We were made for, and we long for, intimate connection. In fact, our attachment with other human beings is crucial, even necessary, for a healthy life. Marriage is one place we hope to find such an enduring connection. Unfortunately, many people find themselves feeling disconnected and isolated in marriage. This disconnected marriage brings pain and misery to everyone involved. A connected marriage brings joy. To get this connected marriage requires a few traits that are often overlooked when we speak about happy marriages. Let me explain a few.
- To have an intimate marriage we need to be trustworthy. Our spouse needs to know we will keep our commitments and follow through on our promises. Our spouse will see our trustworthiness in our actions toward them and our actions toward others. If we want an intimate and enduring marriage, we need to become trustworthy people, people worthy of receiving honor and trust. (Read 6 Pillars of Trust to learn how to develop trust.)
- To have an intimate marriage we must learn to trust. I realize that trusting another person leaves us vulnerable, especially if we have experienced hurt at the hands of those we loved in the past. But, without trust in a relationship both parties feel the need to protect themselves. They struggle to be completely open with one another. A wedge of secrecy and self-protection comes between them and drives them apart. We can avoid this wedge of secrecy and self-protection by becoming trustworthy people and people who trust one another.
- An intimate relationship is built on the gift of empathy. We need to realize our spouse has a valid perspective and opinion even if they disagree with us. Empathy goes a step beyond that realization and demands we strive to understand our spouse’s perspective, to see the world through their eyes. We must work to understand their world so well we can understand the basis of their perspective even if we disagree with it. (Quit Taking Your Spouse’s Perspective may sound like a contradiction, but it really explains how to do this most effectively!)
- A person nurtures intimacy when they remain attentive and available to their spouse. Spouses can make up to 100 bids for connection during any 10 minutes spent together (link). You can attend to these bids for connection or turn away from them, accept them or reject them. Of course, if you reject them you will experience disconnection, isolation, and anger. When we accept and respond to them we enjoy a growing sense of connection, love, and intimacy. (Learn how to respond to those bids for connection in RSVP for Intimacy)
- Spouses who enjoy intimate marriages remain teachable. A teachable person loves their spouse enough to learn about them and from them. They can admit their own mistakes and apologize. A teachable person continues to learn about their spouse. They remain a student of their spouse’s interests, strengths, vulnerabilities, fears, and a myriad other things. Remaining teachable and learning about your spouse provides the necessary tools for building intimacy with your spouse.
- Those who enjoy an intimate marriage exhibit humility. They are humble and learn from mistakes. They change in response to their spouse’s legitimate concerns. Humble people support one another. Humble people allow their spouse to influence them. Humble people enjoy intimacy in their marriages. (For a challenge in humility, become A Leader in Submission in your marriage.)
Want to give your spouse a great gift? If you do, I have the perfect idea. This gift will promote your spouse’s physical health and even contribute to longer life. It will also enhance your relationship, leading to a happier, longer-lasting marriage. To top it all off—the icing on the cake so to speak—this gift is free! The gift I’m talking about is the gift of becoming a more conscientious person. Hold on…let me explain. A study involving 2,203 couples over 50-years-old showed that conscientious people had better health and lived longer. “But wait there’s more…,” the gift aspect. A husband’s conscientiousness predicted his wife’s physical health above and beyond the influence of her own personality. A wife’s conscientiousness had the same impact on her husband’s health. In other words, you can contribute to your spouse’s long, healthy life and long, healthy marriage by becoming more conscientious. That’s a great gift! How can you become more conscientious? Here are a few ideas.
- Take responsibility for your own emotional, physical, and mental health. Establish an exercise routine. Eat wisely. If you smoke or take unnecessary drugs, stop. Learn how to manage your thoughts and emotions. If you need help doing these things start by reading a book like “The Resiliency Factor” or “The Power of Habit.”
- Get organized. Set some goals. Be sure to include relationship goals like dates, vacations, and time together. Set a goal to write your spouse a love letter or a letter of appreciation. Make a “to do list” each day. Make sure to put at least one thing to express love to your spouse on that “to do list.”
- Plan ahead. Rather than making impulsive purchases, for example, plan ahead. Set a goal to save the money for the purchase rather than buy it impulsively on credit.
- Keep your promises. In fact, make sure you can follow through on a promise before you even make it. Become known as a “person of your word” who others can trust.
- When problems arise, take the time to address them before they grow. This can be as simple as putting your dirty cup in the dishwasher or as complex as resolving a disagreement with your spouse by apologizing for a wrong you committed. Address problems as they arise.
To become a more conscientious person takes some time and effort. However, the dividends are more a longer life and a happier marriage for you AND your spouse. That’s a gift worth the effort.
Every couple longs for intimacy. They want to share an intimate dance to the music of love in their hearts. But what are the major keys of that musical intimacy? Stop, listen closely, and you’ll hear that music in our heart. Oh who am I kidding? Just turn on the radio and listen. You’ll hear the major (and minor) keys to which we dance the dance of intimacy.
- Intimacy begins with knowledge. We have to “become an expert on the subject I like most…Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. Getting to like you and getting to hope you like me.”
- Intimate knowledge builds trust and trust requires honesty. Every couple fears “honesty is hardly ever heard but mostly what I need from you.” They know that trust is built upon “Truth and honesty—that is what we need to hold on to the good stuff we believe in…we could pull it back together with truth and honesty. Open up your hands, show me your heart.”
- Intimacy thrives when partners become mutually responsive to one another’s needs, when each one knows their partner will “see you through; I’ll cover you with a love so deep and warm and true. I’ll be there Honey. I’ll be your shelter.”
- Intimacy grows when we care for one another, when we know “our friendship will never die. You’re gonna see it’s our destiny. You’ve got a friend in me.” Intimacy grows when each person knows their partner will let them “lean on me when you’re not strong. I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on.” Intimacy requires knowing that one’s partner cares enough to become a “bridge over troubled waters, I will ease your mind.”
- Intimacy involves interdependence, a state in which each person knows “I want you to want me. I need you to need me. I’d love you to love me.” As a couple they proclaim “there’s nowhere in the world that I would rather be than with you, my love. And there’s nothing in the world that I would rather see than you smile, my love. For united we stand.”
- Intimacy deepens when “me” changes to “we.” Intimate partner proclaim “I’ll be there for you when the rain starts to pour. I’ll be there for you like I’ve been there before. I’ll be there for you ’cause you’re there for me too!“
- Intimacy requires commitment. Intimacy only grows in the soils of commitment. Each partner has to know the other will “fight hell to hold you, no river too deep or mountain high. I’ll fight hell to hold you by my side…till time stands still and worlds collide I’ll fight hell to hold you by my side.” Intimacy grows when we know “you’re never gonna be alone! From this moment on, if you ever feel like letting go, I won’t let you fall, you’re never gonna be alone!“
Some of the music of our hearts goes way back…before our time even. Perhaps you hear some different music, but it all tells you the same thing. Intimacy is experienced when we know one another, trust one another, care for one another, respond to one another, and want to be wanted by one another. Intimacy means we have become a team, a “we,” committed to that team “til death do us part.”
I love being married. I find more joy and happiness, adventure and excitement, joy and contentment, even fun and ecstasy with my wife than I could have ever imagined. But, let’s face it. Marriage is not all fun and games. It’s not always easy. I also experience irritations and frustrations in my marriage that impact me more deeply than any I experience in other relationships. I’m sure my wife can say the same. (Still, I did plead perfection when telling her about this blog. She simply snickered and shook her head in response. Go figure.) Anyway, the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests a way to increase the positive side of marriage and decrease the negative, increase the joy and excitement while limiting the frustrations and anger. And, it’s based on over 20 years of research! (Full disclosure—I only reviewed some of the studies from the last 10 years.) Based on their research, staff at the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests an activity that any of us can engage in on a daily basis to improve our marriages. It’s simple, yet powerful; easy to do yet profound in its impact. Want to know what activity they suggest? Praying for your spouse. That’s right. Praying! Coming before God (your Higher Power) to ask that your spouse be blessed and protected. Making intercession with God for your spouse; asking Him to help your spouse achieve his or her goals. One caveat—none of these prayers in these studies asked for their partners to become the person they wanted them to be. No, they offered sincere, unselfish prayers focused on their partner’s well-being. Overall, research suggests that saying prayers for one’s partner has many positive effects. Let me share just a few from the last 10 years of research (Read more here).
- Praying for one’s spouse has a softening effect on conflict (Butler et al, 1998). In other words, conflict becomes less harsh for those who have a praying spouse.
- Praying for one’s spouse predicts relationship satisfaction beyond what positive or negative behaviors in the relationship can predict (Lambert et al, 2008).
- Praying for one’s spouse over a 4-week period leads to greater gratitude toward one’s spouse than did thinking positive thoughts about one’s spouse or engaging in daily activities together (Lambert et al, 2009).
- Praying for one’s spouse increases the willingness of the one praying to forgive and did so more than simply speaking positively about one’s partner (Lambert et al, 2010).
- Praying for one’s spouse predicts greater commitment to the marriage (Fincham et al, 2010).
- Praying for one’s spouse while praying with your spouse leads to a greater sense of trust and unity in the relationship (Lambert et al, 2012).
Increased relationship satisfaction, more gratitude, more willingness to forgive, greater commitment, greater trust and less harsh conflict…all through the simple act of sincerely and unselfishly praying for your spouse. I’m getting started now. How about you?
My family likes to tease me…sometimes. It’s all in love and we all have fun…. Nonetheless, they like to mess with me. Don’t feel bad; I do give them reason. For instance, they tease me when I announce “I’m going to bed” but remain seated in the family room talking and watching TV. After a few minutes, at the next commercial, I say it again, even explaining why I need to go to bed. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed” “or “It’s been a long day. I better hit the hay” or “Getting late. Bedtime.” Still, no movement. They begin to snicker, even make comments like “Tired Dad?” “Going to bed are you?” “Dad, you look tired. You better go to bed.” They laugh; I smile. I might even start to cast some jovial blame back on my family by saying, “Now you’re holding me back. I’m trying to go to bed and you’re keeping me up by talking to me.” It’s all done in jest, just a silly game in which we have some family fun. But, I often hear married couples caught in a vicious cycle that sounds very similar to my bedtime “routine.” They have talked about their struggles. They know what bothers their spouse. They have expressed emotions of sorrow and hurt. They can explain the history of their vulnerabilities and sensitivities. But, nothing seems to change because they do nothing but talk about it. No one has taken the step to get “off their proverbial…eh…couch” and do something different. Making a marriage strong and healthy takes more than talking and hearing the words spoken; it takes action. Moving a struggling marriage from an unhealthy position to a strong and healthy one requires doing something different. Here are four actions you can take to build a strong, healthy marriage:
- Let your spouse’s needs and requests influence your actions. If they ask for a drink, get it for them. If they are upset, comfort them. When your spouse asks you to help around the house, help. Do a chore. Wash the dishes. Run the vacuum. If your spouse is worried, support them. If they need to talk about a difficult situation, listen. Give a back rub. You get the idea. Serve one another. (Read Start a Revolution for Valentine’s Day to learn more about accepting influence.)
- Engage in daily actions that show honor and build trust with your spouse. Trust in marriage is built on small every day actions. Compliment your spouse. Tell them what you adore about them. Offer words of encouragement, admiration, and love. Express how much you enjoy your spouse’s company. (Read Building Trust in Family Relationships for more.)
- Court your spouse. Do what you did when “love was young.” Remember how you worked to “woo” your spouse while dating? Do it again. Write love notes. Dress up for them. Talk with courtesy and kindness. Do little things you know they will enjoy. Sit together. Hold hands. Make small talk. Learn about them, their day, their fears, their dreams. In words and actions express how much you delight in your spouse.
- Grow as an individual by engaging in activities that make you more mature and honorable. Keep your promises. Be truthful. Apologize and forgive. Remain faithful. (Read more in Build 6 Pillars of Trust.)
By practicing these four actions you can build a stronger, healthier marriage.
Healthy marriages provide an opportunity for us to return to the Garden of Eden and stand like Adam and Eve: naked and unafraid. I don’t mean just physically naked. I mean completely open and exposed to our partner—emotional, spiritually, and mentally naked before our partner and still unafraid. That is a vulnerable position; but, in a completely healthy marriage, we can stand before one another in this vulnerable open state and remain completely unafraid. This type of open relationship begins with a very important ingredient: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance stands in direct opposition to conditional acceptance. Radical acceptance communicates a complete willingness to love our spouse no matter what. Imagine with me what can happen if we add just a small condition to our willingness to accept our spouse.
- This one condition raises doubt in our spouse’s mind. They will no longer feel completely safe to tell all and show all. A little bit of fear will enter the relationship—the fear that “I might do something to make my spouse love me less or even reject me.”
- Your spouse will no longer feel completely secure in their relationship to you. Feelings of insecurity will arise.
- Rather than risk rejection, your spouse will hide perceived faults and mistakes from you. After all, they don’t want to risk falling short of the conditions for acceptance. It becomes safer to keep faults and shortcomings secret.
- That secret grows into a wall of secrecy. The only way your spouse can keep you from discovering their faults is to create a wall of secrecy to hide behind. You will no longer get to see your spouse completely. You will see and experience only those parts they feel safe exposing.
- Your spouse will guard their heart. They will keep certain parts of themselves guarded, protected from possible rejection. There will be no full disclosure.
- You will sense this change. Trust will decrease. Your spouse’s trust will decrease for fear of rejection. Your trust will decrease due to suspicions of some secrets.
The only way to remedy this downward spiral is RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance accepts our spouse warts and all. Radical acceptance continues to love in spite of mistakes. Radical acceptance loves in the face of shortcomings. And, radical acceptance opens the door for change. You and your spouse can invest more energy in growing and becoming better people when you no longer have to invest energy in building a wall of secrecy and guarding your heart. You and your spouse will also desire to spend more energy in pleasing one another when you know you will receive radical acceptance…even when you make a mistake. How can you practice radical acceptance?
- See your spouse through the eyes of God. Realize they are God’s workmanship, designed for His purpose. Any non-acceptance of your spouse is a non-acceptance of God and His work of art. Focus on your spouse’s God-given strengths and abilities.
- Keep open lines of communication. Speak the truth in love. When must deal with difficult issues (and you will), do so in love. Speak only about one concern at a time rather than generalizing and throwing in the kitchen sink. This will be easier to do when you resolve differences quickly and keep no record of wrongs. Share the concern without accusation and offer a way to resolve it as well.
- Focus on what you admire about your spouse. Admire and bless. Show gratitude and speak words of encouragement…every day!
Radical acceptance is a gift of grace we give our spouses and our spouses give to us. Radical acceptance is also a gift that keeps on giving. It gives a tremendous return of security, trust, and intimacy…the chance to stand before our spouse completely naked and completely unafraid!
Play offers innumerable benefits to your marriage. Let me name a few.
So, take time to play this week. Go out with your spouse and enjoy some fun. Joke around. Play some games. Laugh. Laugh some more. And enjoy the play as it strengthens your marriage!
Remember what the Blue Fairy told Pinocchio? She said, “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.” A research team from University College London recently observed that a lie also results in a declining response in our brains (Read more in How Lying Takes Our Brain Down a ‘Slippery Slope’). Specifically, they discovered the amygdala, a brain area associated with emotional response, reacted strongly when a person first lied for personal gain. However, with each subsequent lie, the amygdala response declined and the magnitude of the lie increased. In other words, one lie set the person on a slippery slope. With each lie, the person lying experienced smaller and smaller negative emotional reactions in response to the lie. This seemed to allow the person to tell more lies and lies of greater significance. That is one slippery slope I want to keep my family off. Unlike Pinocchio, I want to keep noses short and brains active in my family by promoting honesty…and here’s how to do it.
- Model honesty. Whether you are speaking to your spouse, your child, or a friend, speak the truth in love. Our children follow our example more easily than they follow our teaching. So, model honesty.
- Avoid setting your children up. Don’t ask questions that invite your children to lie, especially if you already know the answer. For instance, if you know your child did not take out the garbage, don’t ask “Did you take the garbage out?” If you already know they broke the dish, don’t ask “Did you break the dish?” Don’t invite the lie. Simply state the truth in love.
- Reward honesty; discipline the lie. When your children tell the truth, acknowledge their honesty. Let them know how much you value their honesty and respect the courage it takes to state the truth. You may still have to discipline misbehavior. However, even while disciplining misbehavior, you can still acknowledge your children’s honesty. On the other hand, dishonesty may result in further discipline. After all, honesty betrays trust and damages relationship…which brings us to the last tip.
- Teach the value of honesty. You can do this in a number of ways. Talk about a character in a story or movie and discuss how their honesty or lack of honesty affected them. You can talk to them about their own experiences or their friends’ experience of honesty or dishonesty as well. You may also discuss the role models of honesty such as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or other people you know from history or current times.
These four tips can promote honesty in your home…as well as shorter noses and more active brains. So remember, a lie is as plain as the nose on your face. Practice honesty.
I’m really not surprised by the findings of this study when I think about it…but it took four studies to bring this information to light. Unfortunately, it seems to be some of the common knowledge that has been lost over the last several generations. Research out of the University of Chicago—Booth School of Business explored the impact of sharing food on feelings of closeness, trust, cooperation, and negotiation. The findings from these four studies suggest at least three things. (Read the study here)
- Eating similar foods with another person increases a sense of closeness and trust between them.
- Eating similar food leads to greater cooperation, a greater willingness to compromise, and faster resolution of differences.
- When a person gives information (in the form of a testimonial or advertisement), the information they give is trusted more when the speaker eats similar food as the listener.
These studies were done in terms of business and the authors made several applications to business. But what does it mean for families? First, I think it reminds us that the family meal is a wonderful time to build closeness and trust. As we sit down with our families to a meal in which we all eat “similar foods,” we can discuss ideas and happenings. We build trust. We cooperate and compromise in resolving minor differences.
Second, when you need to have a serious family discussion, put out some snacks to eat while you talk. Everyone does not have to eat the exact same food, but similar foods like “sweet” food, “salty” food, pizza (even with various toppings), noodles…you get the idea. By supplying similar food for everyone to eat, you create an environment geared toward:
- Increased closeness and trust
- Greater cooperation
- Greater likelihood of listening to one another’s points of view
- A greater willingness to compromise and reach a resolution more quickly.
This may all sound silly, but think about a scenario with me. Your 17-year-old daughter has been consistently coming in after curfew. So, you set out some crackers and cheese before asking her to sit down to talk with you. You pour her a glass of her favorite pop and share crackers and cheese while talking about her growing up and becoming more independent, the continued need for curfew, what she wants, and what you want. Imagine that conversation as compared to one in which you sit down with her at a bare table to talk about curfews.
- Which will promote defensiveness and which will encourage cooperation?
- Which will contribute to arguing and which might encourage listening?
- Which will likely lead to escalating emotions and which will promote remaining calm?
- Which promotes asserting my needs and which encourages respecting one another?
The answer seems plain to me. Eating together can help us resolve our differences and reach an agreement more easily. It may not produce a miracle, but it can sure help reach a respectful understanding and connection. Give it a try and see what happens.
Defensiveness can kill a marriage. Think about it. One spouse, feeling attacked by the other, begins to defend himself and his actions. He builds a wall of defense between him and his spouse rather than around him and his spouse. He thinks of protecting himself, not his marriage. By establishing a wall of protection between him and his wife, he sends an implicit message that he will not accept her influence. The wall between them grows taller and thicker with each defensive experience. The couple grows more divided. Trust is breached. Overtime, this stance of defensiveness will build a wall strong enough to kill a marriage.
We want to tear down the wall of defensiveness between spouses and build a wall of protection around their marriage. Both spouses generally play a role in creating defensiveness; and both spouses need to play a role in ending that defensiveness. Here are 5 ways to decrease defensiveness in your marriage and assure a wall of protection is built around you and your spouse rather than between you and your spouse.
- Cherish your spouse. Do something to let your spouse know you cherish her every day. Thank her for what she does to maintain your home. Acknowledge her wisdom and care in parenting and caring for you. Recognize and voice your respect for the work she accomplishes on the job, in your home, and in the community. Let your daily words and actions reflect how much you cherish your spouse.
- Build trust with your spouse. The kisses when you part and the hugs when you reunite build trust. Completing the chores you said you would to complete and keeping the promises (large and small) you made build trust. Spending time laughing, playing, working, and just being with your spouse and children every day builds trust. Trust is built on the little things done throughout the day every day.
- Each spouse can decrease defensiveness by taking responsibility for his or her actions. Listen for the kernel of truth in what you perceive as an accusation. It may be small, but accept even the smallest role you played in creating the situation. Acknowledge your part. Take responsibility. Apologize.
- Accept your spouse’s influence by committing to change your part in the situation. As you do, your spouse will feel heard and understood. Feeling heard increases the desire for intimacy…and isn’t that what you really want in your marriage?
- Complain instead of criticize. (Read For a Healthy Marriage Complain, Don’t Criticize). A criticism accuses, blames, and defames. A complaint focuses on the behavior you want to change. Focus on the behavior, not the person, when you bring up a concern.
Practice these five actions and you will build a wall of protection around your marriage rather than a wall of defense.