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
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.
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!
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?
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.
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
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.
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?
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,
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.
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
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.
A study of 91 couples revealed a surprise about marriage. Understanding your partner was NOT enough to make your marriage stronger and healthier. Just understanding what your partner is thinking and feeling does not lead to a better marriage. Better marriages result when a person not only understand but cares enough to do something with that understanding. Having compassion and a motivation to respond to their partner based on understanding was necessary to have a better marriage. In other words, responsiveness proved more important than mere understanding in strengthening marriages. How do we become responsive?
Listen….not just to the words but to
the emotions and intentions behind the words. Listen to understand the needs.
Listen with a heart of compassion and an eye (or should I say “ear) toward
Respond to their emotion.
Acknowledge what they feel.
Act upon the need of the moment.
When we are responsive to our partners, they will feel validated and cared for. They recognize their importance in our lives. They feel safe and stable in our relationship. As a result, our marriage improves. So, don’t stop with understanding. Engage in a compassionate response as well. (For more on responsiveness and building intimacy in your marriage read The Music In Your Heart.)
My friend stood at an ATM machine
getting money when someone walked up behind her and began to “grope
her.” She was furious. Being an independent strong woman, she turned
around and hit him with her purse in one smooth movement. He fell to the
ground. She prepared to tell him off when he held up his red and white cane
saying, “Wait…I’m blind. I was trying to find the ATM machine.” Now,
my friend, being a kind and compassionate woman, suddenly felt guilty for
having decked a blind man. She apologized and helped him up. What changed? Her
perspective of the situation changed. She went from thinking someone was trying
to take advantage of her to thinking someone was in need due to physical
challenges. How many times does this happen in marriage (perhaps to a lesser
extent and with no physical attacks I mean)?
You walk into the house and say “hi”
to your spouse. He ignores you. As your irritation swell up and you get ready
to yell, you realize he is on the phone. He looks your direction and smiles as he
mouths, “I love you.” In a moment, your realization meets his smile
and your irritation turns to joy.
You and your spouse are having a
discussion in the kitchen while you cook dinner. As you look at the pan stirring
noodles, you hear your spouse say, “That was stupid.” Thinking you were called “stupid,”
you look up to complain. Your spouse is standing over a jar of spaghetti sauce
with sauce dripping down her shirt. She smiles, “I forgot it was already
opened.” Anger turns to laughter.
You walk into the kitchen to find
the sink full of dishes. Frustrated, you begin to rinse them and slam them into
the dishwasher. When your spouse walks into the room you say sarcastically,
“Thanks for cleaning the kitchen.” Your spouse apologizes and explains
that the children have been sick and throwing up all day. You notice the stain
of vomit on her shirt. Anger becomes compassion as you give her a hug.
In each situation the only thing that changed
was the perspective of the situation. Sometimes we need to take a breath before
reacting. We need to take a sacred pause, to slow down and practice a little
patience before we explode. The sacred pause allows us look to our spouse and
ask a few questions, find out more about the situation, and learn more about
what’s happening from their point of view. That sacred pause, that moment of
patience, can turn anger into compassion or frustration into joy. That sacred
pause can save your marriage.
Remember when you first met your
spouse? The excitement of new love? The longing to see them as often as you could?
The endless conversations as you got to know one another? Remember the nervousness when you decided to disclose
some new personal information to them? And the excitement of experiencing
acceptance anyway? How about the laughter and the thrill of trying something new
just because your spouse-to-be enjoyed it? These all represent moments of
self-expansion, growth, and learning.
They drew you and your spouse together. These moments were the building
blocks of intimacy and love.
Jump forward several years, perhaps
even to today. Are things getting routine? Feeling kind of bored? Feel like
your marriage is in a rut? Maybe you even feel a little dissatisfied and wonder
how to “liven things up” a bit. Do you miss the “spark,”
the burning ember of love that seems to have slowly cooled and
grown…comfortable? Then I have good
Research reported (in 2000) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology offers a great solution. Turn back to your spouse and do the things you did when you first fell in love. Literally, grab your spouse and do something you both enjoyed but haven’t done since you first met. Or, better yet, do something completely new, something you’ve never done before, not even when you were dating. Play a new game, cook a new meal, try a new activity, take a trip to a new place. (If you can’t think of anything else, try the activity used in the study. Tie yourself to your spouse on one side by the wrist and ankle before crossing a gymnasium floor that includes at least one obstacle. It doesn’t sound exciting…so maybe try taking a hike or flying a kite together.) Whatever activity you choose, make sure it is a novel activity, a new activity for you as a couple.
When you engage in these novel activities, you and your spouse will learn new things. You will grow and experience an expanding sense of who you are as a couple. Even better, research suggests that when you engage in these novel, fun, and exciting activities together, you will feel better about your relationship. You will grow more supportive and accepting of one another. In other words, your marriage will grow stronger and more intimate. Now isn’t that worth a little bit of fun along the way?
If you’re looking for a guidance along the path to greater intimacy in your marriage, Scott Means of Heaven Made Marriage has written you a gift. In his book, The Path of Intimacy, Scott guides the reader away from the path of separation and onto the path of intimacy with wisdom and foresight. Isn’t that what we all want in our marriages, to be intimate with one another, fully known and completely loved? To stand before one another completely naked—emotionally, mentally, and spiritually open—yet completely unafraid and completely secure in the love we share with one another? If that’s what you’re looking for (and we all are), this book will serve as your guide on the path of intimacy. Now if you have ever gotten lost, you know how important it is to follow the right signs and not get distracted by the alternatives. With that in mind, The Path of Intimacy exposes the lies that threaten to distract us from the path of intimacy. The Path of Intimacy teaches us to discern the on-ramps that lead to the path of separation from the trail markers that keep us on the path of intimacy. And, The Path of Intimacy prepares us to recognize the markers informing us that we are still on the right path, the path of intimacy. With the insights shared in The Path of Intimacy, Scott Means has offered us the tools we need to remain watchful and intentional in growing a “grace-full,” intimate marriage. (Available on Amazon)