Tag Archive for intimacy

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.

Be Your Spouse’s Dream Champion

Everyone wants their spouse to grow into their best self.  Unfortunately (or, maybe fortunately) you cannot make them grow into their best self. But you can nurture and support their dreams. You can help them grow into their dreams and their best self by keeping these four practices in mind.

  • Be your spouse’s dream champion not their dream blocker. Show interest in your spouse’s dreams and goals. Talk about their dreams. Learn what that dream means to them and how they need to do to move toward that dream. If there are ways in which you can help them achieve their dream, do it. Celebrate their successes with each step they make toward their dream. Your support will nurture your spouse’s self-confidence to take wise steps toward achieving their goals and their dream.
  • Be your spouse’s encourager not their controller. If there are ways you might help your spouse move toward their dream, do it. However, do not intrude and take over their dream. Do not push them toward their dream or act as though you know how to best achieve their dream. Don’t take control of their dream by telling them what they need to do in order to achieve it. It is their dream. Let them have it. Encourage them when they feel discouraged. Encourage them when they feel overwhelmed. Be your spouse’s encourager…not their controller.
  • Be your spouse’s wise sounding board not their micromanager. You may have insights into how your spouse can move toward their dream. As you and your spouse talk about the dream, offer your insights. But don’t micromanage. Don’t interfere with their exploration of their dream and the pathway to it. Let them own their successes and their failures.
  • Be your spouse’s comforter not their sergeant. When your spouse experiences a setback or a temporary failure, comfort them. Don’t brush off the doubts that arise because of the setback. Don’t push the stress aside as common to everyone chasing a dream. Don’t motivate them with threats or powerful motivational speeches. Instead, remain emotionally available to share that time of disappointment and sorrow with them. Sit with them. Comfort them. Then, become their encourager again…their dream champion.

Our spouses help us become our best selves (I know my wife is My Michelangelo) …and we can help our spouses become their best selves. However, we must act wisely for that to happen. Encourage but don’t take over. Be a wise sounding board, not a micromanager.  When necessary, comfort rather than motivate. When you do these things, you will become your spouse’s dream champion and they will become their best self.

Legos…and Marriage?

The pastor who facilitated the wedding of my daughter and son-in-law offered a very insightful message to the young couple during the ceremony. I wanted to share part of his message with you because his message can help us all build a healthier, more intimate marriage.

The pastor began by telling the newlyweds (and those of us in attendance) that marriage is “kind of like” Legos. When we purchase a Lego set (like the Millennium Falcon), we swell with excitement. We can’t wait to see the completed spacecraft. But we do not purchase the completed spacecraft. Instead, we purchase a kit with all the little Lego pieces we need to complete the design ourselves. The kit also includes instructions telling us which piece goes where and the order in which the pieces go together. Of course, we’re excited to have the Lego set, but the greater joy comes as we follow the instructions and assemble the pieces. Then, when the design is complete, we put the finished product in a showcase for all to see.

The greatest joy, I believe, comes not so much in the finished product but in the process and anticipation of assembling the pieces. We witness the progress made. We admire how the pieces fit together. We enjoy the intricacies of the inner workings of the assembled pieces. We come to know the “in’s and out’s” of the project on a deep level and we admire those little things we learn about the Lego Millennium Falcon others might miss.

I’m sure you can see the analogy. Getting married is like buying a new Lego set. We are excited to start our new life together, our “project” of building a new life together. But, we don’t have a “finished marriage” at the end of our marital ceremony. We only have the kit with all the pieces and instructions we need to build a beautiful marriage. Now we can enjoy building our marriage. In fact, wherever you are on your marital journey, you can still enjoy the process of building your marriage into the final showpiece. Wise “marriage builders” follow the directions that lead to the best possible fit of the marital pieces—pieces of service, working as a team, mutual respect, resolving conflicts in love, mutual sacrifice, gratitude, thinking of your spouse not just yourself, adoring, admiring, etc. The greatest joy comes not in the finished product but in the continuing process of building, assembling, fitting together in love. Patience, perseverance, and attention are all involved in putting together a Lego masterpiece…and a marital masterpiece.

To my daughter and her husband, may you always remember to follow the instructions in building “the Lego set” of your marriage. May you learn from Legos to build your marriage with intention, patience, attentiveness, and wisdom. And may we all join you in that journey by doing the same in our own marriages as well.

“Two Wrongs Don’t….”

“Two wrongs don’t….” I’m sure you can finish that statement. I hear parents say it to their children all the time. Ok. Just in case, I’ll finish it. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” You knew that, right? In fact, two wrongs usually just make it worse. Two wrongs add insult to injury. On the other hand, I often hear adults make statements that add wrong to wrong, insult to injury, in their marriages. For instance,

  • I’ll respect my husband when he starts respecting me.
  • I’m not cleaning again until he starts doing his part.
  • They ignore me to play on their phone, so I just play on my phone and ignore them.
  • I’ll listen to her when she starts listening to me.
  • I’ll do more around the house when she quits nagging.

Did you catch the irony? We tell our children that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but then we add wrong to wrong to prove a point to our spouses. Let me just say it, “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” even in marriage.  Refusing to respect your spouse until you feel respected only makes things worse. Any time we add wrong to wrong we multiply the pain and add another brick to the wall separating us from our spouse.

Can I suggest a better response? It’s not the natural response or even an easy response. But it’s a response that opens the door to reconciliation and greater intimacy. I’m suggesting that you respond with grace. Give your spouse the good you don’t believe they deserve. Return a blessing for an insult, a positive for a negative, good for bad. Respond in grace.

  • When you feel disrespected, respond with respect.
  • When you feel your spouse is not doing their part in keeping the home clean, talk to them for sure…but keep on cleaning, without complaining, in the meantime.
  • If you feel ignored when your spouse plays on their phone, put your phone down and sit next to them. Put your arm around them.
  • If you feel as though your spouse is not listening to you, intentionally make the effort to listen to them, understand them, and respond to the things they say.
  • When you feel your spouse is constantly nagging, kindly, without complaint, take care of the things they are nagging you about.
  • If you’re feeling like your spouse never shows you physical affection, give them a morning and evening kiss and a hug throughout the day.
  • Respond with grace.

Why respond with grace? First and foremost, because doing so is an expression of love and you love your spouse. At least you did at one point. And responding with grace may spark that love anew.  Secondly, it opens the door to reconciliation and growing intimacy. Third, because “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but grace in response to a wrong creates the opportunity for change.

Don’t believe it? Give it a try and see if grace doesn’t change your marriage over the next month. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

2 Challenges Every Marriage Faces…& What to Do About Them

Every marriage faces challenges. I only want to discuss two of those challenges in this blog.  Both challenges naturally arise as a couple moves along their marital journey.

The first challenge involves busy-ness. Each person in the couple becomes busier at work, in the home, and in the community. Each one takes on more responsibilities and gets involved in more activities. Work promotions increase work demands. A bigger house requires more time in upkeep and maintenance. Children demand more time due to childcare needs and increased activities. Involvement in community groups often means more participation in meetings, planning, and activities. Even church involvement can result in more responsibilities and busy-ness. This busy-ness can begin to interfere with couple time. It can start to pull each person in a different direction, straining the intimacy of the couple.

The second challenge occurs as each person becomes more comfortable with their spouse. They may begin to take less notice of their spouse’s contributions to their home and their marriage. What used to come across as important contributions becomes mere expectations that go unnoticed unless they’re not complete. In addition, each person often fails to spend as much time trying to “impress” their spouse once they have been married for a while. They might wear sweats more often than attractive outfits. Socks get left on the floor and dirty dishes are scattered throughout the living areas. The house gets slightly more unkempt as the schedules get busier. Niceties and politeness begin to slip while expectations and demands begin to rise. In other words, we begin to take one another for granted.

A third challenge that exacerbates the first two challenges involves our growing “affection” for our cell phones. On average, adults spend about 4 hours a day on their phone. This is 4 hours taken away from dedicated time with our spouse.

These challenges, though, present opportunities for strengthening your marriage if responded to wisely and intentionally. Here are 3 ways to respond to these challenges and strengthen your marriage.

  • Intentionally set aside time together as a couple. John Gottman suggests the “magic 5 hours” to create time together with your spouse (you can learn about the “magic 5 hours” here). I want to emphasize three daily times to create space for togetherness with your spouse. One, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each morning. Then spend a few minutes talking about your plans for the day.  Two, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each night before bed. Tell them you love them. Spend a few minutes talking about your days. Three, set aside 20 minutes each day for uninterrupted conversation with your spouse. Use this conversation to talk about things that will nurture the intimacy in your marriage, not daily plans but dreams and things you admire about one another.
  • Intentionally look for aspects of your spouse that you admire and adore. Then intentionally take the time to tell them what you admire about them. Intentionally seek out opportunities to thank your spouse and compliment your spouse. Make it a habit to do this every day, multiple times a day.
  • Intentionally set aside your phone at times to spend quality time with your spouse. Create “tech-free” zones and “tech-free” times in which you focus on your spouse and your relationship. (Learn more in Smartphones, Priorities, & Terrible Outcomes Even for Parents, My Cell Phone Is Ripping Me Off, and Take Charge of Your Smartphone Before It Takes Charge of You.)

These challenges naturally arise in any marriage. Don’t let them sap your marriage of love and intimacy. Use them to intentionally nurture love and intimacy with your spouse. You’ll both be glad you did.

Husbands, Reduce Your Wife’s Stress for a Better Life

Let’s face it, guys. Most of us want our wives to feel less stressed. And, chances are, we’d do almost anything to help alleviate our wives’ stress. It makes for a calmer home. After all, “happy wife, happy life,” right?

You can imagine, then, how pleased I was to discover this simple, enjoyable way to reduce my wife’s stress. Researchers from Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany confirmed the efficacy of this stress reducing activity in a study involving 76 people in romantic relationships. All the participants engaged in a stress-inducing test by keeping one hand in a bath of ice water for 3-minutes while maintaining “eye contact with a camera.”   Half the couples were instructed to embrace one another before the ice water hand soaking. The other half did not embrace one another.

Lo and behold, women who embraced their romantic partner prior to the “stress-inducing experience” had a lower biological stress response than those couples who did not embrace. They had a lower cortisol stress response. Ironically, this did not happen for the men, only for women.

I thought perhaps this was a fluke. So I looked around a little more and found another study that involved women anticipating a “small electric shock.” (I know, who volunteers to receive a “small electric shock”?) Anyway, this study found similar results. When a women held the hand of her husband, she perceived less stress while anticipating the shock than one who held the hand of a stranger. And the happier the marriage, the more stress relief the women felt while holding their husband’s hands. The more love, the happier the marriage, the less stress…a good reason to build a strong, loving marriage. There you have it—less of a biological stress response and less perceived stress. If you want a wife with less stress, a happier wife contributing to a happier family life, give her a hug. Even better give her multiple hugs a day. Hold her hand. Show her physical affection often. It’s simple. It’s enjoyable. And it will lead to a more stress-free wife. What a wonderful expression of love and a wonderful gift to give your wife.

Mighty Little Deeds of… Kindness?

Kindness is powerful. Even more powerful because it appears so meek, wrapped in the common, unassuming actions that even a child can perform. A polite response. A genuine show of gratitude. An offer to help.

The simplicity of the act tempts us to disregard its power. After all, anyone could do it. Hold a door open for someone. Pass the vegetables. Pour a glass of tea for someone.

Still, however unassuming and inconsequential an act of kindness might appear, it remains a powerful force. Simple acts of kindness reveal the giver’s humility and willingness to give of their time and energy graciously and humbly in service to another. Who doesn’t like a humble person who graciously offers an act of kindness like taking out the trash or helping to carry the groceries?

Kindness also communicates the inherent value of the recipient. It acknowledges the recipient as worthy of the time and energy sacrificed to offer them a kindness. Sharing a cup of water or a meal. Letting the other guy have the parking space.

Kindness unveils the beauty of both the giver and the receiver. The giver in their benevolence and generosity. The receiver in their kind response of gratitude and appreciation. A simple “thank you” or a smile with a friendly wink of the eye.

Yes, kindness is powerful. Kind acts lift the spirits of both the giver and the receiver. These mighty little deeds promote connection between people. They inspire us to act in kindness to the next person we meet. They restore our faith in humankind.

These mighty little deeds of kindness can build a stronger marriage, a safer community, a healthier world. In recognizing the power of those mighty little deeds of kindness, I have to ask you a question. What mighty little deeds of kindness will you give your family today?

Go Ahead, Sweat the Small Stuff

I know we’re told to not sweat the small stuff. And sometimes that is absolutely correct. But, when it comes to marriage, better start sweating the small stuff. In fact, sweating the small stuff might just save your marriage. For instance, imagine your wife asked you to wash the dishes and you forget. No big deal if it happens once in a while. It’s small stuff. Still, when your wife gets up the next morning to a sink full of dirty dishes, she will feel ignored, invalidated, and unimportant. You didn’t mean any of that. It was a simple mistake. What if this “forgetting” becomes an habitual pattern? She may begin to feel like you forget those small, inconsequential requests “all the time.”  Not on purpose, mind you. You just have other things on your mind—important things like work, the game, an outing with the guys, rest. (Wait a minute… “important things”? Things more important than your wife?)  

Each time you forget to do the small stuff, you drop another pebble into your wife’s emotional shoes—a pebble of feeling ignored, unimportant, and invalidated. Every night she takes those small, inconsequential moments turned irritating pebbles and throws them in the corner with the others. Each night, the pile grows higher and higher. Pebbles of resentment turn into mountains of bitterness all made up of the small stuff like unfulfilled promises & forgotten request. Soon, your wife is being crushed by an avalanche of despair and hurt set off by just one more small request and promise unfulfilled. As she lay under the rubble of habitual small stuff ignored, she knows her marriage is dead…and she weeps. Don’t get me wrong. The same process can occur when a wife lets the “small stuff” go.

Either way, the small stuff can make or break your marriage. Small stuff, like showing appreciation, responding to requests, following through on little promises, showing gratitude, hugs, remaining polite, expressing adoration….. All small stuff when taken one by one. But compounding over time, they will make or break your marriage.

My advice? Go ahead, sweat the small stuff. It can save your marriage.

2 Questions for More Satisfying Sexual Intimacy

Do you want to enjoy a more satisfying sex life in your marriage? Don’t answer that question…it’s a silly question. Every married couple wants a satisfying sex life. So, let me just get to the point. Here are 2 simple questions that, if asked sincerely and openly, will enhance the pleasures of sexual intimacy in your marriage.

First, ask yourself, “If I were my spouse, what would I __(Fill in the Blank)   ?”  Okay you caught me. The first question is really several questions rolled into one prompt: If I were my spouse, what would I want to see? What would I want to hear? What would I want to feel? These questions encourage empathy and perspective taking. They encourage us to consider our spouse’s likes and dislikes. What would lead to greater enjoyment for them?

This group of questions will also help reduce our self-centered desires for personal satisfaction. They strike at our self-centeredness and place our focus on our spouse and our marriage. After all, to paraphrase Paul’s writing to Philippians, we are called to “not only watch out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of our spouse.”  Ironically, when we concern ourselves with our spouse’s pleasure and satisfaction, we will find our pleasure and satisfaction grow as well.

Second, if you don’t know the answer to the first question, and even if you think you do, ask your spouse. Make sure you know what they want. Don’t assume they want what you want or what you think they “probably want.” In other words, communicate. Talk about what you and your spouse like in regards to sexual intimacy. Discuss ways you can bring greater sexual satisfaction to both of you.

An important aspect of this conversation is to make sure both partners feel comfortable enough to voice any activities with which they are not comfortable or that interfere with their satisfaction and joy of intimacy. So, listen. Accept your spouse’s answers. Allow their answers to influence your actions.  

Two simple questions. One to ask yourself and one to ask your spouse. Two questions to nurture a greater sexual satisfaction to your marriage. Enjoy.

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