Vida Brown

Vida Brown

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In-Law Relations: Take a Course in Spouse 101 This Holiday Weekend


Holidays, vacations, and just regular visits with the in-laws can be a regular minefield for newlyweds and marriage veterans.  After all, your in-laws have known your spouse a lot longer and are used to interacting with him or her in certain ways.  To put it mildly, you are the outsider and they have to make room for you.  

Thankfully, I have tips to help you navigate the minefield of holiday occasions with the mastery of a first line infantryman. If you bring your best attitude and follow these time-tested rules, your holiday or family visit can be a success.

Show Enthusiasm:  Show enthusiasm when you are invited to the holiday event.  Recognize that your in-laws will only be alive a certain number of years, so time with them is a blessing. Treasure each year; you will miss the chaos of creating two side dishes and traveling across town or to another state when the opportunity is no longer available to you.

Bring What She Tells You:  Before deciding upon a dish to bring that your family adores and that you cannot imagine a dinner without, check-in with your in-laws.  Ask your mother-in-law if there is a dish she’d like you to bring to round out the family meal. There may be a dish that she really isn’t great at fixing herself and that she hopes will be your signature dish to bring for the next thirty years.  My mother-in-law loved to cook and honestly my cooking skills paled in comparison.  But I can make a mean cake, with Red Velvet being one of my signature desserts.  I shared this with my mother-in-law and, until her death, that was my contribution to holiday meals.

Dish Duty: Everybody hates dish duty. But you can endear yourself to your mother-in-law by lending a hand during kitchen cleanup. It may not be your job at your Mom’s house because your Mom is just glad to have you home during the holiday, but I can guarantee that you will be the favorite child-in-law if you roll up your sleeves and help clean up the kitchen while the rest of the crew are kicked back in the den watching sports, tending to the little ones, or outside in the yard tossing around a football. It may be more fun to hangout by your sweetheart’s side, but there will be plenty of time for that when you are back on your home turf.

Active Listening: If your father-in-law has a penchant for telling the same story over and over and over again, have no fear. You are his newest audience member. Everyone else has heard the story a million times and they survived it. After he is accustomed to you being a great listener, the story will change, and you will be treated to a new story. And, after all, this man trained your spouse to be the love of your life; take a few minutes to sit and listen because it is true, you can learn a thing or two by listening to him.

Dish Duty Isn’t Just For Cleaning Dirty Dishes: This is a time for serious girl or guy talk. You can find out the scoop on what your spouse was like during the terrible twos, the awkward teen years, and the time that led up to choosing you as a mate.  There is a wealth of understanding to be found here that will help you learn what makes your spouse tick. This is like going to school for Spouse 101.  You can find out where your spouse gets those fun traits and how to capitalize on them.  

Study your in-laws: If you watch your in-laws, you may discover déjà vu conversations between your spouse and yourself. You may discover that your spouse and his dad are two peas in a pod, or you may have discovered that your mother-in-law’s responses to his quips are a lot like your spouse’s.  Pay close attention to how your mother-in-law handles situations with her husband, and vice versa.  It will give you many hints on how to have a lifelong happy marriage.  After all, you may discover that you two couples are a lot alike in some ways.    

Extra Calls for No Reason: Nothing says I love you more than picking up the telephone just to say hello, even if your spouse is nowhere in the room and does not even want to talk to them that day.  That “grown-up-itis” attitude that the adult doesn’t have to check in with the parents every day is understandable, but it would make your relationship much stronger with your in-laws if you pick up the phone and spend a ten minute conversation with them to let them know you care, and that you are interested in being a great part of their life.  You most likely call your own mom and siblings regularly, so add them to your call list.  This will endear you to them, and you will find that it is not a hard thing to talk longer and longer as the relationship builds. 

Spending time with in-laws is precious because there is nothing like laughing with family and spending time with someone you care about.  Event nights like these will not last forever, but the special memories definitely will. Eventually elder care and funerals will arrive, so build a lifetime of memories while you can. Not everyone has the opportunity to do this.  

Do we really need a budget? Navigating the tricky waters of shared finances


Money matters.  Arguments about finances often last longer and are more intense than fights about almost every other marital issue. If you want to STAY married, finding a way to manage finances without fighting is essential.

So let’s get right to it.  Do you have a financial management plan?  If not, make the time to implement one immediately.  It will be your blueprint when your marriage faces financial difficulty or when you and your spouse disagree on spending.  A key focus of your plan should be the budget.  And yes you need a budget, no matter how much money you make.  Here are some tips for creating, and sticking to, a budget as a couple. Remember, compromise is essential when managing finances with your spouse; you’ll both have to give and take to make the budget work.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate:  If you don’t talk about money, misunderstandings are bound to  happen. Be open and honest with your spouse about your finances. Talk about what you make, what you spend, and what goals you have. Often creating that dialogue is the first step to resolving financial disagreements. Some couples find that having a monthly date to talk about money is beneficial. Set a specific time to talk and stick to it.

Set Goals: Financially, where do you want to be as a couple in a year? Five years? Ten? Set goals for how you want to spend and save your money. For example, if you and your spouse want to buy your first home in the next few years, set a goal to save up that down payment and implement it. Clearly identify the weekly or monthly contributions for each of you.  Remember, goals are just dreams until you have a plan to make them happen. Talking about your financial goals is a great first step, but you need to follow up with making and implementing a plan. Don’t forget to set aside some time periodically to see how you’re doing.

Be Realistic:  Lofty savings goals are impressive, but if you don’t have the money available, they aren’t going to happen. When creating your budget, evaluate your actual spending.  How much to do you spend on bills versus discretionary items?  A great way to figure out what you actually spend is to track expenses for a month or two so you can see exactly where your money goes each month.  Then, you’ll be able to identify the areas where you can scale back on spending.  

Find What Works:  Each couple handles finances differently. Finding what works for your marriage is important.  My husband and I are in the process of co-mingling our finances so that we have a single savings and checking account.  We believe unity in finances will promote unity in other areas of our marriage.  Other couples find that splitting the costs of a shared life, with each paying their own portion, is more effective. What works best for you? The most important thing isn’t how you budget, but rather that you and your spouse have an agreed upon plan and are committed to implementing it.

That said, if you split bills and keep your finances apart, there are times that you will need to work together as a couple to achieve goals. Big purchases like a home or a car should be made together. Even if you keep money separate, make sure each partner knows what the other has and spends.

Revise and Revisit Often: Budgets aren’t set in stone. They should be considered fluid, constantly changing and adapting with your needs and circumstances. Look over your budget often and revise as needed. Where can you cut down on spending? Are some areas in your budget underfunded? Remember to work as a couple on your budget. Talk about goals, set priorities, and work together.

Use your Strengths:  Each partner comes to the marriage with different financial strengths and weaknesses.  Maybe you have a knack for finding deals.  If so, consider taking on the task of identifying areas where you can reduce monthly expenses, such as grocery, clothing or toiletry expenditures. Or maybe you’re great at organization and making timely payments.  If so, consider taking on the responsibility of paying all the household bills.  Capitalize on each other’s strengths.  It will benefit your marriage in the long run.  

Individualize: Your budget should reflect the needs of both individuals. One person might want to spend money on a gym membership while another might prefer a morning cup of coffee.  Each of you needs to feel that your needs and desires are factored into the family’s financial goals.  With planning, it’s entirely feasible to find ways to make both of you happy.

Keep Track:  Once you have a budget, you have to keep track. How does our spending measure up with your goals? There are many different ways to keep track of spending. Some people like to write down every purchase. Others save receipts. You may even want to sign up for a budgeting service either through your bank or a private company to track credit and debit card purchases.

Understand Mistakes:  Don’t expect financial perfection overnight. You and your spouse will make mistakes from time to time. Don’t fight over little setbacks. Instead, find ways to fix the problem.

Don’t Forget Some “Me” Money:  Having a budget is great, but everyone needs an opportunity to make a few purchases without having to check in or get permission. Set aside some money in your budget for discretionary spending and let each person truly decide how this money is spent. It doesn’t have to be a lot, even $100 a month can help a person to feel in charge of their finances.

Do you have a budget? Sit down with your spouse and have an open conversation about your financial situation.  It’ll go a long way in helping you have a marriage that not only works, but ROCKS!

Blended Families and Marriage. Compromise is a MUST.

It’s a no-brainer that compromise is key to a successful marriage.  Add in a blended family, and compromise is not only key, but essential.  When multiple parents are involved, each with differing views, compromise is the only way to ensure that your family stays on track and, importantly here, that your marriage remains healthy.

My husband and I have two children together and he has a son from a prior relationship.  Merging our families has been interesting to say the least.  I do not have a relationship with or any interaction whatsoever with my stepson’s mom – her choosing – so as you can imagine, this can create issues.  My husband and I don’t always agree on scheduling, child-care and other issues, and this is only compounded when we have to account for another individual’s opinions and concerns.  Sometimes compromise doesn’t even appear to be on the horizon when the three of us disagree.  So how have we managed?  How do we compromise?  How do my husband and I ensure that we remain on the same page when we fundamentally disagree on decisions involving my stepson that necessarily impact our marriage?

Determine the Right Solution:  I strongly believe that this should drive everything.  Whenever there’s an issue, I force myself to focus on the right answer.  Admittedly, the right answer is not always the option that works best for me or my husband.  As an example, there are certain days of the week that my husband picks up our two kids and other days when he picks up my stepson, who lives roughly an hour away.  Occasionally, things come up involving my stepson that require or warrant a change in the pick-up schedule.  I am a planner, and last minute changes – even if feasible – frankly annoy me.  My first reaction is often “no,” because that’s the easy solution for me.  But, with time and honestly maturation, I now recognize and understand that compromise is necessary in these situations.  If my husband can accommodate the request and if I can make the change in my work schedule (which now requires me to leave early to pick up my kids), then I do it.  Why?  Because at the end of the day, it’s the right answer and nothing else matters.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate:  Effective communication is a key component to any marital plan for success.  If my husband and I can’t effectively communicate about issues and decisions involving my stepson, it will negatively impact our marriage.  We decided that we’ll always be a team and do whatever it takes to prevent any parenting issues from adversely impacting our marriage.  My husband and I have agreed to do our absolute best to minimize any adverse impact our collective parenting choices have on my stepson.  So how do we do this?  It’s simple.  My husband involves me in decisions.  By this, I mean he shares the issue at hand and gets my insight.  This not only fosters unity in our marriage, but fosters and maintains our connection.  To be sure, effectively communicating doesn’t always result in agreement or compromise.  There have been many times when I disagreed with my husband’s stance on a parenting issue.  There have been times when I disagreed with him and sided with my stepson’s mother’s view on a particular issue.  When this happens, things can become tense, but we work through it together.  We talk, reflect, and then talk some more.  More often than not, it’s not a black-and-white issue, so we have to compromise because it’s the only solution.  We can’t control my stepson’s mother’s choices or views, but we can control ours and act in a manner most beneficial to our marriage and my stepson.  This is not always easy.  Trust me, my husband hasn’t always implemented or incorporated my suggestions, but that’s okay.  I know in my heart that he wants what’s best for our marriage and all of his kids. I support him and trust that he’ll make the best decision for our marriage and family.  Keeping it real, this is a work in progress.  We’ve allowed our feelings and anger to cloud our judgment at times, leading to poor parenting choices.  But at the end of the day, I know we have the right mind set and that’s half the battle.

Pray.  We pray for our marriage.  We pray that God will give Derrrick the patience and discernment to act in the best interest of all parties involved.  We pray that God will help us to compromise. We pray that I will support my husband in the way he needs.  We pray that God removes any anger or bitterness in my heart that may prevent me from being the best wife and stepmother I can be.  And last but certainly not least, we pray for my stepson’s mom.  There are certain things my husband and I can’t change in that regard, but we know that God can change anything.

Date Night Can Be At Home

Are you short on cash and on time? Don’t let that get in the way of spending quality time with your spouse. You don’t even need to leave the house for a great date with the one you love. After the kids head to bed, grab your spouse and give some of these ideas a try. A night in has never been so fun.

  • Dinner for Two- You don’t have to head to a steakhouse for a tasty steak dinner for two. Feed the kids an easy meal (think macaroni and cheese or pizza) and prepare a special dinner just for the two of you. For an extra special night, pull out the candles and turn down the lights.
  • Dance Through the Night- Before kids you might have hit the dance club with your spouse for a fun night out. Things have changed, but it’s still fun to get out and boogey. Bring the dance club home. Push the furniture out of the way, pump up the tunes, and show off your best moves. 
  • Movie Night at Home- Nothing says date like hot, buttery popcorn and a movie. You don’t have to head to the theater for a fun movie night. Pick a movie you and your spouse have both been dying to see, pop it in and cuddle up. Don’t forget the snacks!
  • Board Game Bonanza- Impress your spouse with your strategizing skills with a quick game of Monopoly or brush up on your vocabulary by playing Boggle. A little competition with your spouse can be healthy. Open up that long forgotten game cupboard and see what you’ve got!
  • Get in Shape Together- Married life can take a toll on your physical fitness. Spend some quality time with your spouse moving and shaking. Try a new exercise video together, lift some weights, or perfect your pushup form.
  • Become a Jet Setter- Just because you can’t afford a European vacation, doesn’t mean you can’t dream of one. Dig through tourist brochures, search the Internet, and plan your dream week away. You’ll have fun making plans together that you can someday fulfill once the kids are gone and you have more time.
  • Go on a YouTube Adventure- Are you ready for a night full of laughs? Spend some time sharing your favorite YouTube videos. Dancing cats, talking dogs, and music video spoofs are always more fun when shared with another.
  • Spa Night- A trip to a day spa might seem like a romantic dream come true, but with a little creativity you can bring the spa home. Turn on some romantic music and pamper each other. Homemade facials can brighten your complexions and giving each other a massage is a great way to get in a romantic mood.
  • Couples Book Club- If you and your spouse share a passion for good literature, choose a book to enjoy together. Set weekly goals for reading and stay up and chat about the latest plot developments after the kids go to bed. If books aren’t your thing, substitute with TV shows.  My husband and I love “Game of Thrones.”  We love strategizing about the Lannisters and Starks.  It can be very refreshing to have something new to talk about; married conversations so often revolve around work and kids.
  • How Does Your Garden Grow?- For a fun weekend date at home, head to the garden with your spouse and see what you can grow. Not only will you see your love increase, you may also get to enjoy some fresh picked veggies.
  • Take Time to Chat- How long has it been since you and your spouse had a quality conversation? With the stress of work and kids and life, talking just to talk can be forgotten. Dedicate some time for a good conversation with your spouse. Put your phones away and turn off the TV so you can really focus on each other. You may want to prepare a few conversation starters for those moments when you can’t think of anything to say.
  • Reconnect in the Bedroom- Turn off the lights, lock the door, and have some fun together. Intimacy in marriage is so often rushed.  Set aside some time to really explore each other and reconnect.
  • Snap Some Selfies- Grab your camera and capture some smiles. An impromptu photo shoot can be a blast and best of all, you’ll have permanent photo reminders of your special day.
  • Walk Down Memory Lane- One of the best parts of being married is having someone to share all of your special moments. Take some time to relive those memories. Grab the photo albums, pop in your wedding video and enjoy the special moments you’ve shared together.
  • Get Crafty- Show off your creative side by making a fun craft with your spouse. Pinterest is a great place to search for inspiration. Find a craft you’d like to try and do it together.
  • Be Festive- Holidays make for great date inspiration. Look at the calendar and find an activity you can your spouse can do together. Dye Easter eggs, trim the Christmas tree, make homemade Valentines, or light off some 4th of July fireworks.
  • Get in Character- Escape from your world by pretending to be someone else for the night. You and your spouse can spend an evening in conversation as your favorite historical figures, comic book heroes, or movie stars. It’s a great way to work on your accent or your acting skills!
  • Practice Your Spanish (or French or German)- How long has it been since you put your high school Spanish to use? Practice your language skills together. Funny pronunciations and the inevitable grammar mistakes will surely make it a night full of laughs and learning.
  • Hot Cocoa by the Fire- On a cold winter’s night, nothing hits the spot like a warm fire and some hot cocoa with the one you love. In the summer, skip the fire and enjoy icy lemonade instead.

If you don’t have money for a sitter or can’t find the time for a big night out, try these at home ideas to foster your special connection with your spouse.  Any other ideas for a fun date night at home? Share in the comments.