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The Secret “=Formula” for a Happy Relationship

If your marriage is anything like mine, you've done all kinds of things to nurture the relationship, you prioritize date night, you schedule a session with a therapist when necessary, and you've read The Five Love Languages. Maybe you've made a date of Happy Hour and a trip to Fascinations. I recommend all of these tactics. But there's another strategy I endorse, one that I've never read in any book or on any website. It's one my husband and I started using before we had kids, and before we were even engaged.


It's free. It's accessible.

It's the spreadsheet.

When I was 29, I moved across the country with everything I could fit in my Jetta and a very tenuous job offer. Within two weeks, the job fell through. During those same two weeks, I met Dan, who would later become my husband.

For the first time in my life, I was in love, but I couldn't take a job in another city because that would mean leaving Dan. Meanwhile, I was tearing through my savings like a toddler on a squeezie pouch bender. So, I did what any professional adult would do.

I asked my parents for money.

Dan was horrified, (rightfully so) and offered another solution – a spreadsheet. Somehow, I'd made it through college and graduate school without understanding how to use Excel. First, he showed me how to create columns and rows and enter formulas. Next, I had to fill in all the blanks. Being Jewish, this is the closest I'll ever get to Confession.

When we went over income, I had to explain I hadn't been working on days I'd been invited skiing, Saturdays, Sundays, or on short notice. When we reviewed my recent expenditures, I revealed my compulsion to buy an adorable, new pink hat (it was on super sale), why I deserved the lattes I bought on the way to work (I did work, sometimes), and why I needed Nordic race skis – in case I entered a cross-country ski race. Nearly a decade later, I still haven't done a ski race.

Sharing everything about my finances – including my childish belief that my parents would always be there to bail me out – made me feel extremely vulnerable. It also created an opportunity for Dan to understand me better and to help me get my act together. Ultimately, I gained control of my financial life and saved twelve thousand dollars in one year – a quarter of my income – toward the down payment on the house we bought just before our wedding.

When we moved in together, we merged our finances. Quickly, we realized we had a major problem. I earned less and spent more. My husband, on the other hand, earns more and spends less. While money is a loaded topic for many couples, our particular dynamic escalated the tension acutely.

Our love nest was awash in fear: my fear of feeling guilty about spending money or feeling deprived, and his fear that I'd spend our entire mortgage on cute hats and espresso drinks.

I wondered why my parents never seemed to fight about money. Married for over forty years, I've heard them argue about nearly everything else. The graph below demonstrates my theory that couples who fall on the green line (such as my parents) have fewer tensions around money than couples who fall on the red line (like Dan and me). As shown, my father is the higher earning, higher spending partner, while my mother earns less and spends less.

I worried Dan and I were destined to argue about money forever, but the spreadsheet saved the day, once again.

On the first Sunday of every month, we diligently sat down with our spreadsheet to map out our budget, our projected earnings, fixed expenses, and variable expenses. For years, we used this system to ensure that we were on the same page about our finances, that we were spending our money intentionally, and that neither of us felt anxious or trapped. Meanwhile, when we had concerns, we had a chance to discuss them.

Everything was great… until we needed a new spreadsheet. Five years and two kids later, on a bright Sunday morning, we were expecting friends for brunch. While I raced to prep food, clear piles of paper, and return rogue dolls to the toy basket, Dan scrolled through Twitter with his feet up on the couch. I paused my cleaning frenzy intermittently to give him the stink eye and a task.

As the potatoes browned and the frittata baked, our mutual resentment grew. I was sick of watching him relax when the trash needed to go out. He was tired of my demands. Finally, he took the kids for a walk, leaving me alone with breakfast and my rage.

I texted my sister.

“IS IT NORMAL TO WANT TO MURDER TO YOUR HUSBAND WHEN YOU'RE HAVING COMPANY??"

Thankfully, she clearly saw what I couldn't; that my husband and I lacked a shared set of expectations. Once our friends left, the kids were napping, and our tempers had cooled, I broached the topic. My husband acknowledged my demands felt never-ending. I explained I felt he wasn't pulling his weight.

Again, a spreadsheet saved the day. Within minutes of our conversation, my husband emailed me a Google Spreadsheet titled “Guest Cleanup Tasks." It lists every task we need to do before hosting company, organized by room. Over a year later, we pull it up every time we host a gathering.

I love that we have a common understanding of what needs to be done and that Dan now takes an active part in completing some of those tasks. He much prefers consulting the list to find a task, to being bossed around by me. This simple spreadsheet has taken most of the stress out of entertaining.

Clearly, I am a huge fan of spreadsheets in my marriage. But it's not really about the spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is just a vehicle through which to gain insight into your own values and the values of your partner. A spreadsheet is a means of creating dialogue – and ultimately, understanding – one of the cornerstones of a loving relationship.

As the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Understanding is love's other name. If you don't understand, you can't love." I would venture to add, “If you haven't done a ski race, don't buy the fancy skis."

Want to add some of this magic to your relationship?

View and edit “Guest Clean-up tasks via Google Docs


Edit or view “Money Factor" Graph in Canva

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Sometimes it's easy to overlook this amazing work we are doing, my love. On the surface, our lives couldn't be less extraordinary. We work our jobs, we care for our children—we embody a simple life. (Though, don't get me wrong, we love every second of it!)

But especially when I think about the work you do for our family, work that largely goes unsung, I'm reminded that, really, it's my job to make sure you know how much it's appreciated.

We both came into this marriage so young, so untested, and so blissfully unaware of the hardships that would come our way through the years. As we grew up together, we weathered our own storms before finally realizing we were ready to expand from a party of two to a party of three.

You were more nervous than I was, but you stayed strong for me, making me feel stronger and shouldering my own moments of uncertainty like the hero I needed.

When our daughter was born, pink and sweet and impossibly small, I never felt safer than when I saw her in your arms. From her first breath, you were there, ready to give her the world if she asked. Your dedication to her, to me, and to this family we continue to build never wavered from that moment forward. From the first moments, you were an incredible parent.

But life has a way of distracting us—blinding us to the everyday heroism even when it's right under our noses. As Edna Mode sagely reminded us in The Incredibles 2, "Done properly, parenting is a heroic act", and I see your heroism.

So thank you, my love…you are incredible to me.

Thank you for stretching to pick up my slack, even when you’re just as tired as I am.

Somedays you walk through the door from work, and you were slammed all day and your commute took an hour longer than it should have, and you're immediately bombarded by a needy toddler and an (almost) equally needy wife. But when I watch you shake off the day in an instant and throw your arms around us both, ready to help, I don't think words can truly express how grateful I am.

Thank you for being strong in my moments of weakness, even if no one else ever knows about them.

I play it so strong all the time, but you know the truth. You know the moments I'm about to break or the days when I truly can't take on another thing. And how do you respond? You make it okay. You let me crumble, you let me whine, you let me cry when I need to. You make it a safe space where I don't have to be #supermom, if even just for a moment. You are my safe space, and I love you for that.

Thank you for the thousands of practical, “little” things you do every week.

From taking out the garbage to changing the lightbulbs to actually remembering to replace the toilet paper roll (something even I forget to do!), those little things don't go unnoticed—even if I often forget to thank you in the moment.

While I may take on the bulk of housework as the stay-at-home parent, you do your part in little ways I never forget. Those little things? To me, they are incredible feats, trust me.

Thank you for being the incredible father I always knew you would be.

I wouldn't have married you if I didn't think "Dad" was a mantle you could take on successfully, but it still makes my heart burst every time I see you excelling at this difficult role. You make our daughter feel supported, safe, and loved every single day, and I'm so, so happy that you are the person I chose to do this life with. Your instincts and commitment to our children amaze me every day.

So for all the million things you do—and for all the millions of times I forget to say it—I thank you. For all the million things you have yet to do for us—I thank you.

You're our hero, and you're pretty incredible.

This article is sponsored by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles 2 on Digital October 23 and Blu-ray Nov 6. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

As I sit here and write this, I kind of feel like I'm just waking up from a newborn fog myself—like I had been living in a dream and a nightmare all at once. With all the highs and lows of newborn parenthood—I'm realizing that literally nothing could have prepared me mentally or emotionally for it. How could it have?

It's like—how do you prepare the sweet baby you're growing inside you for the warmth of the sunlight they'll feel on their cheeks or the sound of the birds chirping in the spring? Nothing you could ever say could prepare them for that kind of simple wonder.

And nothing I can tell you will prepare you for the simple wonder of being present in the first moments of your baby's precious and irreplaceable life.

Take a mental snapshot of your home as you leave for the hospital. It will never be the same again. Try to remember the way the light poured in through the windows, the way the air felt on your face. I'm thankful I was able to remember to do this myself. Months from that day when the light pours in and the air brushes against your face in a similar way you'll be filled to the brim with heartwarming nostalgia of the day your sweet baby was born.

There is nothing I can say to you that can prepare your body for the excitement, the nerves, the exhaustion, or the hard work that is giving birth. The inexplicable awestruck wonder of your baby's first breath, their first blink, their first cry. The first time you meet them—the only person in the world that knows your heart from the inside. You will be the most beautiful sight they have ever seen, as they will be yours.

There are no words for those moments. But there are actions.

Take a picture in the hospital holding that sweet soul—a picture that includes you. The postpartum you with no makeup on, your hair disheveled, your hospital gown draped over your tired body. Don't wait to be "ready."

Take the picture. I wish I had.

There aren't any words to describe your first night home and the first weeks to follow. They'll be some of the most emotional days of your entire life—highs and lows of epic proportions—waves of pride, frustration, invincibility and defeat. Take them all in and let them shape your experience.

Trust the process. I wish I had been more trusting.

Breastfeed if you want to. Formula feed if you want to. That is your choice. Make it for the right reasons. Don't do either because someone else wants you to.

Make the choice that makes you and your sweet baby happy, healthy and able to be present. I wish I had.

Don't let anyone pressure you into decisions. Don't let anyone make you feel less than for the first choices you'll make as a mother. There is no one on the earth that knows your son better than you. Yes, the diaper is on right. No, the swaddle isn't too tight.

Be confident in your abilities and instincts. I wish I had been more confident.

With that said, be open to support from those around you—particularly from the women in your life. Accept and embrace your vulnerability and surrender, at least for a little while, to the hands of your village.

My mother-in-law told me on the way home from the hospital that she was never more grateful for the presence of her mother than in the days and weeks after my husband was born. She said I would feel the same. And she was right.

Let your mom or mother-in-law or a mother figure of sorts come to your rescue. Let her put cream on your back after the shower and stroke your hair as you take a nap. Be her baby. Now you'll understand the depth of her love for you.

Try to enjoy the moments right from the start. Rock your baby to sleep. Smell their precious newborn scent. Snuggle them endlessly. Let them fall asleep on your chest and keep your skin touching theirs as much as you can. All of this will be pretty difficult as you run on likely very little sleep, so don't be hard on yourself when you feel overwhelmed (we all feel that way at times!).

But as you can— try to be there in those moments. I wish I had been more present.

Know that the first weeks and first months come with a lot more exhaustion than you could ever really imagine—but then they will end. They. Will. End. The sleepless nights eventually become more restful and your days a little more routine.

For many weeks, your nights and days will be mixed up and your schedule shot. Try your best to roll with it. Don't try to force a routine or a schedule—it will re-establish itself in time.

Have faith in those chaotic moments that things will settle. I wish I had had more faith.

Things started to get really fun for me and my son at three months and things seemed to feel like my "new normal," my body included, around five months.

In time, your sweet baby will let you put them down. They will eventually get the hang of eating. There will come a moment where your baby takes a nap in the crib. Life on this side of the womb takes a little practice. Your baby will get the hang of it, mama.

Don't worry about it. I wish I had worried a little less.

Cry with your partner when you have to. Laugh together when you can. Take too many pictures. Have patience with each other. Try to hug every single day—sneak quiet moments together when you can. Try to step back from it all and observe it quietly.

You'll be amazed at yourself, at your partner, at your new family. I wish I had stepped back more often.

…And then one morning you'll wake up from a good night's sleep. You'll wake up from that sleep and you'll sit down to HOT coffee again and you'll realize the fog has cleared a bit.

You'll see that your life is forever changed. You'll realize now that when you gave birth to your baby, you also gave birth to a mother and a father, too. You'll realize now the magnitude of what you've done.

When the fog clears and you realize the enormity of this accomplishment, I hope you reflect back on your experience and marvel at the gift you have been given and also at the gift you have given to the ones you love.

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A new mother looked at me recently during a conversation we were having about sleep deprivation during the beginning of baby's life.

As a postpartum advisor and doula, I talk to a lot of new mamas.

But I hear all the time from women in the midst of transition to motherhood who are struggling to get their little ones to sleep and to respond to the demands of infant life.

This mama looked at me in desperation and asked, “So do you just not get anything done then??"

Mamas, I want to tell you the truth. Here it is:

You will not get anything done when you are home with a baby.

And anyone who told you otherwise is not being very forthcoming (or perhaps they just have a lousy memory).

You might get yourself fed.

You might get yourself dressed (then again, you might not).

You might take a walk (it makes baby happy).

You might have a short phone conversation or start a load of laundry, neither of which you will finish.

This is your new-mom normal.

So what are you doing all day?

Not much that can be measured, really.

You're simply responding appropriately and with patience (through fatigue) to smiles, to tears, to hunger cues and to drowsiness, teaching your baby how to navigate this complex and (to a baby) highly emotional and raw world.

You are keeping your baby clean, which on some days involves more costume changes (for both of you) than any non-mother can begin to fathom.

You are teaching a tiny, helpless person all about the world—at least the important parts, like how we treat each other and what it means to be connected to a family.

You are creating a foundation of love and trust between you and your baby, one that will help you set your parenting compass, inform your future interactions, and provide a basis for the way your child relates to the larger world.

You may be breastfeeding your baby—another time-consuming task (though once established, it takes less time than bottle feeding) that reaches forward through time to heal and protect your child, and simultaneously reduces your risk of disease.

Oh, and you're becoming a mother.

It started the day your baby was conceived, and it continues beyond birth.

Your baby is stretching and growing into this new body, and you are too.

But that's about it, really. That's your day.

Our culture doesn't have a good way to measure what you are accomplishing.

Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check.

To the untrained eye, most of this work, at the end of the day, will look like nothing.

But we know better.

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There is no greater task than the "nothing" you did yesterday, the "nothing" you are doing today and the "nothing" you will do tomorrow.

Caring for a baby is all about the immediate experience, yet the first two years are all about investment.

It's give, give, give and give some more.

These are hard-fought, rough-and-tumble years that can cut us down to our core and take us soaring high above the clouds, all in the space of five minutes.

And yes, as you do the hardest work of your life, it will seem like you're not getting anything done at all. Crazy, huh?

But here's where it gets interesting...

As much as you need and want a break now (and you should take one whenever you can), no mother has ever looked back on this time and thought, I wish I had held my baby less.

You will not remember the dishes that didn't get done, the vacuuming that you just couldn't make happen or the dirty clothes you wore more often than you'd like to admit.

You will remember the first smile, the first belly laugh, the first words, the first steps.

You will remember the way you looked at your baby and the way your baby looked at you.

So the next time you find yourself wondering how another day is gone and nothing is done, stop.

Hold your baby—feel the way that tiny body strains to contain this giant soul—complete and full of potential all at the same time.

Take a deep, slow breath.

Close your eyes and measure your day not as tasks, but as feelings, as sounds, as colors.

Exhaustion is part of it.

And it's true, you will get "nothing" done.

But the hard parts will fade.

The intense, burning love is what remains, and it is yours to keep forever.

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