Archive for the 'Build a Great Marriage' Category

10 Steps to Building Teamwork in Your Marriage

Friday, January 18th, 2008

By Karen Bonasso

As my husband and I have sat in marriage counseling sessions with young couples, I would listen to them present “their side” to the issues at hand. It was often obvious to me that they were approaching life together as a Tug-of War game and they weren’t on the same side! There were also many times when I would sit with wives and have to remind them that their husband was not the enemy even though they perceived his actions as antagonistic to their wellbeing. I’m sure the husband had similar feelings. With these prevailing attitudes the answers to a couple’s problems would be difficult to advise, not because the problems were so complex but because the married couple could not work together to solve them.

The married couple that can work as a team is one that can face the challenges of life and win. It’s not how smart or skilled or talented each individual is; nor how many strengths or how few weaknesses each has. It’s whether or not they can huddle up and come up with a game plan to work as a team utilizing both individual’s unique strengths and protecting the weaknesses. This takes respect and trust from both the husband and the wife and a few pointers on how to build teamwork into your marriage.

1. Attack the problem not each other. Remember you are on the same side!

2. Admit when neither one of you has the experience or the knowledge to know how to get the game plan. Seek advice - together if possible. You may need a coach!

3. Realize that solutions to problems sometimes take time and consistency. Learn how to tag team so neither one of you wears out.

4. Communicate as you navigate the unexpected variables that may arise while you’re working your game plan.

5. Once you agree on the plan write it down so you both can remember what was decided. This is especially important when finances are concerned. No matter how young you are, memory can be unclear in the midst of difficulty.

6. Be vocal with praise when a good job is being done and encourage each other when endurance is necessary for success. Remember your teammate needs it!

7. Be honest. If you didn’t or can’t do your part, talk about it with your partner. It’s not about perfection; it’s about living life together and helping each other. The best teammates know each other’s strengths and weaknesses well.

8. Trust each other to carry out their responsibility in the solution and let each carry it out in their own way. Expect that he/she will not do it like you would. This is key to not being sidetracked into a “sideline fight”.

9. Make love. This is a great tension reliever and helps to keep you, as a couple, focused on the fact that you may be team members in the game of life but you are lovers above all else. It reminds you that you really do like your teammate!

10. Pray together to ask for God’s guidance and strength. Be aware that there is an enemy that does not want you to succeed as a team. Spiritual unity is very important to an outcome of victory.

In conclusion, remember as a married couple you are a team. The marriage relationship has the potential to be the smoothest working team in life. The best teams are made up of teammates who like and appreciate each other. When an attitude of teamwork prevails, problems become possibilities to build a great marriage. And don’t forget to celebrate your victories together before the next game!

A Christmas Wish

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Karen and I are hoping your Holiday season is going great!

Over the last few days, I read a letter from a friend of mine that I found very encouraging when it comes to building a great marriage. My friend is a really special Christian leader in my book and the head of a large global organization.

I receive a personal newsletter from John Dawson, the International President of Youth with a Mission (Y.W.A.M) which is a Christian missionary organization mobilizing young people to serve primarily in the third world nations. In his December letter, he mentions what he thinks is the "biggest" of all human problems. His conclusion was striking, coming from a man who has spent most of his life on the mission field in some places you and I probably didn’t know existed.

Considering all that this 56-year-old influential leader has experienced in his world travels, his answer to what is the "greatest"
human problem was certainly based on what he had seen on a global scale. One might conclude his answer had to do with some of the enormous struggles facing planet earth: world hunger, disease, global warming, poverty, and if not any of those, certainly the epidemic of AIDS.

No, none of the above. John’s answer to the biggest human problem was surprising… the epidemic of broken relationships!

According to John, from every sphere of life to every place that life is lived there is brokenness and strain in relationships.  There is division between friends, co-workers, churches, families, and in marriages.
What is his solution to the biggest human problem? Fall on your knees and allow God’s loving power to flow down and heal you and every broken relationship in your life.

This is our Christmas wish for you. In every place of your life where there is the pain of broken relationships, especially in your family and marriage, there would be healing.

Merry Christmas!

Build a Great Marriage

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007


I came across an advertisement the other day for an episode of the “Oprah Winfrey Show” that was showcasing married love. The title of the show was “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told”. I don’t really watch her program, but being intrigued, I decided to TiVo the show and see what Oprah had to say about married love.

Arguably, Oprah may be the most important African American woman of our generation and one of the most notable public figures of our time. She is one of the most influential women in the entertainment industry, if not the most. She is also the most successful daytime talk show host ever. Viewed by millions of people everyday, primarily women, Oprah’s influence on our culture is staggering. Although our views are different on several life and philosophical issues, I greatly admire her philanthropic efforts.

She is not married but has been in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend of many years, making this show all the more interesting. Although very supportive of the traditional marriage relationship herself, Oprah has alluded to marriage not being for her. She has hinted at various reasons for feeling this way such as her own childhood memories and a possible fear of failure or commitment. Nonetheless, she dedicated an entire program to married love stories.

I was not at all surprised that the tone of the show reflected a prevailing, universal attitude which suggests there is some mysterious secret that makes a marriage work. Oprah herself, visibly touched by each couple’s story, offered words such as “fate”, “destiny” and the “power of love” as reasons for the longevity of some of these relationships.

The program showcased four different couples with the hope of gaining some insight on why their marriage was successful. Here is a link to the program which aired on November 14th. The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Two couples stood out the most to me. For the last 27 years of their nearly forty years of married life, Patricia and Alton have written each other a love letter everyday! Pretty amazing! With that kind of heartfelt communication going on everyday, how can they not build a great marriage? (Please see tip #2 in our Surviving the 5-10 Marriage Struggle article)

Perhaps the couple that offered the most telling insight into what makes a successful marriage was NBA basketball star Grant Hill and his wife Tamia. After they both shared testimony of the many challenging struggles they have endured, Grant poignantly stated, “ everyone knows that marriage is hard work,” confirming that great marriages are built. Successful marriages are not the product of fate or destiny but the by-product of dedication and commitment.

Keep working hard and you can build a great marriage!

Build a Great Marriage

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Can the “Time-Out” Principle help your relationship?

In my research, I have come across marriage advice columnists who recommend using the child raising principle called the “Time Out” in the marriage relationship. For those of you not familiar with this child training technique it is defined by the people at Dr. as time away from your attention.
When a child is demonstrating bad behavior, the parent separates from the child by calling a time-out and by usually placing the child in his or her room for several minutes.

When it comes to marital disagreements and conflict, some marriage and relationship counselors recommend that this separation principle be applied in the heat of an intense argument with one of the marriage partners calling a time-out. The couple then separates in order to cool down and then re-visit the dialogue at a calmer time.

Although I am not sure how effective this technique is when it comes to child training, I do see this process as helpful when it comes to resolving the relational conflicts between two adults in married life. The time-out can be a tremendous help in stopping the escalating of anger and hostility when a couple is having a meltdown… much like a fire extinguisher. But just like a fire extinguisher is only used in an emergency situation, the negative circumstances surrounding a marriage conflict that requires a time-out should be few and far between.

Generally speaking, the most intense conflicts in the marriage relationship revolve around several very sensitive areas. These areas are called tension points or “Hot Spots”. When entering into a conversation with your mate that touches upon the normal tension points or hot spots in married life the situation is ripe for a painful conflict. (Please see article on The Five Hot Spots or Tension Points in The Marriage Relationship) Here are 6 practical tips to help navigate your relationship through these sensitive areas and avoid a meltdown:

• AGREE ON BOUNDARIES FOR DISCUSSIONS: Both mates should agree on the rules for talking about difficult subject matter. This is the foundation of healthy dialogue.

• NEVER TALK WHEN TIRED OR STRESSED: It is nearly impossible to manage negative emotions that can arise when sleep deprived or extremely stressed.

• NEVER TALK PASS 8PM: Give or take an hour or so, couples must understand how precarious it is to discuss sensitive matters during the last hours of a long day. This almost always leads to angry tempers and hurt feelings.

• KNOW THE PROPER TIME: The right time is when both mates are rested and prepared mentally to enter into sensitive discussions.

• PLAN THE PROPER TIME: Often a marriage partner feels compelled to grab inopportune moments to discuss sensitive matters for fear that he or she will not get another chance to do so. Be committed to planning a time to dialogue with your mate when they request a desire to talk.

• PREPARE MENTALLY AND EMOTIONALLY: Before entering into sensitive subject matter with your partner, remind yourself to be patient with misunderstandings that will arise and to be on guard for negative reactionary behavior in you or you mate.

Keep these tips in mind as you navigate the so-called “Hot Spots” in the marriage relationship and you will be on you way to building a great marriage!

Build a great marriage by Phil Bonasso

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007


Widespread marriage advice encourages couples to make time for themselves and their relationship by having a regular date night. As a marriage counselor, when it comes to building a great marriage, I couldn’t agree more with this principal. Although very important to every marriage, I feel a regular date night is especially critical to younger couples with small children who find it difficult to find time together due to the demands of their family.

I generally find the “date night principle” something most couples are aware of and are trying to do. Yet, the effectiveness of this time together is far from satisfying. They have fallen into a routine of boredom and “bad” date night habits. Here are 5 principles that will help to re-energize this important time together:

1. Always Plan! If you don’t plan a date night, rest assured it probably won’t happen. In the modern couples life, there is far too much stress and demand on their time to be spontaneous.

2. Be Committed! Once you have made a plan for a date night, it can’t be broken. Outside of life threatening circumstances, nothing is more important. At the 2004 Golden Globe Awards, Sean Penn won the award for best actor in the film “Mystic River”. Director Clint Eastwood accepted the award for him due to the fact Sean had promised his daughter the evening out! Your marriage relationship should have the same kind of dedication.

3. Plan Something Special! Be creative with your date night. Get out of the rut of doing the same thing every time. Be daring and try some new restaurants. Take turns with your partner in picking a new outing each week. Try and surprise each other. Soon you will discover that you actually look forward to these weekly adventures!

4. When together, be together! I cannot emphasize this point enough. A date night is a time when couples must focus on themselves in an encouraging and positive light. All to often couples fall into the trap of focusing on the stresses and problems of the day, or choose this time to argue with one another over disagreements. This is not to the time to discuss grievances and hurts. Nothing drains a date more of its life and energy and its potential intimacy than bickering.

5. Shut the Door to Work! No calls from work allowed. Let your date night be a cell phone “free” zone. This goes for family and friends as well. Other than a household emergency, no conversations with anyone but your spouse!

Put these points to practice and you will re-energize your boring date night into a very special moment together, as you continue to build a great marriage!

Build a great marriage by Phil Bonasso

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

The Four Central Truths about Marriage

I came across an article the other day while doing my usual marriage research. The article contained some statistics from the U.S. census bureau updating the trends of the divorce rate for marriages. According to the census, more than 70% of those who married since 1970 celebrated a tenth anniversary. The statistic suggests that the divorce rate itself has stabilized over the last decade, neither rising nor falling. Experts warn however, that the threat of divorce persists throughout marriage with the average year of divorce being the eighth year. (Please see my article on the 5-10 year marriage challenge.)

I realize that these kinds of stats are sometimes the subject of rigorous debate. It seems to be a lot like the election polls, which try to show which candidate is leading. The major criticism that attacks their validity has to do with the pool of people that were surveyed. Was the survey given to a broad enough group to be accurate? In other words “whom did you talk to?”

I am not sure of the complete accuracy of the census bureau’s statistic nor whether the divorce rate has stabilized or not. I guess if it has that should be good news, but somehow it doesn’t make me feel any better about the state of matrimony in our culture. Stabilized or not, most marriage experts put the divorce rate at around 50%! That’s across the board, in the secular world as well as in the church. To me, that’s horribly depressing.

A 50% divorce rate affects us all in many ways. You cannot escape its ugly influence. It’s everywhere. That means that one out of two of your married friends will divorce. I’m sure like me, you have watched other married couples that were close to you fall apart and walk away from each other.

This statistic also means 50% of all children in our society are growing up in divorced homes! Half of your children’s friends like mine live with single parents. The ramification of this is staggering to say the least. Without some significant transformation in the lives of these kids, they seem doomed to repeat the same broken pattern of divorce.

I think marriages would have a better chance of surviving if couples entered into the union with a better understanding of these central truths:

1. Every successful marriage does not just happen.

2. Every successful marriage is built with dedication.

3. Every marriage is a dynamic work in progress.

4. Every marriage has the potential to fail!

No matter the sad statistics about divorce, you marriage does not have to fail. Keep these truths in mind and you can build a great marriage.

Build a great marriage by Phil Bonasso

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

The Lord of the Gourds

Things that are big always enamor me! Not sure if its just a guy thing or not, but I have been this way as long as I can remember. “The bigger the better” seems to be a life motto of mine. I like everything to be big. If my wife asks me to choose between similar items such as pictures or furniture, I will always choose the biggest one. My favorite car was a Chevy Suburban I once drove. Boy do I miss that big hunk of truck!

I think somehow God likes big as well. Not that he is not active in all the small things. The little things are extremely important to him. The Bible says that he has numbered the hairs on our head! This helps us understand his incredible attention to detail. Nothing happens big or small that he doesn’t know about.

But make no mistake about it, God is big. Really big. Just look at all he has created. Scientists are still discovering new galaxies so far away that we cannot comprehend the distance in our human minds. Everything God does has “big” written all over it.

The Bible proclaims that not only does God love us, but he wants to do big things in our lives as well. I think his desire is for our marriages to be big. Big in Love. Big in friendship. Big in vision. Big in Hope. Big in overcoming faith to meet the challenges that life presents.

I came across a TV show the other day on the PBS channel that tweaked my fascination with big. It was called “The Lord of the Gourds”. The program followed a number of people who grew giant pumpkins! Have you ever seen a giant pumpkin? They can grow to enormous sizes. Their average weight is around 500 pounds. The world record weight is 1,496 pounds! Holy Cow! That’s really big!

What was amazing to watch was how these giant pumpkin growers created these giant pumpkins. It didn’t just happen! That is usually what we think. For some funny reason we think big things just happen. Probably just a combination of luck and good fortune. Kind of like winning the lottery.

We transfer this thinking over to married life. If a marriage is a happy one then the people involved are lucky. I can’t tell you how many frustrated marriage partners have told me the reason for their unhappiness is that they were unlucky and married the wrong person. Happily married people are those who were fortunate enough to find that magical pairing. Now they get to live happily ever after. It just happens that way.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Big marriages, like big pumpkins, have to be grown. No matter how unhappy your relationship is, with the right care and dedication, it can grow healthy and ultimately big!

Let’s look at what the giant pumpkin growers did to create these incredible pumpkins.

1. First they must have the right seed. Giant pumpkins come from special seeds that produce them. These seeds are dedicated to growing big. Are you special seed when it comes to your marriage? Are you dedicated to growing big no matter what the price?

2. Secondly, they nurture the growing fruit with the right ingredients. Water alone cannot grow these mammoths! Much like a healthy growing marriage cannot survive on love alone. It must be joined with the likes of patience, kindness, and sacrifice. Some giant pumpkin growers bathe the pumpkins with molasses and sugar. Others inject milk into them in order to provide calcium. Can you mix into your marriage everything it needs to grow big?

3. Thirdly, at the right time, when the fruit reaches a certain weight, a device like a sling or hammock is placed under the pumpkin in order to support its weight. If this support is not done, the bottom of the pumpkin will compress against the ground and begin to rot under its own weight. Are you willing to build the right support systems around your marriage as it begins to grow big? Will you find encouraging relationships that help lift the weight of your big marriage such as other couples with the same values, counselors, a deeper walk with the Lord and a great church?

4. Fourthly, they invest daily time and attention. The growers of the giant pumpkins had to work with the fruit on a daily basis. Everyday the pumpkins needed to be attended to or they would begin to grow wrong and run the risk of disease. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? That everyday thing? Jesus himself said that having a relationship with him was an everyday activity in order for it to work properly. Same with a big marriage. Are you willing to nurture your relationship with your mate on a daily basis? Providing the care and attention needed to ward of decay and disease?

5. Finally, the giant pumpkin growers had to constantly be on watch for their greatest enemy… Cracks that develop in the wall of the pumpkin. If caught early enough they can be healed. If they are not noticed in time than they are fatal to the fruit and it has to be destroyed… Ground up for compote or fertilizer! Unattended cracks will destroy your marriage as well. Bitterness, mistrust, secret addictions, and sin will create fatal cracks in your marriage if you don’t fix them in time. Will you have the courage to identify the cracks in your marriage and fix them before it’s to late? This is essential to your marriage growing big and not ending up in the fertilizer dump.

Let’s learn from the “Lords of the gourds” how to grow big and great marriages!