Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Establishing Home Field Advantage for the Holidays


It was our first Christmas morning together.  We were in Seattle, where my husband, Craig, was a rookie for the Seattle Seahawks, thousands of miles away from both of our families.  There had always been something magical for me about Christmas mornings.  The smells of bacon sizzling, and cinnamon rolls right out of the oven.  The bows and bright wrapping on the presents peaking out from under the Christmas tree.  So on our first Christmas morning together, he and I awoke early to the memories of our individual Christmas pasts.  As we held hands and headed to the living room of our rented apartment, the reality of our Christmas morning together seemed to hit us at the same time:  No breakfast was cooking.  No stockings were stuffed with surprises nor were presents peaking out from under the tree.  We didn’t even have a tree.  

We resorted to finding a 24-hour diner and ordered something akin to moons-over-my-Christmas-hammy for our first Christmas dinner together.

That day we learned that traditions are created and that there is a lot of work that goes into them.  For the first time we truly appreciated our parents and their hard work that created our holiday traditions.  We found ourselves lonely, despite being together, realizing that it is the tradition of sharing the holidays with loved ones that makes them memorable.

In the days that followed, we shared the story of our surprisingly low-key Christmas with some of Craig’s veteran teammates.  That’s when we began to hear their stories of spending time together with other teammates.  They asked why we didn’t reach out to them and spend the day with them.  Growing up, Christmas was a day when friends didn’t come over to play, it was all about family, so it had never even occurred to me that most of Craig’s Seahawks teammates were also thousands of miles away from their loved ones.

The following year, we spent Christmas with his teammates.  It was so much fun!  For the first time, we escaped our family roles and our individual traditions.  Craig was no longer the little brother and I was no longer the middle child.  We created a new holiday identity together, as a couple, sharing with friends who knew the loneliness of not having their families with them for Christmas.  Together, we created new traditions, games, and holiday meals to share.  

When football was over, we found ourselves once again displaced, trying to make sense of holidays without those who had become the loved ones in our new holiday traditions.  Craig’s teammates and their families scattered throughout the country on other teams or  as NFL retirees back in their home towns.  What became traditional (holidays with teammates) became another holiday memory.  

We now have two young daughters and we are creating new holiday traditions with them.  They are made up of what we learned when we were young and what we discovered during our holidays with teammates.  As parents, we hope our girls always stay close to home for the holidays.  But should they ever find themselves thousands of miles away on a future Christmas morning, we hope that the traditions and memories they grow with will keep them warm that Christmas day.   

Monday, September 16, 2013

Boundaries: They're Not Just for Games Anymore!



White lines are meticulously painted on the football field before each game.  In the NFL, there is no room for error.  Each line is significant and each line is precise.  The lines become the boundaries that contain the game.  Inside the lines, the game is alive.  Outside the lines, the play is blown dead.  Players on the field are intimately aware of each white line.  Just an inch or the drag of a toe can make the difference between a career-defining catch and an incompletion.  

Thankfully, in football there are referees and instant replay.  Every inch is important and often they define the outcome of the game.

Like football, marriages must have clearly defined boundaries.  Because we have neither neutral referees nor instant replay to help determine when the boundary lines in marriage have been crossed, it is best to stay as far away from the edge as possible.  Even the appearance of a toe over the line can be enough to disrupt a marriage.

The advice you are about to read for creating and staying within the boundaries of marriage may seem extreme, or at least unconventional.  Unfortunately, so might the idea of a lasting marriage.  “‘Til death do us part” has become unconventional in our society where the median length of a marriage is just 11 years.


Here are some boundaries from my marriage that you might use to start painting boundaries of your own.  This list is not exhaustive, but it is a start.  Marital boundaries should be created together.  They are not a punishment nor a way of saying that you lack trust in your partner.  Instead, they are a way for you to voluntarily maintain accountability in your relationship.  


  • Share Passwords: Share all account sign-in and password information with each other for email, bank accounts, etc..  Link each other’s email accounts to your phones.  This is an easy reminder not to write anything that might make your spouse uncomfortable.  
  • Blue-on-Blue/Pink-on-Pink:  Never spend time alone with someone of the opposite sex who is not related to you.  No exceptions.  This includes private emails and online chatting.  CC each other on emails to let the recipient know that it is not a private message.
  • Same Sex Friends:  It is hard for men and women to be “just friends”.  To avoid the temptation from either side, maintain friendships with same-sex friends who cannot threaten your marriage.  Before we were married, we both had platonic opposite sex friends.  Within our marriage, we do not take that chance.   
  • Be Rude to Others, Not Each Other: Flirty women deserve no attention from married men and vice-versa for flirty men and married women.   Make that clear by walking away if you sense something inappropriate.  A good rule for NFL players taking pictures with football fans is: No Touching.  Keep your hands to yourself and it is harder for the picture to be misconstrued by anyone, especially in the online socially-networked world in which we live.  Even with close family friends, a one-armed hug or a high-five is usually greeting enough.  Full hugs are rarely needed for non-family members.
  • Don’t Complain About your Spouse: Build up your spouse in public.  Tell your friends the great parts of your marriage, leave the drama for your journal or your therapist.  Long after you forgive and forget, friends will still remember the dirt you shared with them about your spouse.
  • Have an Accountability Partner: Choose friends who respect your marriage and your spouse.  Ask them to check in with you periodically to see how you are doing as a spouse.  If you need to travel separately, share a room with a same-sex friend or business acquaintance as a layer of accountability.  NFL players can request a shared room with a teammate for away games.  
  • Date Your Spouse:
  • Remember what drew you to each other in the first place and work to keep that alive.  The grass is greenest where it is watered.  Schedule weekly date nights even if you are eating dinner at home together after the kids are asleep.  Dress up and commit to making your spouse feel attractive and loved.  The more fun you have together the easier it will be to stay within the boundaries of your marriage.

...

Think of your marriage as a football field.  What do your boundary lines look like?  Are they old and faded or freshly painted and well defined?  Maintaining clear boundaries will help you stay in bounds -- and help you create a marriage that thrives.  

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Reason to Cheer: How to be a Supportive Spouse


“HE IS NOT PERFECT,” I wanted to shout.  I knew he was wonderful -- I chose to marry him.  But although I adored Craig, I began to fear that I might be the only person who could see that he was not always perfect. 

Sensing my frustration, a friend told me about “Mark and Kelly”.  The story completely changed how I viewed my role as Craig’s wife:

“As a child, Mark was put on a pedestal by his parents, teachers, and friends.  He was smart, athletic, and he always seemed to work harder than the other children.  As he grew older, the pedestal grew higher as his hard work and natural gifts helped him develop into a collegiate sports star.   

When he was drafted to play in the NFL, thousands of fans suddenly knew his name.  The fans lifted him so high upon his pedestal that he could no longer see the ground.  

Mark had no idea how high he was standing.  He was a star from as far back as he could remember.  

Then, one day, Mark met Kelly.  He was smitten.  She adored him too.  As they fell in love, she leapt onto the pedestal with him.  Mark was so in love with Kelly that he didn’t even hear the fans’ cheers anymore.  He only heard her.  It became her applause for which he played. 

A few months after they were married, Kelly turned her gaze from Mark and began to look down from the pedestal.  She was scared.  They were really high in the air.  She thought Mark should be scared too.  “We’ve got to get down,” she warned Mark.  “This pedestal is too tall.  Hang on tightly or you’re going to fall”.  

The more she looked down, the more frightened she became.   As she found herself hanging on for dear life, she couldn’t use her hands to cheer for him any more.  That was okay, though, because she reasoned that clapping would only continue to elevate the pedestal higher and higher.  Kelly was sure that her warning of the danger of being too high was Mark’s only chance of becoming grounded.  

A few years into their marriage, she began to shout to the fans,  “Stop cheering, he is not as great as you think.”  Mark didn’t pull his weight around the house.  He was gone six and a half days a week, on the road for games, and gave his body entirely for the sport that he loved.  When he was home, he was too sore to play with their kids or do chores around the house.  Can’t they see that?  Kelly wondered.

The more the fans cheered for him, the more Kelly feared that Mark’s ego would inflate as the pedestal continued to rise.  What she didn’t realize is that Mark only heard her.  He didn’t play for the cheers of the fans.  He played to impress her.  From the day they met, he always had.  

But after a while, Kelly forgot how great he was and why she started cheering for him in the first place.  She was unhappy in her invisibility as a sport’s wife and scared at the top of her husband’s pedestal.

The cheers would, inevitably, stop.  When Mark’s career was over after that season, the fans disappeared. When they did, there was nothing left to balance the criticism he heard at home.   

Years later, a fan asked “Didn’t you used to be Mark?”  He nodded, remembering the way they used to see him -- the way he used to see himself.  

There was nothing left to counteract Kelly’s shouts of his shortcomings.  Sadly, Kelly and Mark began to see their marriage through the story Kelly told.  They believed the lies.  In the silence, only memories remained of the healthy marriage that might have been... if only she had cheered along.”

...

Here are five easy ways to cheer for your spouse:

  1. List the positive traits that first attracted you to him.  Keep them where you will be reminded of them.  
  2. Speak only positively of him to others, no matter what the situation.  Let him overhear you complimenting him to others.
  3. Celebrate all of his victories and accomplishments with him, big and small.
  4. Place a sticky note on his bathroom mirror for him to find in the morning that says, “I believe in you!”
  5. Wear his jersey!  Football fans aren’t afraid to show their loyalty, show him that you are his biggest fan. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Benefits of Friendship for Healthy NFL Marriages


I was recently asked to write for the NFL Women's Resource Initiative.  This article will be my first monthly piece and I will also be answering write-in questions on the website about love and relationships.  Because of the audience of the NFL's website, this piece is  more NFL-centric than most of my blog entries.  I'll be posting each of them on this site for my readers before they go live on the NFL's site.  I would love to hear your feedback.
...

When my husband, Craig, was drafted to play for the Seattle Seahawks in 2004, we left our homes across the country to make a new home, together, on the West Coast.  We didn’t know anyone in Seattle and really, we were still learning to love each other.

While Craig practiced each day, I felt isolated alone, thousands of miles away from my close friends and family.

Despite my need for friends, I didn’t think I would fit in with other NFL wives.   I didn’t know what the NFL wives might be wearing, but I was pretty sure that their outfits wouldn’t look anything like the jeans and t-shirts that lined my closet.  I felt disgusted at myself for not paying more attention to fashion so that I’d be prepared for fitting in with fashionable women.  

I spent months alone in our apartment, sitting on our rented couch, feeling sorry for myself.  I began to resent Craig for taking me across the country far from the dreams of my own that I sacrificed for him.


Meanwhile, Craig struggled to focus on football while he was worried about me and our relationship at home.

I knew that things had to change, and I knew that I would have to change them.  He needed me to support him and he needed to know that I was happy at home.  Slowly, I started working up the courage to attend events.  First, only with Craig. Then, I started sitting with other players’ wives at games.  Finally, I attended women only events and we met at each other’s homes to watch away games.

My experience in Seattle wasn’t unique.  Years later, other NFL wives confided that it took them years before they felt like a part of the team.  Despite the name brands in their closets, many of them did not feel like they could measure up to the more seasoned multi-millionaires whose husbands they had only seen on TV.

As wives of professional athletes, we spend so much time in the shadows of our husbands that sometimes we forget to look out for others who are lost in their own darkness.  In the NFL, the average career lasts less than 3.5 years and most players will play for several teams within that time frame.  We don’t have the luxury of a couple of years to wait to get to know our fellow sports wives. Time is of the essence!

I realized that as a veteran NFL wife, it was my job to reach out to other new NFL wives sooner.  I needed to be persistent in my effort to include them in day-to-day living, to teach them how to thrive away from their families in the sorority of professional sports wives.  

As I got to know other Seahawks wives, we formed a very special friendship.  We attended games together, believed in the team, cheered for our husbands, and experienced being a part of victories and championships.  We laughed and cried together, shared Bible studies, threw baby showers, and even spent holidays together.   

Thousands of miles away from our friends and families, who else might understand the times that we were scared to be alone and longed for a husband who was home more, whose body didn’t hurt, who could participate in non-football activities with us?  There were times that we wanted to be seen by the outside world as more than NFL wives, or to be seen at all.

Now, Craig is retired from the NFL.  I have no doubt that our marriage is stronger because of the sisterhood of friendships that I shared with the wives of his teammates.  

Veteran NFL Wives, this is my call to you:  Find out if each player on your team has a wife, fiancĂ©, or a serious girlfriend.  Go out of your way to spend time with them.  Show them your team’s city.  Sit with them at games.  Invite them over for dinner.  Get to know their stories -- and tell them yours.  Let them know that the sorority of NFL wives has nothing to do with the clothes they’re wearing or the style of their hair. 

The friendships will inevitably make you happier and help you to be your best in your marriage.  Knowing that you’re happy will help your husband focus on being his best for the team.

When we got the call that Craig’s NFL career was over in 2011, we were devastated.  Despite seven seasons of great memories, the transition was hard.  While I tried to support him, I leaned on fellow NFL wives to support me.  I mourned for the friendships, the opportunities, and the identity that comes with being a part of a team and a part of the league. 

The end of our husbands’ football careers comes suddenly for most of us, without warning, and inevitably through no fault of our own. Neither a friend from home nor the general public feels sorry for you when your husband loses his job after years spent in the public eye with an NFL salary.  Only friends from the league understand that the profound loss goes deeper than the money.  

 Your husband will need you to be strong for him.  The NFL wives that you reached out to as they transitioned into the league will be your support system as you transition out.  The thousands of memorable moments that you experienced together as NFL wives will bond you in a sisterhood forever.  

I can’t imagine life without the NFL wives who I consider among my closest friends.  I continue to lean on them to help me keep my marriage strong as Craig and I move beyond our NFL identities and fall in love all over again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ring-by-Spring


“We’re here to find the spouse God intends for us,” my undergraduate students at a private Christian liberal arts university explained to me.   It was my first week on campus and I’d already heard whispers among faculty of their rising concern about “Ring-by-Spring,” a quick-marriage-is-best phenomenon sweeping college campuses around the nation. 

“Why wait longer than spring if we know who we want to marry?” they asked.

I was floored by their collective preference to start dating one semester and be married by the next.  Did they not know the joy of first dates?  First kisses?  Fun crushes that lasted just long enough to break a small piece of their hearts before they moved on to the next?  

That’s the WORST timing possible, I dream-crushingly shouted to the googly-eyed undergrads.  “You can’t possibly even know if you like each other yet” 

They watched their female friends drop out of school after receiving their “MRS. Degrees” and they longed to be the next to say, “I do.”  

Unexpectedly, my public speaking class turned into a lecture on love.

Eighty-eight percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 29 believe that they have a soul mate who is waiting for them.  Approximately ninety percent of them will choose to marry.  It wasn’t their desire to be married that shocked me, it was their willingness to jump into the covenant so quickly.

I told them about limerence - the state of falling in love; when one becomes obsessive about love.  At once, the burgeoning-lover’s brain sees a shift as the dopamine levels rise and  serotonin drops.   The rise in dopamine sends sensations of pleasure to the brain.   For new lovers, the drop in serotonin resembles the serotonin levels of those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, thus explaining the obsessive feelings new lovers feel toward their beloved.  In essence, it makes them feel “crazy” in love.  And so what do we do?  Commit our lives to each other?  NO!

I even broke out the marriage survival rate statistics:
  • Over 67% of first marriages will fail.
  • You have the best chances of your marriage lasting if you are at least 25 years old when you marry.
  • The chances of your marriage lasting increases with each year of college that you complete.

“Why not wait at least until you graduate?” I begged them.  They just giggled. 
That night, I couldn’t fall asleep as I wracked my brain for a reason why these seemingly intelligent students wanted to rush so quickly into the life-long commitment of marriage. I admired their faith -- their thought that God would introduce them only to their future spouse. But certainly they must realize that God couldn’t have intended for each of them to meet their future spouse at school, I reasoned.  After all, the university has enough females to host mini-episodes of The Bachelor on campus for each single male.  Why were they so willing to get married? Was it a right of passage?  A trophy for the most desirable coeds on campus? Perhaps it was as simple as engaging in the most foolproof way to avoid premarital sex

“What are you looking for in a potential spouse?” I asked them as class was ending.

They took turns at first, one at a time, each of them telling me what they most desired in a potential mate.  I recorded their answers as they told me:
This graphic contains the complete list of my students' answers
to what they were looking for in a potential partner.
  • Strong
  • Respectful
  • Passionate
  • Committed
  • Funny
  • Respectful
  • Honest
  • Loving
  • Understanding
  • Understandable
  • Spiritual

The list went on.

“I want someone who is okay with how I look too,” a young bearded man from the back of the room shouted, as if placing his order for a soulmate.

Not a single student said they were looking for love.

“What about love?” I asked, pointing out what seemed like an accidental omission.  “Would you marry someone who had all of these things you wanted even if you didn’t love them?”

“Of course,” they answered.  “Love is inevitable when everything else is in place,” they explained, “even if it takes a while to develop it.”

...

I felt as if I had stepped back in time.

In America, love has become the most important factor in our decision to marry.  But it wasn’t always that way.  In fact, the idea of marrying for love has been growing steadily for about the last 200 years.  Before then, marriage was mainly used to unite families for peace making and financial purposes.  

As recently as the 1960s, 75% of American women said they would marry a person they didn’t love if the person had all of the other characteristics that they were looking for.  

By the 1980s, romantic relationships were the most frequent topic of conversation for college students but only 20% women said they would forego being in love with a marriage partner who had all of the other traits they desired.  

The number has only grown since then as the Western idea of the “love-fueled” marriage is catching on throughout the world (and higher divorce rates follow closely behind). 

Perhaps my googly-eyed Christian undergrads are on to something.  While the rest of us are out hunting for love with Cupid's arrows, they have a more thought-out and lasting list of “must-haves” in their quiver.  Historically, love as an impetus for marriage hasn’t been a good thing for those who want their marriages to last.  Perhaps the “naive” Christian co-eds are onto something that may help the rest of us when choosing a partner.  And perhaps “Ring-by-Spring” isn’t so bad for those who are not under the spell of limerence that leaves the rest of us crazy in love.  

I’ll keep you updated.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  



References, for those of you who would like to read more:

Coontz, S. (2005).  Marriage, a History: from obedience to intimacy or how love 
     conquered marriage. City: Viking 

Fisher, H., Aron, D., Mashek, D., Li, H., & Brown, L. (2002) “Defining the Brain   
     Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction, and Attachment”.  Archives of Sexual Behavior, 
     31:5. 413-419

Haas, A. & Sherman, M.A. (1982). “Reported topics of conversation among same-sex            
     adults.” Communication quarterly, 30, 332-342.

Kreider, R. M., & Simmons, T. (2003). Marital status 2000. Census 2000 Brief (C2CBR-
     20). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.



Thursday, February 7, 2013

For What Do You Hunger?


Brant was one of my professors at Purdue University -- and he was one of the people’s whose brilliant ideas and passion for his job made me fall in love with the idea of being a professor.  Even today, I can’t help but think of him every time I teach.

In the months before cancer claimed his body, I began saving all of our emails, knowing that one day his name would no longer show up in my inbox.

Today, I happened upon a particular exchange that moved me.  Less than a week after the Ravens beat the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, the topic seems pertinent. 

Together, we were working through some ideas about football players as idols and stadiums as places of worship.  I asked,  “On Sundays, people gather in stadiums around the country, throw their arms in the air and "worship" the team for whom they cheer... Wasn’t it once churches that brought people together in this way?”  

To which he responded:

“You are on target about our culture - we do worship athletes, and our sports arenas and stadiums are temples where we worship our (false) gods.  It says something about the poverty of our culture that this is so - not that we worship athletes, but that we don't collectively worship other elements of our culture (playwrights, poets, historians) as did the ancients.  I worry about what my students do NOT know - it seems sometimes like they haven't inherited any culture to speak of - they know very little history and the "culture" with which they are familiar is restricted to the lowest common denominator - pop culture.  I'm not against pop culture or knowledge of it (though some of our pop culture is pretty vulgar), but I do wish this was only ONE thing about which our young people were knowledgeable - I honestly think lots of folks would be happier human beings if they were more culturally enriched.  Maybe if people had a sense of place historically and philosophically, they wouldn't have such a hunger for material toys."

Maybe Brant was right.  Tonight, in honor of my friend, I’m turning off my twitter feed and turning instead to the books that line my shelves.  And I hope that you might too.  Let's educated ourselves so that we might educate our sons and daughters to know their place historically and philosophically, and perhaps someday they won’t hunger for the same false nourishment that holds the rest of us hostage from what matters most.