Tag Archive for intimacy

Death by Marriage

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I am an advocate for marriage. A happy, healthy marriage is a little taste of heaven. Studies even suggest that people sharing a happy, healthy marriage live longer, have fewer strokes, and survive major operations more often, and more ( 10 Science-Based Benefits of Marriage for Your Health – Healthy Hints). But those are the consequences of a healthy marriage. An unhealthy marriage, one in which partners are “dissatisfied,” can kill you, especially if you’re a male.

A study published in 2021 followed 8,945 men for 32 years while assessing their medical data, lifestyle choices, and marital satisfaction. After 32 years, 5,736 of the men had died. Men who were dissatisfied with their marriage were 19% more likely to die than those who reported being satisfied with their marriage. This increased risk of death was similar to the increased risk of death for smokers compared to non-smokers or for physically inactive people compared to active. More specifically, fatal strokes were 69% more common among those who reported an
unsuccessful (AKA—dissatisfying) marriage compared to those reporting having a very satisfying marriage. In other words, an unhealthy marriage is a health risk factor.

Rather than risk death by marriage, commit to improving your marriage and act on that commitment.

  • Read a good book on marriage with your spouse. More than simply reading it, put the ideas and principles discussed in the book into action. A great book to start might be John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (read a review here).
  • Find a good marital therapist. Many couples wait until they are at their whit’s end to find a marital therapist. By that time, they harbor resentment, and one person has often already decided to leave.  Find a marital therapist before it gets to that point.  Start working to improve your marriage when you find yourselves feeling just a little disconnected and don’t know how to fix it.
  • Attend a marriage education seminar or workshop every year. Take the ideas and principles you learn in the workshop and apply them for the rest of the year. Make them the habits of your successful marriage.

These ideas are ways for you to learn about one another and strengthen your marriage. Each one can teach you to turn toward one another and work as a team. They can help you rediscover and express what you admire in your spouse. And they can help you learn the importance of daily habits to keep your marriage strong. That may not fix everything immediately. You may still argue and have bad days. But you will find your marriage on an upward path of growing health, happiness, and life…rather than stumbling down the path of death by marriage.

Look Into My Eyes, See My Soul

Some say, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” Researchers at the University of Geneva took that saying to heart when considering the impact of making eye contact with another person. They found that when a person makes direct eye contact with another person, they perceive time as shorter than it objectively is. As a result, we may stare longer than we realized. They believe this occurs because meeting someone else’s gaze impacts our attentional system. We are drawn to another person’s gaze. We attend to their gaze and lose track of time. In other words, we hold the eye contact longer than we imagine. 

Although people lose track of how long they have held eye contact, most people find it difficult to maintain eye contact for an extended period of time…and by extended period of time I mean a mere 1-2 minutes. However, when we do look into one another person’s eyes for a period of time, we experience a new level of emotional intimacy. Just check out this 4-minute video to see what happens when people maintain eye contact for 4 minutes.  

So, here’s the challenge. Take 3-4 minutes right now and lose track of time with your spouse. Look into her spouse’s eyes. Make eye contact and hold it. You might be surprised at the feeling of vulnerability you experience but you will also enjoy the intimacy it creates. So gaze into your spouse’s eyes. Get lost in their gaze. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable and grow more intimate…Because when you look into one another’s eyes, you share a vision of your soul.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Remember the commercials that encouraged us to “reach out and touch someone” with a phone call? Their motto bounced around in our heads long before cell phones and texting. Now it’s even easier to “reach out and touch someone,” right? Just send a quick text or message them on Facebook. So much easier… or is it? Is texting enough to “reach out and touch someone”? Is it enough to keep a relationship strong and healthy? A study published in 2020 sought to answer that question.

In this study, participants predicted how awkward or enjoyable it would be to contact a friend with whom they had not interacted for two years. They also predicted how close they would feel after the contact. They made these predictions for both phone contact and email contact. Then they were randomly assigned to contact their friend by phone or email.

Most participants thought phone contact would make them more uncomfortable than email contact. However, this did not prove true. Those who made phone contact felt no more discomfort than those who made email contact, even if they had said they preferred to email. On the other hand, those who called were happier with the interaction and felt closer to the person they called than those who simply emailed.

In a second part of this study (following the same procedures as the first part), participants were randomly assigned to a voice chat, a video chat, or a text chat. Similarly, the voice chat and video chat resulted in feeling significantly closer to the other person than those who engaged in a text chat. Video chat and voice chat, on the other hand, revealed similar outcomes in satisfaction and sense of closeness. These results suggest that our voices are particularly powerful for increasing intimacy.

When I think about that, it makes sense. From the time we were babies, and even in utero, we have responded to and discriminated between voices. When we are stressed or upset, the voice of loved one, a spouse, or a parent can calm and soothe us. And how many of us would love to hear the voice of a loved one “just one more time” after they pass away?

What does this have to do with family? If you want to increase intimacy with your family, text a little less and call a little more. If you want to maintain closeness with your spouse and children even when you disagree, give them a call because it promotes greater understanding when we hear one another’s voice than when we read their text. In fact, hearing the voice of a family member may be the the medicine to cure what ails you. So, increase the intimacy in your family. Close the texting or messaging app. Dial the number and reach out to touch your family with a phone call or video chat. You’ll both be glad you did.

The Blessing of a “Royal We”

My spouse and I live alone in our house now…just the two of us. Our children have grown into beautiful young ladies, each of them living in their own homes. We can even have a pillow fight without anyone interfering or telling us to “settle down.” In addition, when my wife asks,” Did we run the dishwasher?” or I inquire if “we bought eggs?” we know what we are talking about.  Still, questions like that give me pause.

Why? For starters, it’s obvious that the person asking the question knows they didn’t do the task. The objective truth of the question asks if their spouse did the task. But rather than using the pronoun “you,” we both use the “Royal We.”

But that’s not really why the “Royal We” give me pause. The “Royal We” gives me pause because it reminds me how grateful I am to be part of our marital team. The “Royal We” reminds me that I am not alone. I live with a spouse who loves me and works with me to create a joyous marriage and life. Sure, we have our individual interests and strengths. We enjoy individual hobbies. We have our personal sensitivities and struggles. But, encompassing all our personal nuances and idiosyncrasies is the protective, loving “Royal We.”

As charter members of our “Royal We,” we have each other’s happiness in mind. We weep when the other weeps and rejoice when the other rejoices. We support one another in joyous times and in times of sorrow. We protect one another emotionally, mentally, and physically. We nurture one another’s dreams. Yes, we plan a future together.

Research suggests that a healthy “Royal We” is good for a marriage, too. Specifically, couples with a strong sense of “we” are more positive toward one another and feel less stressed. In other words, the “Royal We” supports happy, healthy marriages that nurture healthy individuals. So, how can you build the “Royal We” in your marriage?

First, be responsive to your spouse. John Gottman refers to this as “turning toward” one another. People within relationships make multiple bids for connection with one another. These bids may be as simple as eye contact or a comment about the weather. Or, they may be as direct as saying, “We need to talk.” In whatever way bids are made, couples who respond 86% of the time become “master couples” who experience greater joy and intimacy. Those who respond only 33% of the time are “disasters” and at risk of divorce. So, the first step in becoming a “Royal We” is to respond to your spouse.

Second, create rituals of connection. Build a ritual for reconnecting with your spouse after having spent time apart. The ritual can include a simple verbal greeting, a hug, and a kiss. It might also include an exchange highlighting anything important that happened while apart. So, take the time to reconnect after being apart. It’s simple…but it will have a powerful impact on your relationship and the strength of your “Royal We.”

Third, dream together. Look to the future and what adventures you would like to experience with your spouse. What do you want to do as a couple in five years? Ten years? What vacations would you like to enjoy together? What dreams can you nurture in your spouse and enjoy with them? How can you work toward these dreams and activities? Not only will you enjoy the dreams and activities in your future, but you will also enjoy the time you spend working toward those dreams and activities.

The “Royal We” fills me with gratitude…which leads me to one final aspect of building a strong sense of team in your marriage. Express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse. Thank your spouse often for being a part of your team, the “better half” of your “Royal We.”

Nurture Your Child’s Academic Success

Do you remember the feeling you had when “school’s out for summer.”? It was the moment of freedom and fun. Now that we have children in school, many parents worry that their children will fall behind over the summer months when they don’t have classes or a need to “study for the test.” But good news! A study published in 2019 suggests something more important than extra studies for a child’s academic success—TIME—specifically, time parents spend with their children. This study involved 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent to death before the age of 18 years, 77,000 children whose parents divorced, and 600,000 children who did not experience parental death or divorce. Not surprisingly, the death of a parent or divorce impacted a child’s academic success. But the specifics were much more interesting than that.

  • If a mother passed away, a father’s education became more important to the child’s academic success.
  • If a father passes away, a mother’s education became more important to a child’s academic success.
  • Overall, the results suggest that parental presence and involvement were more important than income. If income were the key factor, then losing the “bread winner” would have a larger academic impact. But it did not. In fact, the loss of the parent who spent more time with the child (generally the mother in this study) had the bigger impact. Time spent together was more important than income in promoting academic success in this study.
  • The negative effect of losing a mother can be partially minimized if the father remarries.
  • The research revealed similar results when a child experienced divorce in their family.

So, do you want to keep your child’s academic success moving forward over the summer months? Spend time with them. The time parents spend with their children has a powerful impact on their educational achievement…even more than income. Besides that, it’s fun to spend time with your children. You’ll enjoy the time you spend with your child. Your child will enjoy the time you spend with them. You will also promote their academic success as you develop an intimate relationship that will last…through college and beyond.

For Your Marriage’s Sake, Get Serious About Play

If you want a long and happy marriage, you may want to get serious about play. A sober review of the research on playfulness offered a thoughtful reminder of play’s far-reaching effect, what did this review reveal?

  • Playing as a couple facilitates the experience of positive emotions. Sharing positive emotions enhances relationship satisfaction.
  • Play also influences how couples communicate. Specifically, play helps couples communicate in ways that better deal with stress and resolve tension. This, in turn, can build trust.
  • Play strengthens intimacy and connection. Some suggest playfulness even serves as a positive ingredient of a satisfying sex life. What married couple doesn’t want that?

As you can see, play serves a crucial role in building a long and happy marriage. So, here is the prescription you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy a healthier marriage and have fun doing it.  Get serious about play. Grab your spouse and have some fun. Seriously, go PLAY for a better marriage.

Teach Your Child Happiness? You Bet

Who doesn’t want happy children? We all do…well, at least I know I do. But we often forget to teach them the skills and mindsets that contribute to happiness. No worries. It’s not too late. Now is the best time to start teaching them happiness. And here are 7 lessons to get started.

  • Teach your children gratitude. Happy people, just like the rest of us, have plenty of things to complain about but they have learned to focus on those things they are grateful for. They have learned to “give thanks in all things.” Teach your children to practice gratitude.
  • Teach your children to find their “flow.” Flow is an experience in which a person is fully immersed and involved in an activity they enjoy. Flow leaves us feeling energized and fulfilled. It is intrinsically rewarding and motivating. Help your child find those activities that give them a sense of flow. Such activities may include sports, dance, music, reading, yoga, hiking, or many others [For more read What is Flow in Psychology: Definition and 10+ Activities.].
  • Teach your child to celebrate the achievements of other people. Teach them there are plenty of opportunities for success and achievement to go around. Celebrate the successes of others. It is a great pathway to happiness.
  • Teach your child to take healthy risks. Teach them to enjoy an adventure, to leave their comfort zone to try something new or to go someplace new. People who try new things, meet new people, and go to new places tend to experience happiness as well.
  • Teach your children to persist. One way to do this is by acknowledging their efforts instead of their achievements. Acknowledging effort encourages persistence, even in the face of obstacles. Persistence contributes to happiness.
  • Teach your children to share. Studies have shown that toddlers who choose to share exhibit greater happiness. When you nurture your growing child’s willingness to share, you also nurture their happiness for a lifetime.
  • Teach your child that you love them. Remember, children have two currencies for love: time and attention. So spend time with your children. Engage them daily, even multiple times a day. Follow their lead in an activity. Recognize and acknowledge their contributions to the home, their efforts in school and their involvement in the community. Learn about their interests.

These seven things may not sound like much on the surface, but they will bring your child greater happiness…and that makes most parents happy as well.

Toward a Self-Compassionate Family Life

Three of the greatest obstacles to effective parenting are self-criticism, a lack of energy, and ruminating on our fears of doing the wrong thing. These same three obstacles interfere with a healthy marriage.  Fortunately, a study published in 2019 reveals two ways to overcome these obstacles. Both ways involve nurturing your self-compassion. Plus, they only take 10 to 20 minutes a day. Those 10-20 minutes a day will lower your heart rate (indicating relaxation), increase your feeling of connection to others, and boost your immune system. They will also increase your sense of security and turn down that self-critical voice in your head. As you can imagine, this will result in wiser choices and a more satisfying connection with your spouse and children. What are the two exercises?

One exercise is a compassionate body scan. A compassionate body scan involves paying attention to your body sensations in a kind, compassionate manner. Most body scans start at the head and quietly move down the body with compassionate attention to any sensations in the body. Here is an example of a brief (5-minutes) compassionate body scan.

The other exercise is a lovingkindness meditation. The lovingkindness meditation used in this study instructed a person to bring to mind someone for whom they feel a natural warmth and affection. They would then direct friendly wishes to this person (or offer prayers for this person’s well-being). They then offered the same friendly wishes to themselves. Here is a 9-minute lovingkindness meditation you might enjoy.

As noted above, these exercises resulted in a greater sense of security, increased relaxation, and a decrease in self-criticism. In terms of family, these changes open the door to greater connection and intimacy, wiser decisions, and more effective family interactions. Isn’t that worth 10-20 minutes a day?

Don’t Catch Depression From This Pandemic

Depression has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic studies suggested 11% of the population reported enough symptoms to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. In December of 2020, during the pandemic, 42% reported enough symptoms of depression to reach a diagnosis (COVID’s Mental Health Toll). In fact, the World Health Organization noted depression as the leading cause of disability in 2020. This increase in diagnosable symptoms is shocking, but not surprising. In fact, a study published in August of 2020 and drawing information from a database of over 100,000 participants revealed social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression. So, it comes as no surprise that after a year of needing social distancing and “shelter-in-place” protocols that depression has increased. The question is: how can we connect socially while maintaining a level of physical safety? After all, our emotional lives depend on social connection, the frequency of confiding in one another, and the opportunity to visit with family and friends. How can we help our families connect socially? Here are just two ideas.

  • Consider each family member’s interests and look for groups related to those interests. This may include sports, music, scouting, science, or other clubs. Find out how various groups are encouraging involvement during this time. They may meet over zoom. Maybe they have small groups meeting while necessary precautions. You may also participate in your faith community. Once again, they may meet over zoom or in small groups with necessary precautions.
  • Call a friend and talk…or zoom. Although not as personal as face-to-face contact, talking on the phone or zooming is the next best thing to face-to-face contact. So, connect via phone or zoom rather than text. You may also meet a friend at the park for a walk or sit in an outdoor setting to talk. You might even meet a friend or two at a restaurant that has outdoor seating or is maintaining necessary safety precautions. You can also enjoy a picnic or simply watching your children with a friend in the back yard.

These represent only two ideas for maintaining social connection during this time. Doing so takes some effort but will bring a greater sense of peace and happiness to you and your family.

What are your ideas for maintaining social connection during the pandemic? What have you and your family done?

Learn the Stats…Your Family Stats

I have friends who love football, soccer, baseball, basketball…really any sport. They watch all the games. They know the players’ names, backgrounds, and achievements. They can recite various players’ position, height, and weight. They can rattle off statistics about a favored player’s style of play and perhaps even tell you the names of the player’s wife and children. They have an amazing grasp on the knowledge of the sport and the players they love.

Some of these men, though, have trouble telling me the name of even one of their children’s friends, even though they live with their child. They have difficulty recalling their anniversary date or their spouse’s birthday, even though they see their spouse every day. They have no mental model of their family members’ lives or world. In the words of John Gottman, they lack a love map of their partner and children.

This raises questions in my mind…questions about priority and honor. We make time to learn about those things we love. We spend time being with and learning about the things we value. We talk about the things we love. We develop a complete and exhaustive “love map” of those things we enjoy and love. So, let me pose a couple of questions to consider:

  • Based on your knowledge base, what receives a higher priority: the sport you love or your spouse and children? Which do you know the most about?
  • Do you know more stats about your favorite athlete or your spouse? Your children?
  • Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your spouse (life story, friends, hobbies, dreams, favorite clothing style, struggles)?
  • Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your children (favorite school subjects, friends, frenemies, dreams, struggles, hobbies)?
  • Do you invest more time and effort to learn about your favorite sport or your spouse? Your favorite athlete or your children?

The point is, we need to become intimately familiar with the world our family members navigate on a daily basis. We need to develop a “love map” of our spouse and our children. It will show that you “buy in” to your marriage and your family. It will reveal how much you value your spouse and your children. It will strengthen your marital relationship by giving you a deeper understanding and appreciation of your spouse. It will nurture a healthier relationship with your children as well (which will also make discipline easier). So, get to know the family stats—the dreams, the life story, the thoughts, the fears, the joys, the list goes on…. You will have fun learning the information and you will nurture a stronger family at the same time.

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