Tag Archive for marriage

To Keep Your Marriage Stronger, Longer

Do you want to have a life-long, happy marriage? I do….and I have good news. According to research, this one daily behavior will contribute to a long, happy marriage. The findings came from analyzing data from 732 couples between the ages of 64- and 74-years-old. What is the behavior that contributes to a joyous marriage well into late adulthood? Well, the research involved having couples increase the frequency of intimacy in their marriage. Those that increased the frequency of their intimacy reported increased marital quality.  Not that surprising, right?  Couples that enjoy intimacy report greater positivity about their marriage. Physical contact protects the quality of a marriage.

Another study noted that a particular type of intimacy promotes well-being in marriages: kissing. Just like the old song: “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Kissing decreases a person’s level of cortisol (a stress hormone) while increasing oxytocin (a hormone that encourages bonding). Kissing also relaxes people and builds a deeper connection between those kissing. Decreased stress. Increased bonding. Greater connection. Each can add to a person’s sense of well-being. And, of course, previous blogs talk about the importance of hugging.

Spending quality time intimately conversing with your spouse will also increase the well-being of your marriage. Sit down and have a conversation with your spouse. Discuss your hopes and dreams as well as all the things you admire and adore about your spouse. “Look into their eyes” and tell them the depth of your love.

Let me ask again. Do you want a life-long, happy marriage? Then enjoy intimacy with your spouse. Kiss. Hug. Hold hands. Enjoy meaningful conversation with one another. Go with the flow and “see where it goes.” Not just once, but practice, practice, practice. Not only will you promote better marital quality, but you’ll have fun as well.

Don’t Forget the Secret Sauce

Many ingredients nurture a strong and healthy marriage: communication, time together, sharing emotions…the list goes on. But, the secret sauce of relationships, the ingredient that flows over it and adds extra flavor to the whole, is gratitude. Feeling appreciated by your spouse and appreciating your spouse forms a crucial ingredient to a healthy marriage. This truth became evident in a study that looked at the effectiveness of online relationship interventions. The primary finding revealed that online relationship interventions proved effective in building healthier marriages. Interestingly, the study also revealed that the couples reported improvement in partner gratitude after the interventions, even though the interventions did not specifically address the issue of gratitude. It reinforced what many already know: in healthy marriages both spouses express gratitude to one another and both spouses feel appreciated by one another.

With that in mind, if you want to nurture a strong and healthy marriage, practice gratitude. Make an intentional effort to watch for opportunities to express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse. You can express your gratitude for things they do, things they say, or for aspects of their character you enjoy (“Thank you for being so fun loving and laughing with me”). In fact, make it a point to express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse every day.

Express your gratitude sincerely, voluntarily, not under compulsion. Gratitude expressed because “I have to” becomes insincere and ineffective. It becomes meaningless. So don’t slip into taking your spouse for granted. They do not “have to” do anything for you. Everything they do is an expression of love, a commitment to your life together. Recognize that and let your gratitude flow from a heart of thanksgiving.

Finally, be aware of your spouse’s expressions of gratitude for you and the things you do. That gratitude may come to you verbally or through actions, so keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t get caught up in a feeling of entitlement and miss your spouse’s expression of gratitude. Be open to hearing their gratitude. Accept their expressions of gratitude.

Expressing gratitude and receiving gratitude is like the secret sauce flowing over your marriage with added flavor and joy. Like all sauces, gratitude is best if you pour it on because the more the better.

One of My Favorite Marriage Boosters

Have you ever felt like your marriage was in a rut? Same thing day after day? If so, let me share one of my favorite ways of giving my marriage a boost, of reigniting that spark of excitement and love. Oh…and it’s not just my idea. In a survey of 1,000 people, 84% of the respondents agreed that this activity strengthened their relationship. If you want to give your marriage a boost, take a road trip together. That’s right, take a trip together, near or far. Enjoy traveling with one another. You can turn up your favorite music and celebrate, or you can quietly take in the sights. In fact, on a road trip you’ll have time for both. And the whole time you can talk, catch up, and dream about the future or reminisce about the past. Sure, you might experience a few moments of frustration and disagreement, but you’ll have plenty of time to “work it out” and enjoy making up. As this year comes to an end, give your marriage a boost by taking a road trip or two.

The Word With the Power to Save Your Marriage

What if I told you that I know a word that possesses the power to save your marriage? Of course, all words have power, but this word is especially powerful. You might even say it has been endowed with the superpower to strengthen relationships.  In fact, this one word is particularly powerful for overcoming repetitive arguments. It breaks through negative communication patterns that threaten our marriages, like the demand-and-withdraw pattern.  This word, spoken often and sincerely, communicates commitment to your marriage, nurtures a sense of value in your spouse, and protects your marriage from divorce. All in all, couples who speak this one word on a consistent basis rate their marriage as having a higher quality of intimacy and security. Yes, this is one powerful word.

You may be wondering; “what word could hold such power in a single syllable?” Well, here it is: “Thanks.” And it’s just as powerful with two syllables, “Thank you:” or three, “Thanks a lot:” or even four, “Thank you very much.” However, you choose to say it, say it often. It is powerful…and might just save your marriage and your family.

Four Shares of a Happy Marriage

To nurture a happy, healthy marriage we have to share. Although it sounds obvious and simple on the surface, it reveals a deeper challenge. Couples naturally share a bed, belongings, and a home, but I’m not talking about those things. I’m talking about sharing deeper aspects of our lives together. Let me share just four of the deeper aspects of life that healthy couples share.

Healthy couples share an identity. First and foremost, healthy couples share the identity of being committed to one another. Marriage becomes a large part of their identity. Married men and women are no longer seen as single, but as one part of a couple. They are husband or wife. (I may be introduced not as “John,” but as “John, Alicia’s husband” or simply as “Alicia’s husband.) The community sees them as a couple and treats them as a couple, invites them as a couple and introduces them as a couple. Healthy couples reinforce that identity through shared rituals and routines. Rituals such as going to bed together, celebrating holidays and milestones together, and creating shared hobbies and memories all strengthen a common identity that promotes deeper intimacy.

Healthy couples share the load. They operate as a team. They are available to one another. As a result, no one person bears the full burden, the whole load, of maintaining a household and a healthy marriage. They both participate in the tasks of managing a home and nurturing a strong relationship. They also share in the task of raising their children. Both participate, both remain present and available, both engage in raising healthy children. Healthy couples also remain available to one another to hear the emotional load of losses and celebrations, the practical load of managing times of busy-ness, and the mental load of managing daily stresses.

Healthy couples share intimacy and mutual support. Each person sets aside self-centered routines and individualistic lifestyles by keeping their spouse and marriage in mind. They shift from living for “myself” to living for “us”. They no longer think only in terms of “me” but in terms of “we.” As a result, healthy couples cherish shared moments and create shared memories. They grow confident in their spouse and their relationship. Intimacy grows. They know they are not alone but with a trusted companion for life.

Healthy couples share fun times and play. They celebrate their lives together. They engage in fun activities and trips together. Many times, they celebrate “inside jokes” and memories known only to them. They experience new things together, laugh together, and play together. They take vacations and experience adventures together. They enjoy fun times and play.

All in all, healthy couples share love with one another, and in their love, they learn to share their lives with one another. They entwine their lives together knowing that the “tiny threads” of daily life bind us together in joy and health.

Hold Their Hand

Maybe the Beatles had something important for couples in conflict. They may not have known it, but nonetheless, it was an important message for couples in conflict. That message?  “I want to hold your hand.” That’s right. Usually, we talk about improving verbal communication when it comes to conflict with our spouses. But the Beatles had a really good suggestion, improve nonverbal communication…hold hands. At least that’s the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in April of 2020. Specifically, this study looked at the impact of holding hands on a married couple in conflict during and after their conflict.

During the conflict, this study showed that holding hands had a calming effect on men. It was also associated with an increase in positive affect (positive emotions and interactions) and a decrease in negative communication for both men and women.

After the conflict, holding hands led to a lower heart rate and an increase in positive emotions and interactions.

So, next time you find yourself bordering on a heated conversation or a conflict with your spouse, take a breath, reach out a hand, and sing an invitation: “I want to hold your hand.” Then, while holding hands, discuss the conflict at hand.

Marital Conflict, Fathers, & Children

If you’ve been married longer than your honeymoon, you know that marital conflicts will arise. Even people who love one another and want to spend the rest of their lives together have disagreements. Those conflicts and disagreements also impact their children. On the one hand, angry, stressed-out parents might take their anger out on their children in small and subtle ways or in loud and obvious ways. They may withdraw emotionally or physically from their family and children. On the other hand, they might manage their conflict in a way that teaches their children how to love a person even while you disagree with them…and to love enough to work toward some type of resolution. It can go either way, depending on how the couple responds to conflict in their marriage. With this in mind, you can image the impact marital conflict can have on our children’s long-term emotional health and well-being…for better or for worse.

To understand the impact of marital conflict on our children, one study analyzed data from 3,955 heterosexual intact families (both mother and father were present in the family). They discovered an important role fathers play in how a married couple’s conflict impacts their children. Specifically, when fathers reported more frequent conflict with their marriage partner, they also reported increased parenting stress and decreased warmth toward their children. In the same surveys, this was linked to the mother’s report of children struggling to develop social skills and emotional regulation skills.

On the other hand, when fathers used more “constructive conflict resolution” skills, parental stress was minimized, parental involvement increased, and warmth toward children increased. All this leads to healthier social and emotional development in children. So, the big question I have from this research is: what are constructive conflict resolution skills? Let’s name a few.

  • Open communication. Children benefit when both parents, fathers in particular, learn to communicate openly. This requires exhibiting enough vulnerability to express emotions and feelings, to risk being misunderstood while patiently listening to understand the other person. Couples can help fathers communicate openly by starting conversations “gently” and soothing one another as the conversation progresses.
  • Compromising. Being a family involves compromise. Not everyone can have everything they want all the time. That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s true. We don’t live with Burger King. Every person in the family is going to have their own opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Meshing them all together into a happy, healthy home will demand compromise. Look for a resolution with which you can both be satisfied.
  • Listening. I briefly mentioned listening under open communication, but listening is so important that it deserves its own bullet point. Many times, if both parties in conflict will listen deeply and intentionally to the other person, rather than defending or blaming, they will discover their conflict is not really that big. They will easily find a compromise. In fact, they may even find they agree on a deeper level than the conflict suggests. So, listen, don’t judge. Listen to understand rather than listening to form a rebuttal. Listen to find the good in what the other person is saying, areas in which you can agree, rather than listening to prove them wrong.
  • Remember who you are talking to. You are talking to the one you love, your spouse, the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. Don’t let your frustration or anger lead to statements that hurt, belittle, or demean the one you love. Remember how much they have done to make your life and your home a better place.
  • Remember how you want others to remember you. Do you want to be remembered as someone who always “had to be right” or someone “who listened so well I always knew they understood me”? Do you want to be remembered as someone who “blew their stack” when they didn’t get their way or someone who “always found a solution everyone could be happy with”? Someone who was always kind, even when angry, or someone who was unpredictable and loud when angry? Act accordingly…especially in the midst of conflict.

As you practice these skills and attitudes, you will find conflict resolves more easily. You will feel less stress. Your marriage will grow more intimate. And your children will develop in a healthier manner.

Household Labor and…Sexual Satisfaction?

“I have a headache” has become a somewhat iconic excuse to avoid sexual intimacy…along with “I have to get up early” or “I’m not in the mood.”  I recognize these may be true statements at times and they need to be accepted as such. However, at times, they can also represent a lack of desire for sexual intimacy. In such cases, one needs to ask a question: what could be contributing to a lack of sexual desire in my marriage?  One study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, offers an interesting answer to consider, especially for women with a low sexual desire. So…husbands, listen up.

This study looked at the division of labor in the home and how it might impact a woman’s sexual desire for her husband. Specifically, the study used two online surveys to ask women about three things: 1) their sexual desire for their husband (the study utilized heterosexual couples), 2) the division of household labor and how they felt about that division, and 3) how dependent they felt their spouse was on them. Household labor in this study fell into one of several categories including finances, social planning, cleaning, clothing care, food (shopping, prepping, cooking), outdoor maintenance, house and car maintenance, general decision-making, childcare, initiating discussions, and contacting people.

Interestingly, the results revealed that women who did the lion’s share of the household labor had a decreased sexual desire. However, that decrease in sexual desire did not occur simply because they did more of the work. The decreased sexual desire seemed to arise because of two factors associated with doing the lion’s share of the work:

  1. They felt it unfair that they did the majority of the work. The greater the perceived unfairness, the lower the sexual desire. In healthy marriages, both partners engage in the tasks necessary to maintain a home and family.
  2. They felt their partner was dependent on them. The greater the perceived dependence, the lower the sexual desire. To state this in a different way, women want to be their husband’s wife, not their mother. They want a partner, not a child they have to care for. The more of the household labor a woman does, the more she feels like the caretaker, the mother…not the wife.

Men, if you want a healthy, satisfying life of sexual intimacy in your marriage, do your share of the housework. Women, if you want a healthy, satisfying life of sexual intimacy in your marriage, let your husband do their share of the housework. Men and women, if you want a healthy, satisfying sex life in your marriage, acknowledge what your spouse does to maintain your home and family. If you struggle to divide the household labor equally…

  • Get curious about what you could do around the house. Remember, household chores involve more than mopping floors and washing dishes. It involves finances, social planning, cleaning, food shopping, cooking, childcare, decision-making, yard maintenance, house/car maintenance, and initiating discussions. It’s important that both spouses participate in household labor, not that the labor is divided between “male” and “female” duties. For instance, in our home it would not be surprising to see me (the male) washing dishes while my wife was painting the porch railing. The important factor is that both spouses are actively engaged in maintaining the home and family.
  • Sit down as a couple and discuss who does what and areas where you can both become actively involved. Ask your spouse what they would like you to do to help around the house. Ask them what you can do to “lighten their load” and work together to build the kind of home you both desire. Remember, you are a team of two adults building a home together.
  • Take action. Don’t just talk about what you can do. Do it. Get involved in the maintenance of your home and family life in ways you discussed.
  • Give thanks. Take the time to look for the ways in which your spouse is participating in the household tasks. Verbally acknowledge their effort and their involvement. Thank them for what they have done and continue to do. (If you wonder why you should thank your spouse for doing what they are supposed to do, read Why Thank Your Spouse for Doing Chores.)

Men, I want to add one, maybe two caveats to this. First, serving your wife and family through active involvement in household labor is almost a kind of aphrodisiac. I’m not talking about trading work for sexual intimacy. I’m talking about the way in which actively serving your wife through household labor reveals a love that will promote your wife’s sense of security and one which she will find attractive. So, forget the flowers and wash some dishes to reveal the full depth of your love. Even some products knew to use this idea in their advertisements.

Second, women are especially attracted to those who show kindness and affection to “their” children. Who isn’t? With that in mind, childcare is a crucial household task for men to participate in…and not just for your spouse. After all, they are your children too. You are their parent—their father. Change some diapers. Feed the baby. Take care of the children while your wife takes a break. Become actively involved in your children’s lives. Doing so is a part of the household labor your wife will love to see. And, you will cherish the time you spent with your children.

Marriage, Money, & Your Bank Account

When people get married, they have several decisions to make. Some of those decisions center on finances…and these financial decisions reflect beliefs about power and trust. With that in mind, researchers have completed studies to discover the impact of having a joint account versus separate accounts in a marriage.

A longitudinal study published in March of 2023, assigned newlywed or engaged couples to one of three conditions for managing their finances: 1) merge money into a joint account, 2) maintain separate accounts, or 3) manage their finances in any way they want. Couples who pooled their finances into a joint account reported increases in their perceived relationship quality over a 2-year period. The other two groups reported an expected decline in relationship satisfaction over the first 2 years of marriage. The research supported three potential reasons that pooling money in a joint account would lead to greater relationship satisfaction:

  1. It promoted financial goal agreement. The couples felt like they were on the same team as they created shared goals and priorities.
  2. It improved how married couples felt about the way in which they handled their money. Both these points remind me of how important communication is within a marriage. When a couple pools their money in a joint account, they must communicate goals and desires about finances with one another. They have to discuss expenditures and determine priorities around those expenditures. Perhaps, this communication increased their sense of being a team, of working together, and increased their positive feelings about how they managed their money.
  3. It increased each person’s willingness to do things for the other without expecting something in return. That’s an interesting result to me. It seems slightly removed from pure financial matters. However, it makes sense. Communication about finances allows the couple to learn about what money means to their spouse and about their spouse’s priorities, especially around finances in this case. Communicating to work toward common goals will increase their trust in their spouse. As a result of this growing interpersonal knowledge and trust, each one will grow in their willingness to do things for the other without expecting a “tit-for-tat” response.

This study also suggests that the act of pooling money in a joint account actually contributed to a happier and more enduring relationship. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Money in and of itself does not create happiness. However, how we communicate about money and how we enact our priorities through money can impact our happiness and the intimacy in our relationship. By putting finances into a joint account, a couple puts themselves in apposition to learn better ways of communicating about priorities and values while working as a team to move toward those priorities with their finances. So, would you like a happier marriage? Consider a joint account.

Your Phone & Your Marriage

I’ve read many articles about the impact that smartphones and screentime have on our children and teens. However, they are not the only ones impacted by screentime. More and more, research suggests that screentime also impacts the quality of our marriages. In fact, 44% of married Americans under the age of 35 report their spouse is on the phone too much. This drops to 34% of married Americans between the ages of 35 and 55.

Perhaps more troubling, excessive phone usage interferes with the quality of a person’s marriage. One in five (21%) of married adults who believe their spouse is on their phone excessively report being unhappy with their marriage and having an increased worry of divorce. In addition, couples who report that screentime and phone usage pose a problem enjoy less sexual intimacy and fewer “date nights” compared to those couples who do not report a phone problem. (Statistics taken from More Scrolling, More Marital Problems.)

Overall, excessive phone use and screentime can rob you of a healthy, joyous marriage if you do not manage it wisely. Fortunately, you have the power to manage your screentime and its impact on your life. Consider the findings of a study from Swansea University. This study examined “the effects on physical health and psychological functioning of reducing social media usage by 15 minutes a day.” The participants were divided into three groups. One group reduced their social media usage by 15 minutes a day. The second group was asked to do something other than social media for 15 minutes a day. The third group simply continued social media usage as they normally would.

Ironically, the group asked to reduce social media by 15 minutes a day actually reduced their use by 40 minutes a day. The group asked to do something other than social media ended up increasing their social media usage by 25 minutes a day. The group asked to change nothing increased social media usage by 10 minutes a day.

More importantly, after three months those who reduced their social media usage exhibited a 15% improvement in immune functioning, a 50% improvement in sleep quality, and 30% fewer depressive symptoms. If reducing social media usage will impact an individual in these ways, imagine what it might do for your marriage. In fact, each of these improvements will impact marital quality in its own way through less irritability and more energy.

With all this in mind, here is a challenge (if you choose to accept it). Commit to reducing your social media usage by 15 minutes a day and use that time to connect with your spouse. Replace 15 minutes of social media usage with 15 minutes of conversation with your spouse, 15 minutes of snuggling with your spouse, or 15 minutes of holding hands with your spouse while you take a walk. Try it for the next month and discover a whole new level of intimacy in your marriage.

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