Tag Archive for relationship

Two Tips For Better Marital Communication

“That’s all you did today?” With those words the marital conflict began. Heart rates quickened. Pulses started to race. “You never appreciate anything I do around here!” Now both partners started talking over one another. Winning (and thus gaining of sense of safety and control) became the goal of this “heated discussion.” Criticism increased. Defensiveness turned to accusation. Both people jumped to conclusions and both said things they never really wanted to say. Why? Because one statement, perhaps poorly phrased, was misunderstood and triggered the fight or flight response. Their rational brains were no longer running the show. Instead, their “fight-or-flight-to-save-your-butt-brains” were running things. But what could they have done differently? It’s hard to do things differently in the moment of defensiveness and anger. However, there are skills you can practice in the daily life of your marriage that will prime you to make a better response in such a moment. Practicing these two tips with your spouse when you encounter minor disagreements or during everyday conversation can prepare you for a better response in the “heat of the moment.”

First, practice thinking about the words you use when talking to your spouse. Some words come across as privileged, patronizing, or moralizing. For instance, “I need you to…” can come across as though my need is more important than your need, especially in a moment of conflict. It sounds entitled, as though “I” am entitled to having “my” needs met even at “your” expense.

“You should…” is a moralizing statement. It sounds as though the listener is wrong if they do otherwise. It induces guilt. In the words of Albert Ellis, “Don’t ‘should on people.”

“I encourage you to…” sounds patronizing, especially during the heat of an argument. It sounds like a way of saying, “I’m really right and ‘I encourage you’ to take the time to recognize that.”

So, what can you say instead?

  • Try “It would really help me if you could….” Or, “I would like it if you….” These statements offer invitations to possible solutions.
  • You might even try switching the “I” to “we.” “We might need to….” Or, “maybe we could….” These statements recognize that the marital partners form a team with no single partner more important than the other.
  • An even bolder approach is to take ownership for our own part in the conflict and the solution. “I need to….” Or, “tell me again so I can better understand what you mean” are statements that help with this. 

Second, practice recognizing the difference between the content of what your partner says and the relationship message underlying the content. The content merely refers to the topic of discussion or disagreement. The relationship message speaks to the connection between you and your spouse. Many times, a statement about content becomes a misunderstood relationship message because of tone of voice (which may be impacted by mood, tiredness, other people), the context, or the emphasis placed on certain words.

  • For instance, “That’s all you did today?” can easily be misunderstood to mean “You should have done more.” When it might simply mean “I didn’t realize it was such a big job and would take so long.”
  • “You’re home late” can be misunderstood as “You don’t care enough about me to get home earlier.” It might mean “I didn’t realize you would be so late. What happened?”

The only way to know is to check your initial reaction of defensiveness and anger so you can ask for or offer clarification. “Yes, it turned out to be a bigger job than I thought.” “Can I show you how much I did? It’s surprising.” “Sorry, traffic was heavy. I wanted to get home earlier.” “Yeah, I got a last-minute phone call at the office. Did my late arrival mess up any of your dinner plans?”

Think about the words you use and what they might mean during conflict. Recognize the difference between the content of the message and the relationship message inherent in a statement. These are subtle practices. However, paying attention and practicing these two tips can bring reduce conflict and bring greater intimacy to your marriage.

Is There a Hole in Your Marital Roof?

Roofs are important.  More specifically, roofs that don’t leak are important. Roofs with no holes. Roofs that protect. My family and I stayed in a cabin at St. Johns. We liked to eat on the deck. It had no roof, but it really wasn’t a problem until an iguana climbed onto a branch above my daughter and well… “relieved” himself in her cereal. A roof would have been nice.

Or, the time my family and I went camping when I was a kid and it started raining. I mean pouring. It always did when we camped. Of course, we had the tent and a dining canopy to keep us dry. But they were old school and as soon as you touched them, they started leaking. Drip…drip…drip. Drip on my head. Drip on our game. Drip on the table. Yeah, a solid roof would be nice.

Recently my wife and I visited a beautiful location in Cartagena.  They had a nice outdoor dining area. A mango tree grew just outside the walls of the roofless dining area and its branches offered some shade. Nice…until mangoes started dropping off onto peoples’ heads.  Needed to add a roof for protection.

Yes, it’s nice to have a roof…even in your marriage! Paul, a first century Jewish evangelist, tells us that “love bears all things” (I Corinthians 13:7). Interestingly, the Greek word for “bears” (“stego”) means to “cover, to protect.” It’s the verb form of the Greek word for “roof”! In marriage, love is like the roof over our heads. Love takes action to cover, to protect, to preserve. A roof protects the security of our home by keeping weather, animals, and other harmful menaces out of our house. But what does love protect our marriage from? More specifically, what does love protect in your marriage? 

  • Love protects our reputations. Rather than talking trash on a spouse, love lifts a spouse up. Love elevates a spouse to others. Love speaks words of admiration about a spouse. Love does not broadcast a spouse’s shortcomings or mistakes but works first and foremost to resolve them in the private intimacy of their relationship. Love stops the gossip that threatens reputation and seeks the truth that can replace that gossip.
  • Love protects us from hurtful words. Love offers words of blessing rather than words of cursing. It offers words of encouragement rather than words of discouragement. Love does not drown a spouse in impolite, angry words but showers them with words of kindness and love. Rather than criticize and put down, love lifts up and encourages.
  • Love protects from outside forces that interfere with a healthy marriage.  Love keeps those things that do not belong under a marital roof out of the marriage—things like pornography, unhealthy people, and overscheduled lives. Love strives to keep the marriage a safe haven, a place where nothing interferes with a growing love and intimacy.

Yes, a roof protects. It covers. It keeps the unwanted out and enhances safety and security within. It allows us to be vulnerable and grow more intimate without fear of outside factors interfering. Love does the same. Love is the roof over your head.

Kissing for Health? Hmmm…

If you’re looking for a way to have a more intimate relationship with your spouse and a way to promote your spouse’s health, look no more.  A 2009 study completed by researchers at Arizona State University suggests kissing your spouse can do all that…and it’s fun. The study involved 52 couples. Half were asked to increase the frequency and duration of kissing their partner “to a notable degree” for 6 weeks. The other group made no change in their behavior. Both groups completed various surveys as well as having fasting bloodwork taken before and after the six-week testing period.

The couples that increased the frequency and duration of kissing one another reported an increase in verbal affection and overall relationship satisfaction. They also reported less conflict, less difficulty communicating, and less arguing in general. In other words, kissing increased their intimacy as a couple and their satisfaction with their relationship overall.

The couples that increased the frequency and duration of kissing one another also exhibited a decrease in total cholesterol between the bloodwork taken before and after the 6-week “kissing period.”  Kissing actually correlated with a decrease in cholesterol. In other words, kissing promoted health!

Let me say again: if you’re looking for a way to have a more intimate relationship with your spouse and a way to promote your spouse’s health, look no more. Just start enjoying some good old-fashion kissing!

Build-a-Spouse

I’m sure you’ve heard of “Build a Bear.” If you have children (or, if you’re the romantic type), you have probably even visited “Build a Bear” shop and…well, built a teddy bear for the one you love.  Imagine what it would be like to “build a spouse.” You’d have your budget already set as you walk into a store filled with various traits you can purchase. You’d allocate your finances for the traits you desire in a spouse—a large part of the budget toward those traits you desire most, the deal-breakers, and a small part of the budget toward those traits that are nice but simply not necessary. And, poof…out pops a spouse, built to specification.  Sounds crazy, but….

Researchers at Swansea University actually did this (well, metaphorically speaking, without actually “building” a physical spouse). They gave over 2,700 college students from across the globe (Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Norway, the UK, and Australia) a budget and a list of eight qualities they might like in a spouse. Armed with finances and a list of attributes available, these college students “built a spouse.” The eight attributes included: physical attractiveness, good financial prospects, kindness, humor, chastity, religious involvement, the desire for children, and creativity. (I would have added a few other traits, but I wasn’t creative enough to think of the “build a spouse” study.) Each participant had three opportunities to “build a spouse” based on these attributes: one time on a low budget, one time on a medium budget, and (you guessed it) one time on a high budget. Comparing the choices made on various budgets allowed the researchers to determine traits that participants deemed necessary verses traits deemed a luxury.

Overall, across cultures and genders, kindness received the lion’s share of the budget (22-26%). Physical attraction and good financial prospects were the next two most desired traits. Physical attraction, however, was rated as a “necessity” for men more often than women (22% of the budget for men vs. 16% for women). Good financial prospects were deemed an important trait for women more so than men (18% of the budget for women vs. 12% of the budget for men). Still, neither rated as high as kindness. (For an overview read Kindness is a top priority in a long-term partner.)

Kindness was the number one priority to have in a long-term partner in this study. Chances are, you and your spouse put a high priority on kindness in a spouse, too. So, if you want to have a happy, healthy marriage, practice kindness in your marriage and family. To help you get started, here are 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage. (Read the Mighty Power of Kindness for Families to consider how kindness will impact not just your marriage but your family and our world.)

I would have added a few other traits to the list of possibilities for purchase—traits like honesty, trustworthiness, and loyalty. I wonder what would get the lion’s share of the budget then? What traits would you add to your “build-a-spouse” project? What are the most important traits to you in a spouse? Why not spend a little time discussing these qualities with your spouse this week—perhaps over a cup of coffee or a dinner date?  

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.