comfort”. It was during year two where I felt that J and I were actually a family unit as opposed to two people playing house and it was during year two that our year 1 newly formed routines started to feel like old habits and just our regular way of life.
It was also in year two that I learned the joys of managing my marriage the way I would manage a business. Although it sounds a bit silly, when you consider the fact that we live in a society in which over 50% of marriages end in divorce, taking pro-active and intentional measures towards managing one’s marriage doesn’t seem so silly after all. Think about it: we spend so much time in our work lives managing, projects, clients, and resources, and yet, we often expect our marriages to work naturally without a hitch.
So, with that in mind, here are some practices that J and I have instituted over the past couple of years:
1) Family meetings
When I got married, I quickly learned that as un-romantic as it sounds, a family is in many ways an entity that requires a lot of administration. Events need to be organized, gifts need to be bought, meals need to be planned, rsvps need to go out, finances need to be tracked, etc, etc. It all seems like so much more when there are two people involved than when it was just me. I can only imagine how much more this must be when kids are involved! In any case, after a while of feeling like I was chasing J with papers and questions, I decided to create what we now know as “Debs’ family meetings”. The initial idea was to have these once a week or once a month, but realistically, they only happen when one of us calls one. I take these meetings very seriously, creating a list of agenda items to be discussed (which is sent to all family members). I also take notes at the meetings, and then, I send out the meeting minutes afterwards. I realise this is a bit extreme, and that you may be laughing at me, but say what you will, these tactics keep us organized! These little meetings allow us to plan our vacations ahead of time, buy all of our gifts months before the holidays and generally keep life stresses at a minimum!
2) Year in Reviews
Another thing we (well, me, but J plays along) like to do is to do a “year in review” at the end of the year. This little review allows us to reflect on our year – our achievements (both personal and as a couple), highlights from the year (this could be anything from favorite dinners to trips to funny moments), as well as areas in our marriage where we feel we are doing well, and areas in which we feel that we could improve. It is also an opportunity for us to have open and honest communication, and allow for any conversations that should have been had, but for whatever reason, have not.
Although I do not do so as formally, I also view my close friendships as needing to be managed. I have learned over the years that investing in good friendships is so worth it, and that in order for friendships to grow, they need to be managed and maintained. I often encourage my close friends to communicate their expectations of our friendship and to allow me to communicate mine, to ensure that we are both on the same page, and that one of us isn’t disappointing the other.
How about you? Do you “manage” your relationships (if so, how?)? Or does this seem completely control freakish to you?
Valuable Lessons Learned
Before my mom passed away, I had the honour of spending a diffucult yet wonderful and memorable ten days with her. I am still processing everything I thought, saw, and experienced during that time. One of those events is a visit paid to my family by a very lovely and kind palliative care doctor. Up to this point, I have been fortunate enough not to have had very much interaction with the health care system. However, during the time I spent at home with my mom, I got a small glimpse into her relationship with the health care system, both good and bad. I think that this particular visit was probably one of the best experiences she has had with the system. This doctor provided her not only with medical care and attention, but with the emotional support that one needs as they prepare to end their life on this earth. The doctor gave my mom some advice that I know I will remember for a long time to come. Here’s what he said:
1. You are not a burden until they say you are.
For whatever reason, my mom felt like she was a burden on us while she was sick. No matter how much we told her that we wanted to take care of her, she just kept repeating it. She even mentioned it to the doctor when he came to see her. I loved what he said in response. It was so powerful for an external party to tell her that she was not the one who could decide whether she was a burden on us: we were.
2. You cannot deny them the righ to take care of you.
To follow up with the above piece of advice, the doctor also asked my mom if we were a burden on her while we were growing up, or when we got would get sick. She answered “Never! It was a joy to take care of them!”. He then very wisely said “well then, in the same way that you had that right to take care of them, you cannot take away their right to take care of you”. I had never thought of caring for someone as a right, but I really liked the way he put it. It was a privilege to take care of her. One that I will always remember. I’m glad that was not taken away from me.
3. Even though the definition of your quality of life will change, you can still have quality of life.
This one was particularly special. It’s true. When one is sick, everything changes. Answers to questions like “how are you?” or “how is your mom doing” start to become very relative. The answer “good” has a very different meaning than it does coming from someone else. In the same way, how one defines good quality of life must also change. The doctor said that even if one could only lie down with their eyes closed on a bed, they could still have quality of life simply by having a close relative by their side.
4. You are not the only one suffering. This cancer belongs to this entire family, and everyone is suffering; albeit very differenly than you are.
This was another good one. People do not realize that in the same way couple’s say “we’re pregnant”, families can be thought of saying “we have cancer”. Though the family physically does not have the illness just as the husband does not physically experience pregnancy, the other members of the family are still very much affected, and the doctor was right to point out that we were all suffering. During my mom’s illness, I sometimes felt guilty for being sad and making it about myself, when it was clearly about my mom. It was comforting and reassuring for someone to say that it was actually about all of us.
It was amazing how often these insights stayed with me during the days that followed. They motived me to care for my mom as best as I could, as well as to make her quality of life the best that it could have been. I’m grateful to this doctor who came into our lives at such a critical juncture.
Her Children Rise up and Call her Blessed
One day, during the week before my mom passed away, we were all sitting at the table having dinner. At the end of the meal, a whole bunch of us got up to put dinner away. My mom was too weak and tired to help but she expressed that we were all doing so much and that she felt badly that she could not get up and join us. My brother responded with what I thought was the perfect answer. He said: “Mom, this just goes to show how many of us it takes to do what you have been doing alone your whole life”. So true. In the days leading up to my mom’s departure to heaven, it took so many of us to try to keep the house running semi-normally. As the days continued to pass, I could not help but think of my brother’s comment. It was so true and so fitting for the situation. Now that mom has passed away, I find myself thinking about this even more. I think about how despite her physical absence, we still benefit so much from all the work she has done for our home. It goes beyond saying that we have benefitted enormously from her raising us, but the little things have begun to stick out to me more in the last couple of days. I look at how she has lovingly decorated the house with pretty paintings and framed family pictures, how she has organized the medicine cabinet and how her kitchen is fully stocked with all the kitchen tools a family could ever need. It never occurred to me that even after her passing, we would continue to benefit from the household that she had put together and kept up for us.
Noticing these little details reminded me of a Proverb from the Bible that my mom loved to read. It’s the passage she read to me at my bridal shower. It is also the passage that my grandfather would often read to my grandmother every so often. The entire chapter is about the “virtuous woman”. It was so sweet when my grandfather would read it and then lovingly gaze at my grandmother and say to her “that’s you”. What a blessing it was to witness such love (you’ll understand what I mean after you read the passage below). Whenever I would come across this chapter I would always think about my grandparents, but this week as I looked around our family home I could not help but think of how fitting this chapter is for the legacy that mom has left behind:
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
(Proverbs 31:10-31 ESV)
Taking my ‘Single-Self’ off the Shelf
I just got back from a fabulous business trip to Ottawa which I extended to go hang out and visit some friends in Montreal. I had a wonderful time but also feel very happy to be back to my Halifax routine.
Although I was only gone for a week, I feel as though I’ve just come back from three or may even four trips.
Chapter 1 of my trip was spent in Ottawa attending business meetings and also attending a great conference. I learned so much in just 3 days and met so many great people. I even met a few people from Halifax. Yay – new friends! While in Ottawa, my parents came to see me from Toronto, so I was able to spend my evenings catching up and spending some quality time with them.
Chapter 2 was spent with my good friend MC. As former roommates, I always find it neat how when we visit each other, we like to slip into our old roommate habits. We planned to spend our Sunday afternoon the same way we did when we lived together: lounging around in our pj’s with our laptops and the TV on, playing music and chatting periodically. When we visit each other we also have a traditional meal that we like to cook for old times sake. I will save that recipe for another post, but I can tell you this: it is one GOOD pasta dish!
Chapter 3 of my trip was spent visiting my friend Kristin who I met last year, but who I feel like I have known for so much longer. Kristin and I had the good fortune of working with a group of wonderful women (there were about 5 guys in our group of 30 clerks), whom I feel so blessed to have gotten to know. Anyhow, visiting Kristin and her roommate Kia was a lot of fun. I spent my days working in coffee shops around Montreal (Kristin made a very detailed walking tour of the city’s coffee shops for me, which I absolutely LOVED). In the evenings, we would visit with friends or just hang out in their charming Plateau apartment. Before going to bed, we chatted over a scoop of Kristin’s delicious coffee ice cream with a cup of tea on the side. That is a bedtime routine I could definitely get used to! A highlight of this chapter was visiting the new Bota Bota, which is a posh Scandinavian spa built into an old boat! If you are planning on making a trip to Montreal anytime soon, you MUST save som time for this activity!
Chapter 4 was my trip back to Ottawa where I spent the day catching up with my in-laws before taking a flight back to Halifax.
Overall, it was a perfect trip! Thanks to all of my wonderful and gracious hostesses!
Thought it was only a week, this is the longest trip I’ve taken alone since getting married. Coming from a very traditional background, I have to be honest, I was a bit unsure as to whether it was ok for me to leave my husband and go gallivanting by myself. Since J is toiling his way though exam season right now, he really encouraged me to go. We agreed that this time would be good for both of us.
Funnily enough, the day after I got to Montreal, MC and I watched a season 4 Sex and the City Episode where Carrie ponders the question “to be in a couple, do you have to put your single self on a shelf?”. In that episode, Carrie is engaged to Aidan and finds herself missing her single life. A few episodes later, they are broken up. Though my situation is different, I can definitely relate to Carrie’s question. In fact, I pondered it a lot myself while travelling last week.
I think everyone’s answer to this question is probably slightly different depending on who they are, who they are with, and what exactly it is about their single life that they miss. For me though, I think the answer is definitely no. I’ve learned (in my ever so long 1.5 years of marriage), that having time to “my single self” can make me into a better partner. Taking trips like the one I just took, allow me to re-connect with myself and with my friends, which I think is very healthy for me. Before I got married, I got to do my share of travelling and one of the things I loved most was exploring a new city on my own. I also love hanging out with my girlfriends and having sleepovers. When you get married, of course you get to do a lot of amazing things with your partner, and one of the best things about it is that you no longer HAVE to do stuff alone! Despite this, I think it is always important to make time, when you can (obviously don’t abandon your partner and kids!), to check-up on how your ‘single self’ is doing.
What do you think?
Yesterday I turned 29.
More than other years, it seems that there is so much to reflect on since this is the last year of my 20s.
I’m the type of person who reacts to birthday milestones a little prematurely. Turning 24 was a big year for me because I was almost 25 but turning 25 wasn’t such a big event because I had already internalized it the year before. Now, since 29 is proving to be a big year for me, I anticipate that next year will not be too much of a shock.
Though I’m not a huge birthday person, I do feel the need to mark each passing year of my life in some way. This year, I entered my 30th year in a big hug with my husband. As we hugged and the clock turned to midnight, I thanked God for all he has brought me in my life in general, but especially in the past year and the past decade. As I begin a new chapter, I am conscious of all the wonderful things that I am blessed with.
In this past decade I started and finished 3 university degrees; I started and ended a relationship, which was probably one of the biggest journeys into self-discovery that I have ever experienced; I met and married my husband and wonderful life partner, which has been an incredibly intense and rewarding experience; and I held a number of jobs which all contributed both to my personal and professional development and through which I have met some of the people who are today my best friends (you know who you are!). I’ve also been blessed to have traveled and seen so much of the world while also meeting new people and experiencing different perspectives on life. Among the many travel highlights were the time I swam in the bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico, meeting my sponsored child and going on safari in South Africa, as well as our 1 month honeymoon in a beautiful and remote Italian mountain-top village. Oh, there have been so many memories. I’ve also taken up new hobbies, one of which is writing this blog (thank you for joining me on that one).
Thinking back on all of these experiences makes me realise that what I take from them are not only the memories, but how they have helped me to discover so much about myself and the world around me. This decade has taught me above all to become comfortable with and excited about who I am and where I want to go. I have learned to face my fears and bounce back from pain and heartache. I have learned the importance of having fun while also being wise and intentional.
This morning, J told me that 29 was a wonderful age because I have the knowledge of who I am while still being young and being able to do all of the things that young people do. I think he’s right and I intend on enjoying and taking in every minute of this year (the good and the bad).
20s, you’ve given me a lot and I’ve really enjoyed you; I’m going to miss you when we part ways next year but I’m almost starting to be ready to meet 30s. Here’s to our last year together – I know it will be special.