Tag Archives: improving marriage

Battling Debt for Better Marriage

Finances are one of the biggest marital stressors. The Washington Post recently reported that the recent recession added financial stress to 29% of marriages. A silver lining is that one-third of couples worked harder to save their marriages, partly because they couldn’t afford to dissolve them. Of those who “redoubled their marital commitment,” more than half reported a very happy marriage.

Since so many are struggling with financial worry or stress, I asked Brad Chaffee of Enemy of Debt to tell us how he and his wife dramatically improved their financial life–and ended up improving their marriage. Brad also asked me to share how 9 Tips for Financial Bliss in Marriage on his blog today, so give that a read. Thanks to Brad for his inspiration and insights!

Brad Chaffee founded Enemy of Debt in 2008 after starting his very own debt-free journey. He wanted to motivate and inspire financial discipline by focusing on key behaviors and truths that would help others with the same process. In 2008, Brad and his wife grew tired of living paycheck to paycheck and living under the stress of being more than $26,000 in debt.

Through dramatic action, they eliminated debt from their lives in a mere 18 months and plan to never borrow money again, for any reason. Brad has agreed to answer some questions for married couples who may have financial stress in their lives.

Q: Brad, when you say you eliminated all debt from your lives, do you include even mortgage debt? How do you feel about families having mortgage debt? There are some financial advisors who say paying off the home early takes away a useful deduction. How do you respond to that?

A: We are currently in the process of selling our house so we’re not “completely” debt-free yet. As Dave Ramsey would say, we’re “debt-free, except for the house.” People always tell me it doesn’t make sense, because we will just have to go out and get a mortgage down the road if we want to own a home. Not true.

We are going to save and pay for our next house using the 100% down plan. We are perfectly okay with the fact that it means we will be renting for about 5 years until that day comes. Too many people make the mistake of declaring something impossible because it might be harder to accomplish. I would even argue that taking the easiest route to acquire something is the reason people find themselves struggling with debt in the first place. For us, being debt-free is worth the sacrifice and the extra effort.

As far as not paying down the mortgage to keep the tax deduction. I think Dave Ramsey debunks that myth with this table found in Financial Peace University. A tax deduction is never a good reason to NOT pay off your mortgage. What about all of the extra interest you end up paying as a result? Does the deduction justify paying more interest than you would if you paid the house off early? I think not. Pay down the mortgage!






Q: What are the four most important steps you took to get out of debt?

A: Deciding not to borrow anymore was the key step in getting things started, but I think the real journey started after that. I would say team work and communication, selling everything we thought defined us, saving an emergency fund, and maintaining a high level of intensity through it all, were the four most important steps.

The most important thing was to begin the communication process and realize, together, our mutual goals and desires were ours together. That led us to a place where we could agree on what we were willing to do to get out of debt, which for us, included selling our “stuff”.  That provided some momentum and allowed us to save $2,000 in the first two months. Finally, maintaining a level of intensity was important because it helped us reach our goal much faster.

One of the most overwhelming things about paying off debt to most people is the time it takes them to do it. Why not benefit from doing it faster?

Q: What was your biggest obstacle to gaining control of your finances before making this decision?

A: The biggest obstacle for us was realizing that our spending habits were the very reason why we ended up where we were. It was hard because that meant we had to face our decisions and habits head on, and the truth really does hurt sometimes. That’s where my tagline for Enemy of Debt came from; “where behavior meets reality”. The budget helped us overcome that reality by enabling us to see the truth of our situation on paper. A budget does not lie.

Q: Did you increase your income as part of your solution, or did you change your lifestyle. Many people who live paycheck to paycheck feel they cannot change their situation until their income increases dramatically.

A: I would say we did both. During the process my wife graduated from nursing school, which naturally increased our income, but we also bought and sold stuff using eBay to increase it as much as we could. The mistake most people make is accepting or believing that they cannot increase their income. There is always something you can do; it’s often just a matter of what you are willing to do to make it happen. Personally, I feel the word “cannot” is a person’s biggest problem. If you believe you cannot, then you’ll never try because you’ve already determined it to be impossible.

Q: What is the most important thing you gained from changing your life situation?

A: I would say that the most important thing we gained was a better sense of unity. Better communication started the process, but it wasn’t until Financial Peace University that we took it to the next level. Dave Ramsey taught us that our marriage was the definition of team. A team doesn’t win because one person did all the work; it wins because of the collective effort of everyone involved.

Most marriages usually have a “designated hitter” — the one who handles the finances and consequently, also catches all of the grief when a mistake is made. It’s an unfair position to put your spouse in, and one that can dissolve your marriage fast. Resentment is a powerful and very destructive force.

My wife and I played that game for the first four years of our marriage. She handled the money, then I handled it; each time resulting in the blame game, and many, MANY, money fights because one of us messed up.

Financial Peace taught us that if we were both involved in the process at every level – which meant we agreed on our goals and dreams TOGETHER – there was a lot less to argue about. You can’t argue about what you agreed on unless one of you broke the agreement, or in this case the budget in which case the problem is bigger than money.

I am very happy to say that my wife and I hardly ever argue about money. We still argue, after all we’re normal. It’s just not usually about money. Money is one of the most common reasons people give for getting a divorce. Fix that, and your marriage has a much better chance of surviving.

Photo Credit: © Sophia Winters/PhotoXpress.com

Project Happily Ever After: Is It Possible?

Alisa Bowman

About the time she began wishing her husband would drop dead, Alisa Bowman decided she had married the wrong man. Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of parenting a colicky baby (then spirited toddler) while self-employed and working from home, Alisa was exhausted and frustrated. She and her husband had taken out a second mortgage on their house so her husband could follow his dream of opening a bike shop. There was no time left for love, marriage, sex or even sleep. They hadn’t been intimate in more than six months. They argued frequently, with no resolution.

Alisa began writing a novel in which a wife murdered her husband and got away with it. She started dreaming about her own husband’s funeral. Then, she began considering filing for divorce. But when a divorced friend asked her what she had done to try to salvage her marriage, she had to admit she hadn’t tried anything at all. She hadn’t even expressed her own needs in the marriage. “That was a turning point for me. I wanted my marriage to improve, but I didn’t know if we could,” says Alisa. Less than four months later, they were renewing their marriage vows.

In a new memoir/advice book called Project: Happily Ever After, Alisa shares the journey and lessons learned during those months of reading stacks of marriage books and implementing many ideas—some crazy, some mainstream—to see what would work for them.

She now says good marriages are a result of learning and practicing skills, including being assertive, communicating well, and learning to forgive. “It really only takes one person to learn the skills; the other generally follows suit,” she says.

“People often feel doomed when they try a skill once and it doesn’t work. But it takes practice. It’s like weight loss. If it took a long time to gain the weight, it will take time to get it off. And if it took a long time for your marriage to go bad, it will take a long time to improve,” Alisa says. “Patience and practice are key.”

After renewing their vows, the real work took place in the following year, says Alisa, when they had to learn to control their words and anger and continue to practice their new positive skills.

Rekindling their sex life is another important part of her book. Alisa planned an elaborate evening in New York City, where their love first bloomed, to re-consummate their marriage. She got a pedicure, manicure, new underwear, and her first bikini wax. “Lingerie and bikini waxes are more for the woman than for the man,” she says. “They make you feel sexy, and they help with desire.”

As for what led them to be so dissatisfied in marriage, she says her husband wasn’t nearly as frustrated as she had been, since he had time for work and hobbies like biking. “I wasn’t taking care of myself, and I was exhausted. I allowed my husband to walk all over me,” says Alisa. Part of her new skill set was learning to express her needs.

“I also had misconceptions about parenting. I thought babies slept a lot, so I would be able to work,” she says. “Looking back, I can see almost all of our arguments were about time. I felt we were out of love and I wasn’t being respected. I couldn’t see it at the time, but we were really struggling over time.”

Now, three years later, Alisa and her husband maintain a passionate love life and rarely argue, thanks to the skills they still practice. Alisa’s husband now feels it’s his turn to be supportive of her dreams and calling. And he doesn’t even mind her writing about their sex life.

In addition to the book coming out this fall, Alisa shares strategies in her marriage blog. If you subscribe, you will receive her free eBook Relationship Rules.

Alisa’s experience bears out research that shows the year after having a first child is often the most stressful time for a couple. In my experience, the level of stress has a lot to do with whether the baby is cranky and sleepless or easy and compliant to your scheduling. These factors are often out of your control. (I had one of each.) If you have children, it’s important to still put your marriage first—for their benefit and your own.

Alisa’s book comes out this Christmas and is sure to generate a lot of buzz and to inspire couples to put their marriages first. You can pre-order your copy here.

If you have children, did you experience a high level of stress during the early parenting years? What lessons did you learn? If you plan to have children, have you talked realistically about roles and responsibilities in the home?

How Should Churches Support Marriages & Families?

Many in the faith community feel churches should be the ones supporting and building marriages and families, rather than public organizations. What do you think?

I’m sure many church leaders would agree they would love to meet the needs of every family, but to say there are obstacles to meeting this goal is an understatement. What church has the staff, the funding, the expertise, the time? In fact, many churches provide only premarital preparation and perhaps an occasional enrichment program for married couples, such as a fee-based retreat.

Half of marriages are failing within churches, just as they are outside of churches; 75% of divorced couples remarry. So, in addition to supporting first-time marriages and assisting couples in crisis, large numbers of divorced, remarried and step-families bring their own unique needs. Some marriages struggle with financial problems, others with sexual problems. Other families are challenged with raising a special needs child. What minister or priest is qualified, equipped and prepared to meet all the needs?

In 2002, Eric and Jennifer Garcia were volunteer church leaders in Arizona running a marriage mentoring program with 150 couples as mentors. They trained other churches to run similar programs, but they realized as they sought to expand services that they lacked the expertise, funding and staff to properly serve everyone. So Eric decided to call the association he was sure existed—the one that would provide expertise to ministries trying to serve church families and strengthen marriages. He was astounded that no such organization existed.

Eric called John Trent, bestselling author and founder of StrongFamilies, to ask him to recommend an organization that could help, but Trent told him, “No one is doing that.” Trent suggested they create an organization that would proactively equip the church.

So Eric, who had been looking for help, started wondering if he could be part of the solution. His wife, Jennifer, had concerns and initially balked at the idea of launching the organization. Eric and Jennifer were committed to “doing life” together and he wanted her full support before moving forward. “She knew from me building three companies I could make anything happen. Whether God was involved was another story,” Eric says. But when her concerns were all addressed, she gave the idea the thumbs up. Thirty leaders were flown in from around the country to launch Association of Marriage and Family Ministries (AMFM). Today, more than 100 volunteer partners provide support all over the country under the AMFM umbrella.

AMFM works with church leadership, mostly lay leaders, rather than end users. Eric says the church must be healed relationally before it can effectively impact the culture.

“Text messaging is the millennial generation’s definition of intimacy,” says Eric. He adds that cohabitation is rising rapidly “because young people have no model for what positive marriage looks like.” He explains the biggest wound in the culture today (fractured families) provides the biggest opportunity for the church to serve its people.

Eric gets the attention of pastors and priests with research on the impact to churches when one family divorces—80% of the time both spouses leave the church. The church loses all the family’s volunteerism and financial offerings, and also loses its spiritual influence on the parents and children. “The more you see families fractured, the less we see them in church,” says Eric.

The problem, says Eric, is with viewing marriage enrichment as a silo, or singular ministry. He says families are the backbone—the heartbeat—of the church. Without families, there is no church.

AMFM is reaching out in new ways to broaden its ministry, gathering resources for African-American churches, Hispanic churches and Catholic churches, since he feels the need to support and heal the family affects all churches equally. Rather than a ministry-in-a-box approach, AMFM customizes support based on the folks in the pews, whether they are young families or retired couples.  

“Providing only marriage prep is like buying a new car and never getting an oil change, never cleaning it, never doing maintenance,” Eric says. The Garcias strongly believe that healthy marriages produce strong families, which create vibrant churches that impact the communities they serve and the world that we all live in.

Church leaders are invited to contact AMFM to discuss their marriage ministry needs.

Would you use skills-based training from a public organization or faith-based support for your family? If you attend church, do you feel your church offers adequate services to support families? Should the faith community do more heal relationships within its own walls?

Love-Building Exercises Part I

Is it possible to increase your closeness or feelings of love by using scientifically tested techniques? Robert Epstein, PhD, thinks so. “There is a definite fix for our poor performance in romantic relationships,” he says. The psychologist and longtime researcher is writing a book on how people can learn to love. He recently shared some proven techniques for deliberately building emotional intimacy in a January/February 2010 magazine article for Scientific American.

Epstein says so many marriages fail in large part because we have poor skills for maintaining relationships and “highly unrealistic expectations.” He warns that physical attraction is sometimes confused with love, creating unsuitable unions. So, be careful with whom you share these techniques!

Epstein studied other researchers’ results on love builders and carried out some of his own. He plans to teach others how to use what is known about how people learn to love one another. The key to many of his recommended strategies is that they increase feelings of vulnerability, and that increases intimacy levels. Other intimacy builders include sharing adventures, secrets, personal space and jokes.

Here are the first three techniques. I’ll try them if you will. Maybe plan one of these activities on a date night, and let me know how it works for you. Keep an open mind. I’ll provide some of his other suggestions in a future post.

1. Two as One. Embrace each other gently. Begin to sense your partner’s breathing and gradually try to synchronize your breathing with his or hers. Epstein says after a few minutes, you may start to feel as if you have merged.

2. Soul Gazing. He reports excellent results with this technique, even with perfect strangers. One caveat is it must be mutual gazing; staring at someone doesn’t count! Stand or sit about two feet apart. Look deeply into each other’s eyes, trying to look at the very core of your beings. Do this for about two minutes, and discuss what you saw.

3. Monkey Love. Sit or stand fairly close to one another, then start moving your hands, arms, and legs any way you like—but in a fashion that perfectly imitates your partner. Epstein calls this fun and challenging.

See Part II with more techniques.

Share your experience if you are brave enough to try these. What do you think about using psychological techniques to increase your love and intimacy? Do you believe they work? Have you tried them?

Can Prayer Help Marriages? Researchers Say Yes.

Do you believe prayer has a positive impact on your marriage? If you are a faithful person, you may think so, but can you prove it? A new research study provides evidence that praying for your spouse can benefit your marriage. The results were reported by Julie Baumgardner in The Washington Times.

Frank Fincham, director of the Florida State University Family Institute recently presented his research with his colleagues at an international conference on marriage and families. Fincham had wondered about the impact of prayer on a marriage, knowing that more than 90 percent of Americans have been married by age 55, and that 90 percent of them say they pray at least occasionally.

Fincham designed a four-week study and randomly assigned recruited individuals to either pray for their partner, engage in general prayer, or set aside time to think positively about life and about their partner. The participants were asked to record what they had done twice a week online.

An interesting result was that those who prayed for their partner showed a greater willingness to forgive their partner for a transgression. This fact is significant because long-term married couples report that forgiveness is one of the most important traits in their relationship, and that it contributed to their marriage’s longevity. Fincham concluded, “Based on our research, prayer clearly impacts marriage relationships in a positive way.”

Researchers took the study a step further, asking if prayer can protect a marriage partner from risk factors. Researchers focused on college students for this question, asking if talking to God makes the students less inclined to drink. Students were recruited and randomly assigned to either keep a journal daily or to pray for their partners. The results, which have been replicated, show that for the students who prayed, their partner’s alcohol consumption was reduced by 50 percent. Since alcohol is associated with violence and unfaithfulness in relationships, this was a significant finding. Researchers also found that college students in committed relationships who prayed for their partner saw a decrease in infidelity.

Why does Fincham think prayer can significantly help marriages? “Our research shows that praying for your partner can bring you back to the common goals,” he says. “When people pray, they become one with their spouse. A subtle shift occurs. Praying regulates your emotion and it never leads to anger. We know that couples who have access to social support (including prayer) tend to negotiate their relationship affairs better than anyone else.”

Baumbgardner reports that other studies have shown prayer increases gratitude, and increases in gratitude help reduce stress. She says, “Fincham noted that being grateful in life is associated with better mental health and better mental health is associated with better relationships.”

In the Times article, Baumbgardner suggests, “Incorporating prayer for your spouse into your life can be done in small steps. Start by taking a few minutes to focus on the things you like about your spouse, ask for help in relating to him or her, and be specific about what you would like to see happen in your relationship. Be willing to forgive and to realize your need for forgiveness. Try praying together and watch what happens in response. You just might be surprised.”

Are you surprised by these findings? Do you believe prayer, either alone or with your spouse, helps your marriage?


Source: “Praying for Spouse Benefits Marriage,” by Julie Baumgardner. Aug. 16, 2009, The Washington Times.

Connect with Your Love Through Music

Soledad O’Brien recently aired a series on CNN called Black in America, which touched on the decline in marriage for African-Americans and how to turn it around. A featured couple had become so caught up in parenting their teen girls (their #1 priority) and in their careers that they had lost the connection with one another. When they had a major conflict about their daughters, neither would budge. They were discussing divorce, and their daughters knew they were moving toward a separation, when they entered a short, intensive workshop for Black couples.

Rather than focus on “overcoming the conflict” the workshop aimed to help couples reconnect with what they love about one another and to help them realize and renew their commitment toward one another. That can be tough when two people have huge walls up and have obvious anger. You often hear words like this couple spoke, “I don’t want to live the next 30 years like this.”

One technique that was used to get back to the emotional connection that people in love share was the use of music. It’s a great idea that you could use to help reconnect with your spouse at any time. Looking for a new way to spice up date night? This could be fun.

Each spouse was to bring to the workshop the two songs that spoke to him/her about what they love about their partner or their relationship. Music speaks to us in such a different way than words do. There are the lyrics, of course, but songs evoke a feeling, and often a time and place. Hearing those special songs together can help break down some barriers, and even melt away some hostility.

During the show, for instance, the husband brought in a very sexy song that made everyone laugh, and it reminded him of the intimacy he enjoyed with his wife. The song his wife picked made the husband realize how much she really loved him. They smiled and embraced, a turning point in reconnecting. Of course we didn’t witness the entire workshop and how they were able to recommit their marriage, but this couple was in tears by the end, so grateful they had given their relationship another try. They started really listening to one another and were able to come to an agreement about their parenting conflict, once they realized they were mutually committed.

The point is that sometimes we focus too much on individual conflicts when we really need to put them aside so that they don’t eat away at the relationship. Devote much more time to having fun together, enjoying the things that brought you together in the first place. This couple’s other primary mistake was to put their daughters’ many activities above the priority of the marriage.

So, what song speaks to you about your love? Plan an evening in the near future with each of you sharing two songs that signify your love.