How Having a Dog Taught Me to Love My Husband Better

If you didn't already know, we have the greatest little furry creature who lives in our house. His name is Howie but we mostly call him Howard. He's the greatest little buddy and I'm convinced that every marriage/family needs a puppy like him. We've learned so much about life, responsibility, selflessness and love since Howard came into our lives and he makes our lives more interesting and happy. Over the last four and a half years, I've paid attention to how this sweet pup interacts with Joe and he's inspired me to change some things about the way that I love my husband and treat my marriage.

Related: Why Every Marriage Needs a Puppy

Be Excited to See Him When He Gets Home

When Howie hears the garage door open at the end of the day, he runs to look out the front room and his tail starts wagging. I always know the second Joe puts his car in park because Howie jumps down from the couch and runs to the door as Joe's car disappears into the garage. He stands there with his eyes glued to the door until it opens and he can jump up and down to greet him. If Joe stays in his truck listening to the end of a Dave Ramsey call or does something out in the yard before coming into the house, I hear my poor fluffy friend start to cry because he just wants to be with his best friend. The moment Joe walks through the door, excitement ensues and the two of them play fetch and snuggle with each other for the next five or ten minutes.

I can't spend time every night with my nose pressed to the window waiting for Joe to come home, and I don't cry if it takes him longer than 30 seconds to come inside after he's parked his car, but there are definitely a few things that I've learned from Howie's example. Some nights the kids and I will sit in the window and wave frantically when Joe starts to pull in the driveway. The minute Joe walks in the door, I acknowledge his presence, set aside any media so that we can catch up on each other's days uninterrupted, and try to let him know with my words and actions that I missed him and am glad that he's home.

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Be Attentive to What He Has to Say

Any time Joe starts talking to Howie, that puppy listens intently and there is usually a lot of head tilting involved. I love watching those two have conversations because even though there are only a few words that Howard knows the meaning of, he hangs onto Joe's every word and for a few minutes, what Joe has to say is all that matters in his life.

Although I have made a lot of efforts to pay close attention to Joe when he talks to me, I know that I can always do better. I pause Netflix, set my phone aside and ignore my computer, but there are times when I still struggle to focus on everything he has to say to me. I'm inspired by the way that Howie listens and maintains eye contact the entire time Joe is talking and I want to be more like him in this aspect.

Make the Most of the Time You Have Together

Howie is always right next to us, follows us around just to be with us wherever we are and whatever we are doing and is constantly giving kisses and love. He doesn't want to waste one minute of time that he has with the family. When we're watching TV, he's right there with us. If we're enjoying a meal together as a family, the dog is usually right there as well, although he's paying more attention to the kids and the food that they'll potentially drop than to us. If Joe sits down on the couch or on the stairs, Howie is right there with a one of his toys to be thrown or a request for some belly rubs and cuddles.

After Joe's two months of working 20 to 30 hours of overtime each week, I learned not to take advantage of the time that we have together. Every minute that he was home with me, I wanted to be talking or cuddling. But it's funny how quickly I start to take for granted the time that he is home now that he's back to working normal hours each week. Whenever I catch myself doing that, I think about Howie and how he can't get enough quality time with Joe and I make a change.

Be Content Just Being Together

Every morning, Howie and Joe snuggle in bed until it's time to ready for the day. Sometimes the dog gets belly scratches, but for the majority of the time, the two of them just hang out. Other times when Joe is standing around on his phone or his tablet, Howie will beg for his attention and he's always happy when Joe sits somewhere he can conveniently sit next to him or right in his lap.

I'm not the greatest at just sitting around and enjoying the time that I have with Joe, I have a need to have a project going on all the time. From Howie, I am learning to be content with just being together. I don't always need to be getting something done and we don't always have to be working on a project or doing something exciting together, sometimes we can just hang out.

Make Space Where You Don't Think There Is Any

Whenever Joe and I sit down next to each other on the couch or cuddle up in bed to watch a movie, Howie always finds his way in between us, within minutes. We have to move him by force if we want him to sit elsewhere and sometimes it takes two or three times of moving him before he gives up. He's been known to sit on my hip because he wants to be near both of us. It's oddly endearing, even though I have to fight for my place next to Joe sometimes. He always seems to find that one little spot between us and tuck himself into it so perfectly.

I've mentioned before on the blog that I've thought over and over again that there would be more time for our marriage or different activities after we passed a certain phase in our lives. And every time it passes, something new comes up and we're left with the same amount of time as we were before. So I've learned to make time instead of always waiting for it to fall in our laps. I know that we need time for our marriage and sometimes I just don't see any time in the schedule, like Howie doesn't see space between Joe and I. If I really want to spend time just the two of us, I will make time in our daily and weekly schedule.

How have your pets or kids encouraged you to love your husband differently?

Watching the way my dog loves my husband has taught me a few things about how I can love my husband better.

At Home Date Night Idea - Indoor Campout

For more date night ideas like this one, check out the Prioritizing Date Night Ebook. This book shares practical tips for making date night happen on a more regular basis, no matter your current stage or situation in life. It also includes over 200 unique date night ideas, just like this one, with all of the inspiration you need to make the date fit your situation in life.

This post contains affiliate links. This means that I make a small commission off of purchases made through my links at no extra charge to you. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies that support A Prioritized Marriage!

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Joe and I registered for a four-man tent for our wedding and later we purchased sleeping bags and an air mattress. In almost seven years of marriage, the number of times that we've used that camping equipment together is..... once. Joe has used them all for scout overnighters on multiple occasions but we've only taken them out for our family's use once for a family reunion in 2011.

Joe's work schedule for the first five years of our marriage didn't allow us to get away on the weekends very much, so we never went camping together. By the time he'd changed jobs and had a regular schedule again, we had a newborn and he was scoutmaster and camping one weekend a month already. We have a goal to go on a small campout this summer with the kids, maybe after we have a test run in our backyard to make sure we'll all get decent sleep.

If your stage of life is similar to ours, if you're not an outdoorsy couple, if the woods are too far away from you or if it's the middle of winter and you're missing the summer weekends when you would escape to somewhere without cell phone service, this date night might be for you. In the summer, you could do this in your backyard, but you'll want to make sure you have long lasting batteries in your baby monitors or an extension cord that reaches out to your tent so you can keep an eye on the kids.

One of the best things about this date is that you can still wake up the next morning and go to work if you need to. Middle of the week dates or date nights when one of you has to work all weekend are totally doable with this kind of campout! I loved that we could do this on a Saturday night and still get up the next morning and have the entire family ready and at church by 9am. 

The Setup

We pulled out all the stops for this date night with the tent, our air mattress and the sleeping bags. In the future, we probably won't set up the tent because it was a lot of work and took up lots of space but the kids thought that it was a lot of fun and it did add to the atmosphere for our date. Even if this took place in our backyard, I would choose to sleep out under the stars, except for the mosquitoes in our area so I'd probably set the tent up still but leave off the cover.

I'm a big fan of double sleeping bags, especially for date night or a camping getaway. This sleeping bag is perfect for indoor campouts becaue it's lightweight and it has pillows attached. It's the one that I'm planning to purchase for our next campout date night. If you're looking for a warmer sleeping bag to use for winter temperatures and campouts, this one is great.

We set up camp in our living room, where we could watch a movie on our TV through the roof of the tent. You could set up in your basement or even in your bedroom. If you don't have a tent or an air mattress, turn your bed into a fort so it has a tent like feel. You can find tutorials on Pinterest for creating a tent over your bed if you need a place to start.

If you want to fully commit to the camping experience try turning off your wifi and putting your cell phones on airplane mode for a few hours or even overnight. You can still use the alarm on your phone when it's in airplane mode so you don't need to worry about having to get up in the morning. Your kids will be upstairs sleeping (unless you decide to send them to grandma's for the night) so you won't need to worry about calls from the babysitter. Disconnect for an entire night and see how connected you are as a couple when you do.

The Food

Go all in with this date night and make a dinner out of foods that you would normally take camping. Hot dogs, beef stew, tin foil dinners, sandwiches or make everything in the dutch oven. We'd had a big day and a long week, so we decided to go the easy route for this date and picked up takeout from one of our favorite restaurants. You could also make dinner together, no specific theme, just enjoy making a meal together. We always love to do homemade pizza or you can check out one of the delicious meals from the Date Night in the Kitchen series here on the blog.

My favorite part of this date was the s'mores! There are a lot of different indoor s'more variations out there and you can find them all by searching Pinterest. I found this great indoor s'mores maker on Amazon and that's what we used on our date. I love it because it creates a classic s'more in the oven or on the grill (no campfire smells required) and doesn't require any skills to assemble the s'more without leaving any marshmallow on the roasting stick or making a mess of your fingers.

You can check out this post for some ideas to create some unique s'mores flavor combinations. The great thing about the s'mores maker that we purchased is that it makes up to six s'mores at a time. You can create a few different types of s'mores, split them in half and taste them all. We also bought the s'mores specific marshmallows , they come in a sort of square shape rather than the regular round shape. The s'mores ready marshmallows make assembly more simple and eating s'mores less messy.

I was cracking up while we were eating our s'mores because while I had chocolate and marshmallow all over my face, Joe was nibbling off all of the marshmallow that was squishing out around the crackers. We definitely do things differently... This s'mores maker is a game changer for us. Quick and easy s'mores any time of year without having to light a fire. I'm excited to introduce our kids to a new, delicious treat as well.

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If your date night continues through to morning, you could plan to make pancakes, bacon and hot chocolate together. There's nothing I love more than breakfast while camping. Everyone brings a cooktop and makes something warm while they're bundled up in lots of layers. We didn't have time for a big breakfast before we headed out to church the morning after our date but you can bet that next time, we'll make breakfast a priority.

The Activity

You've set the mood and enjoyed delicious food, but don't end your evening there! What fun camping activities could you do together for date night as well? If it's not too cold outside, you might go out and stargaze. There are apps out there that will help you locate constellations in the sky above you depending on the time of year. One of the classic campout things to do is to play board games or card games. Freshly Married has a great list of two player games that you should check out. 

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We watched a new show on Netflix for a while; Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee. It's actually pretty fun if you like comedy! Jerry Seinfeld drives a different "cool car" in every episode and picks up a different comedian to take to coffee. We skip around a bit because we're not the biggest fans of some of the comedians featured on the show. It's fun to hear a little bit about their different careers and get some laughs at the same time.

Another thing we did was play the This or That Date from The Dating Divas. It was simple to put together and simple to play but led to great conversation! The printables are free and you will love playing this together! We chose to take turns picking cards and then the person who picked a card would guess what the other person's choice would be. After that, we shared our personal choices and usually had a quick discussion. Seven years in a relationship and I still learned new things about Joe that I didn't know before! I loved how low-key this game was but how well it helped us connect.

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We had a lot of fun on this date and plan to recreate it again in the future. Same basic idea, different food, activities and atmosphere. You can find over 200 other date night ideas like this one in our Prioritizing Date Night Ebook. You will also find tips to help you make date night happen, no matter what obstacles stand in your way. The book is currently on sale so grab your copy now!

What details would you be sure to include on your indoor campout date?

Indoor camping for winter months or couples whose schedule or family situation doesn't allow for real camping excursions. Plus the best indoor s'mores secret in the world!

Why We Start Planning for Christmas in January

One of my personal goals this year is to plan ahead, prepare and then follow through on the plans that I've made. One of the things that we're planning ahead for is Christmas! Yes, I know it's been less than a month since Christmas ended and I just barely finished putting our decorations away a week ago, but we're already talking about this year's holiday season. I'm planning for a lot of different things including traditions and gift ideas but the biggest thing that we've been talking about is our budget.

Related: 5 Questions to Improve the Money Conversations in Your Marriage

Dave Ramsey always tells people that Christmas isn't a surprise, it comes on the same day every year, which makes it easy to plan and pay for, right? Are any of you guilty of letting it sneak up on you? *Raises hand* I know that we are and our monthly budget has been thrown for a loop more than once when December rolled around. This year that is not going to be the case, we are planning and preparing well in advance. Christmas is in our budget every single month this year so there will be no surprises other than the ones wrapped beneath the tree.

Related: One Tip for Success with Financial Goals in Your Marriage

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I wanted to share what we did to plan so far in advance and hopefully it will help you too! The week between Christmas and New Year's, I sent a calendar event to Joe, inviting him to a meeting to plan our year and go over our budget. When the time came, we sat down over a treat (you could do this over dinner as well) and talked about a variety of things. We discussed date night ideas, who was in charge of planning Valentine's and our anniversary, trips we wanted to take, our general budget, etc. And then we planned for Christmas and birthdays.

We started in January and went through the entire calendar year, setting a budget for each birthday, anniversary, Mother's Day, Father's Day and other special occasions. We accounted for everyone that we needed to buy for and added a little extra to the budget to cover any additions to the family or special events (weddings, baby/bridal showers) that we might not know about this early on in the year. We wrote that number down and then did the same thing for Christmas. We determined a budget for gifting to each other, gifts for our kids, family members, neighbor gifts, etc.

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After we had a total for all of the presents that we anticipate buying between January 1st and December 31st of the current year, we divided the total by 12. That gave us the number that we needed to add to our budget each month. From there, we picked a bank account to save everything to and each month we'll transfer the money so it's there to use when a special occasion comes up. As we pay for gifts, we'll transfer the money into our checking account to cover those expenses, probably one transaction at the end of the month as well (or we'll just subtract the used amount from the amount that we're transferring in). This way, each gift doesn't need to be in our budget, and the months that we have five or six or ten family birthdays, our budget won't be affected because that money has already been budgeted and set aside for our use.

At the end of the year, when all of our gifts have been purchased, if there is extra money leftover, we'll buy ourselves something fun or roll it over into our house projects savings account. I anticipate having money in still in that account after Christmas is over because I'll be shopping for deals and using cashback and gift cards that I earn through rebate apps and by taking advantage of "buy ____ get a $____ gift card" deals at Target.

The biggest benefit to budgeting for Christmas one month at a time for 12 months is that if I run into a deal or a great gift idea at any point in the year, I can purchase it then instead of waiting until November or December! I love being able to take advantage of great deals when I see them. On that note, if you are one of those people who likes to have their Christmas shopping done and all of their presents wrapped before December 1st rolls around, divide your yearly gift budget by 10 or 11 instead so that your account doesn't run out of money early. I wouldn't want you to run into a budget crisis after you worked so hard to plan and prepare ahead of time!

Related: Preparing for Your Family's Financial Future

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One last tip!! Write down the amounts that you decided on for gifts and stick to them! In years past, we've set our budget based on the big total number but we forget the little numbers. So when our anniversary rolls around, we can't remember how much we agreed on for gifts or if we decided on a getaway instead of gifts. We end up overshooting our budgeted amount which leads to a deficit and budget trouble at the end of the year. There are great gift apps you can use that allow you to put a number for each person and occasion and also give you space to brainstorm ideas for different gifts. I like to have a sheet in my planner with all of the amounts listed and the gift ideas that I come up with for different people throughout the year. A secret Pinterest board also works well for me!

Our Favorite Budgeting Resources

I follow Pennies into Pearls on Instagram and YouTube as well as subscribing to her blog. Brittany's content has been a game changer for me this past year. She convinced me to get back to using Ibotta and other rebate apps and her monthly budget videos are so inspiring and helpful as we get back to budgeting again. Her monthly meal planning and grocery hauls have made the biggest difference for our family. I don't remember when we started doing it, but it saves us time and money every month so we'll continue doing it forever. Check out her newest Financial Unity series built to help couples get on the same page with their money.

This last year we also started using the Every Dollar app for our budgeting. We just use the free version and sit down each week to enter our transactions from the week prior. Maybe one day we'll upgrade to the paid version, it would be convenient, but I like the accountability that our weekly chats give us. We're forced to sit down and report on everything that we spent and then we set goals to do better in the next week. 

Photos by Sadie Banks

We sit down together every January and plan for Christmas and all of the holidays or birthdays in between. It's something that we highly suggest and this is why!

The Importance of Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals in Your Marriage

A couple of years ago, I shared on social media that Joe and I had been setting a "five year plan" for our marriage in celebration of our five year anniversary. I was surprised by how many comments I got in response, from people who had never thought to set goals together as a couple! As I've thought about the lack of goal setting in marriage, I'm certain that goals are being made by all couples, but maybe not officially. My goal today is to inspire you to sit down and set goals together as a couple and provide you with a few tools you need to set the kind of goals that will help you find success in the coming year.

Related: How to Set Goals for Your Marriage in the New Year

2018 is going to be a big year as far as our goals are concerned. Rehabilitating our first house and having two kids has used up a lot of our time and resources over the last few years. We've done a lot of great things but we're ready to do even more! Our goals in the coming year center around strengthening our marriage relationship, spending more time together as a family, making our house into more and becoming more financially stable. We sat down this past weekend to set our goals and we used the formula that I talk about in the video below to do it.

S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based. Setting goals using this formula will aid in your success. After you've determined where you want to be at the end of the year and set your big goals that you want to reach, break those goals down. Set smaller goals that you need to achieve each day, week and month to get you the result you want. Most importantly, make sure that you are both on the same page with your goals.

Related: The Secret to Successful Goal Setting as a Couple

Example Goals to Get You Started

Here are a couple of example goals to get you started. All of these are based off of goals that we've set and achieved in the six years that we have been married.

Our financial goal is to have all of our debt paid off by the end of the year. We have $15,000 of debt. We will pay off at least $1,000 of that debt each month. We will use our tax return and year end bonus' to pay off the remainder of the debt. 
We achieved this goal in 2012. Although my numbers may be off, this was roughly our timeline and roughly our plan. I was in school spring, summer and fall semesters this year and Joe was working to build his lawn care business. To find the $1,000 we needed to put toward our debt each month, we set smaller goals to stick to a monthly budget, eat out less, limit our frivolous spending, etc. 

Our marriage goal is to have date night once a week. We will hire a babysitter for one week each month, plan two date nights at home after the kids are in bed or during nap time, and go on one family date. 
We set this goal last year and didn't completely succeed so we are setting a similar goal again this year. I use date night ideas from here on the blog as well as the 200+ ideas found in my e-book to help plan our at home dates and make them a little bit different than our usual takeout and a movie. I used this post from Friday We're in Love as an inspiration for our date night schedule, and we have changed it up a little bit this year based on what worked and what didn't work last year.

Our marriage goal is to spend at least five minutes connecting with each other daily. We will do this by putting our phones away after 9:30 p.m. each night, making three nights "TV free" and saying no to being away from home more than one night a week.
This is a goal that we're thinking of setting this coming year, but because I'm writing this post before we actually sit down to make our goals, the parameters might be different. Our schedules keep us busy and it's easy to let life take control and realize later that we haven't had a moment to connect. This was especially important when Joe was working crazy hours the last couple months of the year. I craved the 10-15 minutes we got to ourselves each day.

Related: 10 Ways to Connect with Your Spouse in 10 Minutes or Less

Year of Goals

The Dating Divas have put together an amazing printable pack to help you set goals for the entire year! Their Ultimate Goal Setting Printable Pack is based on setting S.M.A.R.T goals and provides everything you need to record those goals. We used the pack this weekend to set our goals for the year and break those down into smaller, attainable short-term goals that we can work toward each day, week or month. For less than $5, you can grab your printable pack and set goals that will better your marriage and your family this year! Click here to grab yours. Goal setting is the first step to a stronger marriage, a happier home and a better you.

We also used the Powersheets Companion Goal Guide for Couples for Couples from Cultivate What Matters and Powersheets. You can grab yours here!

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As you head into the new year, I hope you'll sit down and set a few goals together as husband and wife. And as you discuss the things that you want to achieve, look at the goals that you each set individually and consider ways that you can work together to make each other's dreams come true this year. You can accomplish great things as a team and with your spouse by your side, you can achieve amazing things on your own as well.

Related: Are Your Spouse's Endeavors a Priority for You Too?

I'd love to hear what goals you are setting in the coming year, whether it's for yourself or for your marriage! What are you going to accomplish this year?

Set goals with your spouse, your marriage will thank you. Here is a quick formula to help you set more successful goals.

Wives to Watch in Every Stage of Life - Sara of Mrs. Imperfect

Each stage of life looks different and brings unique challenges to every couple. My hope is that you will be inspired by the stories of the women in this series. I hope that their experiences will help you find more ways to make your marriage relationship a priority throughout every stage of your own life.

Sara reached out to me a few months ago and wanted to participate in this series! I'm excited to share her insight and the things that she's learned in her married life so far.

What does it mean to you to prioritize your marriage?

It means to put our relationship first before all other things in our lives including family, friends, hobbies, and work. Those are all important things, yes, but keeping our marriage strong is the most important.

That means sometimes turning things down if they cut into our time to spend together. It also means being intentional about that time we spend together. We spend most weeknights and weekends together, whether it is simply watching Netflix together, taking walks, doing projects around the house, or having special date nights.

How have the different stages you’ve experienced in life affected how you prioritize your relationship with each other?

In the almost three years we’ve been together we’ve weathered several different job changes, health crises, and challenges with family members, and I believe that we have come out stronger in each one. I think that they have made prioritizing our marriage more difficult, but definitely even more important. When things get tough we lean on each other even more then we do in the “easier” times.

The next big transition in our lives will be having children, which I know will change our relationship in a lot of ways. I think it is important to focus on what will not change. We have already discussed how our marriage is still going to be the top priority, because a strong marriage is the foundation of a strong family. We also want to keep traveling and have regular date nights, even with small children.

What are some rituals/traditions that you have with your spouse?

Every night we try to have the same wind-down rituals. I scratch his back and he will rub my back or brush my hair. We will cuddle and sometimes will also reflect on the day based on how tired we are. It is one of the ways that we battle stress’ effect on our relationship. My top love language is quality time and his is physical touch, so he is definitely a cuddler, while I love spending time talking and just being together. As well, every morning he doesn’t leave without three kisses and an “I love you.”

We also intentionally plan several date nights every month. These have included visits to museums, historical sites, sports games, gardens, festivals, and more. We try to get more creative than simply dinner or going to a movie, because a date night is an opportunity to increase intimacy, laugh together, and experience new things together. I feel that date nights have been a really key thing to strengthening our marriage, which is why I started a date night series on my blog.

How have the obstacles and challenges that you’ve faced as a couple made you a stronger team?

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve definitely had some stressful and challenging times over our almost three years together. But I wouldn’t have wanted to go through them with anyone else at my side. We’ve gone through a number of transitions together and each had struggles with work and our health. While going through them has been stressful and has sometimes put a strain on our relationship, I feel that we have definitely come out of them knowing ourselves better and that we are stronger together then we are apart.

The challenges have served to remind us how important it is that our marriage is the priority. Because when everything else has seemed to be going wrong, our relationship has been a place of safety and refuge from the craziness. It has been inevitable that sometimes the outside stuff has affected how we relate to each other. Stress does that and sometimes we’ve taken out that stress on each other. But mostly it has caused us to appreciate the other more and lean on each other instead of turning on each other.

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Tell me about something that you hope to be able to do together in the future.

Our top goal is to be able to have children soon. We look forward to being able to bring a little one into our family and share with them our love and all that we love about the world we live in. We also hope to have many more years of traveling together. Seeing the world and its many wonders is something that is a top priority. So far our big trips have included Costa Rica, France, and Spain, along with shorter trips to locations on the east coast. Our next trip is a road trip down the coast of California in November.

Click here to read more interviews in the Wives to Watch in Every Stage of Life Series

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