Posts Tagged ‘improve marriage’

What is Romantic? An e-mail Exchange

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

by Greg and Priscilla Hunt


Greg and Priscilla Hunt are speaking at the Better Marriages Conference: Educating Couples, Building Relationships July 11-14, 2013 in Raleigh, NC.


From: Greg  
To: Priscilla
Sent: 1/9/2012 7:15:29 PM
Subject: Romance

Pris, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner I was thinking about romance and wondering, what does being romantic mean to you?


From: Priscilla
To: Greg
Sent: 1/9/2012 7:25:04 PM
Subject: RE: Romance

Romantic to me is anything that makes me feel loved, feel special. . . feel cherished. It’s really anything that causes me to feel more connected to you.


From: Greg
To: Priscilla
Sent: 1/9/2012 7:30:44 PM
Subject: RE: Romance

This last weekend was romantic to me. We woke up on Friday, suddenly realized we had a rare, free weekend, and conspired to go out of town together to a small town in south Louisiana we’d both heard a lot about. We had fun searching the internet to find a bed and breakfast inn. We worked in the kitchen together to make a to-go lunch to eat in the car. We chose music for the ride that we both enjoyed. We ended up in a historic, old village with a lot of character, settled into our B&B and then relaxed over an elegant dinner. We focused our dinner conversation on our relationship and what we love about each other. Later, we walked to a local hangout to listen to Cajun Zydeco music. Saturday continued the theme of relaxed conversation, walking hand in hand, enjoying the sights and sounds of the region, and generally feeling pampered. Everything was unhurried, warm, and intimate.


From: Priscilla
To: Greg
Sent: 1/9/2012 7:42:23 PM
Subject: RE: Romance

Yes – it included several elements we both value but don’t always incorporate into our daily life together: creativity, spontaneity, candlelight dinner, playfulness, gettin’ the heck out of Dodge!

You know, I love it when you open the car door for me – I feel just like I did when we were first dating. And you still do it! And I love it when I walk into a crowded room and your eyes light up when you see me. And when I overhear you bragging about me to someone else. These things make me want to break my glass slipper running into your arms, my knight in shining armor!


From: Greg
To: Priscilla
Sent: 1/9/2012 7:45:19 PM
Subject: RE: Romance

I love making you feel special, and I love all the ways you make me feel special, too. My heart still races to see the joy in your eyes when I get home or to feel you take my hand in yours. There’s romance in something as simple as the smile on your face and the lightness in your voice this morning when you said, “We’ve got an evening together at home tonight. Let’s make the most of it!”


From: Priscilla
To: Greg
Sent: 1/9/2012 7:51:18 PM
Subject: RE: Romance

And we did! We’ve been so busy lately and I think we both were thrilled to be able to experience a quiet evening at home. It was fun to change into our jeans, throw some steaks on the grill, use a marriage enrichment exercise to guide our dinner conversation and snuggle on the sofa to watch a movie. What could have been an ordinary evening felt like an adventure because we threw ourselves into it and experienced it together!


From: Greg
To: Priscilla
Sent: 1/9/2012 7:57:37 PM
Subject: RE: Romance

I love that even after 35 years together, we’re resisting the temptation to put our relationship on autopilot! And I love that even though I know you better than anyone else in the world, you’re still a mystery to me that I get to explore!


From: Priscilla
To: Greg
Sent: 1/9/2012 8:05:18 PM
Subject: RE: Romance

Let the exploration begin!




Talking About the Holidays

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

by Greg and Priscilla Hunt

Here are a few conversation starters for you and your partner to explore how you can truly have happy holidays – together.

Begin with your own self awareness. Get in touch with your thoughts, feelings and desires. Write them down. After self-reflection, share your perceptions with your partner (see #3 below). Keep this list handy and refer to it often during the holidays. Enjoy a stress-free holiday season that will keep you close to the person(s) you love the most.

1. List the things that would make this a positive holiday experience for you.

2. List the things that would make it harder for you to enjoy the holidays.

3. Take turns sharing with each other your answers to #1 and #2.

4. List the things you’re personally willing to do to make this a positive holiday experience.

Read Survival Guide for Couples: Home for the Holidays here.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep growing!


Happy Holidays – for Both of You

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

by Priscilla and Greg Hunt, PhD


See Jane planning for the holidays. Planning menus, dinner parties, shopping excursions. Planning gift-giving, card-sending, trips to visit family. Planning volunteer work and end-of-year giving. See Jane stress.
What Jane has forgotten to plan is quality time with Dick. And including Dick in the planning. See Dick feel left out, ignored, angry and hurt.
This scenario can only create more stress than there already is this time of year. Take these tips to heart and you’ll be more likely to experience happy holidays.
Practice Good Communication
Remember to include your partner at the discussion stage of holiday planning. Resist the temptation to map everything out and simply inform your partner. We all want to be taken seriously and we each have preferences and desires related to how the holidays will be spent.
Create Quality Time
Remember to build into the busy schedule quiet, down time with your mate. Sit in front of the fire and sip hot chocolate together. Listen to and sing along with holiday music. Play board games. Go for a walk. All these shared activities are important to ensure you emerge from the holidays with your relationship connection intact.
Make Room for Affection and Intimacy
When your hands are busy wrapping gifts and baking cookies they can’t be, well, doing other things. Your mate needs to experience your physical closeness – hand-holding, hugs, sex – and these can easily go by the wayside when you’re focused on other things. Cuddle on the sofa. Rub each other’s backs. Scoot your chair just a little bit closer.
Cut Each Other Some Slack
When we’re stressed there’s lots of opportunity for misunderstandings. You can choose to become irritated with your spouse or you can choose to let it go. Now is a good time to give each other a break. Practice taking deep breaths and calming yourself before responding.
Take Care of Yourself
Are you getting 7-8 hours of sleep at night? Taking multivitamins? Exercising? Drinking plenty of water? All these things can help you feel stronger and ready for whatever the day brings. The holidays aren’t just about others – they are also about you.
Moderate Your Spending
It’s easy to go overboard with holiday spending. This alone can cause conflict and friction in your relationship. Is one of you a saver and one of you a spender? Lots of room here for negative feelings toward the other. And it’s no fun when the bills come due in January! Think of non-material or homemade gifts, particularly for friends and co-workers. Perhaps a mini banana nut bread loaf or a tin filled with candy. How about a heart-felt note printed on your computer in calligraphy and placed in a small frame? Gifts don’t need to be extravagant to express your love and well wishes. It truly is the thought that counts when it’s evident that you’re putting thought into your gift-giving.
Happy holidays can be a reality. But only if you’re willing to give it some thought and follow up with action.
Happy holidays to you – and to your special other!

More reading: Survival Guide for Couples: Home for the Holidays.




Survival Guide for Couples – Home for the Holidays

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

by Priscilla and Greg Hunt, PhD
Hollywood understands human nature. Why else would there be so many movies that portray the holidays being “enjoyed” by so many dysfunctional families? Perhaps the greatest enjoyment is ours as we laugh at and cringe at other families’ dealing with their “stuff”.
What makes these movies strike a chord with us is our personal experience with our own quirky families of origin and years of pleasantness and not-so-pleasantness around the proverbial family table. Let’s just say, we’ve had our highs and lows!
Challenges of Spending Holidays with Our Family of Origin
It’s all too easy to slip into our well-established place in the family system, the place that’s reserved for us year after year. It doesn’t matter that in the real world we’re a successful adult making a name for our self in our chosen field. That we’re respected, admired and even sought-after. When we’re home, we’re the middle child, the one with a temper, the one that flunked out of school, the one that never could quite measure up.
So, amazingly, we defy the laws of reason and slip right back into our childhood role in our family system, a role from which we’ve never been able to break free.
And then, of course, come the denial and the conspiracy of silence about our deep, dark family secrets. After all, if anyone knew that Mom is a drunk, Dad tortures kittens or Uncle Jake fondles little girls, giant billboards would be displayed in the center of town for all to see and life, as we know it, would end.
Challenges of Spending Holidays with Our In-Laws
Suddenly our spouse becomes a child again, unable to stand up for his rights, unwilling to stand up to her older brothers or parents, incapable of fulfilling the role of king or queen of your heart.
We, the most important person in our partner’s life, suddenly become an outsider, fighting for a valued place in the extended family.
His or her family collectively becomes the Devil personified. So, again, the laws of reason are defied, denial ensues, and the gravy turns to sludge in your belly.
Not to mention that no one makes stuffing like your mother!
Answers to the Dilemma/Coping Strategies
As a couple facing family for the holidays, here are strategies that have worked for us through the years. The longer we’re married, the better they work, the quicker we bring them into play, and the more completely our sanity is restored.


  • On the drive or plane ride, begin the process of preparation – begin talking about concerns, fears and desires. Look at patterns from the past and adopt a mantra of “no surprises”. What has worked in the past? What hasn’t? It helps to have realistic expectations!
  • Talk about specific behaviors you’ll institute this year that will help you cope. Discuss how each of you can offer verbal and nonverbal support to each other.
  • Agree on signals you can give each other to mean 1) I’ve had enough, I’ve got to get out of here, 2) I need to know I’m more important to you than your parents, 3) family – what’re you gonna do?!
  • Clarify relational boundaries, those related to your couple relationship and those related to your extended family. Identify and claim what issues are yours, respect and relinquish what issues are your partner’s and agree and commit to honor what issues are yours together.
  • During your visit, find ways to affirm each other for the competent, well-adjusted adult you’ve each become.
  • Remember that first and foremost you and your partner form a team. Affirm your solidarity. Your partner is not the enemy!
  • Set in your mind a clear, vivid picture of your current family and home-sweet-home.
  • Practice deep breathing and meditation that can levitate you from the dining table into the realm of sanity.
  • Plant positive messages in your brain such as 1) I am an adult; 2) I am not a victim; 3) I am thankful for my family, such as it is; 4) nobody’s perfect; 5) I’ll soon be home in my recliner watching the big game.

Conversation to Bring You Closer to Your Partner During the Holidays
Before the hustle and bustle of the season, find a quiet place for the two of you, pour a cup of tea or glass of wine, make eye contact and hold hands. Using your best communication skills, both talking and listening, take turns sharing:


  1. List the things that would make this a positive holiday experience for you personally.
  2. List the things that would make it harder for you personally to enjoy the holidays.
  3. List the things you are personally willing to do to make this a positive holiday experience.
  4. Agree together on several things you each will do to make this a positive holiday experience.

Happy Holidays!
More Reading: Happy Holidays – for Both of You



A Spiritual Crisis Impacts a Relationship

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

My husband just had his first book published – Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night: What to Do When God Won’t Answer. He’s done lots of writing through the years and has contributed to numerous books. However, this is his first full-fledged-photo-on-the-cover book. I’m very proud of him!

The book is a spiritual memoir. Which totally makes sense. If Greg’s going to write a memoir, it is going to have a strong spiritual thread running throughout. The book tells of a two-year period in which he was seeking vocational direction – and God seemed to fall completely silent.

Would we continue in the ministry, our vocation and calling for 30+ years, or would we make a clean break and plunge headfirst into the nonprofit we had created eight years previously? Would we take a step of faith into a largely unknown future? (For me, this translated will we give up a perfectly fine salary with benefits in order to pursue a dream that may or may not pan out – much less put food on the table?).

Now, don’t think this didn’t impact things at home!

Greg was senior pastor of a large, influential, wealthy church in the South. He was on television every week. He was actively involved and recognized in the community. As a minister, he was on call 24/7. He was constantly putting out fires in the church (a church, after all, is a complex institutional machine) and counseling/supporting individuals, couples and families who were putting out various personal fires of their own.

AND he was experiencing his own spiritual crisis.

While he was waging a spiritual battle, I was focused on day-in-day-out activities to keep the home and family running somewhat smoothly. My motto is, “when there’s something I need to do, tell me. Until then, I’ve got life to live.”

It’s not that I’m not supportive. I believe Greg would say that I am very supportive. It’s just that after 35 years together, I understand that we often experience life on two different planes. Greg would admit that he largely lives life between his ears and in his heart. He’s a big picture kind of guy, optimistic and given to dreams. I live life with both feet firmly planted in the here and now and facing life head-on. He calls me “earthy”.

Our saving grace through that 2-year experience was that we were consistently finding ways to have fun and to affirm life. As has been true in our marriage, we’ve lived life and faced problems with a collaborative attitude. Even though it was Greg’s vocational crisis, it was our life and our future. . . and in some ways our crisis.

I learned a few things on this roller coaster two-year journey:
•    Advice, unless it is asked for, is not helpful (I think I’ve learned this lesson multiple times)
•    When a person is in crisis, emotions can change from day to day and moment to moment – it’s helpful to be a “non-anxious presence” just to walk alongside
•    We are unable to fix another person’s problems
•    Gentleness and tenderness are preferred over harshness and task-focus (isn’t this always the case?!)
•    Affection and physical touch can be reassuring and comforting
•    Every day life has moments – no matter how small – that can be and should be celebrated
•    Living with gratitude and grace keeps everything in perspective
•    We all need meaning, purpose and direction in our lives – and sometimes it’s hard to find.

Finally, after two years, Greg gained vocational clarity, we gained clarity on our future and we transitioned out of pastoral ministry. We now have a new calling – to serve people through Directions, Inc. as they lead their organizations, relationships and lives. We continue to share a passion for helping couples enrich their relationships through Better Marriages.

Last night I was on a flight home after a long weekend. For the third time I was reading Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night: What to Do When God Won’t Answer. My row mate asked me about what I was reading. I handed her the book and told her how much I was enjoying it. I looked away and felt a smile playing on the corners of my lips. She asked if I knew the author. With a twinkle in my eye I replied, “I’m sleeping with him.”

Life is interesting. Sometimes, it turns out, the journey is the destination in disguise.


Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep growing!


Relationship Tip: Show Appreciation in Marriage

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Susan loves Mitch. No question about it. But after 20 years of marriage, she shared with me over a cup of coffee that she doesn’t like him. “He’s boring! He doesn’t like to do anything fun and we rarely have interesting conversations. I won’t leave him, but the only fun I have is the fun I can find on my own or with my friends.”

How sad! I knew that their relationship could be so much richer and offer them both so much more joy and satisfaction. Sounded to me like Susan needed an attitude adjustment. She certainly wasn’t going to change Mitch. He’d been boring for 20 years! I knew that trying to change a person was a dead-end street – she’d only  make herself  miserable and dissatisfied in the process.

“Let’s try an experiment” I said. “Tonight write down 10 things you appreciate about Mitch. Then share your list with him.”

“I’ll try, but I’m not sure I can think of 10 things!”

The next week we met for coffee. Susan was glowing. She excitedly told me that she had, in fact, been able to think of 10 things. . . but she didn’t stop there. She thought of 10 more! She shared her list of 20 things she appreciated about him with Mitch and that night they had great sex (TMI)! Susan laughed and said, “Oh. . .that makes 21!)

That conversation was five years ago. Susan and Mitch are getting ready to go on a cruise to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Turns out Mitch isn’t all that boring after all – Susan  just needed to be reminded of why she fell in love with him in the first place, to focus on those positives and accept Mitch for who he is. And Mitch needed to be appreciated.

A simple exercise in appreciation can turn a relationship around!

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep growing!

How to Use Conflict to Bring You Closer

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

by Priscilla and Greg Hunt, PhD
“Conflict is not something tragic in a human relationship. It is not to be feared and run away from. It is a normal and integral part of any close relationship.”    David Mace

Conflict is inevitable. All couples have conflict. But it’s how you handle that conflict that defines the quality of your relationship. The decision to use conflict creatively to enhance your relationship and bring you closer is a conscious choice. Disagreements are a viable and healthy part of relationship. Working through a conflict can lead couples to a valuable opportunity to achieve deeper understanding of themselves and each other, drawing them closer together rather than pushing them farther apart.

Couples are attracted by both their similarities and differences. Many of the differences are seen as assets as there is hope that one’s good qualities will pass on to the other. However, over time, some of the differences become liabilities and can cause irritation or conflict.
Dialogue: Identify ways you and your partner are different. Which differences are assets? Which differences are liabilities? How can you build on the assets and keep irritating differences from becoming major conflict issues?

It’s the anger generated in conflict that makes conflict hard to manage. Anger is a normal human response. When a person feels threatened, frustrated or attacked the body triggers a defensive reaction. Anger is powerful. It’s a source of energy, like gasoline, that is explosive and destructive if mishandled. However, the same energy properly managed has enormous potential for constructive uses, such as make-up sex! How we behave when angry is largely learned through years of observation and experiences with family, friends, television and other life experiences.
Dialogue: How was anger expressed in your home growing up? How was anger resolved? How do you feel when your partner gets angry with you? Why do you think you feel this way? What can you learn about each other’s past that can help minimize conflict in the future?

We must look beyond the “smoke screen” of anger and recognize deeper feelings. Anger results when our sense of security is threatened, our self-esteem damaged and our feelings hurt. Often anger is based on misinterpretation of words or actions. After anger has subsided, carefully examine the anger-producing situation in an atmosphere of openness and honesty.
Dialogue: What happened just before the incident? What triggered the anger? What else was I feeling (guilt, fatigue, overwhelmed, insecure)? What did I want or hope my partner would say or do? How can we identify and communicate our primary feelings to each other in order to keep conflict from escalating?

The two most common (and destructive) ways of dealing with anger are to suppress (swallow it) or vent (spew it). Suppressing anger results in silence, sulking, withdrawing. Venting results in yelling, criticizing, blaming. Neither keeping it all in nor letting it all out brings a couple closer. We can learn to break old patterns and develop more effective ways to handle anger.

Dialogue: Do you tend to vent or suppress? Does your partner tend to vent or suppress? What behaviors do you observe? What feelings do you experience? What do we want to change in our behavior to express anger more appropriately and minimize conflict?
A pinch is a little hurt or irritation – it may be your partner’s tone of voice, a look, a task left undone. A pinch in and of itself is of little importance. But, add them all up, day after day, week after week and they can result in resentment, conflict and drifting apart. According to John Gottman, it takes five affirmations to negate one pinch. A pinch is no small matter! If you feel a pinch, simply say “ouch!” and then explain “I felt___when___” and allow your partner to clarify his or her intentions.
Dialogue: Describe a situation where you felt pinched. What was your primary emotion? How do we want to handle pinches in the future? Since it takes five affirmations to negate a pinch, give your partner five affirmations right now.

The first step in dealing with conflict is to make decisions when you’re NOT angry about how you’re going to act when you ARE angry. (Sarah Catron)
Guidelines for processing our anger:
•    Acknowledge anger – open up about your feelings using good communication skills
•    Look behind the anger – look below the surface to identify the primary cause
•    Do not attack – avoid the words “always” and “never” – agree not to blame, yell, criticize, use sarcasm, belittle, name call, bring up the past, judge, physically assault
•    Accept responsibility for clearing it up – anger in one partner affects the total relationship. Regardless of where the anger originates, both have equal responsibility for clearing it up.
•    Take a time out – anger cannot be processed until both partners have cooled down. It’s impossible to process anger in the heat of anger.
Dialogue: On a scale of 1 (never follow the guidelines) to 5 (always follow the guidelines) rate how you personally process anger in your relationship. What things do you do as an individual and as a couple that are positive in the way you handle conflict? What things do you do as an individual and as a couple that are negative in the way you handle conflict?
What personal guidelines will you establish together about processing anger?
Conflict in a relationship is normal and inevitable. The way we process conflict and anger can lead to greater intimacy. It’s important to identify our patterns for dealing with conflict and to develop a game plan for dealing with it more effectively and lovingly.
More Reading: Couple Conflict: Attitude is Everything

The Best Marriage Begins with the Word ‘Better’

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

by Greg and Priscilla Hunt

We’d probably all agree we want a successful marriage – the best marriage possible. How do we get there? By building a better marriage! The word better is a relative term – a better marriage is relative to the marriage you currently have. If your marriage is way less than you want, it can be better. If your marriage is hitting on all eight cylinders and you can’t imagine it being improved upon, it can be better. Was yesterday a bit rocky? Today can be better!
The key to developing a better marriage is to start where you are. Identify, celebrate and build on your strengths. The most difficult thing we can do is to move an entrenched, unmovable boulder. But if we can build on the momentum of a boulder that’s already moving, it’s no sweat! Think of your marriage as that moving boulder – it’s already in motion. It’s alive, vital, and ever-changing with a history and a future.
To identify where you want to go, first identify where you’ve been. Take a look in your rearview mirror and see the path that’s stretched out behind – your personal memory lane. Celebrate the high moments, the joy, the growth. Now look ahead down the path that you are creating. What have you learned that you want to bring into the future with you? What have you learned that you want to leave behind? What skills and strengths do you need to add to your relational toolkit to navigate the road ahead?
Your relationship is in your hands. You have the power to make it what you want. Start by making it better!

  1. What are your current relational strengths?
  2. What are the things you need to improve in your marriage?
  3. What are you personally willing to do to improve your marriage?
  4. Agree with your partner on three things you would like to add to your relational toolkit during the next 3 months – set a plan and work the plan!
  5. Improve your relationship at the Better Marriages Fiesta, July 7-10, 2011 at Hotel Albuquerque.

Wherever your relationship is, it can be BETTER!