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Painless Hospitality

How to open your home to others without driving your spouse crazy

My husband, David, and I exemplify opposites attracting. He's laid-back, highly creative and artistic, and very quiet. I'm tense and intense, left-brain logical, and noisily gregarious. What can I say? Somehow it works.

But when it comes to doing things together, we run into trouble. Most of David's artistic hobbies are one-man operations: painting, making stained glass, woodworking, quilting (can you believe it?). And my interests tend to be bookish, which also don't lead us into quality time with each other. So what's a couple to do?

Take up entertaining, that's what. I don't mean entertaining as in song-and-dance-take-it-on-the-road. I mean entertaining as in move-over-Martha-Stewart. As it turns out, even in this time of people "cocooning," having people over is still something of a novelty. For lots of reasons—fear of letting people see your imperfectly cleaned or decorated home, less-than-spectacular cooking skills, shyness—people just don't open up their homes as much as they once did.

For David and me, it's become a real side-by-side pastime that's been great fun and enjoyment for us, as well as a way to make friends and reach out to others. That reaching out to others is important to us. Psychologist John Gottman, in his Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, lists "shared meaning" as his seventh principle. Couples need to have a sense that their oneness has a purpose other than their own companionship and pleasure. Pastor and marriage therapist Tim Gardner says, "Your oneness needs to be invested in something greater than self."

When David and I open our doors to friends and children and acquaintances, we feel we're investing in others. That mutual goal and all the cooking, cleaning, and listening tasks that accompany it give us, in part, that shared meaning. Maybe you as a couple feel lonely for more friends, or maybe (like us) you need a hobby you can share. Or maybe you are working out how to use your home to obey the Bible's command to "be hospitable." Whatever the reason you're considering having other folks into your home, you might appreciate some of the things David and I have learned from our adventures in hospitality.

Love Me, Love My Messes

First off, don't kill yourself getting the house ready before you'll invite people over. I remember meeting my good friend Kim's future husband for the first time in our living room—which was filled with debris from ripping the ceiling down. Not only was there no ceiling, the walls were as yet unpapered and the wood floors needed refinishing. It didn't matter. If anything, our take-us-as-we-are attitude made Mike feel that we were prepared to take him as he was.

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