Tag Archive for intimacy

4 Surprising Things Happily Married Couples Do

Happy marriages don’t just happen. They develop between spouses who consistently engage in certain actions. In other words, happy marriages are cultivated by couples who actively nurture their marriage. With that in mind, here are 4 surprising ways happily married couples nurture their marriage.

  1. Happily married couples disagree and argue. They know that disagreements offer them an opportunity to learn more about one another. Disagreements and arguments open the door to the intimacy of knowing one another more deeply. So rather than defend, blame, and criticize, they respect, listen, and validate. In doing so, they learn that even their points of disagreement are times to cherish as they nurture a happier marriage.
  2. Happily married couples spend time alone. Sure, happily married couples spend a lot of time as a couple, but each spouse also spends time alone. We all need some “alone” time. Happily married couples enjoy that alone time. Each spouse has a confidence in their relationship that allows them to spend alone time to take care of themselves without fear of it damaging their relationship. As a result, they can purse hobbies and personal growth. They can come back from time alone refreshed and ready to pour themselves into their marriage in new and loving ways.
  3. Happily married couples accept one another’s influence. My friends once asked me to go out with them after work. I told them I had to “check with my wife.” You know what they said: “You’re whipped man.” And that is the most complimentary insult I’ve ever received. It means I allow my wife to influence me. It means my wife and her happiness are more important to me than a night out. It means my wife knows she has priority in my life. It means I accept her influence in my life. Do you accept the influence of your spouse?
  4. Happily married couples give it up for one another. In other words, spouses in a happy marriage sacrifice for one another. Every marriage demands some sacrifice. We sacrifice our unbridled freedom to commit to our spouse. We sacrifice time doing what we want in order to do things our spouse wants to do. We sacrifice the remote to watch a show our spouse wants to watch. We sacrifice the last piece of pie. We sacrifice…. You get the idea. From small sacrifices to grand sacrifices, happily married couples are willing to give it up for their spouse. No, they aren’t just willing, they are happy to give it up for their spouse to lift up their marriage. After all, they love their spouse.

Happily married couples do more than just these 4 things (like serve, honor, encourage, admire, etc.), but these are 4 rather surprising things happily married couples do. Do you?

To Deeper Connection and Beyond

Buzz Lightyear challenges his friends to go to “infinity and beyond.” I’m ok avoiding infinity actually. But I do want to move to deeper connection and beyond with my spouse and family. I think most people do. Connecting with other people in a deep and meaningful way makes us happy, especially when that other person is our spouse. In fact, we have a deep need for emotional connection to our spouse. And, if we perceive something as threatening our connection with our spouse, we do all sorts of crazy things—like argue, blame, accuse, give the silent treatment—in an attempt to reconnect. These actions rarely work well; but, like a toddler crying and screaming when dropped off at day care, we hope our behavior will bridge the disconnection and bring us back into synchrony and deep connection with our spouse.

There is a better way to restore our connection with our spouse, a way that doesn’t involve those “crazy actions.” Ironically, a series of twelve experiments focused on building greater connection to strangers provides us with solid instructions for restoring connection to our spouse as well. In these experiments, researchers asked pairs of people to discuss either deep or shallow topics. Sometimes they gave them the topics and sometimes the pair came up with their own topic. Shallow topics involved small talk like questions about weather, a TV show, or a recent sporting event. Deeper topics included more personal, intimate information about emotions, values, or personal desires. Participants also made predictions before having the conversation about 1) how awkward the conversation would be, 2) how connected they would feel, and 3) how much enjoyment they would experience. After the conversation they rated their actual experience in the same three areas.

Not surprisingly, those who discussed the deep topics found the conversation more enjoyable than those who engaged with one another on shallow topics. Those who discussed deep topics tended to overestimate how awkward the conversation would be. Additionally, if allowed to have a shallow conversation with one partner and a deep conversation with another, they preferred the deeper one. Most importantly, those who discussed deeper topics also experienced a stronger sense of connection with their partner.

As one of the researchers said, “If you share something meaningful and important, you are likely to get something meaningful and important exchanged in return, leading to a considerably better conversation…” and, I might add, a deeper connection.

The application to marriage is obvious, right? We want to know meaningful, important things about our spouses and their lives. They want to know meaningful and important things about us. We are interested in having a deeper conversation as a couple and so does our spouse. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and only talk about the “shallower topics” needed to manage our lives together, topics like family chores, children’s schedules, dinner plans, house maintenance. All these topics need to be discussed and managed. However, for deeper intimacy, we need to make time to discuss deeper topics as well. Put down the cell phones and tablets, turn off the TV, look at your spouse, and enjoy a conversation about the deeper, more meaningful aspects of life. If you struggle to think of what might constitute a deeper conversation, try these 10 conversation starters.

  • What first attracted you to me?
  • Would you rather talk about your problems or wait until they are resolved?
  • What are the top 5 things on your bucket list?
  • What is something you cannot live without?
  • What is your biggest struggle right now? How can I help?
  • What makes you the happiest?
  • What has been your greatest accomplishment as an individual? What do you think has been our greatest accomplishment together?
  • What is the best part of our relationship?
  • If you could change one thing about how you grew up, what would it be? Why?
  • What qualities do you most love about me? 

Enjoy sharing these questions with your spouse…and enjoy going to deeper connection and beyond.

Don’t Let Your Family Go Hungry…For Touch

Virginia Satir said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”  She realized something very important for our families. Our children, our parents, and our spouses need our healthy touch. Without healthy touch, our family will get “touch hungry” and that’s worse than “hangry.” For instance, one study involving 509 adults found “touch hunger” increased loneliness, depression, and stress while decreasing happiness, relationship satisfaction, and relational security. Another study found “touch hunger” reduced satisfaction and closeness in romantic relationships.

“Touch hunger” doesn’t just impact our mood and relationships either. It can have an actual physical impact as well. For instance, one study found that 10 minutes of holding hands followed by a 20 second hug with a partner, contributed to lower blood pressure and heart rate during a stressful experience. Other studies have shown “touch hunger” contributes to an increased sense of physical pain and disturbed sleep. Finally, this study and this study suggest that hugging increased immune health in general and, more specifically, those who were hugged more were less likely to show symptoms of a virus (the common cold) than those who were not hugged. And, when they did show symptoms, the symptoms were less severe.

I don’t want my family to go hungry for touch, do you?  I don’t want them to experience “touch hunger.” I want them to enjoy the healthy touch that contributes to less stress, greater happiness, and more secure relationships. I want them to receive enough healthy touch that they sleep well, experience less physical pain, and maintain a healthy immune system. I’m sure you do as well.  Make time today to hug your family. Better yet, hug them several times. After all, they deserve more than survival and maintenance. They deserve growth.

I Love Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day but…not everyone is happy about that. In fact, I’ve heard some countries actually ban Valentine’s Day. But wouldn’t it be nice to add a little more love into our families and our communities? After all, “love cures people—both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it” (Dr. Karl Menninger). Our families and communities are definitely in need of healing.

Valentine’s Day is a day to remind ourselves that love is a great gift to give our spouse, our children, our parents…and our friends and neighbors. As Victor Hugo said, “the greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” And the knowledge that somebody loves us allows us to know our true selves and our true beauty. “It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being” (John Joseph Powell). In other words, the gift of love allows us to become the best version of ourselves…even if we start off a bit like a beast. That is “the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable” (G. K. Chesterton). Love your family.

Some fear love. Maybe they’ve been hurt, or they fear losing their sense of freedom by putting on the “old ball and chain.” But “if we commit ourselves to one person for life, this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather, it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession but participation” (Madeleine L’Engle). Likewise, “love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning” (Esther Perel). Security, adventure, freedom, and true knowledge of self and other…they’re all wrapped up in love. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. Something to celebrate and share on Valentine’s Day.

“Oh, [and] how a quiet love can drown out every fear” (Jessica Katoff). “…Perfect love casts out fear” (Peter, the apostle of Christ). Why? Because fear involves punishment. Fear involves betrayal. Fear involves hurt. But love casts all that out. Love heals. Love cherishes. Love builds up. Love provides a safe haven and secure port. Love lets us rest “naked and unafraid” in the arms of another. That’s a great Valentine’s Day gift.

But don’t get me wrong. Love does demand something of the one who love. It demands action. Love is a verb, not a noun. “Love doesn’t sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread; remade all of the time, made new” (Ursula K. Leguin). We have to invest in love with a curiosity to know the other person, a desire to serve the other person, and a willingness to sacrifice for their benefit. Will you invest in love? When you do, you’ll know why I love to celebrate Valentine’s Day every day.

The Superpower of a Pronoun

When it comes to resolving marital conflicts, pronouns have superpower. At least that’s what a 2009 study published in Psychology and Aging found. In this study, 154 couples engaged in three 15-minute conversations: one conversation focused on the events they experienced during the day, one focused on a topic of marital conflict, and one focused on a pleasant topic. The main focus of the study was the 15-minute conversation using a topic of marital conflict and what personal pronouns the couple used most often during that conversation. The researchers categorized pronouns into pronouns of togetherness (like “we,” “our,” and “us”) and pronouns of separateness (like “I”, “me,” and “your”).  The results? Pronouns emphasizing “togetherness” had a superpower in the conflict conversation. Specifically, couples who used pronouns like “we” “our”, and “us” showed less stress and behaved more positively toward one another than those using “separateness” pronouns. And those using “separateness” pronouns reported being less happy in their marriages.

Of course, thinking in terms of “togetherness” is not the norm in our individualistic society, a society which focuses on “me” and “mine.”  So, it may take a little work to set your mind on the “we” of your marriage rather than the “I” of yourself.  (You can learn how in The Blessing of the Royal We.) As you learn to think in terms of “togetherness, using especially in the midst of conflict, you will experience less stress in your marriage and a better marital relationship.  As a co-author of this study said,” Individuality is a deeply ingrained value in American society, but, at least in the realm of marriage, being part of a ‘we’ is well worth giving up a bit of ‘me.’”

Preventing Intimacy Drift in Your Marriage

We all desire intimacy, especially with our spouses. Growing the type of intimacy we desire begins when we plant and nurture the seed of self-disclosure. In fact, without self-disclosure we will never move from acquaintance to the deeper intimacy of marriage.  Unfortunately, long-term relationships, like marriage, can experience a decrease in self-disclosure as each spouse drifts away from the other. But I have good news. We can prevent our marriages from drifting apart by nurturing the seed of self-disclosure, creating an environment that will allow it to grow and bring greater marital intimacy. Here are four ways you can nurture the seed of self-disclosure in your marriage.

  • Create daily, routine opportunities to meet and talk with your spouse. Set aside 22 minutes after work, before work, or in the evening to talk with your spouse about your day. Make this a time of conversation an opportunity to dream together, admire one another, and express gratitude to one another. You may also set aside a routine time to meet with your spouse for the purpose of resolving differences, planning, or solving marital struggles. Make this time different than the 22 minutes set aside to share your lives. For these problem-solving meetings, develop a routine way to inform one another of the need to meet. This could be as simple as asking, “Can we talk tonight?” or more symbolic like lighting a certain candle.  Just choose something that will signal the need to come together for a loving opportunity to resolve a disagreement or plan ahead. In doing so, you will nurture the seed of self-disclosure and grow greater intimacy.
  • Laugh with your spouse. Have fun together. Studies indicate that people who laugh together are more likely to disclose personal information to one another. In other words, laughing together sets the stage for more self-disclosure and more self-disclosure leads to greater intimacy…and it all begins with laughing.
  • Share hopes and fears, but also simple preferences. We enhance intimacy by disclosing simple things about ourselves as well as by sharing the more vulnerable disclosures of deep conversations. Disclosing simple things like music preferences, food preferences, thoughts about a book you’re reading, or various news stories can lay the groundwork for disclosing deeper hopes and fears. Don’t be fooled into thinking you already know your spouse’s simple preferences. People change; so, keep sharing your simple preferences as well as your deeper hopes, fears, and opinions. In doing so, you nurture the seed of self-disclosure to grow deeper intimacy.
  • Listen to understand your spouse rather than to simply hear. Hearing your spouse’s words enough to repeat is merely parroting them. All of us want more than that from our spouse. We want our words, our intent, and our motives to be understood. When we feel understood, we feel valued by the one who invested their time and energy to know us better. We know we are in a safe place, a place where we can plant another seed of self-disclosure and grow the fruit of greater intimacy.

Don’t let intimacy drift rob you of your marriage. Nurture the seed of self-disclosure with these four actions and enjoy the fruits of greater intimacy in your marriage.

Two Questions Every Couple Silently Asks

Every couple asks at least two questions of one another. The way in which we answer these two questions will either create a happy, lifetime marriage or a doomed marriage. Here’s the trick though. We ask these questions without ever saying the words. They are silently implied through our actions, interactions, and other questions.

The first question is: “Can I trust you?”

  • When I ask you to do something, can I trust you to work on it?
  • When your friends try to influence you to do something, can I trust you to accept my influence above the influence of your friends?
  • Can I trust you to keep me as a priority above your friends?
  • When you’re upset with me, can I trust you to still love me?
  • I know you love your family, but can I trust you to make me the first priority in your life?
  • When we are apart, can I trust you to remain faithful? 

The second question is very similar: “Are you there for me?”

  • When I am sad or troubled, are you there for me?
  • When I need help around the house, are you there for me?
  • When I need someone to listen, are you there for me?
  • When I want to just have fun with someone I love, are you there for me?
  • When I need to talk, are you there for me?
  • Are you there for me emotionally? Physically? Mentally?

The next time you find yourself in an argument with your spouse because the dishwasher was not unloaded, you need to answer your spouse’s unspoken question: “Are you there for me? Will you do your part to help keep our home.”

When you find yourself in a marital a battle over how much time you spend with your friends, you need to answer your spouse’s unspoken question: “Can I trust you? Or do I need to worry about you leaving me for your friends when I need you most?”

When time watching television, playing video games, or exercising becomes a source of conflict, answer the question: “Are you there for me? Or will the attention you give something else take you away from me?”

If you spouse seems to get upset and argue with you every time you talk about a coworker, you might want to answer the unspoken question: “Can I trust you? Do you talk about me with the same enthusiasm and adoration?” The list goes on, but you get the idea. “Can I trust you? Are you there for me?” Make sure the answer is clear.

Give Your Spouse This Daily Romantic Booster Shot

Thanksgiving has passed. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop expressing gratitude for things your spouse does and says. In fact, I like to think of Thanksgiving as the beginning of another year to express gratitude to my spouse. I know. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and lose sight of the little things our spouses do for our families every day. Many of us may get so busy we don’t even recognize the little things for which we could be grateful. Or we simply take them for granted in the midst of our daily rush. However, the authors of a study published in 2010 found expressing gratitude helps to “solidify a relationship.” Expressing gratitude increases relationship satisfaction and connection for both spouses, both the one who gives thanks and the one who received thanks. Couples still noted a boost in their relationship satisfaction and connection the day after an expression of gratitude. In other words, expressing gratitude functioned as a “booster shot to the relationship.”

Other studies have also shown that a daily “gratitude booster shot” of gratitude helps couples maintain a high level of relationship satisfaction over time (Lack of Gratitude Will Sink Your Marital Ship), vaccinates against impulsiveness and increases patience (7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research), and even helps promote physical health (A Free Supplement for Your Family’s Health). Doesn’t that sound like a great booster shot to give your spouse and your marriage. And…it does not hurt. There are no negative side effects. Just a happier, healthier marriage.

So, give your spouse a booster shot, a romantic booster shot filled with daily doses of gratitude.

An Amazing Moment of Creating Power

There are moments that hold great power in your marriage and family. One moment in particular holds amazing power for your family. This moment occurs multiple times throughout your day. It happens when you are preparing your breakfast and your spouse or your child walks into the kitchen. It arises when your child bursts through the door upon returning home from school. It occurs when your spouse returns home from work or grocery shopping or working in the yard and walks into the room where you sit. Have you identified this powerful moment yet? It is a moment of greeting, of reuniting.

The moment of greeting is a powerful moment. A simple greeting starts the process of interaction. When we greet our spouse or children, we have opened the door to creating an experience together. We have created the opportunity for connection. This opportunity for connection grows as we continue the interaction and shapes the whole environment of our home.

Consider this study, published in January 2007 , that looked at emails in two organizations. One organization was struggling with conflict, low morale, and turnover. Their emails were short and simply offered information. They did not even include a simple greeting of “Hi” plus the person’s name. The email sent the implicit message of business is top priority and people are secondary.

The other company had a “very positive culture.” Their emails included greetings, a “widespread use” of “Hello” plus the person’s name. It seemed to communicate that people mattered and staff was valued.

We want to build a family environment that communicates value to each family member. We want our family to know they matter; that we value them. Communicating this important message begins with a greeting.

“Hi, how are you doing?”
“Hey, how’s the yard work going?”
“Look at you. What has you so excited?” “Hello. How was work?”

You pick the question and the greeting. Whatever greeting you choose, that greeting opens the door for connection. And as you both follow the question with a conversation, you create relationship by getting to know one another better.

Would you like to build a deeper connection with your spouse? Maintain a connection with your teen? Enjoy connection with your family? It all begins with that amazing moment of creative power—the moment of greeting.

Happy Marriages Practice These 5 Habits

Marriage can either give you a glimpse of heaven or a taste of hell. Let me repeat that…. A healthy marriage truly gives each person a glimpse of heaven on earth. But an unhappy marriage, a marriage dying on the rocks, is one of the most painful things I have ever seen, a true taste of hell. Nobody wants a taste of hell to linger in their life. We want a glimpse of heaven instead. So, how do we develop a healthy marriage? What are the essentials of a healthy, happy marriage? Let me share five….

  1. A healthy marriage develops a daily habit of sharing gratitude and appreciation for one another. They acknowledge what they adore and admire in their spouse as often as possible. This daily habit of looking for things to admire, appreciate, adore, and show gratitude for one another builds friendship…and friendship is crucial to any healthy, happy marriage. In fact, some would say a strong friendship with your spouse is foundational to a healthy marriage and I agree.
  2. People in a healthy marriage enjoy spending time together. They play together. They enjoy activities together. They like to talk to one another. They are best friends and they love spending time together. In fact, research suggests that engaging in “novel activities” together strengthens marriage (Get Self-Expansion Without the Chubbiness). So, enjoy date nights with your spouse. Plan some date nights around new (or novel) activities. Have fun together.
  3. People in happy marriages think as a team. They turn toward one another to celebrate and grieve. When one spouse has a problem, the other spouse supports them, comforts them, and problem-solves with them. When one spouse does well, the other spouse rejoices…and they can’t wait to rejoice together. When all is said and done, whether in good times or bad, people in a healthy marriage know they can count on one another 100 percent of the time.
  4. People in a healthy marriage know how to manage stress and conflict. Each individual has learned how to soothe their own negative emotions. They can calm their stress. Each one also remains aware of their partner’s emotions; and they use that awareness to build their relationship. They don’t “push buttons.”  They don’t want their spouse, their best friend, to hurt so they comfort and nurture them. They take time to listen and accept. They become curious to learn their partner’s thoughts and feelings rather than dogmatically assert their own. They compromise and even agree to disagree. (Gottman notes that up to 69% of marital disagreements are unsolvable, which actually presents a wonderful opportunity to love someone who thinks differently than us.)
  5. People in a healthy marriage share a mission, a value. They have a shared meaning. Couples may find that shared meaning in religious service, family, environmental action, justice, or something other value bigger than the self. The mission that creates a shared meaning for a couple may change over time and with various “seasons of life.”  However, whatever the shared meaning is, it represents a mission rooted in some higher value. What is the shared meaning of your marriage? Raising a family, participating in religious service together, standing for justice, caring for nature?

Marriage can bring a glimpse of heaven. Practicing these five habits in your marriage will set it on the path to see that glimpse of heaven. Even better, you can live in that glimpse of heaven…and isn’t that better than hell.

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