Tag Archive for intimacy

Build-a-Spouse

I’m sure you’ve heard of “Build a Bear.” If you have children (or, if you’re the romantic type), you have probably even visited “Build a Bear” shop and…well, built a teddy bear for the one you love.  Imagine what it would be like to “build a spouse.” You’d have your budget already set as you walk into a store filled with various traits you can purchase. You’d allocate your finances for the traits you desire in a spouse—a large part of the budget toward those traits you desire most, the deal-breakers, and a small part of the budget toward those traits that are nice but simply not necessary. And, poof…out pops a spouse, built to specification.  Sounds crazy, but….

Researchers at Swansea University actually did this (well, metaphorically speaking, without actually “building” a physical spouse). They gave over 2,700 college students from across the globe (Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Norway, the UK, and Australia) a budget and a list of eight qualities they might like in a spouse. Armed with finances and a list of attributes available, these college students “built a spouse.” The eight attributes included: physical attractiveness, good financial prospects, kindness, humor, chastity, religious involvement, the desire for children, and creativity. (I would have added a few other traits, but I wasn’t creative enough to think of the “build a spouse” study.) Each participant had three opportunities to “build a spouse” based on these attributes: one time on a low budget, one time on a medium budget, and (you guessed it) one time on a high budget. Comparing the choices made on various budgets allowed the researchers to determine traits that participants deemed necessary verses traits deemed a luxury.

Overall, across cultures and genders, kindness received the lion’s share of the budget (22-26%). Physical attraction and good financial prospects were the next two most desired traits. Physical attraction, however, was rated as a “necessity” for men more often than women (22% of the budget for men vs. 16% for women). Good financial prospects were deemed an important trait for women more so than men (18% of the budget for women vs. 12% of the budget for men). Still, neither rated as high as kindness. (For an overview read Kindness is a top priority in a long-term partner.)

Kindness was the number one priority to have in a long-term partner in this study. Chances are, you and your spouse put a high priority on kindness in a spouse, too. So, if you want to have a happy, healthy marriage, practice kindness in your marriage and family. To help you get started, here are 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage. (Read the Mighty Power of Kindness for Families to consider how kindness will impact not just your marriage but your family and our world.)

I would have added a few other traits to the list of possibilities for purchase—traits like honesty, trustworthiness, and loyalty. I wonder what would get the lion’s share of the budget then? What traits would you add to your “build-a-spouse” project? What are the most important traits to you in a spouse? Why not spend a little time discussing these qualities with your spouse this week—perhaps over a cup of coffee or a dinner date?  

The Art of Listening is More Than Responding

Responsive listening is a great start to the art of listening. But it is not art of listening. Responsive listening includes hearing the wishes of another person, considering our own desires, and arriving at a mutual goal, one we can both agree to. We engage in this sort of listening all the time (at least I hope you do). Anything from deciding what to have for dinner to buying a new car to where we go on vacation involves this type of responsive listening. And, this type of listening makes our relationships more congenial and cooperative. It concludes the important business of daily life.  However, it does not build the deep intimacy we long for in marriage.  To build deep intimacy we need to listen for more than mutual goals. We need to listen at a deeper level. We need to engage in the art of attentive listening.

The art of attentive listening moves us toward deeper emotional intimacy. It does not merely exchange information or share in mutual problem-solving. No, the art of attentive listening shares vulnerabilities and draws us together. It involves three things.

  • First, the art of attentive listening demands we set aside our personal agenda (for a time) so we can focus on the other person and what they mean to say. We will not think about our own responses and so satisfy our agenda to sound wise. We will not think about a counter argument to fulfill our agenda of “helping them see things differently.”  We will not even think of a good compromise so we can negotiate an option that satisfies both their agenda and our agenda. We will simply focus on them–their emotion, their intent, their meaning, their agenda.
  • Second, the art of attentive listening requires that we use verbal and nonverbal cues to communicate our attention and understanding. The person who listens attentively responds with facial expressions of understanding and focused attention. They ask questions for further clarification and understanding. They invite further comment with gestures and short verbal cues (“go on,” “really,” “oh my,” “what?”). 
  • Third, the art of attentive listening involves curiosity not judgment. A person truly adept at attentive listening hears more than the words of the speaker. They “hear” the other person’s facial expression, gestures, and body language. And, they do not respond with judgment. They respond with curiosity instead. They express loving curiosity about the other person and the meaning or intent of what they are communicating. They want to know how the topic has impacted that person emotionally and mentally. Those who listen attentively are genuinely curious about the other person and what they have to say.

Of course, we can’t engage in this type of attentive listening all the time. There is a place for responsive listening, compromise, and the completion of daily business. However, marriages can get stuck in a pattern of responsive listening, a pattern of only communicating to carry out the daily business of running a family and home. They become business partners rather than a married couple. To keep a marriage strong, we need the intimacy that we gain only through the art of attentive listening. Give it a try. Take the initiative. Set aside your agenda for an evening and engage in the art of attentive listening toward your spouse. You will be amazed at the intimacy that blossoms from this practice.

Before You Apologize, Consider This

Apologizing is humbling, even difficult. It becomes even more difficult if you’ve ever experienced a time in which apologizing backfired and just made things worse. Or, if you have childhood memories of being forced to apologize for something you didn’t even do. Maybe that’s part of the issue. No one ever taught us how to apologize. In marriage, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice apologizing. It will go much more smoothly if you take a moment to learn how to apologize well. With that in mind, the first step in making an effective apology is to answer two question.

The first question: What motives underlie my desire to apologize? Why am I apologizing? Many times, we have poor motives for apologizing.

Husband coming home late to an angry wife who is holding a rolling pin
  • For instance, apologizing just to get back in good graces or to put the event behind us are bad motives for an apology. Your spouse will see through the apology to the motive and become even more upset.
  • Sometimes we apologize because we fear our spouse will dislike us or remain angry at us. We don’t like other people (especially our spouse) having negative emotions toward us. So, we apologize in an  attempt to free ourselves from being disliked, to free ourselves from the burden of another person’s negative emotions. It won’t work. It will only increase those negative emotions. You need a different motive.
  • Sometimes we apologize because we want our spouse to “forget it about it” and “get on with our happy marriage.” We apologize to get our spouse to “move on.” You’ve heard it, “Why are you still upset about this. I apologized.” Once again, won’t work.
  • Sometimes we are tempted to disguise our defense or justification for our action in an apology. These apologies start with an “I’m sorry” followed by a “but” that transforms the apology into a defense, justification, or blame. “I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have….” “I’m sorry, but I was tired.” “I’m sorry, but you have to understand….” These apologies really aren’t apologies at all. Notice that each of the four motives mentioned so far focus on “me” and “my” relief. They will not work.
  • A motive for true apology is the recognition that I did something hurtful to my spouse. I did or said something wrong. I was thoughtless, rude, uncaring, hurtful. I love my spouse and I do not want to hurt them. As a result, I want to apologize for hurting them. I want to take ownership for my hurtful actions or words and apologize. I want to tell my spouse how I plan to avoid those hurtful words and deeds in the future. I apologize to sincerely express my sorrow for hurting the one I love and to explain my plan to avoid doing it again.

The second question: to whom am I going to apologize? Think about your spouse and their personality.

  • Some personalities welcome an apology. They are glad to hear the apology but become upset recalling the hurt for which you are apologizing. If you have experienced this in your marriage, know that your spouse needs a comprehensive apology. They also need you to stick with them so the two of you can process the original hurt. This will allow them to hear your true remorse and your plan to avoid hurting them in a similar way in the future. Don’t get caught up in their emotions. Stay calm. Stick with your apology. Listen, empathize, and restate your plan to change.  
  • Some personalities get uncomfortable with the vulnerability and emotion aroused by an apology. They often accept your apology with a quick “It’s alright” or “Don’t worry about it.”  Unfortunately, they may still hold some resentment even as they avoid talking about it. So, take a moment to let them know you are willing to talk more about it and answer any of their questions and fears any time they like. Then be willing to do so.

What are your motives for apologizing? What is the personality of the person to whom you are apologizing? Answering these two questions before you begin will make your apology more sincere and effective.

A Remedy for the Common Cold in YOUR Marriage?

A study reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology suggested an interesting way to prevent the common cold. It’s all natural…no medications, no formulas. Even more, you can experience this in your life. There’s a good chance you already have. It’s very simple. It was explored in this study involving 47 women, blood samples, and questionnaires about relationships. What is this “cure for the common cold”? Falling in love. That’s right. When the women in this study “fell in love,” they experienced a boost in their immune system, especially the immune system involved in antiviral defenses. Of course, this does not guarantee improved immunity for the lifetime of a marriage. This study only showed improved immunity for those “falling” in love, those in the honeymoon stage, not those who experience long-term love. The research team plans to look at the health implications of long-term love relationships in future studies. But I wonder…. I have “fallen in love” over and over again during my 27-year marriage. It seems that new experiences and special moments bring out the feelings of “new love” all over again. A special night at a romantic restaurant…a weekend getaway for “just the two of us”…a romantic trip to a new location…a walk through the park hand in hand…it all sparks those feelings of new love, of falling in love. So, I wonder…could those experiences boost our immunity to defend against the common cold? I don’t know for sure. I guess I’ll have to wait for the research. But, in the meantime, I’m going to plan a few more romantic getaways…just in case. After all, those romantic getaways are a whole lot more fun than the common cold. (For other benefits of love read The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse.)

How Emotions Build or Destroy Trust in Your Family

We all want to have a home environment that allows us to trust one another. You know, a home in which spouses trust one another, siblings trust one another, children trust their parents, and parents trust their children. A home environment in which we can trust what someone says. We know they will not lie. They will follow through on what they have promised. We know they have the best interest of the family in mind. 

A trusting environment in our homes requires more than trustworthy individuals. It also requires our capacity to trust others. Interestingly, that’s not as simple as it sounds. For example, emotions impact our capacity to trust others. A recent study suggested that negative emotions like anger or frustration reduce our willingness to trust other people even when these negative emotions were elicited by events that did not even involve the person we struggle to trust. For instance, annoyance created by sitting in a traffic jam may reduce our capacity to trust other people in our lives.

That study aroused my curiosity, so I looked at another group of five studies. These studies revealed that:

  • Happy emotions increase our trust more than sadness or anger.
  • Only “experienced emotions” increased or decreased our trust of others. Thinking about an emotion did not impact our trust. But, dwelling on an incident that arouses happiness, sadness, or anger did. And, once again, happiness increased trust while sadness or anger decreased trust.
  • Gratitude also increased our capacity to trust others while pride, guilt, and anger reduced our capacity to trust others. And, those emotions that involve others (like anger and gratitude) had a greater impact on our levels of trust than emotions that were more personal (like pride or guilt).
  • If the cause of the negative or positive emotion is made known, it does not impact our capacity to trust the person we are currently with. For instance, if I am talking to a coworker after having experienced the annoyance of sitting in a traffic jam, I may have a reduced capacity to trust him. However, if one of us points out how annoyed I am about sitting in the traffic, the impact on my capacity to trust the other person disappears. I can now trust based solely on the current interaction.
  • Finally, the more familiar we are with a person, the less our emotions will impact our capacity to trust them. We are more likely to base our trust on past experiences with the person we know rather than any momentary emotion we might experience.

What does this have to do with families? We can apply several principles from these findings to increase levels of trust in our family.

  1. Focus on building relationships with each family member. When we have a relationship (when we are familiar with a person) our capacity to trust them is less affected by immediate emotions and based more on our long-term experience with them. Build a history of trustworthiness with your family. Follow through on your promises. Tell the truth. Act in accordance with the best interest of your family. The more our families know us, the less their immediate emotions will impact their capacity to trust us.
  2. Fill your home with positive emotions like gratitude, joy, and curiosity. Make it a practice to show gratitude daily. Become curious about each family members interests and likes. Encourage their interests and hobbies. Play. After all, positive emotions increase our capacity to trust. 
  3. When your spouse, child, or parent is upset, tired or angry, postpone any discussion and simply remain available to them. Set aside your own agenda and respond to their emotion. Offer support and encouragement. Doing so will allow them to work through the negative emotions they are feeling and preserve the trust you have in one another.
  4. When you or another family member experience a negative emotion, make it explicit. Label the emotion and identify the trigger of that emotion. By doing so you keep it from interfering with the trust in your immediate relationship and interaction.
  5. Finally, enjoy the trust you have nurtured and built in your family with the help of emotions!

The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse

I love love…and I love reading experiments about the power of love to influence our lives. If love is powerful, then the love of a spouse is a superpower. For instance, researchers at Brigham Young University subjected 40 couples to intentionally challenging tasks on the computer while measuring their pupil diameter (a rapid and direct measure of the body’s physiological level of stress). In one group, an individual from the couple worked alone on the task. In a second group, the person’s spouse sat near them and held their hand while they worked on the task. Both groups were initially stressed BUT the group that held hands with a loving spouse calmed down much more quickly. As a result, they were able to work on the task with reduced stress levels. Just having a loving spouse nearby holding their hand reduced their stress. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.

In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson refers to several studies that show the power of love.

  • A study by Mario Mikulincer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel monitored the heart rates of couples as they responded to scenarios of couples in conflict. Those who felt close to their partners (who knew the superpower of a spouse’s love) reported feeling less angry and attributed less malicious intent to the partner. They expressed more problem-solving initiative and made greater effort to reconnect. In other words, a partner’s love decreased feelings of anger and increased the perception of positive intent, even during arguments. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • In addition, the power of love led to a greater curiosity and willingness to try new things. That willingness to explore and have adventures with the one we love increases intimacy and personal growth. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • Jim Coyne, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania concluded from the research that the love people share with their spouse is a good a predictor of survival at four years after congestive heart failure. In fact, it’s as good of a predictor of survival as the severity of the symptoms and impairment caused by the congestive heart failure. In other words, the power of a loving spouse is at least as powerful, if not more powerful, as congestive heart failure. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • One of my favorite studies in this area shows the power love has over pain. At the University of Virginia women received MRI brain scans while under the threat of possibly receiving a small electric shock on their feet. You can imagine the stress of this threat. When a loving partner held the women’s hands, they registered less stress on the MRI. When they did receive a small shock, they experienced less pain! The happier (the more loving) the relationship, the more pronounced the effect. In other words, the power of love is stronger than shock, stress, and pain! That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.

Maybe Huey Lewis was on to something when he sang, “that’s the power of love.” Or, maybe he needed to change the lyrics to “that’s the superpower of a loving spouse.” Then again, that just doesn’t rhyme. Nonetheless, the love of a spouse is a superpower…and I’m going to share that superpower with my spouse. How about you?

Don’t Post Alone for a Happier Marriage

Social media is a wonderful way to share information with family and friends. You can also communicate love and adoration for your spouse through social media. But, studies have shown that sharing information online can also harm your marriage. Too much time spent on social media, becoming overly involved with a person other than your spouse, or sharing intimate information with others online can all have a negative impact on your marriage. What can you do to protect your marriage from the dangers of social media? One option is to open a joint account rather than an individual account. With a joint account, you both share information and have an open awareness of what each person posts.

Another option was recently discussed in a series of five studies completed by Carnegie Mellon University and University of Kansas. Briefly, the first study revealed that on-line self-disclosure lead to a romantic partner reporting less intimacy in their marriage. It confirmed the dangers to a marriage when one partner uses social media to share personal and emotional information.

The second study suggested that attachment style also impacts how a person responds to on-line self-disclosure. Specifically, people who naturally struggle to connect emotionally and experience difficulty building trust (those with an avoidant attachment style) reported less intimacy and lower marital satisfaction as their spouse disclosed a greater quantity of intimate information on line. The third study suggested that people report lower intimacy and lower marital satisfaction when they perceive their partner’s self-disclosure as more self-revealing, more personal or more emotional.

The fourth study found that people felt lower intimacy and lower marital satisfaction when their partner posted emotional or personal information to greater numbers of people versus just to them (and maybe one other person).

In summary, these four studies suggest that revealing emotional, personal information online leads to less intimacy and less marital satisfaction. Their partner may feel left out, unimportant, or insecure. The fifth study in this series, however, suggested that including your partner in posts can change all this and contribute to higher marital intimacy and satisfaction. In other words, if you are not going to have a joint account, be sure to include your partner in your posts. The takeaway of all this? Don’t post alone. Include your spouse in your posts. It will increase intimacy in your marriage and make you both feel a greater sense of satisfaction in your marriage.

The SuperPower You Want in Your Marriage

All marriages experience stress—the stress of finances, raising children, getting everything done, household crises, simple arguments, the list goes on.   Sometimes couples respond with a pattern in which one partner demands, nags, or criticizes while the other partner shuts down, withdraws, or avoids (commonly called the demand/withdraw pattern). Of course, this negative pattern proves detrimental to a marriage…UNLESS you have this superpower. No, it is not the ability to fly or become invisible, shoot webs from your wrists to silence your partner, or run at the speed of light to escape. No, this superpower is much simpler than any of these…and more powerful in your marriage. Researchers at the University of Georgia revealed this superpower in a study involving 468 couples. They asked the couples about the quality of their marriage, their communication, their level of financial stress, and their use of this superpower. They discovered that this superpower “can counteract or buffer the negative effects” of negative communication styles like the demand/withdraw pattern described above. And, this superpower was “the most consistent and significant predictor or marital satisfaction” for both males and females. It increases marital satisfaction and commitment. It decreases the “proneness for divorce.” Sounds like a great superpower to have in your marriage, doesn’t it? Well, it’s easy to acquire and use. It may not come naturally, but you can train yourself in the use of this superpower. What is it? The power of gratitude. That’s it. Gratitude!

“Spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent and significant predictor of marital quality for both” male and female. It increased marital satisfaction and commitment. So, start practicing this simple superpower in your marriage today…right now. Really, go show your spouse some gratitude. I’m sure they’ve done something in the last twenty-four hours for which you can thank them. A simple “Thank you” is all it takes. Now, keep your eyes open for other opportunities to thank your spouse and thank them every chance you get. This superpower will do wonders for your marriage.

…And A Hug to Grow On

Virginia Satir is quoted as saying,

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” You may read that and think, “That’s a lot of hugging. Who came up with those numbers, anyway?”

I don’t know who figured out the numbers; but research does reveal that hugs improve our physical and emotional health. For instance, 404 volunteers from the Pittsburgh area participated in a study exploring social support, hugging, and physical illness. The volunteers were asked every evening for 14 days about their social relationships and whether they had received a hug that day. Then, the volunteers were given nasal drops containing a virus that produced symptoms like the common cold (yes, they volunteered for this!). Volunteers who had received more hugs showed a decreased risk for actually “catching the cold.” In addition, of those who did “catch the cold,” those who had been hugged more often had less severe symptoms. And, the more hugs a person received, the more social support they felt. Hugs increased a sense of social support and decreased the risk of physically “catching a cold.”

Another study, involving 59 women in long-term relationships, shows that hugging can help reduce blood pressure too. In this study, the women were initially separated from their partner for 30 minutes. Then, their partner joined them for 10 minutes. During their 10 minutes together, they were encouraged to hold hands, watch a romantic video, and hug each other for at least 20 seconds. After 10-minutes together, the partner left, and the woman had to give an unprepared, spontaneous speech about an event that made her feel stressed. Blood pressure and oxytocin were measured throughout the procedure. The women also completed a questionnaire that included how frequently they hugged their partners. When all was said and done, more frequent hugging was related to higher oxytocin levels (Read 3…2…1…Oxytocin Release for more) and lower baseline blood pressure. In other words, more frequent hugging can help reduce high blood pressure and, as a result, the risk of heart disease.

Hugs can do even more too…but I don’t have the time or space to share it now. I just got an urge to hug my wife. She’s only had 4 today and I don’t want to quit hugging her at mere survival. I’m shooting for enough hugging to really us grow. What about you? Will you give the one you love 12 hugs a day for growth? 

Give It Up to Lift Up Your Marriage

Do you want a stronger marriage? Do you want greater happiness for yourself and your marriage? Well, one of the best ways to get a stronger, healthier, happier marriage is to give up. It’s true. The best way to lift up your marriage is to give up. I don’t mean giving up on the marriage or giving up on happiness. I mean give up your own personal desires and making your spouse’s desires your priority…give up the need to push your own opinion and listen to understand your spouse’s opinion. Give up your need to have it “your way” and do it your spouse’s way.  Yes, sacrifice, or giving up, will lift up your marriage. Scott Stanley, a marriage researcher who has completed several studies regarding sacrifice in marriage, defined sacrifice as an action in which a person freely chooses to give up something for their spouse without resentment (italics & bold added).

This type of action, this “giving up,” can be as simple as watching the TV show your spouse wants to watch rather than demanding the family watch “my TV show.” Or, it might be as simple as giving up the last piece of pie so your spouse can have it.

Sometimes sacrifice can be life altering, like giving up a job to move to a new town where your spouse will begin a new and better job…or giving up time and energy to care for a spouse going through medical treatment for a major illness.

Overall, sacrifice often involves giving up personal control and self-gratification in favor of a commitment to our spouse’s well-being, intimacy, and growth…giving up our agenda for the betterment of our marriage. The moment of “giving up” to “lift up” your marriage can be difficult. However, the dividends for that moment of struggle are amazing—long-term happiness, growing security, and deeper intimacy. So, give it up…give it up to lift up your marriage! (For more read The Lost Art of Sacrifice in Family.)

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