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Q&A with Dr. Anne Brennan Malec, author of Marriage in Modern Life

Put some thought into that ‘hello’ kiss + set up a monthly budget meeting. Your marriage will be better for it.

Q&A with Dr. Anne Brennan Malec, author of Marriage in Modern Life

Dr. Anne Brennan Malec is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of Symmetry Counseling. She works with couples to develop the tools they need to live better lives–together. She's also the author of Marriage in Modern Life, a guidebook to creating and maintaining strong teamwork within your relationship–in a time when teamwork is more necessary than ever. We got to pick Dr. Malec's brain for her best advice on marriage including finance tips and how you can add excitement into your marriage today.


Motherly: What is your number one, most important tip for couples to communicate effectively with one another on a daily basis?

Dr. Anne Brennan Malec: Create the time and space to talk to each other on a daily basis. I call it the daily check-in, whereby couples spend 20 minutes talking about events of the day, how they are doing, sharing concerns about themselves, the relationship, the kids, their home, money, etc. Skipping it every now and then is okay, but do not make it a habit.

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If partners know that they have this dedicated time to connect, it leads to a stronger emotional connection. Consider it to be self-care for your relationship.

Of course, in order to maximize the benefit from this time, the couple needs to have agreed upon rules of engagement that create a conversational safety-zone: no talking over each other, fair time management so that each can get (approximate) equal time, no yelling, name-calling, sarcasm, or exasperation (loud exhaling, checking of one's watch or phone, eye-rolling).

If one partner is getting agitated or hot under the collar, one of the partners should suggest that the check-in be rescheduled for when the partner is feeling calmer and more focused. Neither spouse should unilaterally introduce a topic that has a history of creating tension or conflict within the relationship – for these issues, one partner should invite the other to a discussion at an agreed upon time and place. For example, Jane asks John, “are you open for discussing our summer vacation plans tonight"? John should have the right to say no, but he must also propose an alternate time and place.

Motherly: In becoming new parents, many things change—especially dynamics in your relationship. How do you think new parents can stay connected with one another through the first few months of that new-parenthood-chaos?

Dr. Anne Brennan Malec: To help with the transition, new parents need to show each other that they still prioritize the marital relationship. This does not need to be a grand gesture, but a simple commitment to regularly check in with each other and remain aware of how the other person is doing. Establishing this routine early is crucial to maintaining the marital relationship as a priority as children grow older and the parental responsibilities evolve. A simple perspective check can also be helpful for new parents.

Transitioning from a family of two to a family of three often involves a decline in time, energy, and attention to devote to the relationship. Both partners need to remember that this deprivation is temporary, and keep expressing small acts of affection, even if it seems like your partner is not reciprocating equally.

By keeping an open dialogue about relationship needs and committing to actively maintaining a semblance of intimacy, you can ease the transition to parenthood.

This transition to parenthood is all about finding the right level of balance between meeting personal, relational, and familial needs. Partners need to work on becoming aware and communicating when they need some time away from home, to reconnect with friends or simply get a breath of fresh air. Talk prior to the transition about your expectations for how you will spend your time together once the child is born. Coming to an agreement in advance will help life run more smoothly and show your partner that you

prioritize the marital relationship.

Motherly: What's one simple way we could all add a little excitement into our marriages today?

Dr. Anne Brennan Malec: Meet your spouse at the door with a hug and a real kiss that sends a very clear message of your desire for your partner. This requires that both partners be mindful and present during the interaction. Too often, couples fall into auto-mode with their daily routines, including greetings and farewells. Take back the excitement of this moment by actively paying attention and appreciating this time with your partner.

Motherly: Money can be a source of stress in a marriage. What have you found to be a smart way for couples to talk about and handle their finances together?

Dr. Anne Brennan Malec: Simply put, couples need to have more open communication about finances.

Couples should make a routine of having monthly family financial meetings.

For these meetings to be successful, they need to be put in the calendar, have an agenda, and the partners need to prepare all of the necessary documentation from which to make decisions (bank balances, credit card statements, tuition bills, investment account statements). Sometimes, the meetings will only serve as check-ins so both partners can remain up-to-date on the financial situation. Other times, this provides a safe space to discuss new issues or pending decisions.

Both partners should be involved in family financial decisions.

Even if one spouse acts as the “family accountant", the other spouse should be fully informed as to the income, spending, savings, retirement accounts, and family budgets. Having secret credit cards or cash accounts is a form of financial infidelity, which can create significant distrust in the relationship. Open communication and awareness are great deterrents to conflict and distrust.

Budgets should be created together, agreed upon, and revised as needed. Have an agreed upon spending limit above which you will check in with your partner before proceeding with the purchase. To limit potential conflict, some couples set up personal monthly budgets, which are a set amount that each of you gets to spend without judgment or questioning from your partner. If one of you wants to buy a new purse, pay for a fantasy football league, or lunches out, so be it. This provides a healthy balance between dependent and independent financial decisions.

Motherly: What would you say is the most important ingredient in the recipe of a successful marriage?

Dr. Anne Brennan Malec:

Research finds that kindness and generosity are two ingredients that help to maintain a healthy and loving marriage.

If a couple can focus on providing a daily dose of affection, attention, and appreciation, while minimizing criticism, they are fortifying and enhancing their marital foundation which will serve them well over the long run.


Dr. Anne Brennan Malec is the founder and managing partner of Symmetry Counseling, a group counseling, coaching, and psychotherapy practice located in downtown Chicago. She has been instrumental in Symmetry Counseling's growth and success, and what started in 2011 with just six offices and five counselors has expanded to include over 20 professionals and 19 offices in two Chicago locations.

Dr. Malec, who had an earlier career in business, made a significant shift in 2000 when she began her training in the fields of Marriage and Family Therapy and later, Clinical Psychology.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.



Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My 3-year-old is eating peanut butter toast with banana for breakfast (his request), and we are officially running late for preschool. We need to get in the car soon if we want to miss the morning traffic, but he has decided that he no longer wants the food that he begged for two minutes earlier. What started off as a relatively calm breakfast has turned into a battle of wills.

"You're going to be hungry," I say, realizing immediately that he could care less. I can feel my frustration rising, and even though I'm trying to stay calm, I'm getting snappy and irritable. In hindsight, I can see so many opportunities that fell through the cracks to salvage this morning, but at the moment… there was nothing.

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