Tag Archive for marriage

The Art of Listening is More Than Responding

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

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

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

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

Before You Apologize, Consider This

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Remedy for the Common Cold in YOUR Marriage?

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

The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse

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

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

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

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

A Marital Battle: Radical Generosity or Self Seeking

Two ancient sayings have been on my mind lately. Both sayings are recorded by Paul, a Jewish follower of Christ. And, although neither one is written in the context of marriage, they both have a profound impact on our marriages. The first saying is short and sweet: “Love is not self-seeking.” The second one reminds us that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap bountifully.”

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I get tired and irritable. When I’m tired and irritable, I don’t want to be generous. I don’t want to sow a smile or a kind word or an act of service. Instead, I want to sulk, give short and even sarcastic responses, or isolate. In other words, I become self-seeking. I watch out for “my own personal interests” and desires. In the process, I neglect my spouse. I don’t pay attention to her needs or struggles she may have encountered during the day. You’ve had those days, haven’t you? We all have. If I am going to be totally honest, sometimes I become self-seeking even when I’m not tired and irritable. I just look out for myself sometimes because…well, because I just want things to go my way. How about you? Ever had that experience?

Unfortunately, we also reap what we sow. When we selfishness, we reap disconnection in response. When we sow a sarcastic response or an isolating action in our irritability, we reap sorrow, distance, and maybe even some criticism from our spouse. Our relationship grows more disconnected in response to the seeds of self-seeking behaviors we sow. Intimacy suffers as weeds of loneliness grow deeper roots and we reap sharper thorns. If we allow this self-seeking behavior to continue to grow, we may find ourselves simply engaging in physical intimacy to satisfy our own needs more often than we express love in our intimacy. In general, sowing seeds of self-seeking behaviors reaps disconnection, emotional distance, frustration, and anger.

So, what can end the sowing of self-seeking behaviors? Sow seeds of radical generosity instead. Yes, radical generosity is generosity sown in the hard times, the times we feel tired, irritable, and selfish. Showing generosity to our spouse in the good times is relatively easy. But sharing generosity with our spouse when we are tired, irritable, feeling disconnected, or simply feeling selfish is radical! And when we sow radical generosity, we reap radical intimacy and connection. Radical generosity means giving your spouse a hug and kiss upon returning home, especially when we’re tired. Radical generosity gives a kind answer rather than a short, sarcastic response even when we’re irritable. Radical generosity seeks to give pleasure to our spouse rather than simply seeking our own release and pleasure. Radical generosity serves even when tired. Radical generosity sows all these seeds of kindness, affection, and service while wearing a smile. Radical generosity is the opposite of self-seeking; it is loving. Radical generosity will sow seeds of kindness, service, and love into their marriage in great abundance and reap the same in a bountiful return. Sow some radical generosity into your marriage today and watch the bountiful harvest of love and intimacy grow! I going to go share some radical generosity now…by helping prepare lunch. What about you?  

Don’t Post Alone for a Happier Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

Generosity Can Save Your Marriage!!

Every now and again, I bring home flowers for my wife. (Now that I think about it, maybe I should do that today.) We put them in a vase with water and enjoy them…until they wilt. We also have flowers in a flower garden in our back yard. Guess which flowers last longer. You know it; the flowers in our backyard. They are planted in rich, nurturing soil that generously provides the nutrients they need to grow and blossom time and again.

Our marriages also need a rich, nurturing soil to generously provide the nutrients necessary for our marriages to grow and blossom time and again. Each spouse is part of the rich soil in which your marriage is planted. And, from our richness we need to generously provide at least seven nourishing qualities in extravagant abundance to our spouse and our marriage.

  • Generously give your time…lots of it. I’ve quoted it before and I’ll quote it again, “Love is spelled T.I.M.E.” We give our time to those people and things that are important to us. So, make sure your “Daily Planner” reflects the priority of your spouse and your marriage. Give them the time reflective of their value. (Practice a marital sabbath to give time to your spouse.)
  • Generously give your caring attention and presence. Spending time with your spouse is important. However, it takes more than merely being a body in their vicinity. Lavish them with your caring attention. Let your active daily involvement in your spouse’s life, your presence in their life, speak of your concern, love, and affection.
  • Generously give your ears. Remember the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.” Give your spouse your ears in abundance. Listen deeply. Listen intently. Listen to understand. Listen. Listen. Listen. (Listening deeply in this way will prove a powerful way to improve your marriage.)
  • Generously give your affection. It’s been said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth” (Virginia Satir). Don’t keep your marriage on a survival mode. Be generous. Give your marriage what it needs for growth, lots and lots of affection in words and actions every day. (For more on the power of generous hugs and affection read And a Hug to Grow On.)
  • Generously give simple acts of kindness and service. Kindness and service are powerful. They proclaim our love. They melt hearts and restore relationships. They nurture an environment of encouragement. They stimulate greater intimacy. Give kindness and service to your spouse with extravagant generosity. (Try these 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
  • Generously give forgiveness. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness from time to time. Forgiveness is necessary for a marriage to survive and flourish. Give your spouse forgiveness as often as needed. And, if you’re asking for forgiveness bear the fruit of repentance with great abundance.
  • Generously give prayer for your spouse’s well-being. Notice I say pray for your spouse’s “well-being.” Don’t ask that they change to become the person you want them to become. Accept them and pray for their well-being. Pray for their happiness. Pray for them to feel loved. ….(Read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity for more on the power of prayer in your marriage.)

Yes, generosity can save your marriage. Throw caution to the wind and start lavishing these seven gifts of grace on your spouse today. And watch your marriage blossom and grow.

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.

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