#plan5for5 - Top tips from our Experts!

// Marriage & Family

By Mark & Christine Daniel – Toucan Together 

It’s worth stopping to “Think Ahead” as a couple to talk and make the most of being a family. Here are our five top tips to talk about…

Family is a gift – enjoy it! It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day to day ‘things that must get done’ when you have a family, whether it’s changing nappies, supplying endless meals, the school run, juggling the activities…  It can be exhausting and draining. But having children is special and it’s good to pause occasionally to be grateful for the gift.

Create traditions. These build great memories and a stronger family bond. In our family we have a tradition of eating Sunday lunch together (even if it’s a 5 o’clock!) We holidayed, and got muddy, in Norfolk every summer. Birthdays were homespun parties, which often involved outrageous dressing up. We have loads of Advent and Christmas rituals, including a carrot for Rudolf plus a mince pie and glass of whisky for Father Christmas. We also regularly trot out our mantra: “we’re family, we help each other” and then we do whatever it takes to support the one in need.

Have one-on-one time. We both made an effort over the years to spend quality time with each of our children, on their own. For years Mark took the girls to breakfast every other week. They loved sitting with their dad scoffing Full English before school and this was often a time when they opened up to really talk, especially in the teenage years. When they come home now they still ask: “dad, can we go for breakfast?”

Talk and agree what’s important. You may have heard the saying: ‘children learn what they live’  They learn they behaviour from their parents. I remember thinking ‘yikes’ when I heard this on a parenting course, now I know why they shout and argue. Mark and I sat down one evening and talked about what was important to us, things like honesty and saying sorry. Over the years we’ve done a fair bit of apologising to our kids (the hard part!) but now we hear them apologising to us.

Look after your marriage. Happy children are those with happy parents.  We realised pretty early that if we didn’t make an effort over our relationship we’d be in trouble. We started dating again, going out once a fortnight for some fun. A friend mentioned doing a ‘mini-moon’. This required some planning but became an annual thing to getaway for a weekend, just the two of us, to recharge our relationship. (Family friends looked after our kids and then we had theirs in return).  We’ve found it’s important to talk, really talk, regularly as a couple to keep our relationship thriving. There’s a great new free app, Toucan, which helps build communication, why not give it a try?

“We’re empty nesters now and although we miss the kids we’re always thinking ahead to plan some new adventure as a couple. The latest one is walking the South West Coastal Path! (Not in one go though!) It doesn’t matter what it is; learning to cook curry from scratch, ballroom dancing, cycling together …it’s worth looking after your relationship.”

// Home

By Andy & Fiona Banes – Time for Marriage

Cultivate Romance. Your relationship with each other is the most important part of your home so create an environment that will enable your relationship to flourish.  What will make your house feel home to each other.  If possible invest in the best bed you can afford – you’re going to spend a lot of time in it!  Cultivate romance by adding candles, soft lighting, soft furnishings and music.

Ditch perfection. Don’t get caught up with needing your house to be perfect.  We’d all like beautiful ‘show’ homes but don’t wait to get to this point before you invite people into your home. It’s your relationship that turns a house into a home. If you are welcoming and hospitable, people will see that rather than a bit of untidiness.  If you’re warm and loving to each other and to others, people will be drawn to that rather than what your house looks like.  Building work can take a while; don’t miss out on time to connect with others.

Take a break from your phone. Agree boundaries over screen time.  We’ve all done it, our partner is chatting away and we realise we heard nothing they said because we were checking out a hilarious meme on Facebook.  Or checked our emails for that ‘really important’ work email before we go to sleep.  How much are we missing out on because we’re too absorbed by screen time?  Take time to be honest with each other about realistic boundaries.  Perhaps consider leaving your devices downstairs when you go to bed or setting them to do not disturb at certain times of day.

Do a temperature check. Who or what sets the atmosphere of your house? Is there a project in the house that is causing stress?  Are there differences between you that need talking through; perhaps one of you is tidy and the other is messy – can you meet in the middle?  Who else lives in your house?  If you’re parents, children can sometimes cause friction in your relationship but there are some great support resources available.  Who comes into your house?  Are they people that make you happy or people who stress you out? Talk about how you can address some of these areas and lift the atmosphere of the house.

Sync your diaries. Talk about how your weeks, months, years look.  Some of us live super busy lives and never have time to rest.  Others are not so busy and would like to be doing more.  Maybe our house is always full of people and we yearn for quiet or perhaps we’d like a bit more going on. Look at your diaries and plan in time for people, activity and time for rest.  Sharing your diaries online is a fantastic way of ensuring you don’t double book.

// Work

By Jon & Andrea Taylor-Cummings – Soulmates Academy

What do you really want? Life is in seasons.  Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in careers or financial decisions for the greater good of the family.  Being very clear on your goals as a family, discussing and agreeing as a couple what you’re working towards and what it will “cost” – emotionally, financially, professionally etc – to get there, is crucial.  Agree roles and responsibilities upfront and keep having conversations about how you’re each doing. Otherwise resentment and misunderstanding can build quickly if either partner feels taken for granted or treated with less respect, or feels like the cost is too great for them personally.  Vision “leaks”, so keep reminding yourselves of your mutual goal(s) and find ways to inject fun into the process.

Keep things in perspective. We’ve all heard the cliché that “on their deathbed, nobody wishes they’d spent more time in the office!”  Reality though is many of us inadvertently do.  Somehow, we convinced ourselves that’s just the way things have to be to pay the bills and get ahead in life.  The problem is, once we move on from      being singletons, we need to remember we have two ‘jobs’.  Keep screwing up at any job and you’d expect to get fired. The big question every spouse or parent should be asking themselves is ‘what does success in my ‘family’ job look like?’  Then work for family success.

How can we keep the flame alive while we’re apart? In today’s global, connected economy, the need for travel is never too far away.  Yes, absence can absolutely make the heart grow fonder, but the reality is that often left alone for too long, our need for connection can leave us bored and vulnerable.  So, if keeping the flame at home alive is really what you both want, best to set ground rules to keep you both away from temptation and find ways to stay connected while you’re apart. Use the technology you have, or invest in some!  You want to be seeing each other (FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, etc.) at least daily, and set aside time to talk unrushed.  That way you can stay emotionally connected and keep each other updated on what’s really going on in your lives, heads and hearts – just like you did in the early days.

GET more understanding so you can BE more understanding. Ongoing professional development is expected at work to guarantee performance as an individual and as a team. Yet the most critical team isn’t the one at work with deadlines, it’s the one at home with no deadlines.  The success or failure of your “team of two” will impact your performance at work and every other sphere of life.  When we make our marriages and long-term relationships the priority and proactively invest time to improve our communication and conflict resolution skills, learn more about each other’s differences, play to each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses, we develop a strength and resilience in life and grow together as a couple rather than apart.  We wouldn’t last long in the work place repeating each year with the same level of skill.  It doesn’t work in relationships either.

Manage the amount of love in the ‘love tank’. From time to time we need to lean heavily on our partner for support and have them pick up the slack. The demands of work may cause late evenings ahead of looming deadlines or the need to travel on business frequently or a crisis at work demanding 24/7 on-call duty for a bit.  These are like “withdrawals” from the “love tank”.  We have to manage the amount of love in the tank so we don’t live in overdraft – where arguments flair up easily because there is more “take” than “give” and our partners feel taken for granted.  Periods of intensity at work will come, but by being proactive about regaining balance as quickly as possible – and on purpose “giving” in ways that matter to your partner – you can leave them feeling appreciated and keep the love tank topped up.

// Finances

By Harry Benson – The Marriage Foundation 

Bank together. When Kate and I first got married, we set up a joint account for everyday life. But we also had our own individual accounts so that we could buy presents for one another and maybe even treat ourselves occasionally. This all quickly became unmanageable and within a year we had just the joint account. Getting married means that we’re a team. Nothing represents that sense of “in-it-together” better than sharing our money together.

Save together. Marriage is for life. But income and jobs aren’t. Even if it’s only a little, put some money away every month into shares or a tracker fund and forget about it. Whether for a deposit or for your old age, saving helps you keep your eyes on the future and reinforces your plan for life as a couple. The state pension won’t stave off poverty. So sit down together and agree how much you can sensibly save.

Give together. Money can mean different things to different people. For some it’s about staying in control, for others it’s about feeling secure, for still others it’s fear of losing what you have. Giving away breaks any hold that money has over you because it shows you have enough. Giving also allows you to express your social conscience as a couple that you care for others less fortunate. Different faiths encourage tithing for exactly this combination of reasons. So, however little you have, give together.

Specialise. One of you needs to take overall responsibility for your money otherwise nobody will. For the first few years of our married life, Kate ran our household finances, even though my day job was in finance. The arrangement worked for us, it helped Kate budget and meant one less thing for me to worry about. She told me what she was doing and I trusted her completely. But she never enjoyed it much. So when I switched career to working with marriages and families, Kate felt hugely relieved when I offered to manage our savings and fill in our tax returns. For the last twenty years I have done all our finances and I tell Kate what I’m doing. It’s one less thing for her to worry about. Kate trusts me completely.

Don’t use credit and don’t fritter. Occasionally couples come to me for help on dealing with a problem debt. Debt damages relationships because it encourages blame. One or both of you are spending more than you can afford. My starting point is always the same. Chop up the credit card on the spot, because it’s the most expensive way to borrow. And stop frittering money away. Just one coffee, one fizzy drink and one sandwich at work adds up to over £1,500 a year down the drain. Having a joint account and watching the pennies (make your own coffee and sandwich) will help make sure debt never happens to you.

Don’t use credit and don’t fritter. Occasionally couples come to me for help on dealing with a problem debt. Debt damages relationships because it encourages blame. One or both of you are spending more than you can afford. My starting point is always the same. Chop up the credit card on the spot, because it’s the most expensive way to borrow. And stop frittering money away. Just one coffee, one fizzy drink and one sandwich at work adds up to over £1,500 a year down the drain. Having a joint account and watching the pennies (make your own coffee and sandwich) will help make sure debt never happens to you.

// Fun

By Nicky and Sila Lee – The Marriage Courses

Take turns to plan your date night. If you feel stuck in a rut, go somewhere completely new or do something you have never done before.

Find a sport that you both enjoy – a bit of healthy competition can breath life into your marriage.

Find out what makes each other laugh! Everyone has a sense of humour (however obscure) it is just tapping into to what has your spouse cracking up that is the key.

Travel. You don’t need to go abroad, just getting out of your familiar environment and exploring somewhere that is new for you both can draw you together and create fun experiences.

Make time for friends you both get on with. Spending time with friends can really energise your connection together and help you to avoid your relationship becoming too intense or functional.


// The Marriage Course helps couples strengthen their relationships whatever stage they are at. They provide The Marriage Preparation Course, The Marriage Course, The Parenting Children Course and The Parenting Teenagers Course. Their courses have been run in 127 countries all over the world and offer essential tools and practical ideas to help you build a relationship that lasts a lifetime.  

Nicky & Sila Lee are creators of The Marriage Course, The Marriage Preparation Course, The Parenting Children Course and The Parenting Teenagers Course. They have also authored, The Marriage Book and The Parenting Book, and have spoken to thousands on the subject of marriage and family life.