Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

More Lessons on Marriage from the Garden

Lessons om Marriage from the Garden

School has been out for 3 weeks and I’ve been working, working. working in my yard and garden! I’ve learned some lessons about gardening, and many of these translate to marriage really well. (If you missed the first “Lessons on Marriage from the Garden,” you can read it here.)

1. Don’t procrastinate!

Thugs like this will set seed and then the weeds in your garden will be like Medusa’s head. Remember, you cut off one and 7 more grow?

Don't procrastinate!

I like the old saying “One year’s seed is seven years’ weeds.” Pull up those flowering weeds early, and if you can’t dig them out, at least break off the flower heads before they go to seed. I’ve never used a pre-emergent herbicide but if it prevents seeds from germinating in the first place, even better.

out of control weeds

Don’t procrastinate in your marriage, either! Have you ever put off doing something for your spouse because you were doing something for someone else? (GUILTY!) How about avoiding talking about a problem in hope that it will go away on its own? Some problems are compounded and made much worse when you put off dealing with them.

2. Procrastinate! Be patient!

I planted bush green beans for the first time this year. A little 4×4 square gave us enough to eat green beans about 4 times a week for 3 weeks. (I don’t get tired of them!) According to the rules of square foot gardening, you’re supposed to rip plants up as soon as they are past their prime so you can replant immediately. Bush beans, unlike their climbing cousins, are supposed to give one big harvest and then be done. But when that time came, it was the last few weeks of school, and I just didn’t have the energy or time to do it. Lo and behold, I’m getting a 2nd harvest. Not as big as the first, but a decent one.

Be patient in your marriage, too. There have been times when I was about ready to throw in the marital towel, right over Mr X’s head, but I’m so glad I didn’t. At our 32-year mark, he has matured into the most caring, thoughtful husband. Our relationship is the foundation for every other relationship, and is such a source of strength and joy. There is nothing so rewarding as having shared stories, histories, children, and family.

3. Keep alert.

It’s easy to overlook things in the garden. Sometimes fruit hides under the leaves and unless you get down low and move them aside, you will miss them. I hadn’t even seen flowers on this okra, and found it only when I was down planting something in a neighboring bed.

okra surprise

It’s really easy to miss cucumbers! Mr X likes them very small, like the bottom one. I’ve let them get so big I had to cut them up and put them straight in the compost pile.

Pick cucumbers before they get too big.

And sometimes something besides a veggie is hiding among the leaves, like a wasp. OOPS. Allergy to wasp stings discovered!

wasp sting allergy

Be alert in your marriage too. Things can lurk undetected — resentment, neglect, selfishness to name a few– and if you aren’t watching carefully and “weeding them out” as they appear, they can grow and get out of control.

A marriage, like a garden, can be a source of delight. But neither just happen on their own. After the wedding/planting, you’ve got to constantly maintain it. And in marriage and the garden alike, dealing with little problems as they happen can save lots of time and heartache later!

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:15

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Time: The Elusive Necessity in Marriage

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

24 hour clock courtesy of digitalmama824 via Flickr

Have you accepted the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day? And that even though you can borrow money (bad idea), you can’t get any more time? If your too-busy schedule is causing stress in your marriage, it’s time to take an honest look at it, assess it, and make some changes. In “No Vacuum,” I talked about 2 extremely important things in a successful marriage: knowing what we need as well as what our spouses need; and once we figure that out, having realistic expectations of ourselves and our spouses. Today I’m looking at where these 2 ideas intersect: TIME.

“Free” Time

Do you feel like you’re running from can to can’t? (That’s one of my favorite old-time Southern sayings.) Or in the words of the country singer, “always running, but always running behind”? If you’re not sure where your time flies away to, keep a time diary for a few days– in 15-30 minute increments, see where your minutes go. OUCH… It might show what I call the “Starbucks effect” (spending a small amount of money very often– it adds up!) But instead of being shocked at how much money you spent, you might realize that you’ve wasted a lot of time in small chunks, on things that aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of your life, like Facebook, playing games on your phone, watching TV reruns, etc. Don’t get me wrong; you do need recreation and leisure activities. But you need to CHOOSE what you do, not just fritter away your time on meaningless activities, then wonder why your marriage is suffering. How we spend our time should reflect what we say our priorities are.

Work

And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Is your career killing your marriage? In his sermon series “Breathing Room,” Andy Stanley shares a story from a book written by a hospice nurse who spends much of her time with people in the last few weeks of their lives. She began asking them, “What do you regret most in your life?” She said, without exception, every. single. man. wished he hadn’t spent so much time and energy on work.

“This came from every male patient that I had nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.” Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

(Thanks to Joel at Friendly Thoughts for documenting what I only listened to!)

Mr X and I both have salaried jobs, and we probably could both work another 4 hours every day and still find things to do. In our cut-to-the-bone economy, many employers expect more than any one person to do, and sometimes we are our own slave-drivers. But you’ve got to be honest– if you consistently work many hours beyond what you signed up for, is it worth it? That salary that looked great when you divided it by 40 hours a week might not look so good spread out over 60-80 hours. And is it worth it to you? Only you can decide. But again– be honest. Count the whole cost (not just in terms of money) to your marriage, children, your health, etc.  How much money does your family need? It’s a sad thing when a parent realizes he’s lost his window of opportunity to build a close relationship with his children while he was working to provide THINGS that were not as  important as a relationship with him.

This is tough, I know. You’ve got to find the balance. To help you think, I have to throw in this classic song from the late Harry Chapin. There is a bit of commentary from his wife and son that I think are quite relevant.

Caring for Yourself

… vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases.  But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. Luke 5:15-16

Have you ever had “vast crowds” clamoring for you? Like at the bathroom door? We women are notorious for taking care of everything and everybody else before we take care of ourselves. But you know what? You’ve got to take care of yourself or you’ll either be sick or be a grouch who has nothing left for your poor spouse. I learned the hard way that my job could move on just fine without me, and it reminded me that I’m the only wife my husband has and the only mom my kids have. Consider these things when you’re looking at your weekly schedule:

  • How much margin do you need for mental peace? I need lots, and when I forget to figure it into my schedule, my nerves frazzle. Rushing from one activity to the next drives me crazy!
  • How much sleep and rest does your body need? If you cheat, it will catch up with you.
  • What rejuvenates you? This is different for everyone.

Jesus modeled taking time away for re-creation. (I rather doubt He needed it– but He knew we would!) And remember that in Exodus 20, God Himself suggested commanded that we should rest. How prideful are we when we think the world will fall apart without us?

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…

How are you using your time today? Do you need to make any changes?

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A Fruitful Marriage– Goodness

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Galatians 5:22 NIV

A Fruitful Marriage-- Goodness

I’m continuing my “Fruitful Marriage” series at A Biblical Marriage, and this month I looked at GOODNESS. ( To see the earlier posts in this series, see Kindness, Patience, Joy, and Love.)

Goodness sounds a lot like patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control… so what’s the difference?

In the context of marriage, the other fruits are ones that we practice toward each other. As I’ve prayed for direction on this, I’ve gotten the idea that GOODNESS faces OUTWARD.

Join me at A Biblical Marriage to read more about having a Fruitful Marriage.

Keep Up the Good Work! Steven Depolo via Flickr

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NO VACUUM!

“Nature abhors a vacuum.”

 *LOL I didn’t say DON’T VACUUM!

Have you ever microwaved a plastic container without loosening the lid, then had to clean up the mess?

This happens because water heats and turns to steam. Steam takes up more space so it builds pressure till it explodes.

If you go the other way– put a lit on a hot container, then let it cool, the opposite happens. As the steam cools, less space is occupied and the container implodes upon itself. No vacuum!

A recent sermon used this illustration to show how, if we don’t fill the “God-shaped vacuum” in our souls, we will search in vain for something to fill it, and will invariably choose the wrong things.

Take it a step further and look at marriage and vacuums.

In an ideal world, the one that God designed, what fills up a marriage?

God Himself: He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. John 3:30

Servanthood:  Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21

Love: …But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 1 John 4:12

And speaking of love, let me bring us again to Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. (Gifts, acts of service, physical touch, affirming words, and quality time. If you don’t know your own and your spouse’s love primary love language, you need to get on that TODAY!) Chapman’s concept of a love tank is a perfect illustration here. If we allow our own or our spouse’s love tank to get low– develop a vacuum– we create space for something else to come in and fill it up. The lower it gets, the more opportunity a negative force has to put pressure on your marriage. And have no illusion about what “negative influence” will come. Our culture offers us plenty– busyness, workaholism, pornography at our fingertips, relationships outside of marriage, hobbies, even church work! When we aren’t meeting the legitimate needs of our spouse we put our marriages in a very dangerous position for something– or someone– else to meet them.

An activity might be good, bad, or neutral, but if it pushes between us and our spouses, the devil can use it to hurt our marriages.

A situation we experienced, and I would imagine is very common, was when our children were young and I began working full-time. Mr X went to college full time and worked part time. I also began having serious allergy problems (thank you moldy old school) and recurrent sinus infections.

Needless to say, we were exhausted! I needed emotional intimacy and words of affirmation. These did not come naturally to a much younger Mr X. He needed physical intimacy, which was the last thing on my list after teaching then coming home for the second shift, often being sick on top of everything else.

In a typical male/female interaction, it’s a cycle– When a woman feels emotionally intimate, she’s more open to physical intimacy. When a man experiences physical intimacy, he’s more open to emotional intimacy. (For a much better explanation, please read Sheila Gregoire’s post.) But stop one and the whole system jams up. So I withdrew into child care, house work, and teaching. He withdrew into his school work, his construction business, and video games.

It probably was a good thing we were both so tired or else we would have been easy prey for affairs!

What could we have done, short of not working and going to school? 3 things:

1. Maintained emotional intimacy– talked about the situation and the problems and challenges it presented. We would have benefited from Auntie Em’s posts about Fruits of the Spirit in marriage, particularly patience! Acknowledging the problem, realizing that it was related to temporary situations with a light at the end of a long tunnel, having a plan to deal with it, admitting what we were missing and what we needed– all this would have helped us to deal with it in a much healthier and more productive way.

2. Maintained spiritual intimacy– This was pretty much absent from our marriage for a very long time. We were always active and regular in church, but we never prayed together or shared spiritual needs until the last few years, after our children flew the nest.

3. Compromised between realistic expectations and what we needed  from one another – (of course, that could have happened only if #1 had been happening!) This is a complicated issue that requires its own post… So stay tuned.

Few people have seen really healthy marriages modeled in their childhood homes. We’ve made huge strides, but our kids missed out while they were growing up. However, countless resources are available for building healthy marriages nowadays. It’s up to us to do the hard work necessary to overcome the deficiencies we come to marriage with.

What are you struggling to overcome in your marriage?

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A Fruitful Marriage- Kindness

Be kind to one another (A Fruitful Marriage)As Christians, all of us have the Holy Spirit of Christ living in us and His power available to us. If we are fully surrendered to Him, there should be evidence of it, and one of the most obvious signs is the presence of the fruit of the Spirit. The past few months I’ve been writing about the Fruit of the Spirit displayed in marriage, and now the Fruit of the month is KINDNESS.

Join me at A Biblical Marriage to delve deeper into the Fruit basket!

Showing intentional kindness to our spouses is a good way to build up the love tank to overflowing. What kindness can you show to your spouse today?

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Good Seed or Bad?

Good seed or bad?Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. Matthew 13:24-26

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”

We had a guest pastor at church yesterday and he preached a sermon geared toward preparing us for our new pastor, arriving in 2 weeks. (yay!) However, as usual, a concept that applies to a church also applies in a marriage relationship. Maybe it will give you some food for thought, too.

All of us have 2 kinds of “seed” in our lives: Good seed and bad, or “wheat and tares” as in the King James Version. The good kind is from God; the bad is from our flesh. Which one takes precedence depends on which one we care for and nurture– like the story of the 2 wolves, which one we feed. Good seeds in a spouse do 3 things: (I’m speaking from the female perspective because, well, I’m female, but it applies to both husbands and wives.)

1. Good seed SUPPORTS her spouse because he is her spouse and God said to. We uphold his position as our husband and follow his leadership. We don’t try to be the boss of the family and manipulate him to do what we want. We act in obedience to God, even when we don’t feel like it or think our spouse isn’t doing his part.

2. Good seed PRAYS for her spouse and puts his needs before her own. This is what submission means, despite the archaic connotation that many would have us believe.

3. Good seed SUPPORTS her spouse personally, speaking good things to him and about him. If we must bring up a problem or conflict, it’s done in love and with an eye toward reconciliation, not hurt.

Just as we have to “feed the good wolf” or nurture the good seeds in us, we also nurture our spouses. How do you nurture your spouse?

1. Good seed goes out of its way to be kind to her spouse.

2. Good seed makes time to pray for, with, and over her spouse.

3. Good seed looks for ways to serve her spouse, (speak his love language) whether it’s helping with a project, picking up the slack at home when his work is overwhelming him, fixing a special food, etc.

4. Good seed spends time with her spouse just for fun. Going to a football game when it’s not your favorite thing to do. Parking in a lawn chair in the garage when he’s working on the lawn mower. All those times when you could be doing something else– even when you have a thousand things you could be doing in the house– when you choose to spend time with your husband, he knows you’ve chosen him over all those things, and it blesses him.

How can you do some nurturing today?

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Got Patience?

patience

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Galatians 5:22-23 NAS

Do you need an extra dose of patience in your marriage? Most of us do, because when we are at home, we often take off our masks– a good thing! But that means that our spouses sometimes bear the brunt of the jabs and snarls we have been holding back from everybody else.

Join me over at A Biblical Marriage and let’s talk about the Spiritual Fruit of patience!

 

 

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Learn to Swim!

Learn to Swim!“It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go…and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time…. It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.”
~ Mere Christianity

I read this quote today in a post from the Official C.S. Lewis Facebook page and it immediately jumped into a marriage context! (This was only the 2nd time that something has triggered a post in this manner since my husband’s accident back in November. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but I’m pretty sure I had another brush with seasonal depression these past few months.)

But I thought about how love grows and changes over many years. New love IS exciting! You can’t wait to see the one you love– you spend hours on the phone, learning about one another, making plans, and finally, just listening to each other breathe because you’ve said all you can think of but you can’t bear to hang up the phone. But at some point, all that changes. (Funny real life coincidence: This week one of my teacher friends was trying to explain this concept of long-married relationships to her high school seniors who were reading Pride and Prejudice. She told of hours on the phone when she was dating her husband– but said after 15 years of marriage, she’s over listening to him breathe!) Real life steps in. It’s different, but not worse.

Possibly no matter how long you have dated and how well you know each other when you are newlyweds, life is exciting when you are newly married– the parties and showers, the wedding and honeymoon,  a new place to live, SEX (sorry Sis and Sunshine), making plans for the future, etc. It’s all very energizing. But at some point, things change. You get cramps. He goes in his man cave. You both get tired and cranky. You have arguments, and make up. You work together on your home. Maybe you do something terribly unglamorous like changing out a toilet or dig up a sewer line. You nurse one another through illnesses. You become FAMILY. The everyday-ness of ordinary life becomes the norm. (I wrote a post about joy displayed as a fruit of the Spirit in marriage through hard times, a similar idea.)

It happens very gradually, but it will happen. And hopefully, you will recognize it and not fight it (“endlessly [and hopelessly] trying to get back the feeling”), but appreciate it for what it is: “learning to swim,” not “paddling like you did.” You develop true intimacy. Not just sexual intimacy, but emotional and spiritual intimacy. You become one another’s most trusted confidante and biggest fan. You know each other’s greatest strengths and trust each other with your greatest weaknesses. You fail one another and even hurt one another, but then you forgive and work to grow closer. You experience life together, secure in the knowledge that you are FOR each other, no matter what. Forever.

This song goes perfectly. I played it for Mr X the morning of our 30th anniversary. Thanks to our son-in-law (Mr. Sis) who sang it in one of his college recitals and introduced it to me.)

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Lessons on Marriage from the Garden

We had a very mild winter here in Southeast Texas, and Spring is creeping in. Lots of early blooms are out– and the weeds are beginning to wake up too. Our neighborhood is called “Enchanted Forest” and before Hurricane Rita, our yard was full of beautiful, mature oak trees. (Now we have a few tall skinny ones left.) Part of having a “forested” yard is that very hardy vines grow alongside those trees, and when you plant shrubs, the vines continue to grow up among them. They are not vulnerable to Round-Up and most foliar weed killers- you have to dig them out, and many times the bulb is WAAAAAYY down deep.

Cross vine is one of our worst invasive vines. When you let it go too long, it will completely strangle a poor azalea bush.

crossvine2

When I finally got around to rescuing this pitiful bush, look at all that came up: there was lots more growing underground that you couldn’t see. Bigger than the bush it had covered up.

crossvine

Can you guess where this is headed?

This is what a single little crossvine sprig looks like: Innocent enough, right?

20130218-111258.jpg

But look what’s lurking below: Look very closely to see the leaves and visible growth: Most of it is below ground.

DSC_6985

Kelly’s post at Exceptionalistic immediately came to mind when I pulled this rampant weed up by the roots.

Here’s the deal: Lots of time, I counsel you to overlook things. After all, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8) and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7). However, you must also LET THEM GO. (Think of hanging the toilet paper the wrong way, or not at all, kicking the sheets out, procrastinating, etc…) If the issue so serious that you can’t let it go, and it interferes with your feelings for your spouse, it needs to be dealt with. Maybe it’s the symptom of a deeper problem- you resent his golf days with his friends not because you don’t want him to spend time with his friends, but you feel neglected. Or maybe there is a lack of transparency in the relationship that shows itself in tiny, unimportant little ways. In these days of separate Facebook accounts, telephones, the all-important “confidentiality” that the medical and insurance worlds insist on, and the blatant “porn mode” internet browsers, it would be very easy to begin to hide things from your spouse.

There are many issues in a marriage that will grow underground, like the roots of my crossvine. Left on their own, they can overtake your whole marriage and choke the life out. You must pull them up by the roots and dig out the bulb. Is it hard? Yep. Painful, tedious? You bet. Will it leave scars? Oh yes.

But our God is the God of comfort, healing, and rejuvenation. He not only gets rid of the problem; he replaces it with something better than it was before!

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners
 … to comfort all who mourn,
  and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1-3

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Lessons on Marriage from Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey
Are you hooked on Downton Abbey? Like many, I’m smitten! I’ve always loved costume dramas, especially ones where the actors speak with British accents. I’m a lifelong Anglophile and this series feeds my love for England, beautiful homes, and history all in a moving family saga. Well you know Auntie Em– of course I had to look and find examples I could apply to marriage, and find them I did!
(Disclaimer regarding plot spoilers and details– I’ve watched all of Season 1; 3 episodes of Season 2 on DVD; and all 5 episodes of Season 3. I don’t have them recorded so I might misquote something but I’ll get the general idea. ALSO– I do realize it’s only a TV show!)
Downton Abbey Cora and Robert

1. Fight for your marriage.

When we attended the Weekend to Remember marriage conference, the presenter urged the men not to give in to their tendency to be passive at home. Many husbands will fight all kinds of battles at work; identify and solve problems proactively and face issues head on; but at home they withdraw when faced with problems they don’t know the immediate solution for. I used to see this in my marriage. My armchair diagnosis (corroborated by Mr X) says that many men don’t have the relational skill to figure out a solution on their own, and that makes them feel inadequate– and that’s the worst thing a man can feel. There is also the feeling that, bad as things might be now, if you confront them, they might get worse.

FAIL: After Sybil dies, Cora blames Robert. He gives in to her request that he move out of their bedroom and when he tells Mary how much he misses Sybil, she begs him to “tell Mama.” He says, “She doesn’t want to hear it.” Don’t give up without a fight, Robert! In the end, it’s his mother that fights for his marriage. (In Robert’s defense, he has also lost his beloved child. Sometimes you just don’t have the strength to fight!)
PASS: Anna searches tirelessly for evidence that will exonerate Mr. Bates. She moves way outside her comfort zone, involving “the master” and a lawyer, as well as spending some amount of her money to pay the unsavory witness for speaking to her. Her efforts pay off, finally! Lesson to learn: It might take a long time; it might stretch you; it might seem hopeless, but hold out and keep fighting. Your marriage is worth it.
Downton Abbey Matthew and Mary
2. Your primary loyalty is for your spouse, not your parent.
 This is nothing new for regular Auntie Em readers. (Leave and Cleave was one of the most-read posts.) Mary’s love and loyalty to her father are undisputed and a recurring theme.
PASS: As Matthew tries to budge Robert on new ideas about operating the Estate, he needs Mary’s support. “I love my father,” she counters. “Of course you do. But cheer for me.” And later he feels sure he can make his plans work, “Now that you are on my team.”
3. Encourage your spouse to be their best, what God would have them to be.
PASS with an A PLUS: Anna told Mr. Bates she would leave everything and “live in sin” with him if his estranged, conniving wife wouldn’t agree to divorce him. He gently told her, “That’s not the path for you.” I loved him for that!
Downton Abbey Anna and Bates
4. Be honest– Don’t keep secrets.
FAIL: Back in season 1, Robert and Carson got proof that Thomas was a thief. He resigned and so they didn’t have to face the unpleasantness of firing him. But they decided it would be better if Cora didn’t know– so later on, when she arranges for Thomas to return in a position of some authority, it’s rather too late for them to object.

FAIL: Also, when Mary must have a “small operation” to correct a female problem, she doesn’t tell Matthew until it’s over and healed. “That’s why I was putting you off.” Matthew’s response, “I thought you’d gone off me,” is probably what most men think when their wives stop being intimate with them. This could have led to much more serious problems.
I’m sure you can find more examples of passing and failing. If you haven’t watched the series, season 1 is on Netflix instant viewing and Season 2 is on Netflix DVD. They are also all available for purchase. Pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy!
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