Tag Archive for intimacy

Will Becoming a Parent Strengthen or Weaken Your Marriage

Will becoming a parent strengthen or weaken your marriage? Well, it depends. Becoming a parent carries a great deal of responsibility. It demands our time and our efforts. It occupies our mind 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s no wonder then, that the demanding responsibilities of becoming a parent can either strengthen or weaken our marriages. Why does it strengthen some and weaken others? What makes the difference?  More importantly, how can we make sure that parenting will strengthen our marriages and not weaken them? Those are good questions. Here are five aspects of parenting that will determine whether becoming a parent strengthens or weakens your relationship to your spouse, the “love of your life.”

  • Your ability to accept your differences. Let’s face it. No one marries a clone of themselves. (And really, who would want to?) You are different than our spouse. All that being said, you and your spouse will likely have some different ideas when it comes to parenting. You will have different ways of interacting with your children. For instance, men often tend to engage in more rough-and-tumble play while women often seem more nurturing and comforting. Sure, men comfort and women play, but generally speaking, men and women engage their children differently. And our children benefit from both types of interactions. Accept those differences.
  • Your ability to compromise. You and your spouse have different backgrounds. You likely experienced different styles of parenting when you were growing up in your respective homes. Discuss those differences in parenting ideology. Share your ideas with one another. Then, compromise. Yes. Compromise. Pick the best of both styles of parenting and compromise. If you struggle to compromise, seek advice from a mentor or counselor.
  • Your ability and determination to support one another. Becoming a parent can arouse every insecurity you ever had. You will likely second guess yourself and wonder if you’re doing the right thing or not. And sometimes you will make mistakes. (Fortunately love covers a multitude of mistakes.) When you have doubts, find a quiet place with your spouse and ask them for input. And if you disagree with something your spouse does as a parent, don’t disagree and fight about it in front of your children. Instead, find a quiet place where you can talk with your spouse one-on-one about what happened. Share ideas. Come up with a plan of how you can both respond “the next time” a similar situation arises. In other words, support one another. Invest as a couple 100% but agree that when one needs a rest, the other will “pick up the slack.” Work together. Compliment. Encourage. Support one another.
  • Communicate. All three of the suggestions so far involve one thing: Communication. Learn to communicate with your spouse in a respectful, loving way. Approach with love. Speak gently and calmly. Listen intently and fully. Communication is the heart of a life-long marriage.
  • Invest in your marriage. It is easy to get so caught up in raising children that your marriage “gets put on the back burner.” Don’t let that happen. One of the greatest gifts you can provide for your children is a happy marriage. Let them bear witness to your love. Allow them to see you give your spouse a simple hug and kiss…often. Let them hear you tell your spouse, “I love you” every day. Sure, they will say “Ewww.” But knowing you love one another will also provide them with a sense of security. So, plan regular date nights. Take time to encourage your children to “entertain themselves” while you and your spouse talk about the day. Let your children know that your spouse is your first love and will continue to be your love, even after they have “flown the coup.”  Invest in your marriage.     

Will becoming a parent strengthen or weaken your marriage? It depends on your intentional effort to accept your differences, compromise, support one another, communicate, and invest in your marriage. Practice wisely and give your children the precious gift of witnessing their parents in a stronger, healthier marriage.

Tempted to Cheat? Take a Walk in Their Shoes

Why do people cheat on their spouse? Often times a person who cheats is tired, drunk, distracted, or in some other way emotionally and/or mentally depleted. Still no excuse, right? But it points out the importance of taking care of yourself to limit the temptation. Some researchers suggest men cheat more often in response to perceived unmet sexual needs while women cheat in response to perceived unmet emotional needs. So, spending time with one another to enjoy emotional as well as sexual intimacy can help decrease the temptation of cheating. 

A study from the University of Rochester suggests another way to reduce the temptation to cheat. In this study, 408 participants, all from heterosexual and monogamous relationships of at least 4 months, “evaluated, encountered, or thought about attractive strangers while psychologists recorded their expressions of interest in the strangers as well as their commitment to and desire for their current partners.” Based on their findings, the researchers found that actively considering how their romantic partner might be affected by an affair encouraged them to control their attraction and temptation. Taking their spouse’s perspective motivated the participants to have compassion for their partner’s emotions and then seek to strengthen the bond with their partner, strengthening their current relationship.

In other words, taking your spouse’s perspective will not only lessen your desire to cheat, but it will also boost your marriage by motivating you to seek ways to strengthen your relationship with your spouse. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how often do you intentionally take the time to consider your actions from your spouse’s perspective? I encourage you to take some time to walk in your spouse’s shoes. Do it often, regularly. See your actions and your words through your spouse’s eyes…not what you want them to see but what they might actually see. You might be surprised at your growing desire to invest in your relationship as a result of what you see through their eyes. Even better, you’ll be surprised by the growing intimacy and love you experience with your spouse.

Is Child Emotional Neglect Sneaking Into Your Marriage?

Everybody enters marriage carrying “baggage”—positive and negative experiences and learning from our childhood and premarital years. Sometimes that includes a childhood in which emotions were dismissed, avoided, or even punished. When that is the case, a person may have difficulty connecting with their spouse. Their spouse, as a result, may begin to feel emotionally neglected and distant from us. The emotionally avoidant spouse may also find themselves feeling emotionally neglected and distant as well.

Maybe you grew up in a home in which emotions were dismissed, avoided, or punished. If you did, you may experience it in your marriage in at least three different ways.

  1. You may experience difficulty talking about topics that arouse emotions or make you feel vulnerable and exposed. In fact, you may feel as though you don’t even have the words or vocabulary to discuss the deeper topics that arouse emotions. You probably minimize emotions and avoid them altogether. As a result, interactions with your spouse focus on surface issues like tasks that need completed, schedules, children’s activities, or news events. Unfortunately, you don’t have to be emotionally connected to have these conversations. You only have to be business partners, not emotionally connected. And, if these types of conversations make up the bulk of your marital interactions, you end up feeling just like business partners in your marriage…and that is a lonely marriage.
  2. You or your spouse may feel lonely…even when you spend time with one another. Closeness and intimacy are built on emotional sharing. When you do not share emotions with your spouse, you effectively conceal an important aspect of yourself. You don’t allow your spouse to completely know you. You hide your vulnerability and your need for support…and so build a wall of separation between you and your spouse. As a result, you and your spouse may begin to feel distant and disconnected from one another, like you really don’t know one another. You both feel lonely.
  3. You avoid any potential conflict. Nobody likes conflict. But avoiding conflict, or even the admission of discontentment, prevents you from learning new and important things about your spouse. It prevents you from voicing vital needs to your spouse. And the avoided conflict festers and churns until it overflows in anger, resentment, or hurt.

How can you break out of these patterns and gain an emotional intimacy with your spouse? Begin by coming together to learn new ways to interact, ways that will promote intimacy. Agree to work as a team to overcome emotional neglect from the past and build emotional intimacy in the present. The work you do together begins and ends with emotional expression. Then…

  1. Become aware of your personal emotions. Take a break three to four times a day (once in the morning, at lunch, mid-afternoon, dinnertime) to reflect and identify any emotion you might be experiencing. You may find you’re experiencing anything from nothing to boredom, contentment to agitation, joy to anger, happiness to sadness. Simply identify the emotion. At the end each day, review and identify those emotions you experienced during the day.
  2. Label emotions as they arise. Learn to describe them. Pay attention to how you feel each emotion in your body. Do they expand your sense of self (like happiness does) or restrict your sense of self (like anxiety)? Do you feel any muscles tense (like your jaw or hands in anger)? Do you feel light or heavy? Do you feel your heart race? Your facial muscles tense or relax? How do you recognize an emotion in your body?
  3. Identify the context of your emotion. Can you identify a priority it relates to? Does this emotion arise often in a particular place or in the presence of a particular person?
  4. Practice communicating your emotions to your spouse. Try to communicate your emotions without judgment or blame. That’s easy to do when the emotions are light, like happiness or excitement, but more challenging around emotions like anger or frustration.  
  5. Listen to your spouse express their emotions in a nonjudgmental way. Listen for the priority, the intent, and the motivation behind the emotion. If the emotion is a more difficult emotion (like frustration, agitation, or anger), ask your spouse how you might support them through this emotion. And, in all instances, thank your spouse for sharing their emotions with you. It takes courage to open ourselves up and become vulnerable enough to share our emotions.

These steps may prove difficult. However, they will become easier over time. More importantly, the rewards of sharing our emotions are fantastic—a more intimate, satisfying, and loving marriage.

The Blog I (Kinda) Hate to Write

Yes, this is the blog I hate to write. I guess I don’t “hate” to write it…I’m just a little reluctant. And I hope my wife doesn’t see it. She likes to dance, but me, well, I’m not really much of a dancer. I mean I danced in the living room with my children when they were young. I’ll do a slow dance with my wife now and again. But all those eyes scare me. I get self-conscious. Still, after reading an article from Greater Good, I might have to change my ways and start to dance. Why? Well…

  • Dancing can improve our sense of well-being and energy. One study completed in 2004 compared the effects of dancing, yoga, and listening to a biology lecture. I thought the biology lecture would come out on top, but dancing and yoga reduced the participants’ stress and negative emotions. Even more, only dance increased positive emotions! In fact, another study showed that only dancing with a partner to music had the effect of reducing cortisol (a stress hormone) in response to the music and increasing testosterone in response to dancing with a partner. Who doesn’t want a greater sense of well-being and energy for themselves AND their spouse?
  • Dancing can also help decrease depression. In fact, a 2012 study split participants into three groups: one group learned the tango, a second group practiced meditation, and a third group remained on a waiting list. The tango and meditation groups both experienced a decrease in depression. But only the dance group experienced a reduction in stress as well. I’d love to engage in an activity that could buffer feelings of depression for myself AND my spouse…wouldn’t you?
  • Dancing can increase intimacy. We get in sync when we dance with people…and it seems to be related to moving together in response to common music. A study in 2016 showed this by splitting participants who danced to music in their headphones into three groups: in one group everyone listened to the same music and learned the same moves; in a second group, participants learned the same moves but listened to different music, and in a third group participants listened to the same music but learned had different moves. Only the group that listened to the same music and learned the same moves felt in sync. They felt closer to one another. They grew more intimate in their relationship. A more intimate relationship—I’m always looking for ways to grow closer to my wife. Sounds like a good option.

A greater sense of well-being, more energy, a decrease in feelings of depression, reduced stress, and greater intimacy…yes, I might have to take up dancing with my spouse. How about you?

Reduce Family Stress with This Simple Activity

Our families experience an amazing amount of stress in today’s world. We are rushed and pressured from multiple angles—work demands, school demands, sports involvement, 24-hour news feeds, church and community involvement…. The list goes on. Demands and expectations from so many areas impinge upon our lives and increase our stress and our families’ stress. In fact, a whole market has evolved to help us learn to manage our stress.

In the midst of all this, a simple activity arises as an easy way to help your family feel less stressed. The American Heart Association’s Healthy for Good movement completed a nation-wide survey of 1,000 adults in the U.S. to affirm the effectiveness of this activity in reducing stress in a family. What is that activity?  Having regular family meals.

That’s right, sharing a family meal on a regular basis. A full 91% of the survey respondents said their family felt less stressed when they ate together. The respondents also reported that sharing a meal reminded them of the importance of connecting (67%) with others and to slow down in order to take a break [54%]. In addition, respondents reported that sharing meals with others encouraged them to make healthier food choices [59%].


In other words, connecting with family by sharing regular meals together can reduce stress, increase connection, and contribute to healthier food choices. All of this will contribute to greater physical and emotional health for your family as well as greater family intimacy. Sounds like a “no-brainer,” doesn’t it? Sit down with your family and enjoy sharing a family meal every chance you get.

P.S. If you’re looking for ways to make family meals more enjoyable and simple, visit the American Heart Association’s Together Tuesday, for some excellent ideas.

Screen Time? What’s the Real Problem?

The amount of time our children and teens spend looking at a screen (screen time) has become a growing concern for parents, a complex problem every family must navigate. On the one hand, excessive screen time is associated with a greater sense of unhappiness. The more time spent on screens, the more likely a teen is to prefer small, immediate rewards rather than larger, more delayed rewards. Smartphones can also interfere with the parent-child relationship and effective discipline. Research has even suggested that excessive smartphone usage is linked to higher rates of depression.

On the other hand, screen time such as videogames could help overcome dyslexia, improve leadership, pique your teens interest in history, improve decision-making skills, or even ease pain (see 15 Surprising Benefits of Playing Video Games | Mental Floss). In addition, teens have come to see their smartphone as a means of connection to their world. In fact, a study from Michigan State University surveyed 3,258 rural adolescents about topics of self-esteem and social activities. They made comparisons between those with no access or poor internet access at home with those who had good internet access and were heavy users and those whose parents “tightly control or limit their screen use.” 

Interestingly, those who had poor internet access at home and those who had parents who heavily controlled media use had substantially lower self-esteem. The amount of time spent on a screen did not play a role in self-esteem. Instead, the issue of feeling disconnected from sources of entertainment and socialization seemed to have the bigger effect.

This study also found that “every hour spent on social media was accompanied by 21 minutes spent with friends.” So, among rural teens, those who used screens actually spent more time with friends than those who had poor access to the internet. 

No doubt, “screen time” has become a complex issue to navigate as a family. As technology becomes a more integral part of our children’s social world, we need to keep in mind our teen’s need to connect and the smartphone’s benefit in their connection as we help them navigate this issue. Yes, smartphones create a challenge. Yes, they present dangers. But they also provide benefits, one of which is connection to the peer world of relationship and entertainment. How do we navigate this complex issue with our teens? Here are 3 ways to begin.

  • Take an interest in their online activities.
  • Educate yourself about the “cyberworld” your teens are entering.
  • Be a good role model by effectively managing screen time in your life.

 For more on the complexity of teaching our children to navigate their cyberworld, see The Internet: Is It a Risk or an Opportunity for Your Child? YES!!.

The Humility of Listening

We all have a desire to be heard. That sounds like such a simple desire, doesn’t it?  But “to be heard” is more than having people within earshot to hear our voice and the words we verbalize. We also want them to understand what we are saying—to truly comprehend the meaning, the intent, and the significance of what we are saying. Even more, we want them to recognize the impact of our words and so accept our influence. We want others to respond to our words in a way that we know they consider our words as important and significant. This deeper desire to be heard is doubly true when it comes to our marriage and family.

Does that sound dramatic? Consider an example. In the presence of your spouse you say, “It’s a beautiful day today.”

  • If your spouse does not respond, you look toward them to see if they heard you. When you see them immersed in something else—the paper, the TV, their work, the game on their phone—for the umpteenth time, you begin to feel unimportant, devalued. You feel as if they care more about their own interests than they care about you. You feel as if you have no import, no influence in their life. “I should have known,” you think to yourself. “Everything is always more important than me.”
  • Or imagine your spouse responds with an irritated, even angry response: “What? It’s cold out there. You see the sun and automatically think it’s nice but it’s too cold to go outside. That’s your problem. You never look at the whole picture.” Once again, you leave feeling unheard, unappreciated, even unimportant. 
  • Maybe your spouse looks up from the paper and responds. “You’re right. It’s a beautiful sunny day outside.”  As they speak, they take a moment to look out the window at the sunny day. They have listened. They have allowed your words to influence them in the moment. They have responded. They have heard.

This deep desire to feel heard points out a wonderful opportunity to show kindness. Ironically, it’s a kindness that enhances the humility of both the speaker and the listener. Let me explain. In a study published in 2021, 242 participants were randomly assigned into 121 dyads. These dyads were then assigned to a “good listening” or a “poor listening” condition. In the poor listening condition, the listener was instructed to act distracted while the other person talked for 10 minutes about a recent experience. The “good listener” was told to listen as if the speaker was telling them “the most interesting things they had ever heard.” In other words, the good listener was to listen with curiosity. Of course, those who were listened to with curiosity reported feeling “more heard.” However, the study was about more than simply “feeling heard” by the other person. It was about humility as well. This study found that when a person listened with curiosity, several things happened.

  1. The speaker perceived the curious listener as more humble.
  2. The curious listener perceived the speaker as more humble. Both perceived the other as more humble when one person listened with curiosity. And…
  3. The curious listener perceived themselves as more humble.
  4. The speaker perceived themselves as more humble. In other words, both perceived themselves as acting more humbly when one listened with curiosity.

Think of that for a moment. When I listen to my spouse with deep curiosity, both of us experience an increase in humility and perceive the other as more humble. And—here’s the kicker—humility in marriage strengthens marriage. So, next time your spouse opens the door with a simple statement, don’t let your eyes glaze over and ignore them. Look at them with delight in your eyes and, with the curiosity of hearing the most interesting information you’ve ever heard, listen intently. It’s an act of kindness from which everyone grows.

The Power of a Simple Thank You

When encouraging married couples to express gratitude to one another, one or both of them often asks, “Why should I thank my spouse for something they should do anyway?” For one thing, because every thank you is a deposit in the Family Bank of Honor…and every deposit strengthens your marriage. For a second reason, read Why Thank Your Spouse for Doing Chores. And now, a 15-month study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers another compelling reason to express gratitude to your spouse. This study examined the impact of expressing gratitude and perceiving gratitude on a couple’s relationship. The couples were observed over a 15-month period and completed surveyed three times: once at the beginning of the 15 months, once at 8 months, and once at the end of the 15 months. Each survey gathered information about the couple’s level of arguing, conflict resolution, expressions of gratitude, perceived gratitude, and financial strain. Based on the surveys, the researchers shared several interesting findings.

  • Individuals with higher levels of expressed and perceived gratitude were more satisfied with their relationship.
  • Individuals with higher levels of expressed and perceived gratitude were also more confident in the future of their relationship.
  • They also reported fewer discussions or even thoughts about breaking up.
  • Higher levels of perceived gratitude buffered the individual and couple against the stress of financial strain and ineffective arguing. In other words, perceiving that your partner appreciates you (perceived gratitude) contributed to feeling less stressed about financial strain or ineffective arguing.  (Expressed gratitude did not have this effect.)

In other words, if you want to maintain a high level of satisfaction in your marriage, express gratitude to your spouse AND recognize when they express gratitude to you. In fact, make the expression of gratitude a hallmark of your relationship, a daily practice of identifying opportunities to express gratitude and then doing so. Not only will this increase your marital satisfaction, it will also help you manage the stress of finances and disagreements more effectively. To put it simply…. “Why should I thank my spouse for something they should be doing anyway?” Because it makes for a happier, healthier, and more intimate marriage.

The Kindness Connection

We all experience days of sorrow, and, if you’re like me, maybe even periods of feeling down-right depressed. These periods can impact our marriages and our families. What can you do about those times when you’re feeling down? A study conducted at Ohio State University and entitled Healing through helping: an experimental investigation of kindness, social activities, and reappraisal as well-being interventions (read review here) offers an amazing solution. This study divided 122 people into three groups.

  • One group planned social activities for two days a week and participated in those activities.
  • A second group kept records of their thoughts for at least two days a week, identifying negative thought patterns and revising them in a way that could reduce anxiety and depression.
  • A third group performed three acts of kindness two days each week, three on each day. These acts of kindness could be “big or small acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to you in terms of time or resources.”

Participants chosen exhibited moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress at the start of the study. After engaging in their assigned activities for five weeks, they were evaluated again. Then, after an additional five weeks (that’s 10 weeks after the start of the study), the participants were evaluated to see if the interventions remained effective.

All the participants showed greater life satisfaction and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety after 10 weeks. Although all the interventions led to improvement, engaging in acts of kindness led to even greater life satisfaction and even fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than did changing one’s thoughts. And, most importantly, engaging in acts of kindness resulted in greater social connection than either of the other two groups. People engaging in acts of kindness felt more socially connected than did those in the other two groups and social connection is crucial for our long-term well-being.

What does this have to do with marriage? Well, here’s the thing: marriage will flourish when we have a deep connection. Depression and anxiety can weaken that connection…as can busyness or distraction. You can change how you think and make your spouse and marriage a greater priority…and that will help. You can also plan some outings with your spouse, things like dates and family outings. That will also help. But if you really want to grow more deeply connected with your spouse, practice acts of kindness on a regular basis. After all, acts of kindness led to even greater life satisfaction and even fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than did simply changing one’s thoughts. AND it led to greater social connection. Who doesn’t want a deeper connection with their spouse? So, engage in acts of kindness. In the study, they did this only two days a week. I suggest you find a way to show kindness to your spouse every day. Make it a daily habit. It’s not that hard. Show politeness. Help around the house. Do them a favor. Give them a drink. (If you get stuck for ideas, read 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage.) Focus on being kind in your actions and words. You will experience a growing sense of connection you will both enjoy.

Don’t “Blow Up” Your Marriage

None of us want to “blow up” our marriage. But too many of us do “blow up” our marriage before we even realize it. How? By spending too much time on our cell phones, getting too caught up in social media, spending too much time scrolling. The “technical” term for this is technoference. It sounds benign, but the time spent on social media distracts from potential time with our spouses and families. It can lead to disconnection…and disconnection can lead to the “blow up.” It’s a dangerous pattern: distraction “blowing up” into disconnection that may “blow up” into dissolution or divorce. In fact, one survey (See Opinion: The biggest weapon of mass distraction in marriage? Your cellphone) found 62% of respondents felt technoference was a problem in their family. 45% thought it a problem in their marriage. 48% of respondents wished their spouse spent less time on their cellphone and more time with their children. Cell phones and the related technoference are blowing up our marriages.

A study conducted by the Mental Health Research and Treatment Center at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum offers a remedy to combat the effects of technoference. They confirmed the effectiveness of this remedy in a study involving 642 volunteers randomly assigned to one of four groups:

  • Group one reduced social media consumption by 30 minutes a day for two weeks.
  • Group two increased physical activity by 30 minutes a day for two weeks.
  • Group three replaced 30 minutes a day of social media consumption with 30 minutes of physical activity.
  • Group four didn’t change a thing.

Before the two weeks, during the two weeks, and six months after the two weeks, participants responded to online surveys about social media use, physical activity, satisfaction with life, subjective feelings of happiness, depressive symptoms, and cigarette consumption.

The results? Immediately after the two weeks of changed behavior, the groups reducing social media use (group one) and the groups increasing physical activity (group two) showed a positive increase in a person’s sense of well-being. A positive result, but the group that replaced social media use with physical activity (group three) showed an even broader positive result. This group experienced an increase in satisfaction with life, an increase in feelings of happiness, and a reduction in symptoms of depression.  Even better, these effects were still present 6 months later!

Interestingly, 6 months after the two-week behavior change, participants still spent less time on social media. Those that either reduced social media use or increased physical activity had reduced their social media use by 30 minutes at the six-month point. Those who had replaced 30 minutes of social media use with physical activity spent 45 minutes less time on social media and an hour and 39 minutes more in physical activity than they had prior to the experiment.

What does that have to do with your marriage? Less time on social media means less opportunity to phub your spouse, less jealousy, and more quality time with your spouse. To receive the full benefit seen in this study, replace those 30 minutes of cell phone usage with 30 minutes of physical activity with your spouse—go for a walk together, jog together, ride your bike and have a picnic together—anything to get physically active…together. Then, after two weeks take a personal inventory about how you feel personally and in your relationship with your spouse. You might feel so good about yourself and your relationship that you’ll keep it up as a part of life. I hope so. So don’t let technoference “blow up” your marriage. Accept a two-week challenge to replace 30 minutes of cell phone usage with physical activity with your spouse and see how it impacts your marriage. ENJOY your marriage, not your phone.

« Older Entries Recent Entries »