Tag Archive for marriage

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.

What Makes a Successful Marriage?

Researchers from Western University in London Ontario asked a question: “What makes for a good relationship?” To answer this question, they analyzed data collected over an average of six years from 11,196 couples…. all to discover  the best predictors of a successful relationship. They considered how each partner perceived their spouse and relationship as well as the individual characteristics of both partners. What did they discover?

A person’s perception of their partner and their relationship with their partner was the best predictor of relationship satisfaction. Three specific qualities that had the greatest impact included:

  • Perceived partner commitment
  • Appreciation
  • Sexual satisfaction

So, if you want to have a great marriage, build your relationship in each of the three areas noted above by doing the following.

  • Pay attention to ways your spouse shows their commitment to you and your marriage. Your spouse may show their commitment by working around the house or by getting up everyday to work. They may show their commitment through their words, their actions, or touch. Become a student of your spouse. Pay attention and learn how they show commitment.  When they do something that seems unloving, assume love, pause, then respond.   
  • Ask your spouse what you can do to let them know you are committed to your marriage. This will assure that you know how to show your spouse your commitment to your relationship in ways they will see and understand. Then do it. Don’t just ask once. Things may change. So, keep asking and keep doing.
  • Make it a habit to appreciate your spouse. Appreciate their appearance. Thank your spouse for cooking dinner, doing laundry, washing the car, and every other action they take to support their family. Appreciate your spouse verbally every day.
  • Talk about sex. Remember, sex is about more than what happens between the sheets… much more. As Kevin Leman has said, “Sex begins in the kitchen.” So, ask yourself: what will put your spouse “in the mood”? What brings your spouse the greatest pleasure? What words or actions might increase your spouse’s sexual satisfaction? Listen to their answers. They may surprise you. Share your own answers as well. Enjoy the discussion… and the knowledge you gain.

Building a relationship in which your spouse can feel satisfied and secure is a gift to your marriage and your family. Your spouse will benefit, your children will benefit, and you will benefit. You and your spouse will enjoy the security and joy of greater relationship satisfaction and intimacy. Your children will enjoy the freedom to mature, knowing that your marriage is a safe haven from which they can explore and grow.

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.)

What’s Your “Story of Love”?

Your “story of love” has a huge impact on the state of your marriages. So, I ask you. “What is your story of love?” “From where did you learn that story?”

Maybe you learned your “story of love” from Disney and your story’s theme is “and they lived happily ever after.” It sounds like a lovely story, but it assumes everything will remain unchanged, just as it is at this moment. People will not change or grow. Circumstances will forever remain the same and no problems will arise. But challenges do arise. Circumstances and people do change. Personal challenges begin to weigh on the marriage. No, this does not provide a good “story of love.”

Or maybe you learned your “story of love” from Jerry Maguire, building it around the theme of “you complete me.” A romantic statement but a dangerous storyline for love. Marriage is not built on two incomplete people leaning on one another to make them whole. In fact, two “half-people” will only make a quarter of a marriage when they come together. A healthy “story of love” consists of two whole people choosing to join their lives in marriage.

One more…. Perhaps your “story of love” comes from Hollywood movies in which one character must choose between duty and stability (a boring life) on the one hand or freedom, adventure, and happiness on the other. You may have also seen this “story of love” in real life as one person leaves their spouse while citing the theme of this “story of love:” “I love them but I’m not in love with them.” But relationship choices are rarely, if ever, so black and white. People, and the relationships they form, are complex. “Loving” versus “being in love” is more of a sentiment than a solid theme for a long, enduring relationship. It speaks to a poor story line more than the relationship it leaves behind.

All these stories are based on a fixed mindset; and a fixed mindset is not good for a healthy marriage. a fixed mindset believes character and ability are fixed and cannot change. They believe unchanging ability leads to success; effort is NOT required. Problems become character flaws of the spouse rather than challenges to be overcome. If happiness does not always flow easily, “we just weren’t meant to be together.” If challenges arise, it must mean a better alternative is “somewhere out there, out where dreams come true.” The story built on a fixed mindset does not build a healthy marriage. This “fixed mindset story” builds a doomed marriage.

A healthy marriage is built on a “growth mindset story.” People with a growth mindset believe ability is nurtured, people change and grow, and effort leads to greater success. They put in effort, intentional effort, believing they can become a better spouse and build a stronger, healthier marriage. When they go through times of struggle, they accept the challenge as an opportunity to grow. They turn toward one another and work together to overcome the obstacle as a couple. You can see that the growth mindset creates a much stronger and more enduring story of love. (For more on a growth mindset click here.)

So, I ask again. What is your “story of love”? Is it a story built on a fixed mindset? Or is it a story built on a growth mindset? The answer makes all the difference between a faltering marriage and a happy enduring marriage.

Your Actions…Your Marriage

Your actions impact your marriage. No surprise there, right? It’s like hearing wisdom from Captain Obvious. But let’s look a little closer at two kinds of actions.

Some actions express power. Your spouse may perceive these actions as a threat to their shared control, power, or status. As a result, these actions will increase your spouse’s anxiety. Such actions include accusations, blame, contempt, or angry withdrawal. They can also include stating requests in a harsh, demanding manner or expressing your disappointments in an accusatory manner. In response to these perceived threats, your spouse will likely respond with emotionally protective behavior like defensiveness, counterattacks, or withdrawal. A vicious cycle is started.

Other actions are perceived as expressing vulnerability. These behaviors include, among others, expressing remorse, sharing empathy, expressing personal need, and accepting personal responsibility for misunderstandings or mistakes. Interestingly, when your spouse perceives a decrease in actions expressing vulnerability, they may feel emotionally neglected. Emotional neglect results in feeling threatened…and that may lead to increased anger, blame, or withdrawal as noted above. The cycle begins and goes on…and on…and on…unless we stop it.

How can we stop this cycle? Decrease behaviors that express power and increase behaviors that express vulnerability. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But it is easier said than done. It initially feels safer to use powers that express power. But the long-term consequences of expressing power to maintain a sense of safety results in separation, pain, and the death of intimacy.

On the other hand, it’s frightening to become vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary. It makes us feel…well, vulnerable, exposed, at risk of hurt. But expressing vulnerability leads to deeper intimacy and greater satisfaction in marriages. How do we increase vulnerability and decrease power?

  • Share emotions with your spouse. Talk about your fears and your sorrows as well as your joys and dreams. Weep with your spouse and rejoice with your spouse. After all, the number one goal in most marital arguments is about emotional connection. Start connecting now.
  • Show empathy for your spouse’s concerns and fears.
  • When you have a concern, express it in kindness.
  • Accept responsibility for your actions and behaviors. When you say something hurtful, apologize. When you say something your spouse misunderstands, respond with a more careful explanation rather than anger and sarcasm.
  • Offer forgiveness when your spouse does something hurtful.  
  • Share your personal needs with your spouse and allow them to help meet those needs.

Yes, actions have consequences even in marriage. Decrease actions that express power in the relationship and increase actions that communicate vulnerability before your spouse. You might be pleasantly surprised with the increased intimacy and love.

Is Your Marriage Under Siege

Is your marriage under siege? Has an invisible enemy cut off the essential emotional and relational supplies that give life to your marriage? Maybe your own actions have unknowingly put your marriage under siege. It’s easy to do. Whether under siege from within or without, you need to recognize the siege artillery used to sap your marriage of the loving nutrients and sustenance it needs to survive. Then you can respond and overcome the siege to build a healthy marriage. Here are four strategies the enemy of marriage uses to set siege on your marriage…so you can address & defeat them!

  • TV, phones, and other screens. If you find yourself sitting in the same room with your spouse in silence as you both scroll through social media apps, your marriage is under siege. If you watch TV more than you interact with your spouse, your marriage is under siege. Excessive screen time will sap your marriage of the necessary interactions and emotional connection you need to build a healthy marriage.

Turn off the TV. Put down the phone and forget about social media for a while. Look your spouse in the eye and talk about your day, your dreams, your life. Converse with one another. Dream together. Doing so will nurture the emotional connection every marriage needs to survive.

  • Defensiveness. If you find you and your spouse caught in a cycle of blame and defensiveness every time something goes awry, your marriage is under siege. We reap what we sow, even in marital disagreements. Blame and defensiveness prevent growth. They create an environment in which both parties deny responsibility and so become powerless to change, powerless to strengthen their marriage. Instead, blame and defensiveness poison marriages with anger and resentment, slowly draining it of health.

Stop blaming. Look at yourself. Take the log out of your own eye. As you do, your spouse is more likely to do the same. Your marriage will grow as both people take responsibility for their contribution to the problem and so take hold of the power to change themselves as individuals within the marriage.

  • The primacy of “my.” When one or both people in a marriage focus on “my wants,” “my way,” “my desires,” “my,” “my,” “my…” your marriage is under the siege of pride and selfishness. It will soon die of starvation for real connection and mutual regard for one another’s needs.

Take a step back. Remember what you love about your spouse. Recall what you did when love was young and do it again. Show kindness. Give preference to your spouse’s wants and wishes. Serve them. Seek to please them. Your marital joy will be nurtured. And your relationship will grow stronger as a result.

  • Unrealistic expectations. Many people enter marriage with unrealistic expectations. We learn unrealistic expectations from family and TV. Unrealistic expectations may include things like “my spouse completes me” or “we will live happily ever after—all the time” or “we should want to spend all our free time together” or “my spouse will change to be everything I want and need.” Unrealistic expectations will drain your marriage of joy and build walls of resentment.

Face the truth. You and your spouse are two different people, each with your own faults, shortcomings, and eccentricities. You will make one another angry at times. You will feel lonely at times, even though you’re married. Accept these truths. And accept your spouse for who they are, shortcomings and all. Focus on those aspects you love about your spouse and celebrate those strengths. And intentionally work to grow as a person your spouse can love more.

The “Benevolent Lie” that Destroys Your Marriage

Obviously, lying to your spouse damages your marriage. It destroys trust. It drives a wedge of secrecy between you and your spouse. But, what about a “benevolent lie”? You know, those little lies that hide your need from our spouses. After all, we don’t want to burden our spouse with our needs. We don’t want them to worry about our concerns. We don’t want them to see us as “too needy” or weak. So, we withhold our suffering, our pain, our need for emotional support or physical help with a little “benevolent lie.” Unfortunately, this “benevolent lie” will also destroy your relationship. Let me explain.

First, our spouse very likely recognizes our struggle, but they don’t know what it is. If we do not share the details of our struggle or our need, our spouse does not have to “guess what’s bothering us.” They will begin to make assumptions about what our need might be…and you know that they say happens when we “ass-u-me.”

Second, we enhance trust when we become vulnerable enough to express our need and then accept our spouse’s help. By doing so, we offer them the opportunity to know us more deeply, which builds trust.

Third, a strong marriage involves interdependency and mutual support. How can we develop greater interdependency if we do not express our need for support? Expressing our needs, on the other hand, opens the door for greater interdependency and support.

Fourth, by expressing our needs, we make it possible for us to meet the need, fix the problem, and work on a solution together.

Finally, expressing our need allows our spouse to love us by supporting us through our needs.

Do not let the “benevolent lie” interfere with your marriage. Instead, express your emotional needs to your spouse. Doing so will help you build a stronger, healthier marriage in the long run.

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!

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