Tag Archive for marriage

A Quiet Threat to Your Marriage

It can happen so easily, quietly, subtly. We are happily married and enjoying our lives together when the busy-ness of daily life creeps up on us. The rush and pressure of work, children, community activities, and finances encroaches on our lives; and, in the midst of the busy-ness and pressure we take for granted that our spouse loves as and will always be there for us. We forget little niceties, like saying “thank you” or “please.” We fail to greet one another after a day apart and instead remain absorbed in whatever activity—cooking, watching TV, yard work, playing games—has our immediate attention. We become so preoccupied with our own demanding schedule that we neglect to ask about our spouse’s day. All this happens slowly, over time, and without any awareness. But, if left unchecked, each person “suddenly” begins to feel distant, even unloved. Their marriage falls apart as one or both spouses feel unappreciated, unloved, and unimportant to the other.

There is a remedy for this quiet threat. In fact, it is a rather simple fix. It begins with remembering. Remember when love was young and start doing what you did then. Remember when you were dating or even newlyweds? You probably made intentional effort to impress your spouse with your politeness and kindness. You asked them about their day…and listened attentively to their answer. You engaged in even the smallest gestures of affection as often as possible. Remember? Do those things again. Intentionally put in the effort to do the things you did when love was young.

  • Each morning, ask your spouse about their plans for the day.
  • Each evening, talk about your day with your spouse. And listen to your spouse talk of their day.
  • Take 20-minutes each day to talk with one another about your lives as individuals and as a couple and a family. Talk about current events. Talk about your dreams. Talk about your concerns. Talk.
  • Each day, as you go your separate ways AND when you reunite, give one another a genuine hug and kiss. Not a peck on the cheek, a kiss.
  • Each day, look for opportunities to thank your spouse for what they do for you, your children, and your home. Thank them verbally or in writing every chance you get.
  • Each day, verbally acknowledge something you admire or adore about your spouse.

Do each of these simple actions on a daily basis for the next 2 weeks, that’s 14 days. Even in that short time, you’ll begin to see your relationship grow stronger and more intimate. Then, make each of these actions a meaningful, daily ritual of connection with your spouse.  Make them a normal part of your everyday life. As you do, you’ll protect your marriage from the quiet threat of busy-ness and nurture a healthy, happy marriage for a lifetime.

Just Because

Maybe you and your spouse are in the same boat as my wife and me. In fact, I’m pretty sure you are. We are different people. We have unique strengths and interests…which makes keeping the marriage boat on course a tricky venture at times. In our case:

  • I am an introvert. My wife is more of an extrovert.
  • My wife acts decisively and gets things done right away. I move slowly and think long before I even start.
  • My wife likes olives. I like brussel sprouts.
  • My wife loves a “chick flick.” I watch horrible “b-rated” Scifi movies & fantasy movies.
  • My wife loves photography. I love music.

You get the idea. We are different people. We each have unique interests and unique strengths. Those differences have the power to shape our relationship. They can pull us apart or pull us together. If we each go our separate ways to pursue our unique interests and goals, our differences will pull us apart. But if we share each other’s interests and goals, they will tie us more intimately together. In fact, our unique strengths and interests provide fertile soil for nurturing growth as an individual and as a couple.  For instance, my wife and I both enjoy hiking, but she moves much quicker than I do. Now, she takes her camera to photograph our experience, which slows her pace some. As a result, our paces match up more easily and we both enjoy nature and conversation on our hike together. On the other hand, my wife accompanies me to some music “meetups” where I can enjoy playing along with the group and she enjoys listening. We enjoy our time together in both experiences.

Our differences also allow us to learn and grow as individuals. For instance, my wife’s extroverted nature has taught me to enjoy a get together—the joy of talking with people and learning about them. Her ability to plan has allowed us to have more experiences on a vacation than I would have ever had alone.

Our differences also present a wonderful opportunity to express our love for one another. We can do things “just because” we know our spouse will enjoy it.  I can plan a get together for my wife…just because she enjoys a get together and I enjoy seeing her happy. I can watch the “chick flick,” just because she likes a “chick flick” and I enjoy spending time with her. I can purchase photography equipment for my wife’s birthday just because she likes photography and I enjoy watching her create. She does the same for me, enjoying things I enjoy just because I enjoy them, and she enjoys spending time with me.

Our differences have the power to nurture a deeper relationship. By appreciating and enjoying our spouse’s different interests, strengths, and goals, we express our love for one another, learn about one another, and become more intimate with one another. How will you enjoy your spouse’s unique interests and goals today? How will you allow your differences to draw you into a more intimate relationship with your spouse?

Your Popsicle-Toed, Cover-Stealing Spouse & Sleep

I love my wife… but when we go to bed, she has the coldest feet, real “popsicle toes.” She steals the covers too… and makes snoring sounds from time to time.  Of course, to be fair, she accuses me of “twitching” and moving too much all through the night. (I try to deny it, but my brother told me the same thing in high school. And, come to think of it, my grandmother told me she could hear me “kicking around” in my sleep as well. And my college roommate…well, I guess it’s hard to deny the truth with so many witnesses. Anyway….) So, when my wife went on an overnight trip with her sister, I envisioned a blissful night of sleep—no cold feet, no stolen covers, no alarming sounds. But it didn’t work out that way; it never does. In fact, it seems I sleep worse when my wife is not home to share the bed with me, not better…always worse. Talking with my wife, she has the same experience. What’s the deal? Well, I finally found an explanation.

A study analyzing the data of 1,007 working age adults confirms my experience…and more. This study found that people who share a bed with their spouse reported less severe insomnia, less fatigue, and more time asleep than those who report never sharing a bed with their spouse.  In addition, they fell asleep faster and had less risk of sleep apnea. In other words, people sleep better sharing a bed with their spouse than they do alone.

But wait, there’s more. Sleeping with one’s spouse was also associated with lower depression, less anxiety, and less stress as well as greater satisfaction with life and relationships.

As I read the study review, I thought, “Maybe it’s just sleeping with a family member.” As if they read my mind, the researchers compared sleeping with a spouse to sleeping with a child.  Those who slept with their children most nights reported greater insomnia, exhibited a greater risk of sleep apnea, and had less control over their sleep (that last one is a “no kidding” one, right? Who has any control over their sleep with a child in the house, let alone in the bed?).

And, sleeping alone (the blissful moment of rest I had awaited) was actually associated with higher depression scores, lower social support and lower life and relationship satisfaction. Apparently, sleeping without my spouse in the bed is not what I had it cracked up to be.

Overall, this study suggests that sleeping with your spouse—cold toes, twitching, cover stealing, and all—results in greater emotional health and greater life satisfaction. All kidding aside, this fits with my life experience. There is comfort and peace in sleeping next to the one you love and to whom you’ve committed to sharing life.  It helps us connect and puts our “life rhythms in sync.” In the long run, I’m grateful for those popsicle toes and cover-stealing roll-overs. They let me know that the one I love is lying next to me and sharing life with me.  I’ll sleep better knowing she’s next to me, even as I pull the covers back over me in the night.

It’s NOT All About You…or Me

My wife asked me a question, a simple question. “Where’s the cinnamon?” But there was an edge of irritation in her voice that sent “my mind a wandering.” Why does she sound irritated? Does she think I stole it? Why would I steal cinnamon? She is probably accusing me of putting things in the wrong place or not even putting them away at all. What’s the big deal with cinnamon anyway? Why does she always think the worst of me? On my mind ran, escalating my fears and defensiveness. You can imagine my response was less than ideal.  

Have you ever had a similar experience? Your spouse asks a simple question and sounds slightly agitated. The agitation strikes a fear within you. You jump to a conclusion and assume the agitation is pointed toward you. You personalize it and think it’s all about you. It’s a common response, but not the best response.

When we take our spouse’s agitation personally, it almost always makes the interaction go south. When we personalize their agitation, we tend to respond with defensiveness. They hear our defensiveness and feel misunderstood. And so begins a downward spiral of communication that began when we personalized our spouse’s mood and thought it was all about us.

But I have a secret for you…and for me. It’s not all about you…or me. Most of the time it’s about something totally unrelated to you…or me.

What can we do instead of personalizing and getting defensive? How can we nurture a better response and interaction? Good question. Here are some suggestions (given in no particular order).

  • First, take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you start talking to yourself. Begin with statements of curiosity: “Hmmm. I wonder what’s going on here.” Then offer yourself soothing internal thoughts in a calm tone using calm words. Remind yourself of the love you and your spouse share.
  • Second, believe the best about your spouse. Practicing a calming internal dialogue, leaves space for alternative meanings to your spouse’s behaviors and words. It allows room for a compassionate interpretation of what your spouse said or did. Look for those compassionate, loving interpretations and let your mind dwell on them.
  • Third, acknowledge your spouse’s feelings in a calm, non-defensive way. Simply reflect back the emotion you perceived in what they said. This opens the door for clarification and communication. It provides space for your spouse to clarify what’s going on for them and for the two of you to come together in a common understanding.

These 3 simple steps can help save an interaction from the downward spiral of personalizing, defensiveness, and feeling misunderstood. They will help you create a calm interaction of clarification and support instead. That will go a long way toward building a more intimate, loving relationship. And it all begins with realizing that “it’s not all about you.”

The Threads that Bind Us Together

I really like this quote from Simone Signoret, a French actress: “Chains do not hold marriages together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.”

This quote expresses a great truth. First, “chains do not hold marriages together.” Marriages are not supported and given life through demands and obligations. And yes, there are many demands and obligations that enchain our marriages.

  • Our identity as a couple enchains us. As our relationship grows (even before we are married) our friends begin to think of us as a “couple.” When one is absent from the “couple,” our friends ask about the “missing piece.” Our identity as a “couple” binds us together. To separate means breaking the chains of our identity as a couple.
  • Shared possessions. Buying a house together. Renting under both our names. Getting a pet together. Purchasing a car in both our names. These shared possessions and others like them become chains that bind us together. They make separating more costly as well as more complex and difficult.
  • Having a child together binds us to one another. When a couple has a child, they share the responsibility, the joys, and the struggles of raising a new life. They both feel love for their child. And the love each of them feels for their child makes separating much more complex and difficult.

As you can see, these chains are not necessarily negative. An identity as a couple, owning possessions together, and having a child are wonderful, joyous experiences. But they also make ending the relationship more costly, more complex, and more difficult. In that sense, they bind us together. They represent the “chains” that hold our marriages together.

But chains, in and of themselves, are not enough to create a healthy, lifelong marriage. In fact, these “chains” can either nurture a stronger marriage or further weaken a struggling marriage. We need something more. We need “threads, hundreds of tiny threads,” to sew us together into a healthy, lifelong marriage. What are those threads?

  • Admiration and adoration. Healthy marriages grow stronger when each person voices their admiration and adoration of the other on a daily basis. Healthy couples express their admiration through words of encouragement, compliments, praises, and more. Each time you recognize and comment on your wife’s beauty, your husband’s work ethic, your wife’s unending work, or your spouse’s contribution to the house becomes a thread sewing us more tightly together. Each compliment and praise, each recognition of a task completed, and each vocalization of admiration for your spouse’s character or appearance will become a thread that sew us together into a healthy, lifelong marriage. (Here’s a math equation you love to help you do this on a daily basis.)
  • Gratitude. Every expression of gratitude becomes another thread sewing a marriage together for a lifetime. Daily expressions of gratitude for cooking, cleaning, working, mowing lawns, picking up groceries, passing the salt, taking out the garbage…the list goes on… become tiny threads sewing us together into a healthy marriage.
  • Acts of service become threads sewing us together. Service does not have to be extravagant. Simply pouring your spouse a drink, running the bathwater, completing a chore to make their day easier, warming up the car…they all become the tiny threads of a strong intimacy.
  • Responding. Each time our spouse speaks offers us an opportunity to sew another tiny thread in place to strengthen our marital bond. Simply responding in awareness and love, being responsive, sews our marriages together. To sew the thread of responsiveness demands sewing another thread, the thread of listening.
  • Physical affection. I’m not talking about sexual affection, just simple nonsexual physical affection. Holding hands, walking arm in arm, a loving hug goodnight, a gentle caress of the back, a little kiss goodbye for the day…they all become tiny threads holding our marriages together.
  • Apologies. Every couple will experience disagreements and misunderstandings. Every person will do something they wish they hadn’t done in their marriage. Mistakes will be made. However, the thread of apology will repair the breach created by that misunderstanding or mistake. The thread of apology will strengthen your marriage.

As you can see, the tiny threads that sew us together in a healthy marriage are the daily actions of love. They are often small but, taking together, they sew together a bond that will last a lifetime.

Save Your Way to a More Satisfying Sex Life

Stresses related to money and sex are often listed among the leading causes reported for divorce. Reasons for this go well beyond the simple issue of money and sex. Nonetheless, both money and sex are often reported as one of the reasons couples seek divorce. (See Why Do People Get Divorced? 10 Reasons And Statistics | ReGain and What Is The Number One Cause Of Divorce In The United States: Legal Dissolution Statistics In The U.S. | ReGain.) However, a study using data from 1,447 couples offers an interesting alternative to letting money and sex contribute to divorce. This study explored the connection between “financial management behaviors” –like creating and sticking to a monthly budget or paying off a credit card in full each month—and sexual satisfaction in newly-married couples. 

Not surprisingly, the study reported that consistently practicing smart financial management behaviors was linked to couples reporting less financial stress. That’s good news, but I find financial management tedious and boring. It’s not my “go to” activity for fun and relaxation. I hate sitting down to pay bills, manage savings, figure out budgets. But, in this study, the result of these financial management behaviors and the resulting reduction in financial stress was very exciting. First, decreased financial stress for the wives was associated with reports of a more satisfying sex life for BOTH the husband and the wife. This was not the case for husbands. A husband’s reduction in financial stress did NOT relate to the sexual satisfaction of the wife or husband. However, this study also found that when husbands practiced smart financial management behaviors, they experienced greater satisfaction in their marital sex life.

Let me restate those two findings. One, reduced financial stress for wives led to a more satisfying sex life for husband and wife. Two, practicing smart financial management behaviors increased a husband’s satisfaction in his marital sex life.

So, if you want to have a more satisfying sex life in your marriage, practice smart financial management behaviors. Reduce financial stress for your wife. This will increase the satisfaction of your sexual relationship as a married couple. Now that makes financial management and financial management behaviors a whole lot more exciting, doesn’t it?

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.

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