Tag Archive for marriage

Intimacy…It’s Easier Than You Think

Intimacy—the state of having a close, familiar, and loving personal relationship with another person. We all desire intimacy in our marriages. More specifically, we all desire mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy in our marriages. But how can we develop that intimacy? It’s not as difficult as you might think. It only involves three ingredients and four steps.

First, intimacy is an interpersonal experience. It involves two or more people. For purposes of marriage, we will limit the intimacy to two people.

Second, intimacy begins with one person engaging in self-disclosure. At least one person must be courageous enough to disclose something about themselves. They might disclose information about their personal history, a life milestone, a past experience, or some emotion. The self-disclosure could be about a positive event or a traumatic event, a positive emotion or a heavy emotion. Either way, the self-disclosure represents a moment of vulnerability and a courageous invitation to connect.

Third, intimacy requires another person to pay attention to that self-disclosure. In paying attention, the person does not try to fix anything or change the person who engages in self-disclosure. They simply notice the self-disclosure, acknowledge it, and express interest in it. In other words, they accept the invitation to connect by showing interest in what the person has disclosed.

These three ingredients—two people in a relationship, one person willing to courageously self-disclose, and one person willing to pay loving attention to the disclosure—combine into four steps of growing intimacy.

  • Step one: one person reveals something personal about themselves. 
  • Step two: a second person responds attentively to that disclosure.
  • Step three: the interaction becomes reciprocal with both people paying attention and disclosing.
  • Step four: the intimacy that grows through this interaction promotes more self-disclosure and attentive responding.

That’s all there is to it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But these simple steps often present a challenge to us. If you accept the challenge, however, the rewards have a ripple effect that will grow stronger and deeper as it expands. Each intimate interaction becomes a piece of a positive relationship history contributing to the expectation of more intimate interactions. The intimate interactions and the belief that future intimate interactions will occur increase our commitment to our relationship. Our sense of togetherness grows stronger and the safety of our relationship deeper. Self-disclosure becomes easier and paying attention more readily engaged in. And the ripples continue to grow….

When Jealousy Threatens Your Marriage

Joe arrived in therapy because he feared his wife would “cheat on him.” That fear was ruining his marriage. He admitted that he had no reason to think his wife would cheat on him. She had always been faithful, and she promised to remain faithful. Still, Joe feared the worst. After some exploration, Joe recalled a woman he had been engaged to prior to his wife. His engagement to this woman had ended when she had an “affair” with a man she met at work. Now Joe feared his wife would meet someone at her work as well. His unresolved past emotional injury had crept into his present relationship…and he knew it. Awareness is the first step in resolving this type of emotional injury and relegating it to its proper place—the past.

Another step involved Joe verbalizing his fear to his wife. Doing so accomplished the important objectives of communicating his fear and eliciting his wife’s support.

  • Communicating his fear and the underlying experience that contributed to that fear brought it into the light. Fears always grow stronger in the darkness of secrecy. Bringing the fear into the light weakens its power. It will also allow Joe to begin addressing his sense of self.
  • Communicating his fear also allowed his wife to know him better. It gave her the opportunity to understand him and his struggle better. That growing knowledge also provides the opportunity for greater intimacy with one another.
  • Now that his wife understands Joe’s struggle, she can offer support to help alleviate his fear. Rather than expressing anger and frustration at his unfounded fear, she can express empathy and affirm her faithfulness.
  • With the impact of this past experience on their present marriage “on the table,” Joe and his wife can problem-solve. They can develop a plan to increase the security ad intimacy of their marriage.

All in all, openly discussing Joe’s jealousy, the past that contributed to that jealousy, and how to manage it as a couple brought Joe and his wife closer together. They learned more about one another on a deeper level and so grew in more intimate. They could work together to build a marriage in which they both felt safe and secure. They could grow stronger as a couple.

You can, too, when you reveal the secret, elicit support, and work together like Joe and his wife.

Speaking the Truth in Love

Building a healthy family requires some tough conversations—tough conversations with our spouse, tough conversations with our children, and even tough conversations with our parents. These conversations often put us in a moral bind between the desire to be honest and the desire to be kind. Of course, we can approach these tough conversations in a variety of ways. Emma Levine, a University of Chicago psychologist, describes five ways to approach these tough conversations.

  1. We could just fail to address the issue. This approach is low on honesty and, in the long run, kindness. We avoid the discomfort of bringing up unpleasant material. But our family member does not learn valuable information. And, we miss the opportunity to nurture a more intimate relationship through the conversation.
  2. We might tell a “little white lie,” a false kindness to protect our family member’s feelings. Once again, we avoid the unpleasant confrontation, but our family member misses out on learning important information. Intimacy is hindered. And, if the “white lie” is discovered, our family member may even become resentful.
  3. We could simply speak with brutal honesty. In this scenario, we speak the truth but do not take our family member’s feelings into consideration.  Our family member will likely feel criticized or attacked  and, as a result, reject the message. Once again, family members do not gain important information. Intimacy is hindered. Relationships are harmed.
  4. The fourth approach involves telling your family member something true and positive but irrelevant to the “real” issue. For instance, your son asks about his performance during the baseball game and you reply by saying, “It was a beautiful sunny day to watch your game” rather than offering a direct, but loving critique of his performance. Unfortunately, your family member will likely view this as no different than telling an outright lie. They will become frustrated. Intimacy will be hindered. Relationships harmed.

Why do we use these ineffective approaches? Dr. Levine believes we choose one of these ineffective approaches because we focus mainly on our own feelings during the anticipated interaction and we focus on short-term comfort rather than long-term kindness. All this aside, Dr. Levine does describe one more approach… and this one proves most effective. It shifts the focus to the long-term growth and increased intimacy we might gain rather than the short-term comfort. .

  • Articulate a sincere interest in your family member’s long-term benefit before describing your concern in a gentle, straight-forward manner. Remember, the conversation will end like it begins so approach the interaction gently, with a “gentle start up.” Even if you fumble over some words, your family member will sense your attempt. They will experience the warmth of emotion expressed and recognize your genuine concern. As a result, they will be more able to hear the concern…even if it is unpleasant in the moment. In other words, speak the truth in love. When we do, family members gain important information. Everyone grows. Intimacy is enhanced.

To speak the truth in love is an ancient wisdom that helps us grow more mature, more intimate, and more secure.

A Card Game to Change the “Same Old Fights”

I love this quote: “What makes conflict so painful is that we are desperate to be heard but too upset to listen, desperate to be understood but too upset to be understanding, desperate to be validated but too upset to validate. What can help you get what you need is [a] willingness to stoke even a small ember of empathy for your partner’s experience.” (Dr. Alexandra Solomon)

An incredibly wise statement. Arguments are not resolved without listening, understanding, and validating. Unfortunately, the heat of a conflict sends us into a fight or flight mode, making it extremely difficult to listen, understand, and validate. So, what can you do? Here is a neat little “card game” that can help you become less “desperate” and more able to listen, understand, and validate. It demands some prep time, but the results can be wonderful.

Preparation:

  • Think of the tone of voice that escalates your conflicts. Then, write down the tone of voice that will help prevent an escalation. This may include calm (vs. agitated), gentle (vs. harsh), soft (vs. loud), sincere (vs. sarcastic), and any others you think of. Make one note card for each positive tone of voice.
  • Think of the words and phrases that escalate your arguments. Now, write down words and catchphrases to help calm an escalation. These might include repair statements John Gottman talks about. They can also include phrases that affirm your love for one another, phrases like “Even when I’m upset, I still love you” or “We can disagree and still love one another.”
  • After you have made these cards, put them around your house—on the fridge, on the mirror in the bathroom, on your dresser drawer…where ever you will see them throughout the day and where ever they will be readily available to you in the “heat of the moment.”

Playing the Game:

  • Now that the cards are spread throughout your house, make a point of reading them as you go about your day. Say them out loud when open the fridge, look in the mirror, or any time you see a card.
  • If (when is probably more accurate) you find yourself in an argument with your spouse, recite one of the cards. If you struggle to remember what any of them say, walk as you talk and read the cards along the way. Walking and looking for the right card as you talk may change your argument in and of itself…may even make you laugh a little.
  • Also, as you read the new statements and follow the new tone of voice directions, you will be changing your style of argument for good.

You may even find yourself better able to listen, understand, and validate. Better yet, doing all this will turn the argument into an opportunity to learn about one another and grow more intimate. Now that’s the way to win a great card game!

Conflict With Your Spouse? Try the Elmo Approach.

Remember Elmo from Sesame Street? Elmo talks in third person most of the time. The Sesame Street Workshop Frequently Asked Questions tells us Elmo talks in third person because of his preschool age. In fact, many preschoolers do speak in third person. Elmo simply says he “was born that way.” Whatever his reason for talking in third person, he may be on to something that could benefit you, your marriage, and your family.

Teresa Frisbie, a professional mediator and director of Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s Dispute Resolution Program, helps clarify what Elmo can teach us. She notes we often react to stressors, disagreements, or perceived threats with a fight, flight, or freeze response. John Gottman also states that marital arguments trigger this fight, flight, or freeze response. During this response, we become defensive and self-protective. We are less able to listen well or understand another person’s perspective. As you can imagine, that is not good for resolving the argument with your spouse. In fact, it only makes the conflict worse. But what can we do? Which leads us back to Teresa Frisbie.

Teresa Frisbie suggests we try what I call the Elmo Approach. She suggests we begin to use a third person perspective, just like Elmo does. Simply shifting our perspective from the first-person (I, me, mine) to third person (Elmo says…) helps us gain distance from the perceived stresses and perceived threat so we can remain calm and gain some clarity. The third person perspective helps us maintain a healthy optimism as well, which helps resolve disagreements. The Elmo Approach can also help us listen better and appreciate multiple perspectives. It will help us resolve the disagreement more easily.

You may be thinking, “Elmo can talk in third person, but I’ll look crazy talking in third-person during an argument.” Well…. Here’s the beauty of this? You don’t have to say it out loud. You can simply begin referring to yourself in third person in your mind. Beginning to use the third person in your thoughts can produce the same results. So, give the Elmo Approach a try. If you find yourself stressed or overwhelmed, start referring to yourself in third person (by using your name or referring to yourself as he, she, him, or her) as you contemplate your response. Whether you find yourself giggling like Elmo or not, you will find it easier to maintain some distance from the stressor and resolve the conflict more easily.

Read more about this in How to Get Some Emotional Distance in an Argument from The Greater Good Science Center.

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.

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