Tag Archive for intimacy

In Marital Conflict, “What” Is In Charge

When it comes to conflict with your spouse, “what” is in charge. Not who, “what.” If left to its own devices, the “what” in charge of your marital conflict will leave no “who” in charge. Let me explain.

In many marital arguments, anger and fear represent the “what” that takes charge. Anger and fear shape our reactions and our words. When anger takes charge, it may lead us to blame our spouse or our parents or our boss…anybody but ourselves. Anger may also direct us to belittle our spouse, maybe even call our spouse a few names. When anger is the “what” in charge of conflict, the result in disaster.

Fear is “what” takes charge of marital conflict even more often than anger. Fear, in fact, is often the true commanding officer of the conflict and anger merely fear’s emissary. Fear, if it does not turn to its emissary anger, will lead us to become defensive, distant, or avoidant during the marital conflict.

When anger or fear take charge of a conflict, there is no “who” in charge. Anger and fear have formed a coup and taken charge…and the results are disastrous: blaming, defending, belittling, feeling rejected, emotional distance, more anger, and more fear. The hurt caused by anger and fear puts us on guard, ever vigilant for the next slight, the next provocation. There is no security and no winner when anger and fear are the “what” in charge of your marital disagreement.

None of us want fear and anger to run our martial conflict. So, “what” do we want to take charge of our marital conflicts? Empathy. Empathy commands us to listen and intentionally work to understand. Empathy directs us to seek connection and intimacy above “winning” or “being right.” Empathy calms the fear and resolves the anger. “What”—anger, fear, or empathy—may take charge of your marital conflict, but “WHO” determines which “what” will take charge. “Who” will make that decision? You. Only you can choose how you will engage in the conflict. Only you can choose which “what” will take charge of the marital conflict—anger, fear, or empathy. You, only you, can choose your response. Be the “who” that takes charge of the “what” that shapes your response during marital conflict.

Step back. Take a breath. Choose “empathy” as the “what” to direct your conflict. You will be so glad you did. And do you know “who” else will be glad? Your spouse.

Those Aren’t Fightin’ Words

Every couple has their disagreements. Parents and teens have disagreements as well. Sometimes those disagreements escalate. Emotions flair. Words fly. We say things we wish we had never said. Rather than letting the escalation go that far, try doing or saying something different, something to calm emotions and deescalate the situation. Here are some words to try. Believe me, “these aren’t fightin’ words.”

Even if you disagree:

  • “Good point.”
  • “I’m glad you explained that to me.” “
  • “So, you’re saying that….”

To move into a conversation:

  • “Explain that to me one more time. I want to make sure I understand.”
  • “I’m not sure I really understand. Can you explain it more?”
  • “I understand why you would want that.”
  • “I see. That makes sense now. Have you thought about…?
  • “I hadn’t thought about that before.”

If it starts to escalate:

  • “You’re really passionate about this aren’t you?
  • “I can tell this means a lot to you.”
  • “You sound angry/upset/ frustrated.”
  • “I have trouble listening when you speak that way. Could you speak more calmly (or ‘change your tone’ or ‘lower your voice please’?”
  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed, can we take a break and finish this conversation at (note a time)?”

Good to say at any time…and all the time:

  • “I love you.”
  • “Even if we disagree, we’ll figure it out together.”
  • “I’m glad we’re together.”
  • “We make good team.”
  • “I love you.”

These phrases are what John Gottman calls “repair statements.” They can help calm emotions during a disagreement and keep you on track for a positive resolution. Give them a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Big Things or the Best Things in Small Packages

I’ve heard it said that “big things come in small packages” and that “the best things come in small packages.” When it comes to marital conflict, I agree with both statements.

Sometimes “big things do come in small packages.” Unfortunately, these “small packages” can bring “big things” like dynamite to blow your marriage up. For instance, “small package words” like name-calling can create “big thing problems” and explode in your face. “Small package words” include phrases like “That’s stupid,” “You always burn the toast,” “You’re lazy,” or “You never clean this house.” These “small package words” create “big thing problems” that become a minefield in your marriage.  One wrong step and they explode to release anger that has built up in response to these “small package words.”

“Small package actions” can also cause “big thing problems.” Rolling the eyes, a demeaning laugh, or simply walking away in the middle of a discussion are “small problem actions” that lead to “big thing problems.” It’s true that “big things come in small packages” but those “small packages” can blow your marriage up.

On the other hand, the “best things come in small packages” as well. For instance, “small package words” like “Thank you,” “I love you,” or “You’re the best” are the “best things” to hear. Through such “small packages” we know we are loved, valued, appreciated, and adored…and those are the “best things” we can receive in our marriage.

“Small package actions” can also give us the “best things.” For instance, intentional and patiently listening to our spouse is one of the “best things” we can offer.  Such a “small package” but one that reveals the “best things,” our love and concern.

Another “small package” that gives our spouse the “best things” is a thoughtful response or loving question. “Small package” statements like “Tell me more about that,” “You sound excited (sad, unsure, or whatever emotion fits the context),” or “Can you explain that more so I can understand better?” These short phrases, “small packages” so to speak, express interest and value in the one we love and that’s one of the “best things” we can offer our spouse.

Yes, “big things” and “the best things come in small packages.” Just make sure the “small package” you give to your spouse is one that gives the “best things” you have to give.

The Proactive Relationship Advancement sYstem

Every couple wants to keep their marriage healthy and strong. In fact, we all want our marriages to grow stronger and healthier every day. Expressing gratitude to our spouse is one great way do this. But a study published in May of 2020 suggests an even more powerful way. I call it the Proactive Relationship Advancement sYstem [ P.R.A.Y.].

This study involved 95 married couples and sought to discover if general gratitude had a different impact on marriage than prayers of gratitude. A person who practices general gratitude expresses gratitude easily. They tend to attribute good intent to their spouse, notice the good things their spouse does, and openly express gratitude for it. As you can imagine, this general gratitude contributes to a happier, healthier marriage. In fact, according to this study, a husband’s general gratitude contributed to him having greater marital satisfaction. A wife’s general gratitude contributed to her having greater marital satisfaction as well. Notice, a person’s general gratitude enhanced their own level of marital satisfaction. Interestingly, a person’s expression of gratitude toward their spouse did not enhance their spouse’s marital satisfaction. In this study, it enhanced the grateful person’s own marital satisfaction.

So, how did prayers of gratitude for one’s spouse compare? After running statistical tests comparing the effect of prayers of gratitude to general gratitude, the authors concluded that a husband’s prayers of gratitude for his wife increased his marital satisfaction over and above what generalized gratitude did. The same was true for wives who engaged in prayer of gratitude for their husbands. It increased their marital satisfaction over and above general gratitude. They found one additional benefit that prayers of gratitude offered beyond what generalized gratitude offered. When a wife offered prayers of gratitude for her husband, her husband experienced greater marital satisfaction!

Interesting, right? Thanking God for your spouse increases your own marital satisfaction above and beyond the marital satisfaction gained through general gratitude. And a wife’s prayers of gratitude for her husband also increased her husband’s marital satisfaction. Prayers of gratitude for your spouse proactively strengthen your marriage. They become self-fulfilling, prophecies of an increasing marital satisfaction. With that in mind, I recommend we all start participating in this Proactive Relationship Advancement sYstem (P.R.A.Y.) today. For the sake of your marriage will you join me in P.R. A.Y.er? (For more on the impact of prayer in marriage, read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity.)

Materialism is Robbing Your Marriage

Some, like Madonna, might say “we are living in a material world” so the one “with the cold hard cash is always” the one I love. That may be the world in which we live, but is it the world of happy marriages? Researchers at Brigham Young University decided to find out. They asked 1,300 married people a series of questions to measure their level of materialism as well as a series of questions about their marriages. They discovered at least 3 things.

  1. The more materialistic a person was, the more dissatisfied they were in their marriage.
  2. Those who reported money was not important to them scored 15% higher on measures of marital satisfaction and stability. In other words, they were happy with their marriage and their marriage was more stable than those who thought money important.
  3. If both partners were materialistic, their relationship quality was lower than couples who had only one materialistic spouse. So even if both partners agreed about materialistic values, they were still dissatisfied.

Makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it? A person who excessively values materialistic things (money, possessions) expends their physical and emotional energy gaining wealth and working to appear wealthy. They expend less energy learning how to spend quality time with their spouse and family. They expend less energy on developing healthy communication skills and effective conflict resolution skills. And so, their relationship suffers.

This is not to say that money itself is bad. We all need enough money to live. But the “love of money,” prioritizing the material life above relationship, can rob your marriage of the intimacy it needs to survive. Unfortunately, many people say they value family above material goods but live a life that begs to differ. We must all honestly answer some hard questions to make sure our lived values match what we believe to be our values…after all, our actions speak louder than our words. So, ask yourself:

  • Do I act as if “things” inform others of my success? Do I have a secret desire to “keep up with the Joneses”?
  • Would my family say that I value work more than I value them? Do my actions suggest that work is more important than family? (You might want to ask a few people to make sure you hear the truth.)
  • Do I struggle with a desire for immediate gratification?
  • Do I put the desire for more possessions above emotional and relational goals of connection?
  • Do I think I need more things to be happy?  Or have I learned to be content with what I have?

It takes courage to answer these questions honestly. If you find yourself sounding like a “material girl (or boy)” in your answers:

  • Start reevaluating what you truly value in your life.
  • Practice daily gratitude.
  • Intentionally practice generosity.
  • Declutter and give things away.

Each of these practices can help you escape materialism…and keep materialism from robbing your marriage of intimacy and joy.

I Need You To Give Me…!

All of us have things we want to our spouse to give us. For instance, who doesn’t want to receive respect, validation, and approval from their spouse? Unfortunately, we often desire these things to fill an emptiness within us. So, we turn to our spouse and demand respect, validation, and approval. Unfortunately, demanding our spouse give us these things backfires. They will not always give it to us. Sometimes they will lack the inner resources to give us validation. Other times they will be preoccupied or exhausted. Or they may be craving the same thing from us. As a result, instead of experiencing the peace and joy of validation or approval we find ourselves caught up in the drama of two broken people demanding their partner save them from their own emptiness and perceived unworthiness. One incomplete or broken person seeking another incomplete or broken person to fix them and fill them up…it just will not work. Both people have shoved the responsibility for their individual emotional health and personal happiness onto another person who is struggling to find their own. Rather than being filled with peace and contentment, they become entangled in resentment, jealousy, and hurt.

There is a solution, however, and it begins with you as an individual. A joyous, intimate marriage consists of two people who have  matured enough to have their own personal sense of completion, wholeness, and worthiness. Both partners have learned an important lesson: “The thing you are looking to receive from others is the very thing you need to cultivate within yourself” (Rabbi Eli Deutsch). In other words, if you are looking for someone else to “complete you,” marriage is the wrong place to go (regardless of Jerry Maguire’s touching confession that “you complete me.”). If you desire validation, acceptance, and approval, begin by work on yourself and learning to care enough about yourself to give yourself the validation, approval, and acceptance you need. As you do, you will have more to give in relationship, more to offer your spouse in terms of intimacy. Ironically, you will also receive more validation and acceptance in return.

So, what is it that you want to receive from others? What do you demand your spouse give you? Slow down and give it to yourself. Use words of acceptance, validation, and approval when you talk to yourself. Fill yourself up and learn to give yourself the very thing you need.

Romance & Breast Cancer

What does romance have to do with breast cancer? According to research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, there is a definite relationship. Researchers from Ohio State University found a “clear trend” between romance and breast cancer after reviewing the data obtained through questionnaires and three separate blood samples taken from 139 women diagnosed with breast cancer. A “clear trend”? Yes. The more satisfied a woman felt about her romantic relationship, the lower her perceived stress and the lower her inflammation.  Elevated levels of inflammation are associated with cancer recurrence and other illness such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.  In fact, women’s inflammation markers were even lower at individual visits in which they reported satisfaction with their partner than during individual visits in which the same women reported less satisfaction. In other words, this research suggests a “clear trend” that a strong, healthy marriage reduces the chances of breast cancer recurrence and promotes positive overall health by reducing a woman’s perceived stress and inflammation markers in the blood.

Of course, this “clear trend” is not a cure-all. But it does provide us with important information. A healthy marriage can promote your spouse’s physical health. With that in mind, here are a dozen ways to build a healthy marriage, to keep your marriage strong and intimate.

  • Share time together. Intimacy and health within any relationship, especially marital relationships, are built upon time spent together.
  • Dream together. What do you want to do in five years? Ten years? What dreams do you want to fulfill with one another? For one another?
  • Share physical affection that includes non-sexual touch and sexual intimacy. (Is Your Marriage Like Chocolate Without Icing?)
  • Express gratitude. Even if you think your spouse simply did what they are supposed to do, thank them anyway. Gratitude builds relationship.
  • Expand your “love maps” of one another.  Learn about one another’s world of ideas, friends, and activities.
  • Express adoration and admiration for one another. Keep the adorable parts of your spouse in mind and make it a habit to compliment them often. (Here is an adoring Math Equation to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
  • Talk about problems as they arise and working to resolving them with your spouse’s best interest in mind. After all, to “shut up and put up” will destroy your marriage.
  • Apologize when necessary. Notice it says “when” not “if.” You will make mistakes. We all do. Be willing to eat a little humble pie and apologize for your mistakes and wrongdoings.
  • Forgive graciously. As Desmond Tutu’s book is famously titled, there is “no future without forgiveness.”
  • Honor your spouse by serving them. There is no greater way to show the full extent of your love than through the simple, daily, menial tasks of life.
  • Start a hobby you can both enjoy. This can help you enjoy time together.
  • Encourage your spouse’s dreams. Ask your spouse about their dream. Then do what you can to support that dream. Encourage them. Accompany them. Finance them. Dream with them.

Engaging in these activities will help you build a stronger, healthier marriage with your spouse. And that will promote your spouse’s health. That’s the power of love!

The Top 10 Ways to Promote Happiness in Your Family

Promote happiness in our families? I know I’d like to do that. How about you? Well, researchers in the UK may help us find an answer. They used smartphones to assess the happiness of “tens of thousands of individuals” engaged in various activities (39 specifically) at random times. Not surprisingly, the top activity contributing to happiness was “intimacy” and “making love.” Apparently, we enjoy intimate relationships (no surprise there). Our intimate relationships bring us happiness. That’s where we begin to promote happiness in our families…by building relationships.

The top 10 activities that brought people the greatest happiness in this study might be broadly sorted into three categories.

  • Outdoor activities like walking/hiking, hunting/fishing, gardening, birdwatching, and sports/exercising were noted to increase happiness. Each was in the top 10 activities promoting happiness.
  • A category I will call “artistic activities” also increased happiness. Artistic activities in the top 10 activities promoting happiness included theatre/dance/concert, museum/library, and singing. If we participate as an audience member in these activities, we often experience a sense of awe that can contribute to happiness. If we are a participant in the actual activity, we experience comradery and a potential syncing with other people.
  • Socialization activities contributed to happiness as well. This includes activities like talking/chatting/socializing and, of course, intimacy/making love. I would add a caveat. All the other activities listed in the top ten activities may easily involve socialization. We may engage in outdoor activities or artistic activities with other people. They may be activities that help us develop the intimacy that brings us happiness.

What does this mean for your family? You can increase your family happiness by engaging in outdoor activities and artistic activities together. Activities may range from fishing to going to the museum to singing together while gardening in the back yard. As you enjoy these various activities, socialize. Talk and chat. Enjoy one another’s company. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Now grab your spouse, your children, your parent…and get out there to nurture a happy family!

Intimacy…It’s Easier Than You Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Jealousy Threatens Your Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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