Tag Archive for marriage

A “Glass-Half-Full” Kind of Marriage

Are you a “glass-half-full” or a “glass-half-empty” kind of person? According to research, your answer could impact the future life and cognitive health of your spouse! A study (A happy partner leads to a healthier future) published in the Journal of Personality (2019) reported this link after following 4,500 heterosexual couples from the Health and Retirement Study for eight years. Specifically, the research suggests a link between being married to an optimistic person and preventing the onset of cognitive decline. It appears that being married to an optimistic person helps prevent the risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive decline.

How can this be? An optimistic person tends to focus on aspects they can change and control rather than dwell on those things they cannot change or control. As a result, they tend to eat healthier, exercise, and take better care of their body. After all, they believe these are things they can manage and even change. This lifestyle encourages their spouse to do the same.

An optimistic person also tends to see problems as temporary and specific. Combining this with their tendency to look for what they can manage and change, optimistic people become better problem-solvers.  When stressors arise, optimistic people view them as specific to situation, time, or person. They look for ways within their control to manage or change those “temporary” stressors. As a result, they manage stressors better and exhibit fewer of the emotional and physical consequences of stress. Once again, their spouses benefit from this problem-solving as well. They also learn to become more optimistic problem-solvers themselves in the process.

You might be thinking, “Well great because I’m not optimistic and neither is my spouse.”  Fortunately, you can learn to become more optimistic. As you can see above, optimistic people think differently. They view problems as temporary and changeable. They look for ways in which they can influence the stressors and problems they encounter. 

You can learn to do both things by paying attention to how you think. Change the “I can’t do anything about this” into “What can I influence in this situation?” Change the “This is never going to get better” or “This always happens to me” into “This is not good right now” and “This does happen sometimes.” Then ask yourself again, “Where do I have influence? What do I control in this situation?” (Read more on Nurturing Your Muscles of Optimism.) In other words, learn to respond to problems and stressors by considering:

  • What part of this situation do I have influence over? What can I do to help create change?
  • Is this stressor or problem specific to a time? a person? a situation?
  • How often does this really happen? Think of all the times it has happened differently.

Using these questions, you can begin to change your thinking to become a more optimistic person…and, in turn, contribute to your spouse’s happy and fulfilling life.

A Stay-at-Home Date Night for Every Room

The “stay-at-home” orders are slowly starting to shift as we move from “red” to “yellow” to “green.”  Still, it remains challenging to eat out or go someplace for a date night. Even before the current crisis you may have felt the challenge of going out for a date night due to financial constraints. But, no fear. You can have a date night without even leaving home. In fact, you can have a date night in every room of your house. Here are a few date night ideas for each room.

  • The Dining Room Date. Of course, you could have a dinner date in the dining room. Make it interesting though. Have a candlelight dinner with romantic music playing. Order your food through DoorDash or UberEATS.
  • The Living Room or Family Room Date. Pull out the cards and board games to enjoy a game night date. Or, rent a movie and have a movie date night. Don’t forget the  popcorn, chips, and drinks for game dates or movie dates.
  • The Kitchen Date. The kitchen date involves cooking together. Think about a food you have always wanted to try or a food you really liked when you ate it in a restaurant. It might be a main dish, a dessert, or an appetizer…or one of each. Look up the recipes and have a kitchen date making it. You can even find a cooking class with expert chefs on YouTube to enjoy as a cooking class date night.
  • The Bedroom Date. You can go all kinds of directions for the bedroom date. You could simply enjoy a breakfast-in-bed date. Or, you could enjoy a candlelight-romantic-massage date night. Or, do the breakfast-in-bed date in the morning and the candlelight-romantic-massage date at night. You can use your imagination for other bedroom date ideas.
  • The Back Porch. For the more casual date, enjoy an evening on the porch with a ­just hanging out date night. Simply sit together, cuddle up, and enjoy conversation remember fun times from the past and fun times you look forward to in the future.
  • The Yard Date. Pack a picnic and go into your back yard for a picnic date. Then, lay out the blanket and lay down to watch clouds go by. Or, do it later in the evening and stargaze. Listen the concert of birds and watch the firework of the stars with your spouse. It’s a nature’s concert date night.

If you want to have an even more unique date night, make it a progressive room date night. Order your favorite meal through DoorDash and then start your date in the kitchen while you wait for the food to arrive. In the kitchen, make your favorite appetizer or dessert together. When the food arrives, enjoy a candlelight dinner in the dining room that includes the appetizer you made. Then move to the family room for a movie. Afterward, enjoy your dessert in the living room. By this time, the sun will have set and the stars come out. Lay on your blanket in the back yard to enjoy God’s light show of stars for a time. Finally, end your date in the bedroom with a romantic massage. 

What are your ideas for a date in every room of the house?

3 Elements of a Healthy Marriage

Healthy marriages face challenges. Any time two different people from two different backgrounds with two unique sets of values and communication nuances work to become one unit (a marriage), you are bond to have some conflict. Fortunately, challenges and conflict do not cancel out a healthy marriage. In fact, challenges and conflict present wonderful opportunities to grow more intimate as a couple…as long as the couple handles them with grace. How can couples handle challenges and conflicts with the grace that brings intimacy? Here are 3 suggestions.

  • Embrace the Conflict. Conflict happens. You might as well accept it. In fact, turn toward the conflict. Recognize the moment of conflict as an opportunity to learn about your spouse. Listen carefully to their point of view and you will discover amazing things about your spouse. You will discover that wrapped inside the conflict and your spouse’s emotions is a treasure chest overflowing with information about their values, fears, hopes, and dreams. 
  • Accept the 69. Gottman found that couples who returned to his “love lab” as part of ongoing research would often have the same disagreements they had even five years ago. In fact, his research revealed that about two thirds of all conflicts are unsolvable. They represent differences of personality and style. You could address them with anger and impatience…but that will not change anything. It will not strengthen your relationship. And, the conflict will remain. So, what can you do? Healthy couples do not avoid the conflict or disagreement. They learn to manage them differently, with honor and grace. For instance, they learn to use humor and repair statements during their disagreements forge strong marriages. They also believe and practice point number 3 below.
  • You Need Two Honest Voices to Forge a Strong Marriage. That means couples need to talk about hard feelings, frustrations, and conflicts as well as the celebrations and joys. (Because it ruins a marriage to Shut Up and Put Up.) No matter the content of the conversation, we must remain respectful and kind, even when we might disagree. We must listen, especially when we disagree. When handled with care and love, healthy relationships can handle two opinions. When both people remain open, both people feel accepted. When both people listen, both people feel heard. In the process, both people learn and grow more intimate with one another. Their love grows as they resolve their solvable disagreements  and as they learn to accept their unsolvable conflicts with grace and love.

Yes. Healthy marriages face challenges. Healthy marriages embrace those challenges because you need two honest voices to forge a strong marriage.

The #1 Goal of Marital Arguments

Have you ever thought about the #1 goal of marital arguments? At first glance, you may think the goal is “to win. To make my spouse understand or see it my way.” But that is NOT the most important goal, the one we desire most. Let me ask the question differently. Do you want to make your spouse “see it your way” if it means damaging (or worse yet, destroying) your marriage? For most disagreements (at least 99% of them), the answer is “no.” We don’t want “to win” an argument with our spouse at the expense of our relationship. You may have had an experience like this in your marriage though. You disagree with your spouse and, after exchanging a few heated words, you “prove your point.” Your spouse concedes. They give in. They say you are right. You walk away knowing you “won the argument,” but feeling dissatisfied, disconnected from the one you love. In fact, you’re probably thinking about how to repair the relationship, how to reconnect and feel close again. No, we do not want to win at any cost.

If the #1 goal of any marital argument is not to win, what is it? The #1 goal of any marital argument is to connect in a way that makes both people feel safe and secure. You have probably had this experience too. You and your spouse have the same disagreement mentioned above. You even exchange a few heated words about it. But, somehow, when all is said and done, you feel closer, more connected. You’re not really sure who “won,” but you know you understand your spouse better than you did before the argument and your spouse understands you better as well. You feel connected…and as though you have both “won.”

How do you achieve this #1 goal of any marital argument?

  • First, see your spouse. Look at them. Don’t just look at the issue, the frustration or the anger of the moment. Look at your spouse. Soften your gaze. Recognize your spouse. We all long to be seen. Give your spouse the gift of being seen by you.
  • Pay attention to your spouse’s emotions. Do they look and sound angry, frustrated, hopeless, happy, passionate…. Accept their emotion. When your spouse reveals their emotions, they are opening themselves up like a book for you to learn about them and their priorities. Read this precious book carefully, lovingly. Do not just glance at the book. Get curious and read between the lines. Look deeply to find the priority behind the emotion. It may have little to do with the disagreement you are having and more to do with their sense of security and safety.
  • Accept that your spouse may have a valid point of view. Many issues have more than one valid perspective. Much like the group of blind men trying to describe the elephant, you and your spouse may both have valid perspectives, even though they differ. See your spouse as the intelligent, loving person you married and accept that they may have something important to add to the issue, something important for you to hear and know.   
  • Graciously delay voicing your own point of view until you understand your spouse’s point of view. Lovingly defer your desire to be proven correct until you can understand how your spouse’s perspective seems right to them. This takes patience…a patient delay of your own right to be heard. Such patience is an act of love for “love is patient” (Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:4).
  • Listen. Listen carefully. Listen intently. Listen sincerely. Listen completely. Listen until you understand your spouse’s perspective and they know you understand their perspective. Listen.

As you practice these 5 actions, you will find a growing emotional connection with your spouse. You will also find arguments resolve more easily and more quickly. Hmmmm, a more intimate connection with the added bonus of a quicker resolution? Now that is a great goal for marital arguments!

4 Simple Words

Four simple words can help strengthen your marriage, especially if your partner’s history makes them feel insecure in relationships. It’s true. Sometimes our family history or our history of previous romantic relationships creates a relational insecurity in us. This insecurity may “pop up” when even a subtle action, word, facial expression, or event is perceived as threatening the relationship. It may be unclear to you why your partner suddenly feels insecure. But you can glean a hint that they might feel insecure in relationship by their actions.

  • If they need constant reassurance and praise, their relationship history may be contributing to a sense of insecurity in relationships.
  • If, when you compliment them, they consistently dismiss, minimize, or doubt the compliment, they may have a history that contributes to insecurity in relationships.
  • If they express concern that they can never live up to your expectations, even when you have told them you love them no matter what, they may feel insecure in relationships.
  • If they often wonder if “you really know” them, even though you’ve shared time and conversation together, they may feel insecure.

Their insecurity may have little to do with you. It may have everything to do with their history of relationships—their relationship to the family they grew up in or their relationships with previous romantic partners. Even though the insecurity may have little to do with you and your feelings toward your partner, there is still something you can do to help increase satisfaction and security in their relationship to you…and it only takes 4 simple words.

These four words do not make up a compliment. Compliments actually trigger self-doubt and increased insecurity in people who feel insecure in the relationship. No, rather than compliment, use four simple words to show genuine interest in your partner. In a series of studies, a show of genuine interest led to increased satisfaction and security in the relationship. Which leads me to the 4 simple words that can strengthen your relationship: “How was your day?” That’s it. Four simple words, “How was your day?” Then, after you ask, listen. Show genuine concern. That’s all it took to increase satisfaction and security in relationships in a series of survey studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, especially for someone who feels some insecurity.

So, “put on your listening ears” and ask, “How was your day?” Pay attention to the answer and get curious. Show a genuine interest in their answer. It’s the most important way to show how much you really care.

Sacrifice is Necessary in Marriage…BUT It’s Not All the Same

Marital happiness and stability require sacrifice. In fact, you have to Give It Up to Lift Up Your Marriage. An act of sacrifice communicates value to your spouse and commitment to your marriage. Acts of sacrifice promote a sense of security, safety, and peace in your spouse (The Lost Art of Sacrifice).  BUT, not all sacrifice is the same. The difference, according to a study published in 2019, is not in the sacrifice but in the eye of the beholder. Specifically, the authors of this study concluded that “perceiving a partner’s sacrifice had no effect on appreciation [gratitude and respect for spouse] or relationship satisfaction when the recipient held strong sacrifice expectations” (italics added).  

What? An expectation of sacrifice can hinder our appreciation of the sacrifice and the one sacrificing? Hold on a second. Wait…let’s look a little closer.

If we have a strong expectation that our partner should sacrifice for us, many of their sacrificial acts will be considered minimal. They will not meet our standard. After all, their sacrifice was expected. We assumed they would do it. We deserved it. We had it coming because they are our spouse. It only right that our spouse “give it up” for us. That’s what they’re supposed to do in marriage. In a sense, we feel entitled to such sacrifice. We don’t see our partner as “giving it up” for our marriage, but as offering what I’m entitled to in a marriage anyway. It’s hard to find gratitude and respect in that sense of entitled expectation.

On the other hand, if we have a low expectation that our partner will sacrifice for our marriage, then any act of sacrifice is appreciated. We have confidence in our spouse’s desire to strengthen the relationship, but we are pleased to see their actions communicating that desire. We trust our spouse to support our marriage, but we stand amazed at how much they are willing to give up to make our marriage stronger. We recognize that our spouse is a flawed human being and admire their intent to express their love through sacrifice. Not expecting this sacrifice, we receive it as a gift, a grace, an expression of love.

Let me add one more caveat as I think about this study…just a thought about expectations of sacrifice in marriage. Perhaps we need to change our focus. Rather than focus on my expectation about my partner’s willingness to sacrifice, I need to focus on my willingness to sacrifice for my partner. After all, we are not called to look out for our own personal interests (AKA—how much my partner should sacrifice for me) but also for the interests of others (AKA—how much I will sacrifice for my partner). This shift in thinking changes everything. Anything my spouse does is over and above any expectation I have about their sacrifice for me because my expectation is focused on my willingness to sacrifice for them. I’m not even focused on their level of sacrifice. I’m focused on my desire to sacrifice for the one I love.  

Now imagine if my spouse and I both hold this perspective. I will sacrifice to live up to my expectation about how much I desire to sacrifice for my spouse. My spouse, focused on her own desire to strengthen our marriage through sacrifice, will focus on her desire to sacrifice for me. As we do, we are both filled with joy because of our partner’s sacrifices, the sacrifices we never expected. We create an upward cycle of gratitude, respect and marital satisfaction by carrying out our expectation of how “my” desire to sacrifice for our marriage. Now that sounds like the kind of marriage I’m talking about!

Don’t Let Your Marriage Buckle Under “Social Distancing”

The corona virus pandemic has led to a call for “social distancing.”  But, don’t let the current pandemic or the call for “social distancing” exacerbate any marital issues that might already exist in your home. In fact, if you already experience “social” or “emotional distance” in your marriage, you’re probably struggling even more to navigate these stressful times. Fortunately, there is no better time than now to correct any emotional distance in your marriage and start to practice emotional connection. Here are six great ways to start building emotional connection in your marriage.

  • Talk with one another. Take time every day to sit down over a cup of coffee and have a conversation. Talk about your experiences of the current crisis, fears of anxieties you might be experiencing. Talk about how you will work together to navigate the current crisis. Enjoy simple small talk as well. Talk like you did when you were dating. Joke a little. Read a book together and talk about it. Talk about your plans for the coming years. Talk your hopes and dreams for the future. Each of these will move you toward a deeper emotional connection with your spouse. (This might be a great time to take A 30-Day Marriage Challenge.)
  • Listen to your spouse. While you converse with your spouse, intentionally and sincerely listen. Listen to hear the intent of their message, the meaning beneath the words.  Listen to understand their perspective and emotions. Ask questions to clarify what they mean. In so doing, you will learn more about your spouse and their emotions. (Learn more about The Art of Listening here.)
  • As you listen and talk, look at your spouse. I don’t mean glance at their face now and again. Really look at them. Notice their eye color and the twinkle in their eye. Notice the shape and features of their face. Pay attention to their facial expressions and their gestures. Look deeply into their eyes to notice the emotions they feel as they talk. There is power in seeing and being seen by one another.
  • Tell your spouse “I love you.” Tell them with words and actions. Whisper it in their ear. Let them see it in your eyes when you look at them. Say it by remembering what they like and don’t like. Show it in your actions by doing a chore they dislike. Love them by expressing gratitude and remaining polite.
  • Give one another a good night hug and kiss (as long as neither is sick, of course).  Don’t just give a quick hug. Dwell in the hug. Make it an “oxytocin hug.”  Give a generous kiss goodnight, not just a simple peck on the cheek.
  • Recall your story. Talk about the time you first met, your favorite dates, and your vacations. Remember the struggles you have overcome together—whether they be as simple as putting up a tent in the rain or dealing with the death of a loved one. The “story of us” is a great emotional connection. (And your children will love it, too.)

These six practices will help you build emotional connection. No matter what is going on in the world around you, keep practicing them and enjoy a growing emotional connection in your marriage.

PS–may we can begin talking about “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing.” Then we can focus on maintaining “social connection” while keeping a safe “physical distance.”

Resting on a Stable Stool of Love

Passion and intimacy are important aspects of a healthy marriage. One theorist even developed a “Triarchic Theory of Love” that included passion, intimacy, and commitment. Like a 3-legged stool, this theory held that the seat of love rested on three components: Commitment, Intimacy, & Passion. Missing one or two of these components meant an unstable love. No one wants to sit on a 2-legged stool or, worse, a 1-legged stool. We need a stable love with all three components on which to rest.  Of course, passion and intimacy can wane, but commitment contributes to their waxing strong again. In fact, committing to these six activities can help keep passion and intimacy alive and growing.

  • Keep on dating. Dating is the opportunity to give one another the kind of attention you shared in the early days of your relationship. It is an opportunity to give your undivided attention to your spouse for an extended period of time. With that in mind, you can have a “date” at home as well as in the community. Take time every week to put the kids to bed or get a babysitter and spend one-on-one quality time in which you give one another your undivided attention. Remember, you can Make Date Night Spectacular with just a few simple actions.
  • While we’re on the idea of full, undivided attention, unplug. When you go on a date, unplug. Schedule daily tech-free periods of time with one another, times in which you can be together with no interruptions from technology. Two excellent times to create “a couple’s tech-free time” include mealtimes and the last 15-30 minutes before going to bed.
  • Practice eye contact. I know it sounds gushy, but stare at one another with those high school googly eyes of love. When you talk, look one another in the eye. Notice the beauty of your spouse’s eyes. Let them know how much you admire their beauty. It may be somewhat uncomfortable at first but allow yourself to enjoy the connection of eye-to-eye contact.
  • Hide a love note…or five…or ten….  Write a few simple love notes to your spouse and hide them in their clothes, their lunch box, their car, under their pillow…whatever creative place you can imagine. The note doesn’t have to be extravagant. They can be as simple as “I love you,” “You’re beautiful,” or “Thanks for being mine.”
  • Put on some music and dance. You can dance in the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the bedroom…wherever you want. Even if you don’t like dancing in public, a little private dancing can sure ignite your passion and intimacy as a couple.
  • Give a massage; receive a massage. Sharing massages is a great way to relax and share romance. You don’t need any special training. Just pay attention to your spouse and give them a massage. If you want some hints, consider these simple instructions from wikiHow.

Don’t let your spouse sit on an unstable 2-legged stool. Commit to keeping keep the stool of love stable so you can both rest comfortably and securely on your passionate, intimate, committed love.

Learn to Complain Well

Complaining can easily become a habit that traps us in a cycle of finding even more reasons to complain. That cycle is bad for our mood, our health, and even our brain… UNLESS we learn to complain well!

Complaining well has a different purpose and outcome than simply complaining. Simply complaining traps us in the self-perpetuating cycle of negativity that feeds negative expectations and attracts even more negative experiences. How can we complain well and break out of this cycle of complaining? Here are 3 tips to help you do just that.

First, determine what you can and cannot control. Rather than complain and worry about what lies outside your control, focus on what you can control. You cannot control what other people do or say. You can control your response to other people. You cannot control the weather. You can control how you dress for the weather. Notice, those areas we can control tend to evolve around ourselves, not others. Focus on those areas you can control and take action to make a change.

Second, practice gratitude and appreciation. Learn to view your desire to complain as a signal, a light on the dashboard of your “car of life,” that warns you of the need to “fill up” your tank with gratitude and appreciation. When the signal arises (when you feel like complaining) fill up the tank by thinking about those things you appreciate and those for which you can be grateful. Then start sharing your gratitude and appreciation.

Third, voice your complaint with a goal toward resolution. This 4-step plan can help you do this.

  1. Assess why the situation arouses your desire to complain. What value or expectation is being infringed upon? Is it a reasonable expectation?
  2. Determine what you would like instead. What action would better align with your values or expectations? Is it possible and within your control? Is it reasonable?
  3. Give a solution with an appropriate boundary. If it is possible, how can the solution be achieved? Can you enact the solution alone or do you require assistance? If the solution is not accepted, how will you respond? Are you willing and able to respond in this way?
  4. Calmly verbalize this to whoever else is involved. If there is no one else involved in the situation, simply determine what action you can and will take to remedy the aspects of the situation over which you have influence.

At first glance, this may seem more difficult than simply venting and complaining. In fact, complaining is easy. It just doesn’t do anything but make us feel worse. And, habits take intentional effort to change. Changing the habit of complaining is no different. However, changing the habit of complaining will add to your happiness and your health. Perhaps more important, it will enhance your family’s happiness and health. It will improve your relationship with your spouse. And you know that’s nothing to complain about!

How Happy Couples Fight

Couples have disagreements. They argue. They get angry at one another. But many couples remain happily together in spite of this. How do they do it? How can a happy couple still have marital problems? That’s the question that a group of researchers (Rauer, Sabey, Proulx, & Volling) set out to answer. To answer the question, they looked at two groups of heterosexual married couples. One group was in their mid-to-late thirties and had been married an average of nine years. The other group was in their early seventies and had been married an average of 42 years. Researchers observed the couples discussing marital problems. This is what they discovered.

  1. Happy couples focused on issues with clear solutions first. This involved issues like distribution of household chores or how to spend their free time. The solutions to these problems were more concrete, measurable so to speak. Focusing on more solvable problems built up both partners’ sense of security in the relationship. It strengthened the sense of “we” in the relationship as they worked to successfully solve these “issues.” It helped to enhance intimacy.
  2. Happy couples rarely focused on those problems that involved more difficult solutions. They focused less on those perpetual problems. Perhaps more difficult-to-solve problems threatened each partners’ confidence in the relationship. By focusing on the more solvable problems, they built a solid base of security that allowed for the greater possibility of solving some of the more difficult problems through willing sacrifice and difficult compromise as well.
  3. Couples married longer reported fewer serious issues. They also reported arguing less overall. This, in combination with other research, suggests that happy couples learn to prioritize their marriage. Over time, they come to realize that some issues just aren’t worth the argument. They learn to choose their battles wisely.

So, how do happy couples fight? In the words of the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones, they “choose wisely.” They choose to focus first on those solvable problems in their marriage. Doing so builds a foundation of trust, a strong sense of security. It is a practical way of prioritizing the “we” of their marriage above the individual. This foundation allows them to solve some problems that remain more difficult to resolve. As they do this, they learn to prioritize their marriage above individual wants and desires, even those desires one partner may believe to be a need. Ironically, they even learn that some of those “difficult-to-solve” problems really aren’t as essential as they use to believe. They just aren’t worth the argument. The relationship is more important. And rather than watching their marriage decay in the pain of bad decisions (like the man who drank from the wrong cup in Indiana Jones), they focus on gaining the intimacy, wisdom, and joy of a happy marriage. They “choose wisely.”

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