Monthly Archives: March 2010

Mar 30

Marriage and Money: Questions for Young Couples

By Dustin | Ask the Community

A few days back, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Matt Bell who is an author, speaker and blogger over at Matt About Money.  Matt focuses on Christian finance, and he has already published two books: Money, Purpose, Joy: The Proven Path to Uncommon Financial Success and Money Strategies for Tough Times.

Matt’s current book project is focused on the topic of Marriage and Money, particularly as it relates to young couples both before they get married and in the early years after their vows.  Our interview was focused on the issue of Joint vs. Separate Bank Accounts.  However, as we spoke for nearly an hour, a few additional themes came up.

Your Input is Needed

Matt is aware of the awesome community we have here at Engaged Marriage, and we decided it would be great to get your feedback on a few key topics.  And there’s a chance that your response could be featured in his upcoming book!

Please check out these questions and leave your response to any or all of them in the comments below:

If you’re married, what were some of the biggest initial challenges you faced in bringing your financial lives together?  Financially, what do you wish you had known or done before getting married?  And what financial issues continue to come up in your marriage?

If you’re engaged, what questions do you have about doing the whole money thing together as husband and wife?

Thank you so much for your feedback and continued support!  I know Matt appreciates your input, and I love seeing your responses since it provides good direction for future blog posts. 🙂

Mar 29

Your Life. Live it. Love it. A Book Review

By Dustin | Book & Product Reviews

Your Life. Live it. Love it.I am really excited to share an excellent resource with you that is being launched today.  My friend Sherri Kruger just released her first e-book entitled Your Life. Live it. Love it. and I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview over the weekend.

After I read it (late into the night), I knew I had to write a review here on Engaged Marriage so that you wouldn’t miss the chance to check it out for yourself.

Who is Sherri Kruger?

Sherri is the creator of Serene Journey where she writes about “Simple Tips to Enjoy Life.”  She is also the lead writer and editor at Zen Family Habits, which is another excellent resource for all things family.

Although you won’t hear her talk about it much, Sherri happens to have a PhD in molecular genetics.  After spending years in the lab, she decided to refocus on her family and stay at home with her two boys.  Her e-book is not auto-biographical, but I felt a real connection with Sherri and her ability to enjoy the simple things in life in the pages of her work.

Even if you decide that the e-book is not for you, I’d encourage you to check out both of Sherri’s successful blogs.  If you like what we do here at Engaged Marriage, I’m confident that you’ll like Sherri and enjoy her work.

What is Your Life. Live it. Love it. All About?

I think the subtitle to Your Life. Live it. Love it. really says it all: “Hundreds of ideas for focusing on yourself, your relationships and the little things in life.”  That’s exactly what this book provides, and it is delivered in an easy-to-read (and hard to put down) style.

The 69-page e-book is divided into three sections:

  1. Focus on You
  2. Focus on Your Relationships
  3. Enjoy the Little Things

Although it is an electronic book that can be read on a computer or e-reader, I decided I would print it out for ease of reading in bed (I really need to buy an e-reader).  I figured I’d dog-ear the pages that I enjoyed the most for future reference since this is what I often do with traditional books.  Well, I ended up dog-earing more than half of the writings!

What Did I Enjoy the Most & Where Can You Learn More?

Personally, I loved every part of the last section on “Enjoying the Little Things” and I’ve asked my wife to give it a read because I think she’ll really enjoy the lessons related to “Focusing on You.”  I really expect that Your Life. Live it. Love it. will be a popular book that is read by many.  I found the concepts and tips to be broad in appeal, yet many touched me personally.

Since I can’t share everything that I enjoyed about the book, I thought I would simply list my favorite five chapters (which are similar in length to blog posts).  Here are my personal can’t-miss topics:

  • Stand Your Ground But Only On the Important Stuff – A practical way to solve common disagreements (like with your spouse).
  • The Grass is Always Greener Right Under Your Feet – An excellent lesson on contentment.
  • Gratitude Journal: 30 Days to Happiness – This section is pure gold!
  • 10 Ways to Feel Better in 60 Seconds or Less – I am keeping these two pages in my work bag for easy reference. 🙂
  • 10 Ways to Add a Spark to Your Relationship Today – The title says it all.

Sherri has an excellent summary of Your Life. Live it. Love it. that you can read by clicking on any of the links in this post.  You’ll find more information about what you’ll get when you buy the book, including a full table of contents.

Thank You

In parting, I’d just like to say thank you to Sherri for writing Your Life. Live it. Love it. and sharing it with me.  I took away some very meaningful lessons that have already helped me personally.  And I was challenged to take a fresh look at some areas of my life where I have struggled to find contentment and appreciation for all of God’s incredible blessings.

Please do me a favor and take a few minutes to read more about Your Life. Live it. Love it. and decide if it speaks to you.

P.S. – Sherri is offering an (awesome) 100% full-satisfaction, money-back guarantee so there’s really no risk in checking it out for yourself.

Mar 25

Improve Your Life! 7 Keys for Killer Success

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Improve Your LifeIf this site or this post’s title caught your interest, I’m willing to bet that you have a desire to improve your life.  Well, you’re in luck!  I have assembled seven tips that I know from experience can help you meet your goals and achieve more personal success.

Does this sound familiar?

You feel insanely busy with a lot of pressing demands for your time and energy.  You know you need to take care of yourself, but you inevitably put your needs last as you focus on taking care of your family, helping others and advancing your career.

Those things are obviously important, but the truth is that we can accomplish more in all areas of life when we improve ourselves…and we have to quit using those outside influences as our crutch or excuse.

If you’ve been around this site very long, you know that I believe strongly in a holistic approach to marriage.  There is a reason I write about topics like individual fulfillmentspirituality, and finances & careers

A healthy life feeds a healthy marriage, and vice-versa.  Improve your life…for the sake of your spouse.

I encourage you to check out the seven success principles summarized below.  In each case, I’ve suggested a book that will help you take your understanding and inspiration to a deeper level.

(By the way, if you were involved in the Improve Yourself! 2010 challenge-and you actually completed it- these tips may sound familiar.  However, I’ve condensed them to focus on the core qualities and put them all into this single post for easy reading.)

1. Set SMART Goals!

SMART Goal Setting I am a huge fan of goal-setting and believe it makes a profound difference in the level of success we achieve in our lives. Based on my own experience and lots of reading on the topic, I recommend the  SMART Goals approach to setting specific aspirations in all areas of your life, including your marriage.

What is a SMART Goal?

Specific – What are you going to do? Why are you doing it? How will you accomplish it?

Measurable – Establish concrete measures of your progress. Your goal must be quantifiable.

Attainable – Challenge yourself, but be realistic.

Relevant – Be sure your goal fits into your overall lifestyle and greater desires.

Time-Bound – Every goal needs a completion date associated with it.

Recommended Resource:

The Success Principles

The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield.  This book is not specific to SMART goals, but it is a classic best-seller on the topic of achieving what you want in life.

2. Take Baby Steps!

If you have heard of Dave Ramsey and his financial advice, you are certainly familiar with his Baby Steps for Financial Freedom.  My wife and I followed this plan to pay off $54,500 in debt, and we continue to apply these principles in our family financial planning.

The great thing about the “baby step” approach is that it is fully applicable to any area where you want to improve yourself and meet some big goals.  Taking baby steps is simply the act of breaking down your overall goal into bite-sized chunks.

Every day that you apply yourself to achieving success is another baby step in your journey of self-improvement.  If your goals are fitness-related, it could be losing one pound, exercising three times this week, or even passing on dessert one evening.  Don’t get overwhelmed and discouraged by a larger goal of losing 20 pounds.  Just keeping baby-stepping your way toward success each day!

Recommended Resource:

The Total Money Makeover

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey. This book is a personal favorite of mine and a book that changed my family’s lives.  If you want to get your finances in order, pay off debt and “change your family tree”, then you must read it.  And Dave’s entire approach is centered on his famous Baby Step system to meeting big goals.

3. It’s About Time!

If you have not read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  The seven habits Dr. Covey outlines are legitimately vital and practical.

My favorite principle from the book is Habit 3: Put First Things First, which is focused on personal time management.  Basically, there are four areas, or quadrants, where we can classify every task in our lives: Urgent/Important, Not Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important,  and Not Urgent/Not Important.  The key to success is to maximize the time you spend in “Quadrant II: Not Urgent/Important” and this is where many of us struggle.

When we manage our time effectively enough to focus on issues that do not require immediate attention (not urgent) but are in fact important to our lives, we become strategic planners and we take actions that will benefit us in the long-term.  If you are a regular reader of Engaged Marriage and/or you put the tips from post into action, you are spending at least part of your time on Quadrant II activities.  Nice work!

Except in emergency situations, there is nothing necessarily urgent about your fitness level, your financial strength, your spiritual life or even your marriage.  That’s why it’s so easy to get into a rut in all of these areas.  When we lose focus and don’t manage our time effectively, the more urgent (even though less important) tasks begin to rule our days.

By setting goals and devoting your time to meeting them, you are setting yourself up for success and becoming effective in that area of your life.  When you use your time wisely, you not only help yourself, but you are making progress in your marriage and family life as well.

Recommended Resource:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.  If you want to learn how to be more effective with your time and efforts in all areas of life, I highly recommended that you read this best-selling book.

4. Personal Responsibility is Everything!

Here is an incredibly simple but extremely powerful concept: it is your problem, your job and your responsibility.

Personal responsibility is key.  That’s what QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life is all about.

In QBQ, John Miller implores us to get away from the blame-game and our inclination for making excuses for the challenges we face in both business and our personal lives.  Instead of asking who is to blame for the situation, we should ask, “What can I do to improve the situation?” so we can take ownership of the problem and take proactive action to solve it.

Whether you make great progress toward your goals in life or you struggle, the results you see are directly related to the effort and commitment that you apply.  I often find that I get off-track from my goals and priorities, and I make a lot of excuses to myself to justify it.  However, I actually get the results I desire when I quit my pity-party and take responsibility for my actions and my results.

Recommended Resource:

QBQ  Book

QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life by John G. Miller.  This is an awesome book that has the power to change your life.  I highly recommend that you read it and take its message to heart in your daily life.

5. Don’t Be Perfect, Be Remarkable!

When you actually set goals for your life, one of the lessons you learn quickly is that you can never meet them with the perfection that you initially intend.  I can personally think of many times that I have stumbled along, and progress is never as steady and smooth as I  hope.  However, when I stick with it and focus on success, I know that I am still on the road to be remarkable.

Seth Godin created a book that is centered around a fantastic idea that I have tried to apply to all areas of my own life.  You do not need to be perfect, you simply need to be remarkable in what you do.  That’s what The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable is all about.  It’s an idea book, a manifesto for change and a call to action.  It’s awesome.

So, just what does it mean to be “remarkable”?  The back cover of the book gives some great examples:

Remarkable is being unafraid to stand out.

Remarkable is failing often and then trying again.

Remarkable is having a fire in your belly and an idea that won’t quit.

Remarkable is when you stand for something and make it happen and change the world – or your business or your life – along the way.

It is easy to see how these ideas relate to business and why being remarkable in your career leads to success.  But I don’t think this idea is limited to professional life or entrepreneurship.  Don’t you think you can be remarkable in the way you handle your finances?  In your approach to fitness?  In your marriage?

I do.  And whenever I start to feel lazy, uninspired or apathetic, I take a moment to remind myself of all I hope to achieve in my life.

I certainly fail often.  But, I always try again.  I take a moment to close my eyes and remember the fire in my belly that led me to make such bold statements about my SMART goals and aspirations.  I will change the world, if only for my wife and my family.

Recommended Resource:

 

The Big  Moo

The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable which is edited by Seth Godin. This is an awesome book that has the power to change your life.  The book is actually a compilation of short writings by 33 of the world’s smartest business people.  It is built upon the idea of being remarkable, which originated in Seth Godin’s bestseller Purple Cow.

6. Communicate for Success!

When I take some time to reflect on my life and identify areas where I have been successful, I can quickly see that good communication is a key to success.  In my career as a consulting engineer, it’s not math or even reason that sets apart the best engineers and companies.  Nope, it’s the ability to convey complex ideas in understandable terms both in person and in written form.

Engaged Marriage has a lot of growing to do to meet my goals for this site and its reach to married couples throughout the world.  However, I think it’s fair to say that our first 7+ months here have been quite successful.  Obviously, the content is critical for the success of any blog.

But I think the real growth of Engaged Marriage has been fueled by the sense of community that we’ve developed as well as my own efforts in reaching out through social media to colleagues and perspective readers.  I think the recent Love Everyday project provides a good example of this approach.  And it all comes down to a commitment to consistent and effective communication.

The same cause-and-effect relationship exists for most aspects of life: finances, parenting, sports, politics, sales, even war.  High-quality communication is a certain key to success.

And, oh yeah, communication plays a bit of a role in this whole marriage thing as well. :)

The book behind this success principle is centered around the idea that understanding how our spouse/significant other best communicates is a major help in achieving the extraordinary in our relationships. That’s what The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate is all about.

While working as a marriage counselor for more than 30 years, Dr. Gary Chapman identified five specific love languages:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

I bet that even without reading the book you can immediately relate to some of these categories.  Can you already see which areas you speak best in, and which areas apply to your spouse?

The Five Love Languages will lead you through a fun and rewarding process of discovering the love languages in your marriage.  And with that knowledge, you can improve your relationship with your spouse.  See what I mean about the importance of great communication?

Recommended Resource:

Five  Love Languages

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Dr. Gary Chapman.  This is yet another awesome book that has the power to change your life. I highly recommend that you check out what may be the single most important book you can read for your marriage, aside from The Bible.

7. Don’t Settle for Mediocrity!

If you’ve read many posts here at Engaged Marriage, you have probably picked up on the fact that I feel strongly that we should all be proactive and give our best efforts to our marriage and family life.  One of my favorite mottoes is: “When it comes to the most important relationship in your life, don’t be normal.  Normal sucks.”

I feel the same way about all aspects of my own life: career, spirituality, finances, parenting, friendship, fitness, hobbies, writing and all the rest.  Does this mean that I don’t have bad days in all of these areas?  Does it mean that I am expending insane amounts of energy in all of them all at once to try to be the very best in the world?  Does it mean that I consider myself a failure whenever I slip up in my progress?

Of course not.  I’m a normal guy and I’m human, so I know I won’t be able to excel at all things at all times.  However, that doesn’t mean that I have to settle for mediocrity in my life either.  And I feel passionately that I don’t want to be mediocre, and I always want to be getting better even if it’s only in small increments.

I want to improve myself…life is just too short to do otherwise.

The final book recommendation is all about climbing out of the rut that you find yourself in and seeing the awesome opportunities that are all around you.  No More Mondays by Dan Miller (a fellow contributor to the Love Everyday project by the way) is an awesome book that focuses on helping you find work that you love in both traditional and non-traditional ways.

Although the book focuses on career issues, I believe its lessons and guidance will help you in many areas of your life.  It was actually one of the inspirations behind Engaged Marriage, and I hope you will take a few minutes to read my full book review of No More Mondays and the story of how it motivated me.

Recommended Resource:

No More Mondays: Fire Yourself and Other Revolutionary Ways to Discover Your True Calling at Work by Dan Miller.  I highly recommend that you read this book and take its principles to heart.  I think you’ll love it.

Do You Want Killer Success?

I hope that these seven tips have opened your mind a bit and inspired you to set and meet new goals in your life.  I truly feel that we all have the potential to achieve so much with the gifts that we’ve been given by God.  And we owe it to our spouse and family to be good stewards of the blessings given to each of us.  Be Remarkable!

What success principles have you found most helpful in your own life and marriage?  What other resources would you recommend to help others in the community here grow and achieve personal success?

Photo by Sara. Nel
Mar 22

Our Debt-Free Marriage: How We Paid Off $54,500 in the Name of Freedom

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Would you like to have a debt-free marriage?  Does it seem possible?Our Debt-Free Marriage: How We Paid Off $54,500 in the Name of Freedom

I can tell you from experience that it is not easy.  But it is so worth it.

There have been several events in our life lately that have caused us to reflect on our own journey to financial freedom and all that it has meant to our family and our marriage.

I am excited to share our story with you with the hope that you will find some information and motivation that will help you wherever you may be in your own financial life.

The Debt-Laden Duo

When Bethany and I got married in 2001, we already had a fair amount of debt under our belts.  It was nothing extreme by any means, and we were probably on the low end compared to many of our friends.  We didn’t even have any credit card debt at that point, just a car loan and good ole student loans from college.

I even had a pretty decent understanding of personal finance thanks in large part to a co-worker who shared his copy of Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey with me on the eve of our wedding.  I really loved reading that book, and it gave me an appreciation for Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps and the promise of living a debt-free lifestyle.  Unfortunately, the pull of “stuffitis” and all the things that seemed like “needs” in our early years together caused us to look past this wisdom and pile up the debt! 🙂

After a year of marriage, we decided it was time to buy our first house.  And with that came new furniture and appliances.  And a new car.  And then another new car.  And more stuff.

We peaked out in 2004 at $54,500 of non-mortgage debt.  Wow.  That’s a big number, but we frankly didn’t feel much pain from it because the payments were never a big strain for us.  We were a long way from a debt-free marriage, but it didn’t bother us much.

If you can make the payments, everything is fine, right?  Wrong.

The Wake-Up Call: A Positive Test

It was around this same time that we decided it was time to start trying to grow our family.  Through God’s grace and our discovery of Natural Family Planning at this same point in our marriage, we were to find out that Bethany was pregnant with our son.  (As an aside, I can now see in hindsight just how incredibly transformative these couple of months were in our lives in so many ways.)

That did it.  It was the realization that we had another human to care for that really got our attention.  Sure, we were doing okay with our finances, but we were certainly not being the wise stewards that we could be.  And we were not planning for the future the way that we should be as parents.

Welcome, Gazelle Intensity!

Once we decided it was time to clean up our mess and start taking our financial stewardship very seriously, all we needed was a plan to follow.  Fortunately, I remembered back to that Financial Peace guy I had pseudo-studied a few years earlier.  And he had a new book!

It was our reading of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness that provided us with a clear plan for “what” to do along with many inspiring stories of families that have used the same principles to achieve financial freedom.  If you are looking to improve your financial life, I cannot recommend this book enough.

That said, the information it contains is far from rocket science.  His seven baby steps are pretty simplistic, actually.  The magic is in the focused intensity that Dave preaches, and the idea of “gazelle intensity” wherein you treat your debt like a hungry cheetah that’s chasing you (a fleeing gazelle) down.  Run!

It takes passion, energy and commitment to pay off a large amount of debt.  And it takes a lot of hard work.  There’s really no substitute for effort if you want to make a major change in your financial future and live a debt-free marriage.

For us, this meant a firm commitment to incurring no additional debt and a new mindset focused first-and-foremost on paying off our stupid debts.  Practically speaking, the real key for us was building and strictly following a family budget that reduced our spending on things like shopping and eating out at restaurants.  We didn’t take vacations and we kept our entertainment on the simple side.  In a word, we got frugal.

I also worked a LOT, and we used any small amount of money we could come up with to pay off the next debt in our debt snowball.  There weren’t many big moments of major progress.  Instead, it was all about being consistent and maintaining our intensity over the course of several years.

We’re Debt Free!!!

Once we got fired up and determined, it took us approximately 3 1/2 years to pay off our $54,500 of non-mortgage debt.  The day that we actually went to the credit union and paid off our SUV (our last debt) was surreal.

I called Dave Ramsey on behalf of my family that same day and got to scream “I’M DEBT FREE!” live on the air on his radio show. That was 2/29/2008 (hour two of the show that day), and that has become a very important date for our family.

Since then, our debt-free lifestyle has honestly become a routine. It just seems like the only logical way to live now, and I can’t imagine having so much of our income tied up in payments. I know making payments is the “normal” way of doing things in our culture, but this is another area where I have learned that normal sucks. 🙂

Debt-Free Marriage for Life

Debt-Free Marriage Pays OffWe’re still very proud of our accomplishments and excited about what it is setting us up to do in the future.  Each day without payments is a day that adds to our savings and investments and, ultimately, enhances our family’s financial freedom.

Like I mentioned above, the fact that we’ve been debt-free (other than our house) for two years now has really started to pay off (pun intended) recently.  I look forward to sharing the specifics in future posts, but suffice it to say that we love our debt-free marriage.

I strongly encourage you to consider adopting a debt-free lifestyle.  The rewards are fantastic and worth the effort.  If you need some help, check out our section on Debt Freedom and Money Management for lots of great tips.

I really want to hear from you on this topic.  Do you have a debt-free marriage?  Do you think it’s possible?  Where do you need help to make it happen?

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Photos by alancleaver_2000
Mar 19

Engaged Finances and Engaged Marriage- So Happy Together!

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Engaged FinancesEditor’s Note: This is a guest post from Fern Alix-LaRocca who gives five great tips for achieving financial harmony in marriage.

Some couples will immediately combine their finances in a marriage and some will keep their money separate. It doesn’t matter how you divvy it up. What does matter is what you decide to do with it- together.

Many couples are squeamish around discussing money because maybe they are ashamed of the debt they accrued or maybe they feel bad about not knowing how to manage it properly. You can engage your finances together with these 5 tips:

1. Let your goals be your guide– not the economy or newspaper journalists. When you have the end result in mind, it’s a lot easier to save together to fund that goal. Figure out if you want to own a house, take off of work to be with a new baby, prepare to be self- employed, etc. Then use some of the free online calculators to figure out how much you need to save and invest to meet your goal.

2. Your money must earn money for you to get ahead.  Don’t get stuck in the rat race of making money and spending it. A part of every dollar that you earn should be saved and invested to make more money for you. Why? Because taxes and inflation will eat away at anything you earn, but if you have an additional way of making money (like investing) then you can get ahead over time.

3. Promote mutual understanding of each other by discussing how you were raised around money and what your money personality is. It is important that your spouse understands where you are coming from, so they can be more understanding and compassionate about how you make financial decisions.

4. Make saving and investing for the future fun. My husband and I have a financial meeting once a quarter before we go out to dinner on Friday night. We talk about what went right and what went wrong and how we can improve. Through our discussions, we educate each other and review options and opportunities that we can take advantage of to grow our money.

5. No matter how different you are in your money personalities you can still find common ground and come together to realize those goals and aspirations that you both want and deserve. Get out the pen and paper and start now after dinner with a discussion about what you really want.

Remember that you can’t reach a target if you don’t know what it is. Let failure be an option. You aren’t always going to get it right, but keep forging ahead. It is a learning and growing experience to be enjoyed together.

Knowing the basics of money will help you attract it, keep it, and make it work for you. Have a plan and make money work as hard for you as you do to earn it. Engage your finances with the tips above and stay happy together.

Photo by wwarby

________________________________________

Fern Alix-LaRocca is a Certified Financial Planner™ and Financial Coach with over 25 years experience as a fee-only Financial Advisor. Get  do-it-yourself financial planning advice by subscribing to her free e-newsletter at http://www.wholeheartedway.com

Mar 17

Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor: A Review Based On Our Experiences

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor Review

If you have had trouble conceiving a baby or just want to understand your fertility cycle better, you may have heard of the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor.

My wife and I bought one last fall with the intent of using it initially to help us get pregnant and then later as an additional tool in our practice of Natural Family Planning.

Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for a long-term review, we were blessed to conceive our third child the first month that we used the fertility monitor.  However, we learned all about it, gained some experience using it, and I even made my first YouTube video to show the world what comes in the box when you buy a Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor!

How Does the Fertility Monitor Work?

In the most basic sense, the monitor uses urine samples to identify days of High Fertility and Peak Fertility.  Obviously, if you have sex on those days, especially the one or two Peak Fertility days, your chances of achieving pregnancy are greatly improved.

There are only a limited number of days during the menstrual cycle when sex can lead to pregnancy.  Conception is most likely to occur if you have intercourse on the day the ovaries release a new egg, which is called ovulation, or during the days leading up to it.  The fertility monitor tracks a woman’s level of estrogen and LH to predict when ovulation is approaching and indicate the day it has occurred (the Peak Fertility day).

The Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor prompts you on the days you need to take a urine sample.  This will be a total of ten tests per cycle for more “typical” cycle lengths, or it will be twenty tests for long or irregular cycles. When you start using the monitor, you’ll set a testing time window that needs to be maintained, though you can test up to three hours before or after the time you specify.  When you turn it on, the fertility monitor will tell you whether you need to test that day or not.

In general, the manufacturer recommends that the monitor be used by women with menstrual cycles lasting 21-42 days.  As you test for several cycles, the monitor begins to “learn” about your menstrual patterns, and the testing days will be better defined.

What’s in the Box?

The answer to this question is not much!  Here’s a short video I made to show what the monitor looks like and what you get when you buy one.

Our Experiences With the Monitor

When we started thinking about buying a monitor, I did a lot of research and was convinced that the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor was the single best ovulation tracker on the market.  We also spent a lot of time learning how it worked, which was aided by the understanding we’ve gained of fertility cycles through our practice of Natural Family Planning.

Like I said, we only used the monitor for one month before Bethany became pregnant (she’s due in July!).  As luck would have it, she had a crazy-long cycle that month of over 50 days, and we hit the max of 20 tests before she ever ovulated.  Of course, we knew what was going on since we were also using the sympto-thermal methods of NFP (which helps prove the point that NFP is not only for those with nice, regular cycles).

With this super-long cycle, the monitor basically stopped testing and would have waited until we told it her period had started.  It would have then started over testing the next cycle with the “knowledge” of her long menstrual cycle taken into consideration.

Of course, that next cycle is several months away at this point since we successfully conceived a baby.  However, even based on our limited first-hand experience, I can tell you that the fertility monitor was very easy to use, and I am confident that it is effective in identifying the days of high fertility and communicating this simply to couples hoping to achieve pregnancy.

And that’s what it’s all about when choosing a fertility monitor.

We plan to use ours again after the baby arrives and Bethany’s hormones calm down.  We are hopeful that it will become an additional tool in our practice of Natural Family Planning moving forward, and we plan to learn more about this approach by studying up on the Marquette Model of NFP, which includes the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor in its methods.

UPDATE: It’s now mid-2012, and we’ve been using our monitor for nearly two years since the birth of our daughter Avery.  We LOVE it!  The Marquette Model has been a real Godsend, and this monitor has made it so much easier to track Bethany’s fertility each month.

Where Can You Buy One (and Learn More)?

We did a lot of research on fertility monitors, and I can tell you that you will find the best price and most dependable service by simply buying your monitor through good ole Amazon.  This is not a cheap investment in fertility awareness, and I would encourage you to stick with a trusted resource.  Amazon also periodically runs sales on the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor.

Please note: When you buy a monitor, it does not come with the testing sticks that you’ll need.  And you’ll have to continue buying testing sticks as long as you are using the monitor.

Fortunately, Amazon offers a combination package where you get both the monitor and test sticks to get you started at a slightly reduced price.

When you visit the Amazon page for the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor, you’ll also find customer reviews and additional information on the product.  I always find this additional peer feedback to be helpful when considering such an important purchase.

Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor ReviewClearblue Easy Testing SticksClearblue Easy Fertility Combo

If you do decide to buy a fertility monitor or testing sticks, I’d really appreciate it if you used the links above.  For referring you to their site, I get a (very) small commission from Amazon and your price is unaffected.  Thanks in advance for your continued support of Engaged Marriage!

Mar 12

Why Take Marriage Preparation?

By Dustin | Marriage Preparation

Marriage Preparation

When couples get engaged and plan their wedding, they are often busy with the excitement, details and stress of wedding planning.

We spend a lot of time, money and energy on planning our weddings.

What About Planning Our Marriages?

Current research shows that the best way to build a lifelong marriage is to prepare for it.

In our Marriage Prep 101 Workshops, we apply the latest scientific research that shows what makes marriages succeed and fail.

Marriage preparation can help couples enhance their strengths, clarify expectations, identify areas needing change, learn and practice communication and conflict resolution skills, and develop more emotional and sexual intimacy. With attention and effort, most couples can create a strong relationship that will safeguard them against the inevitable strains of modern life.

Unfortunately, fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Half of those report being happily married, so only 25% of married couples consider themselves happily married.

Taking a marriage preparation workshop can help couples increase the likelihood of happy, successful marriages.

The Facts About Marriage Preparation

Research by four studies has found that taking a skill-based marriage preparation class can reduce the divorce rate by 30%. Also, research has found that couples who increase their positivity, learn how to resolve conflict, prioritize their marriage, and avoid relationship traps are indeed able to increase satisfaction and longevity.

In addition, according to the research, when couples have a baby, 2/3 report that their marital satisfaction goes down. However, if they know how to prioritize and work on their marriage, they will be better able to transition to parenthood, and reclaim their marriage after children to work well together as parents, friends and spouses.

Most of us take Driver’s Ed classes when we learn to drive, and childbirth classes when we are expecting a baby.

Why not take a marriage preparation class to prepare for your marriage? We invest in what is important to us- our education, career, hobbies and interests, parenting, golf game, yoga practice…what about our relationships?

Prepare for the Big Issues

The first five years of marriage are essential to figure out how to have a satisfying friendship, romantic life and partnership. The most popular issues during the first five years of marriage are time, sex and money.

Many couples continue to fight about domestic responsibilities and finances. Conflict is inevitable in a long-term relationship, so it is essential to learn healthy conflict resolution skills and emotional repair.

Couples need to learn how to communicate well, express love and caring, have fun together, appreciate each other, and create a relationship that is satisfying to both.

Imagine being the person you really want to be, and creating a long-term marriage that you can be proud of. I believe that we can be intentional, committed, proactive and positive, and even have fun along the way!

What level of marriage preparation did you have?  What should have been done better to prepare you for marriage?

Dr. Michelle Gannon is a Psychologist, Couples Therapist, Relationship Expert, Wife, Mother and Co-Founder of Marriage Prep 101, Award Winning Workshops for Engaged, Newlywed and Seriously Dating Couples. Dr. Gannon writes at Dr Michelle Gannon and Marriage Prep 101, and interacts on Twitter. Dr. Michelle Gannon has been featured on the CBS Early Show, The Kathleen Show, Evening Magazine TV, TIME, PEOPLE, San Francisco Chronicle, SF Gate, Hitched Magazine, and many other newspaper, magazine, radio and TV shows over the years.

She has been married for 14 years, and is a mother of 12 1/2 and 11 year-old sons, a cat and golden retriever. She has taught Marriage Prep 101 workshops with her husband, Dr. Patrick Gannon to over 1,200 couples for the past ten years in San Francisco, and loves helping couples prepare for life-long satisfying marriages.

Photo by michelle.hayes

 

Mar 09

Natural Family Planning: Our Journey from Cultural to Natural

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

If you have been a reader of Engaged Marriage for a while, you know that Natural Family Planning is a topic that has been discussed several times.  The reason is simple: it has been a very important part of my own marriage and I want everyone to know about it.

I want to clarify that my goal is to raise awareness of Natural Family Planning.  While I’d love for everyone to try it, I know that’s not realistic and it is never my aim.  I simply want there to be a general understanding of NFP as a viable option to artificial birth control.

If you missed it, I’ve previously written posts discussing what Natural Family Planning is and how it benefits marriage.

I was also proud to host an incredible post by Katheen Quiring of Project M called “An Educated, Artsy-Fartsy Protestant’s Thoughts on Natural Family Planning” and I guest posted on her site to answer some frequently asked questions about NFP.

However, I have never discussed our story as it relates to Natural Family Planning.

Before I begin, I want to say that our story includes a lot of religious influence, especially early on.  However, if that’s not your thing, I’d encourage you to go ahead and read with an open mind. And keep an eye out for a future post where I explain why NFP is relevant for a wide variety of lifestyles (non-religious included).

But for now, this is our story.

Our Long Path To Natural Family Planning Starts On the Pill

My wife Bethany grew up in the Catholic Church (I did not, not even close actually. But I joined in my college years). She knew as a teen that the church taught that birth control was wrong, but didn’t know why or what to do about it. As a young teenager, even though she wasn’t yet sexually active, Bethany went on the Pill to regulate her irregular and painful menstrual cycles.

When we got married, we continued to use artificial contraception to make sure we did not get pregnant for the first 3 ½ years of our marriage. At this point, we understood that the Pill could act as an abortifacient, so we actually tried to avoid any kind of pregnancy by using condoms as “extra protection.” Yeah, we were doubling-up on our birth control methods. 🙂

During this time, we were “uncomfortable” using our methods of birth control because we knew that the Church didn’t approve.  However, we didn’t understand the reasons why and everyone we knew used contraceptives. We were honestly unaware of any alternatives for planning our family. So, we decided to go ahead and continue using artificial birth control.

A Fateful Homily in Rural Illinois

Several years into our marriage, we went on a camping trip and visited the local Catholic church one Sunday morning.  It was here that we heard a serious homily (think fire and brimstone) about contraception that made us seriously question the moral consequences of the Pill. The homily explained the gravity of the sin of using birth control in very certain terms to the point that we questioned even receiving Holy Communion that Sunday.

At this time, we didn’t fully understand all of the reasons why the Church taught that contraception was wrong, but our experience in church that morning certainly made us want to seek out advice. We decided to talk to our priest when we returned home.

Father Doesn’t Know Best

Frankly, our priest at the time did not offer much help. He told us that since we weren’t using the Pill primarily as a means to not get pregnant, we were okay. After all, Bethany presumably would still have painful periods should she stop taking it.

We still didn’t feel like we were doing the right thing (as it turns out, his advice was way off-base). Through our own research, we were beginning to better understand the Church’s teachings on why contraception was wrong, but we still had no other alternatives.

Engineer Meet Teacher: Planners Delight

Happily, at this point, we decided that we wanted to start a family. In hindsight, this sure seems a lot like a call from God on our lives, though we didn’t see it that way at the time.

We are planners (that’s the engineer and teacher part) that like to research things, so we went looking for effective ways to achieve pregnancy in an effort to help us better time our baby’s birth.  We found some information on the latest methods of fertility care on the Internet and in particular something called “Natural Family Planning” or NFP.

From there, we were able to learn enough to help us get pregnant within the first month or two of trying.

Natural Family Planning, Officially

After our son was born, we then took an official NFP class to learn how to avoid pregnancy using the same scientific knowledge. Now that we knew NFP existed, it was effective, and we fully understood the Church’s teachings, there was no going back.

Although the published studies say that it is 97-99% effective, it still took a lot of trust in each other and in God to use Natural Family Planning when we wanted to avoid pregnancy. However, the benefits in our marriage are where we’ve really seen NFP impact our lives.

My Feelings on Why Natural Family Planning Matters For Us

Once we started practicing Natural Family Planning,we quickly realized that its benefits went way beyond family planning.  Outside of the bedroom, our communication is more open, the bond between us is incredible, and we have developed an appreciation of true intimacy that we didn’t realize was there before.  I’d encourage you to click that last link for more on these aspects.

Of course, Natural Family Planning has a big role in the bedroom as well.  For me, the difference in our actual lovemaking when we were using contraceptives and now that we use NFP is profound.  Every time we engage in sex, we are truly saying “I trust you” and “I trust God.”

There are no barriers between us whether they be chemical, physical or emotional.  When I make love to Bethany, we are experiencing everything that God hopes for us, and we have nothing to feel ashamed about and nothing to hold us back.  Sex has become an incredible gift from God, and we praise him every time we share his gift with each other.

Simply put, our use of Natural Family Planning and our realization that God wants us to have great sex are the best things that have happened to our marriage.

What’s the Takeaway Here?

Again, I don’t expect you to read our story and immediately go seek out a class on NFP.  However, I hope that the next time you hear the term Natural Family Planning, you remember our story, our struggle and our passion for the impact that this counter-cultural means of planning a family has had on our lives.

And I hope it doesn’t take another young couple years of confusion and uncomfortableness to discover that there are safe, natural and effective means of family planning.  If you meet one and they have questions, please send them my way.

Photo by woodleywonderworks
Mar 09

Improve Yourself! 2010: The Grand Champion

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Improve Yourself!

The votes are in, and the winner of Improve Yourself! 2010 is…[drumroll]…[loud cheering]…[unbridled anticipation]…

Krystal!  Congratulations Krystal on your well-deserved title of Improve Yourself Champion.  I’ll be contacting you by email to get you your $100 Amazon gift card.

By the way, Krystal wasn’t the only $100 winner in this challenge.  Through the generosity and enthusiasm of my friend Brad Chaffee of Enemy of Debt, Sherry also won $100 for being one of those that joined the challenge from Enemy of Debt and stuck it through to the end.  Congratulations Sherry, and I hope you have enjoyed yourself enough to stick around at Engaged Marriage now that the challenge is over. 🙂

And the “Non-Winners” Are…

As the weeks wore on, many of those that began the challenge with such enthusiasm at the turn of the New Year began to drop out.  As promised in my announcement post, it is now time to post the names of the lost.  This is all in good fun of course, but if you find your name here, you have some explaining to do! 😉

Amanda (Garibay Soup)

Aimee Williams

Ellyn

Kelly

Samantha

Kristin Gentry

Esteban

Mrs. Money

Tony

Stu Gray

Jackie

Corey – Simple Marriage

Carrie – Make Mine Happen

Louise

Daniele O’Toole

Hailey

Megan

Teresa

Chris Goforth

Andy Jobst

Lacey Sonderegger

NorCalRN

Cat

Golda

Divine and Debt Free

Julie

Krystle

Milk & Honey Mommy

Bucksome

SavingDiva

Jodi

Laetus

Shannon L.

Jeff

Amanda G

Kim

Michelle

Cynthia Gottfredson

Heather Silver

Cindy Taylor

FallBride

Melissa

Nick

bentwingedbird

Nina

Angie Mack

And yes…Dustin Riechmann of Engaged Marriage!

A Final Shout Out to Our Fantastic Sponsors

Finally, I want to take one last opportunity to thank our generous sponsors.  Without these fine folks, this challenge would not have been possible…or at least not nearly as cool.

Personal Finance Notebook is a great site created by Patrenia Spears after her family paid off an incredible $93,000 in debt! Her posts are intended to empower her readers to achieve their financial goals. Her tag line says it all: “A website that offers ideas, education and the motivation needed to create a personal finance portfolio to be proud of.

Budgets are Sexy is simply awesome. J. Money provides a site that is packed with really useful info about the world of personal finance, and he does it in his own (pimpin’) way. Entertaining and informative.

Budgets are Sexy

MomStart is a fantastic resource created by a mother of two who provides an incredible amount of reviews, giveaways and writings related to all of the new things going on in the world of parenting.
MomStart

Enemy of Debt is the place to be if you want to get out of debt or simply celebrate the goodness that your debt-freedom has brought to your life. Brad is a passionate and informative resource offering a unique perspective on the personal finance scene.

Make Mine Happen “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing” by putting the motivational and informational posts at this site to work in your life!

Until (maybe) next time, thanks again for supporting and participating in this challenge.  I hope you have learned something that will help you improve yourself and your marriage!

Blessings!

Dustin

Mar 08

What’s the Secret to a Happy Marriage?

By Dustin | Communication

Editor’s note: This is a guest post on conflict resolution from Stephanie Baffone.  I love the perspective that she brings as a trained professional therapist, talented writer and Aunt to 38!

Secret to a Happy MarriageFirst, let me say a big THANK YOU to Dustin for the opportunity to guest post here at Engaged Marriage! It’s a thrill to be a part of such a valuable blog and share some wisdom on effective conflict resolution, a topic near and dear to my heart. Thank you, Dustin!

For my husband and high school sweetheart, this past Valentine’s Day marked twenty-five years since our first date, and in August we will celebrate twenty years together passionately married.

Sometimes when we tell people we’ve been together for so long-and happy-we get looks like we are creatures from another planet.  Once people process our success, the next question we get asked is, “So, what’s the secret to a happy marriage?

Classified Information

My husband and I don’t possess some highly guarded classified information, but if there is one thing I could point to that has contributed significantly to our harmonious existence, it would be that we learned early in our marriage how to resolve conflict effectively.

A few months back, Dustin wrote a post titled, Fight Fair! 6 Simple Conflict Resolution Skills for Your Marriage. It had surefire tips on how to fight fairly, and I’d encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already.  It’s an invaluable template.

But what if I told you that within 96% accuracy a group of psychologists has been able to scientifically predict, by simple observation, which couples will succeed and which ones are headed for trouble?

Hard to believe?

Well, it’s true.

Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan Blumberg, in their ground breaking book, “Fighting For Your Marriage” share the results of their longitudinal study on what factors have the most predictive value in determining if a couple is headed for wedded bliss or deep trouble.  The “secret” is how couples resolve conflict.

Patterns to Avoid

By observing couples discussing an issue that is a bone of contention, Markman, et al, discovered that couples who engage in the following four patterns are destined for marital discord and quite often divorce:

  • Invalidation

A perfect example of invalidation is the old stand by, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” or “That’s ridiculous.” When you tell someone how they feel is ridiculous, it is the equivalent of issuing a stop work order on your relationship.  Sure, it might not make sense to you or might even seem silly TO YOU, but to say that directly to someone else in a tone that invalidates their experience shuts them down. It’s much better to offer something like, “I understand that’s how you feel, but it doesn’t quite make sense to me. Help me understand.”

  • Escalation

This is an oldie but goodie too. Example: “Your just like your mother/father!” We all fall into these traps, but the trick is not to keep them as a regular part of our conflict resolution rotations.

  • Withdrawal and Avoidance

Two examples of this are:

1. The proverbial cold shoulder – eye-rolling, heavy-sigh, walk away in utter disgust move

2. “Yes, Dear” – the stay in the room but patronize and placate approach

Both of these examples communicate the message,” I am cutting you off.” Sometimes a timeout is necessary and even appropriate, but it’s better to say so.  The cold shoulder, placating and patronizing systematically break down intimacy.

  • Negative Interpretations

Negative interpretations occur when one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are more negative than they are in reality.

In the heat of the moment, the aforementioned pitfalls are easy to fall into. Grasping at what makes US feel good in the short-term and engaging in self-righteous behaviors might make us feel “right,” but remember the goal is not necessarily to be right but to live peacefully together.

When the temptation to fall into these traps intoxicates you, think of how intoxicating it is when you and your partner are connected and feel supported.  Allow yourself to be seduced by the delight that will follow when you use more effective tools to communicate. The payoff could very well be twenty-five or more years of wedded bliss.

Trust me, I know. (wink)

Readers: Do you have any conflict resolution “secrets” or strategies that you have found work well in your own marriage?

Photo by Changing World Photography

___________________________________________

Stephanie “Aunt Steph” Baffone, LPCMH, NCC is a licensed, board certified mental health therapist and writer whose guiding principle is if you have wisdom from which others might benefit you are obligated to pass it on.  She is in private practice and specializes in grief and loss, couples counseling and issues related to infertility.

By relation, thirty-eight nieces and nephews call Stephanie “Aunt Steph,” a role in which she takes pure delight. She writes a bi-monthly column at Savvy Auntie and blogs about love, loss and life at Aunt Steph’s Stoop. The consummate Italian hostess, she loves to have visitors on the stoop, so stop by and say, “Hello!”