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We all probably have different definitions of what high performance means, but we can probably all agree that we want our marriage to perform well. And there are even a few simple tactics than any couple can implement to make their marriage work even better.

For this discussion, we’ve brought in a high-performance couple, Kate and Steve Dahlin. The Dahlins are marriage mentors at the Two-To-One marriage ministry through North Point Church in Atlanta. Kate is also a life coach, who writes her own blog called Creating Exceptional.

If you read the Married People blog, you’ll likely read some of Kate and Steve’s posts on marriage. The Dahlins live in Alpharatta, Ga., with their two young children.

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The Interview

Tell us a little about yourselves.

Steve: Kate and I have been married for 11 years. We met in college on the beach and got married the weekend after graduation. We honeymooned, got married, and got our first jobs all in the same month. God has blessed us with two great kids, ages five and three.

Kate: I started in the dancing and arts world late in life. I was with a company in Alabama and went up to New York in the summer with this group who brought in kids to see what your life would look like if you did that. I learned that my heart was in the teaching world.

How do you use your marriage to pour into other people?

Steve: We both had separate ministries up until we got married. Kate was with women’s groups, teaching, and kids ministry. I have a music background, so mine was in music. We really wanted to do something together. When we started attending Buckhead Church, they made an announcement around the pre-marriage mentoring, and we both felt a prick in our heart. We were so passionate and they had such a need.

Kate: At the same time, I was growing my lifestyle coaching business. When we got married, I went from dancing straight into being a mom and was comfortable there. I was playing it safe and felt God nudging me that there was more I needed to be doing. That turned into writing and lifestyle coaching, which dove tailed into the marriage mentoring.

Did you guys grow up seeing healthy marriages in the home?

Kate: Yes. My parents are married today, love each other to death. They have five kids and were a great role model. I think it was very rare because we both came to the table with that.

Steve: My parents have been married for 40 years this year. They both grew up in a religious background, but found Jesus together around the time I was born. We both benefited a lot from the upbringing. It’s very rare nowadays.

What did you guys see in their marriages that made them successful?

Kate: They learned to grow together as a team. For our grandparents, there was just this level of consistency. They were going to stick it out, it’s what you did. There was no other option. They truly loved doing life together and being a team.

Steve: For me, the spiritual foundation is crucial. My parents were not on the same page when they got married, and once the alignment came and they started building that platform on Christ, everything changed. We’ve had some family drama just like every other family, but you can see that spiritual foundation woven through.

What have you guys seen in your parents that you wanted to do in your marriage?

Kate: They were very open communicators. When I was younger, there was a little fear seeing them fight it out, but we learned how to work it out. Even as kids, they’d tell us they love each other, they just had to work it out.

Steve: Respect is what stands out in my mind. The recognition of each party and what they bring to the table. That mutual respect is what I took away.

How has your life coaching impacted your marriage?

Kate: I was a stay-at-home mom and God laid it on my heart that it was time to do more. I started seeking him on what I’d done in my past that I could leverage for the future. Teaching someone really resonates with me and the business just evolved over time.

It started out with fitness and personal training—ballet, health, and exercise. It was easy for me to do that as a side gig. As I started doing that with women, it began encompassing whole health. Once they started getting their fitness and health under control, I you could see that effect all areas of their life. So it grew from there.

What’s the difference between an exceptional life and the perfect life?

Kate: For us it’s about bucking the status quo. I’m a high achiever, Type A, oldest child. It’s not perfection, it’s about excellence. I had a mentor say, “It’s not about excess, it’s about excellence.”

Steve: An exceptional lifestyle is not about performance—it’s about the outcome. When you think about people getting wrapped up in trying to perform, that’s not what this is about. It marriage, life, and career you’re going to have ups and downs and you can’t avoid those. But you can control how you’re going to respond to those.

What do you mean by a ‘high-performance marriage’?

Kate: The definition for high performance is that you’re producing superior results. It’s not about perfection, but you’re definitely not the norm or average.

Steve: In my sales background, they pull the top sales rep up on stage and ask how they’re doing it. For us, that is going to be the outcome of a high-performance marriage. People are going to see something in you that’s different. They’re going to want to know what your secret is.

What’s the first characteristic of a high-performance marriage?

Kate: The first characteristic is dreaming, which is about perspective. We like to take a positive spin on the relationship. No matter where you are, the dreaming aspect gets you out of the daily ground and answer the question, “where are we going?”

One of the biggest things for us is an adventure you can go on together. The best advice we would give someone is to go and travel. To get away and pull back from the daily grind. We try to get away every single year. Sometimes it’s just a hotel down the road for one night just to sleep. We encourage couples to start this tradition of getting away every year.

Steve: We’ve found when you do this, you can start dreaming about other areas of your life that matter. Your dating life, even your sex life. It’s a great opportunity to connect as a couple.

What happens to you as parents when you spend time just as a couple?

Kate: You’re recharged and you can dream. When you’re in the daily grind of work and schedules and school, and it can just get busy. When you get away and pull back, you can have rest and the opportunity to think bigger.

Steve: I’m always drawn to the movers and shakers in life. A lot of them have to get up early to make space and function. You look at Jesus—how many times did he retreat and pull away so he could come back recharged? From a marriage perspective, if you’re not doing that you’re going to burn out.

Do you have a system for dreaming together, or does it happen organically?

Steve: For us, vacation is vacation. We make sure we’re going away just us. We’ve done a couple trips with other people or visiting aunts and uncles. But making sure it’s just the two of us is important. Even the kids are starting to understand that.

There have been times there was a book or podcast we wanted to pull in and talk about. But most of the time it’s amazing what comes out in that dead time. I’m in sales, so I could talk forever. For some people it may be harder to start. We’ve tried to do some things around creating conversation and it’s amazing what happens.

Kate: The things to consider are: date, place, position, goal. What’s a date you’ve never done before? Where’s a place you want to go? Position has to do with your sex life. For goal: pick something really big you want to accomplish as a team.

The second characteristic is dating. How often do you go on dates?

Kate: We do date night every single week. Twice a month we actually go out. We get a babysitter; it’s in our budget. The other dates are home dates. We’ll feed the kids chicken nuggets, we’ll cook, play games. Making it a priority helps make it happen. When you call it ‘date night,’ you treat it differently. We treat it like a business meeting—we minimize distractions. We try not to talk about the kids or vent about the week. And we silence our cell phones.

Steve: Early on, I confused hanging out all the time with dating. Then, a mentor asked how much I spent every month on car payments. Without missing a beat, he then asked how much I was spending dating my life. It’s not about the dollar amount. My focus on dating completely changed.

Kate: If you don’t have the finances for a babysitter, you can swap time with another couple with kids. Just make it a habit. Don’t allow the busyness to squeeze this out.

The third characteristic is growing. How do you grow together?

Steve: I love the verse in Ecclesiastes that says two is better than one. This talks about the couple, but also the network you begin to build around you as you grow as a couple. You’ve got to find people in your phase of life who can walk beside you.

The next step is to find a couple a few steps around you who have already walked that road. For us, it’s creating that environment with peers and people ahead of you. Next, it’s looking to the next generation. You grow a lot as a couple when you start pulling up the next generation. Having that network around you is so crucial to growth.

Your one simple thing this week

Pick one of the three characteristics of a high-performance marriage and work on it together.

  • Dream: Write down one goal that you want to accomplish in your marriage during the next 10 years.
  • Grow: Pray together so you can grow deeper as a couple.
  • Date: Do something you’ve never done before on a date night.

Show Closing

Thanks for joining us for the Married People Podcast. We hope you’ll subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and leave a review—they help us make the podcast better.  We want to hear from you! Share with us on Facebook, Instagram or our site.  If you want more resources, check out the MarriedPeople membership.  You can find more from Kate on her blog or site.