The Cost of a Committed Relationship

There are several categories of a committed relationship.  The first one I think of is 1) a marriage.  But there are others, like 2) a business partnership, and 3) the relationship of a parent and child.

There are several categories of costs:  1) Staying in the relationship during the rough times, 2) Being willing to be self-reflective…examine what you are contributing to the health of the relationship, 3) Sacrificing, at times, your own preference for the desire of your partner…and then there is 4) the financial cost if you need help to make the relationship to work well for both parties.

In the mid-nineteen eighties my late husband Jim and I spent what, for us, was a lot of money getting the help we needed to save our marriage.  We paid our coach $50/hour, an average of twice a week.

She taught us a few simple skills that, as we practiced them, enabled us to communicate with mutual respect, handle our respective anger without attacking each other with it, and eventually resolve our BIG ISSUE in a way we could both support long-term.

That was 30 years ago.  An app called Dollar Times says that $50 in 1988 is the same as $106.81 today.  Twice a week for about six months added up to almost $3000 in today’s money.  It wasn’t easy.  Part of that time he was out of a job.  We were scraping by.  I remember a conversation about not paying the water bill one month because things were so “tight.”

But, we really, really wanted to find our way back to the love that brought us together.  We were committed to doing whatever it took to resolve our issue and stay together-happily-until death parted us.

At first we just noticed moments that were better…and then we broke through into this wide, lovely, peaceful place with each other.  We kept our agreements.  We continued to immaculately used the skills we’d learned.  Neither of us would ever do anything to jeopardize the amazing relationship we’d worked so hard to achieve.

We lived in bliss with each other for seventeen more years before Jim died.

If it had cost us a dozen times what we paid it would have been worth it. Everyone of our children have thanked us for “making it.”…for giving them the model of a couple who was willing to do the work and pay the price to save their marriage.

Today I am a Relationship Repair Coach.  I have taught dozens of classes. Written six books and one curriculum for stepfamilies.  Spoken several times at a national conference of relationship educators.  Taught two classes to therapists, helping them learn how to work with step-couples.

Couples come to me in the same desperate, deeply painful condition that Jim and I once experienced.  I give them a Complimentary Consultation where they experience the power of the skills I can teach them.  I know how to help them get from where they are to where they want to be…at peace and in love again!

I see hope blossom in their faces.  And then I present the cost of my coaching package. My $3000 package provides the same level of intense coaching that Jim and I were blessed to receive.  It includes a LOT extra support that our coach didn’t have.

Some couples that I can’t imagine being able to pay, find a way to come up with the fee because they want the results badly enough.

And others who hear that number immediately start to shut down.  They say they’ll talk about it and get back to me.  Sometimes they do.  But many times they disappear.

I wonder about the costs they will pay without skills and support from me, or from someone like me. How much of their life energy is drained away in stressful conflict and unmet needs?  How do you measure the cost of being unhappy with your life-partner, often the other parent of your children?

What does it cost to separate, supporting two living arrangements?  What does a divorce cost?  Where does that money come from?  Divorce usually means a drastic reduction in style of living for all parties.

What do your children pay for losing a model of a loving, committed marriage?  What does it cost them to be divided between two adults they are dependent on and who’s love they need?

What emotional and financial costs are involved in a business partnership being severed?  What is the emotional cost of a ruptured relationship between a parent and child? (In addition to couples, I’ve also helped repair the broken relationship of two business partners, and a few parent-child relationships.)

My coaching is cheap in comparison.  I am through feeling apologetic about my fee.  From now on I am being up-front and clear about the cost of my fee.  I can help a couple, business partnership or parent-child relationship, if they are committed to the process, transform their relationship in about three months.  When the bill is paid, and the work done, they are equipped with the skills to handle any issue that may challenge them in the future.

Gradually, over three months, they get to experience the magic of hope reborn, love reignited and painful conflicts resolved.  They, like Jim and me, get to relax into the safe, trustworthy comfort of a committed relationship that has been tested and come out like gold.

I doubt it would go over very well to say all of these things to a potential client/couple.  So I’m saying here, where perhaps you can hear me in a more neutral environment.  My coaching package is a bargain!  Call me for a first, free consultation!

Wanting only the best for you,

Book a Complimentary Consultation with me by clicking on the link.

 

Confessions of a Lead-Footed Driver

Yes, that’s me.  I constantly battle my impulse to drive too fast.  I’m supposed to enjoy the journey…but I just want to get there!

I think it started after my young husband unexpectedly died.  I was twenty-three years old with two baby boys.  I just wanted to escape my life.

The cure came when my youngest refused to get in the car with me.  I was mortified to realize my driving frightened him.  I made a deal with him.  “You’re in charge of the speed.  If you’re scared and want me to slow down, just say so and I will.”  He did.  And I did.

In the years since then I’ve used other tools to curb my need for speed.  As soon as I owned a car with cruise control, with relief I turned control over to that amazing gizmo that would automatically maintain the speed.  All I had to do was summon that moment of responsibility and set the cruise control to match the posted speed for that highway.

And then I discovered books-on-tape (and then books-on-cd!)  I LOVE stories.  I LOVE books.  Now I could be occupied and entertained while maintaining a legal speed limit!  Wonderful!  And my local library had hundreds of books from which to choose!  For free!

Next I found Audible.com…a limitless treasure trove of authors and titles from which to choose for only $14.99/month.  I’m totally hooked.

Sometimes the books are favorite mysteries by authors like C.J. Box and his Joe Pickett series (a game warden in Montana that solves all kinds of interesting crimes.)  And sometimes the books are inspirational like Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver (encouraging total dependence on the grace and generosity of God to direct my life) or Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo (inspiring creative thinking as applied to my business.)

  • In 2017, thanks to the generosity of a local radio station’s recording booth and my neighbor Reena’s editing talent, my signature book, How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage was added to Audible.com’s library!

If you’re ready to hear a great story and learn helpful relationship skills while you resist driving too fast, or endure grid lock with more grace, or be educated and entertained while cleaning the house or mowing the lawn, click this link to download one of the best relationship resources you’ll ever hear PLUS get one month’s free membership to Audible.com!

“How to Stay Married & Love It!” audio book

When you download this book you will have me personally sharing with you the priceless lessons that my late husband Jim and I learned while transforming our marriage from daily fights to consistently peaceful loving!

OK…I guess I must report that I still tend to drive with a lead foot, but I manage my predilection for speed by faithfully employing the cruise control…and listening to a fabulous assortment of books to make driving time entertaining and productive.  Ready to join me?

Order Book Now

A Step-Couple Back from the Brink

This is one of the most inspiring step-couple stories I know of.  Although it’s long, the drama of their experience will grip you and not let you go until you get to the end…

Gavin and Pamela first met in the 5th grade in 1980 and quickly became best friends. Even when they went to different high schools they made time to hang out together on weekends. When they graduated from a Mastering the Mysteries of Stepfamilies class in March 2010, they had been married for four years. They each had two children from previous marriages. This interview was conducted about six months following the beginning of their implementation of stepfamily guidelines.

Pamela: Gavin (with his then girlfriend who became his first wife) came to my first wedding when I was 23 years old. Although several family members and friends expressed their concerns about my choice, I went through with my marriage to Tom (name fictitious). Abusive behaviors began only two weeks after the wedding. It began with name calling and throwing things, graduated to breaking things, then to hitting me, pulling the telephone cord out so I couldn’t call police.

It continued with financial tyranny and infidelity with my best friend. He made sure we only owned one car and prevented me from attending school. He wanted total control. Our son, Dakota, was born in ‘93 and Amanda in ‘95. They were three and five years old when I left with a police escort after he’d chased me around with a buck knife.

I met Cole (fictitious) on line, a firefighter from Alabama. He seemed very kind. He came to Missouri to visit me and the kids. He and my parents really liked each other. My Dad suggested to me that I marry him on a Friday. We married on the following Monday, packed up our belongings and drove away in a U-Haul. My Ex surrendered his parental rights to avoid child support payments. My dad convinced Cole to adopt Dakota and Amanda because the court wouldn’t allow me (the mother!) to have sole custody!

My marriage to Cole was never very intimate. He liked that I was raising his kids for him, even home schooling them. He brought a check home and spent every night he was home drinking in the garage. He eventually reunited with a high school girlfriend and said he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. He just moved out. Neither of us was sorry. He gave me 6 ½ years of safety. It helped me regain my balance after being afraid for my life with Tom.

Gavin: In my early twenties I was not living according the faith that was important to my family. I made decisions based on how I felt and what I wanted. I met Carol (fictitious) at Cal State Bakersfield and married her in spite of her noticeable problem with drinking. During our first few years she attempted suicide several times. We split before our son Terry was a year old. One night about 10 p.m. I was sitting in my apartment when I got an urgent, sick feeling in stomach.

I drove straight to where Carol was living. I could hear the car running in the garage. When I opened the door, she was unconscious. I turned the engine off, called 911 and found Terry in his crib with a suicide note. I took custody of Terry at that time. I thought I had it all together but was really immature. I was making great money and changing diapers but was a dad on the fly.

I met Cali at an escrow company while I was making good money in the mortgage business. There had been no real change in me. My family was telling me I was out of my mind. Even Pam tried to warn me. Cali quickly became verbally and emotionally abusive to two-year-old Terry. One time he dropped a piece of rice on the table and she freaked out. She’d throw his toys in the trash. She repeatedly said, “He’s not part of our family.”

Meanwhile Terry’s mom had gone through counseling and re-hab. She wanted to spend time with Terry—reconnect. I wanted Terry to know his mom, so I shared time with her even though I had custody. Cali was so rejecting and abusive with Terry that when he was with me I’d take him to my dad’s or a hotel.

Cali and I were expecting. The birth was difficult—a C-section—so I was very active in taking care of Anisha during the first several weeks while Cali was recovering. I felt very bonded with her. Cali became even more abusive to Terry saying, “Now we have our family.”

Things got pretty crazy. She wouldn’t allow any photos of Terry in the house. If we were in conflict when I had to leave for a business appointment, she’d lay on the hood of my car so I couldn’t leave. If she got off and I drove away she would call my phone hundreds of times in 20 minutes. One time I smashed my phone in frustration. The court would not allow her to be present during any time I spent with Terry.

She convinced me to let her drive up to Lompoc to pick up Terry. I gave in. We picked him up. On our way home she began to be angry. She wanted a reaction from me and I wouldn’t give engage. She turned on Terry and began screaming at him. “I wish you were dead! You’re the reason we’re in so much trouble!” I reached back to calm Terry. When we got home I packed a few things and left. I was so tired. I began praying, “God, please help me!”

Anisha was only 3-4 months old when I left with Terry. I was so bonded with her, but because of her age, the judge only allowed me two hours per week. I left the courtroom sick to my stomach. It took a week or two to regain some focus. I knew that as she got older I’d get more time. I was a single dad uninterested in another relationship. I was just doing my job, spending some weekends without kids and some with kids. I was just plodding along. I became more stable, returning to my faith.

About three years went by. I was not looking for another partner. I was resigned to being a single dad. Three years went by. There was not one person I could imagine wanting to see until Pamela emailed me out of the blue. We had not been in touch for six or seven years.

Pamela: A friend saw Gavin being interviewed on television for his mortgage business. I looked up his company’s website. I had no idea whether he was still married, so I just sent a general, “How are you?” email, not even sure if he would answer.

Gavin: I was sitting at my desk at work. It was a shock to open Pamela’s email. I replied, “I’d like to come see you and see how you’re doing.”

Pamela: We hugged and cried and had a great visit. He came out again….and again. I knew he was serious because he’s afraid of flying and I was still in Missouri.

Nancy: Why did either of you think you could have a sane marriage after these horrendous relationships?

Pamela: The only thing that sounded familiar and comforting was our friendship. Gavin was the only person I knew for sure loved me in the whole world and I knew I loved him. We both thought we were finally going to do it right!

Nancy: How long did it take to realize it wasn’t going to be easy?

Gavin: When we returned from our honeymoon I was facing two court battles, one each for Terry and Anisha. Terry’s mom was drinking again. She was neglecting him. Once he called me crying. She ripped the phone from him. I was trying to get him protected. Cali took us to court for everything about Anisha. One thing would get resolved then the next week I’d get court papers regarding something else.

Pamela: Add conflict between Gavin and me to the mix. We were fighting over the parenting of our children. Gavin is very structured in the way he parents. I am far more relaxed. Gavin’s family told him to leave me. When he refused, they broke off all contact with us. We were spiraling downward. Very little could be discussed. We had fights in front of the kids, about the kids. We had no dates, no time for us. Everything had become a competition. My kids had had no contact with their adoptive or biological father since 2005.

Gavin: In 2007 after my last court appearance with Terry’s mom she won back the right to share custody. Two weeks later she was diagnosed with brain cancer. A court mediator was appointed to watch over him. I was given full custody of Terry because his mother’s health had deteriorated. He moved in with us in 2008. Carole and her parents cut off all contact with us. We’ve tried through many different channels to find out how Carole is. We don’t know if she’s alive or dead.

Cali tried to move Anisha to New Jersey—precipitating a court battle which we won. Thousands and thousands of dollars had gone into court battles—paying attorneys right and left. Meanwhile the economy tanked and I lost my mortgage business, two rentals and a million-dollar home. My car was repossessed. We couldn’t afford to put gas in our family car. We moved twice.

Pamela: We knew we still loved each other underneath all the chaos, but we’d lost trust in each other. Both of us had been in insane relationships for so long. Yet, we both believed that God was with us individually and still had a good plan for our lives. We also had our memory of our very solid friendship as children. Even though we’d lost each other for a while, Gavin was the only one I’d shared deeply with. He was a safest place I’d ever known.

Gavin had been going to church before we reconnected. We got involved in a Sunday School class. Nobody knew what going on in our home, but, thankfully, we were there when things got really bad in the Fall of 2009. One couple came over the night of our biggest fight around Thanksgiving when the kids called the police. They recommended we see Pastor Dave Carder. Two days later we saw him, but he said, “There are no classes for you until early February.”

Gavin: In January the church had a preview of all the marriage classes offered for Spring. On the way there we had a big fight and Pamela said to turn the car around and take her home.

Pamela: I heard a strong voice inside saying, “Turn around and get back there!” We did. At the preview, we heard a woman talking about her experience in a stepfamily. She (Nancy Landrum) was promoting Mastering the Mysteries of Stepfamilies class. We related to everything she said. The minute the meeting was over we went to her and poured out how desperate we were for help.

Gavin: Although the class didn’t start for four more weeks, Nancy had experienced the desperation of hanging on by her fingernails, hoping for help. She agreed to see us a few days later. After listening to each of us describe what was happening from our respective points of view, she asked if we were ready to take steps for immediate relief. We would have done anything at that point! We loved each other and were heart-broken that we couldn’t seem to make our marriage work. Without doing something differently, we were teetering on the brink of another separation.

Pamela: She described the guideline recommended for stepfamilies who have conflicts over parenting. We would go back to single parenting our respective children. The step-parent would not comment or criticize the bio-parent’s children or parenting methods. We would agree on a few simple house rules by which everyone in the family would abide. It hit me hard. When I told Nancy that I just wanted a man who would love my children, she replied, “It’s too late to have a nuclear family. That time is gone. You’re in a stepfamily now and most stepfamilies only succeed by functioning with different dynamics than first families.”

Gavin: But we were so desperate we’d do anything to stop the fights, so we agreed. No commenting or criticizing of each other’s children or parenting decisions. We’d focus on rebuilding relationships with our own children.

Pamela: Over the next few days it was like a magic pill had been dropped into our home. The fighting immediately stopped! The calm was like a breath of fresh, cleansing air after being in a smoke-filled room! But I also grieved the loss of my first-family dream. I grieved the loss of a loving father for my children. I cried off and on for two weeks.

Gavin: A few weeks later we took the class. The first full Saturday of class went by so quickly! We were learning how to hear from each other’s point of view. We heard each other with deep empathy, learning to Show Understanding. It was transformational! (Showing Understanding is the listening skill for the Mastering the Mysteries of Stepfamilies curricula.)

Pamela: I learned why my communication methods were creating and escalating conflict. I learned how to say, “I feel hurt when you….” rather than “You are so thoughtless!” That day and in the evenings to follow we grabbed and used every skill and concept that was presented in class. We were so determined to have peace and save our marriage and family that we practiced constantly. We put into practice the Problem Solving Skill with issues that had been hot topics for four years, such as how much money we spent on our respective children.

Gavin: We’d have to call time outs sometimes, but we were successfully talking about things that we’d tip-toed around in our efforts to avoid more fights. Decisions were being made that satisfied both of us. We’ve been successful in following through with our plans. Every successful Skilled Discussion is a miracle that we celebrate!

Pamela: The love we knew was buried under everything all along has returned in force. We’ve gone on romantic dates! We have rediscovered why we’ve been friends through all of these years. The kids have calmed down. The whole family had been divided in half, but now relationships between the kids are healing. There is laughter in our house again!

It felt like the solution to change back to single-parenting was a bomb that dropped in the middle of our family. Everything flew in all directions. Our expectations had been so unrealistic. Now we know that stepfamilies often require thinking outside the nuclear family box. We’re slowly figuring out how to put our family back together in ways that work for us and our children.

Gavin: Right after the class we thought everything was fixed, but in the months since then we’ve realized that a lot of damage was done during all the chaotic years. Now we are taking things one step at a time. As we and the children feel more secure, layers of issues are surfacing that require us to continue using our skills and stepfamily guidelines. We’re doing a better job of listening to our children. Now that we’re not busy being defensive with each other about our parenting, we’re becoming more attentive to the needs of our children. We’re more realistic about the fact that our stepfamily issues will continue to be a challenge, probably for the rest of our lives. Our children will continue to need our love and support as they move into adulthood with the wounds from their childhoods. We hope that they will follow our lead by learning these skills to make their first and only marriage succeed. We pray that they will stop the legacy of divorce with all its pain and chaos that Pamela and I have handed them.

Pamela: The great news is that the kids are living with a model of a healthy marriage for the first time in their lives! Gavin and I are absolutely sure now that we will stay together and love each other until parted by death! It feels indescribably safe to have that security!

Gavin: We are committed to helping other stepfamilies find the miracle we are experiencing. We recently co-taught a class with Nancy where couples thanked us for sharing our story! We are sharing our story anywhere asked and with anyone who will listen. Even relationships with our extended families are being healed. Finally we are seeing some positive purpose for all the years of pain and misery. We are not only giving our children a safe, loving, respectful home environment but are helping other hurting stepfamilies find what they were searching for when they married. We are richly and truly blessed.

Nancy Landrum has been teaching communication and stepfamily skills for many years.  If you would like a no-obligation appointment with Nancy, set it up by using this link to her calendar:  https://meetme.so/SpeakwithNancy

Is Your Inner Two-Year-Old in Charge of Your Marriage?

When my marriage to my late husband Jim was in jeopardy, at some level I knew that my sarcastic put-downs and yelling were not helping resolve our conflict.  But it wasn’t until a great coach began to teach us some basic communication and anger management skills that I saw hope for the future.

Even then, it was like pulling teeth to make myself turn a sarcastic put-down into an “I statement,” (I think, I feel, I’m concerned about…)  When my anger was triggered, it required massive self-control to call a “time out” on myself and go vent in my journal or pull weeds until I calmed down and could speak to Jim respectfully.

Now that I had learned better communication skills, why was it such a struggle to use them?  Especially when I could immediately notice more receptivity in Jim to hear my message when “I messages” were used instead of yelling at him?

Because a two-year-old lives inside me that just wants to do it her way and the consequences be d**med!  My two-year-old thought Jim should just overlook the delivery method (sarcasm, yelling) and understand the superiority of my opinion about how to resolve our issues!

Blaming him for not “getting it” and expecting him to agree with my position is so much more satisfying to a two-year-old!  Two-year-olds just want their own way!  And will do almost anything to mold the world to suit their desires.  I had to strengthen the adult me who understood that I needed to change in order for the marriage to improve.  It was like strengthening a weak muscle by repetition.

(Please understand that I was a responsible grownup in other areas.  This just happened to be a very immature, undeveloped part of me that was wonderfully exposed by conflict in our marriage!)

I’ve noticed that whenever I begin a big change, my two-year-old is activated.  I’ve been carrying some extra weight around for a long time.  It’s affecting my knees and energy level and ultimately limiting my quality and perhaps length of life.  So recently I thought, “OK, I’m ready to take action to lose the weight.”  When a few days go by and I’ve only dropped a pound or two, my two-year-old wants to quit.  She’s disappointed that the excess weight isn’t just magically melting off!  I decided didn’t I?  Why isn’t that enough?

And my two-year-old doesn’t like giving up or limiting anything I love…like sweets.  What do I mean that I must do something else to soothe myself other than eating more cookies!  Why can’t I indulge in all the carrot cake I want?  Bummer.  In this example regaining a healthy weight requires the sacrifice of eating everything I want in any quantity.

Two-year-olds aren’t good at follow through or sacrifice.  I’ve discovered that the “follow through” part of change is most likely to be engaged when I am in enough pain to take control away from the two-year-old!  KNOWING I need to change is not enough.  I must be ready to COMMIT to changed behaviors!

It’s helpful at this point to understand the nature of habit in the brain.   The brain is designed to LOVE habits, nurture habits, and maintain habits.  Habits mean that I don’t have to relearn daily tasks like brushing my teeth, or tying my shoe laces, or safely boiling water.  Habits make efficient use of my energy.  Most tasks can be on auto pilot so I have energy to deal with my job, or learn new skills.

The problem comes when I want to change a habit…such as using “I messages” rather than sarcasm.  Or doing deep breathing to calm myself down rather than eating a handful of chocolate chip cookies.

Each habit creates a particular pattern of firing neurons that, the longer the habit has been operating, attracts a rich supply of blood.  This is like a well-worn path through the forest.  Very clear and obvious.

When I want to replace an old habit with a new one, it’s like hacking my way through the forest with a machete.  It is purposeful.  It requires energy, conscious effort and strong commitment to making a new path through the brain.  It can be tiring.   It’s so easy to slide back into the old habit, the old path through the brain, to do what I’ve done for so long.

So the commitment to change…to the new habit…has to be chosen over and over again.

UNTIL, the new habit has been practiced long enough that the blood supply moves from the old pattern of firing neurons to the new pattern!  THEN the new behavior has truly become a habit.  There’s no guarantee that you’ll never resort to sarcasm or eating too many cookies again, but when you do, it will feel uncomfortable.  You’ll be eager to resume the new habit and reap the rewards of the new consequences!

That happened in our marriage.  For three to four months it took so much effort to make all my communication respectful.  It felt like I was wearing a communication straight-jacket!  Before opening my mouth I had to ask myself:  “How can I respectfully say what I need to say?  What is my tone of voice?  How loud will it sound to Jim? Do I need a time out?”

But then it got easier…and easier.  Finally, it became actually hard to think of sarcastic put-downs!

To Jim’s credit, he was making the same kinds of changes.  The fighting stopped.  On the rare occasions when we had an upset, we engaged our great skills immediately and resolved the problem within a few minutes.

We enjoyed seventeen years of blissful, disrespect-free years of loving marriage before he passed away.  I am deeply grateful for the hard work I did to exchange some very poor communication habits for habits that served my goal of a happy, loving marriage.

I’m looking forward to the time when the changes I’m making in my food choices have become new habits that give me the quality of physicality that I desire!  I know it’s coming.  My two-year-old is no longer in control of food choices…at least, not all of the time!

If you’d like a brief phone conversation with Nancy, click here:  https://meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Nancy Landrum has been helping couples achieve the lasting, loving marriage of their dreams for twenty-five years.  Visit her website to see how her Millionaire Marriage Club and Stepping TwoGether: Building a Strong Stepfamily courses or her coaching can support the changes you want to make.  www.NancyLandrum.com

Is Love “Lovelier the Second Time Around”?

I’d like to ask Frank Sinatra, who’s crooning voice made this lyric popular, “Then why is the divorce rate much higher for second and subsequent marriages?”

Our culture is still trapped in the unrealistic assumption that stepfamilies are no different than a first family.  That belief is a weak, untrue foundation on which to try to start building a strong marriage and family.

It’s a shock when you thought you had another chance at love.  A chance to do it right this time.  A chance to heal, not only for yourself but for your children.  After escaping one nightmare, you didn’t expect to find yourself in the midst of another.

The truth is second marriages never start out the same as the first one. To begin, for many, the honeymoon is very brief.   Most are immediately thrown into the turmoil of resentful kids, new, unknown relationships, crazy Exes who refuse to co-parent with respect, leftover “issues” from the previous relationship, sometimes crippling financial demands and legal battles.

How can a new marriage and children be nurtured and grow in this toxic atmosphere?  It IS possible, but it requires two things that most second marriages don’t get in time to save them and their children from painful mistakes:

  1. Education about the unique dynamics of new stepfamilies and the strategies that get them successfully through those first few fragile years, (and beyond) and
  2. Good, effective communication skills: speaking with respect, listening with understanding, conversations that lead to agreement, and ways of handling anger when you want to take your frustrations out on any creature unfortunate enough to be in your immediate force-field.

The average length of time for a stepfamily to stabilize is 5-7 years.  I spoke with former clients this week who have finally reached the stepfamily honeymoon stage.  They’ve been married for six years.  She said the first year was “hell.”  He said, “1000% of the stress came from my crazy Ex.  She’s still crazy, but we’re handling it better.”  Their kids are doing well considering the chaos in their Mom’s home.  And this couple knows they are giving their kids the example of a stable, respectful, loving marriage and home life that will inform their belief that a loving, lasting marriage is possible.

I’ve been there.  My husband Jim and I survived the catastrophe caused by our poor communication and anger management skills.  We finally adopted a sane stepfamily strategy that stopped the constant fighting.  We found a coach that taught us how to talk to each other…say what we needed to say…but  say it without attacking each other.  She taught us how to vent our anger safely in a journal, or by hitting a bucket of balls, or pulling weeds in the garden so that we could then have a sane conversation about our “issue.”  We learned how to share our feelings rather than our opinions.  We developed empathy for each other’s difficult roles which made resolving “the issue” much more possible.

You can learn the skills and stepfamily strategies that work for most.  The communication and anger management skills can be learned by my online program called the Millionaire Marriage Club.  It’s relatively painless.  All you need is a computer and 30 minute blocks of time combined with your determination to exchange what isn’t working for what will work.  Go to my website, www.nancylandrum.com, to learn about the Millionaire Marriage Club.

In a few short weeks I’m launching a live, online pilot class called Stepping TwoGether: Building a Strong Stepfamily.  This class teaches the strategies for successful parenting and step-parenting as well as the importance of making your marriage a high priority.  Or you can click the link below to read about our story…the ugly first years, followed by sixteen years of honeymoon before Jim passed on.  You may glean some lessons from reading about what we learned.

If you’d like to speak with me and discuss how I may help, click on this link to choose a convenient time for a brief phone appointment with me:  https://meetme.com/SpeakWithNancy

P.S.  You may find some issues familiar to you in this free download: The Landrum Stepfamily Story.

Nancy Landrum has been teaching relationship skills to couples for twenty-five years.  Her signature book, How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage, is lauded by both professionals and clients. See other resources on her website, www.nancylandrum.com 

A Quick Fix for Relationship Blahs!

Is life beginning to seem like an unending list of obligations?  Is your relationship somewhere on the to-do list?  When the primary relationship of your life begins to feel like an obligation, or a habit, you may get forgetful…forgetting why you love this person…forgetting that you have fun together…forgetting what it’s like to just be with your best friend.

Valentine’s Day comes only once a year.  It may be nice to get roses or chocolates or a romantic card, but your relationship can’t survive on a once per year gesture!

There’s an easy fix.  Begin courting each other again!

But, first, there’s one must-have rule.  When you go out for relaxation and fun, you must not bring up a problem that needs resolving.  If you do, your fun date will immediately be something neither of you want to repeat…defeating the purpose.    Issues that need discussing must be scheduled for a different, separate time.  And then keep that date!

Problem solving dates and Fun dates both need regular but separate commitments from both of you!  (I’ll share how to have a problem-solving date in a future blog.)

So, here’s some great date ideas straight out of my marriage to Jim.  (We enjoyed a loving, fun relationship until his passing a few years ago.  We had regular problem-solving dates as needed to keep our accounts with each other clear so that our fun dates were really FUN!)

Being financially stressed is no excuse to skip fun dates! When you’re under financial or any other kind of ongoing stress, you need the relief of breaks to leave the stress behind and just enjoy each other.   $25 can create a great date.   Look for two-for-one coupons for a meal.  It could be breakfast at a diner, or a spaghetti or burger dinner. Add a matinee movie and you’ve got a great 3-4 hour escape to remember that you’re a team and, together, you will eventually pull out of the financial pits.

Do you enjoy table games?  Take one of your grocery totes and fill it with games that can be played by two persons.  Gin rummy, tile rummy, Yahtzee, a travel sized game of Scrabble, etc.  Throw in an old tablecloth to cover the picnic table at your local park.  On rainy days, game tables can be found in a mall food court or your local library.

One of our favorites was a Mystery Date.  We each kept a file on the other where we collected newspaper clippings or ads about places we thought the other would enjoy.  One time, Jim let me know that our next date was a surprise.  He told me to wear casual clothes, but to take a dressy outfit to change into.  We drove to an ocean side restaurant where we enjoyed breakfast on their deck.  Then he took me to a quilting store with instructions to take my time.  (He relaxed in the car with a newspaper and crossword puzzle book.)  We wandered around a huge outdoor food court in West Hollywood choosing diverse, unusual food items for lunch, ducked into rest rooms at a coffee shop to change into dressier clothes and ended the day at a live performance in Hollywood.

Regular dates were once per week.  These Mystery Dates happened perhaps every four-six months.  They were very special occasions!  The things chosen to do were not nearly as important as the effort and planning that went into delivering the day as a love-gift.

Now that Jim has passed on, these memories are a few of my favorites!

Can you imagine how loved your partner will feel after having an entire day planned around his or her interests?  Are you ready to start collecting ideas for a Mystery Date?

Regular dates restore the love balance to a relationship that may be dragging from too much responsibility.  Regular dates cure or prevent the blahs.  Mystery Dates infuse a giant dose of loving directly into your partner’s heart.  So, get your calendars out and plan a date!

Nancy Landrum has been teaching relationship skills to couples for more than 25 years.  Her signature book, How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage is full of practical strategies to create and sustain a loving, lasting relationship.  Click Here to Order

If you’d like a phone call from Nancy, click here to schedule it on her calendar:  https://meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Four Skills That Create a Loving, Lasting Marriage

Valentine’s Day is coming.  Our attention is drawn to loving relationships, especially romantic ones.  Everyone I’ve ever asked wants a happy, loving, intimate relationship with the love of his or her life.  That dream seems to be loaded into our DNA, tattooed on our brains, instinctively coded into our emotional make-up.

But is it enough to long for a loving, lasting, happy marriage?  Even though the longing is universal?  No, it’s not enough.  Is it enough to be madly in love when you marry?  No, it’s not enough.

Then what does it take?  There are four key areas where skills can be improved or developed that create a loving, lasting marriage.  Here they are:

  1. It takes a dream powerful enough to see you through the rough spots combined with willingness to grow into that dream by making hard choices. To exchange blaming the other for choosing new behaviors for yourself.  To let go of old patterns.  To sacrifice the immature, dysfunctional and hurtful ways in service to achieving the dream.

I ask every couple I’ve coached, “Do you have family members or friends who have a marriage you’d like to emulate?”  So far, I’ve only heard, “No.”  When you don’t see a loving, lasting marriage in operation, how can you trust that the dream is doable? And worth the effort to achieve it?

When you don’t have a healthy model to follow, use books written by those who’ve achieved the dream, like my How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage.  (LINK) Or testimonials like those on my website.  These couples have done the work to have a happy, lasting marriage.  www.nancylandrum.com

  1. Good Communication Skills come next. Methods of speaking and listening that create connection, rather than driving more and more distance between you.  (Communication That Connects)

Without instruction, few of us realize how our delivery of messages may be triggering a reactive response…or escalating an argument.  It isn’t easy to change how we speak and listen.  Those patterns were begun in infancy by what we heard or what helped us get our own way.  But exchanging distancing methods of communication is necessary if you want a lasting, loving marriage.

Sue said to me, “When we were first married we fought viciously, yelling and name calling.  But it didn’t take long for us to realize that if we wanted our marriage to last, we had to stop doing that.  We changed.  We’ve now been married forty-five years and are still in love!”

  1. Respectful Conflict Management is essential. Every close relationship has conflict.  When two human beings throw in themselves and the welfare of their futures together, there is a lot at stake.  And, face it, we all love to be “right” and will sometimes fight for the winning position.

Researchers Markman and Notarius state unequivocally in their book We Can Work it Out, Making Sense Out of Marital Conflict ,  “Love is needed to get a relationship off the ground, but it doesn’t provide enough fuel to keep a marriage flying toward success over time…nor does commitment.  It’s how couples manage conflict that makes the difference.  The key to marital success is to teach couples how to talk without fighting.”

John Gottman’s research validated this when he observed couples having a disagreement in his lab.  After years of observation, he could predict within 93.7% which couples would divorce within six years based on how they fought.  He labels criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stone-walling the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…the fighting methods that eventually destroy the relationship.   The Gottman institute blog.

It’s often necessary to make a date to discuss an issue that needs resolving.  Set a time when you are free from other distractions and the kids are asleep or out of the house.  Making a date to resolve a conflict says, “I care enough about you and our relationship to set aside time to work this out.”

If it isn’t resolved in one try, then before closing that session down, set another date to pick it up again…and do this until you find a resolution that suites both of you.

Fighting badly was one of the habits that my late husband and I had to change in order to save our floundering marriage.  Our story of learning to safely vent anger away from each other is told in Chapters 12-16 in How to Stay Married & Love It!  LINK  The day we committed to always treat each other with respect…and then practiced doing that…was the day the fighting stopped and the marriage began to heal.  It took us six months of two-three Conflict Dates per week before we finally found a solution that worked for both of us.

  1. Regular FUN Dating is a must! Who says the courtship is over when you marry?  Frequent courting needs to be included in every loving, lasting marriage plan!

There are a couple of rules to continued courting dates.  1) Never discuss a “hot topic” while on a fun date!  Dating is meant to remind you of why you fell in love, and to keep the flames of love alive.  That won’t happen if every date is used as a time you’re finally away from the kids and so “let’s talk about…”

And, 2) Do something that is fun for both of you.  Jim loved going to a baseball game.  I didn’t, but I loved being with him.  I took a book to read, or a knitting project and just enjoyed hearing his pleasure about the plays or the players.

During a financially stressed time, we were on a strict, tight budget, but allowed $25/week for our date.  I saved two-for-one coupons for a burger dinner and we’d go to a matinee movie.  It wasn’t a spectacular date, but it gave us time away from the stress and a chance to just enjoy being together.

How long has it been since you’ve had a fun date?  Make it a weekly commitment, even if it’s just a quiet stroll around the block or an ice cream cone.

SUMMARY: These new skills are easy.  Children pick them up quickly when adults are modeling them.  But by the time we are in a marriage, or a second or third marriage, we’ve been using poor methods of handling stress and poor communication habits for many years.  Changing the ways we interact with another or handle our emotions when stressed is like hacking our way through the jungle, forming a new path in the brain which is highly resistant to change.

Not everyone will do that.  I think it’s because the dream isn’t vivid enough…isn’t believed possible. Stressful conflict combined with an ego that says, “I’ll change after you do,” or, “You’re the one who needs to change!” makes achieving the dream impossible.  The old patterns are replayed over and over again until the relationship dies, or you give up the dream and just make do with what is.

Many couples see divorce as the only way out of this relationship vise.  Others, many others, just settle for the status quo.  They become so accustomed to a certain level of emotional distance and stress in the relationship that it feels normal…as good as it can be.  The dream must have been a fantasy, unachievable, so it’s useless to try for more.

As a coach, it’s a heartbreak for me to see couples get amazing results from the skills I teach, and then hear that they’ve gone back to the old ways that give them the same old, painful results.

Do you want the dream badly enough?  Are you willing to do the hard work of exchanging old patterns for the four main new ones that will produce the loving relationship for which you long?  Have you known you needed to do something different, but just haven’t known what “different” looks like?

Schedule a call with me. I can help!  https//meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Nancy Landrum, M.A. has been teaching couples these transformational skills for twenty-five years. She has written six books on the subject and recently launched an online program where these skills can be learned from your computer.  Explore the Millionaire Marriage Club on her website: www.NancyLandrum.com

P.S.  Download the Free Communication That Connects.

Death of Our Dream Became Resurrection of Our Love

Sometimes the most painful, agonizing experiences of our lives happen to us.  Not that we asked for them, or even caused them, but a new, unwanted life is dropped on us like a ton of bricks.

That happened to me when my first husband died unexpectedly.  I was twenty-three years old with two baby boys.  It was five long years before life began to feel good again.

I wanted to remarry, but remained a single mom for a total of thirteen years before a mutual friend introduced Jim and me.  He lost his wife after a prolonged illness.  He had two teenage daughters and an eight-year-old son.

We fell in love…and I dreamed big!  LOVE AGAIN!  A man to share my bed!  Daughters!  I’d always wanted five children!  He had such a wonderful sense of humor.  He was fun to be with!  He was affectionate and called me his “sweet baby!”  We were adults. We’d been through a lot. We were mature. We would work out anything that might arise in our precious new family.

Like many couples married after great loss from death or divorce, we had absolutely no understanding of the unique dynamics of a stepfamily.  We made the classic assumption that we would form a new family that would look, act and function like a first family. NOT!

A conflict over parenting differences soon arose.  For the first year or so, we’d talk it out, agree on a solution, then kiss and make up.  But solutions fell apart.  The conflict reignited…over and over again.  The more frustrated we got, the worse our methods of communication became.  I adopted sarcastic put downs. (After all, I’m good with words!)  He verbally attacked with accusations…or walked out the door hoping I’d calm down by the time he returned. (It didn’t work!)

We desperately wanted the loving, sweet relationship of our dreams, but were on the verge of separating.  We went to therapists. (They didn’t know what to do with us.) We saw pastor friends.  (They were kind, but had nothing except platitudes like “never go to bed angry.” (I wanted to scream, “How do we do that when I’m so angry I wish he would die in his sleep!”)

We finally found a coach who began to teach us functional anger management skills.  We learned how to speak without attacking, and tried to really understand each other’s point of view.

The fighting stopped.  A few months later we agreed on a solution to our conflict that saved our marriage.  Within a short time we had the loving, peaceful marriage we’d dreamed of in the beginning.

The dream wasn’t idealistic or unreal.  It wasn’t a fairytale that many today believe marriage to be.  The dream kept us going through the hard work of growing into the reality of a loving marriage that both of us wanted until death parted us.

Is this story familiar to you?  Would you like a coach who can teach you great skills and help you implement those skills until you can live the dream?  Click on this link to set up a phone appointment with me at your convenience.  You can do this!  We did!  https://meetme.com/SpeakWithNancy

P.S. Download the complete Landrum Stepfamily Story here:  Click Here.

But I Hate Conflict!

Rather than seeing conflict as part of growing the relationship, we tend to blame the person with whom we’re in conflict.  “If he wouldn’t _____, then I wouldn’t ______.  If she would just _____, then we’d be happy.”

Blame, not conflict, is relationship cancer.  Conflict is just the vehicle sent to deliver an opportunity for growth. (Sometimes I hate knowing this!)

There are relationships where conflict is so extreme and abusive, or the partner’s habits so hurtful without any hope of change, that growing means you finally say, “I’m not willing to stay in this relationship.”  There are some marriages that are so soul-killing that they must be abandoned.

It is my belief, however, that the vast majority of conflicted marriages are capable of growing into the “happily ever after” of your dreams.  The difference between the troubled marriages that end, and the troubled marriages that go the distance to fulfill the dream, is the willingness of one or, preferably, both partners to grow.

Growing means you are willing to look at what behaviors or attitudes you are contributing to the conflict.  Growing means you actively search for help to learn new skills, develop new points of view, that make space in the relationship for positive change.

James and Kim are such a couple.  Kim was on the brink of calling it quits.  She agreed to come with James to work with me for a “last ditch effort” to see if the marriage could be salvaged.

They evaluated their ways of speaking to each other, finding many fed the smoldering fire of resentment.  They began practicing more respectful ways of speaking.

They began to really listen to what the other was saying…not just the thoughts, but feelings, concerns and desires.  They incorporated a skill that made sure they were hearing each other accurately, avoiding misunderstandings.  They learned to address conflict openly but respectfully, speaking and listening until both were understood and a solution could be adopted.

Today they are moving closer and closer to the dream that falling in love promised.  Now there is no danger of this marriage failing.  Why in the world would either leave a relationship that is bringing such joy and pleasure to both partners?  NO WAY!

The debilitating conflicts you are experiencing can be transformed into the peace and loving enjoyed by James and Kim.  Call me to start the transformation!  https;//meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

P.S. Could there really be a positive purpose for Conflict?  Click Here to Find Out!

What Happened to “Happily Ever After”?

I have a friend who is a passionate advocate for animal adoption.  She calls a good adoption as “finding the animal’s Furrever Home!

Falling in love feels like finding a “forever home.”  You found the missing piece of yourself…you feel whole for the first time in your life…you are sure all your problems are over…together you can conquer anything…and you dream of living happily ever after!

Dr. Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., in his book, “Getting the Love You Want” labels this the “unconscious loving” stage of a relationship.  It’s more commonly called the “honeymoon phase.”

Then, inevitably, she leaves her dirty clothes on the floor, he overdraws the bank account, and the honeymoon is over.  Hendrix calls this the “conflict stage.”  He concludes that the relationship thrives or fails based on how the couple manages conflict.  Multiple researchers agree.

But, “Conflict wasn’t part of our dream!  What’s wrong? Did I marry the wrong person?  Did she trick me by hiding annoying parts of herself?  Did he play the charmer when he really has such horrible habits?”

In truth, the real purpose of the relationship has just begun.  Yes, it’s possible to live happily ever after, but not without growing into the dream.  Your love for your partner, and your commitment to the marriage, is what motivates you to change habits that prevent a happy, loving marriage.

This year my blogs will be exploring different areas where commitment to GROWING will enable you to experience the delight of your DREAM COMING TRUE.  Hendrix calls this process “conscious loving.”  Conscious loving is accepting that what “ticks you off” about him, is your call to growth.  Her annoying habit is your trumpet call announcing it’s time to grow.

Dreaming isn’t the problem!  Dreaming helps us imagine the ideal of where we want to go.  But in order to actually arrive at our imagined destination, we are called to GROW into a more authentic self, slowly discarding habits or attitudes that prevent the DREAM from coming true.

As you nurture the relationship, the relationship uncovers a more mature, more kind, more loving you.

Make this year a year of Dreaming and Growing!  Contact Nancy at www.NancyLandrum.com or click here to schedule a phone call at your convenience: http://meetme.com/SpeakWithNancy

P.S. Free Download:  The Positive Purpose of Conflict