How to Improve your Marriage: Exercise #3

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With all the talk lately on gratitude and the positive benefits of expressing thanks in our lives, I’m skipping my planned exercise and inserting this one. Whether you’re joining me for the first time or coming back, welcome to How to Improve your Marriage: Exercise #3.

I knew someone once who loved to complain about their spouse. Every day, this person would look for negative things to tell. Each day the items got worse as if the negative had to one-up the previous day’s complaint. This carried on for months until their marriage ended in a divorce.

Maybe the spouse was really terrible, or maybe looking for the negative can turn anyone into a demon. My husband isn’t perfect, and I’m sure he’s super flawed like the rest of us, but I don’t see it. We decided before we got married that we wouldn’t complain about each other to anyone else. And we don’t. Maybe I tease occasionally about the cupboard doors he leaves open after making a sandwich, and he probably does the same with my inability to remember analogies, but we don’t ever have gripe sessions with others.

If we have a problem, we’ve always approached each other and spilled what’s bugging us. Does it hurt? Sometimes, but it’s like a band-aid, fast and done. And then we move on, happier than we were before.

The Excercise

Discuss this article with your spouse and decide to stop the negative spirals of complaining to others about your partner (if you’re already a pro keep reading for an additional exercise for this week). Recognize that change takes time. Don’t expect your spouse to change this practice overnight. Give them space and grace to overcome, and give it to yourself too. You don’t have to be perfect today or tomorrow, just shooting for it.

Once you’ve eliminated the negative, focus on the positive (or rather sprinkle it starting now). Like last week’s exercise, pointing out the best qualities in your spouse on a regular basis can help you see those traits and forget/ignore the others. When you feel like the luckiest person in the world because you’re with another human being blessed with divine gifts and the potential to smooth out rough edges, it’s amazing what that can do for your relationship.

I hope you’ve enjoyed How to Improve your Marriage: Exercise #3. Change takes time and is full of small and simple things. But everyone is capable of change if they want it.

How to Improve your Marriage: Excercise #2

How to Improve your Marriage
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Welcome! This week’s post on How to Improve your Marriage: Excercise #2 is a continuation of our previous lesson. Both activities as well as the ones to come, are founded on bringing positivity back into your marriage.

Why is positivity so important? Let me share in example. During my college career, I attended a class where we played a simple game with a profound moral. The professor sent two volunteers outside while the rest of us decided on an item that would be “it.” I can’t remember what the object was, probably someone’s pen that we hid inside the room.

The first student returned and we cheered and clapped every time he took a step in the direction of the item. Within twenty seconds, he had the object in hand. He replaced the item and then we ushered in the second student.

Instead of giving positive praise by clapping and cheering, we booed and hissed. For every wrong step we snarled. Every glance away received a jeer. By the end of a minute the student had enough. She sat in the middle of the floor for the next thirty excruciating seconds while we continued our tirade. She curled into a tighter and tighter ball until the professor called quits.

Positive responses encourage positive results. Negative responses stop everything positive and create problems.

So, from this simple exercise, we learned that positive responses encourage positive results. Negative responses stop everything positive and create problems. I knew I through in that word positive too many times, but it’s important. If you want to improve your marriage, then bring positivity back into your marriage. And you can do that step by step with my easy, weekly marriage excercises.

A Simple Step to Improve your Marriage

This week’s activity starts with a simple question. It’s designed to open conversations. The trick is to not allow negative comments during this activity. President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently spoke about creating safe-havens. He says “… as turmoil rages around us, we need to create places where we are safe.” It’s likewise essential to create safe conversations in our relationships.

The more we cultivate safe topics and try and apologize when we make mistakes, the more those havens can grow and spill into the harder conversations.

To encourage this growth you can ask this simple question: What do I do that you like? Give your spouse time to answer. It might be days. You’re probably catching them off guard. Give them the time and space they need. Tell them their answer is important to you. Be willing to accept their answer, whatever it is, whether it seems small or insignificant to you. It might be very important to them. Be willing to answer that question too. Look deeply and find as many things you like about your spouse and share them today and tomorrow and every day.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s How to Improve your Marriage: Excercise #2. Don’t forget to check out last week’s activity and come back next for more.

How to Improve your Marriage: Exercise #1

How to improve your marriage tips and excercises
#photography #dedratregaskis #husbandandwife #marriage

The WHY Behind the How to Improve your Marriage Movement

If you grew up in the same culture and era as me, I could say, “Mawage (marriage). Mawage is what bwings…” and you could finish my sentence with “us togeder today.” (If you’re confused, you might need to watch The Princess Bride). Parroting the movie quote, today we are delving into one of my favorite topics–marriage and relationships with How to Improve your Marriage: Relationship Exercise #1.

Why do I love marriage and relationships? Probably because I have a B.S. (the degree, not the expletive) in Marriage, Family, and Human Development from Brigham Young University. And maybe it has to do with the million-plus views I had for a blog post I wrote way back in 2012 on 7 Ways in 7 Days to Knock the Socks Off Your Spouse (don’t judge the outdated blog). Through that post and counseling couples on the side, I’ve been told that my efforts have helped save marriages.

I want to keep doing it.

Why? I believe in marriage. I want marriages to succeed because not only will you be happier in a positive and loving relationship, you’ll also improve your health and contribute to society.

How to improve your marriage tips.
Photo by Git Stephen Gitau from Pexels

A Simple Step to Improve your Marriage

If you’re wanting to strengthen or improve your relationship, I have a simple and easy exercise revolving around memories. Positive memories can significantly impact your mental health, which can cascade into your relationship.

So, for this exercise, we’ll be recalling positive memories through the use of pictures. (If you or your spouse has a visual impairment, get creative to adapt this exercise to your needs).

Start by pulling out pictures of you and your spouse that have positive memories. Maybe the images show the two of you dating, your wedding day, or something from everyday life. The pictures can be recent or old. Time and place have little consequence because we’re focusing on building positive interactions.

As with the upcoming exercises I’ll present over the next few weeks, we’re focusing on building a positive foundation. Maybe you already have one in your marriage and want to strengthen it, or maybe yours has crumbled. Regardless, positivity can improve your relationship, providing strength to weather storms.

If you’re skeptical of this simple exercise, consider costly traditional therapy. (I usually encourage struggling couples to try therapy, but for some, it doesn’t work out because of a lack of preparation that I’ll explain now). With a therapist, you and your spouse sling some mud around in front of a stranger, and then add some mandated positive words (that often wear off as soon as you exit the building), and leave with a pile of homework that is too much for anyone to process. In a few weeks, you might feel hopeless again.

If you’re going to start therapy or work towards improving your marriage, one of the best ways is to first establish a positive foundation. Once you remember all the amazing reasons you’re together, you’re more likely to have the motivation to strengthen your relationship. You’re also more likely to have an increased desire to work things out and learn how to communicate effectively.

So in the next few days, find those positive pictures where you felt close to your spouse. Look at the pictures multiple times over the next week and draw upon the memories. Focus on the good and positive. Build your foundation so that next week, we can add in another simple exercise to create a safe haven for constructive communication to grow.

I hope you’ve enjoyed How to Improve your Marriage: Relationship Exercise #1. Check back soon for more tips or to share your success stories.

The October Book Review

I’m often asked what kinds of books I like. So here’s my two-minute book review.

Regarding genres, I’m not bound to one type. I actually have favorite books in pretty much every fiction and non-fiction category. The thing that draws me in the most is good writing and emotional connections. I love character-driven stories. I’m also a sucker for non-fiction with prose that flows.

Some recent books I’ve enjoyed are (and I’m not getting paid to list these):

MG Fantasy:

Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage.

Our family recently listened to the audiobook performed by Kirby Heybourn and all six of us from age five to forty-something were entertained. We can’t wait to listen to the next book. And p.s. I took a class from the author earlier this year and he’s such an inspiration for other writers. I want to read his new Alice in Wonderland series.

YA Fantasy Romance

Cinder by Marissa Meyers.

Okay, so I haven’t finished it yet because my oldest kept eyeing me while I read, and I finally gave in and handed it to her. She devoured it, then the next kid did, and then they read it several more times. It is now in my possession again so hopefully, I’ll get a chance this week to finish it off. I love the vocabulary she used. That might sound weird, but I loved Meyers’s word choices.

Non-Fiction

Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

This non-fiction book has some amazing principles, and one of the first meditations it encourages you to do is called The Chocolate Meditation. Yeah, I can get behind that. My brother recommended this book to me and I have to admit, it’s been fairly life-changing. I’ve done meditations before but always felt like I was doing them wrong. Now I know better. Meditating isn’t about clearing your head. It’s about being present in each moment and seeing thoughts as they truly are, passing comments. I can disregard them if I want.

Kid-Lit

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate.

Move over To Kill a Mockingbird (my previous favorite). Katherine Applegate did something to me with Wishtree. It’s been so long since a book moved me and touched my heart like this one. My ten-year-old immediately ordered a copy for my birthday because she knew I needed a physical copy to keep forever. I’m a minimalist so that says something.

I made the mistake of reading Wishtree out loud to my kids. I bawled through parts and kept stopping to re-read poignant phrases. This book reminds me of why I write. Words have power. They can do so much good.

I love it when people tell me months down the road that they are still thinking about my stories that they’ve beta read. One story I titled Broken Maybe (it’s taking a little nap on the shelf before I revive it) helped a friend through a similar medical experience as one of the characters in my book. It’s crazy what words can do, even when they’re based on fiction. Especially when they’re based on fiction.

So there’s my October Book Review. What books have you liked lately?

And have you checked out the different ways to follow me?

What I’ve Learned

The last two months have been a whirlwind of learning. Not only did I have major surgery (and today I’m prepping for another diagnostic procedure) and sent my kids off to online school in their bedrooms, but my friend and I have built a new writing empire.

Okay, maybe empire is an exaggeration. Let’s go with kingdom.

Welcome to the kingdom of Vanilla Grass. (Next month, we’ll shoot for empire.)

Experts define the smell of old books as a combination of Vanilla and Grass so naturally, with my super picky nose and Carolyn’s love of plants, we combined them into a One-Stop Writer’s Resource webpage.

But two months ago, I didn’t know:

How to build a website.

Or how to write SEO efficient blogposts (I’m taking a break from that here).

How to run a giveaway via King Sumo.

Or how to use Davinci Resolve and create YouTube videos.

Vanilla Grass writers motivation
I took this picture in my pajamas one morning when the light was right.

In two months Carolyn and I have created color schemes, logos, pictures, blog posts, edited other writers’ first pages, installed apps, deleted horrible apps, launched advertising campaigns, AND lured other writers into following us. Not bad for 2020. Oh, and we’re also working on our own writing projects.

My WIP

Writing during COVID with all of my kids at home has been an adventure and at times, I thought I’d never get anything done. But my WIP is complete and ready to query. I wrote a little about the method I used with alpha readers in a post on Vanilla Grass.

A round of hard-core edits for flow, emotions, and descriptions.

This was one of the most helpful reviews:

You are a really, really good author. You made me feel the emotions. I cried a lot at the beginning and the end. You had really strong characters and growth. The tension and drama were felt. I would read it again and again. Even knowing the big reveal.

-Anonymous Reader

I love that review. I love my book. And oddly, I love running a website. And I’m excited and ready for the adventures that lie ahead. I’m so grateful for all that I’ve learned.

The End

Sometimes the best beginnings come at the heels of closings. Recently, I wrote “The End,” finishing off my latest YA romance novel. I’ve written those two infamous words many times, but this moment is different.

Before, I had this silly notion that if I worked harder, if I just pushed past my limits, I would get the agent and the publishing contract. But there’s something to be said for working smarter.

With this novel, I didn’t write until I understood the pain that would afflict my characters the most. And I didn’t dare torture them until I was willing to be vulnerable and take all the heartaches I’ve felt and smear my pages with them.

With my current novel, I started writing when I could connect every single dot. Every detail has a purpose. Every description has double meanings. Every action is formulated to help the character achieve what they want, but first, they each have to fail.

Like my characters, I have struggled. Again and again, I’ve poured heart and energy into my books without the results I wanted. But now is the end of an era of failings. I’m ready to succeed. I’m ready to begin something new.