Jennie Koenig

Jennie Koenig

In our busy world, taking a moment to slow down seems nearly impossible. Rest, however, is an incredible healer. Our bodies and minds long for a break and truly benefit from receiving one. Our relationships benefit from rest as well. Taking a break together can help relieve the stress your relationship may be under.

Although a long stay on some warm beach listening to the waves crashing is what many of us imagine when we hear the word “relax”, a trip to the Bahamas may not be in the cards this year, let alone this week.

Here are three  practical things you can do each week as a couple to relax together.

1) Go For A Walk

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When we think about unwinding after a long day, Netflix and the couch are often the first things that come to mind. And certainly some days call for a good show and a blanket! But taking a walk with your partner out in nature will give you the opportunity to talk with one another. Plus, nature has a way of calming the senses and restoring your mood.

2) Laugh Together

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Try out a comedy club or choose a funny movie or sitcom. Laughing reduces your stress level significantly. Laughing together also adds a bonding element that reduces you and your partner’s stress at the same time. That’s a win win!

3) Cook Together

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Even if it is just once a week, choose a recipe and make it together. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be a full meal. It could be a cake, or some cookies, or maybe a healthy smoothie! Whatever it is, working together to create a treat to share will bring lots of laughs and connection. Cooking is a creative activity, and being creative reduces stress!

There are many more ways to relax as a couple. Come up with your favorite ideas and choose at least one moment every week to unwind as a couple.

And don’t forget to take time to relax on your own as well! Listen to a podcast, take a long bath, or have a conversation with a friend. A more relaxed you is a happier, healthier you, and a happier healthier you is a better partner!

You can learn more about how to handle stress in your relationship at our free workshops! You can see what’s coming up in your area here.


This time of year I’ll hear people say, “I don’t want flowers or candy on Valentine's Day. I just want someone to show me they love me every single day.”

Well, I am not one of those people. Of course I want to be shown love every day of the year, we all do. However. When it comes to Valentine's Day, I. Want. It. All.   All of it. The flowers, the chocolate, the ridiculously cheesy teddy bear holding a red heart, all of it. I want a giant heart balloon tied to a unicorn. All. Of. It. Does that make me a spoiled brat? Yes. It certainly does. On Valentine's Day it does. I’ll own that title alllll day long.

This is because my parents made a big deal out of Valentine's Day. They showed my brothers and I love every day of the year, I was very lucky to have that. We didn't have much money. So on holidays, they wanted us to feel celebrated and special in ways they couldn’t show us every day. On Valentine's Day, they really just went for it. We’d wake up to a pretty pink and red table set with a box of chocolates, sometimes a little gift, and something extra special for breakfast, like pancakes as opposed to our normal cereal or toast. We’d get flowers. There would be pink and purple hearts. We always got coffee on Valentine's Day too. It was all so fancy and special and wonderful. We felt so incredibly loved and adored.

Needless to say, this created an expectation in me. I honestly assumed everyone did this sort of thing for Valentine's Day. So of course, these expectations were then projected on my husband.

As a dating couple, he and I would usually go out for a Valentine's Date. He would typically get me a gift, like a necklace. It wasn’t much compared to what my parents did, but I never complained because at home my house was brimming with Valentine's excess.

Fast forward to the first Valentine's Day as a married couple. I was a student, and he an apprentice. We didn't have money to spare. Still, with all of my Valentine's expectations brewing, I woke up, expecting a beautiful display of red and pink to be awaiting me in the kitchen of our very tiny little student apartment.

What did I come out to? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Disappointed, I told myself, “Well, he must have some sort of surprised prepared for me later.” We parted for the day to do our normal work and activities. When I came home, a red envelope was sitting on the table. “Oh boy,” I thought, “Here it is!” I opened the envelope to find a regular Hallmark card and a small, handwritten message: “Happy Valentine's Day…I love you”.

Um. Excuse me? A card? That’s IT? I was shocked. How on EARTH was this Valentine's Day? This wasn’t supposed to happen! Where were the flowers, the chocolates, the pretty necklaces? Where was the SPECIAL?

As you would expect, I got the typical response. “I love you every day so why do I have to have some holiday to show it?”

Well, lets just say a good old fashioned argument ensued.

Here was the problem though. It wasn’t his fault. I had never communicated to him that this day was something very, very special to me. I had never described to him the expectations that I had unfairly placed on him in my imagination. And let’s be honest, they were very high out of the ordinary expectations! He didn’t realize that this day was SO special to me, because, like many other people, it wasn’t a big deal to him. How would he know I expected a table of hearts awaiting me in the morning? I had never told him about it. He had not purposely tried to hurt my feelings, he just didn’t know.

We do this often in our relationships. We come to each other with expectations and assumptions. But if we do not communicate, if we don’t share these things, all we end up with is disappointment. We must come to one another, first of all, with realistic expectations. We must communicate them. And we must, if needed, adjust.

I have a beloved, hard working, amazing husband who is not a natural romantic. He shows his love to me in different ways than my parents did. And he does so beautifully. Knowing now how important this day was to me growing up, he has stepped up the Valentine's game. He isn’t as good at it as my parents were, but guess what? I don’t expect him to be! Why? Because he communicated to me that he is not very good at this sort of thing. And I am ok with that! We met in the middle. I take time to put out the pizazz for our family on Valentine's Day, like my parents did, and he makes sure to get me flowers and all the ridiculous things nobody should ever have to buy a grown woman.


This Valentine's Day, communicate your expectations with your partner. Let them know why your traditions are important to you. Learn to let go of some things. Learn to start new traditions.

There is no greater gift you can give one another than the gift of clear and open communication. But, of course, if your partner is like me, don’t forget to get flowers, too!

Healthy Relationships Iowa has free workshops to help you grow in your communications skills with your partner. You’ll get tools to help you. Check out what we have coming up and register today!

If you always find yourself saying, “all guys want to use me” or “all women are gold diggers”, chances are you’re basing that thinking off of your own negative relationship experiences. You’ve dated so many people who keep treating you the same way that it’s easy to start thinking that “this is just the way it is”.

But the truth is there are great people out there! Despite what your track record might show, there really are kind, wonderful fish in the sea.

(This is the part where you interject and say, “Oh yeah? So then why do I keep ending up with the bad fish?”)

Well, that’s a great question! Why do you?

To understand the answer to that question, you have to identify what all these people you’ve dated have in common so that you can discover what traits to avoid in the future. Here are three practical steps to take TODAY to help you get started.

Writing in Journal

#1- Your Non-Negotiable List

Make a list of 5 to 10 things that are non-negotiable when it comes to a future partner. What are things that you absolutely must have in a relationship? This is your life! You deserve someone that you can really enjoy it with! This list will help you make sure you find that person. What is important to you? Maybe you desire to share the same faith as the person you marry. Or maybe you are a very active person and you want to be with someone who will go hiking or swimming with you. Maybe you don’t want to have kids. Maybe you do. A drug-free partner should be on your list, of course!

#2- Compare Past Relationships

Make a list of all of your past relationships and find commonalities among them. Where did you meet each partner? What personality traits attracted you to each of them? How did each of them treat you in the beginning? What was the first red flag you noticed in the relationship, and how long had you been dating? And finally, which of your non-negotiable items did each partner not meet?

#3- Analyze the Results

After you identify the negative patterns in your past relationships, you can discover all sorts things about how to find a better partner. Did you meet all of these past partners at the same type of place? It’s time to look somewhere else! It could be that you’re more likely to find a person who shares your heart for public service volunteering at a local charity than at that bar you frequent. So start volunteering! Do you love art? Take an art class! You’re more likely to meet someone who shares your interests at a water color class than by swiping left or right on a dating app.

Do these three things and hold yourself accountable to them, and you’ll put a stop to those negative patterns TODAY. Your life is important. Your dreams and goals matter. And you deserve to have a partner who cares about you!

You can get more tips like these at our free workshop, “How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk(ette)”. To find a workshop near you, click here.


Fall in Iowa is a beautiful time. Red, orange, and yellow leaves cover the hillsides and blanket the ground. The fields turn from bright green to lovely amber and the farmers begin to harvest their crops. Days get shorter, homes get warmer, and our sleeves get longer as we wave goodbye to summer.

While most Iowans are drinking hot chocolates and raking leaves, a cute little animal with a big bushy tail is busier than ever. Squirrels are very common all over the state of Iowa. And Fall, for them, means its time to prepare for winter. There are thousands of acorns to collect and bury and you’ll find squirrels scampering all over town and country preparing for winter’s long cold months.

Many people think squirrels hibernate during our snowy season. The truth is, Iowa’s squirrels actually don’t hibernate at all. They survive nestled in tree trunks and eating from food stores that they wisely built up during the autumn months.

What can we learn from these little tree dwellers about relationships? Lots! But one thing stands out for sure: winter is coming, so be ready.

Relationships have their green seasons and their icy seasons. That is an inevitable part of being a couple. For this reason it is important that during the times when your relationship is warm and sunny, you take a little time to store memories for the colder stretches.

All around you are tiny little acorns waiting to be collected and stored in your heart. Take pictures together, write each other notes and store them away in a box. When you have an argument, or when things seem like they are too cold, open up that box and remember all the times you’ve had and how much you care for one another. Get out your relationship’s food supply and fuel up. Then face your problems together. Sometimes all we need is a simple reminder that winter doesn’t last forever.

So take some advice from a squirrel and store something away this autumn. When winter comes, you’ll be thankful!

Here’s what to do:
Find a box and fill it with a few special items that remind you of good times. Include a note to your partner and a note to your self. Write down what you love most about him or her. Write down memories that you have together. Just like a squirrel, you’ll find that a little preparation can be just the thing you need to get you through a cold snap.

Our workshops for couples can give you all kinds of practical tips on how to relate to each other. Check them out here, and register. It’s free! And learn more about Iowa’s squirrels here!


Sometimes a relationship, whether a friendly, professional, or romantic one, can have it’s stormy days. Conflict is an inevitable part of being in proximity with another human being. If you’re prepared for life’s windy moments, you can avoid damage and safely weather the storm.

Here are three tips for those rainy relationship moments:

#1- Know the Season

In Iowa, spring is prime time for severe weather like large hail, damaging winds, and even tornadoes. During this season Iowans often take precautions and keep an eye on the weather forecast. Weather can change suddenly making it crucial that your family and your home are prepared in the event of a severe weather outbreak. This takes a little extra planning and effort, but it’s worth it.

Relationships have seasons as well. For example, is it an especially stressful week for your friend at work? He or she might be a bit grumpier during the staff meeting tomorrow. Maybe the anniversary of the loss of a loved one is approaching, and your spouse usually struggles with sadness during that time. Did your 4 year old go to bed late last night? Well, that might mean the probability of tantrums is higher than usual at about 2:00pm. Whatever the circumstance, there are often signs that a person you share life with may be unsettled. You can prepare for these moments by having extra patience, being more considerate, and even doing something special for the person needing a special touch. A small gift, an extra phone call, or even a funny email might be just the touch to lift their spirits and keep the storm clouds from brewing. In addition, knowing the season can prepare you to have patience with your co-worker’s shorter temper, or your child’s poor attitude.

#2- Get to Your Shelter

Tornado Shelter

When the watch turns to a warning, you know the storm is inevitable. This is when you rush to your safe place. A storm shelter can’t be just any nook or cranny in the house, though. The safest place is the lowest and most central place in your home, farthest away from windows and doors. This protects you from flying debris and shattered glass. When an argument or confrontation is imminent in your relationship, there is a safe place for this as well.

In a tornado, panic can cause a person to make foolish decisions and enter harms way. If you are too worked up, you might say something you didn’t mean out of anger. So before you start any confrontation, take a moment to calm down and collect your thoughts. Think of why you are thankful for the person you are engaging with. Before you do anything, take a deep breath!

Choose to move to a location where you can have an open discussion. The middle of your office probably isn’t the best place to finally have that phone call with your friend. And right in front of your children isn’t the best place to have that discussion about the bills. Find somewhere where you can talk to each other.

Remember, violence is never a safe way to have an argument. If the person you are having a confrontation with seems to be too full of lightening, no place is a safe place for that conversation. Hitting, punching, spitting, choking, all of these things are not acceptable forms of communication and you should seek help right away.

#3- Clean Up the Mess

Couple Working Together

Sometimes no matter what precautions you take, the wind and hail still destroy. Words are like that, too. When an argument dies down and you begin to see more clearly, you must take the time to apologize for saying hurtful things. If a tornado tore off your roof, you would certainly have it fixed right away. You must take time for apologies and healing after an argument. Be able to admit your wrongdoing, and be willing to accept an apology as well. These are skills and practices worth developing.

Again, this advice is in regards to escalated disagreements. If someone is abusing you, seek help immediately. You can do so by clicking here.

No matter the storm, with a little forethought, you can be more prepared to withstand the struggle. Our free HRI workshops offer you skills-based curricula and tools to use in order to communicate in a healthy way with the people around you. You can learn more about them by clicking here.

One of the most amazing things about parenthood, in my opinion, is watching your children develop their unique personalities. Each stage of life brings a new look into your child’s character. In a way, its like you get to meet them again, and again. When they are born, you are introduced to this tiny person. But that tiny person is going to grow, and as they grow they are going to discover, and have adventures, and begin to show you what they love. And if you have more than one kid, you quickly see how different your children can be from one another.

Any relationship has its beautiful and difficult moments. Parenting is no different. Getting to know someone means you learn what makes them tick, what inspires them, and what totally absolutely drives them crazy.  Learning these things helps you relate to them in a better way, thus minimizing conflict and encouraging joy.  

My kids are absolutely different people. One is a bee, the other a butterfly.

Busy Bee

My son is my busy bee. He’s focused. He’s practical. He’s direct. But he’s also creative, and kind, protective, and productive. He likes to be with people, but he needs his alone time to recharge. He also struggles with anxiety when things are out of order or if someone breaks the rules.


My daughter is my little butterfly. She floats from one thing to another without much care. If her room is messy, she doesn’t mind, she’s too busy thinking about flowers. She loves to create, and sing, and dance, and play in the mud, too. She loves to be with people, always, every second. She is also very competitive, and has a temper that rivals the Hulk’s.

So, quite naturally, I have to parent my kids differently in some ways if I want to keep some peace in my household.

Here’s an everyday example.

After my kids get home from school, my daughter could easily be with people for several more hours. My son, however, needs time to recharge by himself. So when they get home, rather than making them do the same thing, I send her outside to play with friends or with her dogs, and I send him to have alone time. I don’t have her bring friends over during this time because he needs to unwind after being with people all day long. And I don’t make her go isolate, because it would only make her tired. She’d fall asleep, and then as parents surely know, bedtime would be a nightmare. Sometimes this varies, of course, but that seems to be the usual routine. No matter what, I make sure that my son gets his quiet time and my daughter stays active. Figuring this out about my kids has made their lives, and mine, much, much easier. Just half an hour of “me” time designed for each of them means two kids who are much happier and therefore more ready to cheerfully comply with their to-do lists.

As they get older, this could completely change, or stay the same.  I have no idea how different stages of development will change how I interact with them. I have no idea if a bully at school will steal a little bit of my daughter's confidence, and I'll have to approach her more carefully than I'm used to in order to restore it. I won't know if my son's first day of middle school will leave him full of anxiety or excitment until it happens, and until I ask him.  I'll have to meet him again.  This cycle continues, but that's not a bad thing.  It's exciting. I get to walk with them, and learn more about them. 

In order to relate well to our children, we must get to know them individually. We must communicate with them, have positive conflict resolution, and clear expectations. Take time to get to know your kids again and again. If we take time to do this, parenthood might just be a little less difficult and a lot more enjoyable. 

Our parenting workshops can help you pinpoint areas in your relationship with each of your children that you can improve. Parenting happens on an individual basis. So understanding your children on individual levels is very important. We can help with that in a very practical way! To join us for a free workshop, click here and find out what classes are available for you!

Every year around Valentine's Day you’ll start to see those little heart shaped candies with phrases etched on them.




Or the ever popular, "FAX ME" (circa 1998).

I’d be surprised if you’d never tasted these candies before, because they’ve been around since 1847. Yes, they’ve certainly become a Valentines Day tradition.

When you were in grade school you may have secretly hoped that your crush would sneak one onto your desk that read “BE MINE”.  Although I’m pretty sure nobody actually liked to eat them, we always loved to get them. We’d give them to each other and laugh, or blush. 

As silly as this little tradition may seem, these tiny candies have more to offer us than a chalky-aftertaste. Here are five sweet communication that you can use right now:

Talking? In a relationship? You don’t say! Yeah, yeah, you know this already, right? Seems simple enough. But as most couples discover, it’s not that simple. Sometimes you have to make conversation a priority. With busy schedules and nagging responsibilities, your significant other can easily become the last person you take time to talk with. So, talk!

Sure, this one is relatively new. Texting and social media has introduced us to all sorts of new little phrases. “LOL”, for those who may not have heard, means “laugh out loud.” This is great advice for couples! A relationship without laughter won’t be much fun. Life get’s serious. Life gets tough. So taking some time to laugh together is so important. It really is the best medicine. Our prescription? Go see a funny movie together! Knowing how to make one another laugh is a fun part of communicating.

#3-“ASK ME”
One of the biggest mistakes couples make is assuming that their partner knows what they need. But unless you’re dating Charles Xavier, chances are you’re not going out with a mind reader. Don’t be afraid to express exactly what you need to your partner. And on occasion, go ahead and ask your partner what they need. Ask how work is going. Ask how they are feeling. Just, ask!

Doing life with another person can be messy. The items that tend to dominate your agenda can make your relationship seem more like a business relationship than a romantic one. So take some time now and then to flirt with each other. You know, like the old days.

Oh, social media. The source of all of our news, cat videos, and puppy memes. Perhaps also the source of our eye twitches and high blood pressure. Social media is the place where you share about you. And the things you share about say something about what you care about and what you are interested in. If you never post anything about your partner, they might begin to feel like you aren’t interested in them. Or worse, that you’re embarrassed of them. Surely that’s not the case, right? Of course not. So every now and then, tag her in a post and brag about her. Post a picture of him doing something that makes you proud. And if you notice that you never share about him or her, perhaps stop and ask, when was the last time I took interest in my partner? A quick shout-out on your social media of choice can be a very sweet gesture.

Your sweetheart needs your love, adoration, and your communication. So, take some advice from a candy heart. Share, listen, flirt, laugh, brag, and hug. 

Our free classes for couples give you opportunities to apply these tips in real life. At our workshops, we will give you even more tools to help you communicate with your partner. Click here to learn more.

By John Claussen,  HRI Workshop Instructor, Des Moines (John is pictured above with his team, Jennie Koenig and Cindy Claussen)


It’s frustrating to have to take pickles off my cheeseburger.


What does this have to do with healthy relationships you ask?

Well, let me explain.


Communication is vital to any situation. And in a couple’s relationship, good communication is essential. Notice I said good communication. It is not just a matter of speaking and listening. In order to really communicate in a relationship, we have to have two things: Assertive Communication and Active Listening. Without these two factors active in our discussions, we may be conversing, but we are not communicating.


Without assertive communication and active listening, our conversations can become like the drive-thru window at a fast food place. In our family, we have a tradition at fast food windows. It’s called “Check the Bag”. I know I clearly said “No pickle”. But for some reason what the young man inside the building heard was “extra pickles”. So before we drive away, we take a moment to see if our order is correct.


The couple’s workshops offered by Healthy Relationships Iowa will teach you ways to better communicate with one another. We will help you to be able to “check the bag” in your conversations. Studies have shown that the number one reason relationships fall apart is lack of proper communication. At HRI, we will give you tools to increase your skill level in the art of assertive communication and active listening.


Your relationship is much more important than pickles on a fast food sandwich. But if you do not find ways to communicate with each other, you may lose your appetite for one another as well.


There are many workshops available! To register for a Healthy Relationships Iowa class, click here.


When I was 11 my family flew from California back to Iowa to visit family. It was the first time I had ever been on a plane. I distinctly remember the flight attendants giving my brothers and I these little wings to pin on our shirts. I remember them stopping by to see us a lot, and giving us treats. We thought we were pretty special, and they made us feel safe.Flight Attendant


I didn’t fly again until a couple of years ago. I was going along on a business trip with my husband, his two business partners, and their wives. I was really excited to get out of the winter cold and spend a few days in San Antonio with my friends. However, the thought of flying was giving me overwhelming anxiety. So much so that I was almost ready to back out of the trip.


But my mom gave me some advice that got me on the plane. She reminded me of the first flight I had taken almost 17 years before. She told me, “Keep your eyes on the flight attendants. They fly all day, everyday. They’ll help you stay calm.”


She was right. During takeoff I could see them chatting away buckled into their seats. When the plane would shake, they would keep serving Diet Coke and pretzels with smiles on their faces. They were so used to the turbulence that they spent their time calming people with their kindness. They had so much experience flying that takeoff and landing didn’t bother them at all. Once again, they made me feel safe.


My husband and I experienced something similar in our relationship. The first year of marriage can be rough. And I’ve heard that, for whatever reason, year seven is a tough one too. This was the case for us.


Sometimes it’s easygoing. Other times there’s so much turbulence you’re waiting for someone to turn on the seatbelt sign. For us, our older married friends were the equivalent of the flight attendant. Their experience with the ups and downs of marriage helped us avoid some pitfalls and encouraged us when things were tough. They also gave us advice about how to make our relationship fun, fulfilling, and rewarding. Finding a couple to mentor you is a great strategy for maintaining your relationship.


Healthy Relationships Iowa’s couple’s workshops do not assign you a mentor, however, we use a curriculum called Prepare/Enrich that is based off research of thousands of couples. HRI offers education for couples on communication, family background, conflict resolution, understanding your partner, and more. This information is based on years of studying couples and it provides proven strategies that couples can use every day.


We encourage you to find a couple to keep your eyes on to help you navigate your relationship’s flight. It’ll make a big difference. In the meantime, we’d love to give you education that you can utilize in your relationship as well. You can learn more about our free classes and register here.


This post courtesy of Prepare/Enrich.  You can read the original blog post here.

Author: Ann Malmberg

Let’s say there’s going to be a party.

Expectation A: You’ve been looking forward to it for weeks, building it up to epic proportions in your mind. All of your friends are going to be there, you’ll get to wear that new outfit, and it’s at that new, trendy place in town so the food, drinks, and ambience will be fantastic!

Let’s say there’s going to be a party.

Expectation B: You’ve been dreading it for weeks, wishing you could come up with a plausible excuse to get out of it. You probably won’t know anyone, you have nothing to wear, and it’s at that new, trendy place in town so it will probably be crowded, expensive, and parking will be terrible.

Reality: So the party was last night. Some of your friends were there, but a few didn’t make it. No one seemed too preoccupied with attire—some people dressed up and some didn’t. You were a few minutes late trying to find a parking spot, but you found one relatively close by. The food and drinks were moderately priced and relatively tasty, but nothing exceptional.

Based on the two sets of expectations above, how do you think you’d feel about the party at the end of the night?

The party was what it was. You couldn’t control how it turned out simply because of what you expected from it, and it didn’t change itself to match or defy your own expectations. Instead, your expectations affected how you perceived the quality of the party and your overall experience.

Now think about your relationship with your partner. Have you ever let unrealistic expectations influence your perception of him/her or of the relationship itself? Whether they are expectations that we set explicitly or the ones that creep in subconsciously, unrealistic (and/or uncommunicated) expectations not only prevent us from experiencing things as they are, but they also distract us from truly appreciating the good in a situation. You might fail to appreciate the thought and effort your partner put into cooking dinner just because it didn’t turn out perfectly, or overlook the fact that you can still talk late into the night because you still bicker about those certain topics. Perhaps you take for granted the way your partner always remembers to buy your favorite cereal because he/she still leaves the dishes in the sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher.

Many times I have found myself getting angry or upset with my spouse, only to realize that the true reason for my feelings was that the expectations I had created in my mind had not been met. Of course, being that I’d never actually communicated these expectations to my husband, let alone based them in reality, it would be unfair to be angry with him as a result. I’m a person who likes things to go the way I plan, and when that plan is diverged from, I tend to get irritated. But this is on me, not on him. I am definitely not perfect, but I’ve learned to check myself before blurting out a knee-jerk reaction of annoyance. By remembering to remove my “expectation filter,” I can better appreciate my reality.

This post courtesy of Prepare/Enrich.  You can read the original blog post here.

Author: Ann Malmberg

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