Tag Archive for marriage

Climbing the Social Ladder of Adolescence

A recent study from the University of California—Davis explored teens who bully and who they bully. The study followed 3,000 eighth, ninth, and tenth grade students over the course of a school year. They discovered that teens who bullied often bullied their friends not strangers or those of lower social status. In fact, they uncovered five interesting patterns.

  1. Teens who were friends in the fall but not in the spring were three times more likely to bully or victimize each other in the spring. 
  2. Teens who remained friends for the entire year, however, were four times more likely to bully one another in the spring. Interestingly, teens bullied those who remained their friend more often than those who did not remain friends with them.
  3. Teens who had overlapping friendships were roughly three times” more likely to bully one another than those who did not have overlapping friendships.
  4. Teens who share the same bullies or the same victims are more than twice as likely to bully each other.
  5. Finally, being bullied by a friend is painful. It is associated with a significant increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The researchers believe that this information suggests that bullying behavior comes with social rewards. It leads to an increase in social status. In other words, teens were climbing the social ladder of adolescence by bullying their friends. Teens get caught up in popularity. They base their self-concept on the popularity of their social media posts and their popularity at school. They seem to equate popular with acceptance and will do almost anything to get accepted…even if it means bullying a friend to move up the ladder of acceptance in the popular crowd.

With this in mind, what can a parent do to help decrease bullying? 

  • Develop a secure relationship with your child. Spend time with your child. Let them know that you love and accept them. Learn about their interests. Support and encourage their dreams. As you develop a strong relationship with your teen, they will feel less pull to “need” the status of popularity among their peers.
  • Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage teamwork. Rather than competing for popularity, teamwork encourages teens to cooperate and work together for a common goal, to encourage one another and support one another’s growth for the good of the team.
  • Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage community and service. This might include church groups, scouting groups, or service groups. These groups can teach your teen to work with others in serving and accomplishing goals rather than competing to be more popular than the other guy. Teens can also learn to accept and appreciate one another’s gifts in working toward a common goal while volunteering in the community.
  • On a slightly different note, keep your marriage strong. At least one study reveal that teens who see their parents as loving toward one another are less likely to engage in cyberbullying. Invest in your marriage.

By implementing these three tips, you lessen the chance of your child becoming a bully to “climb the social ladder” of peer relationships. They’ll be kinder. They’ll be happier. And so will you.

Caring for the Gift of Your Marriage

Your spouse and your marriage represent two of the most precious gifts you can ever receive. I know this is true for me. They are wonderful gifts. When we take care of these two gifts, they bring us a lifetime of joy. But, if we neglect or abuse these gifts, they result in a lifetime of pain. So how do we take care of these precious gifts? Many things come to mind, but here are a dozen things you can do every day to take care of these two gifts.

  1. Tell your spouse what you need. Your spouse is not a mind reader. Don’t expect them to read your mind and then get angry because they can’t do it. Politely, lovingly tell them what you need.
  2. Take your spouse’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities seriously. This means you becoming a student of your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s sensitivities. They often stem from life experiences. Do not make light of those sensitivities. Do not use them against your spouse. Instead, acknowledge them. Respect them. Treat your spouse with care, keeping their vulnerabilities and sensitivities in mind.
  3. Make it a habit to express adoration and admiration to your spouse every day. Say “I love you” every day. Look for opportunities to not only recognize traits you love about your spouse but to tell them what you love about them every day. Share physical affection—a hug, a kiss on the cheek, holding hands, a touch on the arm—with your spouse daily. Appreciate your spouse every day.
  4. Recognize and express gratitude to your spouse every day. Once again, look for opportunities to thank your spouse for the daily, multiple things they do for you, your family, and your home.
  5. Take responsibility for any mistakes you make. We all make mistakes. We say hurtful things. We forget to complete tasks. Take responsibility. Admit your mistake. Then “bear the fruit” of repentance. Your spouse will love you for it.
  6. Treat your spouse with respect and dignity in your words and actions. Speak with kindness. Engage in polite deeds toward your spouse. Serve your spouse.  
  7. Support and encourage your spouse’s dreams. Once again, this means becoming a student of your spouse to learn about their dreams and how you can support those dreams.
  8. Share emotions with your spouse. Weep with your spouse when they weep. Rejoice with your spouse when they rejoice. Take time to share in their emotions. And, have the courage to express your deep emotions to your spouse so they can share in your emotions as well. 
  9. Set boundaries to protect your marriage. Remain faithful. Do not let people, work, children, or even volunteering come between you and your spouse.
  10. Pursue peace. Strive to create a peaceful, relaxed home for your family.
  11. Encourage your spouse and build them up. Compliment your spouse. Acknowledge their strengths as well as those things they do in the home and community.
  12. Turn toward your spouse when problems arise. Turn toward your spouse for times of joy. Turn toward your spouse simply to connect in everyday life. Turn toward your partner and work as a team to navigate the complexities of life.  

Yes, marriage is a gift. Your spouse is a gift. Treat both with care and love. When you do, you will experience a lifetime of joy.

For Your Marriage’s Sake, Get Serious About Play

If you want a long and happy marriage, you may want to get serious about play. A sober review of the research on playfulness offered a thoughtful reminder of play’s far-reaching effect, what did this review reveal?

  • Playing as a couple facilitates the experience of positive emotions. Sharing positive emotions enhances relationship satisfaction.
  • Play also influences how couples communicate. Specifically, play helps couples communicate in ways that better deal with stress and resolve tension. This, in turn, can build trust.
  • Play strengthens intimacy and connection. Some suggest playfulness even serves as a positive ingredient of a satisfying sex life. What married couple doesn’t want that?

As you can see, play serves a crucial role in building a long and happy marriage. So, here is the prescription you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy a healthier marriage and have fun doing it.  Get serious about play. Grab your spouse and have some fun. Seriously, go PLAY for a better marriage.

What Motivates You in Your Marriage? And…So What?

Psychologists speak of two “motivational systems” that people exhibit. In one, we pursue positive growth and meaningful experiences. In the other, we avoid distressing experiences. For instance, a person may be motivated to work to gain income, as an opportunity to learn and meet new people, and to have meaningful experiences. Or a person may work to avoid the distress of not having money or the stress of boredom or loneliness.

A study completed through the Universite of Basel and published in 2020 explored how these two motivational systems impact people within a marriage. The study involved 456 couples who completed two 14-day assessments. These two 14-day assessments were 10-12 months apart. During each 14-day assessment, participants submitted daily reported about how often and in what ways they had worked to avoid distress and conflict in their marriage OR to pursue positive meaningful experiences in their marriage. Results indicated that the motivational system one person used one day (either to avoid distress or to pursue positive interaction) influenced the motivational system their partner used the next day. Specifically, their partner used the same motivational system the following day. Also, the total daily levels of each type of motivation recorded in the first 14-day period predicted their partner’s actions during the second 14-day assessment period 10-12 months later. In other words, one person’s actions and motivations influenced their partner’s actions and motivations. When certain motivations were acted on consistently, the resulting actions developed into consistent patterns of behavior. 

In this study, the effect occurred regardless of relationship satisfaction. But the authors also cited previous studies that suggested behaviors aimed at enhancing the relationship (behaviors motivated toward positive growth and meaningful experiences) led to greater relationship satisfaction over time. Behavior aimed at avoiding distress and conflict, on the other hand, led to decreased relationship satisfaction over time because the root of the conflict was avoided and not resolved. In other words, the avoidance pattern, the “shut up and put-up strategy,” did not contribute to a happy marriage. It  decreased relationship satisfaction.

Putting this together suggests a wonderful way to improve your marriage—create a cycle of influence that will increase marital satisfaction. How? Begin with step one and what steps 2-4 unfold.

  1. Invest time and energy into behaviors that will enhance your relationship. This includes, among other things, expressing gratitude, sharing non-sexual physical affection, engaging in simple acts of service, and expressing fondness and admiration for your spouse.
  2. Your investment of time and energy to enhance your relationship will influence your partner to respond to you in a similar manner.
  3. Ironically, as your partner responds to you in a similar manner, their behavior will influence you to respond in the same manner to them…thus creating a cycle of positive influence.
  4. Over time, this cycle of positive influence will develop into new, “consistent patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings” aimed at enhancing your marital feelings.

Isn’t it time to begin today?

Do Expectations Help or Hinder Your Marriage?

I heard an interesting quote the other day: “Expectation is premeditated resentment.” Consider the truth of that statement for a moment. When our spouses do not meet our expectations, we become angry. That anger, if left unresolved, combines with continued unmet expectations to grow into resentment. That resentment will destroy our marriages.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we have no expectations in marriage. After all, not all expectations are unreasonable or negative. At the very least we all generally hold the expectation that our spouse will remain faithful and committed to us. But even positive expectations, when not handled wisely, can lead to resentment. So how do we make sure our expectations are not “premeditated resentments”? Here are 3 steps.

  • Make sure your expectations are reasonable. Sometimes we enter marriage with unreasonable expectations learned from past dating relationships, our family of origin, or even movies we enjoyed as children. A few examples of unreasonable expectations include:
    • “My spouse will make me happy all the time.”
    • “Marriage means I can have sex anytime I want it.”
    • “My spouse thinks about money the same way I do.”
    • “My spouse will always do the activities I like.”
    • Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman can help you explore some potentially unrealistic expectations. Even if you are married, you can find this book a great discussion starter.
  • Make your expectations known to your spouse. Talk about your expectations with one another. This can help assure they are reasonable as well as making sure you & your spouse understand one another’s expectations. Use the information in Expectations, Skills, and a Happy Marriage to start the conversation of expectations in your marriage.
  • Negotiate and compromise to reach an agreement regarding expectations. You and your spouse will agree on many expectations.  Sometimes, however, you and your spouse may disagree about an expectation. When this disagreement becomes known, talk about it. Ask: What makes this expectation important to you or your spouse? What does my spouse not agree with? Negotiate and compromise. Remember, part of an effective compromise is keeping in mind your desire to add joy to your spouse’s life. Come to an agreement you can both live with.

When you follow these three steps, expectations are not “premeditated resentment.” Instead, expectations are an opportunity to grow more intimate with your spouse by knowing him or her more deeply. They become an opportunity to express the depth of your love for your spouse by meeting their expectations.

Compromise: My Way or The Highway?

If you’re married, you have probably had this experience. You know…the one that occurs when you want one thing and your spouse wants another. You disagree on the best course of action, but you need to reach an agreement. And reaching an agreement will require compromise. And so, the discussion (or should I say debate?) begins. You and your spouse state your cases. You persuade. You list off the benefits of your side.

Underlying the whole discussion, however, is a small, nagging fear that if I stand firm, you might consider me selfish and become resentful. But, if I give in to meet your needs or comply with your ideas, you might take advantage of my kindness… and I will grow to resent. Plus, the whole issue of fairness flows like a riptide under these fears, threatening to pull us into frustration and anger. All in all, our effort at compromising becomes a lesson in political antagonism. But (and this is a big but) it does not have to be this way.

The whole tone of compromise can change when we shift our paradigm and stop thinking in terms of my needs and desires versus your needs and desires. The tone of compromise changes when we shift to recognize that the true struggle begins within each me and within you. It is not the struggle of “me versus thee” but the struggle within myself  to honor two needs I harbor in my heart that are of equal importance:

  • One, to satisfy my personal need or desire and
  • Two, to make my spouse happy.  After all, we all want our spouses to experience happiness in their relationship to us. Our love for our spouse pushes us to grow, to think beyond our own desires and consider another person’s desires.

By recognizing this internal struggle, we become better prepared to listen, to understand, and to discover a mutually satisfying solution. In other words, compromise is an opportunity to stand up for ourselves and our spouse rather than give in or persuade.

Gottman developed an exercise to aid couples in this process–the two ovals exercise. First, draw an oval on a piece of paper. Write what you must have in order to be true to your identity within this oval. What you write will vary depending on the topic at hand. However, one value you can always write in this first oval is the desire to bring your spouse happiness.

Next, draw a second oval around the first one. In this outer oval, write things related to the topic of discussion that you are flexible about. With these two ovals complete, you can approach the conversation with a deeper sharing of priorities, a clearer understanding of issues related to each one’s identity and security, and an explicit expression and recognition of each one’s desire to make the other happy. Compromise becomes an opportunity to know one another better and to seek a way to make one another happy. Instead of “my way or the highway” undergirding the talk of compromise, “how can we make one another happy while we meet our individual needs” becomes the foundation of the discussion. Now that is a compromise we can invest in!

Learn the Stats…Your Family Stats

I have friends who love football, soccer, baseball, basketball…really any sport. They watch all the games. They know the players’ names, backgrounds, and achievements. They can recite various players’ position, height, and weight. They can rattle off statistics about a favored player’s style of play and perhaps even tell you the names of the player’s wife and children. They have an amazing grasp on the knowledge of the sport and the players they love.

Some of these men, though, have trouble telling me the name of even one of their children’s friends, even though they live with their child. They have difficulty recalling their anniversary date or their spouse’s birthday, even though they see their spouse every day. They have no mental model of their family members’ lives or world. In the words of John Gottman, they lack a love map of their partner and children.

This raises questions in my mind…questions about priority and honor. We make time to learn about those things we love. We spend time being with and learning about the things we value. We talk about the things we love. We develop a complete and exhaustive “love map” of those things we enjoy and love. So, let me pose a couple of questions to consider:

  • Based on your knowledge base, what receives a higher priority: the sport you love or your spouse and children? Which do you know the most about?
  • Do you know more stats about your favorite athlete or your spouse? Your children?
  • Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your spouse (life story, friends, hobbies, dreams, favorite clothing style, struggles)?
  • Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your children (favorite school subjects, friends, frenemies, dreams, struggles, hobbies)?
  • Do you invest more time and effort to learn about your favorite sport or your spouse? Your favorite athlete or your children?

The point is, we need to become intimately familiar with the world our family members navigate on a daily basis. We need to develop a “love map” of our spouse and our children. It will show that you “buy in” to your marriage and your family. It will reveal how much you value your spouse and your children. It will strengthen your marital relationship by giving you a deeper understanding and appreciation of your spouse. It will nurture a healthier relationship with your children as well (which will also make discipline easier). So, get to know the family stats—the dreams, the life story, the thoughts, the fears, the joys, the list goes on…. You will have fun learning the information and you will nurture a stronger family at the same time.

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.)

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