After 36 years together Brad + Tami navigate marriage in tandem
Tami and Brad Miller are a husband and wife team who help couples right where they are with their marriage. Together they create and run Tandem Marriage, which provides resources and encouragement to keep couples from drifting off track.
Tami and Brad have been married through all of the ups and the downs of life for over 30 years and they can tell you this, marriage is beautiful chaos. Marriage can be both amazing and hard, sometimes at the same moment!
In our interview they share all of the challenges of marriage as well as what they wish someone told them as newlyweds.
How did you meet?
Tami: Our older brothers were best friends and one day Brad came with his brother to my house. I was only twelve years old and was not really interested in boys, however, I was crossing the street to go to my girlfriend's house and I distinctly remember seeing Brad sitting in the car with his brother as they pulled up to the house. I recall catching his eye and we both struggled to look away. I still remember that feeling I had and the way we looked at each other.
Brad: Tami and I first met when she was 12 and I was 13. We really did! Her older brother and my older brother were best friends. On one fateful day, I accompanied my brother to see his best friend at his house. While we were at his house, I couldn't take my eyes off of his cute little sister, Tami. At one point Tami’s bother looked at me, realized that I was in a daze over his little sister, and said, “Oh no, not my sister!” We still laugh about this.
How long have you been together?
T: Thirty-six years together and thirty-two years married. I was a bit more smitten with Brad than he was with me when were just kids and teenagers. We were good friends through high school and both dated other people and would often give each other dating advice. After Brad had graduated high school, we had lost touch for about a year. He happened to call me shortly after I had ended a two-year dating relationship and asked if we could go to the beach and catch up with each other. Come to find out he too had ended a three-year dating relationship. I was hesitant to say yes because my heart always belonged to Brad, and I was vulnerable from my recent breakup and did not want to add to my heartache. Well, some close friends convinced me to go with Brad that day and low and behold “Cupid's arrow” finally hit the bullseye of his heart. Or, maybe he just liked the little black bikini that I wore that day… ha ha!!! We have been together ever since!
B: We were just 12 and 13 years old when we first met and had a crush on each other. It was the puppy love kind of crush that only lasted about 6 months. Nonetheless, a great friendship was started during this time. As the years went by, Tami became one of my confidantes. When I would have trouble figuring out the girls I was dating, Tami was my go-to source for help. A few years later, when we were 17 and 19, we fell in love all over again. This time, we were both more mature, had become great friends over the years, and were ready to have a relationship. We have been together ever since. We dated for 4 years, then got married on April 20, 1985. We have been married for 32 amazing years now. We often refer to ourselves as #TeamUs and use that hashtag often, both with each other and on social media. We love it when others use it too!
How did you learn to navigate money together?
T: For me, it has been challenging to navigate money decisions together because I am a very independent person and like to contribute financially. One of the hardest times in our marriage was when I decided to be a stay-at-home mom with our kids. That meant we were going to be a one-income household! However, it meant much more than that to me. At the time, I thought some of my freedom and voice in how money was going to be handled was going to be taken away. Unfortunately, I would often interpret Brad's decision making with money as control which only build up bitterness in me. A bitterness that was unwarranted though. It took me several years to appreciate how hard Brad worked to give the freedom he believed I really wanted… which was to stay at home with our kids. Our conflicts seemed to be about money, but looking back we were really arguing about a misunderstanding and my lack of believing the best in my husband. Thankfully the experience only grew us closer! We were both willing to take a closer look at what went wrong during those challenging years and recognize that we really were not arguing about money, it only felt like we were.
B: Money is a difficult subject for many couples and we were no different. We came into our relationship with different spending priorities, different styles for saving (OR NOT), and many different ways to solve problems together and compromise. If all of this sounds like a train wreck in the making, it was.
Over the years, we have learned to trust each other because we choose to always believe the best about each other. That means if we have different spending/saving styles, we have learned to see that difference through a unique lens. A lens that says, “My spouse is a good person who wants what is best for us just like I do.” We are on the same team, even if we have different roles and different strengths on that team. We have decided over the years that #TeamUs trumps everything else. The team (our marriage) is always more important than our spending/saving styles.
Finally, we have come to appreciate the balance in our differences. After all, Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel.” When we find a good balance (compromise) between our different styles, that is Godly wisdom at work in our lives.
What do you wish you knew earlier in your marriage?
T: I wish that I knew earlier in my marriage that I do not have to be perfect to be loved. Because I came from a divorced family, I believed love was conditional and that Brad would leave me if I was not the perfect wife. I struggled with that fear for many many years! Brad never gave up on me or on us. As result of him showing that our marriage was always worth fighting for, I was able to overcome some of my deep-rooted fears. I’m also glad to say that we have been able to pass on the security of marriage to our two daughters.
B: This is such a loaded question for us because we never had marriage mentors growing up. Both sets of parents (hers and mine) were divorced. That means that we never saw finances worked out in a healthy way within marriage. We never saw conflict resolved in a healthy way. We never experienced loving communication in a marriage. And so much more. We did not know that something like #TeamUs even existed. So, even though we had no marriage mentors growing up, we eventually adopted a few mentor couples at our church. We did not really know what we were doing at the time, we just knew that we needed healthy couples around us so that we could see marriage lived out in a healthy way. Marriage mentors became such a huge key to our own success that we promote this idea to others whenever we can.
What is something your spouse does that makes you feel special and loved?
T: Brad makes me feel special and loved in the way he looks at me. As we grow older and my outer beauty begins to fade, he still looks at me as if I am the most beautiful woman he has ever seen! He really does. I will catch him looking at me when we are alone or even with other people that tells me he sees me and thinks I am beautiful.
B: Tami and I spend lots of time together: we live together, play together, and work together (yes, we do!). This could all get very routine and monotonous if we weren’t intentional. But there are times when, in the middle of it all, Tami will stop time for me. She will look at me very intently, touch me softly and deliberately on my hand or neck, and simply give me all of her attention for a minute. In these moments, I know what she is thinking without her even having to say it. With her eyes, she is saying that she loves me deeply and is so glad to be on this journey with me. This is such a simple and brief act, but it melts me every single time. Honestly, as I am writing about this, my eyes are welling up. Sheesh!
What advice do you have for couples going through a tough or stressful season in their relationship?
T: The advice that I would give couples going through challenges in their relationships is to find a couple that you trust, a couple that will not take sides. Share your challenges with them. I wish Brad and I would have been more vulnerable with other couples early in our marriage, and we would not have felt so alone in our challenges. When we finally found marriage mentors that we could go to during hard times, we were able to see that our challenges were normal and were given some direction in how to navigate through them. We still have marriage mentors today that are about ten years ahead of us in life that we turn to often. Every phase of life will bring challenges! There is no need to go through hard times alone. In addition to seeking marriage mentors, I encourage couples to seek professional counseling if your problems are bigger than your marriage mentors can handle. There is no need to look for an exit in your relationship, getting help will more than likely make your marriage stronger than you could have ever imagined.
B: Hang on. Cling together. Work it out, because there is no Plan B for healthy marriages.
Every marriage will experience some difficult and stressful times. Instead of allowing these times to tear your marriage apart, learn to see them as opportunities to grow, both individually and as a couple. Some of the most difficult things we have been through have resulted in greater and deeper intimacy for us—because we are committed to working though them TOGETHER!
What is something your spouse does that makes you proud?
T: What makes me most proud of Brad is that he is a great mentor to so many people. Anyone that meets Brad sees something genuine about him and it is contagious. Whether the person is a teenager, a young adult, married, or even a middle-aged, people want to be friends with Brad and want to spend time with him. This world needs more men like Brad!
B: Tami is such a phenomenal mother, grandmother, friend, and mentor. She loves those in her circle with reckless abandon. She always says, “People are more important than things” and she proves it by the way she lives every day. I am so proud of her for these reasons. Everyone around her has learned to have better relationships and a fuller life because of how she lives her life.
If you could tell couples in the world one thing, what would it be?
T: I would tell couples that their marriage is always worth fighting for! We live in a world where people give up on each other way too easily. Everyone wants someone to fight for them because it shows a person that he or she has value. If couples spent more time fighting for each other rather than with each other, I believe we would have far fewer divorces.
B: Be the person you want to be married to. A few years into a marriage, most spouses start to focus more on their disappointments with their mate than any of their mate's strengths. Focus your energy instead on being the person you were created to be. This is such a beneficial and freeing mindset to adopt, yet few people do. In fact, I have to remind myself of this more often than I care to admit.
What is the best marriage advice you’ve ever received?
T: The best marriage advice that I have ever received is probably the same as Brad's… “There is forgiveness in the touching of feet!” Brad and I love to ask couples that have been married a long time what is the secret to their success is. A couple that I recall to be in their 70’s answered our question in such a profound way that neither one of us will ever forget it. When Brad and I have been in conflict we have found that this really does work. One of us usually starts laughing and then we both know that we will work things out. You know, we just might write a book with that title one day.
B: “There is forgiveness in the touching of feet.”
Let me explain by giving some context here. Years ago Tami and I got into the habit of asking older couples for their best marriage advice. This has given Tami and me lots of marital wisdom to talk about over the years.
Once, while at a friend's wedding reception, we approached an older couple on the dance floor. They were likely in their 60's at the time and looked to be having the time of their lives dancing together. We acknowledged how happy they seemed and asked for their best marriage advice. Without hesitation, they replied, “There is forgiveness in the touching of feet.” After a bit more conversation with them, they explained that touching feet in the marriage bed is an intimate act. Sometimes that act conveys to your spouse, “I’m sorry.” If your spouse does not pull their foot away, it usually means, “I forgive you.”
We have learned to touch our feet in bed often as a way to make sure we are ok with each other.
What would you say are the main stressors in the marriages you see?
T: The main stressors I see in so many marriages, and even my own, is finding time to spend together. Even though Brad and I are empty-nesters we find ourselves shorter on time more than we ever anticipated in this phase of our life. We struggle to find time to spend together along with balancing running a business together with a staff of thirteen, finding time to spend with our busy adult daughters, being grandparents, and managing your own aging parents. We live in a culture where it is not only uncommon but also unpopular to actually have free time! When I am counseling couples I will often assign them the homework of spending quality time together. Most of the time it will take several sessions for them to actually set a date to spend time together. What Brad and I have done for many years is to set aside small amounts of daily time together. Even if it is just taking a walk around the block after dinner or sitting on the porch to sip on our coffee in the morning. Even small daily doses of time really do add up. It keeps us connected!
B: Money, raising kids, and selfishness.
Money: Learn to communicate your feelings about your differences. It not helpful to your spouse to say, “I won’t do it your way,” but is very helpful to say, “Spending our money that way scares me because ________.”
Raising kids: I always say, “Raising kids is not for sissies.” Raising children up to be of solid moral character is one of the most demanding and rewarding tasks you will ever undertake. You need to have a great marriage to pull this off. Tami always says, “The best gift you can give your kids is two parents who love each other.“ [Mic drop]
Selfishness: Most of us will spend our lifetimes fighting our own selfishness. One thing that marriage always accomplishes is to reveal to us how selfish we can be. To have a great marriage something has to die, and it needs to be selfishness.
Tell us about Tandem Marriage. What inspired you to start it?
T: The inspiration to start Tandem Marriage came from my desire to one day move out of repairing marriages that are on life support, to preparing marriages to stay healthy. I have been an affair recovery counselor for over twelve years. I see the most broken marriages and it is extremely hard work to restore these couples. It takes a lot of me emotionally on a daily basis. A few years ago Brad and I talked about how we can get on the other side of marriage problems and teach couples how to stay out of relational danger. We spent a year dreaming about what that would look like for us to work with couples together. What would we our call our new venture in helping couples? For over nearly thirty years Brad and I have enjoyed our tandem bike and often related it to a marriage relationship. Happy couples go through life in Tandem!
B: We have always had a tandem bike. In fact, we curtly own two of them. The first one was a gift from me to Tami on one of our first Christmases after we got married. We really do love riding together.
Over the years, we have learned to be very intentional about our marriage and helping others with their marriages too. For the last 10 years, Tami has been a marriage counselor and we operate a group counseling practice together where we help couples in their relationships and we train our staff to do the same. Marriage is just something that is so very important and we have always felt so passionate about that.
One day, while riding our tandem together, we started talking about all of the things that marriage and riding a tandem bike have in common: you need good communication for both, you must learn to be in sync, you need to enjoy the ride together, and more. Even though we had been doing all of these things for years, the idea for Tandem Marriage was born out of our desire to help couples beyond our local group counseling practice. Tandem Marriage is where we take what we have learned in the trenches (both in our own marriage and helping others in marriage counseling) and share it with others to proactively help them have better stronger marriages. If our counseling practice in the serious side of marriage help, Tandem Marriage is the fun side.
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