My daughter says the same thing every time we see an older couple walking hand in hand, talking and laughing, looking into one another’s eyes…looking like they’re on a first date. She looks at me and says, “They’re so cute.” And, they are…but what makes them so cute? What gives them such a glow? A study by Laura VanderDrift in 2011 they are experiencing “self-expansion” in their interactions with one another. No, I don’t mean they have gotten chubbier. I mean that each individual in the relationship has learned how their marital relationship enhances their personal competence and increases the resources they need to make their goals attainable. They have experienced “self-expansion.” And “self-expansion” has led to greater joy and intimacy in their marriage.
How can you experience the joys of self-expansion in your marriage? Good question. There are at least two ways.
One, engage in novel and arousing activities.
Two, including another person in one’s sense of self.
Fortunately, your marriage can provide both of these experiences. When you do have these experiences in your marriage you begin to perceive your partner as the best partner, more positive than any other alternative. That’s a good thing. It builds trust and faithfulness to the relationship. So how can you experience self-expansion in your relationship?
Have fun together. Discover those activities you both enjoy and work them into your schedule. If you like to dance, dance. If you like to hike, hike. If you enjoy the movies, go to the movies. And do it together. Engage in those activities that bring mutual enjoyment. When you do, you’ll both experience self-expansion.
Have an adventure. You can also do something new that interests you both. Perhaps you’ve both considered taking a cooking class. Why not do it together? Take a ballroom dance class just for fun and adventure. Go on a trip to a new place. Try camping or hiking. Try a new activity. If you’ve never been to an opera, give it a try. Grab you partner and do something you’ve never done before. The adventure will bring greater self-expansion.
Explore an interest your partner enjoys. Learn about their interests. Engage in those interests with them.
Begin today. Begin making time to enjoy activities with your spouse. You will experience self-expansion and your marriage will experience stronger intimacy and greater health.
We all love to receive a gift. Even more, we love to give gifts to those we love. Who doesn’t like to see our child’s face glow when they receive a gift from us? Or watch our spouse’s eyes glitter when they receive a special gift? Here is a gift you will love to give. Not only will you spouse and children love to receive this gift but you will experience all kinds of benefits…like more conversations, greater joy, and growing intimacy. What is this gift? The gift of attention!
You can give the gift of attention by listening intently. Listen to their words and listen to their tone of voice. Observe carefully. Observe their body language and their facial expressions. Observe what excites them and what brings them down. Listen intently and observe carefully so you can understand them deeply.
Then, and only then, begin to speak. But don’t move to fast. Use your first words to confirm your understanding. State what you’ve observation. Repeat what you’ve heard. Listen again as they either confirm your understanding or clarify your understanding.
Now, once you understand and your partner knows you understand, you can respond. This sounds like it will take a long time and sometimes it does…but not always. Take this example:
“It’s a beautiful sunny day,” your wife says looking out the window at the flowers in the back yard.
“Yes. It is a sunny day. I like how it shines on the flowers in our backyard,” you reply.
This simple interaction includes the observation that your wife is looking out the window when you talk about the flowers she is looking toward. She knows you listened as you repeat her words back to her–“sunny day.” A simple interaction that gives the gift of attention. With a gift this simple, you can give it away to your spouse and children multiple times a day. It’s almost like Christmas. Merry Attention. Happy Listening.
Remember the old Burger King commercials? I used to sing their moto, “Have It Your Way…,” such a catchy tune.
Unfortunately, some people think they’re married to Burger King. They want to always “have it their way” in marriage, treating their spouse like Burger King. They want their “Burger King spouse” to accept their way and agree with it, or at least act as though they do. They always believe their way “is right” and will argue their point in an effort to make their “Burger King spouse” toes the line and complies with their way. They do this by insisting on “their way” with vigor and passion, often overwhelming their spouse with their energy. They persist in this persuasion until their “Burger King spouse” accepts their conclusion as the right conclusion. What they don’t admit to themselves is “their Burger King spouse” often does this just to end the conflict and not have to talk about it anymore. As soon as the “Burger King spouse” gives in, a wedge (not a pickle wedge or a lettuce wedge but a solid, distancing wedge) is forced between them. That wedge will grow and fester, hindering intimacy and even leading to more conflict in the future.
“Having it your way” doesn’t work in marriage because none of us are married to Burger King. (Well, accept maybe Mrs. Burger King.) Our spouse has their own opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Maybe you “hold the lettuce” and she piles it on…or you “hold the pickles” while he asks for extra pickles. More significantly, maybe she wants a minivan and you want an SUV…or you want to spend some money on a few weekend vacations each year, but he wants to skip the weekend getaways and save all the money for retirement. I won’t list possible differences you and your spouse may hold. I’m sure you can think of a few on your own. The point is, when we insist on always being right, when we demand to “have it our way,” we push our spouse away. In the words of a more marriage friendly moto, “You can be right…or you can be in relationship.” “Being in relationship” requires that we accept our spouse’s point of view as valid, just like our point of view. It means we don’t demand to “have it our way,” but honor our differences by listening and compromising instead. It means having the grace to “have it their way” now and again instead of “our way.” In short, you’re not married to Burger King so don’t expect to “have it your way” all the time. Learn to listen, compromise, and turn toward one another in discovering a third alternative that can satisfy each of you. After all, isn’t it more important to have a satisfying marriage than to “have it your way.”
Ah, the cuddle. Whether it be a hug, a snuggle, hand-holding, or a “smooch,” we love ’em all. And why not? Cuddling does wonderful things for us and our relationship. Let me just name a few:
Cuddling releases a “bonding” hormone (oxytocin). When we cuddle, we bond with the one to whom we cuddle. In other words, we feel closer to one another. So, snuggle up and bond. Enjoy the intimacy. You might even find yourself talking a little more.
Cuddling increases happiness. Who can stay grumpy when snuggled up with the one you love?
Cuddling reduces stress and anxiety. There’s just something about snuggling into the arms of our love and feeling the stress melt away.
Cuddling also lowers blood pressure. Increased happiness, reduced stress, and lowered blood pressure all add up to increased heart health too!
Cuddling releases oxytocin which helps block pain signals. As a result, cuddling reduces pain.
Cuddling also helps us fight colds and other infections. When we feel good our body doesn’t want illness to interfere. So, it fights infections even more.
Cuddling helps us sleep too.
Is it any wonder we like to cuddle? It soothes us and lifts our mood. It melts away the strain and stress of the day. It relieves the pain. All the while it bonds us to the one with whom we snuggle. So, grab your spouse and “cuddle up a little closer.” You know you want to. Sing along with Andy Burrows with full sincerity, “I’d rather have cuddle than a video; I’d rather have cuddle than anything I know. I’d rather have a cuddle than ketchup, chips, or peas. A computer can be lovely, but a cuddle’s what I need!”
My friend sent me a…well, rather surprising news article from CNN (I spared you this article to avoid pictures of the golfers). How do I describe it? Let me just ask…Did you know the “Wandering Bares” just had a nude golf event in Australia? Well, not completely nude…they did wear shoes to protect their feet and hats to protect their hairline from the sun. If that’s not enough, the 11th Annual “World Naked Bike Ride” was held on June 23 this year (2018). That’s right, 11th annual! I discovered “naturists” promote nude volleyball, tennis, and trail running as well. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to participate in any sport nude…especially in public. There is only one place I want to stand “naked and unafraid.” That is in the presence of my spouse. Only in marriage can we truly stand before one another “naked and unafraid.” Even that proves difficult enough! Maybe I better explain that a little more.
“Naked and unafraid” with our spouse involves an intimacy much deeper than simple physical nudity. Standing before our spouse “naked and unafraid” is not simply standing physically nude but being present with our spouse in complete emotional vulnerability, mental transparency, and spiritual acceptance. The freedom to stand before each other emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically “naked yet unafraid” flows from mutual acceptance, warts and all. It demands a shared commitment to live our lives as one. How do we develop the sense of acceptance, commitment, and intimacy that will allow us to stand with our spouse emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically “naked and unafraid”? Here are some tips.
Commit to your marriage and your spouse. Assure your spouse that you “only have eyes for” them. Stick with them in the good times and the bad. Share the joys and the sorrows. Also, look to the future you will share together. Do you have infants? Talk about your shared future as parents of teens. Do you have teens? Talk about your future together in the “empty nest.” Do you have young adult children? Talk about how you will grandparent together. Do you have a dream vacation? Plan to take it in the next five years. You get the idea. Look to the future and plan your future together.
Share your dreams with one another. Even more, support one another’s dreams. Learn about those things that interest your spouse and grow with them in those areas of interest. This also adds to the idea of committing to your spouse “for the long run.”
Show your spouse unconditional acceptance. Take time to admire the traits you love in your spouse. When you have disagreements, reaffirm your love. When you discuss those little irritations, let your spouse know how much you love them anyway.
Share your ideas with one another. Talk with your spouse about a book you’re reading. Discuss the politics of the day with your spouse. Share an inspiring verse or a lesson learned. Become mentally transparent before your spouse.
Share your fears and your joys with your spouse. Become emotionally vulnerable. Talk to your spouse about the movie that “brought tears to your eyes” (yes guys, I’m even talking about us) and the act of kindness from the random stranger that “touched you.” Express your frustration over the injustices you witness or read about in the news. Don’t forget to share stories of joy and inspiration as well—the gift that made you “so happy,” or the love that changed you. In other words, become emotionally vulnerable before your spouse. After all, you know they offer you unconditional acceptance (see #3).
When we do these things, we will find ourselves standing before our spouses emotionally vulnerable, mentally transparent, spiritually united…and unafraid. We will find ourselves “naked and unafraid.” I long for that intimacy with my spouse. Don’t you? BUT, you still won’t find me playing golf (or any other sport for that matter) in the nude…and we’re all glad about that!
We all desire to have a sense of belonging, the feeling we have when we find unconditional acceptance in relationship to others. A sense of belonging is a crucial aspect in healthy relationships. It leads to greater happiness in family relationships. Children flourish when they grow up with a sense of belonging in their families. It is also foundational for healthy romantic relationships. Marriages thrive when both spouses have a sense of belonging in their relationship. But, a Contender has arisen to rival our sense of belonging, especially within the family. This Contender challenges our efforts to build a sense of belonging among our family members. Amazingly, we have welcomed the Contender into our living rooms and our bedrooms. We have invited the Contender to our meals and our activities. In each area, the Contender seeks to spoil the sense of belonging between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister. And, the Contender will defeat our sense of belonging unless we battle wisely. Let me introduce the Contender: YOUR cellphone. Research completed by Kent’s School of Psychology explored how “phubbing” (snubbing someone by ignoring them to respond to your cell phone) impacts relationships. They found that “phubbing” a person threatened their sense of belonging. They greater the “phubbing,” the greater the threat to one’s sense of belonging. (Read “Phubbing” Can Threaten Our Basic Human Needs, Research Shows for more.)
In other words, when you reach for your phone during time with your spouse, you threaten your spouse’s sense of belonging. Do this often enough and your spouse begins to question how much your value them or if you even accept them at all. Romance will dwindle. Marital happiness will drift. Pick up your phone while engaging with your children and their sense of belonging gets called into question. “Am I more important than that call or text?” Your children may even begin to resent your relationship to your phone just as you might grow to resent their relationship to their phone.
I must admit…the Contender is strong. It exerts a mighty pull. It can hold great power over you. But, there is good news. Every one of your family members (including you) have a secret weapon to defeat the power of the Contender. It’s true. In fact, you have two secret weapons that the Contender cannot defeat. The secret weapon is YOUR thumb! You can silence your cell phone. You can put it on “do not disturb.” You can even turn it off with the power of your thumb! When you do, the Contender’s power dwindles to off (literally and figuratively). It cannot disturb your interactions. It cannot intrude upon our conversations. It will do nothing but sit silently…preferably in another room and out of sight. Even more, you are free to look your spouse in the eye and talk. You are free to engage your children with no distraction. You are free to celebrate your relationships and build a stronger sense of belonging!
We were made for, and we long for, intimate connection. In fact, our attachment with other human beings is crucial, even necessary, for a healthy life. Marriage is one place we hope to find such an enduring connection. Unfortunately, many people find themselves feeling disconnected and isolated in marriage. This disconnected marriage brings pain and misery to everyone involved. A connected marriage brings joy. To get this connected marriage requires a few traits that are often overlooked when we speak about happy marriages. Let me explain a few.
To have an intimate marriage we need to be trustworthy. Our spouse needs to know we will keep our commitments and follow through on our promises. Our spouse will see our trustworthiness in our actions toward them and our actions toward others. If we want an intimate and enduring marriage, we need to become trustworthy people, people worthy of receiving honor and trust. (Read 6 Pillars of Trust to learn how to develop trust.)
To have an intimate marriage we must learn to trust. I realize that trusting another person leaves us vulnerable, especially if we have experienced hurt at the hands of those we loved in the past. But, without trust in a relationship both parties feel the need to protect themselves. They struggle to be completely open with one another. A wedge of secrecy and self-protection comes between them and drives them apart. We can avoid this wedge of secrecy and self-protection by becoming trustworthy people and people who trust one another.
An intimate relationship is built on the gift of empathy. We need to realize our spouse has a valid perspective and opinion even if they disagree with us. Empathy goes a step beyond that realization and demands we strive to understand our spouse’s perspective, to see the world through their eyes. We must work to understand their world so well we can understand the basis of their perspective even if we disagree with it. (Quit Taking Your Spouse’s Perspective may sound like a contradiction, but it really explains how to do this most effectively!)
A person nurtures intimacy when they remain attentive and available to their spouse. Spouses can make up to 100 bids for connection during any 10 minutes spent together (link). You can attend to these bids for connection or turn away from them, accept them or reject them. Of course, if you reject them you will experience disconnection, isolation, and anger. When we accept and respond to them we enjoy a growing sense of connection, love, and intimacy. (Learn how to respond to those bids for connection in RSVP for Intimacy)
Spouses who enjoy intimate marriages remain teachable. A teachable person loves their spouse enough to learn about them and from them. They can admit their own mistakes and apologize. A teachable person continues to learn about their spouse. They remain a student of their spouse’s interests, strengths, vulnerabilities, fears, and a myriad other things. Remaining teachable and learning about your spouse provides the necessary tools for building intimacy with your spouse.
Those who enjoy an intimate marriage exhibit humility. They are humble and learn from mistakes. They change in response to their spouse’s legitimate concerns. Humble people support one another. Humble people allow their spouse to influence them. Humble people enjoy intimacy in their marriages. (For a challenge in humility, become A Leader in Submission in your marriage.)
All couples experience disagreements, even arguments and conflict. But, did you know you can build a more intimate relationship with your spouse before, during, and after the disagreements and conflicts? Let me count the ways (well, at least five for before, five for during, and five for after).
Make daily deposits of honor and grace into your Family Bank of Honor by sharing polite words, expressions of affection, and loving touch. (Read The Tongue in the Family Bank of Honor for verbal daily deposits.)
Become a student of spouse. Learn about their likes, interests, vulnerabilities, and fears.
Express gratitude to your spouse every day.
Tell your spouse about the traits you admire in them. Let them know what they do and say that you admire and appreciate.
Show kindness to your spouse every day.
Take a breath and remember all the traits you love and adore about your spouse.
Remain calm. Take a breath and maintain the use of polite words.
Listen to understand. Then listen some more to make sure you understand.
Do not threaten, blame, criticize, or show contempt. Instead, be brutally honest with yourself. Humbly take responsibility for any way your actions and words contribute to the argument.
Seek a solution, a third alternative that can show love and the priority of your relationship. (Assume Love explains the third alternative.)
Reaffirm your love for your spouse. Let them know how much you love them.
Apologize. Chances are you did something during the disagreement that requires an apology. So, apologize.
Give your spouse a big hug and a sincere kiss.
Review your contribution to the argument and change your behavior accordingly.
I’m sure there are many more ways to build intimacy before, during, and after an argument, but these 15 ideas will give you a start. What ideas would you add to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.
Researchers from the University of Arizona surveyed young adults (average 21-years-old) about the frequency with which they engaged in activities such as listening to music, attending concerts, or playing instruments with their parents between 8- and 14-years-old. The survey also assessed the 21-year-olds’ current relationship with their parent. They discovered that shared musical experiences, especially in early adolescence, led to a better parent-child relationship when the child moved into young adulthood. The researchers explain that sharing musical experiences causes the participants to coordinate their actions and even their biology (Learn more in What Do “Twinkle Twinkle,” Oxytocin, & the Saccuus Have in Common…?). This synchronizing leads to better relationship quality. Music also elicits shared emotion. When you listen to music together you share emotions with those listening with you. Sharing emotions brings us closer together. Synchronizing our actions and sharing emotions help us develop a long-term connection with our children that extends into young adulthood. In other words, sharing musical experiences with your children can enhance your relationship with them when they become young adults! (You can even turn sharing music into a family fun night.)
If you don’t play an instrument, don’t worry. Shared musical experiences can be as simple as listening to music together. So, if you want to have a strong relationship with your children as they move into young adulthood, listening to music together as they grow up can help. Turn on the radio. Listen to music in the car and in the house. Dance in the living room. Go to concerts together. Enjoy all kinds of music, especially the music your children enjoy. Introduce music of various genres (classical, jazz, pop, R&B, metal, punk, rap, etc.). You and your children may learn something new about each genre…and enjoy learning about music together. Talk about the different types of music as you listen. Pick out your favorites. Sing along. Whistle along. Clap your hands to the rhythm. A little shared music will build harmonies of love between you and your children that will last a lifetime!
Ever felt like you don’t have enough time in the day to enjoy romance with your spouse? I know the feeling! What we need are actions that can provide glimpses of romance anytime & anywhere. Actions that promote feelings of connection and adoration. Actions that fill the heart with romantic feelings. Actions that make deposits into the romantic bank of the heart. Oh man, getting carried away. Let me just share a few actions that will give you and your spouse a “glimpse of romance” even in the busiest of times.
Respond to your spouse. Sounds simple, but sooo romantic. When your spouse says something, stop what you’re doing and respond. Even when they say something in a grumpy tone, respond with interest and concern. Let them know you hear them.
Smile. There is nothing more romantic than walking into a room to see your spouse smiling at you! (Smile for a Happier Family shares more about the benefits of a smile.)
Share a kiss. In fact, make it a six-second kiss for that extra romantic burst. I know I said these are good for even the busiest of times. But think about it…six seconds. Count them: 1…2…3…4…5…6. It has taken you longer to read this paragraph than it will take to share a six-second glimpse of romance!
Share a hug. Now don’t just give a timid side to side hug or a glancing walk-by-hug, although they do give a glimpse of romance. Once in awhile give a bold hug. Pull your spouse in and give them a great big hug. Rest for a few seconds in one another’s arms and enjoy the feel of being entwined with your spouse in a hug.
Hold hands in the car, walking through the store, watching TV, or whenever you want. Hand holding gives a glimpse of romance and has surprising super power (Read An Easy Way to Get in Sync for more).
Share an inside joke. You and your spouse likely have many inside stories and jokes. When you share your inside stories and jokes it takes you to another place and time, one which only the two of you have experienced and now understand. You’re sharing a time and place with only you and your spouse, no one else …how romantic!
Recall the story of how you met. It’s very romantic, even if it’s funny. Your kids will love it. More importantly, your heart will soar with romance. (The Story That Will Change Your Family Life explains more about the power of story for your family!)
Well, that’s seven “glimpses of romance” you can share with your spouse. What are some of the ways you like to share glimpses of romance with your true love?