Friday, December 31, 2010

Setting Your "State of Our Union" Relationship Goals

My husband and I began setting "State of Our Union" goals back in January 2001 during our first year of marriage. Through the years, we've achieved some of the goals while others get moved to a new year. Every now and then we will drop off some goals from the list as circumstances change. The process is not meant to induce guilt, it gives you a new way forward to avoid the insanity of doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results!

Here's a draft on how to set up your "State of Our Union" goals. Feel free to modify your list and process:
  1. Remind yourself Albert Einstein's quote "Insanity is doing the same things over and over while expecting different results."
  2. Set aside at least an hour to an hour and a half. If you tend to have verbal fights over such discussions, make it a date and head out to a coffee joint or an outdoors location. A change of location erases excuses to keep repeating the same behavior. You will need at least four pieces of paper.
  3. Each of you should write down on a blank piece of paper ten things you were grateful for about the past year. An attitude of gratitude reminds you there's always a silver lining in storm clouds. The thankful list can include your couple achievements, parenting, individual professional or spiritual achievements among others. 
  4. Take turns sharing your individual "grateful list". It has the added benefit of reminding you positive events that you forgot because of a few bad ones. Limit your discussion to positive responses to maintain your thankful attitude.
  5. Pull out two more pieces of paper and title it "Our Couple Goals For 2011" or whatever you prefer. Take turns suggesting shared goals for the year as one of you writes them down.
  6. Describe your goals in a positive tone to avoid unnecessary fights or misunderstandings.  
  7. Make your goals measurable - "spend more time together" becomes "spend more time together by reducing online activity, TV and having a weekly date night on Fridays". 
  8. Make your goals achievable - "get a promotion at work" becomes "get a promotion at work through taking on more projects, bringing in more clients, making more sales etc. Then commit to research if you need additional training to achieve your professional goals.  
  9. Make your goals realistic - "We will stop fighting" becomes "We will fight fair by learning how to disagree without disrespecting each other." Then go out to a bookstore and purchase a couple's book like "Fighting For Your Marriage" by Dr. Stanley among others. You can also sign up for a relationship class or a parenting class to improve your knowledge and behavior.
  10. Pray over your new goals and sign the document together to signify your commitment and place it in an accessible place.
  11. Set up a time to review your goals progress and reward yourselves. In our case we look at the list again in June (mid-year) to evaluate our progress. We celebrate achieved ones, move others to the next year, drop others off the list or commit to completing them before the end of the year.
There's inevitable disappointment when a major goal is not achieved but instead of avoiding the issue, sit down together and realistically discuss what you can change in the new year. One of our 2010 goals did not materialize and it was a source of great disappointment for us. We decided to move it to the new year and approach the issue from a different angle while realizing some of the moving parts were not in our control.

You cannot conquer what you do not face - chin up and work through it, your reward will be more than worth it! Thomas Edison shared that instead of failing 1000 times to create a light bulb, he discovered 1000 ways on how not to create a light bulb - perspective matters! On of the most motivating books that my husband bought for us is "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield.  If you are looking for a new book this year to motivate you, I recommend it.

I wish you a successful and joyful 2011!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Things I'm Thankful For About America As An Outsider

I'm diverging from my usual relationship posts this Thanksgiving season. There's much to be thankful for about America as someone who was born in another country and I wanted to write a list and share it with you. This is an appreciation of what America has meant to me:
  1. You really can be anything and anyone you want to be! America rewards smart determination - it has rightfully earned the "land of opportunity" label. I have tons of friends who have lived their wildest success dreams because they worked hard and smart and dared to knock on doors that 'seemed' closed.
  2. Americans do not let tragedies define them - they turn sorrow into action and benefit others in the process. I'm always touched by parents who start foundations in honor of a lost child, widows and widowers who take up causes to honor their late loved one and a nation that refuses to give up in adversity.
  3. The American people are life changers around the world through their generosity with time and monetary donations to alleviate disease, poverty and hunger.
  4. America is one of the most diverse countries in the world and despite our constant gripes, it has less discrimination on average than other European nations with similar diverse populations. I traveled extensively in as part of a gospel ensemble and got to meet Americans of all types and creeds besides living in two states.  Most Americans I've met care about the content of my heart and not how I look - unless of course its a fellow woman and we bond over shoes!
  5. America is one of the few countries that rebuilds other countries after wars and thank God for NASA! I sure don't want a big asteroid making landfall unknown :)
  6. I'm thankful for some American parenting experts that taught me disciplining a child without building a relationship results in their rebellion.
  7. American children had the highest scores on confidence, add my two little sons to that score! I'm thankful that most parents teach their children not to cower in fear about the future but to approach it with hope, ideas, dreams and a determination to succeed.
  8. I'm very thankful for freedom of religion even when some religions and practices go against established norms.
  9. I'm thankful for American innovative technology that is changing the world and improving lives in Africa. Some IT corporations are doing incredible work in collaboration with innovative African IT specialists to blanket the continent with satellite, wireless and green technology.
  10. I'm thankful for strong spirited arguments in favor of the consumer and a justice system that more often than not listens to the average person.
  11. I'm thankful for the American Church that reaches around the world sharing God's love and changes lives through instilling hope, building hospitals, building schools, caring for orphans, widows and the ostracized. Most missionaries are a special breed of people!
  12. Last but not least, I'm thankful for the strong spirited American black woman who has taught me as an African woman not to give up and to always keep a song in my spirit knowing that God will make it a brighter day tomorrow! They have fascinated me since I got those warm hugs in our first gospel tour in '94 and heard the phrase 'Child, God's gonna make it alright!"
What are you thankful for about America? I'm aware about the opposite argument to every point I listed above but I wanted to focus on the positive in this post. We never get to say thank you to our host nation, we often complain and yet we have a chance to just get out - ouch! So what's your opinion about my post? You have a right to it you know?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Helping Pastors With Struggling Marriages

Pastors and clergy struggling in their marriages often do not know where to turn for help. Their congregations are often ground zero and they fear that speaking out will lead to a loss of their ministry careers.  I've compiled some resources to help them below. A 2006 Pastors Marriage Survey report posted at The Center For Relationship Enrichment offers a sobering assessment of the difficulties they face: busyness, loneliness and unrealistic expectations. Recent examples of well known pastors dealing with marital landmines include Bishop Eddie LongPastor Benny HinnPastor Juanita Bynum and Pastor Tedd Haggard among others. The video clip below shows Pastor Benny Hinn addressing tabloid pictures taken of him with Pastor Paula White this past summer.

In the second clip he talks about his bad judgement in letting Paula travel with him to Rome and his failed marriage. In the third clip he addresses how his sole focus on ministry hurt his children and marriage. He says he was wrong to preach that ministry comes before family. He speaks of the loneliness that faced him when he would come home to an empty house over the years. There are two sides to every story and his wife Suzanne has not spoken out yet. I bet her story would also include loneliness, being disregarded, lack of communication and emotional distance. I was moved by his honest self-evaluation and considered it a warning to other clergy busy working for God while ignoring their families.

Please note the majority of pastors and clergy are positively married without affairs or scandals. My goal is to highlight ideas that help them maintain healthy marriages. I am passionate about this topic because I am a music minister’s wife and a marriage educator. We don't excuse the foolish and hurtful decisions some clergy make, but we can help steer them in the right direction.

Here are some of my ideas and resources I came across online:
  1.  If you are a pastor facing a marriage struggle, please call the confidential Pastors Care Line 877-233-4455.
  2. If you live in South Florida check out the South Florida Christian Counselors Association for listings of professional licensed counselors. If you live outside Florida check out the American Association of Christian Counselors.
  3. An additional counseling resource is the Marriage Friendly Therapists directory.
  4. The Parsonage is pastors website with articles on date nights, ministry pressure, dealing with pornography, surviving crisis as a pastoral family, ministry wives, busyness, separation of church and mate etc. 
  5. If your marriage is already on the brink of divorce, consider attending a Retrouvaille Program which caters to couples ready to walk out. They ask for donations versus payments.
  6. Couples on the Brink is great resource here in South Florida - they offer emergency phone sessions for couples.
  7. Care For Pastors is a great ministry that caters to pastors needs in tough times
  8. Lois Evans, the wife of Dr. Tony Evans in Dallas, Texas has an incredible ministry for Pastors wives and she hosts the largest Annual Pastors Wives conference
  9. Check out Pastor's Wives Thriving for great articles and honest forum discussions.
  10. The church can sponsor the pastoral couple to a romantic getaway and designate a different leader whom members can contact in their absence.
  11. If the church does not have an evening service on Sundays, consider it a day of rest for the Pastoral family as well!
  12. If the Pastor has little children, offer or organize volunteers to baby-sit so they can enjoy date nights. 
  13. The Pastor’s spouse is not the enemy, he/she has a God given responsibility to care for their spouse and has a right to their time away from church duties.
  14. Do not facilitate or participate in an affair with your married pastor! Check out Dave Carder’s warning on friendships that lead to affairs and avoid that landmine!
  15. Pastors are trained to be careful when counseling or otherwise being alone in seclusion with a member of the opposite sex where no else can verify their story. In my experience, spiritual crisis trigger emotional responses that can lead to foolish decisions.
  16.  Here's a great article from telling young pastors, their marriage is foundational to their ministry.
  17. A book resource I found on Amazon is “I’m More Than The Pastor’s Wife: Authentic Living In A Fishbowl World” by Lorna Dobson.
I have avoided religious/doctrinal differences in this post and will delete responses that only dwell on that. I appreciate a robust discussion on how we can help our pastors and clergy focus on their own families. Please post your ideas and comments below.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Couples Who Laugh Together Stay Together?

Pastor and comedian Mark Gungor was a featured speaker at the grand finale of the South Florida Chick-Fil-A date night initiative. I knew about his work helping couples recapture laughter but had not seen him perform live, it was quite a treat! Some relationship/marriage seminars can leave you feeling guilty and doomed. Its refreshing to know you can learn great relationship skills while laughing insanely.

Mark Gungor's main presentation is a parody of the male versus female brain and how our differences create crossed lines of communication. If you watch or listen with an open mind, you learn why some fights are not worth having! Some of the material is gender stereotyped and that's what makes it so funny! Leave your politically correct mind at the door.

An article featured on NBC's 'Today Show' site, The Secret To A Happy Marriage?  had couples sharing how they incorporate laughter into their relationships. It has good tips such as saying "please & thank you" to planning date nights and not taking yourselves too seriously when things don't go as planned!

Last year, I attended a conference breakout session on helping couples to laugh and play together. It was the most fun I've had in awhile! My husband knows I'm a bit uptight about pranks and practical jokes and I learned we can find humor in all sorts of places. I've made a point of finding the humor behind some not so great moments. If your laughter as a couple has gone out of the window visit Mark Gungor's page at for some great ideas on how to bring it back. The couple that laughs together, stays together.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chick-Fil-A Hosting Monday Date Nights - Palm Beach & Martin Counties

Chick-Fil-A restaurants will be hosting Date Night Mondays during the month of August in Palm Beach and Martin Counties here in South Florida. I am thrilled about it because you get to take the "Couples Checkup" assessment tool for free! Check out the info at  I wanted to put some information together for couples wondering how this could benefit their relationship.

The date night is for any couple dating, engaged or married. Go into a Chick-Fil-A and buy a meal (typically $7 or less) - there will be a voucher code on the receipt which you will type into the website when prompted and take the check-up with your date for free (a $29.95 value)!

You can then print out your 20+ page report showing your relationship strengths and growth areas in over 10 categories. The Couple Check Up was created by Life Innovations company based on research with thousands of couples in the US and around the globe. The same company created the Prepare/Enrich assessment tool I currently use with couples. You can do the date nights without the free assessment however, you will gain more information about yourselves and what to talk about if you complete it.

The date nights are being hosted every Monday across all the restaurants in the two counties. When you go in on a Monday, you will receive a special "Date Night Menu" that will guide you and your date into a discussion on issues relating to your relationship. Here's the breakdown of the segments:

August 2nd - Love and Money
August 9th - Love Talk
August 16th - Love The Differences
August 23rd - Love Resolves
August 30th - Love Your Family

If you get stuck on one of the topics there will be volunteer Relationship/Marriage Coaches in each restaurant to help you along. My husband and I will be volunteering some of the nights here in Palm Beach County.

If you are an engaged couple you can use the free couple check-up tool and sign up for follow-up premarital counseling. The date nights are self-guided, the follow-up gives you practical tools, resources and material about the issues highlighted in your couples report.

Couples in town (Palm Beach, Broward, Martin) can sign up with me and I will give you the exact workbook that compliments your couple's report.

Happy Monday Date Nights at a Chick-Fil-A near you! Keep checking the date night site at for updates.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Scheduling Sex For Spontaneous Couples

I presented a workshop on Sexual Intimacy to wonderful group of church couples in Fort Lauderdale back in April and their reaction on scheduling sex was my initial reaction when I first heard about it! The words 'schedule' and 'sex' don't belong together to us spontaneous types. I was skeptical after hearing a family counselor present on it but I've come to believe the merits.  Many married couples are too busy juggling life, work, kids and extra-curricular activities to bond in the bedroom at the end of the day.

The argument against scheduling the 'do' is that it decreases the fun factor and makes it an obligation. This article "Many Couples Plan Ahead To Get It On" by ABC News features a discussion on that. I usually ask couples how often they were bonding sexually without any conscious scheduling. The response is universally "we do it when we do it" - in other words they often experienced infrequent sex which is okay if both partners are in agreement. Researchers state a marriage experiencing only 10 encounters in a year is a sex-starved marriage. If this is your case, talk to a local licensed therapist or check out for helpful resources.

Most couples struggle with the old age 'lack of time' problem, we should just be honest and say we haven't made the bedroom life a priority. We let everything else take first place in the marriage but relegate the important portion of sexual bonding to the back burner. I love what Michele Wiener Davis (a couple's therapist) tells couples - "Think of Nike and Just Do It"!

If your relationship is close to this category here are a few of my favorite resources/books on the topic. is a helpful site for faith-based couples       

I will post a follow-up on this one since I have to go into session in a few minutes.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

When Close Girl Friends Relocate

My closest friend in town is relocating out of the country with her family and I'm surprised at just how sad I'm beginning to feel. The last time I felt this sense of loss was when my best friend/maid of honor relocated out of the country 9 years ago. 

Girls night out here in Florida this past January.

I had great girl friends in Dallas but relocating here meant losing face-to-face communication. I was yearning for a new sister-soul friendship. A friend who feels like your blood sister - you love them dearly, disagree hard when necessary but you almost can't live without them.  Part of it might be that I was the only girl growing up with brothers, my mother was incredible but I missed having a sister.

My new friendship here in Florida grew over the years and we started doing lunches at least once a month to chat about ourselves, God, marriage, motherhood, ministry, work and families in Kenya. I think the real reason I'm sad is the prospect of searching the town for another similar honest & meaningful friendship. I'm beginning to pray - not for a replacement but that I will be that friend to someone else.

Research shows that we women live longer because of our ability to emotionally connect and build a support group. On the other side, married men live longer than single men but pass away sooner if the wife dies because he has a hard time connecting emotionally to others. Lesson - cultivate healthy meaningful friendships!

I learned a couple of years back that husbands don't frankly have the stomach to sit through some of the gab we share with girl friends. It still bothers me when wives describe their husbands as their best friends - I know what they technically mean but I hope they are not trying to make a woman out of the husband. You get the drift - so here I am sitting, typing and praying that I will recognize when an old friend, a current acquintance or new friend becomes the next sister-soul honest meaningful friendship.