Tag Archive for marriage

A Breath of Fresh Ears

I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve communication skills in marriage. Communication skills involve the sharing of ideas. They include the ability to verbalize ideas effectively and to listen more attentively. Learning both these skills will help any relationship, including our marriages, grow stronger. So, when I came across this little communication gem, I had to share it with you. It is a simple, powerful tool to help both the speaker and the listener communicate more effectively. I call it “a breath of fresh ears” (yes, “ears” not “air”).

Many times, communication breaks down because we respond too quickly. We impatiently finish the other person’s sentence, interrupting them in mid-sentence or talking over them before they have finished talking. On the other hand, you’ve probably had times when your spouse left you little to no room to even respond. They go on and on as though in a filibuster for the floor. Conversation becomes almost like a competition to “get a word in edgewise.” In this process, ideas are lost and misunderstandings arise. You and your spouse begin to feel “talked over,” ignored, or unheard. Emotions flare. But, “a breath of fresh ears” can change all this.

What is “a breath of fresh ears”? Before you respond to your spouse, take a breath. That’s it. Pause long enough to take a breath. When you do, several things might happen. First, you’ll realize how difficult it is to slow down long enough to take a breath before responding. We live in a frenzied world that has grown uncomfortable with a slower pace that allows for miniscule moments of silence. So, we jump in with what we believe our spouse is saying or respond to get our idea “on the floor.” We are saturated with the self-absorbed mindset of our world and so interrupt our spouse to make sure our “oh-so-important-point” is heard. Taking a “breath of fresh ears” means slowing down. Take a breath. Then speak…which brings me to the second thing you might learn.

Second, you’ll experience times when your spouse starts talking again. You thought they were done but, in the momentary pause of your breath, they decided to tell you more. Humble yourself by putting your agenda aside for a moment and listen some more. As a reward, you will learn more about your spouse. You will find they had more to say and in that moment of silence created by your small breath, were able to formulate a greater understanding of what they really wanted to communicate. Their communication may even become more clear.

Third, you’ll find that the “breath of fresh ears” really does give you fresh ears. In that momentary pause you will find the time to reflect and reconsider your response. You will answer more in tune with your partner. You will answer with greater compassion and wisdom. You will answer in a way that “gives grace to the moment.” And all of that will strengthen rather than hinder your relationship.

Three benefits from “a breath of fresh ears…” oh, and a fourth benefit. “A breath of fresh ears” will create a more relaxed and enjoyable conversation with your spouse. The conversational competition will end as interruptions decrease and everyone is allowed to finish their own thoughts. You and your souse will relax. And, perhaps most important, you will learn more about yourself and your partner. Try it out. Give your conversation “a breath of fresh ears” and enjoy the growing intimacy you will experience.

Welcome to My House … aka “Bicker Central”

Do you live in a home called “Bicker Central”? Does everything escalate into arguments, angry comments, and hurtful jabs? Do you walk away from interactions fuming with frustration? Worse, has any relationship in your family escalated to the point that you feel tension just coming into the same room as the other person? “Bicker Central” is a hard home in which to live…but all too easy to move into. Moving into “Bicker Central” generally begins with simple hurts, criticisms left unresolved. These criticisms come in the form of words and actions—a parent redoing a child’s chore because they didn’t do it well enough, a left-handed compliment, a disagreement on priorities, feeling as though your loved one invests more time and energy in other priorities and leaves you feeling neglected or abandoned, etc. The underlying hurt of unresolved criticisms erupt into burning lava flows of anger, resentment, bitterness, withdrawal, ignoring, and possibly even name-calling and threats. Each person involved begins to see the relationship through filters that justify continued resentment.  Innocent remarks are received as though they are negative comments, adding fuel to the fire of anger. Effort and positive actions are overlooked while mistakes and actions that innocently “miss the mark” are used to justify continued bitterness. A negative cycle of disrespect, anger, guilt, and bitterness drive the relationship further into the pits of hurt and despair. “Bicker Central” is a painful place to live.

Knowing the foundation of “Bicker Central”—the resentments of unresolved hurts—gives you the opportunity to rebuild your relationship. You can change it from “Bicker Central” to “House of Peace” with a few key actions.

  • Consider how your own actions impact the other person. How does your resentment and your angry responses influence the other person? How does your “look” and your tone of voice influence the other person? How do your actions, gestures, words, and tone of voice perpetuate and escalate the problem? Answer honestly and begin to make changes that can have a better outcome, the outcome you desire. As the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see.”
  • Consider what hurts underlie the foundation of “Bicker Central.” How were you hurt in the constructing of “Bicker Central”? How was the other person hurt? If you have hurt the other person, apologize. If you have been hurt, practice forgiveness. The important question is NOT “who started it,” but “what can I do to help change the relationship for the better?”
  • Practice empathy. Imagine how the other person feels in this situation. What have they lost as a result of living in “Bicker Central”? Allow yourself to have compassion for the suffering the other person has endured because of their conflict with you. Yes, you have suffered as well. However, someone has to initiate the change…and you can do it by nurturing compassion and empathy for the other guy.
  • Practice kindness. Intentionally seek out opportunities to show kindness to the other person. Determine to speak and think kindly about them. Perhaps you can begin this step with a 30-day kindness challenge as suggested by Shaunti Feldhahn.
  • Practice gratitude. Once again, this demands intentionality. Find at least one thing every day for which you can thank the other person.  Then do it. Verbally thank them for something they have done.

These are not simple actions. They take effort and intentionality. However, they will change the environment of your home from “Bicker Central” to a “House of Peace.” Will you begin today?

Are You Planning a Wedding…Or a Marriage?

The average cost of a wedding in the United States today is $33,931. That is a lot of money. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with spending money on a beautiful wedding; but, it does raise an important question: are we investing in a beautiful wedding or are we investing in a long-term committed relationship? In 2014, two people collected data from 3,000 people in the US that helps to answer that question…and the statistics did not give a great answer to that question.  They found that the length of a marriage decreased as the price of the wedding increased! To state that the other way around: the greater the cost of the wedding the shorter the marriage lasted. Perhaps this is due to the increased debt of higher priced weddings, but really debt related divorce is more about how couples handle the stress together rather than the stress itself. These results are more likely related to whether the couple and their families prioritize the marriage or the status of the big wedding more. Either way, these results should make us think twice about our wedding preparations, to lead us to focus more on relational strength than on just the wedding ceremony itself.

On the other hand, this same study suggests that the higher the number of guests in attendance, the less likely the divorce. In other words, a relatively inexpensive wedding (one that fits the budget) that is highly attended, is a predictor of a longer marriage. I believe that this “attendance factor” provides a couple of advantages. One, it reveals the number of people invested in helping this couple succeed in marriage. Second, it allows the couple the opportunity to make a public commitment to one another and to their marriage before loving witnesses. This public commitment invites those witnesses to support and nurture their marriage.

As you prepare for marriage ask yourself: are you planning a wedding or a marriage?  Planning for your marriage involves much more than simply planning a beautiful wedding. Planning for a marriage means investing less in the ceremony and more in ways to build your relationship skills and relational strength. It means investing in your ability to resolve conflict, work as a team, develop a marital purpose, sacrifice, and serve. Planning for a marriage means inviting other long-term married couples into your life as mentors and supports. It requires humbling yourself as a couple to learn from other successful couples. Don’t worry…you’ll still have a wonderful wedding day and a fantastic honeymoon…but you can also have a long and happy marriage.

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.)

Another Benefit of a Responsive Spouse

A responsive spouse—one who not only listens and understands but also responds with sympathy and compassion. Who doesn’t want that kind of spouse? I know I do. And really, who doesn’t want to be that kind of spouse? After all, I love my wife. She deserves a “responsive spouse.”

Responsiveness validates our spouses. It lets them know we care for them. It reduces anxiety and arousal. It increases a sense of security in the relationship. It comforts. Overall, responsiveness is a powerful way to improve your marriage. And, a 2016 study involving 698 married and cohabitating couples suggests responsiveness does something more. It improves sleep quality. Not surprising, right? We sleep better when we feel safe. We sleep better when we feel less anxious. We sleep better when we know someone cares for us and validates us.

There you have it…another benefit of a responsive spouse: improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality contributes to a better rested person. A better rested person is happier, healthier, and more able to respond to their spouse. Not only…. Oh wait. I hear my wife calling. Sorry. I have to go. After all, a wife responded to is a happy wife who sleeps well…and loves her responsive husband.

Good for Both Giver & Receiver

Life seems stressed these days, doesn’t it? Turn on the news…stress. Try to manage your schedule…stress. Weather…stress. Work demands, school demands, extracurricular demands, church demands, demands, demands, demands…stress. All that stress is bound to impact our marriages and our families. It robs us of mental clarity and patience. As a result, we have a greater chance of conflict with our spouses and our children.

But there is good news. I have discovered a way to reduce stress and improve mental clarity. Not only that, but this activity will increase a sense of closeness and intimacy, especially in your marriage. It’s true. A study showed this activity reduced stress and improved mental clarity after only one time. And, the reduction of stress accrued over the 9 times couples did it during the 3 week study. In other words, stress continued dropping with each time the couple engaged in this activity. What activity did all this? Massage. Yes, massage. In this study, 38 couples took a massage class each week for 3 weeks. Each class focused on massaging one part of the body (back, arms and shoulders, legs). Then, they practiced giving each other a massage three times a week (Yes, they had homework). Both the giver and the receiver of the massage experienced a reduction in stress and an improvement in mental clarity…BOTH the giver and the receiver! I like a massage…and I like the sound of reduced stress and improved mental clarity.

Although not part of the study, I believe this likely improved intimacy as well. Taking the time to massage one another means more time focused on one another—quality time focused on the one we love. Giving a massage means increasing our awareness of the one we are massaging (our partner).  Massage reduces stress and that means greater patience. Greater patience means less conflict. In addition, touch releases oxytocin and oxytocin increases a sense of connection. Massage involves a lot of touch. Your spouse will appreciate your massage and appreciation build deeper connection. So, why not take the time this weekend to give one another a massage. In this world of stress, we all need a little haven of relaxation and intimacy.  Enjoy!

Men, This Decision Will Change Your Brain for Good!

Researchers have discovered several activities that help reduce the risk of Dementia. Things like education, regular intellectual stimulation, financial security, gardening, knitting, and a mother’s diet during pregnancy have all been shown to reduce the risk of dementia. However, one decision helped men specifically. This one decision helped men live longer and reduced their risk for dementia. Lawrence Whalley, professor of mental health in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, puts it this way, “a boy is never told what he needs to do if he wants to live a longer life. But what he should do is marry an intelligent woman.” Yes, you heard it right. Men who marry intelligent women live longer, happier lives. And, they are at lower risk for developing dementia. In fact, some men with “intelligent wives” showed physical signs of dementia in brain scans but did not experience any symptoms of the disease. Despite what the scans revealed about the structure of their brains, they were “fully functional and ‘highly intelligent.'”

So, if your wife engages you in conversations that challenge your thinking, if she encourages adventures that present new opportunities for learning, or if she accompanies you on stimulating activities, take a moment to reflect on the precious gift you have been given. She is a gift that contributes to your long and happy life. She is a gift helping you remain mentally healthy. Why not do something today to show her how much you appreciate her presence in your life?

PS—I told my wife about this research. She just smiled and said, “No surprise there.”  I have to say, if marrying an intelligent woman helps a man live long, healthy, and wise…I have a lot of years left! I am truly blessed. How about you?

Are You Accidentally Filling Your Marriage with Fear?

Nobody wants to fill their marriage with fear and insecurity. Fear and insecurity will kill a marriage…and nobody wants to live through a dying marriage. However, I have seen far too many marriages filled with fear because of the subtle actions of one partner. At first glance, these actions seem harmless. But, with a second look, you can see the damage they cause, the fear they build, and the insecurity they create. Let me explain three of these accidental-fear-building actions so you can erase them from your life and marriage.

  • Impatience and anger. Of course, we all have moments of impatience. However, when impatience becomes the modus operandi in your marriage, fear is the result. The spouse and family of a chronically impatient person feel the need to “walk on egg shells” to avoid the “next blow up.” They fear the impatient person’s anger and never know what will set it off…a spilled drink, a laugh at the “wrong” moment, a difference of opinion. The whole family lives in fear when they live with an impatient person.
  • Arrogance and pride. Arrogant spouses constantly satisfy their own desires. They think of themselves first and, although they likely will not admit it, their spouses second. The spouses of arrogant people take second place to anything the arrogant spouse deems important…and arrogant spouses only believe only those things that revolve around them are important. As a result, their spouses live with the insecurity of knowing their arrogant spouse will not “watch out for them.” The arrogant spouse will not keep them in mind…or serve them…or make small sacrifices for them. They live with the insecurity of knowing their needs are unimportant to their spouse…and that creates fear and insecurity in the marriage.
  • Holding a grudge. Minor slights, unintentional wrongdoings, and interpersonal injuries occur in all relationships. Marriage is no different. However, when one spouse holds a grudge, the other spouse begins to fear for their relationship. When one spouse harbors resentment over a slight they have suffered, the relationship is at risk. The one holding the grudge and harboring the resentment begins to fear another slight. Their mind becomes clouded by that fear and they may begin to misinterpret behaviors in a negative light. Now the other partner experiences the fear and insecurity of being misunderstood. A downward cycle of fear, resentment, insecurity, and bitterness has begun. If not addressed through apology and forgiveness, this cycle only ends in one way, a dying marriage.  

These three actions unintentionally build fear and insecurity into a marriage. If you find yourself engaging in any of these three actions, stop and breath.  Consider what is more important…your marriage or your impatience? Your marital health or your pride? Your long-term happiness in marriage or the resentment you harbor?

“You Can’t Handle the Truth!” …Really?

People value honesty. Love rejoices in the truth. Married couples expect honesty. Yet how many times do we “fudge the truth” to avoid the conflict? Or, “tell a little white lie” to keep the peace? Think of the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Hmmmm…. We fear our partner will misread our intent and become angry in response to our honest reply. We avoid telling our honest opinion for fear it will damage our relationship. But, is it true that we “can’t handle the truth”? Well, a recent study suggests our fears may be unfounded. People may handle the truth better than we think. Specifically, this study revealed three findings about honesty in relationship.

  • Honesty leads to more social connection than simply paying attention to what we say. 
  • Honesty leads to more enjoyment than simply paying attention to our manner of communication.
  • Honesty leads to a greater sense of meaning than simply paying attention our manner of communication.

These results were not only true immediately after the interaction but remained true at a two-week follow-up. In other words, “You can’t handle the truth” is not true.

The truth is: honesty leads to greater social connection, more enjoyment, and a greater sense of meaning. If you’re like me, you want all three of those results (greater connection, more enjoyment, greater sense of meaning) in your marriage. So, be honest.  Tell the truth in love and grow a stronger, healthier marriage.

Apologize? But I Didn’t Do Anything!!

My wife was mad…at me. She was made at me and I didn’t even realize she was mad. I said something to comfort her and she took offense. I really didn’t want to hurt her; I wanted to comfort her. But she heard what I said differently than I had intended. She was hurt. She was angry. When she told me she was mad, my first impulse was to explain. I wanted to clarify the misunderstanding and defend my actions. Unfortunately, that only made the situation worse because then she thought I was not listening. As you can imagine, the more I tried to explain and clarify my actions the worse the situation grew.

Middle age man doubtful and very serious.

Suddenly I realized…it doesn’t really matter if I’m right or wrong. It doesn’t matter whether I intended to hurt her or not. She was hurt by what I said. I needed to apologize for hurting her. With that realization, I started over. “I’m sorry….” No excuses, no explanations, no defense. Just a simple apology. Then I listened to understand how she had interpreted my statement as an offense. As I listened, I understood. With that understanding, I apologized more fully. Amends completed, we hugged one another; and she enjoyed the comfort I had originally intended to give.

I learned something important from this incident…well, I learned a couple of things from this encounter.

  • Sometimes my wife (or my children for that matter) do not hear what I say in the way I intend. They misunderstand. In their misunderstanding they are offended or hurt. I honor my family when I pay attention to how they might understand what I say and when I say things in as clear and loving a way as possible.
  • When I say something that hurts a family member, I need to apologize for hurting their feelings, even if it was unintentional. That honors my family. It shows them how much I value them.
  • My relationship is more important than being justified. I would rather connect with my family than prove myself right and make them angry. I would rather celebrate our connection as a family than celebrate my victory in the argument. Go for the connection and celebrate family.
  • Sometimes I have selfish reasons for apologizing. I might apologize to end the conflict. Or I might apologize with a “but” attached—an excuse, a defense, a casting of blame. Such an apology lacks sincerity. It is selfish. It refuses to accept responsibility. It denies the need to change. A sincere apology, however, simply expresses regret and a desire to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No excuses. No defense. No casting of blame. Just a simple, sincere apology with a plan to make it different in the future. (Read The Hardest Word for more.)

When we make a sincere apology, we remove the stain of our mistake. We come clean. We pull down the barriers that divide us and we grow closer to one another. We enjoy a greater intimacy.

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