Emotion, poor behavior patterns, and ego are the enemy. We tend to allow these forces to determine how we deal with the world, and this shouldn’t be so. We’ve got to take the fight to them. Instead of focusing our efforts and energy on controlling the outside world, we need to focus on controlling the world within ourselves. 

The greatest battle we fight is the battle within. Imposing your will upon your emotions and subduing them is the path to the path to victory. 

Instead of getting aggressive with other people, get aggressive with yourself. Get in your own grill. Be harsh and unrelenting, not on others, but on you. Hold yourself to insane standards and force yourself meet them.

That fight can be as simple as a shift in mindset. 

One shift, is to change how we think about communication.

All of us engage in unsound, and ineffective communication patterns. We raise our voice, speak instead of listening and stumble into silly arguments. Improving how we communicate is imperative. There’s too much riding on it not to. 

3 Things Every Healthy Marriage Talks About

My wife Hannah and I are a great team. We run our own business together, serve together at our church, and split most household chores evenly. We are truly better together. Something about the way our personalities, gifts and talents weave together forms something stronger, and more capable than either of us individually.

We are constantly communicating with each other over any number of things; shoots we’re working on, client meetings that need to be scheduled and every little detail that needs following up on to run a successful business. It takes a lot of time, and good communication patterns to pull it off.

If we aren’t careful however, the business could quickly become all we talk about morning, noon, and night. Much like parents have to remain vigilant to talk about things other than their kids, small business owners have to fight the temptation to make life revolve around the business. Far too many sacrifice relationships, personal health and family at the altar of a success. They lose themselves in their work, and talk shop around the clock. It takes a lot of work, patience and solid communication patterns to build a business while fighting for a good marriage.          

I recently sat down with Hannah to talk about it all. Communication plays such a pivotal role in the health and strength of all our relationships, especially marriage. I wanted to better understand exactly what our communication patterns are, and get her take on what we do that helps us maintain balance. I also wanted to hear exactly where we need to improve.  

The major theme of our conversation was that communication was as vital to the health of our marriage as water is to the body—it’s a must. “One of the biggest reasons relationships don’t succeed,” Hannah said, “is the lack of communication.” Failing to communicate about any number of things creates not just tension but division. It allows two people to live in separate worlds, doing there own thing. “It is vital,” Hannah continued, “that husband and wife communicate on a daily basis, not just staying on the surface, but what’s on their hearts, minds, worries, fears, future goals and dreams.” Discussing the weather, and the score of the game isn’t enough—you’ve got to dive deeper. Talk about everything going on in your world—what’s got you worried or excited, what’s driving you crazy, and what you’re looking forward to.      

“I think this is something,” Hannah said, “we do really well now, but haven’t always.” We make time each week to have deeper, heart-level conversations, but we haven’t always. Early in our marriage, I worked long hours, and spent most of my day driving to and from the office. Each night I’d work on our business—doing the books, client meetings, etc.—and on the weekends we’d shoot a wedding. Our schedule never stopped, it was always go, go, go, and I thought we were communicating well enough.

Most of our conversations revolved around work, and our business—we had little time to talk about other things. At least, that’s what I thought. In reality, I wasn’t being intentional or creating time for deeper conversations by asking good questions. I was on cruise control. Fast forward a few years, and we’ve landed on a pretty good rhythm. “I enjoy,” Hannah shared, “that we go on at least one walk a day with our pups and just have that ½ hour of quality talk time.” It doesn’t have to be long, but finding time to talk about deeper things breaths life into your marriage. We use this time to talk about everything. When asked what she found most helpful and exciting about them, Hannah mentioned “Future goals, where we are in our business, finances, how we can serve each other each week, fears, excitements about having a baby.”  

Conversation #1: Money 

Everyone has a different story and history regarding finances. Some have handled things extremely well and others haven’t. Either way, finances are one of the handful of topics you can’t avoid talking about. The stakes are too high. One little mistake can land everyone in trouble. That’s why Hannah and I take a look at our budget every week. “This is an awesome way,” Hannah said, “for us to know what our week will look like. Date night out or in? Where are we doing great and where can we do better? I am thankful for a husband who is organized and always on top of our finances, even when I am not.”

Every Monday, I sit down and update our budget. At some point that day, I’ll share how we are doing with Hannah. We talk about what areas are on track, and what areas we need to keep an eye on. “Don’t be afraid,” Hannah said, “of these conversations. Lean into them, learn from past mistakes and have weekly chats to keep short accounts. Being a team means being honest and open especially in the tough conversations.” We’ve found that talking about finances on a regular basis, keeps us on the same page, and avoids that big blow up fight about being way over budget.  

Conversation #2: Calendar

Early each week, Hannah and I sit down to go over what’s on the calendar for the coming week. “It helps us know,” Hannah said, “what’s going on in the other person’s world and how we can serve and pray for one another. It allows us to always be on the same page and align expectations.” Our weekly schedule conversations give us each insight into how we can care for the other. If I know Hannah has a ton of photo shoots in the coming week, I’ll know that it would serve her well for me to take care of the dog stuff and have dinner started before she gets home. If she has important meetings or just a full schedule, I’ll know how I can be praying for her. Talk about your schedules, sync your calendars, and discuss what you’ve got going on.  

Conversation #3: Expectations

While finances and schedules might be once a week conversations, we have a series of ongoing talks throughout the week about expectations. These are some of the most important one to two minute discussions we have each day.  “We all have expectations,” Hannah explains, “about what our day will look like whether we know it or not.” Everyone has an expectation about everything. “It can be as simple,” Hannah continued, “as asking what each other’s expectation is for dinner one night.” Expectations don’t have to be these big, ambiguous things. It’s usually the little one’s that cause the biggest trouble. “Simply talking about what you expect,” Hannah said “reduces the likelihood of frustration.” You may find that you had differing expectations about certain things, that if left uncommunicated could lead to conflict. Get those things out on the table, in a casual manner so you can get on the same page. Develop the habit of regularly asking one another what your expectations are.  

How are we doing?

I asked Hannah how she would grade our communication. “An 8.” Hannah said, “We could always do better.” That’s a point worth discussing—there’s always room for improvement. No matter how hard you work, or how much time you’ve been together, you can do better. None of us will ever reach the mountaintop on this one, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Go for a walk, curl up on the couch with a blanket and some soft music playing or have a private dinner just the two of you. Talk about all the things going on in your world, share your hopes and fears. Hopefully there will be areas you can celebrate. “We do great, Hannah shares, “discussing future goals, business plans and day to day expectations.” Relish those victories. Inevitably there will also be stuff to work on. “We could continue,” Hannah said, “working on taking the next step in talking about how we are doing relationally and spiritually.”

Don’t get down when things like this pop up. Lean in and work on them. In the end, be excited that you’re working together and heading in a new and better direction.  

What You Can Learn From A Blogging Failure

The Summer and Fall of 2015 were wonderful. Not only was I able to come home and join my wife in working full-time on our photography business, I also began writing again. Rejoining the blogging world was invigorating. It has been so good for my heart and soul. As the clock struck midnight and 2015 faded to black I was overjoyed to see what the new year would bring. Fast forward a few months and while much of the year has been amazing, the blog has been touch and go at best. Posts have been infrequent and I haven't been writing with any form of regularity.    

Why write?

Writing is an immensely personal thing. In writing you're translating thousands of thoughts, emotions and ideas from the muddled mess flying around in your head into something clear and intriguing. Letters, words, sentences and paragraphs that communicate something going on in you to the big old world out there. Maybe you noticed something while out on a walk, overheard a conversation in the grocery store or experienced something that got your mind twirling. Whatever it is, you have to write about it. Not because your thoughts, insights and quirky humor are better that others but for the simple reason that writing is what you do. You may not be good at a lot of things, heck you may not even be a "good" writer, but you process the events and emotions of life by putting words on a page. There is rarely anything so exhilarating as that rare moment when you communicate exactly what you're experiencing, or thinking in just the right sequence of words. It might not be Shakespeare but its about as close as you'll ever come. When that moment arrives, few things are as magical. 

Your writing goes far beyond mere expression and processing, it is an avenue to help, encourage and serve others. There are what 8 billion people in the world, a large swath of whom have internet access. It is safe to say that there are quite likely many other people walking through the exact same things as you are each and every day. Will all of them find your dinky little blog and read it? No they won't. What if however your writing finds it's way into the hands of one person somewhere in the world you've never met and most likely never will and it helps them? How marvelous an outcome would that be? I can think of no better outcome for my writing than for the words and sentences I slam together to in some small way help, uplift and encourage another. 

What makes writing so hard?

Few things are as terrifying as a white blank page. It can be utterly paralyzing. You freeze. You don't know where to begin, what to say or even how to say it. Paralyzing fear sets in and you can now think of a thousand other things you'd rather be doing than staring at this blank page, and pounding your head into the desk hoping words will come out. At that moment you wouldn't care what words came out. Any words will do. You are simply and utterly terrified. 

Sound familiar? I know it sure does to me. That is my life most days. I sit down to write and.....nothing. My mind goes blank and I just sit there staring at the screen hoping something will come to mind. As you talk with most people who enjoy writing you will find this is an entirely normal occurrence. Never mind that it's normal though, it is still down right frustrating. You want to write, you even have time set aside for this express purpose, but the words won't flow. And then it hits you. You're over thinking it and making things way harder than they have to be. You realize you don't have to pen a master piece, you just have to get words out of your head and on to the page. Nothing more nothing less. 

What can we learn from it?

I have written very little over the last several months. I've sat down to write, and the words just haven't been there. As I've tried to figure it out and put my finger on exactly what's going on in my heart a few things have stood out to me. 

1. Don't be overly concerned with what other people think. It's a killer. Being over concerned with the thoughts and opinions of others has stopped me from writing all together the last few weeks. The thought has been, "If I don't have anything 'good' and 'helpful' to say, I just won't write anything. After all, I'd hate to write something people dislike, and/or even laugh at. That would just be the worst." In reality, no one cares that much about what you write. Not that many people will read it anyway, so you might as well just write. If by some miracle someone does, so what if they don't like it. The worst that that can come of it, is just that, they don't like it or share it with their friends. That's not such a big deal when you pause to think about it. 

2. Your habits really matter. As I've mentioned, I've really dropped the ball and fallen out of the daily discipline of writing. Normally, I'm all about habits and routines. So much of your personal productivity is tied to the habits you keep. Its time to reconstruct my habits and reinstitute this all too important one into my day. Will I love or even like everything I write? No, but I'll be practicing and improving with each and every key stroke. And that the most important thing.

 3. Some things ebb and flow. One moment ideas, topics, analogies and all around genius seem to come pouring out of you. It just comes so easy. You know what you want to say, the words come quickly and you're done. Sadly, that isn't the case on most occasions. There is a grind to it. Most days you have to keep pushing, keep writing and rewriting until you complete something your satisfied with. 

4. Grace abounds. If you go a few weeks or months without writing consistently, it's not the end of the world. Writing after all is first and foremost a manner of expression and method of processing. The blog monster can be a mean one. One that can be overwhelming and demanding for sure. There can easily be a feeling that you "have to publish" on a particular schedule. Be free to publish on your very own schedule. There are no rules when it comes to blogging. Isn't that great news? You get to use it in whatever way you desire. So don't beat yourself up if you miss a day, a week or even a month. Just crack open journal, notebook or laptop and start writing again.